The NFL playoffs are underway in the Wild Card Round, while the perceived best teams watch from home and await their opposition.
Those teams fortunate to sit out the opening weekend of the postseason were able to amass the best records in the regular season, but not all can be described as the most dangerous teams in the playoffs.
No, that title goes to teams not in possession of No. 1 seeds. Jeremy Meyer of The Denver Post and ESPN explains why:
With that in mind, here is a look at the full playoff schedule with a team to keep a close eye on from each conference.
|2014 NFL Playoff Schedule|
|Round||Date (Time)||Visitor (Seed)||Home (Seed)||Broadcast/Stream Info|
|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|
NFC: Carolina Panthers
It is borderline unbelievable how lost in the shuffle the Carolina Panthers have become despite owning the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
When one consumes media or talks about the NFC, the story usually shifts to how great the Seattle Seahawks are at home or how sexy and surprising Chip Kelly's offense is for the Philadelphia Eagles. That, or the topic is how the New Orleans Saints struggle on the road or how the Green Bay Packers are set to make a run with Aaron Rodgers back.
It doesn't seem that many converse about the NFC South champs.
Maybe it is because the Panthers are boring. After all, quarterback Cam Newton leads an offense that ranks No. 11 in the NFL with an average of 126.6 rushing yards per game. They also tout the NFL's No. 2 scoring defense, surrendering an average of 15.1 points per game.
The Panthers are inexperienced when it comes to the playoffs—21 players on the 53-man roster have postseason experience. But defensive tackle Dwan Edwards says that the youth on the roster is listening to what those with experience have to say, per the Panthers' official site:
We've got a great group of young guys that are hungry and are listening to the older guys telling them how great it is. The outside distractions become more present when you're the only people playing—ticket requests and phone calls—and obviously the intensity will be up a little bit playing for a championship. But other than that, it's going to be business as usual.
It is hard to find a team more dangerous than Carolina. Not only can Luke Kuechly and the defense shut down any offense (the Panthers held the Seahawks to 12 points in Week 1 and the Saints to 13 in Week 16), but Carolina can also pound away on the ground to control the pace of the game.
In other words, the Panthers have found a championship formula.
AFC: Cincinnati Bengals
Making their third straight playoff appearance, the Cincinnati Bengals have come full circle as one of the NFL's most balanced teams.
Cincinnati can hurt the opposition through the air with quarterback Andy Dalton, who leads the NFL's No. 8 passing attack.
When the oft-erratic TCU product struggles, the Bengals can win anyway, as noted by the team's Week 17 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, in which Dalton threw four picks and the team won by a 34-17 margin.
Dalton has plenty of weapons, but perhaps none support him better than running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard. Green-Ellis is a veteran who handles the dirty work between the tackles, while Bernard is a versatile rookie capable of breaking games open—on the ground and through the air.
The above goes without mentioning coordinator Mike Zimmer's elite defense. Despite missing names such as Geno Atkins and Leon Hall, the unit ranks as the league's No. 5 scoring defense, with an average of 19.1 points allowed.
There are no fancy stories coming out of the Queen City. The Bengals play smart, balanced football and have the look of a certain AFC North franchise that got hot a year ago to win it all.