Nov 5, 2023; Frankfurt, Germany; A general overall view as Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws the ball against the Miami Dolphins in the second half during an NFL International Series game at Deutsche Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Playoff capsules: Saturday wild-card games

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.

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) passes the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Week 18 NFL Capsules

Saturday

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7) at Baltimore Ravens (13-3): Baltimore can rest key players, including Lamar Jackson, after the Ravens thrashed the Miami Dolphins 56-19 last Sunday for their sixth straight victory, clinching the AFC North and a first-round playoff bye in the process. Jackson threw more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (three) as public support grew for the quarterback to win his second NFL Most Valuable Player award. The Steelers don’t mind facing Baltimore’s backups in Week 18. After staying in the AFC wild-card hunt with Sunday’s 30-23 win at Seattle, they have five paths to earn a playoff berth but no guaranteed ticket win or lose at Baltimore. The Steelers continue to place their hopes on the shoulders of Mason Rudolph, their third starting quarterback this season. In Rudolph’s two starts, two Pittsburgh wins, he has completed 68.6 percent of his passes for 564 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Pittsburgh star T.J. Watt is tied for the league lead with 17 sacks. He recorded two sacks and recovered a fumble when the host Steelers defeated the Ravens 17-10 in October, Pittsburgh’s sixth win in the past seven meetings with Baltimore.

Houston Texans (9-7) at Indianapolis Colts (9-7): C.J. Stroud and DeMeco Ryans led the Texans to their first winning season since 2019. Now, they want a playoff berth. Indianapolis also would wrap up a postseason berth with a win. In addition, the Houston-Indianapolis winner would capture the AFC South title and get a home playoff game if the Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7) lose their Sunday road game against the Tennessee Titans. Indianapolis enters Week 18 with the AFC’s final wild-card spot in hand. While Stroud has breathed new life into the Texans as a rookie, the Colts are without Anthony Richardson, drafted by the Colts No. 4 overall last April. Richardson provided a tantalizing glimpse of his vast potential during a 31-20 thumping of Houston on Sept. 17, running for two first-quarter touchdowns before leaving due to a concussion. Backup Gardner Minshew helped steer the Colts and their own rookie head coach, Shane Steichen, into this position with a 23-20 win over the Raiders last week. The running game is crucial to the Colts’ success. Jonathan Taylor, in his second game back from thumb surgery, piled up 96 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries last week. Both defenses are in the top 10 in the NFL in sacks. Texans’ sack leader Jonathan Greenard (12.5) was ruled out with an ankle injury.

Sunday

Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-11): With no ground to gain in the AFC playoff picture and locked into the No. 3 seed for next week’s wild-card round, the Chiefs aren’t risking QB Patrick Mahomes’ health at Los Angeles. Blaine Gabbert will start and be surrounded by mostly backups while staring down a Chargers’ team with four consecutive losses and defeats in seven of its last eight games. Easton Stick, serving as the Chargers’ starting quarterback since Justin Herbert was placed on injured reserve with a broken finger Dec. 12, is tasked with getting the Chargers their first win in the past five games. Los Angeles is 1-7 since Nov. 6. Stick could be taking the field again without leading receiver Keenan Allen. He’s dealing with a heel injury and hasn’t played since Dec. 10. Allen has 108 receptions for 1,243 yards and seven touchdowns. Among Gabbert’s goals for the game: get tight end Travis Kelce over 1,000 receiving yards for the eighth consecutive season. He’s at 984 through 16 games. Kelce, who was inactive Week 1 with a knee injury, had a season-best 12 catches and 179 yards in Kansas City’s win over the Chargers in Week 7.

Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) at New York Giants (5-11): Philadelphia hasn’t won on the road since before Thanksgiving, and the Eagles didn’t beat anyone in December — except the Giants. After losing to the Arizona Cardinals last week, the road is the likely path for Philadelphia in the postseason. Despite a 1-4 December, a win still could give Philadelphia its second straight division title if the Dallas Cowboys (11-5) should stumble at Washington (4-12). Otherwise, the Eagles could be looking at the NFC’s No. 5 seed and all road games for the postseason. Philly’s failures have been on both sides of the ball. That includes a secondary that has surrendered 34 touchdown passes (only Washington has given up more with 35) and an inconsistent offense propped up by the overwhelming red-zone success of the “Brotherly Shove.” For the first time in franchise history, Philadelphia has lost three games where it held double-digit leads. The Eagles led the New York Jets 14-3 and lost 20-14 (Week 6), led the Seahawks 10-0 and lost 20-17 (Week 15) and built a 21-6 lead against the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday before falling 35-31. The Giants did put a scare in the Eagles in the first meeting with Tyrod Taylor coming off the bench for a near comeback. The Giants are on a three-game losing streak, including a 33-25 decision at Philadelphia on Christmas Day. New York has lost its past five meetings with the Eagles, including last season’s divisional playoff game. Taylor starts again Sunday after he passed for 319 yards with one touchdown and one interception in last Sunday’s 26-25 loss to the visiting Los Angeles Rams. The Giants are 3-4 at MetLife Stadium, where they have been outscored 139-86 this season.

