After 18 weeks of parody, agony, and exhilaration throughout the eight divisions, the NFL now knows who will be fighting for its historic prize, the Lombardi Trophy. Week 18 served as many team’s saving grace as “win and get in” has become a colloquial phrase in the league due to the unpredictable outcomes that can arise in the final week of the season, when playoff berths hang in the balance. The Super Wildcard Weekend will be a three day affair starting with two games that are surrounded by homecomings for star players. Deshaun Watson’s return to Houston and Tyreek Hill’s return to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
Cleveland Browns v. Houston Texans
The start to Super Wildcard weekend will be one of drama and fireworks as Deshawn Watson will return to NRG stadium to face the franchise that drafted him in 2017. Watson was shipped to Cleveland for multiple future first round picks in 2022, 2023, and 2024 along with other fourth round picks in ‘23 and ‘24 due to the broken relationship with Watson and the front office as well as the allegations surrounding his sexual misconduct. Watson will not be playing in this wildcard game as he has been out since week six with a shoulder injury that required surgery. While the Browns had to make do with four different quarterbacks after Watson’s season ending injury, none other than Joe Flacco carried this Browns offense into the playoffs after finishing 4-1 as the starter with 1,616 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. In four out of those five starts, Flacco has gone over 300 passing yards and thrown at least two touchdown passes in each of those five starts. With this in mind this is Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud’s first career playoff start but given that he is a rookie, it is very impressive that Stroud was able to come in his first season and lead a young Texans squad to the postseason and their first AFC South division title since 2019. The Texans Cinderella story of going worst to first in their division in just one season is remarkable but give me a veteran Joe Flacco and a stingy Browns defense in a game that I think the Browns will win by at least a field goal.
Winner: Cleveland Browns by 3 or more.
Miami Dolphins v. Kansas City Chiefs
Miami has struggled to beat teams over .500 all season, and finally did so in week 16 knocking off the Dallas Cowboys at home. Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will start his first career playoff game in arguably the most hostile environment in all of professional football, Arrowhead Stadium. The major headline of this matchup is that of the return of star wideout Tyreek Hill, who was traded to the Dolphins in 2022 for multiple draft picks in 2022 and a late pick in the 2023 draft. Hill was Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes favorite target during their time together but now without the Cheetah on his side, Mahomes has struggled to find the same chemistry with his new receiver corps. Mahomes has been characterized as the best quarterback in the league since Tom Brady retired and due to his accruing of accolades and awards in his short NFL career. Although Mahomes and the Chiefs offense has struggled to dominate like in years past, I still like a proven Mahomes at home in the cold over a Dolphins squad that has struggled against good teams this season and are known to play poorly in cold weather. Since 2017, the Dolphins are 0-10 straight up in games that are 40 degrees or colder. The temperature during kickoff on Saturday is predicted to be a nice warm nine degrees. With all this being said I do like a Chiefs squad that has more playoff experience and a home venue that is difficult to win in, especially in January. The one negative about this game is that for some reason the NFL thought it would be a good idea to exclusively stream this game on Peacock, therefore if you do not have a Peacock subscription you will have to find another way to watch the game.
The Temperature in Kansas City is expected to be 0 degrees Saturday Night 😳 pic.twitter.com/I8hdV1q6px— br_betting (@br_betting) January 10, 2024
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs by 7 or more.
Pittsburgh Steelers v. Buffalo Bills
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin continued his unprecedented run of 17 straight seasons finishing at or above .500. Tomlin continues to produce stout defenses and his success this season can be directly correlated to his defense, especially edge rusher T.J. Watt. Watt is the frontrunner to win Defensive Player of the Year and is leading the league with 19 sacks. Although the Steelers have a stingy defense, the Buffalo Bills offense lead by Josh Allen is high powered and can put up points in a hurry if need be. After starting the season 6-6 the Bills ended the season 11-6 and won the AFC East for the fourth consecutive season. The Bills are hungry to end their Super Bowl curse and are looking for more big games out of Allen to make this a reality. In order for the Bills to succeed against this Steelers defense, Allen will have play mistake free football and will need to find WR1 Stefon Diggs in the endzone for this Bills team to move on in the playoffs. If the Bills struggle to put up points early, the Steelers could hang around long enough to squeak this game out but I have a hard time believing Mason Rudolph will play well in his first career playoff start. Give me the Bills at home and for them to win by at least a touchdown in a game that will be cold and fueled by a Bills Mafia crowd that thought their chances of making the playoffs were over after week 12.
