It took 256 regular season games, but we’ve finally whittled down the 32-team NFL field to just 12 teams that have rightfully earned their place in the 2016-17 NFL playoffs. Now, all that stands between these teams and eternal glory as Super Bowl LI champions is four games (three for four teams with a first-round bye) and it all starts with Wild Card Weekend on Saturday afternoon. Throughout the NFL playoffs, we’ll be breaking down each game right here, with a special emphasis on the most important things, like who might win, why, and most importantly, by how many points. All lines and spreads are courtesy of Westgate Sportsbook.
As Week 6 got underway around the NFL back in October, nobody looked at the matchup taking place in Miami between the 4-1 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 1-4 Miami Dolphins as anything worth taking note of; certainly not as a potential Wild Card round preview. Then, within 60 minutes, the Steelers would lose QB Ben Roethlisberger for a short stretch to a knee injury, Jay Ajayi would rise from the ranks of the unknown and rush for 204 yards on the Steelers, and the Dolphins would win 30-15 and win the first of six consecutive games to vault themselves back into the AFC playoff picture.
Now, 12 weeks later, these two are prepared to square off once again for a chance to advance to the divisional round of the playoffs and one step closer to Super Bowl LI.
Miami Dolphins @ Pittsburgh Steelers – Sun. Jan. 8, 1:00 p.m. ET
Spread: Steelers -10
Spread: When Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are healthy, there’s really no stopping the Steelers’ offense, and that’s exactly what coach Mike Tomlin ensured when he sat his three stars in the last game of the season against the Browns in Week 17. On top of being healthy, the Steelers’ offense is peaking at the right time. The Steelers have scored at least 24 points in every game of their current seven-game winning streak.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, are hot in their own right even though they suffered a brutal 35-14 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots on their home turf in Week 17. They’ve still won nine of their last 11 games and have earned the opportunity to trek to Pittsburgh for a Week 6 rematch with the Steelers.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, however, is the fact that Ryan Tannehill won’t be able to suit up for the game. The Dolphins will instead turn to 32-year-old veteran quarterback Matt Moore to lead them into battle. This will be Moore’s first playoff appearance, and there’s arguably no place tougher to play than in Pittsburgh in the postseason.
That means Miami will lean heavily on Jay Ajayi and their defense in this one to keep things close, which makes sense considering the fact that Ajayi gashed the Steelers last time out and the Dolphins’ defense knocked Big Ben from the game and held the Steelers to their third-lowest point total of the season.
Moore, as coach Bill Cowher told me this week, might well be “the best backup playing in the playoffs,” but this is still an extremely tough spot for him and his squad. The spread might be high, but I think the Steelers hold serve at home and then some, turning this one into a blowout before all is said and done on the strength of their high-powered offense. Steelers -10
Total: I don’t see any way the Dolphins can contain the Steelers at home in this one and I can see Jay Ajayi having some success against the Steelers’ banged up defensive line; not nearly the level of success he had last time these teams met, but some to be sure. Add those two things up, and you get two teams that will be finding the end zone with regularity on Sunday afternoon. Over 46.
Final: Dolphins 20, Steelers 38