Only eight teams remain in contention for the Lombardi Trophy in 2014 after a thrilling Wild Card Weekend, and the playoff schedule is loaded with compelling matchups heading into the divisional round.
The Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers all lost their respective wild-card contests, sending the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers into the next round.
These four teams will now attempt to knock off the top two seeds from both conferences.
Here's a look at the television schedule for all the upcoming action, followed by a closer look at this weekend's divisional round:
|DIVISIONAL ROUND||DATE||TIME (ET)||TV|
|New Orleans vs. Seattle||Jan. 11||4:35 p.m.||Fox|
|Indianapolis vs. New England||Jan. 11||8:15 p.m.||CBS|
|San Francisco vs. Carolina||Jan. 12||1:05 p.m.||Fox|
|San Diego vs. Denver||Jan. 12||4:40 p.m.||CBS|
|CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND||DATE||TIME (ET)||TV|
|AFC vs. AFC||Jan. 19||3 p.m.||CBS|
|NFC vs. NFC||Jan. 19||6:30 p.m.||Fox|
|SUPER BOWL XLVIII||DATE||TIME (ET)||TV|
|NFC vs. AFC||Feb. 2||6:30 p.m.||Fox|
New Orleans at Seattle
Starting the weekend off, New Orleans will be in Seattle just six weeks after the Seahawks crushed the Saints, 34-7, back in Week 13. Drew Brees had his least productive game of the 2013 season, passing for just 147 yards on 38 attempts and throwing one touchdown.
Seattle has been resting up for the big game after earning a bye, and a healthy Seahawks team—at home, no less—could turn this game into a one-sided affair in quick order.
"Obviously, we did not play our best football that night," said Brees, via Tim Lewis of KomoNews.com. "We got beat pretty soundly by those guys. ... They're a great football team. We're going to need our best effort to beat these guys. If there's a team that can do it, I believe it's us."
After the Saints finally got off the schneid with a road win in Philly (previously hadn't won on the road in the playoffs in franchise history), it's possible Brees and Co. could win, but it's not likely.
Indianapolis at New England
The Colts came away with one of the most thrilling come-from-behind wins in playoff history when they beat Kansas City by a score of 45-44. Andrew Luck found a way to bring his team from 28 points behind to win by a single point.
It was brilliant.
However, if Indy allows New England to score 44 points, then the Colts will not advance into the championship round. The Patriots feature the league's 10th-ranked scoring defense, allowing 21.1 points per game.
The real battle everyone wants to watch, however, is the one that's likely to ensue between the two star quarterbacks playing in this one. Andrew Luck is the newest "elite" quarterback in the league, while Tom Brady is one of the most legendary signal-callers in the history of the NFL.
The quarterback who takes care of the football is likely to come away victorious.
San Francisco at Carolina
That's the best way to describe what you should expect this game to be about.
Carolina beat San Francisco at Candlestick Park back in Week 10, 10-9, in a game that was highlighted by punishing defense from both teams.
Nobody should expect such a low-scoring contest in this upcoming battle, however. Both teams have improved on offense since that point—especially San Francisco, thanks to the return of receiver Michael Crabtree.
Bleacher Report's Michael Schottey believes San Francisco's playmakers are superior to Carolina's: "This season, Newton has been the better player, but Kaepernick has the better surrounding cast, with healthy wide receiver Michael Crabtree and a matchup nightmare in tight end Vernon Davis."
Likely, given the dominant defenses both franchises present, this game will boil down to one or two humongous plays that will determine the outcome.
San Diego at Denver
San Diego is red hot right now, and after the Chargers split the season series with the Broncos 1-1, it's no guarantee Denver will advance into the AFC Championship Game.
Peter King of SI.com's MMQB pointed out this alarming stat: "If you’re a Broncos fan, this should concern you: In eight 2013 quarters, the composite score was Broncos 48, Chargers 47."
The Chargers have discovered a punishing running game at the end of the season, averaging 176.5 rushing yards per game in their last five—including 196 yards on the ground against Cincinnati in the Wild Card Round.
If Denver's defense allows San Diego's running backs to run wild, then the Chargers could easily pull off a second straight stunner at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
However, Peyton Manning and his offensive attack will have something to say about the outcome.
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