Football fans, rejoice: Wild Card Weekend is upon us. This weekend boasts an impressive set of games to kick off the playoff proceedings, including Sunday’s 1:05 p.m. ET showdown on CBS between playoff stalwarts, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Miami Dolphins, who are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
The Steelers are heavy favorites over the visiting Dolphins, who enter the contest with a glaring question mark at quarterback. Starter Ryan Tannehill, who hasn’t played since suffering ACL and MCL sprains in a Week 14 win over the Arizona Cardinals, could potentially return for this game.
Miami is coming off a brutal home defeat to the New England Patriots in Week 17, adding to their uncertainty. Pittsburgh enters the playoffs on a seven-game winning streak.
Still, the Dolphins have made it to the dance, and they’re just 60 minutes away from setting up a rematch with the Patriots in the divisional round if they can beat the Steelers.
We caught up with legendary former Steelers head coach and current CBS NFL Today analyst Bill Cowher to break down the matchup and the Dolphins’ chances of springing the upset in Steel City.
CBS Local Sports: Do you think the Dolphins have a chance of winning this game with Matt Moore if Ryan Tannehill is unable to play?
Bill Cowher: Oh, absolutely they have a chance. When you look at the Dolphins, they’ve won nine of their last 11 games. In a lot of respects, Matt Moore is probably the best backup quarterback playing in the playoffs. He has got 10 years of experience. You have an offense where they have one of the premier runners in the league in Jay Ajayi, who also ran for 200 yards against this football team the last time they played. And I love their threesome of (Jarvis) Landry, (DeVante) Parker and (Kenny) Stills. They have an offensive line that has been there all year outside of (Mike) Pouncey. So they have a legitimate chance.
CBS Local Sports: Speaking of the offensive line and Jay Ajayi, how much of a factor do you think injuries on the Steelers’ defensive line might be?
Cowher: The Pittsburgh defense in this seven-game winning streak has shown that they have very good depth. They are going to get Stephon Tuitt back this week, and he will be a big addition. But what has happened in the time he’s been out is (Jason) Hargrave and some of the other guys have had a chance to get some playing time. The defense has been a big part of this seven-game winning streak. The two inside linebackers — Lawrence Timmons is having maybe the best year of his career, and Ryan Shazier has been healthy — have played a huge part as well. It will be a big challenge, and I’m sure they will be studying that tape from Week 6. I’m sure (defensive coordinator) Keith Butler is presenting a challenge to them as we speak.
CBS Local Sports: Last week Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Maurkice Pouncey all sat out against the Browns. Do you think the offense might start a little bit slowly as a result?
Cowher: I don’t think so. These guys have played a lot of football this year, and they have played a lot of football in this same system, so I had no problem with what coach Tomlin did. He’s going to have Le’Veon Bell playing his first playoff game, and we saw what he was like going down the stretch. Antonio Brown is arguably one of the best receivers in the game, and Ben in the fourth quarter of games has just been magic, so I don’t have any problem with them sitting. They’ll be fine coming out and starting fast in this game.
CBS Local Sports: Which player on either team do you think could be the “x-factor” on Sunday and might have the biggest impact on this game?
Cowher: The Steelers have to be able to block Cameron Wake. He’s the guy on the defensive side of the ball for the Miami Dolphins. When you look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, we all know about the big three — Brown, Bell and Ben — but you might get a guy like Eli Rogers who could show up big. Defensively for the Steelers, Bud Dupree, keep an eye on him. He missed some time during the season. But he and James Harrison coming off the corner can put a lot of pressure on Matt Moore.
CBS Local Sports: On Sunday, the high temperature is supposed to be 23 degrees in Pittsburgh. How do you think the cold will affect the Miami Dolphins, if at all?
Cowher: It’s a lot easier to go from warm to cold than it is from cold to warm. With the Dolphins coming up here, they will dress warm. They will have a lot of adrenaline going, and that will keep your body nice and warm on the inside. It’s a lot harder when you practice in the cold temperature to go into the heat, because it takes a bigger toll. It won’t play much of a factor because it’s not cold enough.