By Mike DeVito
Dolphins @ Steelers
It is easy to look back at individual statistics throughout the regular season to determine who your team’s key players are going to be heading into the playoffs. Completions, rushing yards, TDs, sacks, etc. is all well and good but I believe the more important variable is experience. The playoffs are a different beast compared to the regular season and having guys that have been there before is vital for a team’s success. Ben Roethlisberger has played in 17 post-season games going 11-6 with two Super Bowl wins. Pittsburgh’s biggest advantage going into today’s game is that their leader has been there and done that and will have his team ready for the heightened level of play the playoffs bring.
The on field match up between these two teams look similar as far as running the ball is concerned. Both offenses do a great job running the football while both defenses have had trouble stopping the run. Le’Veon Bell is one of the smoothest runners I have seen and his patience coupled with his explosiveness can be unstoppable week in and week out. Jay Ajayi has also emerged as one of the leagues top runners and stopping him has to be a point of emphasis for the Steeler defense.
The biggest difference between these two teams is at the QB & WR positions. As a player I always thought Matt Moore was a good QB who I felt was tough and could make some throws. The Dolphins WRs have been really productive this year as well, with Jarvis Landry leading the way with almost 1,200 yards receiving. However the Big Ben & Antonio Brown connection is almost unfair. Miami’s defense will have their hands full trying to stop the three headed monster of Roethlisberger, Bell, & Brown.
Giants @ Packers
Arguably the best game of the wild card round, the Giants-Packers showdown brings one of the best offensive attacks in the NFL against one of the stingiest defenses. I know from experience that it is a helpless feeling as a defensive player when Aaron Rogers is on fire. You can try to change up the coverages, blitz him, sack him and ultimately none if it matters. Rogers has the Packers on a six game winning streak, leading an offense that is 4th in scoring with 27 points per game, and has thrown for 40 TDs. All that being said, if there is one defense in the NFL that is up to the task of stopping the Packers’ offense it’s the New York Giants.
The Giants defense has all-stars at every level but as a former defensive lineman the one player I find most impressive is All-Pro defensive tackle Damon Harrison. Harrison had 86 tackles in the regular season and is the league’s best run stopper. The Giants are 3rd in the NFL in rush defense (88 yards per game) because big #98 has the middle of that defense shut down.
For the Giants, this game is going to come down to the play of Eli Manning. Like Roethlisberger, Manning has also has a ton of experience in the playoffs with 11 post-season games under his belt and like Roethlisberger, two Super Bowl wins. Manning knows what it takes to win in the post-season and having one of the leagues best defenses takes a lot of pressure off of him. Manning has given opposing teams opportunities to make plays throwing 16 INTs in the regular season. With the defense the Giants have, Eli doesn’t need to force any throws or make any bad decisions but simply throw the ball away if nothing is open and let his D get the ball back to him. With a Green Bay secondary that has been dealing with a ton of injuries, trying to cover Odell Beckham, Jr. is going to be a tall order. Giants fans shouldn’t be too worried about Manning have guys open, because against this depleted unit, the options will be there, but which Eli Manning will show up at Lambeau?
Mike DeVito (@MikeDeVito70) is a 9-year NFL veteran, playing with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs. He is an alum of the University of Maine, color analyst for Black Bears football on TV and is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm-6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowmaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.