NFL Playoff Picture: Breaking Down Super Bowl Chances for Each Projected Team

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIDecember 21, 2012

The NFL playoff picture still has much to be decided—especially with the cluster of 8-6 teams occupying the NFC.

But if the season were to end today, here is a look at what the playoff matchups would look like, and how much of a chance each team would have at making a Super Bowl run.

The chances will be gauged on a scale of one to 10. The lower number indicates no chance at all and closer to "10" denotes the prospective playoff team with the best chance to win it all in the Superdome in February.




 No. 1 Seed Atlanta Falcons (12-2) Clinched NFC South
 No. 2 Seed San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) Lead NFC West; Clinched Playoff Berth
 No. 3 Seed Green Bay Packers (10-4) Clinched NFC North
 No. 4 Seed Washington Redskins (8-6) Lead NFC East



 No. 5 Seed Seattle Seahawks (9-5)
 No. 6 Seed Minnesota Vikings (8-6)




 No. 1 Seed Houston Texans (12-2) Clinched AFC South
 No. 2 Seed Denver Broncos (11-3) Clinched AFC West
 No. 3 Seed New England Patriots (10-4) Clinched AFC East
 No. 4 Seed Baltimore Ravens (9-5) Lead AFC North; Clinched Playoff Berth



 No. 5 Seed Indianapolis Colts (9-5)
 No. 6 Seed Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)





Atlanta: vs. Detroit, vs. Chicago

San Francisco: at Seattle, vs. Arizona

Green Bay: vs. Tennessee, at Minnesota

Washington: at Philadelphia, vs. Dallas

Seattle: vs. San Francisco, vs. St. Louis

Minnesota: at Houston, vs. Green Bay




Houston: vs. Minnesota, at Indianapolis

Denver: vs. Cleveland, vs. Kansas City

New England: at Jacksonville, vs. Miami

Baltimore: vs. New York Giants, at Cincinnati

Indianapolis: at Kansas City, vs. Houston

Cincinnati: at Pittsburgh, vs. Baltimore



AFC Super Bowl chances

1. Houston Texans

Having a strong pass rush is absolutely critical in the playoffs, and the Texans have just that with Defensive Player of the Year candidate J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith. Although the pass defense hasn't been quite as good lately, Houston still has one of the better defenses in the NFL.

Combine that with a strong, balanced offense, and it's easy to see how the Texans are in the lead in the AFC at the moment. The friendly confines of Reliant Stadium served them well in 2011, where third-string QB T.J. Yates guided the team to a playoff victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

A healthy Andre Johnson has made a huge difference in the passing game, and Matt Schaub is finally injury-free to make the first playoff run of his career.

Not often mentioned amongst the game's elite signal-callers, Schaub has a huge stage to prove himself this postseason. The problem is, he has zero playoff experience, and must prove he can get it done in the clutch.

The Texans' blowout losses against the Patriots and Packers are a little bit discouraging, but they did win at Denver in Week 3 and blew out Baltimore in Week 7.

Those quality wins are pretty far in the past, though, and Houston still has plenty to prove. With the advantage of playing at home likely and as one of the most complete teams in football, it should be Super Bowl or bust for this franchise.

Super Bowl chances: 7/10


2. Denver Broncos

As phenomenal as Peyton Manning has been in an improbable bid for his fifth NFL MVP, he has always been criticized for his play in the postseason, which hasn't been up to his supremely high standard.

But this may be the most talented team on both sides of the ball that Manning has ever had. The Broncos' offense led the league in three-and-outs a year ago, but with the defense allotted more time to rest and a new coordinator in Jack Del Rio, Denver looks downright scary.

The Broncos haven't lost since Week 9, and still have a chance at the No. 1 seed. Even if they simply hold their ground at second, they will still get a first-round bye and at least one home game.

Manning has also been notorious for picking apart the Texans from his days with the Colts in the AFC South, which would make a potential AFC Championship game matchup all the more intriguing.

Although he only has one Super Bowl to his credit in his storied career, Manning has the weapons, defense and continually building strength to get it done again this time around. That makes it hard not to consider the Broncos a favorite, even if RB Willis McGahee can't return.

Super Bowl chances: 8/10



3. New England Patriots

Tom Brady suffered yet another Super Bowl disappointment to the New York Giants a season ago, and his play has shown he is determined to get back there for another shot at ring No. 4.

