Catch the NFC Scenarios here.
No. 6 seed: Baltimore Ravens
With Ed Reed in and out of the lineup, the concern has been that the Ravens' defense has been suffering. In reality, the Ravens' defense is still a solid unit, allowing 17 points of less in eight of their last 10 games.
The concern with the Ravens is more focused on the offense. The Ravens looked to be a complete team at the start of their season, scoring more than 30 points in their first three games. That's the same number of times they've hit 30 or more since Nov. 1. The Ravens feature a solid rushing attack, but Joe Flacco is limited in his options in the passing game.
Worst Case Scenario: The Ravens lost a game at New England earlier in the season when the Ravens' passing attack failed to pick up a key fourth down. The Patriots focus on stopping the run, and Flacco struggles to move the ball. The Welker-less Patriots muster enough options to send the Ravens home with a disappointing loss.
Best Case Scenario: The Ravens don't get far in the playoffs, but they get the satisfaction of avenging their Patriots loss and giving Bill Belichick and Tom Brady their first ever defeat in an opening playoff game. They bow out to the Colts in the divisional round but not without a fight.
No. 5 seed: New York Jets
The just-happy-to-be-here Jets may have gotten into the playoffs due to the Colts and Bengals playing out the string, but the Jets contain two parts of the formula for playoff success: the Jets are one the league's best when it comes to their imposing rushing attack and they possess a solid defense.
Regardless of how the Bengals took their season finale, the Jets got a confidence boost in their 37-0 mauling of the Bengals. The main question mark this team has is how rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez will handle the pressure of a playoff game.
Worst Case Scenario: An emotional Bengals team comes out with a purpose in stopping the Jets rushing attack. The game falls into the hands of Sanchez and he makes several rookie mistakes. After last week, the Bengals return the favor by blowing out the Jets.
Best Case Scenario: The two teams that may have gifted the Jets a playoff spot become the Jets' victims again when the stakes are higher. The Jets repeat their beating of the Bengals before stunning the Colts at home. The journey ends in San Diego, but Rex Ryan has a lot of momentum to challenge for the AFC East Division in 2010.
No. 4 seed: Cincinnati Bengals
For only the second time since 1990, the Bengals are in the playoffs. After starting the season an impressive 9-3, Cincinnati managed just one win in their last four games, and that was a late win over the lowly Chiefs. Are the Bengals still the same team that roared through the AFC North with a 6-0 record, or the one that was blown out by the Jets in the season finale?
Unlike the 2005 high flying team, the 2009 Bengals have built their success around a strong running game and a stout defense. Recent injuries to the defense suggest that Carson Palmer and the passing game may be needed to advance in the playoffs.
Worst Case Scenario: Darelle Revis shuts down Chad Ochocinco, limiting Palmer's options in the passing game. The wear and tear on Cedric Benson shows as he's unable to carry to load. On the other hand, the Jets' rushing attack shows no wear and tear as it rolls over the injury-depleted Bengals' defense.
Best Case Scenario: The Bengals have a little left in the tank and they shut down the Jets, giving the home faithful a much needed playoff win. While the Bengals squad can't muster enough to upset the Colts, the franchise considers the season a success.
No. 3 seed: New England Patriots
The Patriots may have been one of the more dangerous teams to not earn a bye in the playoffs. That was until Wes Welker was injured and Brady lost his number one receiver.
Now the Patriots have to worry about who's going to catch the ball if Randy Moss gets double-covered. Still, it's hard to rule out a Brady-led team that is coached by Bill Belichick.
Worst Case Scenario: Brady can't find anyone to take Welker's place. The Ravens abuse Moss and Ray Rice runs all over the the Patriots defense. The league's most successful team of the last decade begins the new one with an embarrassing home playoff loss.
Best Case Scenario: Channeling the magic of the 2001 team, the underdog Patriots make an improbable run to the Super Bowl. After dispatching the Ravens, Bill Belichick finds a way to harass Philip Rivers. Without a running game, the heavily-favored Chargers watch the Patriots beat them at home again (as they did in 2006). The Patriots don't need a fourth down conversion to beat the Colts. In Miami, the Patriots ruin the storybook ending of Favre's Vikings and claim their fourth Super Bowl title.
No. 2 seed: San Diego Chargers
After a 2-3 start, the Chargers are on a league-high 11-game winning streak. They may be the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Philip Rivers has had a career year in leading a Charger offense that has six games of scoring 30 or more points.
While the defense isn't as strong as it's been in the past, it's still a talented unit that's full of speed. If the Chargers have a true weakness, it's the rushing attack. San Diego is next-to-last in the league in rushing.
Worst Case Scenario: In 2006, the Chargers were the odds-on favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Instead, they were one-and-done in the playoffs, with a loss to the Patriots. History repeats itself as the Chargers get beat by New England. Norv Turner gets back on the hot seat, as many wonder if he'll ever be able to reach the Super Bowl with so much talent.
Best Case Scenario: The Chargers easily handle the undermanned Patriots and with the Colts upset, the Chargers get to host the AFC Championship game. The Chargers beat the Bengals for the second time in a month and go to Miami on a wave of confidence. There, Rivers outplays Brees and becomes the third quarterback from the class of 2004 to hoist the Lombardi trophy.
No. 1 seed: Indianapolis Colts
You may have heard about the controversy surrounding the Colts recently. The Colts started the season 14-0 and inspired a lot of talk about going for a perfect season, but the Colts' management had other ideas. The starters were pulled against the Jets and since then Colts fans have been seething about the decision to rest key players (and secretly concerned that they are one Peyton Manning injury away from seeing a Curtis Painter-led team).
But in reality, a Manning-led Colts team has yet to lose. The Colts have had many close calls, but Manning has been his best when the pressure is on. The Colts may have issues, primarily their league-worst rushing attack, but the Colts started 14-0 for a reason.
Worst Case Scenario: The Colts start the game flat and can't muster a comeback as the Bengals use their ground game to play keep-away from Manning. For the third straight year, the Colts' playoff run ends as soon as it begins. Just weeks away from wondering if they can go 16-0 and win the Super Bowl, the Colts are left with nothing but disappointment.
Best Case Scenario: Colts beat the Bengals easily and prepare to host the surging Chargers. Manning outplays Rivers as the Colts regain the look they had through much of the season. In the Super Bowl, the league ends up getting the dream matchup, Colts vs. Saints.
Manning and Brees put on a show, with Manning getting the ball and a chance to win with just minutes remaining. For the seventh time this year, Manning leads the Colts to a come from behind victory and wins his second Super Bowl MVP award.
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