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NFL Playoff Bracket: Predicting Every Game Through the Super Bowl

John RozumCorrespondent IDecember 30, 2012

NFL Playoff Bracket: Predicting Every Game Through the Super Bowl

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    Finally!

    The 2013 NFL playoff bracket is set and we have predictions for each round leading to Super Bowl XLVII.

    Will Tom Brady and the New England Patriots make a run for a sixth Super Bowl appearance? Or will Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos represent the AFC?

    We also can't forget about the No. 3 seed Houston Texans. With postseason experience from last year, Gary Kubiak's squad is poised for a Super Bowl run.

    As for the NFC, there's no Eli Manning to worry about.

    Elsewhere, can the Atlanta Falcons win their first playoff game and, ultimately, the NFC title with Matt Ryan?

    Well, the Dirty Birds have seen their season spoiled before by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Factor in the San Francisco 49ers and there's plenty to watch for this January.

    Ahead, we break it all down, game by game.

AFC Divisional: (No. 4) Baltimore Ravens at (No. 1) Denver Broncos

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    A different location than the regular-season meeting won’t change the result.

    In Week 15, the Denver Broncos bashed the Ravens, 34-17, in Baltimore. Now hosting the Ravens for the AFC Divisional Round, expect Denver to gain immediate control from the opening kickoff, as the Broncos pass rush and rush defense should stifle Baltimore at the point of attack.

    Thereafter, extra possessions are provided to Peyton Manning and Denver’s offense. Despite Baltimore typically being known for defense, the Ravens have yet to find a rhythm in stopping explosive offenses.

    The Broncos don’t have a standout ground game to set up the pass, but the threat of the Manning pass will create running lanes. Combine Denver winning the possession battle and getting more quarterback pressure and the Broncos should take care of business at Mile High.

     

    Broncos 24, Ravens 14

NFC Divisional: (No. 3) Green Bay Packers at (No. 2) San Francisco 49ers

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    The Green Bay Packers are a favorable matchup for the San Francisco 49ers. And a big part of that resides in Green Bay still being a one-dimensional offense.

    Without a doubt, the Packers improved on the ground throughout 2012. Unfortunately for Green Bay, San Francisco's front seven remains that much better.

    Any defense possesses a distinct competitive edge when it can stuff the run without blitzing. Given Green Bay's pass-oriented attack, expect the Niners to play physical press coverage. That alone gives the pass rush a bit more time in applying pressure to Aaron Rodgers.

    Lest we forget, Rodgers' pass protection has been unreliable all season (sacked 51 times in the regular season). So, San Francisco controls the line of scrimmage and forces punt after punt here.

    Fielding an offense that relies much on the ground attack, Frank Gore and Co. gradually wear down Green Bay's defensive front—Packers also allow an average of 4.5 yards per carry.

    By shortening the game, winning the field-position battle and pressuring Rodgers, expect the Niners to be the ones advancing in the postseason.

    49ers 23, Packers 17

NFC Divisional: (No. 5) Seattle Seahawks at (No. 1) Atlanta Falcons

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    The Atlanta Falcons limp into the postseason after losing at home in the season-finale to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Now yes, it's a division rivalry, but the Falcons have yet to really dominate an inferior team this season—at least within the NFC South.

    The Seahawks are also a dangerous team for Atlanta, as they present consistency in a balanced offense. Marshawn Lynch will force the Falcons to stack the box and he still won't be completely isolated.

    Russell Wilson can then utilize play action and some read-option. As a mobile quarterback, Wilson's ability to make plays out of the pocket and scramble—when needed—will make life difficult for Atlanta. Just like Cam Newton did to the Falcons in Week 14 (running for 116 yards and a touchdown) except Wilson is a better passer.

    Also, Matt Ryan and Co. haven't faced a defense comparable to Seattle since Denver in Week 2.

    Possessing a sound pass rush and excellent cover corners, Atlanta will need to run the ball more effectively. Unfortunately, the Falcons struggle in the trenches unless the aerial assault really gets going.