The return of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the addition of WR Brandon Lloyd and the emergence of RB Stevan Ridley have all combined to give the Pats an explosive, balanced attack that looks as dangerous as ever. That is in spite of the extended absence of star TE Rob Gronkowski.

In the draft, Bill Belichick made sure to upgrade the defense, and an impressive group of rookies have improved the front seven. Recent arrival Aqib Talib has finally given the team a presence at corner, capable of shutting down the opposition's No. 1 receiver.

Talib is the x-factor, because the Patriots' defense is more at fault for the team falling short in recent years than anything.

If he continues to improve and step up his game for the playoffs, the Pats can hang with anyone. If the New England pass defense continues to struggle, it could be a shockingly premature exit.

Thankfully, the Pats would host the Bengals if the season ended today, which doesn't seem like a difficult hurdle. Given Belichick's past playoff success against Peyton Manning, the Broncos in Round 2 are beatable.

But the winner of that game will likely represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The Patriots are more explosive, though, and are a safer bet to go to New Orleans despite Denver's superior defense.

As Brady proved against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 15, he can devastate anyone—even a unit as good as the Niners—no matter what the conditions are. Despite their status as a No. 3 seed, the Pats should be the favorites to come out of their conference, and the San Fran game may have been a Super Bowl preview.

Super Bowl chances: 9/10



4. Baltimore Ravens

Three straight losses, a fired offensive coordinator, a shaky defense and Joe Flacco as the man to trust at quarterback.

I don't like where this is headed.

Especially in a potential matchup with former staff member Chuck Pagano and an emotionally charged Colts season and storyline in Round 1, it seems like everything is going against Baltimore.

Season-ending injuries to Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb have hurt the defense immensely. The return of Terrell Suggs hasn't done much to help, and the lack of strength of the Ravens' victories early on are starting to reveal that they aren't in fact one of the NFL's best.

It would be one thing if the Ravens handed the ball to Ray Rice on a more regular basis, but they don't. Jim Caldwell's presence as the play-caller didn't change that last week, and considering the Ravens will likely play from behind in the postseason, it won't happen then, either.

The ball and the franchise's Super Bowl hopes will be in Flacco's hands. Based on his track record, he seems a little shaky to say the least.

Having a stellar defense to lean on has helped Flacco become a successful starting QB in terms of win-loss record. If not for that, he would be very mediocre. If he is counted on to be the one to take the Ravens to the promised land, don't count on it happening.

Super Bowl chances: 4/10



5. Indianapolis Colts

Can we really rule anything out with this 2012 Colts team? Not only have they emerged from the No. 32 spot they landed in on nearly every analyst's preseason power rankings, but the team has overcome incredible, unforeseen adversity along the way as well.

The leukemia diagnosis of head coach Chuck Pagano rocked the organization on September 26, but the players rallied around their battling leader to become the most inspiring and surprising story in the NFL.

Pagano will reportedly return to the sideline for the season finale at home against the Houston Texans, according to the Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappell.

Thanks to a great job by interim head coach Bruce Arians and the infusion of hope that No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck has brought, the Colts have exceeded any and all expectations.

The Super Bowl may be a bit of a lofty aspiration, but then again, the Colts have done anything but conform to any label that has been placed upon them. They look like they're barely a playoff team, but Pagano's presence in the building could have an even bigger impact.

Although Luck leads the league in turnovers and has taken expected rookie lumps, he posted a turnover-free outing in Houston in Week 15. A win in Kansas City would clinch a playoff spot, and that's all teams need to have a shot.

With a potential playoff matchup with Pagano's former team, Indy would have at least some insider knowledge. After that, why not give the Colts a little more than a puncher's chance?

Super Bowl chances: 3/10



6. Cincinnati Bengals

Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has once again done a nice job with the defense, which has been driven by an unlikely leader: undrafted rookie Vontaze Burfict. No one ever questioned the former Arizona State standout's talent, but his character concerns resulted in no team calling his name on draft day.

The Bengals' minor risk in investing in Burfict after the draft has paid major dividends, as he leads the team in tackles.

Another much more highly touted acquisition—RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis—was a disappointment for roughly the first half of the year. But lately, the Law Firm has been taking care of business on the gridiron, rushing for over 100 yards in four of the past five contests.

