Some teams in the playoffs may be more favored than others, but the truth is that any of the 12 teams that made it to the postseason can win, and win it all. When it comes to the very best teams in the NFL, anything can happen.
In the following slides, I detail what each playoff team needs to do to win in the postseason.
The Green Bay Packers have been an offensive juggernaut this season, and there's little indication that they can't keep that up come the playoffs.
All the Packers need to do to win is to continue to rely on the elite play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Though the offense is a bit banged up, a first-round bye (as well as resting their starters in Week 17) should help alleviate it.
Their only weakness is their bend-but-don't-break defense that has bent a bit too much during the regular season. Tightening up their secondary will be necessary for the Packers if they want to win their second Super Bowl in as many years.
The New Orleans Saints, similarly to the Green Bay Packers, have dominated on offense this year. They average the most passing yards per game of any team and have notched just three regular-season loses in 2011.
To win in the playoffs, the Saints just have to remain strong on offense. Protecting quarterback Drew Brees is the highest priority for the team, as everything—especially wins—flow through him.
Brees is susceptible to pressure, and with the team potentially facing the San Francisco 49ers and their top-ranked defense, they'll need to keep him protected if they want to make their way to the Super Bowl this year.
The San Francisco 49ers have just 53 missed tackles in the regular season, but 19 of them have come in the last two weeks. That means that their conference-leading defense might be showing signs of wear as the regular season comes to a close.
The Niners will need to stay fresh on defense, as much as possible, if they are to win in the playoffs. While their offense is efficient and has been fairly effective now that quarterback Alex Smith hasn't been costing his team games, their offense alone won't be enough to compete with the likes of the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers.
San Francisco has the best defense in the NFC playoffs this year; they'll need that defense to keep performing at a high level to achieve success in the postseason.
Both NFC East playoff contenders can be lumped into the same discussion, simply because they have so much in common. If there's one thing that both the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants are consistent at is being inconsistent.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo are both having excellent years, but the players around them have managed to sully their attempts to lead their respective teams to an NFC East title and a postseason berth.
The Giants need to put their trust in Manning and his receivers while at the same time controlling the up-and-down nature of their defense. The Cowboys need to do something similar, but their defensive issues are even more serious, especially in the secondary.
Without their defense improving at stopping the passing game, the Cowboys won't win in the postseason. The Giants need to be the strong team they appear to be on paper, and to do so game after game.
The Detroit Lions have exceeded expectations this season and have managed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Thanks to quarterback Matthew Stafford staying healthy all season long and the help he's gotten from his crew of talented receivers, led by Calvin Johnson, they're a dark horse contender to represent the NFC in this year's Super Bowl.
They need to continue their high level of offensive production in order to win in the postseason, but most importantly they need to be disciplined, especially on defense.
Penalties and errors of judgement, primarily on defense, have plagued the Lions all season long. Those kinds of mistakes can kill a team in the postseason; if the Lions cannot get that under control, they won't rack up many playoff victories.
Quietly, the Atlanta Falcons have had themselves quite the regular season, and it's been good enough to give them a Wild Card berth to this year's playoffs.
They've done so by being well-balanced. They have both a solid running and passing game on offense, and a top-10 overall defense. Though overshadowed by the flashy play and big wins of division-mates the New Orleans Saints, the Falcons have established themselves as a serious postseason contender.
The Falcons just need to stay focused and not become overwhelmed at the task ahead of them. The Falcons fold when players on both sides of the ball decide to do too much but instead fall flat.
They just need to retain their sense of balance and they should be good for at least one playoff victory this postseason.
The New England Patriots know what it takes to win in the playoffs, even though fewer and fewer of the players on their early-2000's championship teams are on the roster every year.
But the main architects of the Patriots' success—head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady—remain, and they're the top reasons why New England is the heavy favorite in the AFC playoffs this year.
Brady has been heavily assisted by his receiver corps, led by tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and wide receiver Wes Welker.
Though Brady's had his fair share of missteps, thanks to heavy pressure by teams like the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, he's mostly been successful this year and is having one of the best seasons a quarterback can have this year.
The biggest problem for the Patriots is their dead-last pass defense. Without improvements in the secondary, they're going to struggle in the playoffs.
The moment a team can pressure Brady and keep him on the field while putting up yards and points via their own passing game is the moment the Patriots' postseason run could end.
