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(Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)
(Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

Pullett's Picks: Wild Card Weekend

Browns @ Texans

The Cleveland Browns face off against the Houston Texans in a rematch of a Week 16 matchup where Cleveland won 36-22. Amari Cooper had one of the best games of all time, putting up 265 receiving yards and two touchdowns in Week 16. While the Browns’ win was impressive, there are differences between that game and this Saturday’s matchup. Neither of their top draft selections, C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson Jr., played in Week 16. These changes in the lineup should help Houston, given both Stroud and Anderson are in consideration for Rookie of the Year awards. While the connection between Joe Flacco and Amari Cooper was unstoppable in the last game, the Texans’ pass defense has been one of the best in the league since Week 15. Houston and Kansas City are the only two playoff teams who have allowed less than 200 passing yards in three of their last four games. Cleveland’s rushing attack struggled in Week 16, as they ran for 1.8 yards per carry on 30 attempts. The Browns’ defense has been great this season, however, their defense has been considerably worse on the road than at home. Cleveland allows 15.7 more points per game on the road (29.6) than at home (13.9). These signs indicate a game that should lead to a different result than their last matchup. While Joe Flacco led the NFL in passing yards in December (1,616), he also led the league in interceptions (8). These signs lead to Houston winning this game.

Texans 27, Browns 20

Dolphins @ Chiefs

The Miami Dolphins travel to Kansas City in a rematch of this season’s Germany game. The cold weather is the biggest factor for Miami in this game. Tua Tagovailoa is 0-4 in games below 40 degrees and the Dolphins have lost their last 10 games in games played at less than 40 degrees. Given the forecast calls for single-digit temperatures and snow, Miami will need to prepare for the elements to win this week. The Chiefs have performed well in the cold with Patrick Mahomes, as they are 4-0 in games below 18 degrees. While the Dolphins were one of the hottest teams in the league midseason, they lost their last two games of the season in important games to clinch the division. Miami’s best chance at upsetting the reigning Super Bowl champions is to limit Travis Kelce. This has been Kelce’s worst statistical season with Mahomes, having the least receiving yards since his sophomore season, and lowest yards per catch since entering the NFL. Kansas City could rely on Isiah Pacheco if they take an early lead on the Dolphins. While Miami’s rushing attack has more big-play ability with Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane, Pacheco is the better power back. Mahomes’ job could be made easier if Pacheco can help Kansas City get into 2nd or 3rd and short situations. Ultimately, the Dolphins' lack of playoff experience in comparison to the Chiefs will be too much to overcome on Saturday night.

Chiefs 24, Dolphins 17

Steelers @ Bills

Mike Tomlin’s extended his streak of winning seasons since the beginning of his career to 17 this season, landing Pittsburgh a spot in this season’s playoffs. While the Steelers’ season has been relatively successful, the Buffalo Bills should dominate in the first game on Sunday. Josh Allen has performed well in the playoffs throughout his career, averaging 345.9 total yards, 2.5 touchdowns, and .75 turnovers per game. Allen’s playoff performances should continue this playoff success, especially with T.J. Watt out due to a knee injury. The Steelers will likely struggle without their Defensive Player of the Year Candidate. However, their best chance to win is to force Allen to make tough plays. While Allen has performed well in the playoffs, the biggest concern with his play is his tendency to have costly turnovers. Allen leads playoff quarterbacks with 21 total turnovers this season. Pittsburgh’s best chance at winning is to capitalize on multiple Allen turnovers. However, Buffalo should coast against the seventh seed in the AFC.

