NFL Playoffs

NFL Playoff Schedule 2014: Key Dates, Standings and Predictions for Postseason

Dec 15, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) yells out from the line of scrimmage during the first half against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistDecember 25, 2013

Week 16 of the NFL regular season is in the books, meaning we know how the playoffs would shape up were they to start immediately.

Of course, the final week of the season can, and likely will, do much to shake up the final playoff picture.

The AFC is simple as it stands currently—all four divisions are decided and one wild-card spot must be claimed. The NFC, not so much. Only two playoff spots are assured, meaning a free-for-all in the final week will take place to decide who makes the trip to the postseason. 

In addition to current standings, here is a gander at important playoff dates to know and a prediction as to how things will all shake out by early February.

 

Current Standings
NFCAFC
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 (11-4)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)
ESPN

 

Wild Card Round: January 4-5, 2014

AFC

Oct 31, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) throws a pass against the Miami Dolphins during overtime game at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-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
-

Sometimes there is nothing better than a rematch, and the Wild Card Round gives us two here. The only spot in question is the No. 6 seed, but the Miami Dolphins have the inside track and are extremely lucky—they were beat 19-0 in Week 16 but still clutch the final spot.

The Dolphins beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 9 via a safety in overtime on Thursday Night Football, but do not expect the same result here, although Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel disagrees:

Cincinnati is 7-0 at home this year and has scored 40 or more points in four straight games at Paul Brown Stadium. That may change with a visit from the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17, but the point stands.

The Indianapolis Colts are simply built for this, hence why they moved past the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 16, 23-7. Indianapolis plays up and down to competition, while the Chiefs have failed against quality opposition consistently this year (losses to Denver twice, San Diego and Indianapolis).

It really writes itself.

 

NFC

November 5, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA;  New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) passing against the Philadelphia Eagles during third quarter of their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.  Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
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
-

The Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys have quarterback issues, so the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles will win the NFC North and East, respectively.

We all know the New Orleans Saints are superhuman at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and just human on the road (3-5), so a trip to Lincoln Financial Field to dance with Chip Kelly's explosive offense is no good.

The Saints could have changed this fate with road wins in Seattle and Carolina in the second half of the season, but it is too little, too late at this point.

Chicago hosting San Francisco has the makings of a massacre. The Bears tout the NFL's worst run defense while the 49ers rank in the top five behind the legs of Frank Gore. Enough said.

 

Divisional Round: January 11-12, 2014

AFC

Oct 20, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Denver Broncos outside linebacker Danny Trevathan (59) hits Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) in the fourth quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts defeated the Broncos 39-33. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy
Ron Chenoy-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 (No.3)Patriots
-

More rematches!

This time Peyton Manning faces his old team in Denver. Week 7 was a 39-33 loss to Indianapolis in Lucas Oil Stadium. The cold weather is typically not kind to Manning, but he can ride his run game here to a win against one of the NFL's worst run defenses.

Like New Orleans, Cincinnati is vulnerable on the road, with all five losses this year coming away from the Queen City. The Bengals beat New England 13-6 earlier in the year, but since then Tom Brady and the Patriots offense have found a rhythm.

At home, New England will have enough firepower to outgun a Cincinnati team simply happy to have its first playoff win in more than 20 years.

 

NFC

December 8, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) shakes hands with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) after the game at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Seahawks 19-17. Mandatory Credit: K
Kyle Terada-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) Panthers
-

The NFC West could hold a playoff bracket of its own with all four teams and probably have a more entertaining postseason than what is actually in store.

Alas, fans will have to settle for the Seattle Seahawks taking on the 49ers for the third time this season, the second time the two have met from CenturyLink Field. Week 2 was a 29-3 lopsided affair in favor of the home team, and there is no reason to believe this one will be any different.

Dec 22, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly watches his team during pre game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

In what is likely the best game of the playoffs, the explosive Philadelphia offense makes the trip to Carolina to take on the Panthers, owner of the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense through 16 weeks.

LeSean McCoy is the NFL's leading rusher and the Eagles are 6-1 with Nick Foles as a starter this year, but only five teams have scored 20 or more points on linebacker Luke Kuechly's unit. On the road, the Eagles' wings get clipped.

 

Conference Championships: January 19, 2014

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 24: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos is pressured by defensive end Rob Ninkovich #50 of the New England Patriots during a game at Gillette Stadium on November 24, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Ro
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
AFC Championship
Home (Seed) Away (Seed) Projected Winner
Denver Broncos (No. 1) New England Patriots (No. 2)Patriots
-

What could be better than Manning vs. Brady for the AFC crown?

The correct answer is nothing. Denver has been unstoppable offensively this year, but Bill Belichick and the Patriots quietly have a great defense this season that allows an average of just 21.2 points per game this year—nine teams do it better.

All four New England losses this year have come on the road, but none by more than a touchdown, with three by four points or less. Expect Brady to take down Manning in the cold in a thriller.

Sep 8, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers line backer Luke Kuechly (59) during the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
NFC Championship
Home (Seed) Away (Seed) Projected Winner
Seattle Seahawks (No. 1) Carolina Panthers (No. 2)Carolina Panthers
-

The Panthers and Seahawks met in Week 1, where Seattle escaped with a 12-7 win on the road.

Little did we know Carolina's performance was foreshadowing the team as one of the NFL's best.

Now we know. We also know that no runner in the NFL, not even Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, is going to find room to operate against the Panthers. Forced into a predictable attack, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks simply will not be able to put enough points on the board.

 

Super Bowl XLVIII: February 2, 2014

Nov 18, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) on a long run as New England Patriots outside linebacker Dont'a Hightower (54) and defensive back Nate Ebner (43) defendin the third quarter. The Panthers defeated the Patriots
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
AFCNFCProjected Winner
New England PatriotsCarolina PanthersCarolina Panthers
-

In a postseason of rematches, it is only right the Super Bowl is a rematch in more ways than one.

Not only is this a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVIII, it is a rematch of a Week 11 showdown in which New England traveled to Carolina and went home with a 24-20 defeat.

In a battle of wills, the Carolina defense rises above. This would be a different story if tight end Rob Gronkowski were healthy, but the Carolina defense once again holds New England in check to hoist the Lombardi Trophy and extract a measure of revenge for the loss back in 2004.

 

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