Finally, the NFL playoffs are here. The Wild Card round kicks off on Saturday, with Cleveland visiting AFC South champion Houston for the first of six games on this week’s slate. All of those contests currently have single-digit spreads, including three between two and three points.
Who has the best chance of pulling off a surprise? With that in mind, let’s break down the top potential NFL playoff underdog picks for Wild Card Weekend.
The Browns beat the Texans 36-22 on Christmas Eve, but C.J. Stroud did not play because of a concussion. Now healthy again, he’s a potential game-changer.
The No. 2 overall pick passed for 4,108 yards, 23 touchdowns, and only five interceptions in 15 games, as Houston overcame +1000 odds to win their first AFC South title since 2019. He’s separated himself as a -5000 favorite for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
To keep Houston’s season alive, Stroud must buck the trend of rookie quarterbacks struggling in the postseason. They’re just 10-14 in their playoff debuts. Only one (Brock Purdy, 2023) has won in the last decade.
Cleveland (11-6) is one of two road favorites on Wild Card Weekend. It had won four straight prior to its Week 18 loss to Cincinnati, where it rested most of its starters. Joe Flacco has been a revelation, going 4-1 as a starter after signing with the Browns in December. The Browns also have the league’s No. 1 ranked defense (270.2 yards allowed per game).
That’s a lot for Houston to overcome, but Stroud isn’t your typical rookie.
The Dolphins jumped out to a 9-3 start but sputtered down the stretch and coughed up the AFC East to Buffalo on the final day of the regular season. Now, instead of opening the playoffs in sunny South Florida, they’ll head to Kansas City, where wind chills are forecasted to plunge to -30 degrees.
Miami beat only one team with a winning record and is dealing with many injuries. Running back Rasheem Mostert (knee/ankle), receiver Jaylen Waddle (ankle), and safeties DeShone Elliott (calf) and Jevon Holland (knees) are all questionable, while cornerback Xavien Howard (foot) is out. As such, Kansas City opened as a 2.5-point favorite and has climbed to -4.5 on the NFL point spread.
That’s undoubtedly a lot to overcome. But fortunately for Miami, this isn’t the same Kansas City team that we’ve familiarized ourselves with in recent years. The Chiefs don’t have many playmakers outside of tight end Travis Kelce and receiver Rashee Rice. They averaged a modest 21.8 points and went Under the total an NFL-high 12 times this NFL season. That includes a 21-14 victory over the Dolphins in Germany.
The Rams are arguably the hottest team going right now. They’ve won four straight and seven of eight, with the only blemish an overtime loss in Baltimore in Week 14. During that span, they’re averaging 28.2 points and have cracked 30 on four different occasions.
They have a Super Bowl-winning coach/quarterback combo, in addition to two of the league’s brightest young playmakers in running back Kyren Williams and receiver Puka Nacua. Nacua’s 1,486 receiving yards surpassed Bill Groman’s rookie record of 1,473 (1960), according to NFL stats.
Matthew Stafford’s return to Detroit marks the Lions’ first home playoff game since Jan 8, 1994, at the end of the 1993 season. The Lions have covered in five of their last six and are an NFL-best 12-5 ATS. Still, some are skeptical of them being legitimate contenders.
The Lions got off to an 8-2 start in the NFL standings but hit a few speed bumps down the stretch, finishing 4-3 over their final seven games. They’re now 3-point favorites after opening at -3.5.
The Eagles (11-6) are in free fall, losing five of their last six games following a 10-1 start. After fumbling away the NFC East, they’re faced with opening the playoffs on the road.
Complicating matters, NFL injuries have begun to pile up for Philadelphia. Quarterback Jalen Hurts (finger) and receivers A.J. Brown (knee) and DeVonta Smith (ankle) are just a few of the key starters who are banged up.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers won five of their last six games and went 11-6 ATS, turning in the NFL’s second-best cover rate at 64.7%.
Tampa Bay remains one of the biggest NFL playoff underdogs at +2800 to win the NFC, but it’s certainly capable of surprising Philadelphia if Baker Mayfield has a big game. The former No. 1 overall pick has enjoyed a renaissance with Tampa Bay, throwing for a career-high 4,044 yards, 28 touchdowns, and just 10 interceptions.
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