With the cold weather blasting through this weekend, it’s a perfect time to light a fire, put on a sumptuous pot of vegetable beef soup, sip on a fine adult beverage of your choice, and watch the NFL wild-card games. That’s the game plan in our home.

I’m making picks — and recommending Prop Bets — so let’s have at it!

Saturday 3:30 pm, NBC

44.5 points on the over/under
Projected score: 23-22 Browns. 

Cleveland defeated Houston 36-22 on Christmas eve, but we can throw that out because the Texans played the game without injured quarterback CJ Stroud. Pass rusher Jonathan Greenard (ankle) should be back for Houston – and if so he can generate pressure. Texans linebackers Will Anderson Jr. and Blake Cashman are expected to return for this one after missing last month’s loss to the Browns.

The Browns are healthier than they’ve been in a while and have fired up one of the best passing games in the league since the golden-oldie Joe Flacco was signed to start at quarterback.

The Browns defense hasn’t played well on the road this season and that could tilt this game in Houston’s favor. This season Cleveland not only went 3-5 on the road but was tied for the league’s worst road defense by getting ripped for an average of 29.6 points per game.

But can Houston’s defense keep Flacco and the receivers under control? That’s a concern. Stroud is poised and smart and doesn’t rattle, but this will be his first NFL postseason game and he’s going against a relevant historical trend. In their last 14 postseason games, rookie NFL quarterbacks are just 4-10 straight up and against the spread. (28.6%). That includes a 1-8 record straight up in their last nine.

Turnovers almost always matter and here’s something to look at: Stroud had the lowest interception percentage among NFL quarterbacks that have at least 200 passing attempts this season. And while Joe Flacco threw for 13 touchdowns in five games, he also was picked off eight times and had the league’s second-worst interception rate (minimum 200 passing attempts.)

From an investment standpoint, the probable best play is taking the over, meaning that the two teams will combine for at least 45 points. With that below-average road defense the Browns were 8-0 in the Over in road games with an average total of 51. Moreover, the Browns led NFL In passing attempts and passing touchdowns from Week 13 through 17 with Flacco doing the slinging. And Cleveland is averaging 28.6 points with Flacco as QB. The average Texans home game this season totaled 43 points and these two teams combined for 58 points on Dec. 24 and Stroud didn’t play.

The Pick: I’m torn in choosing the winner. But focusing on the spread, I like the underdog Texans getting two points at home. So my selection is Houston +2.


Saturday 7 pm Peacock

43 points on the over/under
Projected score: 26-18 Chiefs

It’s the Polar Vortex Game, and this makes it easy to go with the Chiefs here. The Kansas City forecast is showing single-digit temperatures on Saturday night, and the teams could enter the game with below-zero temps. Plus wind. And perhaps a little snow.

The freezing conditions are a genuine factor. With Patrick Mahomes as the starting quarterback since 2018, the Chiefs are 15-7 (including postseason) in games played in temperatures under than 40 degrees. Miami has lost seven straight in games played at lower than 40 degrees. And Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is 0-4 as a starter with a poor passer rating of 71.2 in games with temps below 45 degrees at kickoff.

Here’s another gem to pay attention to: when playing against a winning team since Mike McDaniel became head coach, Miami is 1-9 straight up and 3-7 against the spread. We saw that play out last weekend when the Dolphins lost at home to Buffalo in a game that determined the AFC East title. In addition Miami is 2-7 straight up and 4-5 ATS as a road underdog of 7 points or less under coach McDaniel. Including postseason games the Chiefs have had the best home record in the NFL (.754 winning percentage) with the Andy Reid and Mahomes combination.

In franchise history Miami has never won a postseason game with a kickoff temperature at 45 degrees or colder. And the Dolphins are coming in on a short work week to go up against a KC side that rested multiple top players in a meaningless win against the Chargers on Sunday.

The Chiefs have been a pedestrian 4-4 at Arrowhead this season and they’ll have to crank out a solid number of points in support of a KC defense that’s allowed the second-lowest point total in the NFL this season. Miami’s defense will be missing key pieces including two edge rushers, a couple of linebackers and a nickel cornerback. That’s trouble for a unit that was strafed for 29 points per game on the road this season while going 4-4.

