NFL: Super Wild Card Weekend

Richard Graves

Richard Graves

Presenter, Writer and Broadcaster

Cleveland Browns @ Houston Texans (Total Points Over 44)

Super Wild Card weekend kicks off with a matchup between two teams who’ve been the feel good stories of the season.

A Houston Texans team, led by a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback who’ve found a win to win their division. A Cleveland Browns team who’ve lost their franchise quarterback and starting running back to injury. Inserted a 38 year old Joe Flacco into the starting line-up and still found a way to get into the post season.

When these two met at this venue 3 weeks ago, it was an entertaining game, won by Cleveland 37-20. The stakes may have been raised for this one with a win or go home scenario, but I don’t anticipate it being any less entertaining. These teams are loose, full of confidence and not afraid to take chances and air the ball out. The Browns average 23 points per game, the Texans 22. They both have defenses which make plays but it’s Cleveland’s which heads into the playoffs as the no. 1 ranked unit in the NFL.

Down the stretch, Cleveland have given up at least 20 points in 4 of their last 5 games. Houston have been noticeably meaner but the calibre of opposition certainly not in the same bracket as the Browns.

Expect to be entertained by two quarterbacks at the opposite end of their careers but both with a point to prove. The Browns are 2.5 point favourites on the road. This will likely be as closely fought an affair as that mark suggests with nothing left on the table when it’s done.

PICK: Total Points – over 44

 

Miami Dolphins @ Kansas City Chiefs (Chiefs Under 25.5 points) Saturday Night Football

Earlier this season when these teams met in Frankfurt, everyone believed Germany had landed a plum matchup and while it might not have produced the fireworks anticipated, the 21-14 Chiefs win did give us a glimpse of what was to come.

The Dolphins shut out Kansas City in the second half. The Chiefs largely shut down Tyreek Hill and this explosive Miami offense. It started a trend neither team has really been able to escape.

Sure, Miami have still put points on the board against weaker opposition but in their last 3 games of the regular season – all against playoff teams – they haven’t scored more than 22. To make matters worse key players on offense have questions marks over their health going into this game while their defense is significantly weaker with players like Bradley Chubb lost for the season.

Things aren’t much better for the reigning Super Bowl champions. Although Kansas City were afforded the luxury of resting their key starters for the final week of the regular season. Following that win in Germany though, Patrick Mahomes stated, they’d fix the problems on offense, but it hasn’t happened. They average just under 22 points per game this year. In their last 6 games they’ve scored over 20 points only twice! For this Chiefs team, that’s awful – and it’s a problem!

Ultimately, this is a game which really does come down to who can win the turnover battle. As we saw on Christmas Day against the Raiders, if KC turn the ball over, those mistakes are costly and, unlike in previous years, they just don’t have the firepower to overcome them. Equally for Miami, whenever they come up against playoff calibre opposition, scoring becomes an issue. Those 22 points scored against the Cowboys – the most they’ve scored against any team in the playoffs this season!

So, it’s understandable that they are 3.5 point underdogs but expect a low scoring, tight game, where 21 points could be enough to win it.

PICK: Kansas City Chiefs – under 25.5 points

 

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Buffalo Bills (Bills Over 24 points)

There isn’t a hotter team in the NFL right now than these Buffalo Bills. They entered December knowing they more than likely had to win out to make it into the playoffs. Not only did they win 5 games straight, but they beat Kansas City and Dallas in back to back weeks and then went into the home of their division leading rival, Miami Dolphins in the final game of the regular season and despite losing a couple of key players to injury, they got the win there as well – and now they are the number 2 seed.

Contrast that with this weekend’s opposition. The Pittsburgh Steelers had a few breaks to get here in the final week. First of all, they got the win they needed, against a Ravens team which sat all of it’s star players. Then they saw the Tennessee Titans shock the Jacksonville Jaguars. That was enough to get them in BUT it came at a cost. The loss of star pass rusher TJ Watt. He avoided an ACL tear but did damage his MCL. That means at least a two week absence to recover and even if he does see action, he’ll be a shadow of the game wrecker we’re used to seeing. He has 19 sacks this season – that’s a lot of production to be missing against a team which has the no. 4 ranked offense and averages 26.5 points per game.

Potentially it’s a decisive blow to a defense which finished the regular season as the no.6 ranked scoring defense – giving up 19 points per game. The Bottom line is, if the Steelers can’t get pressure on QB Josh Allen, they won’t win this game. They don’t have enough fire power to live with Buffalo. Pittsburgh themselves only score at an average of 18 points per game. Add into the equation that this game takes place in Buffalo……not only do the Bills win, they do it scoring at least 25 points.

PICK: Buffalo Bills – over 24 points

 

 

Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys (Cowboys -7.5)

Two teams steeped in history. Two teams hitting the playoffs on a roll. Two teams desperate to lift the Lombardi trophy once again but only one can progress.

