Recent title runs by Wild Card Weekend winners like the Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants and Green Bay Packers have generated a perception that the top seeds always fall flat come playoff time. However, it's only been four years since both the AFC and NFC No. 1 seeds played for the Lombardi Trophy.
In 2014, the odds are once again in favor of the NFL's alpha dogs.
With the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks combining to lose just two games on their home field this past regular season, you'd be wise to prepare for a Broncos-Seahawks Super Bowl clash this February.
With the NFL Divisional playoffs on the horizon, I'll project how each conference will be won this January.
Peyton Manning, Broncos Will Avenge AFC Rivals
While defense reigns in the NFC, the AFC is all about prolific offenses.
When you look at the four remaining teams in the conference, none ranked better than 19th in total defense during the regular season. However, three of the teams ranked inside the top seven in total offense.
Though, among these four teams, Denver was the only one to rack up more than 7,000 total yards in 2013. The Broncos were also the only team to score at least 500 points. They finished with an NFL-record 606.
Therefore, you've got to love Denver's chances in the next two rounds.
The Broncos will host a dangerous Chargers team in the AFC Divisional round on Jan. 12, but are 9.5-point favorites thanks to their prolific passing attack, led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.
If No. 18 can avoid untimely turnovers and keep San Diego's offense sidelined, Denver will have a phenomenal shot at advancing to the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 19.
Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway and his team clearly understand that controlling possession will be key to winning in the postseason, per DenverBroncos.com's Mike Morris:
Well, I think [San Diego] controlled the football and they didn’t turn it over. That is the key thing in playoff football – if you can control it.
They controlled the football and Cincinnati turned the ball over. San Diego got that lead, the weather got bad and they didn’t make any mistakes. And that is what they did against us last time. They controlled the football against us last time. And I will say this, we did not play our best football game of the year.
In the AFC title game, the Broncos would host the winner of Colts-Patriots, two well-rounded teams who are missing key weapons on offense. For Indianapolis, the loss of Reggie Wayne is massive. Meanwhile, the Patriots are without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
With both the Colts and Patriots' defenses ranking toward the middle or bottom of the pack, depending on what category you're looking at, the Broncos would have the clear-cut edge over either in a potential AFC Championship Game matchup.
Therefore, watch for Manning to lead the Broncos to their first Super Bowl appearance in 15 years this winter.
Homebody Seahawks Will Soar in Seattle
The road to Super Bowl XLVIII in the NFC goes through the loudest stadium in football, and that doesn't bode well for the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints or San Francisco 49ers, per SI.com's Doug Farrar:
...the road to the Super Bowl goes through Seattle this season, and the last time that happened (the 2005 season), the Seahawks made it to Super Bowl XL, where they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. They’re going to be favorites no matter who they face this postseason, starting in the divisional round with a New Orleans team they crushed 34-7 on Dec. 1.
In addition to their NFL-best 13-3 regular-season record, the Seahawks' top-ranked defense makes them the team to beat this January. You've got to like Seattle's chances at home against New Orleans in the NFC Divisional round on Jan. 11.
Which team has the best shot to win in Seattle?
After all, the Seahawks thrashed the Saints 34-7 at CenturyLink Field in Week 13, holding New Orleans to 188 total yards in the process. When you add in the fact that the Saints hadn't won a road playoff game before Jan. 4's NFC Wild Card victory at Philadelphia, it's easy to like Seattle's chances.
A second win over New Orleans would earn Seattle another home game in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 19. The Seahawks would host the winner of 49ers-Panthers, two teams they've already beaten this season. While both would challenge Seattle in different ways, the inexperienced Panthers appear to be the more favorable matchup.
On the other hand, the Seahawks crushed the Niners 29-3 in the Emerald City back in Week 2.
Either way, it's almost impossible to imagine a team picking up a win in noisy Seattle with so much at stake.
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