The 2013 NFL regular season is winding down, with just one more full slate of contests left on tap before the New Year heralds in the start of the 2014 playoffs.
While the current campaign has been nothing short of excellent and 17 teams are still either fighting for a postseason berth or better seeding, the playoffs promise to be even better. It will be do-or-die football at its finest and each team will be fighting tooth-and-nail for a chance at Super Bowl glory.
Let’s take a look at when you can catch all the action and make a few bold predictions for the coming postseason.
|NFL Playoff Schedule 2014|
|Wild Card Weekend||Jan. 4-5|
|Divisional Round||Jan. 11-12|
|Conference Championships||Jan. 19|
|Super Bowl XLVIII||Feb. 2|
|Conference Championships||Jan. 19|
AFC Winner: New England Patriots
Even though their roster isn’t as talented or flashy as in years past, the Pats look poised to emerge from the AFC for the sixth time since 2001.
The two constants from those five prior Super Bowl teams are head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, who are both atop their respective positions right now.
In fact, 2013 may be the finest season for both the coach and signal-caller. Brady has been making due without all five of his top receivers from the 2012 campaign, while Belichick has coached up a talented defense that is finally making big plays and getting stops when they matter most.
Brady spoke at length about where the team currently is and what it means to be back in position to make the playoffs, as per the staff of Patriots.com:
We’ve got a great opportunity ahead of us, and you just don’t want to go out there and not give it your best and put out an effort that’s less than 100 percent of what you’re capable of, because, like I said, it’s been 11 months of work to get us back to this point.
While the 36-year-old Brady hasn’t put up the eye-popping numbers of his youth (4,221 yards and 24 touchdowns with 10 interceptions through 15 games), he is making due without Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Danny Woodhead, his top five targets just a season ago.
Only Gronk suited up for the Pats in 2013, but is now out for the season after tearing an ACL.
Belichick has been doing a great job identifying replacements and getting them to step up, as Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen have become instrumental weapons in the passing attack.
If the Pats can secure a much-needed bye by beating the Buffalo Bills in Week 17, they will only need to win two games to make the Super Bowl, one of those being at home.
It would be fitting to see yet another Brady vs. Peyton Manning clash in the AFC Championship, which is a very likely outcome. The Denver Broncos are on the cusp of locking up the No. 1 overall seed, which would allow them to host the Pats in the conference title game.
New England had one of its finest victories against the Broncos in Week 12, coming back from a 24-point deficit to win in overtime. Don’t be surprised if this hypothetical championship game comes down to the wire, with Brady leading his team on a game-winning drive to make the Super Bowl.
NFC Winner: Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks may have finally lost at CenturyLink Field in 2013, but this franchise still has the best home-field advantage in football and is going to be a nightmare to deal with if it secures the No. 1 seed in the NFC in Week 17.
In fact, that humbling loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16 may actually be a boost to their chances, as per Danny O’Neil of ESPN Seattle:
All Seattle needs to do is cruise to a victory at home against the St. Louis Rams in order to accomplish that and then it is smooth-sailing from there. While this roster isn’t without flaws, it is built for the postseason much more so than any of the potential challengers.
The main argument in favor of Seattle’s Super Bowl chances is the defense. It is ranked No. 1 in the NFL in total defense and passing yards allowed, plus just 0.1 points behind the Carolina Panthers for the least amount of points conceded per contest.
Factor in an elite rushing game that averages 138.5 yards per game, spearheaded by an absolute beast in running back Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson’s dynamic feet, and you are looking at a squad that won’t be phased when the weather turns cold.
Fortunately, that works in their favor all the way up through the Super Bowl. While the Big Game will be played in New Jersey, the freezing temperatures and arctic conditions are beneficial to the Seahawks style of play.
It’s not a stretch to say that the weather could end up playing the biggest role in determining which team wins the championship at the end of this season. Should the Seahawks make it to the Super Bowl and be blessed with snow, it’s hard to see them losing.