NFL’s Wild Card Losers Face Off-Season Questions
Most of the football world, and especially NFL bettors, are focused on the eight teams remaining in the NFL playoffs. But for the six teams that lost last weekend and are beginning their off-season, there are questions to answer. Like, how to get back to the playoffs a year from now.
This season, there were six playoff teams that hadn’t been in the playoffs the year before. That means there were six teams that went from being a playoff team in the 2022 season to out of the playoffs in 2023.
Avoiding the fate of those six – the Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, and Seattle Seahawks – is paramount.
For the Philadelphia Eagles, getting back to the playoffs in 2024 isn’t enough. They are just a year removed from playing in the Super Bowl, and just two months ago, Pennsylvania online sportsbooks had the Eagles as cofavorites with the San Francisco 49ers to win the NFC.
Instead, they lost six of their last seven games, and got bounced from the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the second time in three years.
Future Hall of Fame center Jason Kelce is expected to retire, changing the makeup of the offensive line. Quarterback Jalen Hurts showed a regression in handling the blitz, and this team clearly missed former offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, who left Philadelphia to become the head coach. And forget about this defense – it needs a total overhaul.
Head coach Mike McCarthy is still in charge for now. But Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is not one to rest on his laurels. Plus, he’s 81, and he realizes that if he is ever going to see another Super Bowl appearance in his lifetime, he can’t wait another 29 years. That’s how much time has passed since “America’s team” was, in fact, the best team in America.
McCarthy did get the best season out of quarterback Dak Prescott in his eight years as the starter. But as the No. 2 seed, they allowed the Green Bay Packers to become the first No. 7 seed to win a playoff game.
BetUS.com had the Cowboys as 7.5-point favorites, making them the biggest favorite to lose this weekend and the only home team to lose. Jerry Jones hasn’t made any changes yet. But they are coming.
The season in Miami began with the bang of a 70-point offensive performance in September. It ended with the whimper of a seven-point offensive performance in January. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is due a new contract this year, as he will be playing on his fifth-year option.
But are they really ready to commit? When everything works, it works with incredible efficiency. Tua finished the 2023 season as the NFL’s passing leader. But when the defense throws him confusing looks, or mixes pressures, the offense breaks down, as it did in the cold of Kansas City.
And that weather was an issue, and will continue to be an issue. Tua, a native of Hawaii, is 0-7 all-time when the game temperature doesn’t reach 45 degrees. He has also has 12 interceptions in those seven games, while throwing multiple touchdowns just once.
Is he really the long-term answer in Miami?
A lot went right for the Cleveland Browns in the final two months of 2023, and it got them in the playoffs. But almost none of it points to success in 2024. For all of the good of the Joe Flacco resurgence that gave the Browns offense juice, the albatross around the neck of this team remains Deshaun Watson.
Watson has played just 12 games in his two years in Cleveland, and his cost has been mostly controlled. His salary cap hit in 2022 was less than $10 million, and in 2023 it was less than $20 million. In 2024, it balloons to $63.9 million.
Overall, the Browns are $13 million in the red heading into the off-season, Nick Chubb is coming off a brutal injury that may keep from being fully healthy when the new season begins, and they have a mid-tier quarterback being paid like he is the second coming.
At Ohio online sportsbooks, Myles Garrett is the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year. Beyond him, there isn’t much for Cleveland fans to be excited about.
Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Rams
There should be fewer changes for the remaining two teams that lost in the Wild Card round – the Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Rams.
Pittsburgh learned that with someone at quarterback other than Kenny Pickett, their offense can actually be good. So look for a change at that position. But the pass catchers on this team are good, as are the running backs. Plus Mike Tomlin is returning at head coach, which is a positive.
For the Rams, it’s all roses. In the middle of a rebuild, this team made the playoffs, and may have the two best rookies in the league not named C.J. Stroud. Puka Nacua had the best season ever for a rookie wide receiver, and nose tackle Kobie Turner had nine sacks in his rookie season. You can wager on both players at NFL online sportsbooks across the country.
Stay the course, L.A. This was a very good year.