The NFL playoffs are set.
No more speculation. No more what-if scenarios. No more watching the Houston Texans play. The scintillating regular season has come to a close, and only 12 teams remain with a shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February.
Michael Castillo of FanSided gives us a look at the bracket:
The Wild Card and divisional rounds of the NFL postseason are typically two of the best weekends in sports, and judging by the matchups, that's going to be no different this year.
Here's a look at the entire schedule for the 2014 playoffs:
|Wild Card||Jan. 4 (4:35 p.m. EST)||No. 5 Kansas City Chiefs||No. 4 Indianapolis Colts||NBC|
|Wild Card||Jan. 4 (8:10 p.m. EST)||No. 6 New Orleans Saints||No. 3 Philadelphia Eagles||NBC|
|Wild Card||Jan. 5 (1:05 p.m. EST)||No. 6 San Diego Chargers||No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals||CBS|
|Wild Card||Jan. 5 (4:40 p.m. EST)||No. 5 San Francisco 49ers||No. 4 Green Bay Packers||FOX|
|Divisional||Jan. 11 (4:35 p.m. EST)||Lowest NFC Seed||No. 1 Seattle Seahawks||FOX|
|Divisional||Jan. 11 (8:15 p.m. EST)||Highest AFC Seed||No. 2 New England Patriots||CBS|
|Divisional||Jan. 12 (1:05 p.m. EST)||Highest NFC Seed||No. 2 Carolina Panthers||FOX|
|Divisional||Jan. 12 (4:40 p.m. EST)||Lowest AFC Seed||No. 1 Denver Broncos||CBS|
|AFC Championship||Jan. 19 (TBA)||TBA||TBA||CBS|
|NFC Championship||Jan. 19 (TBA)||TBA||TBA||FOX|
|SUPER BOWL XLVIII||Feb. 2 (6:30 p.m. EST)||TBA||TBA||FOX|
Kicking off the postseason with the Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts? That's something I can get on board with.
After the first 10 weeks of the season, Andy Reid's new team was 9-0 and generating buzz as a legitimate contender in the AFC. But the Chiefs faltered a bit down the stretch, losing five of their last seven (although the last came with their backups in Week 17), including a 23-7 shellacking to the Colts in Week 16.
The Colts, meanwhile, are moving in the opposite direction, and as head coach Chuck Pagano was quick to point out, playing well in December is crucial for postseason success:
''They always talk about December being the second most important month in football and we went out and went 4-1,'' he said following the team's Week 17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to Michael Marot of the Associated Press (via Yahoo! Sports).
Still, Kansas City boasts a formidable defense to pressure Andrew Luck, as well as one of the most dangerous offensive playmakers in Jamaal Charles. Indy will be favored, but this serves as a tantalizing matchup to kick off the postseason.
Rounding out Saturday will be New Orleans at Philadelphia.
The Saints tend to struggle on the road, and the Eagles can be unpredictable, but blah blah blah. When it comes down to it, both teams are littered with offensive weapons all over the field and capable of putting up points in a hurry.
NBC's Cris Collinsworth, via the Saints' official Twitter feed, sums up the potential electrifying shootout:
Sunday kicks off with another AFC rematch—the San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals.
This one figures to be the most lopsided in terms of odds. The Bengals, who are undefeated at home, had three more wins than the Chargers during the regular season and won in San Diego, 17-10, in Week 13.
Don't jump to write off Mike McCoy's squad, though. The Chargers travel extremely well, having knocked off the Eagles, Chiefs and Denver Broncos all on the road. And if the "bad" Andy Dalton—he threw two or more interceptions five times this season, resulting in three losses—shows up for Cincy, anything can happen.
Finally, in an appropriate wild-card finale, we've got San Francisco at Green Bay, a rivalry that is quickly gaining steam.
Which wild-card game are you most looking forward to?
As you'll recall, Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers beat up on the Packers during last year's divisional round and followed that up with a 34-28 win in Week 1 of 2013.
During this year's contest, linebacker Clay Matthews—following a week of talk about the Packers promising to target Kaepernick if he escaped the pocket—delivered a shot on the quarterback out of bounds. Joe Staley stepped in Matthews' face following the incident, and both teams scuffled.
And that was just Week 1.
There is a significant amount of bad blood between these two sides. Combine that with the fact that both teams, when healthy, have the pieces to make a Super Bowl run, and this won't feel like an ordinary wild-card battle.
Is it Sunday yet?