In the numbing weather I’d expect the Dolphins to give plenty of touches to speedy breakaway back De’Von Achane, who averages 7.8 yards per rushing attempt this season. And he has 11 touchdowns on only 130 touches. Miami receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are banged up but still capable of coming up with explosive plays. Hill is hard to pin down on those catch-and-run pass plays. The Dolphins will have to hit a few home runs to win this one. But this game feels like a pivot point for the Chiefs and I expect them to get rolling.

The Pick: Kansas City laying the 4 and ½ points. I also like a Prop Bet, with Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce going over 56.5 yards receiving. He has the opportunity to take advantage of a Miami defense that is down to two healthy linebackers.


Sunday noon, CBS

35.5 points on the over/under
Projected Score: 23-14, Bills

The Steelers go into the blustery setting in Buffalo without their best player, defensive disruptor T.J. Watt, who will miss the game with a knee injury suffered during the regular-season finale.

I think the Steelers offense is a little more dangerous since Mason Rudolph became the starting quarterback, and the change had a big impact on talented wide receiver George Pickens, who suddenly turned into a big-play producer. The Steelers also surged late in the season with revived running back Najee Harris. Head coach Mike Tomlin is one of the best underdog leaders in the league, having gone 7-2 in his last nine games when getting points. Mike Tomlin is also 7-2 his last nine getting points. Buffalo’s late-season warming trend was a little misleading; only one of their final five wins was secured with an authoritative manner. And that victory was against Dallas, which is terrible on the road.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen turned the ball over more than any NFL player this season and it looks like he’ll be throwing in windy conditions. (But so will Mason Rudolph). Will Allen donate two or three gifts to the Steelers? Pittsburgh has (arguably) the least imposing offense in the AFC playoff field, and the Bills are functioning with a beat-up defense that played really well over the final three weeks.

I don’t think the Steelers have much of a chance of actually winning this game … but I do believe they’ll hang around.

The Pick: The Bills will persevere and get the win. But from an investment standpoint, I’ll take Steelers +10 and hope they’ll stick to the Bills, be tough to shake off, and cover the spread. I also like this Prop Bet: Josh Allen rushing for more than 38.5 yards. That would be over his season average of rushing yards per game (31) but Allen loves to run it, and the bracing winds will invite him to do just that.


Sunday 3:30, FOX

50.5 points on the over/under
Projected Score: 31-21, Cowboys

I’m tempted to go with the Packers in an upset. Quarterback Jordan Love was superb down the stretch, connecting for 18 touchdown passes and only one interception, leading Green Bay to a 6-2 closing argument and into the postseason.

There’s immense pressure on Dallas QB Dak Prescott, who is 1-5 against the spread in his postseason career. And Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy has a tendency to freeze up or blank out in high-pressure games.

Since returning in Week 15, Packers RB Aaron Jones leads the NFL with 411 rushing yards. He’s mixed in a lot of explosive plays, and that’s a big help to his quarterback. Love’s mobility can counter Dallas’ imposing pass rush, and the Green Bay offensive line yielded the third-fewest sacks in the league this season.

Now. Having said all of that, let’s flip to the other side of this matchup. The Cowboys went 8-0 at home during the regular season, averaging 37.3 points per game. The Dallas average margin of victory at home was 21 and ½ points.

The Green Bay defense ranks 23rd in the league in EPA, and opponents have scored on 38.7 percent of their possessions against the Packers. That’s 25th in the NFL. And since Week 4, the Packers defense has faced just one team ranked better than 15th in scoring and had its starting QB. The Cowboys have the top scoring offense in the league.

The Pick: Dallas to win and cover the 7-point spread. I’ll be back to curse a little if McCarthy screws this one up. The Cowboys have a helluva lot to prove. But two of their last three postseason losses have occurred against the vicious San Francisco defense. And the Green Bay defense is more tractable.


Sunday 7 pm, NBC

51.5 points on the over/under
Projected Score: 28-23, Lions

This is a fun matchup. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford played his first 12 NFL seasons in Detroit, passing for 56,000 yards and 357 touchdowns. And in his return to Motown, Stafford will face Lions quarterback Jared Goff. Stafford and Goff were traded for each other in March of 2021. The Rams won a Super Bowl with Stafford at quarterback, and Goff revitalized his career in Detroit after slumping in Los Angeles.

