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Kansas City Chiefs Quarterback Patrick Mahomes scrambles out of the pocket during a game against the Indianapolis Colts. (Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire)
January 11th, 2024
The AFC wild-card round features a pair of outside games in cold conditions. Weather will be a factor in Buffalo and Kansas City, and YouBet’s James Scully analyzes and provides a pick for all three AFC wild-card games.
Cleveland has the edge, easily winning at Houston in Week 16. The Texans were banged-up that afternoon but trailed 22-7 at halftime. Look for Cleveland’s No. 1-ranked defense to show up, and Joe Flacco will continue to exploit Houston’s secondary.
The Browns believe in Flacco, who is 4-1 since taking over as starter, entering with a club-record streak of four consecutive 300-yard passing games, and the veteran quarterback excels in the postseason. As a starter, Flacco owns a 10-5 record in the postseason, including a 5-0 mark in wild-card games and he's 7-5 in road games, tied with Tom Brady (7-4) for the most road wins.
Houston laid it all on the line last week, earning a gratifying playoff spot with a hard-fought 23-19 victory at Indianapolis, and the AFC South division crown fell into the Texans' laps when Jacksonville lost a day later. But the Texans will have little left against Cleveland.
Kudos to Houston for a remarkable turnaround, improving drastically to finish 10-7 after an 11-38-1 record over the three previous seasons. And while we like Cleveland to win comfortably, the Texans look poised to keep building upon this playoff experience with an exciting nucleus of young talent.
Wild Card Weekend coming 🔜 pic.twitter.com/V8CsNStTQX— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 11, 2024
Wild Card Weekend coming 🔜 pic.twitter.com/V8CsNStTQX
Kansas City leads the league in drops, the Chiefs' wide receivers will run the wrong routes, and the Chiefs were one of the lowest-scoring teams in the fourth quarter this season. Defense led the way for the reigning Super Bowl champs, ranking second by allowing only 17.3 points per game, and a stark difference exists between these defensive units.
Miami, which ranks 22nd in scoring defense, has not won a playoff game since 2000 and will limp into bitterly cold Kansas City following a brutal 21-14 home loss in which the Dolphins failed to capitalize upon three Buffalo turnovers. Freezing conditions will limit their big-play ability, and the Dolphins are banged-up across the board, no longer performing with the same offensive gusto, and they were forced to sign linebackers off the waiver wire after losing three edge rushers in recent weeks.
We will have some action on the Under (43.5), but Kansas City is the main play in a projected one-sided matchup.
Strong winds and cold temperatures are expected, with 20-25 mph sustained winds and wind gusts up to 50 mph possible. Wind is much more impactful than rain, snow, or cold. In games with 10-plus mph winds, Unders connected at more than a 70% rate during the 2023 season, including a 4-1 record in Week 18, and points will be difficult to come by through the air in this matchup.
Buffalo was 6-6 and spiraling toward missing the postseason when it went on an unexpected run, winning five straight (including road tests at Kansas City and Miami) to lock up the No. 2 seed in the AFC. The Bills have significantly improved their run defense since the Week 13 bye, holding opponents to only 96 rushing yards per game, and Pittsburgh will be forced to run in windy conditions.
Losing superstar T.J. Watt looks impossible to overcome — the Steelers allowed 389.9 yards per game when he was sidelined for a seven-game stretch last season — and Buffalo will control the clock by grinding out lengthy drives. But we’re not keen to lay double digits in a projected low-scoring game; we'll side with the Under for our main play!
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