Cincinnati is rounding into form at just the right time, even if their wins in five of the six games weren't against the strongest of opponents.

This is a young team that benefited from an easy schedule to make a surprise playoff run a year ago. They could have easily folded amidst an early four-game slide and implications of a second-year slump. Not these Bengals.

Unfortunately, matching up with the Patriots in Foxboro would be a nightmare in Round 1, and would abruptly put any Super Bowl dreams the Bengals have to rest. They are a stellar team, but still at least another year away from thinking about the Lombardi Trophy seriously.

Super Bowl chances: 1/10



NFC Super Bowl chances

1. Atlanta Falcons

In two of Matt Ryan's three postseason starts at quarterback, he hasn't managed to crack five yards per attempt. That is absolutely horrendous, especially considering all the weapons around him.

As great as the Falcons have been to post a 12-2 record to date, there are still serious question marks about this team. Michael Turner is not the burner he once was, averaging a career-low 3.7 yards per carry as he's hit the daunting age 30 threshold that has proven to be the downfall of many running backs.

The yardage totals Atlanta gives up on defense are discouraging, and that "bend but don't break" approach may not work so well in the atmosphere of the playoffs.

Here's the good news: Ryan has generally been much more comfortable at home, and he has definitely made strides in his fifth year as a pro.

With the grand exception of a five-interception performance against Arizona, he is on his way to his most productive year to date. A sharp, seven-percentage point spike in accuracy is also a great sign.

Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez form the most skilled supporting cast in the league as far as passing game weapons are concerned. For that reason alone, it's hard to count out the Falcons, especially if they hold onto homefield advantage.

However, an upstart wild-card team of some kind will await in Round 2, and it will be interesting to see how Mike Smith's team ultimately responds.

Super Bowl chances: 5/10



2. San Francisco 49ers

Holy Colin Kaepernick, and poor Alex Smith. Since Kaep took over the starting quarterback job, the Niners are a silly pitch-play call away from being 5-0, and the second-year player out of Nevada has justified his selection in the second round of the 2011 draft.

That was no more evident than in San Fran's 41-34 victory in New England despite a furious comeback orchestrated by Patriots QB Tom Brady.

Kaepernick kept his cool amidst the wintry mix, throwing four touchdowns in slippery conditions. His ability to run and throw has thrown defenses for a loop, and it nicely complements the powerful running game keyed by physical RB Frank Gore.

A massive NFC West matchup looms in an equally tough environment as Foxboro when the Niners travel to Seattle to take on a hot Seahawks team that has destroyed its recent inferior opposition.

That contest will go a long way in determining the division champion, but even if San Francisco can't hold on, the home advantage in the postseason won't be that big of a factor. The team's elite defense and ability to pound the rock give the Niners a chance to win anytime, anywhere. That's why they have to be considered massive favorites, since last year's team got so close to football's biggest game.

If San Fran does win the NFC West and doesn't jump over Atlanta, the Niners will not have to weather any elements on the road in cold environments.

Throw in the upgrades on offense and the continuity on defense, and it's difficult to make a case against them. What's incredible is, they might not even win their own division—and it probably won't matter in the context of their ultimate destination.

Super Bowl chances: 9/10



3. Green Bay Packers

With QB Aaron Rodgers and the Pack's high-flying passing attack, Green Bay always has a chance.

The recent return of pass-rushing virtuoso Clay Matthews helps the defense immensely, and the team is simply competing for playoff seeding at this point having already clinched the NFC North.

That loss to Seattle may mess up the playoff seeding of the Packers don't quite take care of business in the final two games, but a rematch of that infamous Monday night game would only generate that much more intrigue to the playoffs.

As impressive as the Packers have been throughout the past three years, their home loss to the Giants in last year's divisional round was pretty baffling. The veteran presence of Charles Woodson in the secondary will also be critical to Green Bay's playoff success.

Rodgers still doesn't have a strong running game to lean on, and has to do a lot scrambling himself to keep defenses honest.

The cold, blustery conditions of Lambeau Field may even play to the Packers' disadvantage against a physical, run-based team in the wildcard round against, say, the Minnesota Vikings.

