Super Bowl 2014: Projecting Teams Most Likely to Clash in Championship

Jesse Reed@@JesseReed78Correspondent IJanuary 5, 2014

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 29:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos congratulates Eric Decker #87 after he threw him a pass for his first touchdown pass of their game against the Oakland Raiders at Coliseum on December 29, 2013 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

On paper, some NFL playoff teams are simply better equipped than others to reach the Super Bowl in 2014. 

Once the action commences, you can throw that paper away, because anything can—and usually does—happen once players start hitting one another on the gridiron. 

That said, there are a few teams that have the best shot at making it to the big game. 

Here's a few of the most likely matchups for Super Bowl XLVIII in East Rutherford, N.J.


Easy Pick: Seattle Seahawks vs. Denver Broncos

Dec 29, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) runs with the ball against the St. Louis Rams during the third quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

This doesn't happen every year, but the two teams most experts picked to be the top two teams in the league actually were in 2013. Seattle and Denver both finished with NFL-best records of 13-3, securing top seeds and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. 

Not surprisingly, these teams are the heavy betting favorites to reach the big game, too, with Seattle being given 13-5 odds and Denver at 11-4, according to Bovada prior to Saturday's Wild Card matchups. 

The two teams offer a contrast in styles. The Seahawks feature one of the league's best defenses and a balanced offensive attack, while the Broncos will live and die this postseason based on how well Peyton Manning and his offense performs.

It will be shocking if the Seahawks lose at home this postseason. Arizona pulled off the rare feat in Week 16, but that victory broke a 14-game home winning streak. As Bleacher Report's Tyson Langland put it:

There has never been a more exciting time to be a ‘Hawks fan. With a successful regular season in the books and home-field advantage all throughout the playoffs, Seattle’s time to bring home its first Vince Lombardi Trophy is now.

Over on the AFC side, there isn't a clear-cut dominant team, as every contender features what could be a fatal flaw on the roster.

That said, it's hard to bet against Manning after the record-breaking season he's had. He passed for more yardage (5,477) and touchdowns (55) in 2013 than any other quarterback in the history of the league. 

If Denver's defense can hold opponents to 25 points per game (seasonal average), then the Broncos should win out. 


Intriguing Second Option: San Francisco 49ers vs. New England Patriots

Dec 29, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) signals his teammates at the line of scrimmage during the second quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Should Denver and Seattle fall by the wayside during the 2014 NFL playoffs, then the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots would be the second-most-likely scenario.

As Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times points out, it wouldn't be shocking if the top seeds didn't advance:

Oddsmakers have San Francisco at 8-1 to reach the game and New England at 9-1.

The 49ers will be on the road throughout the playoffs as the No. 5 seed in the NFC unless both San Francisco and New Orleans advance to the NFC Championship Game.

While winning road games is never easy, Jim Harbaugh's team is accustomed to doing so, going 6-2 in 2013, and this roster is built to win anywhere, any time against any opponent, as Warren Sapp alluded to on NFL Network's Total Access:

San Francisco's offense has heated up since Michael Crabtree returned from his Achilles tendon injury. The team's defense is perennially one of the league's best and finished the regular season with top-seven rankings against the run, the pass and as a scoring defense. 

On the other side, New England proved once again that it can win under any circumstances, going 12-4 despite losing key starters on both sides of the ball.

Peter King of's MMQB points out how close this team was to being the top seed in the AFC:

Think of the agonizing four losses the Patriots have had in this four-loss season…13-6 in a torrential downpour in Cincinnati, 30-27 with that push-the-pile penalty against the Jets, 24-20 on the wrongly picked-up flag in the end zone in Carolina, 24-20 with four shots into the end zone to win in Miami. Amazing how close this team came to the best record in football with the mayhem it dealt with at the skill positions all year.

With Tom Brady behind center and Bill Belichick dialing up plays on defense, this team remains a viable threat to win another Super Bowl. 


Dark Horse: Carolina Panthers vs. Indianapolis Colts

Jan 4, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) celebrates on the field after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs 45-44 to win the 2013 AFC wild card playoff football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Web
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers are being given 11-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, while Indianapolis is a long shot to win at 16-1.

The Colts have a chance to win every game with Andrew Luck, though, whose legend continued to swell in the Wild Card Round. 

After Indianapolis came back to win over Kansas City on Jan. 4, coming from 28 points behind to win the game by one point, 45-44, Robert Mathis gushed over Luck's performance, via Don Banks of "He has the stuff that makes legends. That was a legendary performance he put on today. We jump on his back and he just leads us to wherever we need to go."

Indianapolis must get better on the defensive side of the ball, however, if this team wants a chance to make it to the Super Bowl. Kansas City totaled 513 yards, 30 first downs and 44 points—despite the fact that Jamaal Charles was out most of the game with a concussion. 

Carolina, meanwhile, is built much like Seattle and San Francisco.

With a dominant defense leading the way (No. 2 in the league in points allowed and run defense; No. 6 against the pass), the Panthers will look to dominate the clock with their running game. That said, Cam Newton has evolved positively in his third year as a passer, and he's making better decisions all around.

Newton isn't lacking confidence in his team's ability to win, either, as pointed out by the team's Twitter account:

After starting out with a record of 1-3, Carolina went 11-1 to close out the regular season. Newton may be onto something. A few more games of the Panthers playing their best will likely result in a Super Bowl appearance this upcoming February. 


Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 


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