The NFL Postseason is a bittersweet time of the year. On one hand, it's the most exhilarating football we will see all season long. The stakes are as high as they can be. It's truly win or go home every week. Over the next month, we'll see a field of 14 teams dwindle to 1 Super Bowl Champion. Truly exciting stuff for the 14 fan bases lucky enough to have a dog in the fight. The other side of the coin? We're only a month away from a long, long offseason. No football for months. Gross.
We don't have to think about that just yet. Before we get there, or even to the Super Bowl, we've got to get through Wild Card Weekend first. This is just the second Wild Card Weekend the Chiefs have participated in in the Patrick Mahomes era, the other being a 42-21 trouncing of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2022. Kansas City has had both good fortune and stellar performances to credit for their lack of Wild Card activity over the past 5 seasons, but this year as the AFC's 3 seed they face an extra test in the Miami Dolphins in the Wild Card as well as the potential of a 3 game defense of their AFC crown from a year ago in search of the first repeat Super Bowl championship since the 2003-2004 New England Patriots.
This weekend's slate is chock full of juicy storylines across the league, especially here in Chiefs Kingdom. In addition to Tyreek Hill's return to Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs and Dolphins could potentially be playing in the coldest game in NFL postseason history with wind chills projected to be near -30 at game time. You have Mike McCarthy leading Dallas against his former team, the Green Bay Packers. Matthew Stafford is leading the Los Angeles Rams into his old stomping grounds where he'll face the Detroit Lions and Jared Goff, for whom he was traded two seasons ago. And you have the Deshaun Watson Bowl between the Cleveland Browns (who may be regretting their investment) and the Houston Texans who might be better off without him.
Ripe with drama, indeed. But as the Chiefs prepare for both the elements and the opponent, one has to wonder if the forecast for Saturday's game will aid a Chiefs offense that has struggled for much of the 2023 campaign. One would deduce that frigid temps would lead to Andy Reid and Matt Nagy leaning on the running game, but Nagy's comments on Wednesday may lead some to believe the passing game will still be a focal point this weekend.
One thing that has aided the health of my picks on this site this year? Back-to-back stellar performances to end the regular season. With an 11-5 mark in Week 18 capped off a 170-92 regular season. But we're not done yet. These are the games, and picks, that matter the most.
Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs
The Dolphins come to Kansas City looking more like the walking wounded than the explosive offense that put up 70 points on the Denver Broncos earlier this season. Does that mean this game is an easy W for the Chiefs? Hardly.
Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel's brain represents a vast challenge for a Kansas City defense that has been exceptional in 2023. From formations to motion to the way McDaniel dreams up route combinations both out of the gun and with play-action benefitting from Miami's extremely creative rushing schemes, the Dolphins can kill an opposing defense in a lot of ways. Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (high ankle sprain) and running back Raheem Mostert (ankle sprain) are expected back for the Wild Card matchup after missing the final two weeks of the regular season, giving Miami's offense two additional explosive elements to complement Tyreek Hill and rookie running back De'Von Achane.
Defensively, Miami is literally and figuratively limping into this matchup. The Dolphins signed veterans Justin Houston and Bruce Irvin this week to compensate for the losses of Jaelen Phillips and Bradley Chubb, and a good chunk of their linebacking corps of Andrew Van Ginkel, Jerome Baker, and Cameron Goode are all now on injured reserve. If there's an opportunity for the Chiefs offense to come alive, it is against this shell of a defense that Miami brings into this matchup.
This game will ultimately come down to who can execute in the extremely frigid conditions that Arrowhead Stadium will offer up on Saturday night. Not sure how familiar all of you are with Miami's climate, but it's generally speaking not a place where you see sub-zero wind chills. The Dolphins are 0-9 in their last 9 games played in temps below 40 degrees. It has the potential to be 70 degrees colder than that in Kansas City on Saturday night. The Chiefs, behind an offensive line that has been much maligned this season and Isiah Pacheco's angry running style, should control the clock in this game and start their march toward a second straight Super Bowl championship. But it will not be easy. Chiefs 23, Dolphins 21
Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans
Cleveland comes to Houston as one of the scariest teams in the playoffs in both conferences. There were questions about Cleveland's offense mid-seasons when Deshaun Watson went down for the year with a shoulder injury, but veteran Joe Flacco has ignited a flame on the offensive side of the ball for a Cleveland team that has consistently played the best defense of anyone in the NFL this season. That does not mean CJ Stroud and the up-and-coming Houston Texans will not be a challenge.
