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NFL’s Wild-Card Weekend: A Weekend of Reunions and Rematches – Pro Picks

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Pro Picks is a weekly column where AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi shares his picks for upcoming games. For all previous Pro Picks, head here.

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Matthew Stafford vs. the Lions. Mike McCarthy vs. the Packers. Tyreek Hill vs. the Chiefs.

The NFL’s wild-card weekend is all about reunions and some rematches, too.

Stafford leads the Los Angeles Rams to Detroit to face his old team where he spent 12 seasons and didn’t win a playoff game.

McCarthy’s Dallas Cowboys host Green Bay, the team he led to a Super Bowl title with Aaron Rodgers 13 years ago. Hill and the Miami Dolphins head to Kansas City, which won one Super Bowl with the dynamic wide receiver and one without him last season. The upstart Houston Texans take on the Browns for the second time in three weeks and they’ll have sensational rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud under center for this one while veteran Joe Flacco aims to continue his remarkable journey from semi-retirement to Cleveland folk hero. The Buffalo Bills ride a five-game winning streak into their matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won their last three games and got the help they needed to get into the postseason. Lastly, the Monday night game features two teams who just met in the playoffs two years ago and faced each other in Week 3. The defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles slump into the playoffs after losing five of six following a 10-1 start. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won five of their last six to clinch a third straight NFC South title. Three of the six games are within a 3-point spread, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Pro Picks looks to carry momentum from a strong regular season into the playoffs.

CLEVELAND at HOUSTON

Line: Browns minus 2 1/2

Flacco is 4-1 since the Browns (11-6) called him off his couch to become the team’s fourth starting QB this season. Myles Garrett has led the NFL’s No. 1 defense but the Browns are a different team away from home. They gave up the most points in the NFL on the road this season, 29.6 per game. Stroud, who sat out a 36-22 loss to Cleveland in Houston on Dec. 24, came back from injury to lead the Texans (10-7) to a victory with another impressive performance in an elimination game last Saturday night at Indianapolis. Houston couldn’t stop Amari Cooper in a 36-22 loss in Week 16. He had 11 catches for a franchise-record 265 yards. Expect Texans coach DeMeco Ryans to find a way to slow down Cooper but the Browns will still emerge on top.

BROWNS, 24-20

MIAMI at KANSAS CITY

Line: Chiefs minus 4

Patrick Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs (11-6) sure missed Hill this season. Mahomes couldn’t overcome mediocre wide receivers and Kansas City slipped to a No. 3 seed. Mahomes will still most likely have to play his first career road playoff game at some point if the Chiefs advance but they’re home Saturday night and it’ll be cold. Tua Tagovailoa and the high-octane Dolphins (11-6) missed out on the No. 2 seed by losing their last two games. They couldn’t do much against Kansas City’s stingy defense in a 21-14 loss in Germany in Week 9. This one should come down to the final minutes.

CHIEFS, 23-22

PITTSBURGH at BUFFALO

Line: Bills minus 10

Josh Allen and the Bills (11-6) have come a long way since they were 6-6. They’ve won five straight games, including a road victory last week in Miami for the AFC East title. They won’t have to face superstar edge rusher T.J. Watt, who is sidelined with a knee injury. The Steelers (10-7) are sticking with QB Mason Rudolph, who has led them to three straight wins. Bills coach Sean McDermott and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin have a strong connection going back to playing football together at William & Mary. No. 7 seeds are 0-6 vs. No. 2 seeds and have been outscored 196-123 since the NFL added the extra playoff teams in 2020. The Bills should run away with this one.

BILLS, 30-17

GREEN BAY at DALLAS

Line: Cowboys minus 7 1/2

Dak Prescott and the Cowboys are 8-0 at home so overcoming a two-game deficit in the standings and beating out Philadelphia for the NFC East title was crucial for them. The Prescott-CeeDee Lamb connection has been on a roll this season for Dallas (12-5). Micah Parsons and a tough defense will make things difficult for Packers QB Jordan Love, who makes his first career playoff start. The teams have met eight times in the playoffs, each winning four games. Three straight wins to close out the season put the Packers (9-8) in this position, but Dallas has won six games at home by at least 20 points or more. COWBOYS, 31-20

LOS ANGELES RAMS at DETROIT

Line: Lions minus 3

The Rams (10-7) enter the playoffs as a dangerous team in a season that started with low expectations. Sean McVay has won a Super Bowl, but this could be his best coaching job yet. Stafford has been outstanding for much of the season. Rookie receiver Puka Nacua and running back Kyren Williams have been revelations. On the defensive side, star tackle Aaron Donald is having another excellent season. But the Lions (12-5) matched a single-season franchise record for victories and won a division title for the first time in 30 years. Former Rams QB Jared Goff has led a powerful offense that could be missing rookie tight end Sam LaPorta, who has an injured knee. Goff may have to depend more on Amon-Ra St. Brown and his running backs. UPSET SPECIAL: RAMS, 27-26

PHILADELPHIA at TAMPA BAY

Line: EAGLES minus 3

The talk in fickle Philly is whether coach Nick Sirianni should be fired despite going 34-17 in his first three seasons and almost winning the Super Bowl last year. Jalen Hurts has regressed, the defense is struggling and there’s some finger-pointing in the locker room. The Buccaneers (9-8) barely managed to get here with a 9-0 win over lowly Carolina last week, but they’ve played inspired ball over the past six weeks. Baker Mayfield revived his career in Tampa and Mike Evans and Chris Godwin could give the Eagles’ beleaguered secondary trouble. Rachaad White has become an all-purpose back for the Buccaneers and he can create matchup mismatches. Still, the Eagles (11-6) are the more talented team. They dominated the Buccaneers on the road in a Monday night game in Week 3 and have a chance to start fresh in the playoffs. BEST BET: EAGLES, 26-18

Last week: Straight up: 11-5. Against spread: 11-5

Final regular season: Straight up: 168-104. Against spread: 144-118-10.

Best Bet: Straight up: 9-9. Against spread: 6-11-1.

Upset Special: Straight up: 8-10. Against spread: 10-8.

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