With Week 15 in the books and the playoffs just around the corner, we are bound to see a lot of movement in the seeding in the last two weeks. The AFC is loaded with bubble teams fighting for their playoff lives right now with the Steelers and Ravens occupying the wild card spots at 9-5. Right behing them are the Chiefs, Chargers and Bills at 8-6. Finally hanging by a thread are the Texans, Dolphins and Browns at 7-7. The Bengals currently only hold a half game lead over both the Steelers and Ravens and still have a game at Heinz Field in Week 17, most likely with the division on the line. Don’t count out the Ravens however, who Cincinnati swept, as they probably have the easiest schedule of all aforementioned teams. The Patriots, Broncos and Colts have all clinched their respective divisions, though we still don't know who will have homefield advantage.
In the NFC, the 49ers’ playoff hopes ended with a loss in Seattle. That leaves two wild card spots for three teams in the running: the Eagles, Packers and the defending champion Seahawks. Those same three teams however also all have a chance at the division crown. The Cowboys beat the Eagles on Sunday night and have the inside track to NFC East crown. If the Seahawks can travel to the desert and handle the depleted Cardinals, they’ll have the inside track to the NFC West crown, and if the Lions can go into Green Bay in Week 17 with the NFC North crown possibly on the line and win for the first time in 23 tries, then they would potentially win that division. Finally there’s the NFC South. What an absolute disaster of a division it is. The division is so bad it could make the 2010 NFC West look good! No but seriously, the team who wins the NFC South will not have a winning record as the Saints (6-8), Falcons (5-9) and Panthers (5-8-1) duke it out to win the division of mediocrity. Still, like in 2010 with the 7-9 Seahawks, the winning team will host a playoff game and could leave a 10-6 or 11-5 team out of the playoffs. We all know that led to Seattle’s improbable triumph over the heavily favoured Saints on the heels of THE career-defining moment in Beast Mode’s (Marshawn Lynch) career. That rule has to go and hopefully this offseason will bring that much-needed change.
As of right now, the AFC playoff picture would look like this:
1) New England Patriots – Bye, Homefield Advantage
2) Denver Broncos – BYE
3) Indianapolis Colts vs. 6) Baltimore Ravens
4) Cincinnati Bengals vs. 5) Pittsburgh Steelers
As for the NFC…
1) Arizona Cardinals – BYE, Homefield Advantage
2) Detroit Lions – BYE
3) Dallas Cowboys vs. 6) Green Bay Packers
4) New Orleans Saints vs. 5) Seattle Seahawks
Every year, NFL fans are treated to great playoff matchups that create some buzz. Here’s a top 10 list of playoff matchups we’d like to see:
10 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
These two teams do not like one another. They are used to each other, playing in the AFC North. The last time these two teams met in a playoff game was back in 2005 when the Bengals won the division behind Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Disaster struck early in the game for the Bengals as Palmer’s left knee was taken out from the side by Kimo von Oelhoffen on a play that saw the late Chris Henry haul in a beautifully thrown deep ball. That offseason, the NFL came up with the “Kimo Clause” which requires defenders to do everything to avoid hitting a quarterback at or below the knees. After Palmer's exit, Jon Kitna came in and the Bengals fell 31-17. The Steelers would go on to win the Super Bowl that year. Bengals fans have never forgotten this incident as they thought it was their year to go all the way. And who knows? They could have been right.
Ben Roethlisberger, known to play well in the clutch, would face off against Andy Dalton, Palmer’s successor, who’s been anything but clutch in crucial situations and games. In his three playoff games combined, he’s thrown one touchdown and six interceptions for an abysmal 56.2 QB Rating. If the Bengals manage to hold on to the division lead they have, this matchup could very well be a possibility in the Wild Card Round and could serve as one final chance for Dalton to show he could perform in big games. Speaking of bad playoff track records, Marvin Lewis is 0-5 in playoff games as Bengals head coach. How sweet would it be for him to get his first win against the team that handed him his first playoff loss? A good storyline if this game were to happen.
9 Seattle Seahawks vs. Arizona Cardinals
If this game were to be played in Seattle, the Cardinals would almost certainly lose with the number of injuries they have right now, including the most crippling injury of starting quarterback Carson Palmer. However, if it's played in Arizona, the cards may very well be in their favour. Arizona plays extremely well at home and the defense constantly is making plays to support an offense that makes just enough plays to squeak out victories. The SEA of red (puns for days, I’m on a roll) in the stands seems to bring out the best in the team and the defending champions would be in for a tough game. Depending on how the next few weeks play out, this could be a potential divisional round matchup. Maybe Kurt Warner wants to come out of retirement for this playoff run? Although that is a little far fetched unfortunately, one thing that's certain is that this Cardinals team is fun to watch. With the Super Bowl being played in the desert this year, you could be sure the coach of the year frontrunner Bruce Arians will have his team ready to go.
