FRISCO, Texas – New year, new season.
Everything that happened to this point is irrelevant, and what happens now is the only thing that's going to get remembered. Not to poke at old wounds, but go ahead and ask the 2007 Cowboys and the 2007 Giants about that fact.
For that matter, ask the 2007 Patriots, too.
It's honestly pretty unfair. Four months of results, not to mention nine months' worth of hard work, can be undone by a bobbled punt or an interception. You'll never convince me the 2007 Patriots or the 2011 Packers weren't the best teams in the league. For that matter, if you want to poke at another old wound, how about the 1994 Cowboys?
You can be great – even historically great. But if you don't execute in January, it's all for naught.
It's unfair, but it's also pretty fantastic. Football is at its best when there's no margin for error, and that's what the playoffs represent. This has never been better represented than by the series of playoff advertisements the NFL did with Don Cheadle back in the day – like this.
That sums up pretty much everything that's awesome about the playoffs. What's even better? The Cowboys are part of the dance, and they don't have a game this week. So we get all of the drama, all of the anticipation of the playoffs – but a stress-free weekend.
Sign me up.
Anyway, speaking of the playoffs, I'm going to preview all four of the wildcard matchups, as well as some other stuff that's on my mind as we head into wildcard weekend:
1. Oakland at Houston, 3:35 p.m. Saturday:Do you want to know which playoff teams have quarterback issues? Look no further than the early game on Saturday of wildcard weekend.
Good Lord, what a mess – and it's not just this season. Go back to last January, when the Kansas City chiefs blanked a Texans team that was quarterbacked by Brian Hoyer, 30-0. Or how about 2014, when Arizona was down to its third-string quarterback in Ryan Lindley. Carolina rolled to an easy win over the Cardinals while Lindley finished with *82 yards. *Yeesh.
This year it looks like we're going to get some stink from both teams. Through no fault of their own, the Raiders are faced with starting rookie quarterback Connor Cook – who has appeared in just one game – because of injuries to Derek Carr and Matt McGloin.
Through all the fault of their own, the Texans are starting $72 million quarterback Brock Osweiler – who they just benched in favor of Tom Savage two weeks ago. Osweiler has the same quarterback rating through 15 games as his price tag – 72. That is an absolutely horrific return on investment.
All of that said, every advantage in this game seems to scream "Houston." The Texans are at home, and they have the league's best overall defense and No. 11 scoring defense, which will likely be going against a rookie quarterback. Houston's ferocity on defense makes you wonder how good the Texans could be if Osweiler was even merely decent, rather than just bad.
I don't trust Oakland to move the ball, even if their defense can limit Osweiler and Co. This game is going to be gross, but Houston will win it – something like 24-10.
2.Speaking of Connor Cook, let's take a second to go back and marvel at the "30 For 30" documentary that was the Cowboys' 2016 draft.
The Cowboys clearly liked Dak Prescott, given how much time they spent with him during the pre-draft process. That said, the truth is still clear that he was the seventh-rated quarterback on their board. They liked Paxton Lynch enough to consider a trade at the back end of the first round – but Denver outbid them.
Two days later, they certainly appeared poised to select Cook with their 101st overall pick – but again, someone else wanted him more. The Raiders traded up from No. 114 to nab him at No. 100, just in front of Dallas.
With Cook off the board, the Cowboys selected Charles Tapper, then they waited 34 more picks for their quarterback – who is now one of the dominant storylines of the 2016 season and an NFL MVP candidate.
Obviously, the Cowboys did their due diligence on Prescott, and they liked him enough to select him before 31 other franchises decided to. But the "what if" scenarios and the good fortune that go into a successful draft class truly boggle the mind.
3.And as long as I'm mentioning Dak Prescott, let's go ahead and touch on this photo that everyone's apparently upset about.
It appears as though some young Cowboys fans are excitedly trying to get Tony Romo's attention as he heads into the tunnel at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday afternoon. One of them is waving a Dak Prescott jersey – which I guess could be taken as a sign of disrespect toward the veteran quarterback.
