NFL Playoff Bracket 2014: Full Guide to the Divisional Round

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IJanuary 5, 2015

NFL Playoff Bracket 2014: Full Guide to the Divisional Round

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    It's official. The Patriots and Ravens renew acquaintances in the playoffs for the third time in four years.
    It's official. The Patriots and Ravens renew acquaintances in the playoffs for the third time in four years.Elsa/Getty Images

    It’s annually been called the best weekend of the NFL season.

    The Divisional Round has given us some amazing memories. From the “Immaculate Reception” to the “Hail Mary.” From the “Ghost to the Post” to the “Sea of Hands.” Those classics from the 1970s are ingrained in many of our memories.

    We are down to the final eight teams that have a chance of reaching Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale. Here, we will get you ready for Saturday’s and Sunday’s games, minus the wings, pizza and beverages.

    From predictions and scenarios to a few interesting statistics, we will prep you for what is an always interesting slate of contests.

    Keep in mind that win-loss records in the ensuing playoff matchups do include last week’s results.

AFC Divisional Round

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    (6) Baltimore Ravens (11-6) at (1) New England Patriots (12-4)

    Saturday, Jan. 10

    4:35 p.m. ET (NBC)

    This marks the fourth time in six years that these clubs will clash in the playoffs, and all three previous meetings were in Foxborough as well. Funny thing is that the Ravens have never beaten the Patriots on the road in the regular season (0-4) but are 2-1 at New England in the playoffs. Hence, the intimidation factor is non-existent.

    In his last nine playoff games, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown 20 touchdown passes compared to only two interceptions. But this is a different Patriots team from recent years and may have its best defense in a decade.

    Prediction: New England 23, Baltimore 21

    (4) Indianapolis Colts (12-5) at (2) Denver Broncos (12-4)

    Sunday, Jan. 11

    4:40 p.m. ET (CBS)

    Back in Week 1 in the Mile High City, the Broncos held off a late rally by the Colts and prevailed, 31-24. A lot has been made of Denver’s recent struggles on offense and whether quarterback Peyton Manning is on his last arm.

    While he avoided mistakes in Sunday’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck—who threw a league-high 40 touchdown passes in 2014—did commit 22 turnovers during the regular season. He may be due for a few more with DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller in his face.

    Prediction: Denver 29, Indianapolis 17

NFC Divisional Round

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    (4) Carolina Panthers (8-8-1) at (1) Seattle Seahawks (12-4)

    Saturday, Jan. 10

    8:15 p.m. ET (Fox)

    This marks the second time this season these two clubs will face off. Back in Week 8 at Carolina, Seattle rallied for a 13-9 victory.

    It has been an interesting series as of late between these teams. Along with this year’s contest, the Seahawks have made three trips to Carolina, dating back to 2012, and won all three times (16-12, 12-7 and 13-9) as the teams combined for a mere 69 points in those games.

    Look for more of the same recent history, just in a different venue.

    Prediction: Seattle 19, Carolina 10

    (3) Dallas Cowboys (13-4) at (2) Green Bay Packers (12-4)

    Sunday, Jan. 11

    1:05 p.m. ET (Fox)

    Talk about the irresistible road against the immovable home?

    The Cowboys are a perfect 8-0 away from Dallas this season and have actually won nine straight road games, dating back to 2013. The Packers have been perfect at Lambeau Field (8-0), scoring at least 30 points in seven of those victories.

    Still, the Packers’ run defense remains worrisome (23rd in the NFL in 2014), and that shortcoming figures to cost them in the end.

    Prediction: Dallas 30, Green Bay 28

AFC Championship Scenarios

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The New England Patriots own home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, so a win over the Baltimore Ravens ensures they will host the Denver Broncos or the Indianapolis Colts in the conference title game.

    A Baltimore upset at Foxborough on Saturday means the Broncos or Colts will host the AFC Championship Game next Sunday. Being the sixth seed, the Ravens cannot host the AFC title contest.

    For New England, Denver and Indianapolis, being the home team for the conference-championship tilt is certainly old hat as of late.

    Since 2005, the Patriots (2007, 2011, 2012), Broncos (2005 and 2013) and Colts (2006 and 2009) have hosted the AFC title game a combined seven times in the previous nine years, and one of these teams will make it eight times in 10 seasons.

    It’s also worth noting that since 2000, the AFC has been represented in the Super Bowl by only six franchises in those 14 seasons: the Patriots (five), Pittsburgh Steelers (three), Colts (two), Ravens (two), Broncos (one) and Oakland Raiders (one).

NFC Championship Scenarios

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    USA TODAY Sports

    In the first round of the 2014 playoffs, home teams held serve in the NFC, which means the top four seeds in the conference advanced to the divisional round.

    The Seattle Seahawks are the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Hence, a victory over the Carolina Panthers means they will host either the Dallas Cowboys or Green Bay Packers in the conference championship game. The Seahawks would become the first NFC team to host the conference title game in consecutive years since the Philadelphia Eagles did it three straight times from 2002-04.

    If the Panthers are able to pull off the upset, the team would travel to either Green Bay or Dallas. The Packers last hosted the NFC title game in 2007, a 23-20 overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl-champion New York Giants.

