The Patriots season came to a merciful end Sunday as the Jets snapped their 15-game losing streak against New England by taking a 17-3 decision in the snow. Aside from the weather, it was an uneventful finale that once again featured very little offense from the home team, which has been a common theme through the 17-game slate.
What's next for the organization? That part remained unclear even after Bill Belichick conducted his final press briefing of the 2023 campaign the morning after. Will it be his last as the head man in New England? Again, still too soon to tell.
So, with uncertainty on Belichick's future reigning in the region, rather than rehashing the same predictions regarding the coaching situation, let's take a look at the upcoming NFL playoffs and try to put the Patriots troubles in the rearview at least for a moment.
Cleveland (11-6) at Houston (10-7), Saturday, January 13, 4:30 p.m. (NBC)
Very interesting matchup to open up our postseason with the resilient Browns traveling to Houston to take on C.J. Stroud and the upstart Texans. (I won't even complain about the NFL's insistence that division winners get home games rather than the team with the superior record. I've given up on that one).
Cleveland's performance this season has been nothing short of remarkable. Few teams have suffered the amount of significant injuries the Browns have with starting quarterback Deshaun Waston, star running back Nick Chubb and offensive line stalwarts Jedrick Wills, Dewand Jones and Jack Conklin all lost for the season off an offense that somehow keeps finding ways to win. Lately that's been with Joe Flacco, the fourth starter to win games for the Browns this season.
Flacco ignited the attack with his downfield passing and suddenly Cleveland has become a scary opponent thanks to a defense that at times has been as dominant as any in the league. Led by defensive end Myles Garrett, who is also dealing with injuries, the Browns led the league in yards allowed and passing yards allowed.
Stroud has been fantastic in his rookie season, and he showed his mettle in a de facto playoff game in Indy in a Week 18 showdown with the Colts. He led a late touchdown drive to break a tie and finished with 23 touchdown passes and just five picks.
Both teams are dealing with plenty of injuries, and neither has much in the way of playoff experience, although the Browns have more and enjoyed a blowout win in Houston a couple of weeks ago. The Pick: Browns 23, Texans 17
Miami (11-6) at Kansas City (11-6), Saturday, January 13, 8:15 p.m. (Peacock)
This could be the best matchup of the weekend, which means it's probably not a coincidence that the league put it on a streaming service forcing people to subscribe to watch it. Miami has struggled to stack up against quality opponents, with only a late-season win over Dallas preventing the Dolphins from being winless against winning teams. The Chiefs offense has been sporadic all season long as Patrick Mahomes has struggled finding reliable options among his receiving corps.
Mahomes is used to the playoff atmosphere while this will be the first postseason start for Tua Tagovailoa, who missed last year's wild card game in Buffalo due to injury. The Dolphins boast the most explosive attack in football but missed Jaylen Waddle last week against the Bills. Waddle is dealing with an ankle injury and will likely play but his effectiveness will be in doubt. On the plus side, the Dolphins running game appears to be hitting its stride, which could keep Mahomes off the field and protect Miami's banged-up defense, which will be without Bradley Chubb, Jaelan Phillips, Jerome Baker, Andrew Van Ginkel and possibly Xavien Howard.
Mahomes seems to find a way to come out on top in these games but too often this season the Chiefs offense has looked clunky and out of rhythm. The defense is outstanding, however, and that's the main reason K.C. still managed to win 11 games. And the weather should favor the Chiefs as well with Miami being forced to play in frigid conditions. K.C. also took a 21-14 decision over the Dolphins in Germany in November.
That said, I'd love to pick the Dolphins in a mild upset but just too many injuries to do so. The Pick: Chiefs 23, Dolphins 20
Pittsburgh (10-7) at Buffalo (11-6), Sunday, January 14, 1 p.m. (CBS)
It's amazing the Bills managed to earn the AFC East title and the No. 2 seed after splitting their first 12 games of the season. Buffalo looked to be in disarray and faced a daunting closing stretch that included Kansas City, Dallas and Miami with the Chiefs and Dolphins on the road. They won five straight and stole the division from Miami with a fourth quarter rally Sunday night.
