The 2024 NFL Playoffs are upon us, and unfortunately the New Orleans Saints are not among this year’s playoff field. Even without the Saints in the playoffs this year, there are quite a few players to root for, and teams to root against. We certainly have some interesting matchups this weekend, so let’s take a look at each game as well as which teams will be moving on to the Divisional Round next weekend.
Last week I went 11-5
I told you so: Bills over Dolphins!
What do I know: Eagles over Giants?
WILD CARD WEEKEND
AFC - #5 Cleveland Browns (11-6) at #4 Houston Texans (10-7)
Saturday, January 13th - 3:30pm CST - NBC
Of every team in the NFL that has dealt with catastrophic quarterback injury issues, no one has gotten through it better than Cleveland this season. The Browns have started five different QBs under center throughout the course of the season and have not only survived but thrived. They have done so with a very good ground game, even without All-Pro running back Nick Chubb this season. They have done so behind a surprisingly resurgent Joe Flacco, in his 16th season, leading the offense and having his best season since his final year in Baltimore, back in 2018. Primarily, they have done so behind the NFL’s top-ranked defense. That defense will be tested by the odds-on favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year in Houston QB CJ Stroud. Stroud and Coach of the Year candidate DeMeco Ryans will have this team ready to fight, as they have all season, and the home crowd should give these Texans a boost, but Cleveland has been undaunted and unflinching this season, and they may very well be the team no one in the AFC playoff field wants to face. Cleveland wins 24-17.
AFC - #6 Miami Dolphins (11-6) at #3 Kansas City Chiefs (11-6)
Saturday, January 13th - 7:00pm CST - Peacock
In all of the concern over Kansas City’s terrible receiving corps bringing down the team this season, it is very much overlooked that the Chiefs field the second-ranked defense in the entire NFL. Only Cleveland gives up fewer yards-per-game and only Baltimore gives up fewer points-per-game than this stingy Chiefs defense. Some may say that this challenge will be too much for KC, as Miami fields the top-ranked offense in yards-per-game and second only to Dallas in points-per-game, but the Chiefs have already stopped Miami this season, on a neutral field, and this time the Chiefs get the Dolphins at Arrowhead in primetime. Miami’s explosive offense has failed to surpass the 20-point mark over the last two weeks against the AFC’s #1 and #2 seeds, and they will fail to reach that mark for a third-consecutive week, against the AFC’s #3 seed. To increase Miami’s degree of difficulty even further, temperatures at kickoff are expected to be -9º with a windchill of -30º. This game will easily provide the most decisive homefield advantage of the Wild Card round. Kansas City wins 23-19.
AFC - #7 Pittsburgh Steelers (10-7) at #2 Buffalo Bills (11-6)
Sunday, January 14th - 12:00pm CST - CBS
Over the course of one Sunday, Buffalo went from potentially missing the playoffs to becoming the #2 seed in the AFC playoff field, while during that same timeframe, Pittsburgh went from the outside looking in, to the final team to qualify for that same field. Since their early December bye, the Bills have been on an absolute tear, going 5-0 during that stretch and winning the AFC East title. Pittsburgh, most notably head coach Mike Tomlin, should be applauded for securing yet another winning season, even with their deficiencies at quarterback. The Steelers have found a way, in a treacherous AFC North, to qualify for the playoffs, but it will be a short stay against a Buffalo team on a roll right now. Buffalo wins 24-16.
NFC - #7 Green Bay Packers (9-8) at #2 Dallas Cowboys (12-5)
Sunday, January 14th - 3:30pm CST - FOX
Green Bay has found some serious confidence in going 6-2 since mid-November, including a 3-game win streak to end the season. Now they face a Dallas team on a similar 7-2 roll during the same timeframe. Adding more to this Wild Card matchup is the storyline of Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy facing his former team in the playoffs. Although it's not quite the same without Aaron Rodgers involved, McCarthy will be primed to secure arguably his most important win as Dallas’ HC. Dallas’ top-ranked scoring offense will take care of business in this one, as they await their next opponent, and the pressure that will mount in the Divisional Round, where the Cowboys have been cursed. Dallas wins 28-21.
NFC - #6 Los Angeles Rams (10-7) at #3 Detroit Lions (12-5)
Sunday, January 14th - 7:00pm CST - NBC
Detroit has had a special season, a season the likes of which Lions fans haven't seen in 33 years. The catalyst for the Lions’ resurgence has been their top-3 offense which was also top-5 in scoring this past season. For almost the entirety of this magical season for Detroit, the expectation has clearly been at least a Divisional Round appearance. As Detroit has been locked into a top-3 seed in the NFC for most of this season, that expectation has seemed more than reasonable. Honestly, what NFC Wild Card opponent could possibly jeopardize the Lions in the first game? Enter the Los Angeles Rams. Since the Rams’ early November bye week, nobody, not even their arch-rivals in San Francisco, have been hotter in the NFC, going 7-1 in that stretch, with the only loss coming at Baltimore in overtime. The Lions may have the hot new offense in the league, but the Rams have the X-factor in head coach and offensive mastermind Sean McVay. McVay, who knows every bit of the ins-and outs of Detroit QB Jared Goff and will know exactly how to counteract him. McVay also has the better QB himself, in former Lions all-timer Matthew Stafford, along with his dynamic receiving corps, featuring Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua. McVay will outcoach Dan Campbell, Stafford will outplay Goff, and the Rams will upset the Lions in Motown, as the long wait for Lions fans continues. Los Angeles wins 27-23.
NFC - #5 Philadelphia Eagles (11-6) at #4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-8)
Monday, January 15th - 7:00pm CST - ESPN
Remember what was just said about the Rams’ hot streak? Now just think of the opposite, and you've got the Philadelphia Eagles, who have lost 5 of their last 6 games, and with a few exceptions against terrible teams, their offense has fallen off the face of the planet. During the first 12 weeks of the season, the only question in the NFC seemed to be “Who can possibly knock out Philly?”, well, come Weeks 13 & 14, San Francisco and Dallas proceeded to mow down the Eagles and the team began to spiral where they are today. Now Philly heads to Tampa to face the “winner” of the preposterously bad NFC South, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs shouldn't have any chance of winning a playoff game honestly, but the right opponent fell into their stadium at the perfect time, a Philly team lacking confidence and direction, almost seemingly hand-picked for Baker Mayfield and the Bucs in this moment. Much like Seattle in 2010, another laughably mediocre division champ who hosted the reigning NFC Champions and came through with a win, the Bucs are about to do the very same. Tampa Bay wins 23-20.
Let’s see what the Wild Card round has in store. Here’s to an entertaining playoff weekend. Leave us your picks, comments, and insight below!