NFL Playoff Picture: Updated Predictions for Every Game Through the Super Bowl
Just under a month on the calendar and 10 postseason games sit between now and the start of Super Bowl XLVII.
That journey begins Saturday when the Cincinnati Bengals take on the Houston Texans and ends at the conclusion of the two conference title games on Jan. 20. The Super Bowl will be held on Feb. 3 in New Orleans.
In the following slides, we'll predict the path of the two Super Bowl participants before the start of the Wild Card games. As the weekend's games conclude, we'll update our predictions with the solidified playoff picture in the divisional round.
AFC Wild Card: No. 6 Cinncinnati Bengals at No. 3 Houston Texans
Two teams going in different directions to end the regular season are meeting in Houston.
The Bengals, winners of seven of their last eight, have the league's top scoring defense over the final eight games. Meanwhile, the Texans have stumbled in three of their last four because of a suspect secondary and Matt Schaub's regression. Cincinnati should advance.
Pick: Bengals 27, Texans 17
Final: Texans 19, Bengals 13
NFC Wild Card: No. 6 Minnesota Vikings at No. 3 Green Bay Packers
At home, where Green Bay has won 20 of its last 22 games, the Packers should ride Rodgers (NFL's leader in passer rating) over the inexperienced Christian Ponder, who hasn't won a game outdoors in 2012 (0-4).
Pick: Packers 31, Vikings 20
Final: Packers 24, Vikings 10
AFC Wild Card: No. 5 Indianapolis Colts at No. 4 Baltimore Ravens
Andrew Luck has accomplished more with less than maybe any rookie in the history of the game, but asking the first-year quarterback to go on the road and beat the playoff-hardened Ravens is optimistic.
Baltimore, led by fifth-year quarterback Joe Flacco, has won at least one playoff game in four straight years. Luck is simply asked to do too much to beat an emotionally-charged Ravens team in Baltimore.
Pick: Ravens 24, Colts 16
Final: Ravens 24, Colts 9
NFC Wild Card: No. 5 Seattle Seahawks at No. 4 Washington Redskins
If there's any coin-flip game this weekend, it's Seahawks-Redskins. The two rookie quarterbacks are mostly a wash, and the two rushing offenses are among the best in the NFL.
But like we've said all week: The difference here comes on the defensive side of the ball. The Seahawks are just a step better than a Redskins defense that has improved by leaps and bounds over the winning streak.
Pick: Seahawks 24, Redskins 20
Final: Seahawks 24, Redskins 14
AFC Divisional Round: No. 4 Baltimore Ravens at No. 1 Denver Broncos
The Broncos have already comfortably beat the Ravens in Baltimore this season, so a 13-point win in Denver isn't exactly a reach.
Peyton Manning only threw for 204 yards and a touchdown during the 34-17 win in Week 15. A conservative guess says he at least matches that output in the Divisional Round.
Pick: Broncos 33, Ravens 20
NFC Divisional Round: No. 5 Seattle Seahawks at No. 1 Atlanta Falcons
Arguably no team has more pressure to win a playoff game this time around than Atlanta.
Recent history in the postseason obviously hasn't been kind to the Falcons. Getting the red-hot Seahawks—a matchup nightmare for Atlanta—is a worst-case scenario in the divisional round.
Pick: Seahawks 20, Falcons 17
AFC Divisional Round: No. 3 Houston Texans at No. 2 New England Patriots
A 42-14 beat down in New England helped jump start the Texans' late-season struggles.
Houston started getting healthy by escaping Cincinnati Saturday, but the Patriots won't have Andy Dalton at quarterback. Tom Brady and New England should roll.
Pick: Patriots 30, Texans 20
NFC Divisional Round: No. 3 Green Bay Packers at No. 2 San Francisco 49ers
The Packers' 2012-13 season could begin and end at the hands of the 49ers.
The matchups simply favor San Francisco, especially on both lines. Unable to stop the run or protect Aaron Rodgers, the Packers fall on the road in the Divisional Round.
The unpredictability of 49ers second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick does open the door for an upset, however.
Pick: 49ers 27, Packers 23
AFC Championship Game: No. 2 New England Patriots at No. 1 Denver Broncos
It's Peyton Manning vs. Bill Belichick and the Patriots—or the AFC title game everyone wants to see.
The old rivalry has already played out once this season, with the Patriots taking the first round in New England. On the road, the Patriots land a Super Bowl punch. Remember, New England ran for 251 yards in the first meeting.
Pick: Patriots 30, Broncos 24
NFC Championship Game: No. 5 Seattle Seahawks at No. 2 San Francisco 49ers
The Seahawks romped over the 49ers in December, but that game was played in Seattle. The rubber match comes in San Francisco, where the 49ers beat Seattle earlier this season.
Take your pick here: a physical 49ers team at home with a potentially special quarterback, or the scorching Seahawks with an elite defense and rookie quarterback who has beaten the odds all season? It's hard to go wrong with either.
Pick: 49ers 24, Seahawks 23
Super Bowl: New England Patriots vs. San Francisco 49ers
A rematch of arguably the best game of the 2012 regular season comes under the Super Bowl lights.
The 49ers can feel confident in the big lead they posted and eventually held onto in New England, while the Patriots have to feel good about the way they attacked once San Francisco jumped out to a big lead.
Pick: Patriots 30, 49ers 27