NFL

NFL Playoff Schedule 2013: Wild Card Teams Most Likely to Pull Road Upsets

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 23: Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates while walking off of the field following their 13-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game at Heinz Field on December 23, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2012

Other than Baltimore-Indianapolis, none of next weekend's wild-card matchups are even close to being set in stone. With a full slate of regular season games remaining, there's still some postseason navigation left to be done.

But we have, through 16 weeks of trials and tribulations, narrowed the field of potential wild-card teams to a brusque, manageable number. 

Only seven teams can occupy a four- or five-seed come January: the Colts, Bengals, Seahawks, Vikings, Bears, Redskins and Giants. 

Of those seven, here are three that are most capable of going on the road and springing a first-round upset:

 

Seattle Seahawks

Alright, so the word "upset" is relative.

Whether it be against Dallas or Washington, the Seahawks are likely to be favored, on the road, in the Wild Card round. So in Vegas, it wouldn't be an upset. But in terms of "five-seed over four-seed," it very much would be.

Washington is almost as hot as Seattle right now, and would probably pose a bigger threat than Dallas. Unlike the Cowboys, their stadium is a true, material home-field advantage. Jerry's World is hollow, synthetic, soulless. Populated by blackberry-toting magnates, not beerbelly-toting diehards

But still, the Seahawks would be fine in either setting. Per Football Outsiders' team efficiency rankings, Seattle is actually the best team in football. And as far as their numbers are concerned, it's actually not even close.

Atlanta and whoever gets the No. 2 seed will both cross their fingers and hope for a way to avoid the 'Hawks in round two.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

This one is heavily contingent on Indianapolis beating Houston this week.

If the Colts can find a way to best the Texans, in all likelihood, Houston would drop to the three-seed and host Cincinnati next weekend. And that, my friends, is a game these Bengals can win.

Football Outsiders ranks Cincinnati the seventh-best team in football, considerably better than the 13th-ranked Texans.

If the Texans lose against Indy this week, that would make three losses in four games after starting 11-1. I know there's little merit to the "peaking at the right time" theory, but that kind of stretch hardly inspires confidence.

If Houston does beat the Colts, Cincinnati would have to play either Denver or, most likely, New England.

Both opponents would drastically decrease the Bengals' chances of pulling a wild-card upset. The operative word there being "drastically."

But still, after the Seahawks, Cincinnati is probably the second-best wild-card team in the NFL. I'd still pick them next week over someone like the Colts.

 

New York Giants

Stick with me on this one.

I'm not saying the Giants will make the playoffs. That would take a win over Philly and a whole lot of serendipity. I'm saying that if the Giants make the playoffs, they're surely one of the best bets to pull an upset.

Recent form notwithstanding, Eli Manning and Co. play their best football at the end of the season. They've risen from the ashes to win two Super Bowls in five years, and even if they appear to be in shambles right now, it's hard to discount them until they're dead and buried.

In order to make the playoffs, they need to beat the Eagles, then need subsequent losses from Minnesota, Chicago and Dallas. Which sounds daunting, but isn't actually all that bad.

The Giants are on the right side of the spread in three of those games: They're giving seven, while Minnesota and Dallas are both getting 3.5. That leaves just one true upset that needs to go their way, and given the recent form of Chicago, would a Lions win, in Detroit, really be that shocking?

Grantland's Bill Barnwell gives Detroit a 29-percent chance of beating Chicago, and the Giants an 8.5-percent chance of making the playoffs. Given the past two weekends, they could do much worse.

Once they're in, they'd hit the road to play either Green Bay or San Francisco—two teams they've beaten, convincingly, in 2012.

That could spell trouble for the rest of the NFC.

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