As is typically the case, the Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs was rife with a number of upsets—at least as far as the seeding was concerned.
There is usually a weak link or two among the conference champs, and with both the Houston Texans and Washington Redskins barely over .500 on the regular season, it comes as little surprise that the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers moved on to the next round.
The Steelers' beating the Cincinnati Bengals wasn’t shocking, as long as you had a cursory knowledge of the rivalry and the home team’s ill fortune when it comes to the NFL playoffs, while the Seattle Seahawks' winning in the playoffs can’t exactly be considered an upset.
But with the league’s top seeds ready to take the field this weekend for the first time this postseason, the lower seeds are in much more precarious positions than they were the week before. This is the real meat of the playoffs, and things are going to get much more intense moving forward.
With the divisional round of the playoffs approaching, let’s take a look at how the bracket sits right now and predict what is going to happen for the remainder of the postseason.
Predicting the rest of the playoffs
Week 1 of the playoffs was defined by the victories of the road teams and the chaos that came with that, but it is hard to predict such fortunes being repeated during Week 2.
On the AFC side of things, the Steelers were once considered the most dangerous team to face in the playoffs, but after a few lackluster performances—Saturday’s win against the Bengals included—and injuries limiting both Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger, it is hard to imagine Pittsburgh can score enough points to beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Mile High Stadium will be the difference, as Denver will march on.
The NFL’s hottest team, the Kansas City Chiefs, continued to take the league by storm with a huge win against the Texans and look like the most dangerous squad coming out of Wild Card Weekend. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Houston isn’t quite up to the level of the New England Patriots. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will prove too much for Kansas City, and the Patriots will move on to the AFC title.
Arizona is only a couple of weeks removed from stomping the Green Bay Packers at home, a scenario that could very well play out once again this weekend. Even if Aaron Rodgers looked back to his normal self against Washington, the Cardinals are too good on both sides of the ball and should win comfortably.
Finally, in perhaps the juiciest matchup of the divisional rounds, Seattle travels to Charlotte to take on the league’s best team, the Carolina Panthers. The Seahawks have been one of the more dominant franchises in recent memory in the NFL, but this season has been all about Carolina and Cam Newton.
This game could come down to the wire, but in the end the Panthers' good fortune will continue, and they will make it to the NFC Championship Game.
The two best team’s from each conference will get through to their respective championship games, setting up a pair of epic clashes that should have fans across the country salivating.
On one side of the bracket, you'd have Tom Brady against Peyton Manning, and on the other the teams with the two best records in the NFL.
It is hard to write a better script than that.
Starting in the AFC, all eyes might be on the matchup of the quarterbacks, but the real fun is going to be in figuring out how Brady takes on the Broncos defense. Denver had one of the best units in the league, and anything less than the veteran quarterback's best probably won’t be enough to pull off the upset.
But as we have seen time and again, Brady shows up when he gets a chance to beat Manning, and the conference title will likely be no different. New England will take down the Broncos in a low-scoring brawl, earning a chance to defend their title.
While Cam Newton vs. Carson Palmer isn’t exactly Brady-Manning in terms of historical significance, it does carry incredible weight this season and should be just as intriguing a game. Despite low expectations this year, Carolina has shocked the world, with Newton at the heart of it all. But it has yet to face Arizona.
The Cardinals have been equally impressive this season, finishing the regular season 13-3. With a balanced offensive attack led by Palmer, Chris Johnson and David Johnson and one of the best defenses in the league, Arizona should have enough to shock the No. 1 seed and advance to the Super Bowl.
This was the result we all had in our heads before the season started wasn’t it? Although it took some surprising twists and turns as the season went on, the Patriots' winning another Super Bowl was almost a foregone conclusion.
From the infamous Deflategate situation that started the year to the dominant regular-season performance in the face of so many injuries, New England has faced adversity repeatedly this year and ran head-first through it.
If Brady and Belichick manage to find their way back to the Super Bowl, there is little capable of stopping them from claiming yet another title. Arizona has had an outstanding season, but the Cardinals will find it almost impossible to take down a highly motivated Patriots team.
New England is one of the most divisive teams in the league today, but it is hard to argue with their success in the past decade-and-a-half. Adding one more title will likely solidify them as one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the NFL.