The NFL playoff picture is as clear as it's ever going to get, but still, we have no idea what's next.
The upcoming Wild Card Weekend promises to produce some stunning results, and therefore some intriguing second-round playoff matchups. With the defending champions out of the picture, and no clear-cut favorite in play, anything can and will happen this January in lead-up to Super Bowl XLVII.
Here we'll analyze a pair of dream scenarios in each conference and break down what has to happen for each to play out.
Andrew Luck vs. Peyton Manning
If you told me before the season that Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts would be one win away from taking on the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos in the AFC divisional round, I would have laughed hysterically.
But, can you blame me?
After a 2-14 season a year ago, the Colts are 11-5 and will play at the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in the second of two AFC Wild Card matchups, the other being Cincinnati at Houston. The good news for Indy is that the Ravens have dropped four of their last five overall and look very beatable.
So, get this: If the Colts win in Baltimore and the Texans win at home on Saturday, then Indy is headed to the Mile High City to face off against the AFC's No. 1 seed.
Sure, Denver would be a heavy favorite at home, but at least fans would be treated to three-plus hours of Luck vs. Manning, a classic rookie vs. veteran postseason quarterback battle.
Just Like Old Times
The most likely of the potential AFC Championship Game matchups this winter is one that every football fan has to be looking forward to. The No. 1 seeded Denver Broncos vs. the No. 2 seeded New England Patriots.
Manning vs. Brady matchups of the past have glued football fans to their couches, and this one would be no different, especially with so much on the line—a trip to Super Bowl XLVII.
It's been almost six years since that epic Pats-Colts AFC championship battle in the RCA Dome in January 2007, when Manning led Indy back from an 18-points deficit to win 38-34. I doubt either the Broncos or the Patriots would be able to reach 30-plus points in a championship game at Mile High in late January, but it would be exciting football nonetheless.
The Green Bay Packers may have stumbled into the playoffs, but with a win over the Minnesota Vikings at home on Saturday night will guarantee them a trip to San Francisco to play the No. 2 seeded 49ers.
Indeed, Packers-Niners is a dream scenario in the NFC, and also a likely one, as all Green Bay must do is take care of business at Lambeau on Wild Card Weekend in order to make it happen.
What makes this clash so great is that both squads are heavy Super Bowl favorites, meaning one of the league's best teams would be eliminated before the championship round. Of course, the 49ers would have a massive edge playing at home and having already defeated the Packers back in September.
Still, it's not wise to doubt Aaron Rodgers on the road in the postseason. He's a Super Bowl champion and a Super Bowl MVP.
If you ask me, it doesn't get any better than this potential NFC divisional showdown.
Although there are many possible NFC Championship Game scenarios, one is particularly intriguing.
A rematch between NFC West rivals Seattle and San Francisco at Candlestick Park in the NFC Championship Game would have everything for everyone. The 49ers survived the Seahawks there back in October but were blown out by the Seahawks on the road in Week 16. The rubber match between the two squads would be absolute must-see television.
In order for this game to happen at this stage, the Packers and Seahawks would both have to win on Wild Card Weekend. Then, San Francisco would need to beat Green Bay and have Seattle take down Atlanta on the road in the NFC divisional round.
It's sort of a long-shot, but certainly a possibility given how hot Pete Carroll's Hawks are right now.
NFL Playoff Picture
AFC First-Round Byes
*No. 1 Denver Broncos (will host highest remaining seed in AFC divisional round)
No. 2 New England Patriots (will host lowest remaining seed in AFC divisional round)
AFC Wild Card Matchups
No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals vs. No. 3 Houston Texans—Saturday, Jan. 5 at 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC
No. 5 Indianapolis Colts vs. No. 4 Baltimore Ravens—Sunday, Jan. 6 at 1 p.m. ET, CBS
*home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs
NFC First-Round Byes
*No. 1 Atlanta Falcons (will host highest remaining seed in NFC divisional round)
No. 2 San Francisco 49ers (will host lowest remaining seed in NFC divisional round)
NFC Wild Card Matchups
No. 6 Minnesota Vikings vs. No. 3 Green Bay Packers—Saturday, Jan. 5 at 8 p.m. ET, NBC
No. 5 Seattle Seahawks vs. No. 4 Washington Redskins—Sunday, Jan. 6 at 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX
*home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs
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