Stroud leads a Houston team that needed wins (and some outside help) in Weeks 17 and 18 to get into the playoffs, and they got it done against two division rivals. There is a grit and fire in this team that can't be ignored, but Cleveland's talent from top to bottom on defense might be too much to stomach for the rookie quarterback. The Texans may still be a year or two away from real competition in the AFC, but a division championship and home playoff game in his first campaign is nothing to scoff at. Browns 31, Texans 24
Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills
Buffalo is technically the hottest team in the league coming into the playoffs, winning 5 straight to close the regular season in what was a come-from-behind AFC East championship and clinching of the AFC's 2 seed. Have the Bills been playing better? Yes. But fortune has certainly been on their side. We all know what happened when Buffalo came to Kansas City, but just last week in Miami a pass tipped by a Dolphins defender careened 30 feet into the air before landing soundly in the arms of Trent Sherfield for a 7-yard touchdown.
Luck is necessary in any playoff run. Look at the Chiefs path to the Super Bowl in 2019. But has Buffalo used too much of their luck in getting here? That's for the universe to decide. The bottom line is this: with no TJ Watt, Pittsburgh is likely not going to be the black cat that crosses the Bills' path and derails their current run. Josh Allen and the Bills offense have been running the ball extremely well over the last 5 weeks, and Pittsburgh's defense was 19th in the league in 2023 in rush defense with Watt, allowing over 115 yards per game. I like Buffalo to cram the ball down Pittsburgh's throat in this one and set up a very, very interesting divisional-round matchup with the Chiefs. Bills 21, Steelers 13
Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys
Will the Cowboys choke? That's not a question of if, but when it will happen this postseason. Mike McCarthy constantly has the look of a guy who has gambled an amount of money he cannot afford on a casino game that he truly does not understand while he's on the sidelines. The Cowboys are loaded with talent. But the moment seems too big almost all the time for McCarthy. Will the fact that his former team is coming to Jerry's World get in his head?
It will all depend on how Jordan Love comes out of the gates in this one. The Packers' offensive line will be the biggest determining factor in how this turns out against Micah Parsons and a Cowboys defense that can kill teams without Dak Prescott and company even taking the field. If Love can stay upright and deliver the ball to his young receivers, the Packers have a chance in this one. Something tells me the Cowboys' defense will get them to the next round in these NFC playoffs. Cowboys 27, Packers 21
Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions
Detroit is hosting its first playoff game in 30 years. Hats off to my guy Dan Campbell for believing this could be done, and getting a room full of the right 53 players to believe it week in and week out as well. But man, what a gut-wrenching experience it would be for the good people of the Motor City if their former promised prince Matt Stafford came to town and ripped their hearts out right in front of them.
The Rams are hot. Very hot. And the Lions have been kind of just getting by in the season's second half. Does this mean LA will come in and destroy the hopes and dreams of an entire city? No, certainly not. But the Lions' defense is going to have to step up against a Rams offense that has been fantastic in the second half of the year to get them to this point. The Rams are the trendy pick here, but there is something about belief that Ted Lasso and I hold near and dear to our hearts, and Dan Campbell and the Lions have it. Lions 27, Rams 24
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Who are the Philadelphia Eagles? Are they the 10-1 world beaters that everyone had penciled into a second straight NFC title, or the 1-5 disjointed team whose quarterback questions how badly his teammates want it and his star wideout comes to the defense of a suddenly maligned head coach? That answer remains to be seen, but with the way their season has taken an intense turn for the worse, it's tough to see them becoming that 10-1 squad in short order.
If there is one thing they do have going for them, though, it is veteran leadership that has been here before. Tampa has that as well, but how much stock do we want to put in Baker Mayfield? He has done an exceptional job of resurrecting his career this year, and there are certain aspects of the Eagles' defense that Tampa can take advantage of in this matchup, but will they? Do we think a NFC South team will knock off the defending NFC champs in the first round of the playoffs? Well, I do. Buccaneers 24, Eagles 20