The NFL playoffs’ wild-card round schedule for the 2024 season is stacked with great matchups, and we’ve got you covered with what you need to know heading into the weekend. Our NFL Nation reporters bring us the biggest keys to every game and a bold prediction for each matchup.
Additionally, ESPN Stats & Information provides a big stat to know and a betting nugget for each contest, and our Football Power Index (FPI) goes inside the numbers with a game projection. Analytics writer Seth Walder picks out each matchup’s biggest X factor, Matt Bowen identifies a key game-planning matchup to watch in every game, and Kevin Seifert tells us what to know about the officiating. Finally, Walder and Eric Moody give us final score picks for every game. Everything you want to know is here in one spot to help you get ready for a loaded weekend of NFL playoff football.
Let’s get into the full wild-card slate, including Matthew Stafford‘s return to Detroit and three great rematches of regular-season matchups (Browns-Texans, Eagles-Bucs and Dolphins-Chiefs).
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET | NBC | Spread: CLE -2 (44.5)
What to watch for: The last time these two teams played, Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper finished with a team-record 265 receiving yards in Cleveland’s 36-22 win. The Texans didn’t have their starting quarterback, C.J. Stroud, who was in concussion protocol, and Case Keenum stepped in and threw two interceptions. The Texans have the utmost confidence that they can beat any team when they have Stroud, so expect this matchup to be much different now that he’s healthy. — DJ Bien-Aime
Bold prediction: The Browns will win the turnover battle for only the third time this season. This is the first playoff matchup since the 1970 merger featuring a team that committed the league’s most turnovers (Cleveland, 37) against the team that committed the fewest (Houston, 14). The Browns have been emphasizing ball security in their building ahead of this matchup, so that should play in Cleveland’s favor. — Jake Trotter
Stat to know: Stroud’s weakness is solving man coverage. While he has the highest QBR in the league against zone coverage (74), he ranks 27th against man (39). His QBR decline of 35.1 is the largest from zone to man coverage this season. This weekend, Stroud will face a Browns defense that runs man coverage at the 10th-highest rate (47%) and has the best man defense in the league.
Matchup X factor: Browns cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Martin Emerson Jr. — whenever they are lining up on Nico Collins. The Texans wideout had an incredible season, ranking second in yards per route run behind only Tyreek Hill. If the Browns’ corners can shut him down on any given play, that seriously depletes Stroud’s options. Emerson and Ward are good players, and this strength-on-strength matchup could decide the game. — Walder
Game-plan key: I’m looking for the Browns to scheme some deep shots for quarterback Joe Flacco. He had five completions on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield when Cleveland met Houston in Week 16. Can the Texans contain the Browns’ vertical passing game? Read more at ESPN+. — Bowen
Officiating note: This game will feature two of the NFL’s most penalized teams. The Browns were flagged 138 times, second most in the NFL, while the Texans were No. 5 with 132 flags. And Browns opponents were flagged 133 times, most in the league. However, referee Clay Martin’s regular-season crew threw the fourth-fewest flags in the league at 12.4 per game. — Seifert
Betting nugget: The Texans are 9-3 against the spread (ATS) in their past 12 meetings against the Browns.
Moody’s pick: Texans 24, Browns 21
Walder’s pick: Texans 23, Browns 16
FPI prediction: CLE, 50.5% (by an average of 0.2 points)
Matchup must-reads: Garrett won’t be denied as Browns begin playoff journey … How Slowik has helped Stroud excel as a rookie … Ward injures knee in practice, status in question … How Ryans helped turnaround the Texans
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET | Peacock | Spread: KC -4.5 (43.5)
What to watch for: The Chiefs defended wide receiver Tyreek Hill and the Dolphins about as well as they could have during their Week 9 meeting, but doing it a second time will be a challenge. Kansas City played a season-high 61% zone coverage in deference to Miami’s speed and quickness. The Chiefs held Hill to 62 yards and made him fumble, returning it for the decisive touchdown. A similar performance would give the Chiefs a great chance for victory, but can they repeat it? — Adam Teicher
Bold prediction: Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will throw a pair of touchdowns without turning the ball over. The temperature at Arrowhead Stadium is projected to feel like it’s well into the negatives by Saturday night. Tagovailoa has faced criticism for his performance in cold weather — he has lost all four of his starts in sub-45-degree weather, completing just 55% of his passes. But he will snap out of it, along with his late-season funk. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Stat to know: Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has thrown multiple touchdown passes in six straight postseason games and enters this weekend looking to tie Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Drew Brees for the third-longest streak in postseason history.
