NFL Playoff Bracket 2014: Highlighting Road to Super Bowl for Each Team

Steven Cook@@stevencookinFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 2, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 20:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos is sacked during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 20, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

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. 

2013 NFL Playoffs Schedule
RoundDate (Time)Visitor (Seed)Home (Seed)Broadcast/Stream Info
Wild CardJan. 4 (4:35 p.m. EST)Kansas City Chiefs (5)Indianapolis Colts (4)NBC
Wild CardJan. 4 (8:10 p.m. EST)New Orleans Saints (6)Philadelphia Eagles (3)NBC
Wild CardJan. 5 (1:05 p.m. EST)San Diego Chargers (6)Cincinnati Bengals (3)CBS
Wild CardJan. 5 (4:40 p.m. EST)San Francisco 49ers (5)Green Bay Packers (4)Fox
DivisionalJan. 11 (4:35 p.m. EST)Lowest NFC SeedSeattle Seahawks (1)Fox
DivisionalJan. 11 (8:15 p.m. EST)Highest AFC SeedNew England Patriots (2)CBS
DivisionalJan. 12 (1:05 p.m. EST)Highest NFC SeedCarolina Panthers (2)Fox
DivisionalJan. 12 (4:40 p.m. EST)Lowest AFC SeedDenver Broncos (1)CBS
AFC ChampionshipJan. 19 (TBA)TBATBACBS
NFC ChampionshipJan. 19 (TBA)TBATBAFox
Super Bowl XLVIIIFeb. 2 (6:30 p.m. EST)TBATBAFox



December 29, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) watches from the sideline during the third quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Coliseum. The Broncos defeated the Raiders 34-14. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Dec 29, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and running back LeGarrette Blount (29) after the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Bills 34-20.0 Mandatory Credit: David Butler
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

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.



Dec 29, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) runs with the ball against the St. Louis Rams during the third quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

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. 

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 29:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on December 29, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

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.