NFL Playoff Scenarios: Tracking Every Projected Matchup
The 2012 NFL playoffs are almost upon us, and teams are cranking up the intensity.
This is the time of year when the going gets tough and the tough get going. This is the time of year that gives birth to legends. The time when players most of us have never heard of rise up from mediocrity to become national heroes.
Simply put, it's our favorite time of year.
We'll be tracking the potential playoff matchups every week until Super Bowl XLVII, so look no further for the answers to all your playoff questions.
If the season ended today...
AFC Wild Card Game 1: Cincinnati Bengals (6) vs. New England Patriots (3)
Since starting the season with a record of 1-2, the Patriots have a record of 10-2. Before losing to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football, they'd ripped off seven straight wins.
The Pats barely beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 16, but a win is a win, and road victories are hard to come by, no matter who your opponent is.
Tom Brady continues to amaze us with his play, and the Patriots look like favorites, along with the Denver Broncos, to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVII.
The 9-6 Cincinnati Bengals beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16 and have won six of their last seven games.
Since the Steelers lost, the Bengals are assured the No. 6 seed in the playoffs.
Should the Baltimore Ravens lose to the New York Giants in Week 16 and then lose to the Bengals in Week 17, Cincinnati would move up to the No. 4 seed with the AFC North divisional crown.
AFC Wild Card Game 2: Indianapolis Colts (5) vs. Baltimore Ravens (4)
The Baltimore Ravens, at 9-5, have struggled over the course of their past five games.
They recently won two close games against the Pittsburgh Steelers (minus Ben Roethlisberger) and San Diego Chargers before losing three straight games to the Steelers (minus Roethlisberger), Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos.
The 10-5 Indianapolis Colts, on the other hand, have been surging since Week 6, winning eight of 10 games. Andrew Luck is a big reason for the team's success, as he has engineered seven game-winning drives in 2012.
The Colts will host the Houston Texans in Week 17. It's a chance to get back at their divisional rivals after losing in Houston 29-17 in Week 15, and a win would go a long way towards spurring a deep playoff run.
NFC Wild Card Game 1: Minnesota Vikings (6) vs. San Francisco 49ers (3)
The San Francisco 49ers are smarting after getting annihilated on Sunday Night Football in Week 16, but don't mistake their lapse for a sign that they are not a dangerous team heading into January.
This team is still one of the powerhouses in the NFC, and it's not a shame to have been beaten by the Seattle Seahawks the past few weeks.
With a final game at home against the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers will likely wrap up the NFC West divisional crown in Week 17, and if the Green Bay Packers lose to the Minnesota Vikings next Sunday, the 49ers will take back the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
The Vikings have snuck back into the playoff hunt the past few weeks. They've won three tough games in a row against the Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams and Houston Texans, putting themselves firmly in position to be the NFC's No. 6 seed.
The Vikings have a chance to knock the Packers out of the No. 2 seed should they beat them at home in Week 17, and they'll need to do so to ensure they keep the No. 6 seed, as the Chicago Bears won this Sunday.
NFC Wild Card Game 2: Seattle Seahawks (5) vs. Washington Redskins (4)
The Washington Redskins pulled off a crucial road victory in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns, winning by a score of 38-21 without Robert Griffin III, who was held out after he injured his LCL in Week 14.
They then followed it up with a close call in Philadelphia against the Eagles in Week 16, improving their record to 9-6 and putting themselves in line for the divisional crown in Week 17 when they host the Dallas Cowboys.
It was the sixth straight win for the Redskins, who have been surging since their Week 10 bye.
The 9-5 Seattle Seahawks have been surging since Week 9, winning five of their last six games—including a 58-0 blowout victory at home in Week 14 over the Arizona Cardinals and a 50-17 drubbing of the Buffalo Bills on the road in Week 15.
They will host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football in Week 16.
AFC Divisional Game 1: Denver Broncos (2) vs. Top-Seeded Wild-Card Winner
The Denver Broncos are the hottest team in the NFL.
Peyton Manning has led his team to nine straight victories, and his defense has stepped up of late to become one of the NFL's top-ranked units.
With two games left on the schedule against the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs, it seems reasonable to believe the Broncos will finish the season on an 11-game winning streak with a record of 13-3.
AFC Divisional Game 2: Houston Texans (1) vs. Low-Seeded Wild-Card Winner
The Houston Texans currently hold a half-game lead over the Denver Broncos for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
The Texans are limping into the playoffs, having been embarrassed on the road by the New England Patriots in Week 14 and then again at home in Week 16 against the Minnesota Vikings.
The Texans will finish the 2012 regular season with a road test against the Colts.
With one of the NFL's top defenses and a punishing running game led by Arian Foster, the Texans look primed to make a deep run in the 2012 playoffs.
NFC Divisional Game 1: Green Bay Packers (2) vs. Top-Seeded Wild-Card Winner
The Green Bay Packers are beginning to heat up after starting the season with a 2-3 record.
Since then, Aaron Rodgers' crew has won 10 out of 11 games—including its last four—and is currently a half-game ahead of the San Francisco 49ers for the No. 2 seed.
The Packers latest 55-7 victory at home was a statement game. Even though the win came against the lowly Tennessee Titans, it showed that the Packers are heating up at the right time, rather than fading down the stretch.
And if Rodgers can get Jordy Nelson back and if Clay Matthews and the defense can start creating turnovers like crazy, Green Bay will be a challenging matchup for any team in January.
NFC Divisional Game 2: Atlanta Falcons (1) vs. Low-Seeded Wild Card Winner
The Atlanta Falcons have secured the No. 1 seed after beating the Detroit Lions in Week 16, and the road to the Super Bowl now goes through Atlanta.
If Matt Ryan can take care of the football and if the Falcons defense can continue creating turnovers, the Falcons will be a tough team to beat at home in the playoffs.
It will be interesting to see what Mike Smith decides to do in Week 17 when the Falcons host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Will he rest his starters to keep them fresh for the playoffs, or will he play them to maintain continuity and momentum?