NFL Playoff Picture 2013: Analyzing Best Potential Postseason Matchups

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2013

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 01:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates after a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 1, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

A lot can happen over the course of three weeks in the NFL, but it's never too early to take a look at the playoff picture. A number of teams are still jockeying for position; however, there would be plenty of intriguing matchups on tap if the season ended today.

It's a pretty safe bet that the potential matchups will change significantly between now and the end of Week 17, but it's fun to consider them anyway. There is so much parity in the NFL this season that it could lead to some of the most competitive playoff games in recent memory.

Here is a closer look at three possible playoff encounters that will leave fans captivated if they ultimately come to fruition.

NFL Playoff Standings
New England Patriots1030
Miami Dolphins760
New York Jets670
Buffalo Bills490
Cincinnati Bengals940
Baltimore Ravens760
Pittsburgh Steelers580
Cleveland Browns490
Indianapolis Colts850
Tennessee Titans580
Jacksonville Jaguars490
Houston Texas2110
Denver Broncos1130
Kansas City Chiefs1030
San Diego Chargers770
Oakland Raiders490
AFC Wild CardWLT
Kansas City Chiefs1030
Baltimore Ravens760
Miami Dolphins760
San Diego Chargers770
New York Jets67
Philadelphia Eagles850
Dallas Cowboys760
New York Giants580
Washington Redskins3100
Detroit Lions760
Chicago Bears760
Green Bay Packers661
Minnesota Vikings391
New Orleans Saints1030
Carolina Panthers940
Tampa Bay Buccaneers490
Atlanta Falcons3100
Seattle Seahawks1120
San Francisco 49ers940
Arizona Cardinals850
St. Louis Rams580
NFC Wild CardWLT
Carolina Panthers940
San Francisco 49ers940
Arizona Cardinals850
Chicago Bears760
Dallas Cowboys760


Detroit Lions vs. Carolina Panthers

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 17: Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions warms up prior to playing the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on November 17, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The NFC playoff picture is especially interesting right now due to the fact that the wild-card teams would probably be favored to beat the division winners on the road during the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. The Carolina Panthers currently own the No. 1 wild card at 9-4, while the Detroit Lions are clinging to a lead in the NFC North at 7-6. Although the records suggest that Carolina would win, it would undoubtedly be a fantastic game due to the contrasting styles.

Carolina is a defense-first team that excels against the run and the pass, but it can score some points as well thanks to quarterback Cam Newton. Detroit has the potential to explode at any time on offense thanks to the likes of Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson. In order for the Lions to bring their exciting brand of football to the playoffs, though, they must hold off the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. As seen in this graphic courtesy of NFL on ESPN, that may be easier said than done.

Assuming Detroit does hang on, though, it will have the benefit of a home game in the first round. The Lions struggled in terrible conditions against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 14, so they may not be built to win outdoors. Playing Carolina at Ford Field would level things off a bit since the Panthers wouldn't have the advantage of the elements.


Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens

It can be argued that no game is harder hitting than those between AFC North rivals. Many of the most physical contests over the past decade have involved the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, but with the Steelers on the decline, the Cincinnati Bengals have emerged. Cincinnati is in line to win the division for the first time since 2009, and if it does, there is a decent chance that it will host the rival Ravens in the first round.

With their win over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 14, the Bengals put a stranglehold on the No. 3 seed in the AFC. The No. 6 seed is a battle among the Ravens, Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers, but Baltimore currently holds the advantage at 7-6 with a tiebreaker over Miami. The Ravens have a difficult schedule down the stretch, so holding onto their playoff position won't be easy, but they are among the hottest teams in the league along with the Bengals, according to Russell S. Baxter of Yahoo! Sports.

The Ravens beat the Bengals in Week 10, but they will meet again in Week 17. Depending upon what happens in that game, they could have a rematch the next week. Baltimore is the defending Super Bowl champion, but Cincinnati is looking to establish itself as the top team in the NFC North. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has outplayed Joe Flacco this year, but most fans are dying to see if "The Red Rifle" can outdo the defending Super Bowl MVP on the playoff stage.


Philadelphia Eagles vs. San Francisco 49ers

It wasn't long ago that the Philadelphia Eagles looked like they were dead in the water as far as the playoffs are concerned, but they now hold the advantage in the NFC East. Philly leads the Dallas Cowboys by one game.

Although the division will come down to the Week 17 meeting between the two teams provided Dallas can stay within one game, the Eagles are definitely on the upswing. The same can be said for the San Francisco 49ers after their big win over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14.

Despite being 9-4, the Niners occupy the No. 6 seed in the NFC. That speaks to the depth within the conference. Even though the Eagles have been great recently, the defending NFC champions would unquestionably be favored on the road. The 49ers are technically a warm-weather team, but their stout defense and strong running game make their success portable to any location.

The Eagles shouldn't be counted out, though, due to the dynamic play of running back LeSean McCoy and the emergence of quarterback Nick Foles. The second-year man's poise has been incredible. According to Zach Berman of, that is something that Foles is quite aware of.

"Through playing the game, trial and error, you learn how to deal with it," Foles said. "When you go through it and you have tough losses, or you have big wins, you come back next week and ... you realize the most important thing is to stay steady and have that hunger every week."

Being poised in the regular season and then doing it in the playoffs are two different things. Foles may be the next great quarterback in the league, and he can potentially prove it against San Francisco during the postseason.


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