The 2013 NFL regular season has concluded, meaning it is now time to focus on the complete playoff picture and the 12 franchises that are still in contention to win the Super Bowl.
The path to that championship varies from team to team, but most are going to fight an uphill battle to the big game in New Jersey. It projects to be a tough journey but definitely a doable one—as evidenced by last year’s miraculous Baltimore Ravens squad.
Let’s take a look at the complete schedule for the 2014 NFL postseason, take a look at the odds for each club that made it this far, plus make a few predictions on how the playoffs will shake out.
|2014 NFL Playoff Bracket and Schedule|
|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|
|2014 NFL Super Bowl Odds|
|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|
Predicted AFC Winner: New England Patriots
The Pats certainly have their flaws, but they have shown the ability to win games against the toughest opponents on numerous occasions. This squad has overcome a storm of roster upheaval, injuries and other ailments to grit out a 12-4 record in 2013.
Quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick are the winningest tandem since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 and have combined for five Super Bowl appearances, winning three. They could push that to six appearances and four wins by winning a mere three games this winter.
Not many would have predicted that this squad would finish a single game behind the record-setting Denver Broncos and secure a bye in the tough AFC, but New England found a way to get it done.
Brady has been without his five best receivers from the 2012 campaign, a group that included Pro Bowlers in Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, plus Brandon Lloyd and Danny Woodhead.
However, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen have stepped up in a big way. Brady may not be putting up his standard, eye-popping statistics, but he’s done enough to get the job done and been huge in the final minutes of close games.
He’s needed to because the sheer amount injuries and the lack of elite stars on the roster have resulted in a myriad of close games for the Pats.
Brady himself admitted that the team’s margin for error is slim after he failed to throw for a touchdown in the final moments of the team’s Week 15 loss to the Miami Dolphins, via ESPN Boston:
"Our margin of error is very slim. We can't make any mistakes or give them any opportunities. If we have plays that are there to be made, then I've got to throw it and hit it. We've got to come up with them.
We're not winning by 30 points. Every game comes down to the end. We've just got to do a better job when we have opportunities as a team in all three phases to make plays to help us secure wins."
As long as the future Hall of Famer remains poised and hits his throws—and the team uses the bye week to rest its bumps and aches—it is hard to see this tough Patriots team faltering before the Super Bowl.
Predicted NFC Winner: Seattle Seahawks
Seattle bullied its way to 13 wins and home-field advantage in the NFC, an excellent season that is almost certain to result in a Super Bowl appearance for this tenacious squad.
The Seahawks are built for the playoffs and should have no issues steamrolling the competition this winter. They boast the league’s best defense (in terms of yards conceded to the opposition) and the No. 4-ranked rushing game in the NFL.
CenturyLink Field has been a safe haven for the squad, as it lost just a single game in its confines during the 2013 campaign.
While some may see the team’s 2-2 record over its final four games as a sign of decline, others will argue that this group needed to be humbled in order to become a true contender.
The rushing defense certainly stepped up over the last few games, conceding a mere 38 yards on the ground combined against the San Francisco 49ers, New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams.
If the rest of the defense can rise to the occasion and limit the competition, there isn’t a team in the NFL that Seattle cannot beat—especially with the weather turning colder.
The ‘Hawks are built for the cold, snowy, miserable conditions that playoff football is often decided in. They will use Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson to move the chains regardless of the elements, while the defense mounts stop after stop aided by the harsh climates.
Considering the Super Bowl will be played outdoors in New Jersey in February, there is a good chance this is what makes the difference between a championship and a runner-up finish.
It’s going to be a good battle, but Seattle has what it takes to take on and obliterate any of the possible opponents it could face in the 2014 postseason.