Winner: Buffalo Bills by 7 or more.
Green Bay Packers v. Dallas Cowboys
Jordan Love will be making his playoff debut in his first season as the Packers starter after sealing their wildcard spot by beating division rival, the Chicago Bears 17-9 in week 18. Jordan Love has been on an absolute tear to end the year, finishing his last five games with a passer rating of 110.1, 1,293 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, and one interception. The Packers will need to ride this hot hand as they come into a AT&T Stadium that has not seen their Cowboys lose at home all season. The Cowboys ended the regular season at 12-5 and beat the Washington Commanders 38-10 to seal their title as NFC East Champions. Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb have been the best one two punch in the league all year and I have a hard time believing a mediocre Packers secondary is going to contain this combo from erupting. If this game was being played in Green Bay it would be a different story but its not and Prescott and the Cowboys are the toughest team to beat at home in the league. I expect Jordan Love to give it his best effort but expect Micah Parsons and the Cowboys pass rush to get home early and often, especially since this is Love’s first career playoff start. My prediction is the Cowboys by 10 purely because Dak Prescott is an absolute wagon at home and cannot bet against this team when they are at home.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys by 10 or more
Los Angeles Rams v. Detroit Lions
This year's wildcard round has more homecomings that it seems like the NFL scripted this Super Wildcard weekend slate. The LA Rams started the season shaky but finished strong at 10-7 after ending the regular season on a four game win streak. Matt Stafford will return to Ford Field for the first time since getting traded in 2021, and will look to spoil a historical Lions season, Detroit won their division for the first time since 1993. Dan Campbell’s squad has been a hard-nosed unit all season and after the Cowboys game, Campbell has shown that he is not afraid to gamble in late game situations. Jared Goff will also be facing the team that drafted him in 2016. Goff has had a career year, finishing the regular season with 4,575 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. Detroit will be loud and electric for making the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and hosting a playoff game since 1994, as well as the return of their former leader and QB1 Stafford. I think this game is going to come down to the wire, with teams trading blows, but have a hard time finding a way to bet against Matt Stafford and Sean McVay who have much more significant playoff experience than Jared Goff and Dan Campbell. Yes Goff went to the SuperBowl with the Rams but since then he has not been back and I am curious to see how this fiery but young Lions team will react on the big stage under the lights. Give me Stafford and that electric receiving duo of Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua over a Lions offense that will most likely be missing rookie tight end Sam LaPorta. Goff has played well all season but there has to be an upset in the wildcard round and I feel like this is where it will be found.
Winner: Rams by 3
Philadelphia Eagles v. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Philadelphia started the season looking like no one could contend with them after starting 10-1. The Eagles cooled off quickly, losing five out of their last six games, and their starting quarterback Jalen Hurts took many significant shots along the way. Hurts has seemed to be dealing with some sort of knee issue since the middle half of the season, wearing a big knee brace, but still successfully converting their infamous “tush push”. The Eagles need to figure out how to get A.J. Brown to return to his five straight games with over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown form, but this Buccaneers secondary might make that difficult. The Buccaneers continue to have a productive pass rush and their success is going to have to come from their defense as well as Baker Mayfield’s ability to take care of the ball. In his first season as the Tampa Bay starter Mayfield finished the regular season with 4,044 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Mayfield has been a solid replacement since losing Tom Brady to retirement but Mayfield struggled in their pivotal week 18 matchup against the Carolina Panthers, only beating them 9-0. A win is a win and it got the Buccaneers into the playoffs but I think this Eagles squad with Jalen Hurts’s 3,858 passing yards, 23 TDs, 15 interceptions, and 605 rushing yards for 15 rushing touchdowns is going to be too much for the Buccaneers to handle even at home. Even with Hurts banged up and currently listed as questionable, this Oklahoma alum is a grinder and will find everything in his power to push this Eagles team over the line and move onto the second round of the playoffs.
Winner: Eagles by 3.