NFL Wild-Card Weekend
The NFL playoffs begin this weekend, offering plenty of intriguing match-ups. Revenge games exist for Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff, Tyreek Hill and Mike McCarthy, and there are countless other storylines worth diving into. We break down all six games along with who you can expect to advance to the divisional round.
Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans
Kick-off: Saturday, January 13 at 4:30 p.m. ET/1:30 p.m PT
Cleveland has one of the best defenses in the league. There’s talent at all levels starting with Myles Garrett off the edge. This unit is not only aggressive and athletic, but also quite savvy beyond its years (particularly in the secondary).
This could come down to a battle of the quarterbacks. CJ Stroud has been fantastic when healthy, and he’ll get a crack at this defense after missing the game earlier in the year between both teams. Joe Flacco has been reinvigorated after transforming his body with a slimmer frame. His ability to push the ball downfield vertically is something the Browns love. It’s given the offense a different dynamic, and one which was needed considering Amari Cooper’s penchant for making plays over the top.
This does seem like a 50/50 game. On one hand, Houston is playing at home with the better quarterback. On the other hand, Cleveland has the more experienced quarterback and the best unit between either team.
Prediction: Cleveland 20, Houston 17
Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs
Kick-off: Saturday, January 13 at 8:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT
As of Friday morning, Kansas City is a 4.5-point favorite. Truthfully, we’re surprised it isn’t larger.
Miami is not built for a cold-weather environment. The offense is predicated on being a finesse entity. Tua Tagovailoa’s effectiveness sits with accuracy and touch rather than arm strength and downfield prowess. Traditionally, he struggles big time when having to play in less-than-ideal temperatures.
Some projections have this game being played in -30-degree weather (with windchill). It could be one of the coldest games on record in NFL history. When factoring in the losses on defense (Jaelan Phillips, Xavien Howard, Andrew Van Ginkel, Bradley Chubb), Miami really is in a tough spot here.
Prediction: Kansas City 27, Miami 10
Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills
Kick-off: Sunday, January 14 at 1:00 p.m. ET/10:00 a.m. PT
Pittsburgh did what it always does — narrowly earning a playoff spot despite looking mediocre for large chunks of the regular season. Injuries and disatisfactory QB play have resulted in the Steelers starting Mason Rudolph in this contest.
Rudolph has been solid. However, this game figures to be a struggle for the Steelers and their offense. The weather will not be kind to either team. If swirling winds are present, Pittsburgh’s ground-and-pound offense will be even more reliant on running the football.
In Buffalo’s case, Josh Allen has enough arm strength to power through the conditions. Pittsburgh’s chance at winning this game ultimately sits with its ability to turn Allen over. If the team can cause at least two turnovers, it has a chance here to pull the upset. Allen has shown the propensity to be careless with the ball.
Sadly for the Steelers, the probability of this happening did go down once it was announced that all-everything pass rusher TJ Watt would be unavailable for the game with a knee injury.
Prediction: Buffalo 24, Pittsburgh 13
Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys
Kick-off: Sunday, January 14 at 4:30 p.m. ET/1:30 p.m. PT
This is primed to be a very interesting game. As of Friday morning, the Cowboys are a seven-point favorite according to FanDuel. We know both teams can put up points. The question will be whether Dallas has the intestinal fortitude to stay out of its way. In other words, being the favorite, can the Cowboys take care of business and win a playoff game they’re expected to win?
Peppering Jordan Love with pressure will be key. Additionally, the Cowboys have to try and run the football to garner some balance. While Green Bay does possess one of the youngest teams in recent NFL Playoffs history, it’s a very talented bunch brimming with confidence. Green Bay pulls the upset here — setting the stage for Jerry Jones to get into a bidding war with another franchise for the likes of Bill Belichick, Mike Vrabel, or Jim Harbaugh.
Prediction: Green Bay 34, Dallas 28
Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions
Kick-off: Sunday, January 14 at 8:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT
This might be the most intriguing matchup of the weekend. Detroit is in the playoffs for the first time in 30 years. This is likely one of the most talented rosters the Lions have ever had. The reward for winning the NFC North? Seeing former quarterback Matthew Stafford coming back to the Motor City with a team loaded on both sides of the ball.
This couldn’t be a worse opponent for the Lions. LA is battle-tested from past forays into the playoffs. Stafford surely will be motivated to win this game. The interior defensive tackle duo of Kobie Turner and Aaron Donald is the real deal. Even further, the Rams enter this game with an advantage at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and — most importantly — with Sean McVay over Dan Campbell. The atmosphere at Ford Field will surely be carnival-like in nature. However, none of that will matter. The poise of Stafford, McVay, and Cooper Kupp will lead the Rams to an upset victory.
Prediction: Los Angeles 27, Detroit 24
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kick-off: Monday, January 15 at 8:15 p.m. ET/5:15 p.m PT
This is a scary game for Philadelphia. The Eagles have been inconsistent all season long on both sides of the ball. We’ve been waiting for the proverbial light to turn on in terms of dominance. It hasn’t come yet, and we’re skeptical that it will ultimately bubble to the surface with this current group. The fact that none of Philadelphia’s edge rushers have registered a sack over the last four weeks is an alarming statistic.
Tampa Bay isn’t a world-beater by any stretch. The Bucs have their warts, namely stopping the run. Philadelphia will want to control the clock and grind it out with its plethora of rushers. You can probably expect Jalen Hurts to tote the rock more so than usual.
With all of that said, this game is being played in Tampa. Baker Mayfield has played well at home, and the Bucs will have a decided advantage with Mike Evans going up against any of Philadelphia’s corners. A disappointing Philadelphia year will come to a close here.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 24, Philadelphia 18