The 2014 NFL playoff picture has revealed itself, and the path to Super Bowl XLVIII has become clear for all 12 teams fortunate enough to still be in contention after a wild 2013 regular season.
Of course, this road is not equal for each hopeful organization. It appears that some franchises have a much easier journey to a championship, although that could mean absolutely nothing.
Look no further than the Baltimore Ravens’ run last year, in which the 10-6 team rode the No. 4 seed (via claiming the NFC North title) and a hot streak to an upset win against the San Francisco 49ers.
Will another squad come from seemingly nowhere to captivate a nation and earn gridiron glory, or will one of the favorites finally stand and deliver when it matters most?
Keep reading for a look at the complete postseason schedule, plus check out a few teams that have the easiest journey to the upcoming Super Bowl in New Jersey.
|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|
|San Francisco 49ers||7-1|
|New England Patriots||10-1|
|Green Bay Packers||14-1|
|Kansas City Chiefs||22-1|
|New Orleans Saints||25-1|
|San Diego Chargers||33-1|
AFC’s Easiest Path: Denver Broncos
It should come as no surprise that the Broncos are favored to emerge from the AFC and make a Super Bowl appearance for the first time since John Elway led this franchise there back in 1999.
While Elway is undoubtedly one of the all-time great signal-callers, current quarterback Peyton Manning may very well be remembered as the greatest of all time when all is said and done.
The 37-year-old broke every major single-season passing record in 2013, lighting up the competition for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns across 16 stellar games. More importantly, Manning looks healthy and ready to handle the cold weather that comes with postseason football in the Mile High City.
Considering the Broncos lost just one game at home this year—against the San Diego Chargers on a short week of rest in Week 15—they should be more than prepared to win their first playoff game of the Manning era.
Will the Broncos win the AFC?
Perhaps the only question mark surrounding this team is the defense, but does it truly matter when the offense is putting up a record number of points? It didn’t in the regular season, as Denver used a plus-207 point differential to rack up 13 wins.
While the loss of superstar pass-rusher Von Miller to a torn ACL certainly hurts, the Broncos are equipped to easily outduel any team in the playoffs.
Factor in the much-anticipated return of star receiver Wes Welker, who missed the last three games after suffering a concussion, and you are looking at an unstoppable Denver force that will score its way to MetLife Stadium this February.
RT @JoanNiesen: Wes Welker has been cleared to play.— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) December 30, 2013
NFC’s Easiest Path: Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks worked relentlessly in 2013 to secure home-field advantage through the playoffs and it will pay off in a big way.
Do the Seahawks have the best home-field advantage in football?
Seattle lost just one game within the confines of CenturyLink Field this year, and the NFC-best 13 wins allows this franchise to host both the divisional and championship rounds at the ultra-loud stadium.
While doubters will point to a late slide—the Seahawks went just 2-2 over the last four games—there is no team more equipped to handle the rigors of playoff football better than Seattle.
This group finished with the league’s top total defense and a top-five rushing attack, which will undoubtedly spearhead a deep postseason run.
With cold weather and difficult conditions likely to occur in the Pacific Northwest and at the Super Bowl in New Jersey, opponents will find that mobile quarterback Russell Wilson and power running back Marshawn Lynch are almost impossible to stop.
Wilson informed CBSSports.com’s Will Brinson that he isn’t going to be nervous during the second playoff run of his short career:
“Nothing’s going to fluster me. Never will, never has.” - @DangeRussWilson— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) December 29, 2013
On the other side of the football, the opposition will struggle to gain any sort of traction against a swarming defense that prides itself on creating constant three-and-outs and turnovers.
The team’s official Twitter page noted that the Seahawks defense allowed a mere 38 yards rushing combined over the final four games of the season. Those are impressive numbers and bode extremely well for the winter playoffs.
Best stat in last 4 games of 2013: 38 combined rushing yards allowed by Seahawks defense. http://t.co/aOL1FB0t6K— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) January 1, 2014
It would be more surprising if Seattle somehow didn’t manage to make the Super Bowl given the circumstances. This squad is built to win now, especially in the expected conditions, and should be able to get it done.