NFL Playoffs 2014: Top Storylines Heading into Postseason

Brian Mazique@@UniqueMaziqueCorrespondent IIIDecember 31, 2013

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 29:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos calls out signals to the offense against the Oakland Raiders during the second quarter at O.co Coliseum on December 29, 2013 in Oakland, California. The Broncos won the game 34-14.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

There are some playoff stories that develop during the postseason; others are pre-arranged because of the specific arrangement of teams, seedings, etc.

Heading into the 2014 NFL Playoffs, there are more plots and sub plots than one can shake a stick at. Here's a breakdown of the biggest storylines as the NFL begins its second season.

 

Will Defense Make a Comeback in the Postseason?  

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 22:  Cornerback Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates with teammates after making an interception against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field on December 22, 2013 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greul
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Every year since 2009, the average points per game for NFL teams has risen. In 2013, teams averaged 23.4 points per game. Rule changes and official's point of emphasis have turned the game decidedly in favor of offenses.

During the 2013 postseason, teams averaged 25.9 points per game. Are we headed for another high-scoring playoff season?

Perhaps, but teams like the Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals, New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs may have something to say about that.

All of those teams gave up less than 20 points per game during the season. The Panthers, Seahawks and Niners would have to be considered three of the elite teams in the league. If they advance deep into the playoffs, there's a good chance we could see lower scores.

 

Can the Niners Be the Next Wild Card Team to Reach and Win the Super Bowl?

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 29:  (L-R) Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers talks with head coach Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines against the Arizona Cardinals during a game at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 29, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

For the last three seasons, the Super Bowl winner has been a Wild Card team. Obviously, all eight teams have an opportunity to reach the big game at MetLife Stadium, but the Niners happen to be the hottest team in the NFL.

San Francisco finished the season on a six-game winning streak and was the runner-up last year. It's logical to see the Niners as not only the biggest threat amongst the Wild Card teams, but also overall.

 

Will Peyton Manning Have to Beat the Indianapolis Colts En Route to the Super Bowl?

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 20:  Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos meet after the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 20, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Colts won 39-33.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The NFL would undoubtedly like nothing more than to see Manning and the Indianapolis Colts clash in the postseason. The Denver Broncos lost to the Colts 39-33 in Week 7. It was Denver's first loss of the season.

With stakes even higher, a postseason meeting would be one of the biggest of the playoffs. If the Colts beat the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cincinnati Bengals knock off the San Diego Chargers, we'll see the Colts' past battle its present and future during the divisional round.

 

Will We See Another Manning vs. Tom Brady Battle?

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 24: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos and quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots shake hands after the New England Patriots defeated the Denver Broncos 34-31 in overtime at Gillette Stadium on Novem
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Manning storylines could go on forever. Anyone up for another head-to-head meeting with Tom Brady? Of course you are—unless you're a wary Broncos fan.

Manning hasn't had good luck against Brady in his career. Peyton's teams are just 4-10 lifetime against Brady and the New England Patriots. That includes a 34-31 overtime loss in Week 12 at Gillette Stadium.

The Broncos blew a 24-0 lead and absorbed their second loss of the season. If they meet in the 2014 postseason, it'll take place at Sports Authority Field at Mile High with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. 

 

Can Anyone Beat Seattle at CenturyLink Field?

SEATTLE - DECEMBER 22:  Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks is sacked by Javier Arenas #35 of the Arizona Cardinals on December 22, 2013 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The short answer to that question is obviously yes. The Arizona Cardinals beat Seattle in the Emerald City in Week 16, but the Cards didn't make the playoffs.

The NFC teams that did are a collective 0-2 when facing the 'Hawks and the 12th man. While some of the mystique has been knocked off Seattle as a home-field juggernaut, beating them on their turf is still going to be a tall order.

With a 13-3 record, Seattle has earned the right to have the road to the Super Bowl run through its city.

 

How Far Can Aaron Rodgers Carry the Packers?

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 29: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates after a win against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 29, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Packers defeated the Bears 33-28.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Image
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With a record of 8-7-1, the Green Bay Packers look like the worst team in the postseason. That could be true. Not many people would be shocked to see them lose to the 49ers during Wild Card Weekend.

Likewise, only a few more eyebrows would be raised if Aaron Rodgers was able to rally this team to a string of playoff wins. Rodgers is quite simply the best player in the league. He's almost invaluable to his team, and they are clearly a different group when he's on the field.

In 2010, when the Packers won the Super Bowl, they were a Wild Card qualifier for the postseason. The team won the NFC North this season, but its record screams "wild card." Can Rodgers lead the Pack on another magical playoff run? We shall see.

 

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