The common theme in the playoffs is to expect the unexpected. 2012 will be no different.
A nine-win New York Giants team goes into Lambeau Field and defeats the 15-1 Green Bay Packers in 2011. The 7-9 Seattle Seahawks defeat the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in the first round in 2010.
This story has been repeated over and over again.
Here are 12 teams or players that will get exposed when the playoffs start next weekend. You will see teams that finished with the best regular-season record and important players who got them there on this list.
As I said before, expect the unexpected.
Note: This article only includes teams that have clinched a playoff spot or are favored to (Washington Redskins).
The Indianapolis Colts have been the feel-good story of this NFL season. Coming on the heels of just two wins in 2011, Indianapolis clinched a playoff berth with its 10th win, beating the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 16.
By no means does this indicate that Indianapolis is going to go deep into the postseason. The Colts have yielded more than 500 combined rushing yards in the last two games and will be going up against either Stevan Ridley or Ray Rice in the Wild Card Round. That's not exactly the ideal playoff matchup for Chuck Pagano and company.
The Colts defense must play better, and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck needs to cut down on his turnovers (23 in 15 games) if Indianapolis is going to get past the first round.
Do you see that happening?
The Baltimore Ravens are lucky that they're going to host a first-round playoff game, because starting quarterback Joe Flacco hasn't been that good on the road.
He's compiled a 75.3 quarterback rating on the road this season, throwing just seven touchdown passes compared to five interceptions. Dating back to Week 8 of the 2011 season, he's only thrown 13 touchdown passes in his last 13 road games.
The Ravens are going to need Flacco to pick it up away from M&T Bank Stadium if they are going to go deep into the playoffs.
The bad news is that Baltimore will be forced to take on Houston Texans, New England Patriots or Denver Broncos on the road in the division playoffs should it win its wild-card game.
I am not sold on the Ravens being able to come away with the two road wins they will need to make it to the Super Bowl.
If the San Francisco 49ers are expecting to ride the right arm of Colin Kaepernick through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl in New Orleans, they are going to be sorely mistaken.
While Kaepernick is one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, he is nowhere near ready to lead them to a championship.
Let me rephrase that: Kaepernick can be the quarterback for a team that wins the Super Bowl, he just can't be counted on to throw the ball 40-plus times against the Aaron Rodgers of the world and come away with a win in January.
Instead, San Francisco is going to have to utilize a run-first approach on offense and a dominating defense to get its sixth Lombardi Trophy.
That, not Kaepernick's right arm, is this team's road to the Super Bowl.
The good news for Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins is that they're most likely going to be playing their initial playoff game at home should they defeat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. RGIII has thrown just one interception in seven home games this season.
The bad news is that Washington is not as talented as the Seattle Seahawks outside of the quarterback position. It is going to need to get more production from both sides of the ball to be considered legitimate contenders in the ultra-competitive NFC.
I just don't see it happening.
Only one team, the 2010 Green Bay Packers, has ever won the Super Bowl with a losing record away from home. No matter what happens in Week 17, the Seattle Seahawks will have to buck this trend if they want to win the the Lombardi Trophy.
Despite winning its last two road games, Seattle is 3-5 away from home this season and has a .333 winning percentage on the road under Pete Carroll.
Seattle probably won't be able to rely on its "12th man" in the playoffs, either, as it's most likely going to have to win all of its games on the road to make it to New Orleans in February.
I don't see the Seahawks doing this with an untested roster and rookie quarterback. Despite Russell Wilson's recent performances, rookie signal-callers are just 7-11 in the playoffs since the AFL-NFL merger of 1970. Of those seven wins, only two came on the road.
Despite his recent success, don't expect big things from Brandon Lloyd in the playoffs. He is, by every definition of the term, an enigma on the football field.
He didn't appear in a single playoff game in his first nine NFL seasons, a span that included stops with five teams. While Lloyd will put up the numbers (73 receptions, 902 yards in 2012), he is not a big-game wide receiver.
