The NFL playoff picture is all set heading into Wild Card Weekend, while first-round bye recipients like Denver and Seattle are patiently waiting to see who its opponents will be as a four-game slate is set to unfold.
The road to the Super Bowl is paved more favorably for some teams than others, but it's still a treacherous task to make it to the big game as the NFL boasts as much parity as any professional sports league, and all of the 12 teams in the hunt have a realistic shot at getting out of their conference.
Let's take a look at the full playoff schedule and the postseason outlook from each conference.
|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|
Just like it typically does, the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes straight through Peyton Manning.
The Broncos finished with a 13-3 record and have secured blowout win after blowout win. But things get awfully tricky when you take into consideration their average-at-best defense that is now without Von Miller.
That's not even to mention their unfavorable record against fellow AFC playoff teams. Their only three losses—New England, Indianapolis, San Diego—were all against teams who made the playoffs in their conference.
The Patriots are again the biggest threat to Manning getting to the Super Bowl. Tom Brady has proven his resilience by continuing his high level of play despite throwing it to what's-his-name every week, but not having Rob Gronkowski in the playoffs could be a killer for this team.
San Diego squeaked into the playoffs, and it looks to be an under-the-radar contender having come into the postseason with four straight wins. Cincinnati quietly made the playoffs yet again and will have to get through the hot Chargers.
In a matchup from just weeks ago, Indianapolis will host Kansas City in a game between two 11-5 teams looking to emerge as a candidate to knock off the giants of the league in the divisional round.
One of the most hostile environments in all of professional sports is front and center on the NFC side of things entering the postseason, as the Seattle Seahawks earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Suffocating defense propelled the Seahawks to a NFC-best 13-3 record, and it doesn't hurt that they have an offense that can catch fire at any time. Of course, it won't be forgotten that they lost two of four—including one at home against Arizona—to close out the season.
Carolina was a playoff contender entering the season, but few thought it would be sitting at home on the first week of the postseason watching its future opponents. The Panthers boast a scary defense of their own that should match up well against much of the conference.
Of course, then there's San Francisco, the reigning NFC champions. The 49ers are one of three teams to beat Seattle this season and could possibly match up with them in the divisional round should they take care of Green Bay in the Wild Card Round.
The Packers squeaked in by winning the NFC North and will face a tough opening matchup with San Francisco.
Chip Kelly also crashed the postseason party by leading his Eagles to a NFC East title in his first season, but he'll have to go up against the Saints, who are eyeing another trip to the Super Bowl after winning it all in 2009.