NFL: Wild Card Weekend
As expected, the final weekend of the 2023/24 National Football League (NFL) regular season was filled with intrigue and drama, as 10 teams fought to qualify for a handful of play-off spots still available, while a few others played to capture divisional crowns.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans, whose postseason possibilities appeared to be mere pipe dreams heading into last weekend, came out with big wins and, with help from other results, find themselves activated for Wild Card Weekend, starting tomorrow. In contrast, a couple of other teams, particularly the Jacksonville Jaguars, who had a win-and-in opportunity, failed in their efforts.
So, after 18 weeks filled with big win streaks, exciting plays, impacting injuries and memorable storylines, the play-off picture has been set. The coveted number one seed in the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC) were secured a couple of weekends ago by the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, respectively, which will see them sitting out this weekend’s action; however, all other 12 teams will be featured.
Speaking of which, Wild Card Weekend will be laced with plots and subplots that will add a soap opera atmosphere to the gridiron action. This was made even more alluring by the AFC North becoming the first division since the NFL merger in 1970, to have every team finish with a winning record in a single season — Ravens (13-4), Cleveland Browns (11-6), Steelers (10-7), Cincinnati Bengals (9-8).
Additionally, of the four teams in NFL history that have never been to a Super Bowl, three of them — Texans, Browns and Detroit Lions (the Jaguars being the other) — are in the play-offs this year. Unfortunately for the Browns and Texans, they’ll be facing each other, which means one of them will be going home after the first round. The Lions, however, will be hosting their first play-off game in 30 years and added to the drama, they will be facing former quarterback (QB) Matthew Stafford on Sunday night when they play the Los Angeles Rams. With QB Jared Goff (who was formerly with the Rams) starting for the Lions, the game between Los Angeles and Detroit will mark the first time in play-off history where both starting quarterbacks are facing their former team.
Stafford, who played for the Lions from 2009 to 2020, won the Super Bowl his first year with the Rams, but they struggled last season, finishing 5-12, and looked out of sorts this year after starting 3-6, then finished the year impressively, 7-1. Goff, who played for the Rams from 2016 to 2020, went 3-13 in his first year throwing for the Lions, but began the turnaround in the middle of last season and has now delivered a play-off game in Detroit. The Lions are favoured by JustBet at home, and the bookmakers may have it right, but this encounter promises to be epic.
The Miami Dolphins travel to Arrowhead Stadium tomorrow night to tackle the Kansas City Chiefs, in one of the toughest places to play in the NFL, but it is predicted to be even tougher this Saturday night. The most popular storyline in this encounter is the return of Tyreek Hill to where he started and spent six stellar seasons; however, more interestingly, the temperature is expected to be below 10 degrees and the Dolphins have lost 10 straight games where the kick-off temperature is below 40 degrees, which is the longest active streak in the NFL.
Miami’s QB Tua Tagovailoa, who led the NFL in passing yards this season (4,624), has lost each of the five coldest starts of his career. In fact, Tagovailoa is 6-13 in games under 70 degrees, and 23-4 in games above that temperature. These two teams last met in Germany in November, with Kansas City earning a 21-14 victory, and JustBet favours the home team, but the matchup on paper is extremely delectable and should only be missed if something critical is in the plan.
The other four games for Wild Card Weekend are expected to be just as enticing:
Browns at Texans: For just the second time in 20 years, the Browns are in the play-offs. These teams met in Week 16, with Cleveland coming away with a 36-22 win, but Houston’s star rookie QB CJ Stroud was not available. Stroud will take the field tomorrow afternoon, but he will be tested against one of the best defences in the league, added to the seasoned arm of veteran QB Joe Flacco, the Browns are expected to take the win.
Steelers at Buffalo Bills: The Bills have gone 7-1 at home this year and QB Josh Allen has gone 3-1 in his career against the Steelers. Buffalo won five straight games (including a Week 18 win over Miami) after entering December at 6-6, while the Steelers needed lots of help to get this far. Pittsburgh will likely be without edge rusher TJ Watt — with his league-leading 19 sacks — and are expected to fall short on Sunday (if Allen can avoid costly interceptions).
Packers at Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys are 8-0 at home this season and their Head Coach Mike McCarthy (who was fired by the Packers in 2018) must be have revenge on his mind this weekend. The combination of QB Dak Prescott and wide receiver CeeDee Lamb will likely make that happen. This will be the second time McCarthy faces the Packers — he lost the first meeting in 2022 — and his first win over Green Bay is the most likely outcome.
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Eagles stumbled into the playoffs after starting the season 10-1, losing the last 5-of-6 and, to add injury to insult, QB Jaylen Hurt injured the middle finger of his throwing hand and star receiver AJ Brown injured his knee in the loss last Sunday to the Giants. The Eagles were a preseason favourite for the Super Bowl, but the late season skid has them looking susceptible against a Buccaneers team that has won five of its last six. The Eagles won the Week 3 matchup but not much confidence can be placed in them repeating that feat in the weekend’s closer on Monday night…… Are you ready for some football?
JustBet continues to offer attractive betting options on all popular sports and events (including virtual games) as soon as they become available. Please visit one of the over 130 locations (or visit mobile.justbetja.com) for details and place your bets on the prediction of your choice for maximum winnings…… Get in the GAME!
Super Bowl LVIII Champion
San Francisco 49ers3.15
Kansas City Chiefs10.00
Los Angeles Rams45.00
*Only Top 10 odds shown (see website
for full list)
Note: Odds are subject to change