NFL Playoff Schedule 2014: Breaking Down Key Dates for Postseason Play

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 01:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos prepares to snap the ball during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on December 1, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Jesse ReedCorrespondent IDecember 9, 2013

There's nothing more exhilarating for NFL fans than playoff football, which begins on Jan. 4, 2014. Teams have already begun shifting into postseason mode with the league's regular-season schedule coming to a close.

The Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals all appear to have their respective divisions locked up heading into Week 15, but there are eight more spots available and many more teams in the hunt for those spots.

Here's a look at projected playoff standings, the key dates on the NFL's playoff schedule, and predictions for how the postseason will unfold based on the standings heading into Week 15.

 

Playoff Standings Heading into Week 15

AFC
SEEDTEAMRECORD
1Denver Broncos11-2
2New England Patriots10-3
3Cincinnati Bengals9-4
4Indianapolis Colts8-5
5Kansas City Chiefs10-3
6Baltimore Ravens7-6
NFC
SEEDTEAMRECORD
1Seattle Seahawks11-2
2New Orleans Saints10-3
3Philadelphia Eagles8-5
4Detroit Lions7-6
5Carolina Panthers9-4
6San Francisco 49ers9-4
NFL.com

 

Wild Card Weekend: Jan. 4-5, 2014

On the AFC side, Cincinnati and Indianapolis would host games in the Wild Card round, while Philadelphia and Detroit would be hosting NFC Wild Card games.

 

AFC

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 08: Quarterback Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens looks to pass in the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at M&T Bank Stadium on December 8, 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Baltimore Ravens won, 29-26. (Photo by Patr
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Away (Seed)Home (Seed)Projected Winner
Baltimore Ravens (No. 6)Cincinnati Bengals (No. 3)Ravens
Kansas City Chiefs (No. 5)Indianapolis Colts (No. 4)Chiefs

Given the way the Bengals have been playing on both sides of the ball in the second half of the season, it's hard to imagine the Ravens would have a shot at winning in Cincinnati. But the defending champs have been proving people wrong all year long.

Baltimore would shock the Bengals, advancing to the divisional round.

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 27: Running back Jamaal Charles #25 of the Kansas City Chiefs rushes up field against the Cleveland Browns during the second half on October 27, 2013 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Kansas City won 23-17. (Photo by
Peter Aiken/Getty Images

The Colts would have a hard time shutting down Kansas City at home, too. Denver and San Diego managed to dish out three straight losses to the Chiefs, but Andy Reid's team bounced back in a big way in Week 14 against Washington.

The Chiefs would advance past Indy should the two teams meet in the Wild Card round.

 

NFC

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 1: Linebacker Patrick Willis #52 of the San Francisco 49ers gestures after sacking quarterback Kellen Clemens #10 of the St. Louis Rams during the third quarter of their game on December 1, 2013 at Candlestick Park in San Fran
Stephen Lam/Getty Images
Away (Seed)Home (Seed)Projected Winner
San Francisco 49ers (No. 6)Philadelphia Eagles (No. 3)49ers
Carolina Panthers (No. 5)Detroit Lions (No. 4)Lions

Philadelphia and San Francisco would be a thrilling matchup. 

Both teams feature young quarterbacks and excellent running games, but the real difference between the two is that San Francisco features one of the most potent defenses in the league. Provided Colin Kaepernick doesn't throw the game away with turnovers, the 49ers would prevail.

The Panthers and Lions matchup would also be compelling. Carolina's defense has been stellar all year long, but Drew Brees carved it up like a Thanksgiving turkey on Monday Night Football in Week 14. Could Matthew Stafford do the same? 

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 30:  Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions celebrates a first quarter touchdown with   Matthew Stafford #9 while playing the Buffalo Bills during a pre season game at Ford Field on August 30, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gre
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

At home, yes he could, and the Lions would prevail over the Panthers to advance.

 

Divisional Round: Jan. 11-12, 2014

The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots will host divisional games on the AFC side, while the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints will host games in the NFC.

 

AFC

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 5: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos audibles at the line of scrimmage against the Baltimore Ravens during the game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 5, 2013 in Denver Colorado. (Photo by Dustin
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
Away (Seed)Home (Seed)Projected Winner
Baltimore Ravens (No. 6)Denver Broncos (No. 1)Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs (No. 5)New England Patriots (No. 2)Chiefs

We've already seen Peyton Manning go off for seven touchdowns against Baltimore, and it's hard to imagine the Ravens have done enough defensively to stop Denver's potent offense. The Broncos would easily cruise to the AFC Championship Game with a big win at home.

The Patriots, on the other hand, are in danger of an early exit this postseason. 

Rob Gronkowski was lost for the year after tearing his ACL during Week 14's contest against the Cleveland Browns, as noted by Pro Football Talk.

Without Gronk in the lineup, New England wouldn't be able to make much headway against Kansas City's stalwart defense. Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles would grind out enough offense to get a big win on the road and advance to play Denver for the third time this season. 

 

NFC

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks runs the ball after against the San Francisco 49ers during their game at Qwest Field on September 15, 2013 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Away (Seed)Home (Seed)Projected Winner
San Francisco 49ers (No. 6)Seattle Seahawks (No. 1)Seahawks
Detroit Lions (No. 4)New Orleans Saints (No. 2)Saints

San Francisco hasn't fared well in Seattle the past two seasons, losing its two games by a combined score of 71-16. Then again, no team has beaten the Seahawks in Seattle since the 49ers did it back in December 2011.

That streak won't end this postseason, though. The Seahawks will advance to the NFC Championship Game.

New Orleans has been nearly as dominant at home, and the Saints have handily beaten all visiting teams this season. Detroit's penchant for making vital mistakes at critical moments will come back to haunt the Lions in this game, and the Saints will advance with a blowout victory. 

 

Conference Championships: Jan. 19, 2014

Away (Seed)Home (Seed)Projected Winner
AFC
Kansas City Chiefs (No. 5)Denver Broncos (No. 1)Broncos
NFC
New Orleans Saints (No. 2)Seattle Seahawks (No. 1)Seahawks

Denver would host Kansas City on the AFC side, while Seattle would host New Orleans on the AFC side. Neither scenario is promising for the road team. We've seen both matchups already this year end badly for the Chiefs and Saints. 

With that in mind, it doesn't seem hasty to pencil in the Seahawks and Broncos to represent their conferences in Super Bowl XLVIII.

 

Super Bowl XLVIII: Feb. 2, 2014

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 10: Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos throws a touchdown to Demaryius Thomas #88 against the San Diego Chargers during their game on November 10, 2013 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/G
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

It wouldn't surprise anyone to see the Seahawks and Broncos meet up at MetLife Stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII.

It's a matchup many experts projected since before preseason, and through 14 weeks of NFL action, both teams are still in prime position to make a championship run.

Given the way Denver has picked apart Kansas City's vaunted defense twice this season, it's not a stretch to think Manning and his gang could replicate that success against the Seahawks. However, if Mother Nature provides a winter wonderland, it'll be anyone's game to win.  

In the end, though, Peyton Manning will find a way to win his second championship, shutting up all his critics for once and for all.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

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