NFL Playoff Projections 2013: Most Exciting Potential Matchups Following Week 16

R. Cory SmithSenior Writer IDecember 23, 2013

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 22:  Center Samson Satele #64 of the Indianapolis Colts prepares to snap the ball during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on December 22, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Another wild slate of games in Week 16 made the NFL picture a little more clear, but it also left several spots still wide open. With teams like the Detroit Lions and New York Jets falling out of playoff contention, a few teams like the San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers' hopes are still on life support following wins.

With teams like the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots still fighting for the No. 1 seed and divisions like the NFC South, North and East still up in the air, the likelihood of a few of these matchups shifting around is fairly high.

But with just one week remaining in the regular season, here are the most exciting potential playoff matchups after Week 16.


No. 6 Miami Dolphins at No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals

Dec 22, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA;  Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) runs the ball in the second quarter of the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

The Miami Dolphins are currently in the playoffs despite losing in stunning fashion to the Buffalo Bills, 19-0. The Cincinnati Bengals have won three of their last four and are officially the AFC North division winners.

The two teams actually met back on a Thursday Night Football game on Halloween with the Dolphins coming out on top, 22-20. That game was also remembered as the first game of the season that Jonathan Martin missed. Needless to say, a lot has changed since then.

The Bengals defense has proven itself all season and might be one of the most balanced teams on that side of the ball. Ranking in the top 10 in both passing and rushing yards allowed per game, Cincinnati has stymied nearly every opponent it's faced thus far.

Also on their side is Andy Dalton, who, when playing well, has proven he can lead the Bengals offense to nearly any height. In fact, over the last five weeks Dalton has led the team to three performances of 40-plus points.

As for the Dolphins, they would have to attack the Bengals in the passing game as they have all season. Ryan Tannehill and his targets, including Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Charles Clay, would be a formidable opponent for the Bengals. But with the way Cincinnati has played down the stretch, this might be the matchup they would want rather than facing the Kansas City Chiefs.


No. 6 New Orleans Saints at No. 3 Philadelphia Eagles

Dec 22, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) thaws a pass during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints look nothing like a No. 6 seed at home. But due to their third straight road loss against the Carolina Panthers, the Saints are now 10-5 and hold the final wild-card berth in the playoffs, with all of their losses coming on the road.

As for the Philadelphia Eagles, a season finale with the Dallas Cowboys still stands in their way before they can face the Saints. But with Philadelphia sitting atop the NFC East for now, it makes for a great matchup with New Orleans.

When it comes to great quarterback play, this game will definitely have it. Nick Foles has hardly proven himself for as long as Drew Brees has, but in terms of this season the two have both been a couple of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

Foles has been the biggest key to the Eagles' turnaround this season. Since his first start against the Oakland Raiders in Week 9, Foles has led the Eagles to a 6-1 record and has statistics that are comparable to two of the top signal-callers in the NFL.

In fact, ESPN the Magazine created an illustration that compares Foles to two MVP candidates in Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning:

While Foles would have to face off with a pass defense that ranks third in the NFL this season at only 196 yards per game, Brees would have a much easier matchup against the 31st overall pass defense that allows 292 yards per game.

But it might not be as easy for Brees as he has not played well on the road this season. Prior to the game against the Panthers, the NFL's official Twitter account pointed out a statistic that might raise some eyebrows:

Brees finished with one touchdown against Carolina, which does make this statistic invalid now, but his struggles continued as the threw two interceptions in Week 16.

Despite the fact that this game might appear to be a mismatch with the way the Saints started the season, the way the Eagles have closed out the year might tell a different story. Just one other fact to throw out there: If the game comes down to rushing, the Eagles have LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, on their side.


No. 5 Kansas City Chiefs at No. 4 Indianapolis Colts

Dec 22, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) congratulates Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) after the game at Arrowhead Stadium. The Colts won 23-7. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

If it feels like you just saw this game, it's because you did. The only difference between this showdown and the one in Week 16 is that it will be played in Indianapolis. Oh, and it will be for the right to advance in the playoffs.

The Kansas City Chiefs started the season at 9-0 but have been exposed late in the season against the Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers and, most recently, the Indianapolis Colts.

As for the Colts, early wins over the Broncos and Seattle Seahawks have since been forgotten after the injury of Reggie Wayne seemed to derail their season. But Indianapolis has now won three out of its last four and looks like a playoff contender.

The best way to predict this game is to look at how the Colts wound up winning in Week 16 against the Chiefs. Simply put, the Colts used a balanced attack on offense to crack the Chiefs' vaunted defense.

With Donald Brown rushing for a touchdown and catching a pass from Andrew Luck to get his second of the game, the Colts were able to get it done in both facets. On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts held Alex Smith to just 153 passing yards, no touchdowns and three total turnovers with two interceptions and a fumble.

After both the offense and defense faltered against the Colts, Chiefs cornerback Dunta Robinson said the loss shows the team still has a lot to prove after losing to another good AFC team, according to Lindsay Jones of USA Today:

You have to look in the mirror, and we have to decide what kind of team we want to be moving forward. OK, you dominate Oakland, yeah you dominate the Redskins. But what are we going to do when we face other powerhouses?

But the Chiefs still have one of the best weapons in the entire NFL with Jamaal Charles. The sixth-year back is capable of just about anything and can both rush the ball and catch screen passes for touchdowns—just ask the Oakland Raiders.

Either team is capable of pulling off the second meeting between these two teams thanks to their offensive attacks. But after scoring just seven points against them in Week 16, the Chiefs will have something to prove against the Colts when they meet in the playoffs.