The more likely scenario is that some Cowboys fans were really pumped to have the players walking past them at such a close proximity. In a situation like that, people tend to grab whatever is around in order to get it signed. One time I saw a fan try to have a player sign his beer cup.
Basically, what I'm saying is that this is a non-issue. Football fans don't get excited. I have a hard time believing any of this was ill-intended. And even if it was, I'm confident Tony Romo slept just fine on Sunday night.
4. Detroit at Seattle, 7:15 p.m. Saturday:You talk about wanting to enter the postseason hot – and sometimes the opposite happens.
Heading into the playoffs, here are the Seahawks' last four results: blown out, 38-10, by Green Bay; defeated 4-12 Los Angeles, 24-3; defeated, 34-31, by 6-8-1 Arizona; narrowly defeated 2-14 San Francisco, 25-23.
And here are the last four results for Detroit: slipped past 3-13 Chicago, 20-17; defeated by 11-5 New York, 17-6; blown out by Dallas, 42-21; defeated by Green Bay, 31-24.
Not a lot to be inspired by. The Seahawks lost one of their best defenders in Earl Thomas for the year, and their dynamic return man Tyler Lockett is also now on injured reserve. The Lions were 9-4 and slunk to a mediocre finish.
The way December went for both clubs, no result would surprise me. But I've got to ride with the battle-tested Seahawks, who have won at least one playoff game every year since 2012. The Lions haven't won a playoff game since they downed Jimmy Johnson's Cowboys, 38-6, back at the end of the 1991 season.
I'm not trusting Detroit to right the ship at CenturyLink Field – where the Seahawks are a different team. Russell Wilson puts it together and Seattle advances to Atlanta with a 27-17 win.
5.I've mentioned this several times this season, but I just can't get over the 2016 Senior Bowl and the impact it wound up having on the NFL season.
The Cowboys obviously aren't going to coach in this year's game, but based on the talent that's come out of it, they'd be smart to pay attention. The amount of talent from last year's game that is contributing in the NFL is simply staggering:
Dak Prescott –Cowboys' starting quarterback. Led Dallas to a 13-3 record. Passer rating of 104.9. 3,667 passing yards, 29 total touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Carson Wentz –No. 2 pick in the NFL draft. Led Philly to a 4-2 start. 3,782 passing yards, with 16 touchdowns and 14 picks on the year.
Deion Jones –13 starts at linebacker for Atlanta. 106 total tackles, with three interceptions and two touchdowns.
Sterling Shepard –65 catches at wide receiver for the New York Giants, to go with 683 yards and eight touchdowns.
Kenyan Drake –622 all-purpose yards, three touchdowns for the playoff-bound Dolphins.
James Bradberry –13 starts at corner for Carolina, with 59 total tackles and two picks.
DeAndre Washington –87 carries for 467 yards and two touchdowns as Oakland's No. 2 running back.
Cody Whitehair –started all 16 games at center for Chicago.
Noah Spence –22 tackles, 5.5 sacks as a rotational pass rusher for Tampa Bay.
Kenneth Dixon –382 rushing yards and two touchdowns for Baltimore, in just 12 appearances.
Cody Kessler –Pressed into quarterback duty by injuries, Kessler put together a passer rating of 92.3 over eight games for the cellar dweller Browns.
And honestly, there are more. It's been an impressive year for the Senior Bowl. So even if the Cowboys aren't coaching in the game, you'd do well to pay attention to what's going on in Mobile, Ala., later this month. There's a decent chance a future star is getting his first look.
6. Miami at Pittsburgh, 12:05 p.m. Sunday:I pretty much don't care that the Dolphins crushed the Steelers, 30-15, with Jay Ajayi rampaging for 204 yards back on Oct. 16.
That was more than two months ago. It was the start of a four-game losing streak for Pittsburgh, and it was the beginning of an amazing stretch that saw Miami win nine of its last 11 games.
This game happens to be in Pittsburgh, though, and it will feature one of the most lethal combinations of skill players in Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. It also seems important to note that it's unlikely Ryan Tannehill will be available to play. And even if he does, it will have been three weeks since he saw live action.