The Baltimore Ravens seem to reach the playoffs every season but yet never make it all the way to the Super Bowl. This can mainly be attributed to their offense, led by quarterback Joe Flacco.
Flacco is your prototypical game manager quarterback, except when he isn't. If he finds himself in a position where he has to play from behind, or running back Ray Rice has been neutralized, he's forced to throw more than he should, putting the Ravens' chances of winning in a tenuous position.
Focusing on using Rice on offense and remaining strong on defense is how the Ravens can notch wins this postseason. Flacco will need to throw fewer than 30 times per game for the Ravens to have success in the playoffs.
No team in the playoffs this year has more postseason experience than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the team has reached three Super Bowls, winning two of them, in the last six seasons.
The Steelers, however, aren't invincible, even though their recent postseason record seems to indicate differently.
To win in the playoffs, Roethlisberger needs to be healthy. He will be ending the regular season still healing from a high ankle sprain that has limited his mobility and thus limited his effectiveness out of the pocket.
The Steelers have one of the top passing offenses in the league this season, but if Roethlisberger isn't healthy enough, that will harm their chances in the postseason.
If he can heal adequately enough and the Steelers defense strengthens in the postseason (something they're known to do), then another Super Bowl appearance could easily be in their future.
The Houston Texans have won their first AFC South title and first playoff berth in franchise history, but it's going to be difficult for them to rack up victories in the postseason this year.
Simply put, rookie quarterback T.J. Yates just isn't ready for the challenge. While his inexperience can be augmented by the talents of their running game, led by Arian Foster, and their top-five defense, the moment that an opposing defense has to force Yates to throw is the moment things can go wrong for Houston.
Yates needs to be more mentally prepared for the postseason than physically. Physically, he's well-suited to lead the Texans offense, as he ran a similar scheme at the University of North Carolina. He needs to know which risks are worth taking and which aren't, and feel comfortable relying on Foster to assist him when he gets in a jam.
On defense, Houston will have to stay strong. Without a typical playoff-caliber quarterback, the Texans will have to get inventive to come up with postseason wins.
The Denver Broncos need to win in Week 17, while the Oakland Raiders have to lose, or otherwise the team won't see the postseason.
Should they get there, it's going to be a difficult go of things for the Broncos, who will first face the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens in their first game.
For the Broncos to win in the playoffs, they need to rely on the formula that got them there: strong running, keeping games close thanks to their defense and performing well on special teams.
If Denver has to rely on the arm of quarterback Tim Tebow, they're going to find themselves in the position they've been in the last two weeks, buried under an insurmountable lead with Tebow making mistakes and throwing interceptions.
The Cincinnati Bengals are currently the sixth seed in the AFC, and if they win this week (or the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans do not), they'll have their postseason berth locked down.
The Bengals would then be the most unlikely playoff team with an offense led by two rookies (quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green) and a defense that has been tough but no match for the two AFC North powerhouse teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.
For the Bengals to earn themselves a playoff win, they'll have to treat it like the regular season. As soon as the young team gets overwhelmed by the spot they've found themselves in, they'll be prone to mistakes.
The Oakland Raiders are one win (and a Broncos loss) from winning the AFC West title and also have a number of scenarios that have them in the playoffs as a Wild Card team.
But the Raiders will have to divest themselves of a number of weaknesses if they are to win one or more playoff games this year.
The Raiders spent the 2011 regular season trying to build themselves a Super Bowl-caliber team. Unwilling to lie down after starting quarterback Jason Campbell went down with a season-ending collarbone break, they traded their future for veteran former Bengal Carson Palmer.
Palmer was shaky to start, but has improved with time, meshing well with his young and fast receiving corps. However, there are a number of inconsistencies on both sides of the ball that need to be addressed, and quickly, if the Raiders hope to reach the Super Bowl this year.
The New York Jets have reached the AFC championship the last two seasons, but this year, they're not looking anywhere near the team they were in the past.
Should the Jets snag the final remaining AFC Wild Card playoff spot, there's just one thing they need to do to win—minimize the impact of quarterback Mark Sanchez.
That means not allowing him to throw 59 times, like he did in last week's loss to the New York Giants. In fact, it means limiting him to around 20 passing attempts per game and allowing their running game and the defense to control the game's pace.
When Sanchez has to take control of the team, only bad things follow. While he can be a successful game manager, the moment that he and the Jets coaches think it's the right time to let him air it out, it gets him, and thus the team, in trouble.