Bills 31, Steelers 14

Packers @ Cowboys

On Sunday afternoon Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Mike McCarthy hosts his former team, the Green Bay Packers. McCarthy lost his only matchup against his former team last season. However, Green Bay has had a quarterback change between that game and now. Jordan Love is hoping to do something that former Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers did twice in his career, defeat the Cowboys in the playoffs. Green Bay has a few things they would need to go right to become the first seventh seed to win a playoff game in the new playoff format. The Packers need some key players to recover from or play through injuries at a high level. Jaire Alexander rolled his ankle in a jog-through on Wednesday, causing him to miss Thursday’s practice. If Alexander suits up, he would presumably be given the assignment of slowing down CeeDee Lamb. Alexander’s impact could be big, although almost no one has been able to slow down Lamb this season. The next injured player that Green Bay would need to play is Christian Watson. Watson’s best career game was last season’s game against Dallas where he recorded 107 receiving yards and three touchdowns. The Packers also need Jordan Love to continue distributing the ball equally between his receiving options. Green Bay has had a different player lead the team in receiving yards every month this season. The Packers have also had a great run game in the past few weeks. Aaron Jones has averaged at least five yards per carry on at least 20 rushing attempts in each of the last three games. Green Bay could pull off the upset if all of these things go right for them. However, this year’s Cowboys have been better than in years past. The easiest way to see their star power is in the award races. Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, and Micah Parsons are all serious candidates for MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year. With Daron Bland as a threat to return any potential interception thrown by Love to the endzone, Dallas just has too much firepower for the Packers in this matchup.

Cowboys 29, Packers 22

Rams @ Lions

The Detroit Lions host their first playoff game since 1994 after winning the NFC North for the first time. The Lions ironically host the Matthew Stafford-led Los Angeles Rams in one of the more intriguing matchups of the weekend. Both teams have electric offenses and defenses that can struggle. Detroit could be missing Sam LaPorta, one of the best rookie tight ends in recent NFL history. LaPorta’s status could be key for the Lions’ offense, given how well he performs both as a run-blocker and a pass-catcher. Detroit can play different styles of football depending on the time and score, making them one of the more dangerous teams in the NFC. The Lions’ rushing attack with David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs is arguably the best one-two combination in the NFL. Montgomery can be used in short-yardage situations or when Detroit wants to chew the clock. Gibbs is the more explosive back with 10 carries of 20 or more yards (2nd). Amon-Ra St. Brown has also been one of the best receivers in the league this season, as he’s top three in both receiving yards (1,515) and receptions (119). Los Angeles has an offense with just as much firepower led by Cooper Kupp, Puka Nacua, and Kyren Williams. The difference between these two teams could end up being their quarterback play. While Stafford and Jared Goff are not too far off from each other, the Rams have a clear advantage. Sean McVay is an offensive-minded head coach and saw Jared Goff practice and play for four years. McVay’s knowledge of what Goff is and isn’t capable of doing on a football field and what situations make him the most uncomfortable will make a difference in this game. McVay is one of the smartest coaches in the NFL, and the Rams will use their inside scouting report on Goff to force him to make costly mistakes, ultimately giving Los Angeles a road playoff victory.

Rams 31, Lions 28

Eagles @ Buccaneers

The Philadelphia Eagles will travel to Tampa Bay to play the Buccaneers on Monday night. The Eagles, coming off a Super Bowl appearance, have not performed at the level they expected to be at in the last six weeks. Philadelphia was 10-1 to start the season, but has since fallen to 11-6. The Eagles have fallen apart too much over the past two months for them to be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender. Fortunately, they face off against a playoff team that has the same amount of wins as the seventh seed, the Buccaneers. While this matchup is arguably the best-case scenario for Philadelphia, Tampa Bay has a chance to “upset” the Eagles. The Bucs have home-field advantage, which could be huge in this game. Two big injuries could end Philly’s season, as both Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown are questionable. Hurts has a finger injury on his throwing hand, which could negatively impact his accuracy. Brown’s knee injury caused him to miss Thursday’s practice, and could realistically miss Monday’s game. The Eagles’ offense would lose a lot of its big-play ability without Brown. While Tampa Bay may not look like the toughest opponent, they have played well in the last few weeks leading into the playoffs, winning five of their last six games. The Buccaneers’ biggest concern should be their offense. They have only scored 22 points in their last two games combined. This is a big cause for concern given these games were against non-playoff teams. However, Tampa Bay’s offense has playmakers that Philly hasn’t proven they can stop as of late. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Rachaad White could all have good games against a struggling Eagles defense. Although the Eagles may be a better team, the mix of how their recent struggles and the Bucs’ recent success is reason to believe in a Tampa Bay victory.

Buccaneers 24, Eagles 17

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