NFL Playoff Predictions: Cinderellas That Will Land in Conference Championships

Mike HoagCorrespondent IIJanuary 5, 2013

Dec 9, 2012; Seattle, WA, USA; General view of a Seattle Seahawks helmet during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning are some of the big names leading their respective teams into the 2013 NFL Playoffs. But what about the other guys?

Earning a playoff berth is one thing, but succeeding is quite another. It takes the perfect storm of an entire team effort that hits its stride at the exact same time.

All wins from the regular season are thrown out the window and it truly becomes a do-or-die scenario. That means any team can catch fire and score upsets over the postseason favorites.

Let’s take a look at a couple of Cinderella teams that have the ability to shake things up and reach their respective conference championship games.

Indianapolis Colts (11-5)

The Indianapolis Colts are on the verge of becoming a very, very good football team. That transformation is going to come during the 2013 playoffs.

Fueled by the inspirational story of their cancer-beating head coach Chuck Pagano, the Colts are playing some of their best football. The NFL playoffs are all about momentum, and this team is riding higher than any other.

But it isn’t momentum alone that is going to carry this team all the way to the AFC Championship Game. No. It’s also the excellent leadership of rookie QB Andrew Luck and Indianapolis' big-play abilities.

Luck manages his offense like a machinist cutting through a piece of steel. Every movement, motion and signal flows through him and it results in a crisp display on game days.

Running the football will also be a key for the Colts. The team’s big plays feed off Luck’s ability to use the play-action pass. If Indianapolis can run the football effectively, the rookie can take shots down the field and connect with his arsenal of weapons.

Seattle Seahawks (11-5)

The Seattle Seahawks earned the fifth seed in the NFC playoff race despite winning five straight games leading up to the postseason. Much of that is thanks to the emergence of rookie QB Russell Wilson.

That doesn’t take anything away from the team’s imposing and dominant defense or its ability to run the football with Marshawn Lynch. But Wilson’s development has amplified the early-season successes of the team.

That development stems from an increased comfort level for Wilson. He is no longer a rookie QB who’s been criticized and dissected by draft pundits. Seattle’s QB has proven to be excellent at improvising and making plays happen when others would crumble.

A 170-43 scoring gap during the team’s last four games speaks volumes about how far along Wilson and this team have come this season.

Pete Carroll’s team will continue that success and reach the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 2005. Seattle won that matchup, but lost in Super Bowl XL to the Pittsburgh Steelers.