Still, things don't look quite right for Buffalo. Josh Allen continues his alternately brilliant play with moments of shear recklessness. He turned it over three times in Miami, but yet still threw for 359 yards, two touchdowns and rushed for 67 more and refused to allow his team to lose.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, closed with some of the best football it's played all year. Behind third-string quarterback Mason Rudolph, the Steelers earned wins over Cincinnati, at Seattle and in Baltimore against a Ravens team that rested many key starters. Still, Rudolph gave life to a listless attack and suddenly the Steelers bounced back from consecutive losses to the Cardinals and Patriots.
The ride figures to come to an end in Buffalo, however. The Steelers will likely be without T.J. Watt, who sprained his MCL in the Ravens win, and at some point Allen and the Bills will eliminate some of the silly mistakes that have plagued them all year. The Pick: Bills 31, Steelers 17
Green Bay (9-8) at Dallas (12-5), Sunday, January 14, 4:30 p.m. (Fox)
Few teams have been as dominant at home as Dallas was in 2023. Only the Seahawks and Lions managed to offer much resistance, especially against a Dak Prescott-led offense that rolled more often than not. That was largely due to the play of CeeDee Lamb, who finished with 135 catches for 1,735 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Cowboys also boast a solid defense, led by Micah Parsons, and a pass rush that is ferocious playing at Jerry World.
First-year Packers quarterback Jordan Love did a nice job of keeping his team afloat after a midseason slump, winning seven of his last nine starts. Green Bay's young cast of weapons started making plays in the second half of the season, and the Packers certainly seem to be a team on the rise.
But continuing that momentum in Dallas will be difficult and it's hard to envision the Cowboys slipping up at home against a mediocre team like the Packers. Obviously there's a lot of inherent pressure on Dallas every time the team is in the playoffs, but Mike McCarthy's team should be good for at least the first week. The Pick: Cowboys 34, Packers 20
Los Angeles Rams (10-7) at Detroit (12-5), Sunday, January 14, 8:15 p.m. (NBC)
This is by far the best story of the first round with Matthew Stafford, the Lions No. 1 overall pick in 2009, heading to Detroit as the leader of the Rams. In fact, the mere presence of the Rams in the playoffs is noteworthy considering many foolishly believed the win-at-all-cost mantra of GM Les Snead and coach Sean McVay would set up the franchise for a rebuilding period. Most ignored the fact that Stafford was injured in 2022, which was the main reason the Rams failed to offer much of a title defense. With Stafford back the Rams returned to the playoffs, and with Cooper Kupp and rookie sensation Puka Nacua healthy, L.A. is a dangerous opponent.
Where the Rams are lacking, however, is on defense. The Lions have an explosive attack that should be able to take advantage of a poor secondary, and Jared Goff has a chance to beat the team that selected him No. 1 overall in 2016. The Lions are playing with a chip on their shoulder following the controversial ending to their loss in Dallas two weeks ago, a decision that potentially cost them the No. 2 seed, and coach Dan Campbell will have his team motivated and ready. Sometimes that can work both ways, however, as that extra emotion can lead to over-aggressiveness and undisciplined play, especially for a team that isn't used to the playoff spotlight.
Still, the Lions are hungry for their first postseason win since 1993 and the Rams are probably still a year away from being ready to make some playoff noise. The Pick: Lions 34, Rams 23
Philadelphia (11-6) at Tampa Bay (9-8), Monday, January 15, 8:15 p.m. (ABC/ESPN)
This one probably represents the clunker of the weekend as the reeling Eagles travel to Tampa to take on a Bucs team that simply outlasted its opponents in a weak NFC South. Philly was 10-1 and felt it hadn't played its best football, but things then got much worse. Instead of kicking into gear, the Eagles lost five of their last six including games against the Cardinals and Giants. Now they look like anything but the defending NFC champs that came within a whisker of winning it all.
The problems are mostly on defense, but Jalen Hurts and the offense haven't been as effective either. A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith have been quiet during the skid and the vaunted ground game hasn't reached 2022 levels in quite some time.
Still, the Bucs are not exactly clicking on all cylinders either. Baker Mayfield and the Bucs punched their postseason ticket with a lackluster 9-0 win over Carolina and barely mustered any offense in doing so. Mayfield has at times been effective this season but he's also struggled with his accuracy. Despite that, Tampa enters the game winners of five of the last six and defensively has what it takes to make life difficult on the Eagles.
The teams met earlier this season with Philly taking a 25-11 decision back in Week 3. A lot has changed since then, most notably Philly's outlook. I can easily see the Bucs posting the upset but I will stick with Philly. The Pick: Eagles 23, Bucs 20