Updated NFL Playoff Power Rankings
The 2012 NFL playoffs get rolling on Saturday, with a pair of games that feature among other things a player in Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson who is one of the top contenders for this year's Most Valuable Player award.
As the New York Giants demonstrated very well last year, any of the 12 teams in this year's tournament could leave New Orleans with the Lombardi Trophy, but some teams have better chances than others. With that in mind, here's a look at each of the teams in the 2013 postseason.
(Number in parentheses indicates original postseason power ranking.)
Minnesota Vikings (12): The Vikings didn't have much of a shot of beating the Green Bay Packers twice in a row even with a full bevy of weapons, and when starting quarterback Christian Ponder was scratched in pregame warmups it was too much for even the greatness of Adrian Peterson to overcome.
All Green Bay in a Wild Card game that wasn't nearly as close as the score, 24-10.
Cincinnati Bengals (11): The Cincinnati Bengals haven't won a playoff game in over 20 years, and the Houston Texans made sure that steak continued, holding wide receiver A.J. Green without a catch in a first half in which the Bengals gained only 53 total yards.
Houston eliminated the Bengals in the Wild Card Round, 19-13.
Indianapolis Colts (10): You can't say enough about what the Indianapolis Colts accomplished in 2012 given the adversity they've faced, and they were forced to deal with even more when offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was hospitalized prior to their Wild Card matchup with the Baltimore Ravens.
That, far too many dropped passes, and a Baltimore defense that looked like the Ravens of five years ago and not the Ravens of five weeks ago was just too much to overcome.
Ravens roll on to the Divisional Round, 24-9.
Washington Redskins (8): Everything started out great for the Redskins in their Wild Card matchup with Seattle Seahawks, as Robert Griffin led the team to touchdowns on their first two drives and an early 14-0 lead.
From there it all fell apart, as Griffin's ailing knee got worse as the game wore on, gave out altogether in the 4th quarter, and a stunned Redskins team fell to Seattle 24-14.
8. Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens are regulars in the AFC playoffs, having made the postseason in five straight years.
This season's trip is a bittersweet one, however, as star linebacker Ray Lewis announced that this year's ride will be his last, announcing his plans to retire after the season.
That ride, however, may not end where Lewis would like.
The Ravens offense has been wildly inconsistent this season, and the defense is showing the effects of both age and the injuries that have ravaged a Baltimore defense that ranks a mediocre 17th in the NFL this year.
To that defense's credit the Ravens played very well in their Wild Card victory over the Indianapolis Colts, and it may well take an even more stellar effort if the Ravens are to have a shot at unseating the AFC's top seed in Denver in the Divisional Round.
7. Houston Texans
It wasn't that long ago that the Houston Texans sat atop the AFC and were being discussed as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
It seems like a million years ago, though.
The Texans limp into the playoffs having lost three of their last four games, which cost them a first-round bye.
Injuries have taken a toll on the interior of the defense, quarterback Matt Schaub has struggled a great deal over the last month and a team that not long ago was the talk of the AFC now has its fanbase wringing its hands in anxiety.
An ugly wild-card win over the Cincinnati Bengals and upcoming matchup with a New England Patriots team that destroyed Houston earlier this year isn't going to help allay those fears.
6. Seattle Seahawks
The final entry among postseason teams led by first-year quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks have been red-hot over the second half of the 2012 season, going 7-1 over that span to secure a wild-card spot.
The Seahawks made the playoffs with a stout defense, the punishing running of Marshawn Lynch and the best home-field advantage in football, with the Seahawks going 8-0 at home this year.
With that said, however, the odds of Seattle hosting a playoff game are very slim, and it will be an awfully tall order for a team that went 3-5 on the road this season to reel off three victories in a row outside the Pacific Northwest.
Seattle got that first win though, rallying from 14 points down to win their first road playoff game since 1983 and complete their biggest playoff comeback in team history by downing the Washington Redskins 24-14.
Next up? An Atlanta Falcons team that lost only once at home all season.
5. Atlanta Falcons
It may seem a bit strange to see the NFC's top seed ranked fifth, and I suppose it is.
However, the fact remains that the Atlanta Falcons may be the least intimidating top seed in recent memory.
At least going as far back as 2010, when the Falcons also went 13-3 only to be destroyed by the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round.
The memory of that game likely has something to do with this ranking, but the Falcons also ranked a moribund 24th in the NFL in total defense, which could become an issue in the postseason.
This is a team that outscored its opponents by 120 points this season, lost only once in the Georgia Dome and yet no one fears going to the Georgia Dome next week.
4. San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers have made great strides under head coach Jim Harbaugh, in large part because they have become a reflection of their head coach.
The 49ers are as good defensively as any team in the NFL, possess a strong ground game led by running back Frank Gore and will attempt this season to complete a journey that they came oh so close to finishing last year before losing the NFC Championship Game in overtime.
The 49ers are more than capable of making it to New Orleans, but the teams above them on this list all have one thing that San Francisco does not.
A quarterback who has hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.
3. Green Bay Packers
This one will no doubt irk supporters of the San Francisco 49ers, who defeated the Packers in Week 1, as well as fans of the Falcons, who posted a better record in 2012.
However, neither of those teams have Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers' stats this season weren't as gaudy as his MVP campaign of a year ago, but the eighth-year veteran was still ruthlessly efficient, throwing 39 touchdown passes against only eight interceptions.
Add in the return of such key defensive pieces as safety Charles Woodson and linebacker Clay Matthews (who appears healthy again), and if the defense holds up the Packers will be a very tough out in the playoffs.
2. New England Patriots
Yawn. Another postseason. Another very good shot at a Super Bowl appearance for the New England Patriots.
The New England offense has been as explosive as ever, and the team welcomed tight end Rob Gronkowski back into the fold just in time for the NFL's second season.
The defense, meanwhile, has allowed a ton of yards but has gotten better as the season has progressed, ranking ninth in the league in scoring defense and forcing an eye-popping 41 takeaways.
It's that defense that will determine whether quarterback Tom Brady makes it to a record sixth Super Bowl, as it will take a supreme effort for the Patriots to get past the...
1. Denver Broncos
Listen, I'd like to say this wasn't so, because if quarterback Peyton Manning leads the Denver Broncos to a victory in Super Bowl XLVII, then we're going to drown in Buick commercials.
With that said, though, not only are the Broncos the NFL's hottest team, having won 11 straight, but they may well be the most balanced.
The Broncos rank in the top five in the NFL in both total offense and total defense. With the road to New Orleans going through the Mile High City, it's hard not to view the 13-3 Broncos as Super Bowl favorites right now.
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