    With Seattle's rush and ability to man up on Ryan's receiving targets, Atlanta suffers another premature postseason exit.

    Seahawks 26, Falcons 21

AFC Divisional: (No. 3) Houston Texans at (No. 2) New England Patriots

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    The stakes are immensely higher than their Week 14 regular-season meeting on Monday night. And the one consistent concern of the Houston Texans remains showing up in big games.

    They flopped against the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots during the regular season in prime-time setups. Also, dropping Week 17 to Indianapolis cost Houston a bye week.

    So, should we expect anything different again versus New England and Tom Brady in the playoffs? No.

    Brady will eviscerate Houston’s defense, which sets up the Pats’ underrated ground game. Sitting in the driver's seat throughout, New England dictating the tempo should force Houston to become one-dimensional.

    And despite the Texans’ solid offensive balance, it still pales in comparison to that of the Pats.

     

    Patriots 35, Texans 20

AFC Championship: (No. 2) New England Patriots at (No. 1) Denver Broncos

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    Ah, we once again see Tom Brady and Peyton Manning square off in January. Obviously, the only difference is Manning is under center for the Denver Broncos.

    New England was also the most recent team to defeat Denver (Week 5). The biggest impact of that contest was turnovers, as the Pats only gave it up once and the Broncos lost three fumbles.

    Denver has significantly improved at cutting down their TOs since then, however.

    In a game that features two stellar passing attacks and effective rushing games for balance, defense is the decider. The Broncos have made vast strides at defending the run and the Pats have locked down better against the pass.

    New England is better at creating turnovers but still gives up far too many yards and lacks a pass rush by comparison. Denver feeds off controlling the trenches and is well-versed at playing man coverage to help the blitz as well.

    And when two elite signal-callers duel, the winning team sports the defense that applies more consistent quarterback pressure.

     

    Broncos 28, Patriots 23

NFC Championship: (No. 5) Seattle Seahawks at (No. 2) San Francisco 49ers

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    Don't expect the Seahawks to annihilate the 49ers like they did in Week 16.

    San Francisco was coming off a big win on the road against the Patriots and Seattle was anxious to bring the Niners back to reality.

    So, entering this NFC Championship Game, Jim Harbaugh's crew will be looking to avenge the previous loss as well as last season's conference title game. Seattle, though, continues to be an extremely resilient squad and Russell Wilson has arguably outplayed all other rookies to this point.

    The teams are still exact replicas of each other: solid running game, reliable passing attack and stellar defense.

    One competitive advantage San Francisco does hold is in hosting this matchup.

    Seattle has proven it can win on the road, but is 0-3 in divisional away games this season. The Niners can also match the Seahawks' physical play at the point of attack and blanket just as well in coverage.

    Factor in how well these teams know each other and a stud pass-rusher such as Aldon Smith is a distinct advantage.

     

    49ers 21, Seahawks 16

Super Bowl XLVII: (AFC No. 1) Denver Broncos vs. (NFC No. 2) San Francisco 49ers

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    The Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers line up in Super Bowl XLVII.

    Here we see two astronomically different offenses, because Denver relies on Peyton Manning and San Francisco is Frank Gore and Co. on the ground.

    Defensively, however, each reign supreme against the run and the pass and are constantly wrecking havoc in the backfield. It's a duel between Von Miller and Aldon Smith, and a chess match between Manning and Patrick Willis.

    San Francisco, without question, will stifle Denver's ground game. It is imperative, though, that the Broncos refuse to abandon the run. Manning will dice through the air, but forcing the Niners to respect the line of scrimmage will keep man coverage on Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas.

    When the Niners offense hits the field, it must be about ball control.

    Reducing the number of Denver offensive series and wearing down the Broncos up front is the key. Denver has been suspect at times against the run, although it has drastically improved since early in the season.

    If there are any disparities, it's pass protection and generating takeaways. The Broncos hardly allow any quarterback pressure and Jack Del Rio's defense possesses a greater knack for the turnover.

     

    Broncos 24, 49ers 20

     

    Follow John Rozum on Twitter.

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