Instead, you can expect the likes of Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to be much bigger cogs in the New England's passing game during the playoffs.
There is no reason to believe that Lloyd will keep up his recent production into January. We have seen this story repeated too many times for it to be ignored just because of a month of solid play in New England.
How Carlos Rogers was named an alternate in the Pro Bowl is beyond me. This veteran cornerback has been a weak link in one of the best secondaries in the National Football League.
Coming off a stellar 2011 performance and a brand new long-term contract, Rogers has struggled a great deal going up against opposing No. 1 wide receivers.
Adding more fuel to the fire, Rogers is probably the third-best cornerback on his own team behind Chris Culliver and Tarell Brown.
If he is asked to go up against the likes of Roddy White or Julio Jones in the postseason, it is going to be a long day for the veteran defensive back.
Expect San Francisco to make adjustments to mask its only real weakness in the defensive secondary. If not, Rogers could come back to haunt the 49ers in January.
The Baltimore Ravens are nowhere near the all-around team that we have seen in the past. They don't seem to have much identity on offense and have been uncharacteristically shoddy on defense.
Despite boasting one of the best running backs in the NFL in Ray Rice, Baltimore runs the ball only 43 percent of the time. That is one of the primary reasons that former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was let go a few short weeks ago.
While Baltimore did find more balance on offense last week under new coordinator Jim Caldwell, one still has to wonder if it is going to utilize Rice enough to be effective in the postseason.
Equally as alarming, Baltimore is just a shell of its former self on defense. Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs have missed a majority of the season with injuries. While both should be healthy for the Wild Card Round, the same cannot be said for standout cornerback Lardarius Webb, who was lost in mid-October with a torn ACL.
Baltimore ranks 17th against the pass and a poor 24th against the run. Overall, its defense is an uncharacteristic 20th in total yards allowed.
If the Ravens are going to make a deep run in the playoffs, they need their defense to step up and Rice to become a featured component on offense.
They also need to start performing better on the road, where they are 4-3 this season. If these three things fail to happen, we could be looking at a one-and-done scenario.
The Houston Texans are probably the weakest 12-3 team I have seen in some time. They don't seem to have the talent, from top to bottom, to be considered Super Bowl contenders.
I could care less that Houston might end up with the No. 1 seed in the AFC. I don't see the Texans hanging with the New England Patriots or Denver Broncos in the postseason.
With a first-round bye on the line, they went down without much of a fight to an average Minnesota Vikings team at home in Week 16. They must now travel to Indianapolis to take on a playoff-bound Colts team that is going to be playing inspired football due to the return of Chuck Pagano to the sideline.
A loss there could force Houston to play a couple games on the road to get to New Orleans.
More importantly, this team has been a bit too inconsistent. Its three losses have come by an average of three touchdowns.
Are you willing to bet on Houston to win three or four games to get to the Super Bowl?
The Atlanta Falcons have the best record in the NFL through 16 weeks. They are going to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC and will not have to play outside of a dome to win the Super Bowl.
All indicators are there for Atlanta to thrive in the playoffs.
So why am I including them on this list? Well, it is pretty simple.
The Falcons seem to play down to the level of their opponent. Despite winning all seven home games, Atlanta has allowed a couple really bad teams to stay in the game way too long. The Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals, who have combined to win nine games this season, lost by a total of seven points in Atlanta.
What is the common theme? Matt Ryan threw eight interceptions in those two games.
On that note, Ryan has failed to win a postseason game in four seasons with the Falcons, going 0-3 during that span. His quarterback rating drops from 91.0 in the regular season to a pedestrian 71.2 in the playoffs. Atlanta is averaging fewer than 17 points per game in his three postseason starts.
I am not ready to show confidence in a team and a quarterback that has failed to get it done when it counts the most. Until Atlanta proves it can actually win in January, it will remain on lists like this.