Welcome NFL fans to Super Wild Card Weekend! It’s officially the most wonderful time of the year for football fans, and depending on who you ask, the opening weekend of the NFL playoffs may well be the best weekend of football all year. There are plenty of delectable storylines to dig into as the elimination games loom.
Close to home, the Buffalo Bills’ resurrection tale rolls on with a date against what is likely the worst team to have made the playoffs this year in the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers managed to do enough to back into the playoffs, helped in large part by Jacksonville’s bungling of the final weeks.
Mike Tomlin’s job may have been saved but Pittsburgh faces a monumental task trying to beat Buffalo at home in January, particularly without the services of T.J. Watt. The Houston Texans find themselves as one of two home dogs this weekend and that says more about the Browns than it does about them.
C.J. Stroud has wasted very little time turning the Texans into a playoff team, yet the story in Cleveland is something to keep a close eye on. Former 38-year-old retiree Joe Flacco’s return to the NFL with the Browns has been a success story worth rooting for, and this team that is without Deshaun Watson and Nick Chubb has now coalesced into a dangerous squad heading into the Wild Card round.
With the AFC looking wide open, the Browns are looking like a serious sleeper threat. Our two Super Bowl teams from a year ago arrive at the playoffs with serious clouds of doubt hanging over them. The Chiefs and the Eagles are both regarded as “bad good teams” at this stage, and despite having the personnel and experience to win games, simply haven’t been doing so in convincing fashion in the waning weeks of the regular season.
All that being said, the playoffs are a different beast and experience taming said beast can’t be undersold. Will the mere fact of having been there and done that give these two squads an extra gear or will the negative noise drown them out. The Dallas Cowboys may be the team I hate picking the most. When I expect them to zig they zag. When I expect them to win, they fall resoundingly on their faces.
My attempts to decipher them mirror somewhat my attempts to understand their opponents this week in the Green Bay Packers. I regarded them as dead in the water earlier this year, yet QB Jordan Love proved me wrong and strung together a series of performances worthy of a playoff berth. Picking this one will do my head in, but Cowboys vs Packers is the kind of classic matchup we football fans live for, so I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Lastly, we come to my favourite storyline of Wild Card Weekend, and perhaps the favourite of NFL media as a whole. You couldn’t really draw up a scenario any better. Detroit is hosting its first playoff game in 30 years and the only thing standing in the way of making it a success is its former QB and franchise cornerstone, Matt Stafford.
It seems that Detroit is destined to take the hard road, and that playoff glory wont come easily. Not that it ever does, but there’s an extra level of cosmic force playing its hand in Detroit. Franchises who are long maligned typically have to go through a gauntlet to reach greener pastures and the Lions are no different. An old friend is now the enemy at the gates and NFL fans could not be more excited to see the battle unfold.
With our Super Wild Card Weekend storylines in tow, let’s crunch some numbers and make some playoff picks! FavouriteM-LineSpreadTotalUnderdogDay/Time (ET)
Cleveland Browns-140-2.5O/U 44.5Houston Texans*Saturday / 1:30 PMKansas City Chiefs-230-4.5O/U 44Miami DolphinsSaturday / 5:15 PMBuffalo Bills-550-10O/U 36Pittsburgh SteelersSunday / 1:00 PMDallas Cowboys-360-7.5O/U 51Green Bay PackersSunday / 4:30 PMDetroit Lions-165-3O/U 51.5Los Angeles RamsSunday / 8:00 PMPhiladelphia Eagles-160-3O/U 44Tampa Bay Buccaneers*Monday / 8:00 PM
All odds courtesy of bet365* = Home Team
Underdog Super Wild Card Weekend Picks
Cleveland Browns – Moneyline: -150 It’s no secret that I’ve been a big fan of Joe Flacco’s return to football. I think it’s a fun story and it’s something that you typically only see in the NFL. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a huge Flacco head when he was in his prime, and yes, I may have been one of the myriad of people to have memed on him while asking if he was truly “elite”. But one undeniable thing about Joe is that he has won, and won with a very similar team that he finds himself leading right now.
The Cleveland Browns have defied the odds this season by virtue of their world-beating defence, a defence that has perhaps not gotten the headlines it deserved due to it being overshadowed by the Browns’ injury troubles. On the other side of the coin, we have the Texans. A team who super charged its rebuild in part due to the picks it received from the aforementioned Browns in exchange for Deshaun Watson.
Watson wont be playing for either team this weekend, but his Texans heir apparent will be in C.J. Stroud. Stroud is an electrifying talent that will make Houston a playoff team for years to come, but they’ve a little ways to go before being a true contender. Flacco and the Browns have a distinctive edge here, even as the visitors. And if their Week 17 win over the Texans is any indication (a 36-22 victory in which Flacco threw for 368 yards and three TDs) we’ll be seeing them in next week’s Divisional Round.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Moneyline: +135 This is going to be a popular pick this week, and before you think that we’re falling into a trap, let me break it down. This pick and this game has everything to do with the Eagles and very little to do with the Bucs. Now you may ask yourself, how does that favour Tampa in any way, and to that I’d say that I’d like any team that has to beat a franchise in as much of a disaster maintenance mode as Philadelphia finds itself right now. While the Eagles were losing five of their final six games of the year we learned a few things along the way.
We learned that their defence is cooked, their offence has run out of ideas, and that nobody on either side of the ball trusts the coaches (that goes for the fans too). Now to circle back on me saying that this game has little to do with the Bucs. I meant it. Tampa Bay is bad too, and were it facing anyone else this week, I would be picking against the Bucs. But I’m opting to believe more in the pall of negativity hanging over the Eagles than I am in their ability to get things right. Slim advantage to the home team, in what should be kind of a bummer of a game on Monday night. Bet on Eagles vs. Buccaneers PHI -160TB +135
Detroit Lions– Moneyline: -165 This was maybe the hardest pick I’ve had to make all year. I have love for both of these teams and I think they can beat anyone when everything clicks. Of course, sometimes those clicks don’t come, and in the case of the Lions in particular, they can look pretty ugly when they don’t. But this week I’m opting to tune out the obvious narrative of Detroit-style failure and am staking the Lions with my belief and my betting dollars.
The Lions deserve it, their fans deserve it, and as I said in the intro to this article, they have to overcome significant obstacles to clear the shadow cast on this franchise for so long now. I’m choosing to believe in Jared Goff outplaying his former coach and many of his former teammates, players that may well know him better than anyone outside of his current team.
I’m choosing to believe that the Lions defence can stop one of the better passing offences in the league right now, something they’ve struggled with all year. I’m choosing to believe that special things happen at special times and that we may finally be reaching a special era.