But beyond that, the Packers are virtually guaranteed to not play in severe elements, unless the Atlanta Falcons bow out prematurely, which is definitely feasible. After the disappointment of falling short in the 15-1 campaign of 2011, the Packers will be determined to prove they belong as a perennial Super Bowl contender.

Super Bowl chances: 7/10



4. Washington Redskins

Notice the trend of starting these team breakdowns off with the quarterback play. It makes sense, and clearly Robert Griffin III has lived up to the hype and even exceeded it as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft.

It's amazing what having the right guy under center can do for an NFL franchise, and there's no exception with Griffin, whose jersey is already the best-seller in history (h/t ESPN). Or at least since it began being tracked.

Still, RGIII mania is in full swing, and the Redskins have had the top rushing offense in the league to mask what has been a depleted, spotty secondary on the other side of the ball.

Not to mention, a season-ending injury to star Brian Orakpo really hurt the Washington defense, but Griffin's production has kept the team afloat to say the least.

The emergence of fellow rookie RB Alfred Morris has also been instrumental in the offense's success, as well as play-caller Kyle Shanahan maximizing his QB's unique, unprecedented skill set. Assuming RGIII can stay healthy, he and the hot Redskins have a great chance to make a playoff push.

But that's the problem. Griffin has struggled to stay on the field. However, considering the recent improvement in the defense and the key spot-start victory Kirk Cousins pulled out in Cleveland in Week 15, this Redskins bunch has shown resilience and continued winning even with their leader down.

Things look to be coming together in D.C. at the right time, and with the prospects of a home playoff game, it would be hard to bet against them.

The issue is that their first opponent would be one of the league's other hottest teams if the season ended today. The playoff picture still has time to adjust, but the Redskins may be disappointed if the structure holds as it stands.

Super Bowl chances: 4/10



5. Seattle Seahawks

This is that team that the Redskins would play in Round 1, and it might not be pretty.

Having outscored their last two opponents by a combined 108-17, the Seahawks should do no worse than the No. 5 seed, with two home games remaining in the most raucous stadium in pro football.

Keyed by the improvement of rookie QB Russell Wilson and the offensive line, Seattle has put together a dynamic, balanced offense to complement its incredibly athletic, speedy, young and scary defense.

If you want to debate who the best secondary in the NFL is and don't think it's the Seahawks', go someplace else. Three 2011 Pro Bowlers: CB Brandon Browner, FS Earl Thomas and SS Kam Chancellor. And the best player didn't even make it to Hawaii as a rookie—cornerback Richard Sherman, who is the best lockdown corner this side of Darrelle Revis.

Browner's four-game suspension will be up by the time the playoffs roll around, but Sherman's fate will be decided in a Friday appeal. If the Seahawks defensive backfield can be at full strength, they will be a tough out for anyone in the postseason.

As much as it would hurt if Sherman misses the playoffs, the Seahawks offense is good enough now to get the job done.

Also worth noting is that this team's worst loss of the season was by seven points at San Francisco, and their signature win was finally acquired on the road at Chicago. That proved they could take the show away from home and get the job done against quality opposition.

Translation: Watch out. If there's a wild card that can make a run as has happened frequently in recent history, the Seahawks are the team to do it.

Super Bowl chances: 8/10



6. Minnesota Vikings

Thanks primarily to the beastliness of Adrian Peterson—and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible—the Vikings have cranked out two relatively impressive wins in a row—one at home against NFC North rival Chicago, and a 36-22 road triumph in St. Louis.

After a hot start, second-year QB Christian Ponder has regressed sharply, which doesn't at all correlate to Peterson's phenomenal, MVP-caliber campaign in which he's run for over 1800 yards already.

No matter who has been on the other side of the ball and no matter how many defenders have crammed the box, Peterson has been nothing short of spectacular lately.

Combine that with an improved defense, and the Vikings are starting to look like a bit of a resurgent team after what looked to be a midseason collapse.

But the shortcoming under center is what will do this Minnesota team in. For a guy picked No. 12 overall in the 2011 draft, Ponder looks awfully shaky as the long-term answer at quarterback for the Vikings.

Unless the defense plays absolutely lights out, Peterson continues and improves on his record-threatening pace or Ponder gains rapid chemistry with his receiver sin the absence of No. 1 target Percy Harvin, the Vikings have no chance at the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl chances: 1.5/10


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