    Meanwhile, the last time the Cowboys played host to the NFC Championship contest was back in 1995, a win over the Packers which propelled them to their last Super Bowl appearance.

    Since 2000, the NFC has sent 11 different teams to the Super Bowl in 14 years, with the Giants (three) and Seahawks (two) the only two franchises to make multiple appearances. The Cowboys seek to become the 12th different club in the last 15 years to represent the conference in the Big Game.

Matchups to Watch

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    AFC Divisional Playoffs

    Ravens ROLB Elvis Dumervil vs. Patriots LT Nate Solder

    A second season in Baltimore proved to be a big one for Dumervil, who ranked third in the NFL with 17 sacks. Prior to last Saturday's game at Pittsburgh, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger said of the Ravens pass rushers (via Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun), "They are some of the best in the NFL,"

    Dumervil dropped Roethlisberger twice in the Ravens’ 30-17 win.

    Solder got off to a rough start in 2014, as did the New England offensive line, but both have settled in this season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The Patriots allowed just 26 sacks, with Solder giving up six of those traps. But after allowing two sacks in the Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the four-year pro gave up only four sacks in his final 15 appearances.

    Colts CB Vontae Davis vs. Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas

    The one-time Miami Dolphins defender has enjoyed a solid season and was named to his first Pro Bowl this season. Davis totaled four interceptions in 2014 and amassed a team-high 19 passes defensed.

    Only Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (129) totaled more receptions this season than Thomas (111), who also ranked second in the NFL with 1,619 receiving yards.

    The Broncos wideout also totaled at least 100 receiving yards in 10 games in 2014, including three straight such performances entering this contest.

    NFC Divisional Playoffs

    Panthers LT Byron Bell vs. Seahawks RDE Cliff Avril

    The Seahawks’ sack production dropped off a bit in 2014, but this defense has cranked it up as of late. After totaling just 13 sacks during the team’s 6-4 start, Seattle defenders have racked up two dozen sacks in their last six games—three or more sacks in each contest.

    While defensive end Michael Bennett actually led the club with seven sacks and Avril ranked fourth with just five quarterback traps, Pro Football Focus tells us that the latter was responsible for 46 pressures.

    It would not be a shock to see Bell rung up for a few sacks on Saturday.

    Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray vs. Packers MLB Clay Matthews

    The NFL’s leading rusher was kept under wraps by the NFL’s top-ranked run defense on Sunday.

    But it could be a much different story at Lambeau Field against a Green Bay defensive unit that ranked 23rd in the league in rushing defense this season.

    Matthews, who led the Packers with 11 sacks, was moved from outside to the inside during the season. He and fellow inside linebacker A.J. Hawk will be seeing plenty of Murray, who totaled a dozen 100-yard rushing games in 2014 (tied for the second-most in a season in NFL history).

Notable Statistics

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    All four of the weekend’s playoff matchups feature teams that have squared off in the postseason against each other in the past, certainly not uncommon.

    • This will mark the seventh playoff encounter between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, with the Cowboys owning a 4-2 advantage.
    • The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots will battle in the postseason for the fourth time (Ravens, 2-1), all of that coming since 2009.
    • The Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos clashed in both the 2003 and 2004 Wild Card playoffs, with the Colts winning both games.
    • Finally, the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Carolina Panthers, 34-14, in the 2005 NFC title game in the only previous playoff meeting between the teams.

    Of the eight franchises remaining in the 2014 NFL playoffs, the Carolina Panthers are the only team that is without a Super Bowl title.

    • The Cowboys (five), Packers (four), Patriots (three), Ravens (two), Broncos (two), Colts (two) and Seahawks (one) have combined for 19 Lombardi trophies. The Panthers are one of 13 current NFL teams without a Super Bowl victory.
    • By the way, the Packers are in search of a 14th NFL Championship (extending their own record), while the Colts seek a fifth league title (three of those coming while the franchise resided in Baltimore). All of the other aforementioned league championships by the other five teams have all come during the Super Bowl era.

    Under the current 12-team postseason format, home-field advantage has meant more in the divisional playoffs than any other round.

    • Home teams are 70-26 in the divisional round, dating back to 1990, a healthy .729 winning percentage.
    • Over that span, all four home teams won on the same weekend six times, but that hasn’t happened since 2004. The only time the host clubs posted a losing record in this round was 2008 (1-3).

    No franchise has won more road playoff games in NFL history than the Baltimore Ravens.

    • Last Saturday’s 30-17 victory at Pittsburgh raised the franchise’s record to 10-4 on the road in the postseason.
    • Of course, two of those victories have come at Foxborough at the expense of the New England Patriots: a 33-14 win in the 2009 Wild Card Round and a 28-13 triumph in the 2012 AFC Championship Game.

    The Seattle Seahawks are attempting to become the first team since the 2003 and ’04 New England Patriots to make consecutive trips to the Super Bowl.

    • But first things first, and that’s a playoff win.
    • The last time a defending Super Bowl champion won a postseason game was 2005, when the Patriots defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars, 28-3, in the AFC Wild Card Round.