NFL Playoff Bracket 2013: Underdog Teams Ready to Make Super Bowl Run

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2013

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 30:   Alfred Morris #46 of the Washington Redskins scores a fourth quarter touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys at FedExField on December 30, 2012 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Calling a team in the NFL postseason an underdog can be oxymoronic, because when you fight for 17 weeks to earn the right to play in January, you have done a lot of things right. But you can always find at least one squad that has the potential to steamroll its way to the Super Bowl. 

This year's crop of teams appears to be very heavy at the top, with Denver, New England, Atlanta, San Francisco and Green Bay anchoring the two conferences. Some might throw Seattle into that group based on how they finished the season. 

After those teams, there is a significant drop-off. The remaining 10 (or 11, depending on your perspective) teams all have serious questions that have to be answered before anyone will consider them serious contenders. 

Still, this is the NFL, and we see teams make surprising runs all the time. Here are our picks for the best underdog team in each conference that seem poised to make a Super Bowl run. 


NFC: Washington Redskins (10-6)

You can make a legitimate argument that the Redskins will either get blown out in their game against Seattle or play for the NFC championship in two weeks. They have two things that you need to win in the postseason: Great running game and mistake-free offense. 

The one knock against the Redskins is that they don't have a very good secondary. They finished the regular season tied for 29th in passing touchdowns allowed and 30th in passing yards allowed. 

Despite having a very good run defense, they don't create a lot of pressure with their front seven. They had just 32 sacks this season, meaning they will have to occasionally sell out their secondary by blitzing off the edges in order to get opposing quarterbacks to move around, like they did against Dallas in the regular-season finale. 

But when you are a team that controls the ball on offense as well as the Redskins do, they don't ask their defense to take on more than it can handle. They finished eighth in league in time of possession, holding the ball more than 31 minutes per game. 

Seattle has struggled to win games on the road this season, finishing 3-5 away from CenturyLink Field. Even during this late-season hot streak, the Seahawks still lost a game at Miami. 

As long as Robert Griffin III is able to be the player he was before having his knee injured against Baltimore on December 9, the Redskins have a style, especially on offense, that will give a lot of teams fits. 


AFC: Baltimore Ravens (10-6)

While a real case can be made for at least four teams in the NFC, you have to stretch your imagination to make a case for an AFC team outside of Denver or New England. 

Houston's late-season collapse really dropped its stock heading into the postseason, to the point where Cincinnati looks like a safer bet in that game. 

The one team I kept coming back to as far as an underdog to make the Super Bowl in the AFC is Baltimore. Like the Texans, the Ravens ended the season on a down note.

They lost four of their last five games, though it should be noted that three of those losses came against playoff teams (Washington, Denver and Cincinnati) and they basically rested everyone of relevance for a majority of their Week 17 game against Cincinnati. 

Usually it is foolish to buy into the theory that a beloved player announcing his retirement before a game will motivate a team, but in the case of Ray Lewis, there is something to be said for what he does to this defense. 

In the six games Lewis played this season, the Ravens allowed just 19.7 points per game. In the 10 games he missed, they gave up 22.6 points per game. 

Looking at their talent on offense, they could easily get hot at the right time. Ray Rice is the team's best playmaker, yet somehow managed to carry the ball only 257 times because the team insisted on making Joe Flacco the centerpiece of the offense. 

Flacco is a quarterback that we all make sound a lot worse than he is. He finished the season with a respectable 22-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 3,817 yards. There are games when he looks lost, but there aren't nearly as many of those as you think. 

The Ravens are as equipped as any team in the AFC to make a deep postseason run. They just need to find the gas pedal and not take their foot off until the Super Bowl. 


Complete NFL Playoff Schedule

Wild Card Round

Team 1 (ROAD) Team 2 (HOME) Date Time TV Info
Cincinnati Houston 1/5/13 4:30 p.m. ET NBC
Minnesota Green Bay 1/5/13 8 p.m. ET NBC
Indianapolis Baltimore 1/6/13 1 p.m. ET CBS
Seattle Washington 1/6/13 4:30 p.m. ET Fox


Divisional Playoffs

Team 1 (ROAD) Team 2 (HOME) Date Time TV Info
Bal/Ind/Cin Denver 1/12/13 4:30 p.m. ET CBS
GB/Wash/Sea San Francisco 1/12/13 8 p.m. ET Fox
Wash/Sea/Minn Atlanta 1/13/13 1 p.m. ET Fox
Hou/Bal/Ind New England 1/13/13 4:30 p.m. ET CBS


Conference Championships

Team 1 (ROAD) Team 2 (HOME) Date Time TV Info


Super Bowl XLVII

Team 1 Team 2 Date Time TV Info
AFC Winner NFC Winner 2/3/13 TBD