It's almost that time.
In about three weeks, we'll be gearing up to watch the AFC's best take on the NFC's best in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.
We haven't even seen four of the contenders take the field yet in the postseason, but we already can draw some conclusions about which teams have the best shots of representing their conferences in the biggest game of the year.
Here are my power rankings for the teams most likely to go to the Super Bowl, from worst to first.
4. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have had too many problematic slip-ups this season—especially lately—and it's hard to see them taking down Denver on the road, particularly given the way the Broncos have been playing since oh, the beginning of October.
Both of these teams have good offenses and good defenses—but Denver's is better on both counts. Peyton Manning outplayed Joe Flacco down the stretch and somehow Denver's defense ended up being the fourth-best in the league. The Broncos have been incredibly consistent over the last couple of months. Conversely, the Ravens have been the least consistent of any team still in the hunt.
3. Houston Texans
If the Texans weren't facing the Patriots in Foxborough this weekend, it might be a different story—but given the way things went down the last time these two teams saw each other, the odds aren't in Houston's favor.
Is Houston going to be the same team the Patriots saw about a month ago? Probably not. It has to have learned something from that 42-14 disaster. But at the end of the day, the only hope the Texans have of winning this game is by taking an early lead and holding Tom Brady at bay.
The Patriots' defense has been vulnerable to major problems this season, but it's still a top-10 unit—and the idea of the Texans outgunning Tom Brady just doesn't seem too likely.
2. New England Patriots
The Patriots should be able to beat the Texans if all goes well on Sunday. That doesn't mean it's a sure thing, but they have everything working in their favor—offense, defense, home-field advantage, the fact that they laid an embarrassing beating on their opponent a month ago.
But if the Patriots do get by Houston and have to travel to Mile High to meet Peyton Manning, it could be a different story.
The Pats got the best of the Broncos in the first week of October, but since then Denver hasn't lost—and at the risk of sounding corny, this team has really found itself since then. Manning is playing out of his mind and his defense ranks fourth in the league in points allowed per game.
There have been times in 2012 where Brady's offense has fallen asleep and its defense has looked incredibly porous—especially when faced with gunslinging quarterbacks—and if they end up heading out to Denver for the AFC Championship, it could be the end of the road.
1. Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning missed out on the playoffs last season, and watching his little bro win it all most likely awakened a new breed of competitiveness in him—bad news for any team that crosses his path.
There's also the fact that no team has looked stronger down the stretch than the Broncos. This team is rolling offensively and defensively, and despite the fact that it faced a rather soft schedule in the second half of the season, it has one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history at the helm.
Beating New England isn't going to be easy for the Broncos. New England will be the toughest team the Broncos have faced since…well, the last time they faced New England. But Manning has lost to Bill Belichick's squad in the regular season and has come back to victimize it in the playoffs before.
4. Green Bay Packers
The Packers looked excellent last week against the Vikings—but they looked excellent against a Vikings team with no quarterback. That isn't going to be the case in San Francisco this weekend. The 49ers are going to be a wake-up call for the Packers.
What Green Bay had to do to get to this point should not be understated. It really had to battle to win its division. But when this team faced some of the league's best in the first couple of months of the season—including both San Francisco and Seattle—its offensive struggles were a huge red flag.
And once you spot this 49ers team a lead, it can be hard to come back. The Packers saw that first-hand in Week 1 of this season.
3. Atlanta Falcons
Maybe this year will be different for Atlanta. Maybe this really will be the year it wins a playoff game. But in years past, this team has looked excellent coming into the postseason and it has always flopped. What's so different about this year?
The Falcons may be facing the lowest remaining seed, but that low seed is pretty ferocious. It has a fearless quarterback and the league's best defense, and it doesn't care where it's playing or whom against—it shows up.
The Falcons may have a top-10 offense and a top-10 defense, but they haven't seen a defense like Seattle's yet this season.
2. Seattle Seahawks
Maybe the Seahawks are getting a bit over-hyped, but they certainly seem to deserve it. Russell Wilson has outplayed some of the best quarterbacks in the nation this season—rookie or not. He has beaten the 49ers, the Bears, the Vikings, the Patriots and the Packers. It's an impressive resume, and it's not hard to see why the football-loving world goes nuts over him.
Last week, the intensity of the playoffs didn't seem to get to him at all—or his defense, which held the Redskins scoreless for the final 47 minutes of the game. This team has been challenged plenty of times this season and while it has had its moments of tribulation, it has succeeded far more often.
Plus, Matt Ryan has been toppled by teams far less intimidating than Seattle this season.
1. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers haven't been dominant this season, but maybe they don't need to be. Maybe they just need to show up at the most important time, and given their second-ranked defense, they should be able to.
San Francisco has beaten Green Bay once already this season, so it has that to hang its hat on. It has gone on the road and destroyed the Patriots. This team has had lapses, but as long as it doesn't spot its opponent an early lead, it has been able to run the offense the way it likes to. And with Colin Kaepernick calling the shots, the 49ers have been very difficult to take down.
If the Seahawks and the 49ers end up battling it out for the right to advance to the Super Bowl, it's going to be a war between the league's top two defenses. Offensively, we'll have two rookie quarterbacks playing for a chance at the biggest prize. Who knows what will happen?
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