Super Bowl 2013: Breaking Down Path to Championship Game

Josh Schoch@JoshSchochAnalyst IIIJanuary 4, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - FEBRUARY 07:  The George Halas Trophy for the NFC Championship and the Vince Lombardi Trophy are displayed at a rally to celebrate the New York Giants' Super Bowl victory at MetLife Stadium on February 7, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants defeated the New England Patriots 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The 2013 NFL Playoffs kick off this weekend with the wild-card round, but we can't help looking forward to Super Bowl XLVII.

Before this weekend's games begin, let's take an in-depth look at how the road to the Super Bowl looks for both conferences.


AFC Playoff Picture

Team to Beat: New England Patriots

I know that they didn't earn the No. 1 seed, but you just can't bet against the Patriots.

After winning five conference titles and three Super Bowls in the last 11 years, New England has become the most feared team in the postseason, and it is going to take a heroic effort to knock of Bill Belichick's bunch.

Tom Brady led the Pats to the No. 4 passing attack in the league, but this year there's something new. Something more.

The Patriots ranked seventh in the NFL in rushing yards per game, which adds a new dimension to the team's offense. Instead of relying almost entirely on the passing game, the team can now pick up yards on the ground, and force defenses to guess which part of the offense is going to burn them.

While the Pats don't exactly have a stingy defense, their offense is just so good that they have to be considered the favorite to come out of the AFC.


Main Challenger: Denver Broncos

Bring Peyton Manning in and look where it gets you.

Manning and the Broncos are the hottest team in the NFL right now, winning their last 11 games to secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

However, the Broncos can't be considered the team to beat. While Manning has a ton of postseason experience, much of the team never played in the playoffs before last season.

The Broncos have also lost to both the Patriots and Texans this year, and will likely face one of those teams in the AFC Championship Game.

The Broncos definitely have a great chance of making it to New Orleans, but they are not the favorite.


Dark-Horse: Houston Texans

Not much of a dark-horse since they are the No. 3 seed, but the Texans will be opening their postseason this weekend against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Texans made a deep run in the playoffs last year with third-string quarterback T.J. Yates under center, and J.J. Watt not yet playing like the Defensive Player of the Year. However, this year the team is healthy and will be looking to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

Running back Arian Foster leads a top 10 ground game, while quarterback Matt Schaub and receiver Andre Johnson are the staple of the No. 11 passing game in the league. Throw in a stingy defense and you can see why the Texans have a good chance of running through the AFC.


NFC Playoff Picture

Team to Beat: Atlanta Falcons

It's hard to pick against the team with the best record in the NFL. The Falcons finished the season 13-3 after playing their backups for much of their final game, and none of those losses came against playoff teams.

Matt Ryan developed into one of the elite quarterbacks in football this week, while Julio Jones and Roddy White were arguably the best 1-2 receiving punch in the league.

Atlanta took down the Broncos and Washington Redskins during the regular season, and until a playoff team proves that it can beat the Falcons, they have to be the favorite in the NFC.


Main Challenger: San Francisco 49ers

Atlanta's biggest weapon is its offense, but a team with a tough defense could pose problems.

Enter the 49ers.

Ranking fourth in both passing and rushing yards allowed per game, the team has one of the best defenses in the league. It's able to handle the most potent offenses, and that is going to help the team as it fights for a Super Bowl appearance.

The team will also rely heavily on its fourth-ranked rushing attack, led by Frank Gore and mobile quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The team only won 11 games on the season, but it earned the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Getting that first round bye will prepare the team for a big win in the divisional round, and potentially two wins to make it to New Orleans.


Dark-Horse: Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers. 'Nuff said.

The former Super Bowl MVP is arguably the best quarterback in the game today, and he chose the right time to get hot.

In his last three games, Rodgers has thrown for 998 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran in a touchdown in Week 16.

With Green Bay's potent offense clicking, the team should be able to outscore just about anyone. The only question is whether or not the team can sustain that offensive prowess for three consecutive games in the playoffs.