Buffalo Bills (10-6) at Miami Dolphins (11-5): The Bills were three games behind the Dolphins in the AFC East with five games remaining, but are now thriving in playoff mode, one win away from four consecutive division titles. The Dolphins can block Buffalo’s path and snag the AFC’s No. 2 seed and a home playoff game next week by winning Sunday night — and claiming the division for the first time since 2008. The Bills own the tiebreaker by virtue of their 48-20 home beatdown of Miami in Week 4. The Dolphins were annihilated in every facet of the game against Baltimore last week while missing running back Raheem Mostert (franchise-record 21 total touchdowns) and receiver Jaylen Waddle (1,014 receiving yards). Waddle is fighting an ankle injury and Mostert is dealing with ankle and knee soreness. Back-to-back wins over two playoff teams — the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys — ignited Buffalo’s dynamite December, which also included wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots. Last weekend’s 27-21 home win over the Patriots was achieved behind Josh Allen’s two rushing touchdowns. He had a poor game against New England’s stingy pass defense, throwing for 169 yards and one interception. But Allen has fared well against Miami with a 10-2 starting record (including last season’s playoff victory). He has 34 touchdown passes and seven interceptions in those 12 games. Buffalo has clamped Dolphins WR Tyreek Hill in recent matchups — a season-low three-catch game earlier this season and two receptions for 33 yards when the Bills visited South Beach in 2022.

Los Angeles Rams (9-7) at San Francisco 49ers (12-4): Playoff-bound NFC rivals roll into a regular-season finale neither team wants to lose, but the blatant priority is avoiding injuries. With a wild-card spot clinched, the Rams take a nine-game regular-season losing streak to the 49ers to San Francisco, where Carson Wentz replaces starting quarterback Matthew Stafford. San Francisco clinched the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and plans to keep Pro Bowl quarterback Brock Purdy on the sideline this week in favor of backup Sam Darnold. Los Angeles clinched the NFC wild-card berth by winning six of its last seven games. The Rams will either be the No. 6 or No. 7 seed in the postseason.

Rams head coach Sean McVay wasn’t swayed by the seeding uncertainty and is resting Stafford and some other key players: RB Kyren Williams (1,144 rushing yards), WR Cooper Kupp (59 receptions), DT Aaron Donald (16 tackles for loss) and LB Ernest Jones (career-high 145 tackles). Wentz is making his 93rd career start. He appeared in mop-up duty once since joining the Rams in November, just days after a 20-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Los Angeles then went on its 6-1 surge. Though the Rams have their long streak of regular-season futility against San Francisco, they did beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship following the 2021 season en route to winning the Super Bowl. NFL rushing leader Christian McCaffrey (1,459 rushing yards) is out with a calf injury. No rest is planned for Rams receiver Puka Nacua, who has 101 receptions for 1,445 yards. He needs four catches to break the NFL rookie mark set by Jaylen Waddle of the Miami Dolphins in 2021, and 29 yards to surpass the rookie record held by Bill Groman of the Houston Oilers since 1960.

Denver Broncos (8-8) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-9): An eight-game winning streak over the Broncos that dates to 2019 is providing motivation on both sides of an otherwise insignificant game. Las Vegas beat Denver 17-16 in the season opener on Sept. 10. Since then, major changes have altered each team. Among those impacted by the in-season overhaul were both starting quarterbacks in Week 1. Jimmy Garoppolo took the field for the Raiders in the season opener, but injuries and ineffectiveness opened the door for rookie Aidan O’Connell to get a shot when head coach Josh McDaniels was fired. The Raiders have gone 4-4 over the past eight games. Russell Wilson started the first 15 games for Denver, but the Broncos decided to bench Wilson for Jarrett Stidham in a contract-related squabble similar to the drama that unfolded involving Derek Carr at the end of last season. At that time, Stidham was with the Raiders and was pushed into a starting role for the final two games of the regular season. The season finale is an ongoing audition for O’Connell, but also for interim coach Antonio Pierce, who took over after McDaniels was fired on Nov. 1. Las Vegas won its first two games under Pierce, but has gone 2-4 since, most recently losing to the Indianapolis Colts 23-20 last Sunday.

