The 2014 NFL playoffs will commence with four thrilling Wild Card showdowns that will feature several Super Bowl favorites.
With the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots all enjoying first-round byes, the reigning NFC champion San Francisco 49ers will be under the most scrutiny this weekend. At 7-1 odds to win it all, Jim Harbaugh's squad will have its work cut out for it at frozen Lambeau Field on Sunday, Jan. 5.
But the Niners aren't alone.
Here we'll breakdown the complete 2014 NFL playoff schedule and highlight the top Super Bowl favorites set to kick off their postseason journeys on Wild Card Weekend.
*Super Bowl XLVIII odds according to LVH Superbook.
|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|
San Francisco 49ers, 7-1 Odds
Only Seattle and Denver have better Super Bowl odds than the San Francisco 49ers heading into the 2014 postseason.
At 12-4, the Niners are a dangerous Wild Card team, and are the only road team favored on Wild Card Weekend. San Francisco has won six in a row ahead of the playoffs and has won three in a row against its Wild Card opponent, the Green Bay Packers.
The Niners haven't lost to the Packers since December 2010 and are projected to continue that impressive streak on Sunday night thanks to their dynamic rushing attack (137.6 rushing yards per game) and elite defense (316.9 total yards and 17 points allowed).
The key to San Francisco's defensive dominance has been the play of linebacking duo Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Willis believes their communication on the field is critical to their success in big games, per 49ers.com's Andrew Pentis:
We’re always communicating. That’s the biggest thing we have. It’s never, ‘I’m going to do this because I can make the play.’ It’s whatever the formation they give us and whatever best makes our defense better is how we work. That’s a good tandem.
When you rank seventh against the pass and fourth against the run, you're clearly doing something right.
Cincinnati Bengals, 16-1 Odds
The Cincinnati Bengals will be favored by a touchdown at home against the San Diego Chargers on Wild Card Weekend but will have to win on the road at some point this January if they are to reach Super Bowl XLVIII.
Which AFC favorite is most likely to reach Super Bowl XLVIII?
And while Marvin Lewis' squad went a perfect 8-0 inside Paul Brown Stadium in 2013, the Bengals are a dismal 3-5 on the road this season. That certainly doesn't bode well for Cincinnati if it winds up advancing to the AFC divisional round, where it would visit New England. Although the Bengals beat the Patriots at home in Week 5, they have been extremely vulnerable on both sides of the ball outside of Cincy.
But thanks to their top-10 passing attack and dominant defense, the Bengals will carry the fifth-best Super Bowl odds into Wild Card Weekend.
Green Bay Packers, 16-1 Odds
As already mentioned, the Green Bay Packers will be home underdogs against the visiting San Francisco 49ers on Wild Card Weekend. However, if Aaron Rodgers and the Pack can upend the Niners at frigid Lambeau Field, they have the potential to get on a roll similar to the one they found themselves on three seasons ago.
6 of 8 Super Bowl champs since 2005 have played in the Wild Card round, including 3 straight (2010 Packers, 2011 Giants, 2012 Ravens)— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 2, 2014
Led by a former Super Bowl MVP in Rodgers, the Packers offense has balance for the first time in a long time. Rookie running back Eddie Lacy has been sensational all year long and is a big reason why Green Bay ranked seventh in rushing offense during the regular season. Lacy's powerful running will help take some of the pressure off of Rodgers and allow the Packers more options in short-yardage situations.
Still, Green Bay's postseason success will come down to how well it performs on the defensive side of the ball. Key injuries and poor play in the secondary have plagued the Packers all year long, and unless they can make strides this winter or Rodgers and the offense can play well enough to cover up those flaws, Green Bay will remain a relative underdog to win it all.
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