NFL Playoff Schedule 2014: Important Dates and Updated Matchup Predictions

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NFL Playoff Schedule 2014: Important Dates and Updated Matchup Predictions
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With Week 16 of the NFL season wrapping up, the playoff picture is nearly set, and the postseason schedule is beginning to take shape.

Heading into Monday Night Football, all four divisions in the AFC have been locked up, along with one of the two wild-card spots, meaning that about five teams are fighting for one last spot in the conference.  In the NFC, only two teams have clinched playoff spots, leaving the other four wide open for the rest of the conference to fight over.

With just one week in the regular season remaining, let's take a look at the current playoff standings, followed by a breakdown of the postseason schedule and some predictions for each round.

 

Current Playoff Standings

AFC
Seed Team Record
1 Denver Broncos 12-3
2 New England Patriots 11-4
3 Cincinnati Bengals 10-5
4 Indianapolis Colts 10-5
5 Kansas City Chiefs 11-4
6 Miami Dolphins 8-7
NFC
Seed Team Record
1 Seattle Seahawks 12-3
2 Carolina Panthers 11-4
3 Philadelphia Eagles 9-6
4 Chicago Bears 8-7
5 San Francisco 49ers 10-4
6 New Orleans Saints 10-5

 

Wild Card Round: January 4-5, 2014

AFC

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Home (Seed) Away (Seed) Projected Winner
Cincinnati Bengals (No. 3) Miami Dolphins (No. 6) Bengals
Indianapolis Colts (No. 4) Kansas City Chiefs (No. 5) Colts

With how the AFC standings look right now, these two games would be rematches of regular-season contests, with the Indianapolis Colts playing the Kansas City Chiefs just two weeks after their last matchup.

The Miami Dolphins may have won the last game against the Cincinnati Bengals, but Andy Dalton is heating up at exactly the right time.  He went off for 366 yards and four touchdowns this week against the Minnesota Vikings and hasn't thrown an interception in three weeks.  

With playmakers like A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard on offense along with Vontaze Burfict and Michael Johnson on defense, the Bengals should be able to take this one.

In the other game, the Colts should be able to beat the Chiefs once again.  Although their offense has seriously struggled since losing Reggie Wayne, two young receivers in Griff Whalen and Da'Rick Rogers have stepped up recently, and that will be the deciding factor in this wild-card matchup.

 

NFC

Home (Seed) Away (Seed) Projected Winner
Philadelphia Eagles (No. 3) New Orleans Saints (No. 6) Eagles
Chicago Bears (No. 4) San Francisco 49ers (No. 5) 49ers

Both the NFC East and NFC North champions will be decided in Week 17, but given the current matchups, the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers would be able to advance.

For the first game, the Eagles would be playing a very tough matchup against the New Orleans Saints, but we've seen that the Saints don't travel well.  They're undefeated in the Superdome, but the Saints are just 3-5 on the road, and it's been a big problem all season.  If they have to play in the cold weather against the league's top rushing offense, it will be hard for the Saints to keep up.

The Chicago Bears got demolished this week against the Eagles, but if they can win next week against the Green Bay Packers, then they'll be in.  It likely won't be a deep playoff run, however, as they will be going against the San Francisco 49ers in their first game, and that could be an ugly one.

 

Divisional Round: January 11-12, 2014

AFC

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Home (Seed) Away (Seed) Projected Winner
Denver Broncos (No. 1) Indianapolis Colts (No. 4) Broncos
New England Patriots (No. 2) Cincinnati Bengals Bengals

Can two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks push their teams into the Super Bowl?

Peyton Manning will get an opportunity to play his former team once again in this scenario, only this time he'll be playing in front of a home crowd.  Critics can talk about Peyton struggling in the cold weather all they want, but against an inconsistent Colts defense, he should be just fine thanks to weapons like Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.

In the other game, Tom Brady will be looking to lead his team to another win, but the offense for the New England Patriots has been wildly inconsistent this season.  Without the help of Rob Gronkowski, the field isn't as open for other players, making it harder to play against a very tough Bengals defense.

The second game will almost completely depend on whether or not the good Dalton shows up, but I think that he will.  The Bengals have one of the most solid overall teams in the league, and that will show on the national spotlight.

 

NFC

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Home (Seed) Away (Seed) Projected Winner
Seattle Seahawks (No. 1) San Francisco 49ers (No. 5) Seahawks
Carolina Panthers (No. 2) Philadelphia Eagles (No. 3) Eagles

Playing in their third game against each other this season, the Seattle Seahawks and 49ers would be going head-to-head in the divisional round.  

While this game could be as close as their last matchup, the 49ers have struggled over the past couple of years when having to play in Seattle, losing 29-3 this year and 42-13 in 2012.  That doesn't bode well for the 49ers, and with players like Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas on defense, the Seahawks would give Colin Kaepernick trouble all game.

For the Carolina Panthers, they've had a terrific year and boast one of the best defenses in the NFL.  That defense will be put to the test against the Eagles, however, and that could be a serious problem considering how well Philadelphia is playing right now.

Since Nick Foles took the starting job for the Eagles once again, the team has gone 6-1.  He's the perfect fit for Chip Kelly's offense, and having LeSean McCoy in the backfield doesn't hurt either.  They may not be as effective against the Panthers' defense, but they should have enough firepower to pull off the exciting upset.

 

Conference Championships: January 19, 2014

Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Home (Seed) Away (Seed) Projected Winner
AFC
Denver Broncos (No. 1) Cincinnati Bengals (No. 3) Broncos
NFC
Seattle Seahawks (No. 1) Philadelphia Eagles (No. 3) Seahawks

Both of these games would feature some very interesting matchups, but it's pretty easy to see that the two No. 1 seeds are the clear favorites.

The Eagles have the capability to burn even the best defenses in the NFL, but against the top defense in the Seahawks at one of the craziest stadiums in the league, it will be really hard for Philadelphia to win this one.

While the Bengals would be thrilled to make it all the way to the conference championship, this is where their run would likely end.  The Broncos just have too many weapons along with the best quarterback in the league, and that will help them go to the Super Bowl.

 

Super Bowl XLVIII: February 2, 2014

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

I know that it's cliche to have the two No. 1 teams in the Super Bowl, but when they're both far and away the best teams out of their respective conferences, it's hard to not have them going this far.

Regardless, this would be an awesome matchup that fans would be thrilled to watch.  The Legion of Boom would be going against Manning and the league's top offense.  It would be arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history in Peyton going against an emerging superstar at the position in Wilson.

What's not to like?

While it would likely be an incredibly close and exciting game, I think that the Broncos would be able to pull out the win.  Peyton would get his second Super Bowl title, and the discussion would begin as to whether or not he is truly the greatest QB of all time.

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