The race for the 2012-13 NFL playoffs is in full stride. Predictions are flying everywhere.
These next two weeks will determine who will play and who will sit back and watch with a well-deserved first-round bye.
But before we get to the first round of the playoffs, let's take a look at a couple of things that we will assume go down before getting into these potential matchups.
NFC Assumptions: The Washington Redskins win their two remaining games and clinch the NFC East. Seattle loses to San Francisco but wins in Week 17 against St. Louis. The New York Giants win out and the Minnesota Vikings lose to Houston in Week 16.
Atlanta and San Francisco secure first-round byes.
AFC Assumptions: Pittsburgh beats Cincinnati in Week 16 and then Cleveland in Week 17, capturing the final AFC Wild Card playoff berth in the process.
Houston and Denver continue to win and receive first-round byes.
Now that that is out of the way, let's take a look at the matchups this would create.
New York Giants (6) at Green Bay Packers (3)
We’ve seen this game before. The Giants laid it on thick at home, blowing out the Pack by a 38-10 final score. But this time, the game shifts to Lambeau Field.
Green Bay will have a little more freedom down the stretch to rest some of its players, but the Giants will be fighting for every inch just to make it into the postseason. This may seem like an advantage for the Packers, and it is.
Beating Aaron Rodgers the way the Giants did was something, but can they do it again? Both teams are led by seasoned QBs who have done this before. This game could very well end up deciding who represents the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Seattle Seahawks (5) at Washington Redskins (4)
Two rookie quarterbacks with entirely different paths to stardom will square off in what could be a big rivalry in the making. The promise both of these young teams show at the quarterback position means we could be seeing annual playoff appearances from both of them.
But who would have the edge, if any? Defense will play a huge role in this matchup. Both teams have been solid up front at stopping the run. However, both have excelled at running the ball with both the quarterback and running back position.
The edge has to come in the passing game. Seattle’s defense, despite suspensions to its starting cornerbacks, could be back to 100 percent by the wild-card round. That has to point the favorite arrow in favor of the Seahawks.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6) at New England Patriots (3)
Both teams are struggling to stop anyone through the air. However, the Steelers could be better by the time the playoffs come around. Injuries in their secondary have made the Steelers susceptible to big plays, and it's cost them dearly on their hunt for the playoffs.
But Tom Brady doesn’t seem to care who is playing in the secondary of his opponent's defense. He has proven time and time again to be capable of beating the best the league has to offer.
Running the ball will come at a premium for both teams. Pittsburgh has struggled to run the ball and the Patriots are excellent at stuffing it. While the Patriots are much improved in that regard, the Steelers have kept a tough rush defense as well this season.
It will truly be Brady versus Ben Roethlisberger.
Indianapolis Colts (5) at Baltimore Ravens (4)
This matchup is perhaps the most intriguing because both of these teams have very glaring weaknesses. The Colts struggle to stop the run and the Ravens struggle to stop pretty much anything. This could be problematic for both teams.
Indianapolis has a potent pass rush and could Joe Flacco’s search for a trip to the Super Bowl by harassing him all game. Baltimore has been gashed by the run this season and could fall victim to the ball control expertise of Andrew Luck and the Colts’ improved running game.
The biggest question mark in this game is big plays. Can the Colts contain Ray Rice when he gets into space or keep tabs on Torrey Smith down the field? Can Baltimore keep speedsters T.Y. Hilton and Donnie Avery in check?