After 17 weeks, now the real football starts. This could be one of the most volatile postseasons we have seen. No team is perfect, and if they find that one matchup to expose their fatal flaw, upsets will happen.
The road to New Orleans goes through Atlanta in the NFC and Denver in the AFC, but you can make cases for the No. 2 or 3 seeds in both conferences being better in a given week.
But which teams have the easiest road to the Superdome? Here is our best educated guess for who will come out of both conferences to play in Super Bowl XLVII.
Easiest Path In AFC
Looking at the first game the Broncos will be playing and their potential opponents, they seem like the biggest lock in either conference to make it to at least the conference championship game.
Depending on what happens on Wild Card Weekend, the Broncos will be playing either Baltimore, Indianapolis or Cincinnati. The Ravens still have Joe Flacco at quarterback, who is just as likely to throw four interceptions as he is three touchdowns.
The Colts have been one of the best stories to watch all season, with so many rookies and second-year players getting them back into the postseason one year after being the worst team in the league. But they are still at least two years away from being Super Bowl contenders.
The Bengals are the most dangerous team in this trio because Andy Dalton is the best quarterback in the group, A.J. Green is the best wide receiver in the group and the defense has started to play better, albeit against some mediocre competition at the end of the year.
Moving ahead to the AFC Championship Game, the Texans are the most flawed division winner in the NFL. That is an amazing turnaround, considering they were just one win from being the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but that is how bad things have gotten for this team.
By the way, if the Texans beat the Bengals, they have to travel to New England. Doesn't it just feel like we are on a crash course to get another Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady AFC Championship Game?
Even though the Patriots beat the Broncos earlier this season, that was the game where everything clicked, albeit a little too late, for the Broncos and they didn't lose again.
The Patriots secondary should have a lot of people nervous. They were tied for 21st in the league with 27 touchdown passes allowed and 28th in yards per attempt (7.7).
All that said, I do want to see how the Broncos fare against higher quality competition. During their 11-game winning streak, the only winning teams they beat were Cincinnati and Baltimore. They were beating up on the likes of Carolina, Kansas City (twice), Oakland, San Diego, Cleveland and Tampa Bay.
Easiest Path in NFC
Green Bay Packers
Unlike the AFC, which basically seems like it will come down to Denver and New England, you can make real cases for four teams in the NFC being legitimate Super Bowl threats entering the playoffs.
As great as Adrian Peterson was for Minnesota all season and Week 17, going into Green Bay and doing it again a week later seems like a long shot. Christian Ponder will have to make a play, likely in some kind of bad weather because it is Green Bay in January. That is a scary proposition.
After that, the Packers will travel to San Francisco in a rematch of a Week 1 clash that the 49ers won in Green Bay. One of the key storylines for the 49ers in the playoffs is what happens with Justin Smith.
Smith says that he will be back for the playoffs after sitting out the last two games with a partially torn left triceps tendon, but we have no idea how effective he will be. He is the key piece to that defensive front. If he is out, it completely changes the complexion of their pass rush.
The Packers offensive line has been a problem all season, so if the 49ers are able to get their pass-rushing defensive tackle back and healthy, it could swing the pendulum in their favor. But whenever you have doubts, you always lean the opposite direction.
Plus, Rodgers is playing ridiculous football right now. He has thrown for 998 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions in the last three weeks. How do you bet against that?
In the NFC Championship Game, the Packers will either travel to Atlanta, against a Falcons team that needs to conquer the white whale that is a playoff game before we can put them in that elite category, or play at home against Seattle or Washington.
The Seahawks are the new kid on the block that everyone is enamored with. Certainly, the defense has been outstanding, and the offense has improved by leaps and bounds since the start of the season.
However, can the Seahawks win a game on the road? Their best road win was a comeback against Chicago late in the season. Other than that, the only road wins on their resume are against Buffalo and Carolina. They lost to teams like Arizona, Detroit and Miami on the road.
Washington's secondary doesn't present enough problems for the Packers to overcome, so Rodgers can just sit in the pocket and pick them apart.
The Falcons are better equipped to win in the playoffs now than they were in the previous two years because the offense is more explosive. There are just so many questions about that defense, which gives up over 365 yards per game, that have not been answered.
It has become the popular pick among fans and analysts, but things seem to set up well for the Broncos and Packers to meet in the Super Bowl.
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