There you have it. The 2012 NFL regular season has come to a conclusion, and now only 12 teams have a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans in February.
I have to say it was one of the most interesting years in the recent history of the league. Individual records aside, what some teams did this season was nothing short of amazing. The Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings, who combined for 10 wins last season, all matched or eclipsed that mark in 2012.
Six of the 12 starting quarterbacks heading into the playoffs are either in their first or second season. That's simply remarkable.
It's going to be a wild ride over the next five weeks or so. Let's take a look at the Super Bowl odds for all playoff teams from BetVega.
Note: The odds are up to date as of Dec. 31, 2012.
Dalton needs to be more consistent against the best the AFC has to offer.
The Cincinnati Bengals have now won seven of eight heading into the playoffs and will be squaring off against a Houston Texans team that is playing some really bad football right now.
Needless to say, the stars seem to be aligning for this young team.
Inconsistency on offense coupled with a top-heavy playoff field may limit the Bengals' chances of actually grabbing their first AFC Championship in a quarter of a century. Those are two primary reasons that Cincinnati is a long shot to go to the Super Bowl.
As you already know, momentum is big when it comes to the NFL playoffs. Cincinnati has been as hot as any team in the AFC outside of the Denver Broncos. It could easily continue this hot streak through next week against Houston.
After that, anything is possible.
Chuckstrong is bigger than football. Could it lead to magic in Indy?
What an impressive victory for head coach Chuck Pagano and the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. They really didn't have much to play for and were going against a Houston Texans team that had the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC on the line.
The result was tremendous for this up-and-coming football team. Indianapolis went on to win 28-16 behind another prolific performance by Andrew Luck. The rookie quarterback set the tone with an early touchdown pass to Coby Fleener and ended the day without an interception.
If Luck can continue to limit his mistakes in the playoffs, anything is possible.
While it would be somewhat of an upset, I believe Indianapolis will go into Baltimore and beat the Ravens next weekend. That's where its magic would probably end. Indianapolis just doesn't have the necessary talent from top to bottom to compete with the likes of the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots.
This isn't news, though. The Colts are in the first year of what promises to be a lengthy reloading process. The simple fact that they won 11 games in the first season of that process is beyond extraordinary. Watch out for this team following a full offseason and another draft.
Can Peterson dominate in the playoffs?
Minnesota did the unthinkable by winning its way into the postseason against the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers. It now needs to travel to Lambeau Field to take on Aaron Rodgers and company for a second consecutive week.
Do you see the Vikings defeating the class of the NFC North two consecutive weeks? Well, if Christian Ponder plays like he did today, they stand a chance. We already know that the living legend himself, Adrian Peterson, will do his part.
With that in mind, Minnesota will need to win three road playoff games with an untested quarterback to get into the Super Bowl.
I just don't see that happening.
Nonetheless, it was a great season for a team that won a total of three games in 2011. Minnesota has a lot to build on moving forward. It has one of the best running backs to play the game in his prime, a young quarterback that has stepped up when it counted the most in December, and one of the best young offensive lines in the NFL.
The future could not be brighter in Minnesota.
Baltimore must ride Rice in the postseason.
The Baltimore Ravens have now lost four of five heading into the postseason, though their most recent loss against the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The Ravens were more worried about staying healthy and resting their starters than winning the game.
You can question that logic all you want, but Baltimore is now in the second season for a fifth consecutive year under head coach John Harbaugh.
With that in mind, I don't see this team doing too much damage in the playoffs. It doesn't seem to have much of an identity on the offensive side of the ball and has been somewhat mediocre defensively.
It doesn't help that Baltimore is 1-2 against the top three teams in the AFC, losing its last two against the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos by a combined 47 points.
Do you see the Ravens going into the home stadiums of the AFC's top teams and winning in January? I didn't think so.
RGIII's knee could be a concern against Seattle.
Outside of the Denver Broncos, no team is going into the postseason on as much of a roll as the Washington Redskins. Robert Griffin III and company took care of the Dallas Cowboys at home on Sunday Night Football, capturing the NFC East Championship in the process.
They will now face another hot team in the form of Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks in what promises to be the best game of a wild weekend of football.
For his part, RGIII has been dominating at home as a rookie. He accounted for 12 touchdowns and one interception while putting up a 5-3 record at FedEx Field. That has to give the young quarterback more confidence heading into his first postseason start.
Even if Washington is able to get past the Seahawks next week, it will have to travel to either Atlanta or San Francisco for the next round. Another major concern has to be the health of RGIII. He looked severely limited running with the ball last night, which cannot be a good sign against some of the best defenses the league has to offer.
At the very least, much like the Indianapolis Colts, this team is well ahead of the curve in its rebuilding process.
Houston isn't going anywhere unless Schaub steps his game up.
The Houston Texans have dropped from the obvious No.1 seed in the AFC for most of the season to having to host the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round next weekend. I am pretty sure that head coach Gary Kubiak is not happy about this.
Houston's loss against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday was huge for a couple of different reasons. First, it was unable to defeat a team that wasn't playing for a whole lot (Indianapolis was guaranteed the No. 5 seed before the game had started). Secondly, the Texans will now have to win against either the Denver Broncos or New England Patriots on the road to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
More importantly, Houston isn't going to go anywhere with Matt Schaub playing at his current level of mediocrity. He needs to step up and take the pressure off Arian Foster for Houston to do anything in the postseason.
If that doesn't happen, Houston could easily be looking at a one-and-done scenario here.
Do you really care that Wilson is a rookie?
That was a less than impressive performance for the young Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. They scraped by the St. Louis Rams at home in what equated to somewhat of a meaningless game.
While rookie quarterback Russell Wilson was near flawless on the day, it was Seattle's defense that struggled at times. It allowed 331 total yards and 20 first downs to a 23rd-ranked Rams offense. That has to be alarming to defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and company.