This wild-card challenge is a huge event for the Lions, who will play their first postseason home game in 30 years. And the franchise hasn’t won a playoff game since 1991.

The Lions opted to play their healthy regulars in Week 18. They got a 30-20 win over the Vikings to finish 12–5 but lost their fantastic rookie tight end Sam LaPorta to a knee injury. He’s listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.

Detroit is 6-2 at home this season and seem to be a different animal when playing in their noisy sanctuary. This should be an entertaining battle. The Rams come in after winning seven of their last eight, and Lions fans are pumped up to the max.

Though the quarterback vs. quarterback duel is the featured attraction, this game could come down to Detroit’s ability to shut down Rams running back Kyren Williams. The native St. Louisan has averaged 115 yards rushing per game since returning from an injury, and his productivity has made LA’s offense complete. Williams was held out of Game 18 to avoid a potential injury, but from his Week 12 return through Week 17, the Rams had the league’s fourth-best offense (per EPA per play.)

The Rams became a lot more versatile and dangerous with a strong rushing attack to go with two No. 1 caliber wide receivers, Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua. And now they’ll get a chance against a Detroit defense 23rd in points yielded, 27th in passing yards allowed and 27th in touchdown passes against. The Lions have been tough against the run this season, and creative Rams coach Sean McVay could opt to go with a pass-oriented strategy with Stafford aiming at his excellent targets.

Lions have given 43 offensive touchdowns this season – that’s a lot. And they struggle to stop slot receivers … and McVay is excellent at using his slots to create significant matchup problems for the opposing defense. And now here come the Rams, who have averaged 31 points in their last six games with Stafford in place. (He didn’t play in Week 18.)

The Lions have lost three in a row to teams that made the 2023 playoffs, averaging only 15.6 points in those games. McVay’s vast knowledge about Goff’s strengths and weaknesses could be an advantage for the Rams. McVay surely has some ideas about how to effectively defend against his former QB. Any such advice should be helpful to a below-average Rams defense.

The Pick: I’m taking the Rams and laying the three points. I also fancy this Prop Bet: Over 77.5 yards receiving for Puka Nacua.


Monday 7 pm, ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN+

43.5 points on the over/under.
Projected Score: 23-21 Eagles

Do we trust the Eagles? No. We don’t trust the Eagles.

There are too many injured players including quarterback Jalen Hurts and wide receivers AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith. All three will try to play on Monday – but will their impact be limited? There are too many recent losses. The Eagles are 1-5 in the last six games including embarrassing slip-ups against Arizona and the NY Giants. There isn’t enough defense.

During the regular season the Philly defense ranked 30th in scoring defense, allowing 25.2 points per game. They were 29th in defense EPA, 25th in yards yielded per play, and 29th in the percentage of opponent drives (41.1%) that result in points scored. The Eagles look nothing like the team that won the NFC last season and gave the Chiefs a helluva fight in the Super Bowl.

Tampa Bay isn’t a great team, but the defense has gotten healthy, this team has nasty street-fighting competitiveness, and quarterback Baker Mayfield has the receivers who can light up the Eagles defense. Mike Evans. Chris Godwin. And keep an eye on running back Rachaad White, who caught 64 passes and rushed for 990 yards during the regular season.

It wasn’t exactly poetry in motion on offense, but the Buccaneers won five of their last six games to capture the NFC South and home-field advantage in this wild-card round. Tampa Bay’s defense gave up 19.1 points per game this season to rank sixth-best in the NFL.

The Eagles haven’t covered the point spread since Nov. 26. Philly had a 25-11 road win in Week 3 at Tampa Bay but a lot has changed since then. Bottom line: Tampa Bay has improved, and Philadelphia has flat-lined.

The Pick: The projection model favors Philadelphia to win this one … but the projection model may need to be reprogrammed. I’m pleased to take the Bucs +3 at home. And I really like this Prop Bet: Baker Mayfield over 1.5 touchdown passes. This season the Eagles were burned for 35 touchdown passes, the second-highest total in the league. And 23 of those TD throws happened during the last 10 games. Opposing quarterbacks had a 101 passer rating against the fading Philadelphia defense in those 10 games.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend.


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb