Way-Too-Early Predictions for the 2013 NFL Playoffs
It may be way too early for these kind of predictions, but in the interest of looking ahead, here's what the NFL playoff picture will look like in 2013:
Wild-Card Teams: Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins
Divisional Winners: Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers
After another season of pro experience for Cam Newton and more time to build a defense around a talented linebacking corps, Ron Rivera leads the Panthers to the playoffs in 2013. Eleven wins takes the Panthers out of the still-tough NFC South.
They will be joined by the San Francisco 49ers, who capture the NFC West with the same number of wins.
The young Detroit Lions again narrowly miss taking the NFC North title off the Green Bay Packers.
Things get interesting in the NFC East, starting with the Washington Redskins. Mike Shanahan uses his last possible chance to guide the Redskins back to the postseason for the first time since 2007.
Yet despite unearthing another Pro Bowl running back and a stout defense, the Redskins are beaten to the division crown by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Wild-Card Teams: Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos
Divisional Winners: New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, San Diego Chargers
The biggest surprise in the 2013 AFC playoff landscape will be the absence of the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens lose out to an Andy Dalton-led Cincinnati Bengals team continuing a meteoric rise, but both still struggle to overcome the always-tough Pittsburgh Steelers.
The AFC West will see an exciting, season-long battle between Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning, ending with both teams sharing 10-6 finishes. The Chargers take the division title thanks to a superior head-to-head record.
Led by a youthful and talented defense, the Buffalo Bills emerge from the AFC East as the nearest contenders to the New England Patriots. It is those same Patriots who will once again dominate the conference, in a swansong for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
It's too early to break down exactly how the 2013 postseason will play out. Yet this is what the picture will look like once the season concludes.
The Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints will struggle to overcome major changes in coaching and personnel. Their failure to contend will be the biggest surprise in the NFC.
In the AFC, the slow demise of the Ravens will dominate the headlines, while the Chargers will finally live up to their talent and reputation.
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