Four teams have done themselves the favor of earning a first-round bye, but these franchises will still be keeping a close eye on the Wild Card games as they will be hoping for an ideal matchup in the Divisional Round.
The Denver Broncos have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs in the AFC and will draw the lowest-seeded Wild Card winner. The New England Patriots, as the No. 2 seed, will face off against the other team left standing.
The Atlanta Falcons are in the same position as the Broncos in the NFC, while the San Francisco 49ers are seeded second in the conference.
All of these teams have opponents they do not want face, and here is how each of the top seeds are hoping for the Wild Card games to play out.
Note: full playoff bracket can be found here, courtesy of CBS Sports.
No. 1 Denver Broncos' Ideal Matchup: vs. No. 5 Indianapolis Colts
The Colts may have ended the season on fire, and the team’s inspirational run has turned plenty of heads this year. But the Broncos are the hottest team in the NFL and won their last 11 games.
The Broncos are also the only team in the NFL with a top-five offense and a top-five defense, while the Colts are still one year removed from a 2-14 campaign.
In addition, no player on the field would be more motivated to win this potential matchup than Peyton Manning. This is the first time in his career that he has had to play with a chip on his shoulder, and he will be extremely determined to prove that the Colts made the wrong decision by letting him go.
While the Colts have exceeded all expectations this season, the Broncos would blow them off the field in this matchup. Denver will be rooting for Indy to take down the Baltimore Ravens and for the Houston Texans to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals.
No. 2 New England Patriots' Ideal Matchup: vs. No. 3 Houston Texans
The Patriots will also be rooting for the Texans to beat the Bengals, as this would force a rematch of the Week 14 Monday night game that resulted in a blowout victory for New England.
As the No. 3 seed, Houston will automatically draw the second-seeded Patriots if it wins this coming weekend.
Memories of the team’s last trip to Foxboro, Mass. will not be forgotten if Houston advances. During the regular season meeting, Tom Brady had four touchdown passes before the Texans were able to get any points. The final score was 42-14.
That beatdown will give New England a significant mental advantage over the Texans if this potential Divisional Round matchup becomes reality.
No. 1 Atlanta Falcons' Ideal Matchup: vs. No. 4 Washington Redskins
The Falcons’ last two postseason games have not gone well, and the team will be hoping not to tread into uncharted territory for its first contest of the 2013 postseason.
The Redskins are the only NFC playoff team that Atlanta has faced this season. In their Week 5 matchup, the Falcons came out on top, 24-17.
In addition, the Redskins present Atlanta with the best matchup. Washington ranks 30th in passing yardage allowed this season. The team’s secondary would not be able to slow down Matt Ryan and the high-flying Falcons.
Atlanta would be completely content with turning this game into a shootout, and it would easily outscore the Redskins. The NFC’s top seed will be rooting for Washington and the Green Bay Packers on Wild Card Weekend.
No. 2 San Francisco 49ers' Ideal Matchup: vs. No. 4 Washington Redskins
San Francisco will also be cheering on the Redskins against the Seattle Seahawks, but it will also be rooting for the Minnesota Vikings.
Which top-two seed is most vulnerable to a loss in the Divisional Round?
If the 49ers get their wishes, Minnesota would head to Atlanta while Washington would go to California.
The Redskins may have the top rushing offense in the NFL, but San Francisco ranks No. 4 in yards allowed on the ground. The Niners linebacking corps—led by Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman—is better equipped to deal with Robert Griffin III than any other group in the NFL.
No interior linebacker tandem has two players with such exceptional sideline-to-sideline speed, and even Griffin will have trouble picking up yards on the ground. The 49ers also ranked No. 4 in passing yardage allowed, and moving the ball through the air will not be any easier.