Again, I'm a big believer in experience. The Steelers have been to the playoffs two-straight seasons, and Roethlisberger has a wealth of experience from runs to the Super Bowl in years past. This is the Dolphins' first trip to the dance since 2008.
Miami's run game and defense should make this interesting, but I'm giving Pittsburgh the nod in a 24-20 win.
7.I don't even have the energy to write a lot on this, so I'm just going to spell it out as plainly as I can:
I honestly don't think anyone knows what's going to happen to Tony Romo when this playoff run is over. I have a hard time believing he remains with the Cowboys for the 2017 season, but it's impossible to predict where he might go.
At this juncture, how can you even predict what his trade value might be? Or who might be willing to deal with his contract?
It's a fascinating question that could tilt the landscape of the NFL for the next few years – but I genuinely don't think there's even a way to guess at the answer until the season is over.
8.Well, there's only one wildcard game left to pick, which makes this a good spot to talk for a second about Odell's Day Out.
There's no way you don't know what I'm talking about. Following the Giants' 19-10 win against Washington, Odell Beckham and his fellow New York wide outs made their way down to Miami for a hell of an off day, which featured clubs, Justin Bieber and a group photo worthy of an album cover:
I can't wrap my head around why someone would want to wear Timberlands on a boat. First of all, they're leather – which doesn't exactly go well with water. On top of that, have fun swimming in them should you fall off the boat.
But that's beside the point. People are in an uproar because several millionaires decided to use their down time to party. The Giants have a playoff game on Sunday evening, and Odell & Co. were out partying just six days before kickoff. It's the same thing Tony Romo got crucified for back in 2007 – except he actually had an extra week off.
This is shocking, I know, but goodness gracious do I not care about this at all. The players were off, and they could afford to charter their own flight down to Miami for a party. They all made it back in time for work on Tuesday. Assuming you're not blind, you're bound to have seen photos or videos of Cowboys players partying on Sundays and Mondays this season, and they went 13-3.
Odell Beckham has 101 catches for 1,367 yards and 10 touchdowns. Sterling Shepard caught 65 balls for 683 yards and eight scores as a rookie. If they want to party on their day off, I don't care even slightly and neither should you.
9. New York Giants at Green Bay, 3:40 p.m. Sunday:If everything else is a side dish, then this thing is a big ol' hunk of prime rib.
Giants and Packers. Eight combined Lombardi Trophies. Two of the top quarterbacks of this generation. Historic Lambeau Field, where the temperature should be roughly 10 degrees at kickoff. Winner advances, loser goes home.
What else could you want from a football game?
I'm positive you're all going to tell me what you want – namely, who you want to play. Anything is possible, but I'm reasonably confident this game is going to decide who comes to AT&T Stadium to face the Cowboys next weekend.
Take your pick. The Packers have a suspect defense, and the Cowboys have already proven they can beat them – but Aaron Rodgers is playing as well as he ever has. On the flipside, the Giants offense' is middling at best, as Eli Manning has thrown 16 interceptions to just 26 touchdowns. But they boast the only defense that has proven capable of beating this Dallas offense – not just once, but twice.
So take your pick: do you want to face a quarterback who has the skillset to beat you on his own? Or a defense that has proven capable of flustering and frustrating a nearly-unstoppable offense?
I want to pick the quarterback. Aaron Rodgers has been on an unbelievable roll these last six weeks, and it's hard to bet against him at home.
But doesn't this feel like destiny? Doesn't it just feel like this scrappy Giants team is determined to find a way – just like it did in 2007 and 2011? New York's nasty defense can handle the cold, and they'll shut down the run. From there, it just turns into the challenge of forcing Rodgers into a mistake or two.
That's so much easier said than done, but it just feels right. The Giants will find a way, and their 20-17 win will combine with a Seattle win over Detroit, setting up Cowboys-Giants Round 3 at AT&T Stadium.
*10. *I would be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to the #FinishThisFight series we've been putting together as a digital media team over the past couple weeks. Every member of our team has played some kind a role in producing these fantastic videos, and I think they're awesome.
We'll be adding new videos all the way up to the Cowboys' playoff opener, and you can view them here.