Through 17 weeks of action, the NFL has sorted the best from the rest.
Now, 12 teams get a shot at the Lombardi Trophy in the 2013-14 NFL playoffs with the ultimate goal being a trip to play in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
The final week of the regular season did not lack for drama.
On the AFC side, the race for the final wild-card spot was perhaps the most memorable in recent history with the Pittsburgh Steelers almost pulling off a surprise entrance.
The NFC was a bit quieter, but two games acted as division title bouts, which saw the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles emerge victorious in the NFC North and East, respectively.
Fans have little time to recover. The full postseason schedule, complete with viewing info, is now available. Things start with a crazy Wild Card Round, where at least two of the four stick out as can't-miss action.
|Round||Date (Time)||Visitor (Seed)||Home (Seed)||Broadcast/Stream Info|
|Wild Card||Jan. 4 (4:35 p.m. EST)||Kansas City Chiefs (5)||Indianapolis Colts (4)||NBC|
|Wild Card||Jan. 4 (8:10 p.m. EST)||New Orleans Saints (6)||Philadelphia Eagles (3)||NBC|
|Wild Card||Jan. 5 (1:05 p.m. EST)||San Diego Chargers (6)||Cincinnati Bengals (3)||CBS|
|Wild Card||Jan. 5 (4:40 p.m. EST)||San Francisco 49ers (5)||Green Bay Packers (4)||Fox|
|Divisional||Jan. 11 (4:35 p.m. EST)||Lowest NFC Seed||Seattle Seahawks (1)||Fox|
|Divisional||Jan. 11 (8:15 p.m. EST)||Highest AFC Seed||New England Patriots (2)||CBS|
|Divisional||Jan. 12 (1:05 p.m. EST)||Highest NFC Seed||Carolina Panthers (2)||Fox|
|Divisional||Jan. 12 (4:40 p.m. EST)||Lowest AFC Seed||Denver Broncos (1)||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|
New Orleans Saints (11-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
Kudos to the Philadelphia Eagles and first-year coach Chip Kelly for the surprise season and playoff berth. As NFL Network's Albert Breer hints, so much for all that talk about Kelly's system not working in the NFL:
So Chip Kelly just won 10 games and is headed to the playoffs behind a traditional pro-style quarterback. Gimmick, right?— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) December 30, 2013
Kelly's offense ranks No. 1 on the ground thanks to running back LeSean McCoy (1,607 yards and nine scores in 2013) and No. 9 through the air after the emergence of second-year quarterback Nick Foles in the middle of the season.
A great story indeed, but the New Orleans Saints have something to say about which team advances.
The Saints know a thing or two about elite offenses—Drew Brees (5,162 yards and 39 touchdowns) leads the NFL's No. 2 passing attack.
While the narrative that the Saints struggle on the road rings true (all five losses have come away from home this season), Brees will have no problems scoring consistently on an Eagles defense that ranks dead last against the pass.
Conversely, Foles may find it difficult to move the football on the NFL's No. 2-ranked pass defense. But Saints head coach Sean Payton understands that Kelly's offense is a different animal than his defense is accustomed to seeing, as he told the media, per the Eagles' official website:
It’s hard to prepare for, it’s hard to simulate in practice with the scout team. The pace is extremely fast, extremely fast. So we’ll have our work cut out for us this week with just trying to replicate or give the same look from our scout team offense.
Above all else, if fans can only watch one game in the opening round, this has to be it. NBC's Cris Collinsworth puts it best, via the Saints' Twitter account:
San Diego Chargers (9-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
For the sake of fairness, an AFC matchup will be listed here despite both NFC games providing plenty of intrigue worth the price of admission.
But the bout set to take place at Paul Brown Stadium is a quality event. Can the San Diego Chargers overcome the immense odds placed before them?
The story writes itself.
Cincinnati quietly had a home-field advantage that ranked with Seattle and New Orleans in 2013. The Bengals went 8-0 in front of their fans and scored 40 or more points in four of their last five at The Jungle.
NFL.com's Marc Sessler highlights the task the Chargers face:
Bengals were 6 points shy of becoming the first team in NFL history to score 40+ points in five straight home games. Bring it, Chargers.— Marc Sessler (@MarcSesslerNFL) December 31, 2013
Cincinnati has to get the monkey off its back.
The Bengals have bowed out of the postseason in the first round in each of the last two years. But coach Marvin Lewis thinks home-field advantage could be the difference this postseason, as he told the team's official site:
The last two years we have been down there in Houston and we saw the incredible atmosphere that the playoffs bring. We haven’t had a home playoff game since ’09 and the atmosphere that’s created around the NFL, the playoffs, it’s what everybody wants. People have been clamoring and talking about this since we got started back in April, then all through training camp and so forth, and all the questions: Are you going to the Super Bowl? We don’t ask the question. You’ve got to answer it by winning and that’s what time it is now for us.
San Diego has plenty of things to overcome, outside of the obvious trials a West Coast team faces in traveling across the country.
Remember, this is the same Chargers team that lost to the Bengals at home in Week 13 as quarterback Philip Rivers was held to 252 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Now the Chargers must take the show on the road and learn from past mistakes.
Fans in search of a matchup featuring two teams looking to take the next step as a franchise should look no further. Both San Diego and Cincinnati are teams that could get hot at a given moment and go all the way as Baltimore did a year ago.