Chicago Bears (7-9) at Green Bay Packers (8-8): If the Packers win for the sixth time in eight games, Green Bay is playoff bound behind first-year starting QB Jordan Love. But no defense has been stingier against opposing quarterbacks than the Bears in the past seven weeks, leading the NFL in defensive passer rating during that time while also holding the league lead in interceptions for the season. The Packers went 8-9 a season ago and missed a chance to reach the playoffs after losing the regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions. Love draws a much-improved Chicago defense than the one he lit up in Week 1 back in September. Since Week 11, the Bears have 16 takeaways and allowed fewer than 20 points four times. Chicago would love to spoil the playoff hopes of their biggest rival in the NFC North. Despite losing eight of their first 11 games, the Bears have continued to battle under coach Matt Eberflus and won four of their past five games. But the Packers are 5-0 against Chicago since quarterback Justin Fields took over at quarterback. The regular-season finale will offer another chance for Fields to try to clarify questions about his future.

Seattle Seahawks (8-8) at Arizona Cardinals (4-12): Seattle reaches the finish line of the regular season as it did last year — needing a Week 18 win and a big assist. A loss last week left the Seahawks in the same predicament they were in a year ago. They need a victory over a division opponent and a Green Bay Packers loss to make the NFL playoffs. Things worked out for the Seahawks last season, but can they go 2-for-2? The Seahawks needed a victory in Week 18 against the visiting Los Angeles Rams and for Detroit to win at Green Bay in the Sunday night game that added to the season-ending drama. This time Seattle will need to win on the road while rooting for the Packers to lose again at home, this time to Chicago. There will be some scoreboard watching with the games kicking off at 4:25 p.m. ET. The Cardinals rallied from a 15-point deficit to shock the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday. Now 3-4 since Kyler Murray returned from surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament, the Cardinals were thrilled with his second-half performance. Murray completed 25 of 31 passes for 232 yards and a season-high three touchdowns. Running back James Conner played a starring role, including the game-winning TD, which could be cause for concern after the Seahawks were demolished by Pittsburgh’s previously stagnant ground attack to the tune of 203 yards.

New York Jets (6-10) at New England Patriots (4-12): Coach Bill Belichick might be unsure what the future holds, but he’s not showing much emotion entering Sunday’s possible curtain call at Gillette Stadium. Belichick has patrolled the New England sideline for the past 24 seasons, but doubts have doubled that he’ll return for a 25th as the Patriots prepare to face the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon in Foxborough, Mass. But Belichick (333 victories) plans on coaching next season as he chases Don Shula (347) for the all-time wins record, raising the question of whether he can find the right fit elsewhere. For now, Belichick maintains he’s only focused on the Jets. The Jets have split their past four games following a five-game skid, most recently falling 37-20 to the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 28. Trevor Siemian completed 32 of 45 passes for 261 yards with a touchdown and an interception in his second start of the season for New York, which has never fully recovered from losing Aaron Rodgers to a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 1. Siemian will start again on Sunday, when the gameplan is likely to be turning to Breece Hall. He leads the Jets in rushing (186 carries, 816 yards, four TDs) and is second with 74 receptions for 579 yards and four TDs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8) at Carolina Panthers (2-14): Even without a playoff spot clinched, the Buccaneers know there are worse predicaments to be in entering Week 18 than a win-and-in gig against the NFL’s worst team. Tampa seals the NFC South on Sunday with a win at Carolina. In their first season since Tom Brady retired, the Buccaneers are aiming for their third consecutive divisional title. The Panthers entertain their opening starter from last season — Baker Mayfield — and have some confidence of late. They nearly took down Tampa Bay in the first meeting, a 21-18 loss on Dec. 3. And Carolina knocked the Falcons out of a share of first place in the division last month in a rain-soaked 9-7 home victory. In the first matchup, Panthers QB Bryce Young was sacked four times and intercepted once. Carolina’s offense is averaging 167.1 yards per game for the second-worst mark in the league.

Atlanta Falcons (7-9) at New Orleans Saints (8-8): Winning this NFC South showdown in New Orleans won’t be enough to put either team in the playoffs. That requires a Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ loss at Carolina or, for the Saints, a win and losses by the Packers and Seahawks. Innumerable variables are in play with a whopping 20 of the NFL’s 32 teams still alive entering Week 18. New Orleans kept its playoff hopes alive and prevented the Bucs from clinching the division title when it won at Tampa, 23-13, last Sunday. The Falcons, who lost at Chicago, 37-17 in Week 17, defeated the Saints 24-15 on Nov. 26 in Atlanta. Atlanta ranks eighth in the NFL in rushing (130.1 yards per game) and had the most rushing yards by a New Orleans opponent (228) in the first meeting. The Falcons’ 41 attempts were the most by a Saints opponent this season and their average (5.6) was the second highest.

