The crowning of a new NFL champion is just one month away.
The 2014 NFL playoffs will kick off on Saturday, Jan. 4, and continue through the first weekend of February, when the Lombardi Trophy will be awarded to the league's best team at MetLife Stadium. With the 12-team field set and the Wild Card matchups set in stone, all that's left to do is watch it all unfold.
Below we'll break down the entire postseason schedule and take a closer look at what's to come on Wild Card Weekend.
|2014 NFL Playoff Schedule|
|Round||Date (Time)||Visitor (Seed)||Home (Seed)||Network|
|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|
Chiefs Look to Avenge Week 16 Loss to Colts
The first playoff matchup of 2014 features two underrated teams in the AFC, as the Wild Card Kansas City Chiefs travel to Indianapolis to take on the AFC South champion Colts.
Kansas City finished the year 2-5 following a 9-0 start, while Indy closed out 2013 on a three-game winning streak. One of those wins was a 23-7 thrashing of the Chiefs at Arrowhead on Dec. 22. Indy forced four turnovers in that game and somehow held the Chiefs to just one third-down conversion.
Unsurprisingly, the Colts will be 2.5-point favorites at home.
Look for turnovers to play another huge role in this weekend's rematch. After all, the Chiefs and Colts rank Nos. 1 and 2 respectively in turnover margin in the AFC. Among the entire league, only Seattle had a better regular-season margin.
Saints and Eagles Clash in Offensive Battle
The New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles will meet in what's sure to be Saturday's most entertaining Wild Card showdown. Like the Colts, the Eagles will be slight favorites at home.
While defense typically becomes more of a factor in the postseason, there will be no shortage of offense on display when these two teams get together. Drew Brees and New Orleans boast the NFL's second-ranked aerial assault, but the LeSean McCoy-led Eagles feature the league's most dynamic rushing attack.
Both units also rank inside the top four in total offense and inside the top 10 in scoring offense.
Therefore, whichever defensive unit is able to weather the storm on Saturday night will likely be the team moving on. Keep in mind that Philadelphia's secondary ranks dead last against the pass, and New Orleans was one of only six teams to surrender more than 4.5 yards per carry during the regular season.
The NFL's leading rusher in 2013, McCoy is well aware of that fact, per PhiladelphiaEagles.com's Dan Klausner:
We’re made for the playoffs. Everyone is so excited for us to be here, but we should be here. We prepared to be champions of this division, and we’re prepared to win this game. The Saints are a good team, for sure. They have a very explosive offense and a solid defense, but I think the guys in this locker room, the coaches we have, we can get the job done.
Keep in mind that McCoy has rushed for more than 130 yards in three of Philly's last four games.
Bengals Take Aim at 1st Playoff Win Since 1990
The AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals have lost five consecutive playoff games dating back to 1990. Still, they will be favored by a touchdown on Sunday when they host the Wild Card San Diego Chargers at Paul Brown Stadium.
Just like the other AFC Wild Card matchup, the Bengals and Bolts met as recently as December. Cincinnati would beat San Diego, 17-10, on the road in a game decided by turnovers.
Philip Rivers and the Chargers gave the ball away three times, including on their opening drive of the game and twice down the stretch. Clearly, San Diego can ill afford to make those same mistakes on the road against a superior team.
Of all the matchups on Wild Card Weekend, this battle places the most emphasis on home-field advantage. Remember, Cincinnati is 8-0 at home this season and has been crushing opponents at Paul Brown Stadium, scoring 34.4 points on average compared to just 16.8 points for its opponents.
Packers and 49ers Reignite Rivalry
A rejuvenated Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers will host the Super Bowl favorite San Francisco 49ers in Sunday's final Wild Card matchup at historic Lambeau Field.
With bone-chilling temperatures projected for kickoff, expect both teams to hand the ball off plenty. After all, both clubs rank inside the top seven in rushing offense this season and possess bruising running backs in Green Bay's Eddie Lacy and San Francisco's Frank Gore.
However, the difference-maker this weekend will likely be 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Green Bay has been unable to contain Kaepernick in the two teams' most recent meetings. He rushed for a record 181 yards in San Francisco's NFC Divisional playoff win last January and threw for 412 yards in the Niners' Week 1 win at Candlestick Park.
Packers.com's Vic Ketchman believes Green Bay's wounded defense will have to "pick its poison" on Sunday: "Dom Capers has a big job on his hands this week. I think he has to pick his poison and then find a way schematically to lessen the effects of the poison he’s picked."
With a former Super Bowl MVP in Rodgers on the other side, though, underdog Green Bay will have an excellent shot to beat the spread and upset San Francisco in the cold.
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