Matchup X factor: Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. He hasn’t been the same player, and at this point, it has become blindingly clear that wide receiver help isn’t coming for the Chiefs. They need someone to be a dominant receiving threat, and Kelce is likely the only player on the roster who can become that if he can find his 2022 form again. — Walder
Stephen A.: ‘I’m not giving Miami any hope’ against Kansas City
Stephen A. Smith and Shannon Sharpe agree that Miami could struggle on the road against Kansas City this week.
Game-plan key: How will the Chiefs slow down Hill? Getting some two-deep coverage variations into the game plan will be key to containing Miami’s explosive pass game. Read more at ESPN+. — Bowen
Officiating note: The Chiefs were flagged more often for offensive holding (33) than any other team, a big reason why they ranked No. 6 overall in penalties (126). This aspect of the game would be under more scrutiny had the Dolphins not suffered a series of injuries to their top pass-rushers, but it’s still worth noting that referee Brad Rogers’ regular-season crew threw the second-most flags for offensive holding (48). — Seifert
Betting nugget: The Dolphins were 10-7 ATS in the regular season with overs going 9-8. The Chiefs were 9-8 ATS in the regular season with unders going 11-6.
Moody’s pick: Dolphins 27, Chiefs 21
Walder’s pick: Dolphins 27, Chiefs 23
FPI prediction: KC, 52.6% (by an average of 0.9 points)
Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET | Fox | Spread: DAL -7 (50.5)
What to watch for: Playoff games between the Cowboys and Packers have been memorable, from the Ice Bowl (better known as the 1967 NFL championship), to the 2014 divisional round when Dez Bryant didn’t — or did — catch it, to the 2016 divisional round when Aaron Rodgers‘ 35-yard completion set up the game-winning field goal. In that game, quarterback Dak Prescott was making his first playoff start. In this game, quarterback Jordan Love is making his first playoff start. Dallas coach Mike McCarthy was on the Packers’ sideline for those last two games, but now he gets a chance to end his former team’s season and advance to the divisional round of the playoffs for the second straight season. — Todd Archer
Bold prediction: In a game that features the quarterbacks who ranked first and second in the NFL in touchdown passes this season (Prescott with 36, Love with 32), both Packers running back Aaron Jones and Cowboys running back Tony Pollard will top 100 yards. Jones ended the season with three straight games over 100 yards. And Pollard is coming off his second consecutive 1,000-yard season and will face a Green Bay defense that allowed a 28th-ranked 128.3 rushing yards per game this season. — Rob Demovsky
Stat to know: The Packers are 5-0 at AT&T Stadium all time, including playoffs (4-0 versus the Cowboys, plus a Super Bowl XLV win against the Steelers).
Matchup X factor: Love. In theory, this should be Dallas’ game, and it shouldn’t be that close. But since Week 10, the top players in QBR have been Prescott and Love, respectively. If Love can pull out an exceptional game, Green Bay has a real chance. — Walder
Game-plan key: I’m excited to see if Dallas can scheme some interior pass-rushing plays for Micah Parsons. He led the NFL in pass rush win rate this season (35.4%), and there will be opportunities when he kicks inside. Read more at ESPN+. — Bowen
Stephen A.: Cowboys under more pressure to reach Super Bowl than 49ers.
Stephen A. Smith and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo disagree on whether the Dallas Cowboys or San Francisco 49ers are under more pressure to reach the Super Bowl this season.
Officiating note: The Cowboys have been exceptional this season at drawing coverage penalties from opponents, who have been flagged an NFL-high 31 times for defensive pass interference, defensive holding or illegal contact. It’s a big reason why the Cowboys led the league with 43 first downs via penalty. The Packers’ shell coverage, however, was only flagged 16 times for coverage fouls, the NFL’s seventh fewest. — Seifert
Betting nugget: The Packers were 10-7 ATS in the regular season with overs going 10-7. The Cowboys were 10-7 ATS in the regular season with unders going 9-8.
