For many NFL teams, it is already time to start preparing for the postseason. The rest of the league will know by the end of Week 17 whether they are playoff bound or if they should look for other activities to do over the winter.
There is a lot of confusion surrounding the current playoff picture across the league. No team in contention for the final AFC wild-card spot controls its own destiny, while there are a couple of squads in the NFC that can finish seeded anywhere from No. 1 to No. 6.
NFL.com provides a look at the possible scenarios for each team, but here are the current standings in each conference after Week 16:
|1||Denver Broncos||12-3||1||Seattle Seahawks||12-3|
|2||New England Patriots||11-4||2||Carolina Panthers||11-4|
|3||Cincinnati Bengals||10-5||3||Philadelphia Eagles||9-6|
|4||Indianapolis Colts||10-5||4||Chicago Bears||8-7|
|5||Kansas City Chiefs||11-4||5||San Francisco 49ers||11-4|
|6||Miami Dolphins||8-7||6||New Orleans Saints||10-5|
These teams, and others, can contend for a championship this season with some strong play and a little bit of luck. For those planning on going deep into the playoffs, they need to know these important dates:
|Wild Card Weekend||Jan. 4-5|
|Divisional Round||Jan. 11-12|
|Conference Championships||Jan. 19|
|Super Bowl XLVIII||Feb. 2|
While it is impossible to know exactly what will happen in the postseason, there are still some games that fans should be hoping to see. Here is a look at the best possible matchups in the 2014 playoffs leading up to the Super Bowl.
Wild-Card Round: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
These two teams will face each other in Week 17, and a Ravens win could help them advance into the playoffs. Head coach John Harbaugh discussed the importance of the game, via Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com:
Obviously we have everything at stake. Cincinnati has a lot at stake too – not everything. They’ve got the division and they’re in the playoffs, but they’ve got some seeding issues that they’re playing for.
It’s going to be a highly-contested game. It’s going to be a tough fight.
Imagine how big of a fight this will be if the two teams face each other in the playoffs.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens have proven that they have the ability to come through in games that matter the most, and simply making the postseason would make them a legitimate contender to win another Super Bowl.
On the other hand, the Bengals have won every one of their home games, where Andy Dalton has an 18-5 touchdown-interception ratio. Cincinnati has elite talent at virtually every position on the field, and should be able to make a deep run in the playoffs, if Baltimore does not stop the Bengals.
Divisional Round: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
Earlier this season, Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman called the battle between the 49ers and Seahawks the best rivalry in the NFL, thanks in part to the hatred between the two sides:
West Coasters: How genuine hate fuels 49ers-Seahawks and has turned it into best NFL rivalry http://t.co/dKuXAJGbub— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) September 13, 2013
Of course, the recent success of both teams also helps the rivalry as they are arguably two of the best in the NFC. After splitting their regular-season games, a likely grudge match in the second round could decide who represents the conference in the Super Bowl.
The 49ers and Seahawks are built very similarly, with each ranking in the top five in yards and points allowed, as well as rushing yards per game. They also both have young, mobile quarterbacks who have already had plenty of success in just their second year as starters.
Still, this game could come down to location, as the Seahawks have been much better at home in recent years. If they can hold onto the division title, that could be enough to earn them the advantage in the postseason.
Conference Championships: New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
Does it get any better than Tom Brady against Peyton Manning in the playoffs?
These two have been battling for years, yet their games against each other are still incredible to watch. Most recently, Brady rallied the Patriots from a 24-point deficit to beat Manning and the Broncos in overtime in Week 12.
Still, Brady will want to get his revenge after Manning broke his regular-season touchdown record:
BREAKING: Peyton Manning just set the record for most TD passes in a season with 51, breaking Tom Brady's record.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 22, 2013
Getting the last laugh in a playoff game will be all that either player cares about. Considering that neither quarterback has won a Super Bowl since the 2006 season, there would be a lot on the line in this one.
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