Minnesota Vikings (7-9) at Detroit Lions (11-5): The Lions have faint hopes of moving up to the No. 2 spot, but coach Dan Campbell says he’s not resting his regulars in the regular-season finale against Minnesota on Sunday afternoon. Detroit (11-5) needs a win, while the Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles would have to lose or tie in their games on Sunday in order for the Lions to snag the No. 2 seed. The Lions are still smarting from the 20-19 loss to the Cowboys on Saturday night, when mass confusion involving whether OT Taylor Decker reported as an eligible receiver wiped out the go-ahead two-point conversion when officials threw a flag. A week earlier, Detroit clinched the NFC North title with a 30-24 win at Minnesota. The Vikings haven’t been eliminated from the wild card race. But their playoff hopes were virtually snuffed out with a 33-10 loss to Green Bay on Sunday night. They need a victory on Sunday and losses by the Packers and Seattle, along with a loss by either Tampa Bay or New Orleans, to sneak into the postseason. Nick Mullens will start at quarterback this week. He threw for 411 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions but was also intercepted four times.

Dallas Cowboys (11-5) at Washington Commanders (4-12): Eliminated from playoff contention, the Washington Commanders can still deliver a parting gift to an NFC East rival. Mired in a seven-game losing streak, the Commanders (4-12) welcome the Cowboys (11-5) for the regular-season finale on Sunday, knowing a Washington win could erase Dallas from the top of the division standings and open the passing lane for the Philadelphia Eagles to crash into first. If the Cowboys win, Dallas would be the NFC East champion and the No. 2 seed in the conference. The Cowboys would head home for a wild-card playoff game at AT&T Stadium, where they are 8-0 this season. QB Dak Prescott was nearly flawless in the first matchup with the Commanders this season and his offense is featuring WR CeeDee Lamb — the NFL leader with 122 catches, second with 1,651 receiving yards — establishing single-season franchise records in each category. The Cowboys’ 45-10 blowout of the Commanders in November led to the firing of Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. A similar result is almost certainly the final gavel for head coach Ron Rivera in Washington. The Commanders rank last in total defense (385.8 yards per game), 31st in pass defense (259.3 yards per game) and aren’t built for comebacks with an NFL-worst minus-12 turnover margin.

Cleveland Browns (11-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-8): Signed off the couch last month, Joe Flacco went from perceived Old Man Winter to Ice Cold Clutch and has the Browns spending Week 18 warming by the fire awaiting their playoff assignment. Cincinnati, out of playoff contention following a 25-17 road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last week, won’t face Flacco while attempting to apply the brakes on the Browns’ four-game winning streak. A victory Sunday would seal the first 12-win regular season since 1986 for Cleveland. Regardless of the result, Cleveland is cemented as the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs, the first wild-card position. The Browns have won nine of the past 11 meetings with the Bengals, including a 24-3 rout in the season opener at Cleveland on Sept. 10. Browns backup Jeff Driskel starts for Flacco to become Cleveland’s fifth starting QB this season. The Bengals’ biggest motivation is to finish with a third straight winning season under Zac Taylor, but 9-8 still would be a disappointment following two straight division-winning seasons that ended with deep playoff runs.

Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7) at Tennessee Titans (5-11): Without Trevor Lawrence at Carolina, the Jaguars’ 26-0 shutout of the lowly Panthers put Jacksonville in a division-winning scenario at Nashville this week. A victory would give Jacksonville (9-7) the AFC South title and a home game in the first round of the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Whether Lawrence (shoulder) is 100 percent isn’t clear after a four-week stretch in which he was also fighting off an ankle injury and concussion. Injuries hit Lawrence back when the Jaguars were 8-3. But four consecutive losses followed, putting the Indianapolis Colts (9-7) and Houston Texans (9-7) in play for the division title. The Titans are literally and figuratively limping to the finish line. Tennessee lost 26-3 last week in Houston, their fourth defeat in five games, and they had 15 names on the injury report for Week 18. That list included rookie quarterback Will Levis, who is battling right foot and left ankle maladies that kept him out of practice. Levis wants to play, but this could be a spot for the Titans to send off 36-year-old Ryan Tannehill and 30-year-old RB Derrick Henry, who has rushed for 9,349 yards in eight seasons with the Titans. Both are in the final year of their existing contracts.

–Field Level Media