NFL Playoff capsules: Wildcard weekend

NFL Wild Card Saturday capsules

Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans: Rookie head coach DeMeco Ryans and No. 2 pick C.J. Stroud led the Texans to the AFC South title as Houston returns to the postseason for the first time since 2019. They are on home turf for a rematch of their 36-22 Christmas Eve loss to the Browns, who rode a December surge on the arm of revived QB Joe Flacco to an 11-win season and wild-card berth. Stroud didn’t play in the first meeting and makes his postseason debut against Flacco. Flacco isn’t just seasoned. He’s tied with Tom Brady as the most successful quarterback in playoff road games with seven wins, a mark he can break Saturday. Flacco is starting in the playoffs for the 17th time and will be the same age as Ryans when he turns 39 next week. Cleveland gets significant juice from its defense under first-year coordinator Jim Schwartz. A crucial matchup on the edge pits Browns DE Myles Garrett against Texans LT Laremy Tunsil, one of three players remaining on the roster from the 2019 postseason. A matchup Ryans is fretting is Browns WR Amari Cooper against Houston’s hyperaggressive secondary. Cooper caught 11 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns and was subbed out midway through the fourth quarter in the teams’ December meeting.

Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs: Frigid temps await the Dolphins in Kansas City with the possibility of a dangerous a real-feel mercury reading near 30-below, according to the Weather Channel. That’s a stark contrast to the 75-degree temperatures the Dolphins experienced for their outdoor practice to start the week. But Chiefs head coach Andy Reid warns not to assume weather is an advantage for anyone, quipping “we aren’t having a snowball fight.” The Chiefs beat the Dolphins 21-14 in their International Series game in Germany on Nov. 5 and feature the No. 2 defense in the NFL. Miami is No. 1 in total offense, but throwing the ball in gusting winds and wintry conditions might require modification from head coach Mike McDaniel. Including the Miami win, the Chiefs surrendered 20 points or fewer in 13 of 17 games this season. The Dolphins aren’t certain what they’ll get from RB Raheem Mostert, who shared the NFL lead with Christian McCaffrey with 21 total touchdowns this season. Mostert has an ankle injury, and WR Tyreek Hill is also hobbled in his first game in Kansas City since he was traded to the Dolphins prior to the 2022 season. Miami beat Kansas City in three previous playoff matchups in 1994, 1991 and 1971. The win in ’71 has held up as the longest game in NFL history, a double-overtime game in the divisional round.

Sunday games

Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills: Western New York is planning for a winter weather event Sunday and two teams who pulled out of late-season nosedives to find their rhythm at the right time are scheduled to be in the middle of it in Orchard Park. They are led by coaches who played on the same team at William & Mary in 1993-94, Mike Tomlin (Steelers) and Sean McDermott (Bills), who credited players for shifting into playoff mode in December. The Bills caught up to the Dolphins and then passed them in a head-to-head win in Miami on Sunday night for a fourth consecutive AFC East title. Pittsburgh is piloted by third-stringer Mason Rudolph, anointed the starter last month over an ineffective Mitch Trubisky and injured Kenny Pickett. The real revelation for the Steelers in the final four games was RB Najee Harris. Pittsburgh saddled up Harris for 72 carries, 312 yards and four touchdowns to win three consecutive regular-season games (two on the road) and sneak into the postseason. The Bills closed the regular season with five consecutive wins since a 37-34 overtime loss to the Eagles. Buffalo gains a tangible edge with T.J. Watt (knee) out. Watt led the NFL with 19 sacks this season and the Steelers are 1-10 in games without Watt. Bills QB Josh Allen might be salivating as he carved up the Pittsburgh defense last season when Watt was out due to a different knee injury. Allen passed for 424 yards and four TDs in a 38-3 home victory.

Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys: Undefeated at home this season, the Cowboys entertain the Packers chasing elusive playoff success. Dallas averaged a league-high 29.9 points per game, posted a 12-5 record and won the NFC East for the second time in three years. QB Dak Prescott threw 36 touchdown passes, which led the NFL. CeeDee Lamb caught a league-high 135 passes for 1,749 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Lamb could be in for a one-on-one matchup with Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander, but Alexander did not practice on Thursday. He went down with an ankle injury in Wednesday’s practice. Green Bay sprinted to the finish line after taking their playoff bid down to the wire, needing a win over the Chicago Bears last week to secure the spot. The message from coach Matt LaFleur to the NFL’s youngest roster this week is “nothing to lose.” The Packers won their last three games and six of their final eight with multiple strong showings from quarterback Jordan Love as running back Aaron Jones finally looked healthy. Love threw 32 touchdown passes, which trailed only Prescott. He took control in his final eight starts as he threw for 18 touchdowns with only one interception. Rookie WR Jayden Reed led the team with 912 yards from scrimmage (793 receiving, 119 rushing) and 10 touchdowns (eight receiving, two rushing).

Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford sports a Super Bowl ring, but Jared Goff wants to win something his predecessor never did: a playoff game in a Lions’ uniform. Stafford returns to Ford Field on Sunday night to oppose Goff, who faces the coach and franchise that gave up on him to acquire Stafford. The Lions are hosting a playoff game for the first time in 30 years. The Rams are two seasons removed from winning a Super Bowl with Stafford after the Lions traded him for Goff and several high draft picks. The Rams (10-7) have won seven of their last eight, with the lone loss coming in overtime to AFC top seed Baltimore. Stafford and numerous regulars sat out the regular season finale, while the Lions risked it, and now face uncertainty with their record-setting rookie TE Sam LaPorta (86 receptions, 10 TDs) because of a knee injury. Detroit had four players with 10-plus TDs in the regular season. Stafford finished with 3,965 passing yards and 24 touchdowns. Rookie Puca Nacua (105 receptions, 1,486 yards and six touchdowns) and Cooper Kupp (59 receptions, 737 yards, 5 TDs in 12 games) provide formidable targets for Stafford. Detroit can earn a possible rematch at Dallas if both teams win Sunday. The Lions lost their angle on the No. 2 seed in the NFC in a controversial 20-19 loss to the Cowboys in Week 17.

Monday night

Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Philadelphia is trying to rediscover its NFC championship form and perhaps a return trek to Florida will serve as the Eagles’ wake-up call. After a 10-1 start that included a 25-11 win at Tampa in Week 3, Philadelphia ended the regular season Sunday with a listless 27-10 loss to the New York Giants that included injuries to QB Jalen Hurts (finger) and WR A.J. Brown (knee). After a 3-5 start, Tampa Bay clinched the NFC South on Sunday with three field goals by Chase McLaughlin in a 9-0 defeat of the league-worst Carolina Panthers. Neither team is leaning on the regular-season matchup. The Eagles turned the ball over 12 times, allowed 136.7 rushing yards per game and converted only 49 percent (38 of 77) of their chances on third down over the last six games. Bucs QB Baker Mayfield passed for 1,456 yards with 11 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 100.6 rating during the 5-1 finish.