NFL Playoff Picture 2013: Highlighting Most Viable Super Bowl Contenders

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NFL Playoff Picture 2013: Highlighting Most Viable Super Bowl Contenders
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl XLVIII is still a ways off with plenty of the 2013 NFL playoff picture still to be decided, but some of the most viable contenders are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the league.

The No. 1 favorite at the moment has to be the Seattle Seahawks after they dismantled the New Orleans Saints 34-7 in Week 13's edition of Monday Night Football. That puts Seattle already in the postseason and with an inside track to the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Below is a look at the standings entering Week 14 along with a breakdown of the two top teams from each conference that have all the elements to make a serious run at the Lombardi Trophy.

 

AFC

AFC Standings
AFC East W L
New England Patriots 9 3
Miami Dolphins 6 6
New York Jets 5 7
Buffalo Bills 4 8
AFC North W L
Cincinnati Bengals 8 4
Baltimore Ravens 6 6
Pittsburgh Steelers 5 7
Cleveland Browns 4 8
AFC South W L
Indianapolis Colts 8 4
Tennessee Titans 5 7
Jacksonville Jaguars 3 9
Houston Texans 2 10
AFC West W L
Denver Broncos 10 2
Kansas City Chiefs 9 3
San Diego Chargers 5 7
Oakland Raiders 4 8
AFC Wild Card W L
Kansas City Chiefs 9 3
Baltimore Ravens 6 6
Miami Dolphins 6 6
Tennessee Titans 5 7
Pittsburgh Steelers 5 7
San Diego Chargers 5 7
New York Jets 5 7

Source: ESPN.com

 

Denver Broncos (10-2, 1st in AFC West; No. 1 seed)

Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Among the paramount concerns in Denver has to be Peyton Manning's ability to play in inclement weather. While playing at home can help negate the lack of arm strength with the altitude, traveling elsewhere could prove difficult.

If the Broncos do make it to the Super Bowl in MetLife Stadium, Manning will likely have to contend with swirling winds and a tough opposing defense to match up with.

Then again, The Sheriff is showing the NFL he still has it in the midst of a sensational 2013 season, throwing 41 touchdowns to just nine interceptions.

The running game is getting going as well, courtesy of Knowshon Moreno and even rookie Montee Ball, who had his best game in Week 13 with 13 carries and 117 yards.

Video Credit: NFL Network

When Manning struggled in New England, Moreno picked up the slack with 224 yards on 37 carries. That type of balance will be invaluable moving forward.

After four games away, head coach John Fox has returned, allowing interim coach and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to re-shift his focus to his usual job.

Between all the weapons Manning has and a formidable pass rush featuring Von Miller and Shaun Phillips on the other side of the ball, all the pieces are in place for the Broncos to go deep in the playoffs.

 

New England Patriots (9-3, 1st in AFC East; No. 2 seed)

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

As long as Bill Belichick is at the helm and Tom Brady is under center, there is no counting out the Patriots.

Even though Brady worked with almost an entirely new supporting cast at the outset of 2013, he has made it work. The return of superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski in Week 7 has lifted New England's offense to an elite level. Pro Football Focus highlights his impact:

Running back Shane Vereen is also a receiving threat out of the backfield, adding another dimension to the Pats' multifaceted aerial attack.

No winning teams remain on New England's schedule, which should make for a thrilling race with Denver for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

The big question mark is the team's 31st-ranked rush defense and whether or not that can hold up against ground-and-pound opponents who will try to play keep-away from Brady and Co.

As consistent as the Patriots are year to year, it's hard to believe they haven't won a Super Bowl in eight seasons. That could very well change this time around.

 

NFC

NFC Standings
NFC East W L
Dallas Cowboys 7 5
Philadelphia Eagles 7 5
New York Giants 5 7
Washington Redskins 3 9
NFC North W L
Detroit Lions 7 5
Chicago Bears 6 6
Green Bay Packers 5 6
Minnesota Vikings 3 8
NFC South W L
New Orleans Saints 9 3
Carolina Panthers 9 3
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3 9
Atlanta Falcons 3 9
NFC West W L
Seattle Seahawks 11 1
San Francisco 49ers 8 4
Arizona Cardinals 7 5
St. Louis Rams 5 7
NFC Wild Card W L
Carolina Panthers 9 3
San Francisco 49ers 8 4
Philadelphia Eagles 7 5
Arizona Cardinals 7 5
Chicago Bears 6 6

Source: ESPN.com

 

Seattle Seahawks (11-1, 1st in NFC West; No. 1 seed)

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Few could dispute the notion that the Seahawks are the most complete team in football.

A balanced offense triggered by sensational second-year signal-caller Russell Wilson is equally lethal on the ground and through the air, and the defense may be even better.

Video Credit: NFL Network

Pro Bowl safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor and lockdown corner Richard Sherman make Seattle loaded on the back end, with the luxury to play aggressive man-to-man coverage.

Then there's the front seven. Athletic linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright can cover and tackle. The defensive line is deep with players such as Bruce Irvin, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett.

If there are any fatal flaws in this Seahawks teams, good luck distinguishing what they are.

Oh, and then the offense still has Percy Harvin as an X-factor. Harvin missed Week 13 after making his debut in Week 11, but Seattle can afford to keep him under wraps until the postseason if need be. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that it is a possibility:

But with the way the team is rolling right now, a first-round bye is likely, giving Harvin even more time to recover from a nagging hip injury.

CenturyLink Field is arguably the toughest place to play in the NFL, so if the Seahawks have home-field advantage throughout, there will be little stopping them from coming out of the NFC.

 

Carolina Panthers (9-3, T-1st in NFC South; No. 5 seed)

Chris Trotman/Getty Images

One team with the tools to beat Seattle on the road is Carolina, which played the Seahawks tough at home in a 12-7 Week 1 slugfest.

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The Panthers have a huge opportunity to grab sole possession of first in the NFC South when they take on the New Orleans Saints in Week 14's Sunday night showdown.

With a top-notch defense and QB Cam Newton rising to the occasion in Year 3, Ron Rivera's bunch is in the midst of an eight-game winning streak.

Two games in the next three weeks against New Orleans will truly show if Carolina is ready to take the next step.

Every test the team has encountered to date has been passed with flying colors, particularly in Newton's case. Newton led game-winning drives in the fourth quarter of three consecutive games before last week's easy 27-6 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Barring an unforeseen letdown, the Panthers could very well grab the second seed in the NFC and have a fast track to the NFC Championship Game.

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