The 2014 NFL playoffs are just one week away as the league heads into Week 17, and many experts' preseason predictions have been ruined as the long season has unfolded.
Though there are still many races yet to be decided heading into the regular-season finale, it's fun to make projections about which teams will have postseason success.
Here's a look at where the playoff contenders stand with one game remaining, followed by predictions for how the playoffs will pan out.
|1||Seattle Seahawks (12-3)||1||Denver Broncos (12-3)|
|2||Carolina Panthers (11-4)||2||New England Patriots (11-4)|
|3||Philadelphia Eagles (9-6)||3||Cincinnati Bengals (10-5)|
|4||Chicago Bears (8-7)||4||Indianapolis Colts (10-5)|
|5||San Francisco 49ers (10-4)||5||Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)|
|6||New Orleans Saints (10-5)||6||Miami Dolphins (8-7)|
|7||Arizona Cardinals (10-5)||7||Baltimore Ravens (8-7)|
|8||Dallas Cowboys (8-7)||8||San Diego Chargers (8-7)|
|9||Green Bay Packers (7-7-1)||9||Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)|
|10||New York Jets (7-8)|
Note: Standings current up to conclusion of Week 16's Sunday Night Football game.
Projected Final Standings
|1||Denver Broncos (13-3)||1||Seattle Seahawks (13-3)|
|2||New England Patriots (12-4)||2||Carolina Panthers (12-4)|
|3||Indianapolis Colts (11-5)||3||Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)|
|4||Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)||4||Chicago Bears (9-7)|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)||5||San Francisco 49ers (12-4)|
|6||Miami Dolphins (9-7)||6||New Orleans Saints (11-5)|
Jesse Reed's Projections
The Indianapolis Colts would host the Miami Dolphins, and the Cincinnati Bengals would host the Kansas City Chiefs in these predictions.
Miami beat the Colts in Indy earlier this season, but both teams have undergone huge transformations over the course of the long season. In the end, it's hard to imagine Robert Mathis won't have a huge game at home against Miami's porous offensive line, leading a tremendous defensive effort that would generate a big win for the Colts.
The other game is more of a toss-up.
Kansas City and Cincinnati have both struggled with consistency this season, and both teams feature impressive defensive squads that can dominate the line of scrimmage. Given the way the Chiefs have improved so dramatically on offense at the end of the year, however, it's a game Kansas City should win.
The San Francisco 49ers would be on the road to face the Chicago Bears, while New Orleans would be in Philadelphia taking on the Eagles.
The 49ers feature the league's No. 4-ranked passing defense and would shut down Chicago's offense from the get-go. Frank Gore and the 49ers would easily run through the inept run defense of the Bears en route to a big road win.
The other game would be Philadelphia's to win.
After getting beaten by Carolina in Week 16, the Saints fell to 3-5 on the road for the season. Drew Brees hasn't been comfortable playing away from New Orleans. He and the Saints would bow out early, sending Chip Kelly's Eagles into the divisional round.
The Denver Broncos would host the Chiefs, while the New England Patriots would take on the Colts.
Kansas City hasn't been able to stop Peyton Manning's Broncos yet in 2013, losing both divisional games. Given the way the Colts were able to plow through the once-dominant Chiefs defense, it doesn't appear this will change in the playoffs.
The Colts could certainly take down the Patriots, though, to advance to the championship game. Indy's defensive effort against Kansas City in Week 16 showed the Colts are still capable of playing an explosive offense tight.
However, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick still have a bit of magic dust left somewhere in their reserves. They'll find a way to get it done to set up an epic battle between the Pats and Broncos in the AFC Championship Game.
The Seattle Seahawks would host the 49ers, while the Panthers would host the Eagles.
After watching Arizona take down Seattle at CenturyLink Field, the 49ers have some hope of breaking through with a huge road win of their own against their hated rivals.
It'll take an outstanding defensive effort by San Francisco to reign in Seattle's balanced offense, but the 49ers have been red hot on that side of the ball throughout the entire second half of the season.
On the other side, Colin Kaepernick will finally have success in Seattle, helping the 49ers advance to the NFC Championship Game for a third year in a row.
Carolina and Philly would be an intriguing matchup. The Panthers are ridiculously tough to score on at home (as the Saints found out in Week 16), but Philadelphia's offense has been putting up points against every team of late.
In the end, however, it won't be defense that wins the game.
Cam Newton will continue emerging as a franchise quarterback by taking his Panthers into the NFC Championship Game with a huge performance against the Eagles.
Denver against New England.
Which team would win?
Tom Brady against Peyton Manning.
So many times in the past, the Patriots have found a way to beat Manning, but the old master will have the game of his life at home to propel the Broncos into the Super Bowl.
Yes, Denver's defense is terrible. But then again, the Patriots are operating on offense with a skeleton receiving corps. Denver will win by two touchdowns at home.
The 49ers and Panthers met in Week 10 at Candlestick Park, and Carolina pulled out an impressive 10-9 win on the road.
Which team would prevail?
San Francisco's offense wasn't operating at full strength for that contest, however, as Michael Crabtree was still out of action and Vernon Davis suffered a concussion early in the game. With a full contingency of playmakers at his disposal, Kaepernick will have much more success against Carolina's defense.
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers didn't do much offensively against San Francisco during the regular season, and the 49ers have gotten much better defensively since that time.
The 49ers will win the NFC Championship Game to get to the Super Bowl for a second straight year.
Super Bowl XLVIII
San Francisco vs. Denver for all the marbles.
Nobody's been able to shut Manning and his offense down this season, but the 49ers have the personnel to challenge Denver's receivers on every play.
Which team would win the Super Bowl?
Denver, contrarily, has to score points to win games because the team's defense is terrible—both against the run and the pass. With a solid game plan that involved a heavy dose of Frank Gore and the running game, San Francisco would be able to control the clock and beat Manning's Broncos for the title.
In this case, the third time really is the charm for Jim Harbaugh's 49ers.
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