Moody’s pick: Cowboys 34, Packers 21
Walder’s pick: Cowboys 31, Packers 24
FPI prediction: DAL, 73.6% (by an average of 9.1 points)
Matchup must-reads: How Love is staying ‘level’ for playoff debut … If not now, when for Prescott and a Cowboys Super Bowl? … How Love outdid Rodgers, Favre in Year 1 … Cowboys’ McCarthy: Revisiting Packers tenure ‘won’t help us win’
Sunday, 8 p.m. ET | NBC | Spread: DET -3 (51.5)
What to watch for: Matthew Stafford against Jared Goff. It’s the Lions’ first home playoff game since the 1993 season, as the two former No. 1 overall pick quarterbacks face off for the second time since being traded for each other in 2021. There is no shortage of suspense as Lions coach Dan Campbell will try to lead Detroit to its first postseason victory since the 1991 season, while Rams coach Sean McVay is looking to improve his 7-3 career record in playoff games. — Eric Woodyard
Bold prediction: Stafford will throw for at least 350 yards. It isn’t a mark he has hit yet this season, but the matchup could be a high-scoring one. Stafford, who played for the Lions for 12 seasons, has a career average of 277.7 pass yards per game at Ford Field, the fourth highest by any quarterback at a single stadium in NFL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. — Sarah Barshop
Stat to know: The Lions went for it on fourth down 34% of the time this season, the highest of any team this century. The Rams went for it 17% of the time, which ranked 20th this season. But Los Angeles might consider being more aggressive on fourth down as it has missed 16 combined field goals and extra points this season, the most by any team since the 2001 Steelers (17).
Matchup X factor: Lions edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson. He finished the regular season red hot with 5.0 sacks, a forced fumble and a 19% pass rush win rate at edge in his final two games. If he keeps that up, that would be huge for the Lions’ defense. — Walder
Game-plan key: Lions running backs David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs could see volume on Sunday night, especially out of 11 personnel. The Rams allowed 4.9 yards per carry against such alignments this season. Read more at ESPN+. — Bowen
Officiating note: The Lions’ challenge in covering the Rams’ passing game will be enhanced by their proclivity to commit coverage penalties. They were flagged 29 times for defensive pass interference, defensive holding or illegal contact, the fifth most in the NFL. They were also flagged six times for roughing the passer, tied for the fourth most. Referee Craig Wrolstad threw four flags for roughing the passer during the regular season, tied for sixth fewest. — Seifert
Betting nugget: The Rams were 10-7 ATS in the regular season with overs going 9-8. The Lions were 12-5 ATS in the regular season, the best record in the NFL. Their overs went 11-6, also tied for the highest over percentage in the NFL.
Moody’s pick: Rams 28, Lions 24
Walder’s pick: Lions 24, Rams 20
FPI prediction: DET, 53.9% (by an average of 1.4 points)
Matchup must-reads: Stafford built his resiliency in Detroit — now he hopes to topple the Lions … Goff: Chip on shoulder from Rams trade will never leave me … Morris has drive to be an HC again … Untold stories of Campbell as a player
Monday, 4:30 p.m. ET | CBS | Spread: BUF -10 (35.5)
What to watch for: The roads that the Bills and Steelers took to this game contain an eerie number of similarities, from losing key players to injury for stretches to putting together season-ending winning streaks despite low playoff odds. Both teams also fired their offensive coordinators at midseason, becoming the first playoff teams to have an in-season coordinator change since the 2012 Ravens. The Steelers are looking for the team’s first playoff win since 2016, while the Bills are 13-2 in home playoff games since 1970. Limiting quarterback Josh Allen in the postseason will pose a challenge for Pittsburgh, as Allen is the only player in NFL playoff history to average 250 passing yards and 50 rushing yards per game (min. five games) and has the highest combined average yardage (343.9). — Alaina Getzenberg
Bold prediction: Steelers running back Najee Harris will have his third consecutive game of at least 100 rushing yards. The Bills’ rushing defense is arguably the toughest the Steelers have faced in at least a month, allowing opponents an average of 103 rushing yards per game in their past three contests. But Harris is on a roll with back-to-back games of 100-plus rushing yards. With the temperature expected to be below freezing, wind gusts of 50 miles per hour and possible light snow, the Steelers will lean heavily on their ground game. Sharing the backfield with Jaylen Warren, Harris had just 255 touches in the regular season, his fewest in his three-year NFL career, making him as fresh as possible for the playoffs. — Brooke Pryor
Stat to know: The Steelers had nine wins in one-score games during the regular season, which led the NFL and are the most in a single season in franchise history.
