The NFL has officially announced the schedule for the 2024 Wild Card playoff weekend, which features several intriguing matchups between teams hoping to make a run to Super Bowl LVIII. After a thrilling end to the regular season, the league has finalized dates, times and broadcasting details for the six playoff games that will kick off the postseason.
Favorites Look to Avoid Upsets
The opening matchup on Saturday January 14th will see the Houston Texans host the Cleveland Browns at 4:30pm ET on Fox. The Browns limped into the playoffs after losing quarterback Deshaun Watson late in the season, while the Texans have been strong all year behind an explosive offense. Most oddsmakers see the Texans as 7.5 point favorites.
Following that matchup is an AFC East rivalry game between the red-hot Miami Dolphins traveling to take on the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs at 8:15pm ET on NBC and Peacock. Despite entering the playoffs on a 10-game winning streak, the Dolphins are 6.5 point underdogs on the road against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, who feature the league’s top passing attack.
On Sunday, the Detroit Lions will look to win their first playoff game since 1992 as they host the injury-riddled Los Angeles Rams at 1pm ET on Fox. Potential MVP candidate Jared Goff faces his former team, with the Lions currently 4 point favorites thanks to the Rams missing several key players.
The Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers meet later Sunday afternoon at 4:40pm ET on CBS in what is a rematch of their week 9 thriller. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys outlasted Aaron Rodgers 42-35 in that regular season matchup, but home field advantage has the Packers listed as slim 1 point favorites this time around.
Injury Concerns Loom Large
A rash of late season injuries has impacted several key contributors on wild card teams.
The Rams hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champions took a hit when star wide receiver Cooper Kupp re-injured his ankle in week 16, causing him to miss the final two regular season games. His status for Sunday is still up in the air. Starting quarterback Matthew Stafford is also attempting to return from a back injury that sidelined him for the past month. Veteran backup John Wolford led Los Angeles to two wins in Stafford’s absence, but Wolford suffered a nasty hit last week that has his status uncertain. If neither quarterback can play, third string QB Bryce Perkins would make his first career start against the Lions.
In Green Bay, Rodgers has been playing through a broken thumb since week 12 but says he will be good to go on Sunday. However the Packers may be without star running back Aaron Jones, who is struggling through an ankle sprain. His backup AJ Dillon also showed up on the injury report this week with a banged up shoulder. Together they spearhead Green Bay’s fifth ranked rushing attack.
The battered Browns will turn to either Joshua Dobbs or Kellen Mond at quarterback after former #1 overall pick Deshaun Watson tore his ACL on Christmas Eve. Whoever gets the nod will be backed up by recently signed 36 year old Josh McCown, who came out of retirement for one more shot at glory.
Mahomes Leads All Players in Merchandise Sales
On Tuesday the NFL announced that Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes once again topped league player merchandise sales for the 2023 regular season. The 2022 MVP winner claimed six of the seven top selling merchandise items league-wide. For the second year in a row Mahomes’ jersey was the highest selling, followed closely by Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott at #2. Purchases of Mahomes gear on NFLShop.com were up 11% from 2022 totals. Tom Brady, Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers rounded out the top 5.
|Kansas City Chiefs
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers
|Green Bay Packers
Mahomes Favored to Win Third MVP
Mahomes is also the current betting favorite and predicted winner to take home his third career MVP award for his performance this season. The superstar quarterback led the league with 41 touchdown passes and 5,250 passing yards. He had odds of +140 to win MVP as of Tuesday, meaning a $100 wager would net $140 in profit.
Jalen Hurts is Mahomes closest competition at +180 odds, followed by Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson and 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa at +1200. Mahomes took home MVP honors in 2018 and 2022. He has led the Chiefs to five straight AFC Championship games but they have fallen short of the Super Bowl each of the last two seasons.
|2024 MVP Candidate
Playoff Drama Set for Encore
If this past weekend’s exhilarating regular season finale is any indication, fans are in for a treat during Super Wild Card weekend. The final two spots in the AFC weren’t decided until the last game’s final play.
The banged up Pittsburgh Steelers edged the Cleveland Browns in overtime when undrafted rookie wide receiver Tyler Vaughns hauled in a 50 yard touchdown pass from Kenny Pickett on 4th and 12 to pull off a 23-17 stunner. That thrilling finish allowed the 8-9 Miami Dolphins to sneak into the playoffs and set up their date with the Chiefs.
There was also chaos in the NFC on Sunday night when the Dallas Cowboys lost backup quarterback Cooper Rush to injury just before halftime, forcing third string QB Will Grier to take over. Needing a win to secure home field advantage, running back Tony Pollard strapped the Cowboys on his back, galloping for 150 yards and three scores – including the game winner in OT – to take down the Eagles 33-27.
Games with that level of last second drama have become commonplace, which should make for compelling viewing all throughout the NFL playoffs.
Mahomes, Kelce on Verge of Playoff Milestones
Mahomes can bolster his individual playoff résumé over the next month as he approaches some significant career milestones. After just five postseason appearances he already ranks second in playoff touchdown passes with 27, behind only the legendary Tom Brady. Mahomes needs just three more to become the first player with 30 playoff TD passes before age 28.
His top weapon Travis Kelce also moved up in the record books this season. Kelce broke Tony Gonzalez’s Chiefs career marks for receptions and receiving yards and now ranks fifth all time among tight ends in career playoff receptions with 53. He is just two catches away from passing Dave Casper for fourth most ever.
With potentially three or four more games this postseason, Mahomes and Kelce could take over the top spots on those touchdown pass and reception leaderboards.
Schedule and Matchups Set for Divisional Round
While the attention is currently centered on the wild card games, the divisional playoff schedule has already been locked in by the league in anticipation of next weekend’s contests.
The winners between the Browns and Texans will head to Buffalo to challenge the AFC’s #2 seeded Bills. Early odds list Buffalo as 10 point favorites over Houston or 13.5 point favorites against Cleveland. In the late AFC divisional game next Sunday, the Chiefs will host the lower remaining seed between the Dolphins and whoever comes out of the Ravens vs Steelers matchup occurring today.
In the NFC the Packers or Cowboys will welcome the winner of the Buccaneers – 49ers game, while the Eagles will face either the Seahawks or the Lions-Rams victor. Eagles quarterback and MVP finalist Jalen Hurts is expected to return from his shoulder injury by next weekend.
Several juicy quarterback matchups are possible if the favorites advance. We could see combinations of Mahomes vs Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers vs Tom Brady, Geno Smith vs Jalen Hurts or even a Rodgers vs Brady rematch. Any of those would be must see television.
While fans may be looking ahead to the next round, the surviving teams know all focus must remain on winning this weekend first. No lead will feel safe given the incredible parity and number of close finishes around the league this season.
Strap in for what looks to be another exhilarating month of playoff football!
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