Wild Card weekend is exhilarating and teams hope to kick off the playoffs on a positive note. For some, they’re hoping to prove doubters wrong and execute an upset. I outline all six matchups this weekend and make some juicy predictions.
NFL Wild Card Weekend Preview
(5) Cleveland Browns at (4) Houston Texans – 4:30pmEST Saturday NBC/Peacock
This might be one of the most underrated WC matchups as fans get a battle of two generations: 39-year-old veteran Joe Flacco leading the Browns over 22-year-old Rookie CJ Stroud’s Texans. Both extrapolating great narratives, these teams could not have had a different story this season. One franchise went from quarterback to quarterback four times and the other showcased a record-shattering rookie paired with first-time HC DeMeco Ryans.
I expect this one to be VERY close. While the Browns have a top 3 defense, I do think the defensive-minded Ryans will have his guys ready to try and quell Flacco’s air miles.
Coming down to a field goal, I am going to go Houston 24, Cleveland 21.
(6) Miami Dolphins at (3) Kansas City Chiefs – 8pmEST Saturday on Peacock
Going back to week 9 in Germany, this matchup-though lopsided each of those halves-came down to one score in the end. After a dominant Chiefs first half, the Dolphins went 14-0 unanswered in the final two quarters. Fast forward to January 2024.
The Chiefs’ strength relies on the defensive side of the ball; though Mahomes has invaluable playoff experience. Down the stretch, this offense has looked a bit anemic leaving many scratching their heads. We are not used to watching this offense struggle in the slightest. Is it the absence of Eric Bieniemy? Is Mahomes playing through an injury?
I still give the Dolphins the edge on offense. Their opposing side of the ball will be deploying a quasi-piecemealed defense, but this is nothing new this season. Recent injuries to both Jaelen Phillips and Bradley Chubb weaken the edge, but this prompted Miami to sign veteran pass-rusher Justin Houston just days ago.
While I know Miami has not had success in sub-40 weather, streaks eventually get broken! This team has not lost more than two straight all season and I don’t know if there is an advantage to any team in temperatures this cold. Keep in mind, that the Chiefs have a receiving corps that can’t make easy catches in warm weather and has struggled all season. Miami’s rushing attack has been stellar with DeVon Achane and they are expected to get Mostert back as well. I’ll take Miami 26, Kansas City 23.
(7) Pittsburgh Steelers at (2) Buffalo Bills – 1pmEST Sunday CBS/Paramount+
Personally, this one is the easiest prediction of the entire weekend. Buffalo on a five-game win streak plus playing so well at home (7-2) does not bode well for a confusing Pittsburgh team. The Steelers have taken their fans on a ride this season as far as the quarterback position is concerned. Pickett, Trubisky, and Rudolph. Oh my.
The way that James Cook has turned on Buffalo’s running game, I see them taking this one easily in a windy Highmark Stadium. The conditions should limit the passing but don’t count out what Josh Allen can do at any time. Give me Buffalo 28, Pittsburgh 14.
(7) Green Bay Packers at (2) Dallas Cowboys – 4:30pmEST on FOX
Let’s start with a few conflicting stats:
-The Packers have never lost at AT&T Stadium since its opening in 2009 (5-0).
-Packers have won 9 of the last 10 versus the Cowboys
-Cowboys have won their last 16 at home.
Both offenses have been rolling and Green Bay’s Jordan Love has been putting on a clinic since Thanksgiving. He has tallied six multi-touchdown games with zero picks thrown. This is not where any concern lies, but rather with the Packers’ defense and special teams.
Joe Barry’s defense ranks 26th in DVOA against top-ranked wide receivers aka Green Bay will have their hands more than full against CeeDee Lamb all night. Despite major faltering on the defensive side of the ball most season, the Packers did a great job closing out the season not allowing a single touchdown to the Vikings or Bears.
This pick hurts my heart, but I am going to go with the oddsmakers on this one and hope I am very, very wrong by 8 pm on Sunday! Dallas 38, Green Bay 30.
(6) Los Angeles Rams at (3) Detroit Lions – 8pmEST Sunday NBC/Peacock
In a cinematic homecoming for Matthew Stafford, this one could give us the shootout we all love to see. The biggest difference is going to be the Rams’ rushing and passing defense-20th and 22nd, respectively. The way the Lions (with little to play for) still dropped 30 on the Vikings’ 8th-ranked defense (DVOA) bodes well for MCDC’s unit.
We know both offenses will put points on the board and have high-octane passing attacks. Detroit has the edge on the ground as well between David Montgomery and Rookie Jhamyr Gibbs.
Detroit was devastatingly loud in week 18 against NFC North foe Minnesota and I would expect them to turn it up a few notches for the playoffs. I will have to go with Detroit 35, Los Angeles 28.
(5) Philadelphia Eagles at (4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 8pmEST Monday on ESPN
The Eagles have had their wings clipped as they enter the playoffs losing five out of their last six. Defensive struggles have been the main headline since early December, but both Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown left their week 18 embarrassment due to injuries (Hurts would return). Wide receiver DeVonta Smith is also suffering an ankle injury.
On the contrary, Tampa Bay has won five of their last 6-dropping one to division rival New Orleans on New Year’s Eve. This defense has been impressive and Baker and company look unstoppable in spurts.
Plot twist: I still lean toward Philadelphia here as this particular group has the edge on playoff experience. I don’t completely trust the inconsistency of the Bucs squad nor the strength of the NFC South. Sirianni should have his guys ready to go into the playoffs on a clean slate. I am riding with the Eagles here: Philadelphia 28 Tampa Bay 20.