Matchup X factor: Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins. With edge rusher T.J. Watt out, Alex Highsmith is even more crucial to the Steelers’ pass rush. If Dawkins — who has had a really nice season and ranked fourth in pass block win rate among tackles — can shut down Highsmith, that should set up Allen for a pretty smooth day. — Walder
Game-plan key: Pittsburgh has to run the ball well between the tackles. Harris and Warren finished the regular season hot, and Buffalo allowed 4.6 yards per carry on inside runs this season, 30th in the NFL. Read more at ESPN+. — Bowen
Officiating note: This game will benefit from one of the NFL’s most trusted referees. Carl Cheffers has been the Super Bowl referee in two of the past three years and three times in the past seven. His regular-season crew threw the third-fewest flags in the league (12.1 per game). — Seifert
Betting nugget: The Steelers were 10-7 ATS in the regular season with unders going 11-6. The Bills were 7-10 ATS in the regular season with unders going 11-6.
Moody’s pick: Bills 34, Steelers 20
Walder’s pick: Bills 30, Steelers 13
FPI prediction: BUF, 76.6% (by an average of 10.4 points)
Matchup must-reads: How Tomlin inspired the battered Steelers’ unlikely playoff push … Have the Bills shed their shaky late-game reputation? The playoffs will decide … Who’s to thank for Steelers’ playoff push? Start with guys claimed ‘off the couch’
What to watch for: This is a Week 3 rematch that Bucs inside linebacker Devin White so accurately predicted after the Bucs’ 25-11 home loss on “Monday Night Football.” But these two teams have headed in opposite directions. The Bucs won five of their past six games, while the Eagles have lost five of their past six. The Bucs will also see a different looking defense since senior assistant Matt Patricia took over in Week 15. Both quarterbacks are dealing with injuries, as Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield has not only a rib injury but also an ankle injury, while Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts suffered a finger injury on his throwing hand in Week 18. — Jenna Laine
Bold prediction: Bucs running back Rachaad White will eclipse 125 all-purpose yards. The last time these two teams met, the Eagles held Tampa Bay to 41 rushing yards. But the run defense has fallen off a cliff since then, yielding 142 yards per game on average over their past seven games. A banged-up Mayfield could lean on White in both the ground and short passing game. — Tim McManus
Stat to know: Hurts has struggled with ball security against the blitz this season, throwing five touchdown passes with eight interceptions. Those eight turnovers were the most by any quarterback when blitzed this season. This weekend, Hurts will face a Tampa Bay defense that blitzed at the third-highest rate during the regular season.
Matchup X factor: Hurts’ finger. He said on Thursday that he hadn’t thrown a ball since injuring his finger in Week 18. If that injury hampers his ability to throw the ball on Monday night, then this is an entirely different ballgame. — Walder
Is Nick Sirianni’s job on the line if Eagles lose to the Bucs?
Andrew Hawkins and Dan Graziano weigh in on whether Nick Sirianni’s job is at stake if the Eagles lose early in the playoffs.
Game-plan key: Can Philly get the run game going with D’Andre Swift? He ran for 130 yards against Tampa Bay back in Week 3, and feeding him in the run game could help the Eagles get into a rhythm. Read more at ESPN+. — Bowen
Officiating note: For all of the public discussion the Eagles endured over their offensive linemen lining up offsides on “tush push” plays, the bigger story is that their offensive line was flagged an NFL-low eight times for offensive holding. The Buccaneers’ defensive front drew 22 such flags, tied for 16th-most. — Seifert
Betting nugget: The Eagles were 7-10 ATS in the regular season with overs going 9-8. The Buccaneers were 11-6 ATS in the regular season with unders going 11-6.
Moody’s pick: Buccaneers 28, Eagles 21
Walder’s pick: Eagles 21, Buccaneers 16
FPI prediction: PHI, 57.3% (by an average of 2.6 points)