The last time they met in the playoffs, it was a thriller at this venue. Tornado alerts ringing around outside the stadium, fireworks on the field inside it. Mike McCarthy came out on top but on that occasion, he was the head coach of the Packers, this weekend he’s in charge of the Cowboys – and make no mistake, it was for occasions such as this, Jerry Jones appointed him.

Dallas are coming off their 3rd consecutive 12 win regular season – in the entire NFL, only the Kansas City Chiefs have won more regular season games (37) but Dallas have only won once in the playoffs in that time.

For the Green Bay Packers, this was supposed to be a rebuilding year but Jordan Love has played superbly through December and they’re back in the post season once again – thanks to 3 straight wins to clinch the no. 7 seed. However, this team is the youngest in the NFL – average age of 25 – and while they enter the playoffs hot, it’s worth noting who they beat. The Bears, Vikings and Panthers. Prior to that run, they lost back to back games to the Buccaneers and Giants. If the Packers are to pull off the upset on Sunday, they must commit to the run, control the clock and play mistake free football.

If they do not, they’re inviting trouble. Dallas are 16-0 when playing at home since September 2022. They average over 37 points per game at home this season. Dak Prescott has thrown more touchdown passes than anyone else this season (36) They have a defense which has more quarterback pressures than any other team this year and they take the ball away from opponents.

Green Bay can point to their own defense, which only gives up 20 points per game this year and a road win in Detroit on Thanksgiving. However, the Lions gave the ball away on 3 occasions in that game. Dallas simply don’t turn the ball over on offense – they’ve only committed 16 turnovers this season. Only Houston have a better record.

If Dallas race into an early lead, it blows up the Packers game plan and this could get ugly, fast.

PICK: Dallas Cowboys -7.5

 

LA Rams @ Detroit Lions (Rams +3) Sunday Night Football

What a year it’s been for the Detroit Lions. It started on kick off night in Kansas City, when they took down the Super Bowl champions and finished with a thumping win over the Minnesota Vikings to leave them with a 12-5 record – tied for the best record in the NFC alongside Dallas and the no. 1 seeded San Francisco 49ers.

QB Jared Goff has thrown for 4575 yards this year, along with 30 TDs to 12 interceptions. The Lions offense ranks in the top 5 overall, passing, rushing and points scored (27.1 ppg). This will be the first time they’ve ever hosted an NFL playoff game at Ford Field. Understandable them that they are 3 point favourites going into a game which will likely have a feverish atmosphere from a sell-out crowd.

Yet, there’s cause to hesitate and tap the breaks. As good as their offense has been, their defense has been fragile. They’re great at stopping the run (2nd in the NFL) but they rank 19th overall, 27th defending the pass, 23rd in points allowed (23.2 ppg) and 17th in forcing turnovers.

That’s a concern when you consider who’s coming into town. An LA Rams team, which is coached by Sean McVay. Quarterbacked by Matthew Stafford – who spent 11 years playing in Detroit and was traded for by a Rams team who didn’t feel Goof was good enough to deliver a Super Bowl. Stafford did exactly that. More than that though, this is a Rams team which went into Baltimore -the team with the best record in football – just a few weeks ago and only lost in overtime. They have a pair of receivers – Cooper Kupp and rookie, Puka Nacua – who are a handful for the very best defensive backs. We haven’t even mentioned a defensive line which includes Aaron Donald.

This may well end up being a high scoring affair and on stages such as this, experience counts. The Rams come into this game with a 10-7 record – that’s why they’re a wild card – but they’re red hot. They’ve won 7 of their last 8. They’re pretty healthy and they’re firing on all cylinders.

This may turn out to be a year too early for a Lions team that’s already achieved so much. I like the Rams in this one but if the Lions were to win, it may be a last second field goal that does it.

PICK: LA Rams +3

 

Philadelphia Eagles @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Buccaneers +2.5) Monday Night Football

Two years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles went to Tampa in the Wild Card round and the Buccaneers had their way with them. Now, I’m not saying this game will go the same way but 3 weeks ago barely anyone thought this would realistically be the matchup this weekend. The bottom line is a once 10-1 team have lost 5 of their last 6 games. They’re banged up. They look bereft of confidence or frankly, ideas when they’re on the field. They appear to have lost their way.

It’s not like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been ripping up trees – they’re record is worse than the Eagles – but they are the NFC South champions and when they needed to get a win to ensure their spot in the playoffs, they got it. All be it a 9-0 road win in Carolina. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has emerged as a real leader for this team. Clearly hurt last weekend (we already knew he was dealing with a rib issue); he limped around the field but led his team to do just enough and these are the stages he loves!

The Bucs come into this matchup averaging just 20 points per game. They have the worst rushing attack in the NFL. They’re defense ranks 29th defending the pass. These are statistics that give little cause for confidence in a playoff game but….

The Eagles have only won one of their last 6 games. In that period, they too only average 20 points per game. They’ve allowed 30 points a game to opponents over that period AND there are real question marks over the health of their star players – even if they do suit up!

Lastly, no team has lost 5 or more games since the beginning of December and gone on to win a playoffs game – and I don’t think they do here.

PICK: Tampa Bay Buccaneers +2.5

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