The bigger story here, however, is that Seattle will have the services of Pro Bowl snub Richard Sherman for the postseason after he won his appeal against the NFL. No team is going to have a tremendous amount of success throwing in the direction of Sherman and fellow standout Brandon Browner.
By virtue of the San Francisco 49ers win, Seattle will have to travel to D.C. and take on the Washington Redskins next week. That is the type of matchup that could spell doom to a dream season. Wilson making his initial postseason start on the road at FedEx Field has to be worrisome for head coach Pete Carroll.
That being said, Seattle has been on a roll recently. It has won its last five games by an average of nearly four touchdowns. The Seahawks must now show consistency away from the Pacific Northwest to continue their surprise season.
At this point it is hard to wager against Wilson, who has been as good as any quarterback in the NFL over the course of the last two months.
Rodgers makes it hard to bet against Green Bay.
The Green Bay Packers were on a roll until they stepped into Minnesota and got derailed by the freight train that is Adrian Peterson. Their loss against the Vikings now forces them to play that very same team in a wild-card playoff game next week. The Pack would've had a first-round bye had they won in Week 17.
Peterson has now gained over 400 rushing yards against Green Bay in two games this season. You have to believe that head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers will not be sleeping well thinking about having to face him once more.
In reality, Green Bay lost a game that it really needed on Sunday. Instead of looking at a possible second-round matchup against a team like the San Francisco 49ers at home with a rested group, it will have to travel west to face a rested 49ers' team should it win next week.
The road to the Super Bowl got a bit more cloudy for Green Bay following this loss.
I still have a hard time discounting what Aaron Rodgers has done. He continues to play at the highest level of any quarterback in the modern era. Even in defeat on Sunday, Rodgers showed us exactly why he is one of those "once in a generation" type of players. He could easily pick Green Bay up and carry it to a second Lombardi Trophy in three seasons.
Time for Ryan and Co. to put up or shut up.
We will finally get to see how Matt Ryan handles the pressure of being the favorite. Following their uninspired 22-17 home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Atlanta Falcons head into the playoffs as the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC.
The road to New Orleans does indeed go through the Georgia Dome.
What does this mean?
Despite a 13-3 record, I have a hard time believing that Atlanta should be a clear-cut favorite to bring home the NFC Championship.
It has yielded an average of 162 rushing yards in its three losses and will have to get past some damn good running backs to grab the conference championship. The likes of Frank Gore, Alfred Morris, Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson can do damage against this defense.
Equally as important, history tells us a story. Matt Ryan is 0-3 as a starting quarterback in the playoffs and just hasn't performed when it counts the most in January. Until Ryan bucks that trend, there are going to be naysayers out there that are justified in their critique of the Pro Bowl quarterback.
That being said, Atlanta is the top seed and does have as good of a chance as any team in the ultra-competitive NFC to earn a trip to New Orleans in February.
Kaepernick is the least experienced playoff quarterback in 2012.
The San Francisco 49ers came out flat once again versus the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. There had to be a lot of upset stomachs on the sideline as a lackluster road team took a 6-0 lead in the first half.
What followed was something that Jim Harbaugh and company needed. Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree sparked the offense, while San Francisco's defense stepped up and dominated the final three quarters of play.
San Francisco also received some great news in the locker room following the game when it was able to watch the Minnesota Vikings defeat the Green Bay Packers. This enabled the 49ers to acquire the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a first-round playoff bye. Considering that Justin Smith will likely be able to return for the second round, this was huge for San Francisco's Super Bowl hopes.
In terms of all-around talent, San Francisco could easily be considered favorites to grab the conference championship. It is going to have to rely on Frank Gore and the running game as well as a dominating defense to achieve that end goal.
Kaepernick's maturity will also be called into question in January. I am pretty sure 49ers fans hope he is just green enough to not to give a damn.
New England's postseason success will have more to do with its defense than Brady.
Tom Brady and company needed to have a solid all-around game on Sunday after two poor performances in a row. Riding the right arm of the future Hall of Fame quarterback, the New England Patriots got what they needed.
They ran the Miami Dolphins off the field to the tune of a 28-0 shutout win, earning a first-round bye in the process. If New England's defense plays like it did yesterday in the playoffs, it is going to be in a great position come crunch time in the postseason. We already know what Brady and the offense can do.
You have to love the way youngsters on defense are playing at this point. Their performance makes for a more balanced team in New England and could enable it to make a return trip to the Super Bowl.
Not much more to say here other than it looks like we could easily be heading for a Brady-Peyton Manning rematch in the AFC Championship Game. After all, these are clearly the two best teams in the conference.
This should be fun.
Smile Peyton, you have just won 11 consecutive.
I mentioned about a month ago that the Denver Broncos could enter the postseason on an 11-game winning streak. Following their complete destruction of the lowly Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, this is exactly what Peyton Manning and the Broncos did.
They now have to be considered the clear favorites to win the AFC. It sure the heck helps that the Houston Texans laid an egg against Manning's former team, which enabled Denver to acquire the No. 1 overall seed in the "junior circuit."
For what it's worth, I just don't envision any team in the NFL being able to hold Manning down the way he is playing right now. It doesn't matter if he goes up against an elite defense; the all-time great quarterback just seems to be in that zone right now.
After all, Manning is coming off his best statistical regular season since his MVP 2004 season. He has thrown 26 touchdowns compared to eight interceptions during the Broncos' winning streak.
Equally as important, it appears that Manning has the most talent around him that he has had throughout his lengthy NFL career.
One thing that should worry Denver fans is that Manning's career postseason record is under .500. I am sure they're hoping that he left that lack of playoff success in Indianapolis.
Only time will tell.