The regular season is over and brackets are set up, which means one thing: the playoffs have arrived.
The Texans Week 17 loss allowed the Broncos and Patriots to slip into first-round byes, and the Falcons and 49ers will get the week off in the NFC.
All 12 teams have a chance to make a run at the Super Bowl. Wild-card teams such as the Packers and Giants have shown that in the past. However, each one of those teams were scorching entering the postseason, making their improbable championships, well, a little more believable.
Home-field advantage helps, so does a first-round bye, but nothing is more important than being on a roll. With that being said, let's take a look at the teams in the best shape to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Big surprise here, the Patriots are setup up to perform well in the playoffs.
They made the Super Bowl last season with one of the worst defenses in NFL history, and while the group isn't spectacular this season, they're much improved.
But perhaps most importantly, the Pats have finally found a run game. Stevan Ridley has been a revelation in Foxboro, finally giving the New England passing attack a true complement.
The Patriots' potent offense combined with an adequate defense is more than enough to send them to yet another Super Bowl appearance.
And if they do manage to get there, the Giants aren't going to be able to stop them this time.
The Seahawks won't win the NFC West, nor will they have a first-round bye, but what they are is hot. Actually, on fire would be more precise.
Seattle has won five straight entering the playoffs, including a 42-13 win over the San Francisco 49ers—the team that many projected to win the NFC West and represent the NFC in the Super Bowl for much of the year.
The Seahawks' swarming, physical defense is a perfect fit for playoff football, as is the tough running of Marshawn Lynch. Plus, rookie Russell Wilson is exactly the kind of level-headed player the team needs. He doesn't make mistakes, and his innate ability to make plays is almost uncanny.
On the roll Seattle is on, it's hard to see the Seahawks falling early in the postseason, or late for that matter.
The AFC's No. 1 seed is also, in my humble opinion, the favorite to win the Super Bowl.
Peyton Manning has been nothing short of a revelation in Denver. He has the Broncos' offense, a unit as inept as any just a year ago, working like a well-oiled machine.
He has turned Eric Decker into a star and transformed Demaryius Thomas from a little-used downfield threat into an elite wideout.
Meanwhile, the defense that carried Tim Tebow and the Broncos' offense last year, has even managed to step up its play. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil's pass-rushing ability have made this defense deadly.
The Broncos will play at home the entire playoffs, where they are 7-1 on the season. Denver is about as tough a place to play in the NFL, especially in the winter.
Don't expect the Broncos to fall in the AFC. They are the favorites, and with Manning, the most likely team to host the Lombardi Trophy.
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