8 Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers
Seeing “America’s team” take on the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the U.S. at the most legendary stadium in the NFL would be a treat to fans everywhere. These storied franchises have a huge following and are two of the NFL's most successful franchises. On the field, they bring explosive offenses and two quarterbacks playing lights out football this season. You got Tony Romo for the Dallas Cowboys, a guy who has unfairly earned himself the reputation of a choker despite boasting the best passer rating in the fourth quarter among active quarterbacks. Who’s second? That would be Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay, who is playing out of his mind right now and has a shot at becoming the greatest of all time if he keeps up this torrid pace. Now, Romo finally has a solid supporting cast around him and a running back who can take the load off of him. The Packers are undefeated at home this season (7-0) and the Cowboys are undefeated on the road (7-0) so far. Playoff games in the “Frozen Tundra” are always fun for the NFL and its fans. This one would be no different.
7 Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
These two teams despise each other. Over the past decade, they’ve played in so many nail-biters. Known for fielding hard-hitting defenses, their games are always extremely physical and their rivalry has become one of the fiercest in the NFL. Prior to this season, 13 of their last 15 meetings had been decided by a touchdown or less. They met in the 2008-09 AFC Championship where the Steelers won 23-14 and in the 2011 AFC Divisional Round where the Steelers took it by a score of 31-24. After splitting the season series this season, games in which the home team dominated, a grudge match in the playoffs between the two would be fun to watch for NFL fans. Both teams would have to qualify for the playoffs first of course, which is no given at this point.
6 Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys
As mentioned before, the Dallas Cowboys are considered to be “America’s Team”. The Eagles have a passionate but harsh fan base in the city of brotherly love. In the Donovan McNabb era, the Eagles were successful but never could seem to get over that hump. They lost four conference championships and one Super Bowl in that time. The last three trips to the playoffs have been one-and-dones and with starter Nick Foles injured, Mark Sanchez (who’s lost his only two appearances in conference championships) will look to make some noise in these playoffs with his explosive offense, improved defense and record-setting special teams. The Cowboys have had no playoff success winning just one playoff game in the Tony Romo era (ironically against these Eagles). However, Romo never really had as strong of a team as he does this year and as opposed to other seasons, expectations were not high for Dallas. The Eagles demolished the Cowboys on Thanksgiving a few weeks back but dropped the division lead to the Cowboys in Philadelphia on Sunday night. With the split in the season series, a rubber match in the playoffs would be an intense affair.
5 Indianapolis Colts vs. Denver Broncos
Andrew Luck vs. Peyton Manning. Successor vs. Predecessor. Manning was loved in Indianapolis and built himself a hall of fame career with the Colts. After his neck surgery, the Colts decided to move on from Peyton and draft surefire prospect Andrew Luck first overall to be the face of the franchise. Manning has thrived in Denver taking his team all the way to the Super Bowl last season only to get smoked by Seattle, while Luck has looked every bit the part and has the looks of a future hall of famer. Both offenses are explosive and can score extremely quickly and often. They met earlier this season in Denver with the Broncos taking it 31-24. Similar to the Brett Favre – Aaron Rodgers transition in Green Bay, Indianapolis has gone through a pleasant transition at the quarterback position. Whether they would admit or not, this game would definitely have an extra incentive for both Luck and Manning. This matchup would likely happen in the divisional round or possibly even the AFC Championship. There'd be no shortage of storylines in this possible matchup.
4 Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots
Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. They’ve battled it out so many times before and it has led to several memorable games. With the Patriots’ convincing win over Denver earlier this season, Brady now holds an 11-5 edge over Manning throughout his career. However, it was Manning’s Broncos that prevailed over Brady’s Patriots in last year’s AFC Championship game. Everyone is already putting these two teams in this year’s AFC Championship, as they are the clear favourites right now in that conference. It might just come down to the 37-year-old Brady and 38-year-old Manning in a game that decides who represents the AFC in Arizona in February. No one would complain.
3 Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers
The best defense in the NFL battles the best offense. Something would have to give. These two teams will forever be linked with one of the most controversial calls of all time with the infamous game-winning “Fail Mary”. The two squads met in the opener this season and the Seahawks breezed by the Packers, 36-16. However, that game was played in Seattle and the Packers are not the same team that went through a rough start to the season. Now, their offense is firing on all cylinders and Aaron Rodgers is playing like a man possessed, especially at Lambeau Field. The defending champs are playing like it the last few weeks and the “Legion of Boom” looks to be back. This would be the game of the year in the NFC playoffs and one NFL fans would love to see.
2 Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks
A rematch of last year’s Super Bowl would surely be fun to see… given that the Broncos actually compete this time around. The 43-8 drubbing the Seahawks gave the Broncos last season was one of the more lopsided Super Bowls ever. The game was never close as Seattle pulled away quickly. Last year’s number one offense was no match for last year’s number one defense. Russell Wilson won his first Super Bowl as Peyton Manning lost for the second time in the big game. The two teams played earlier this season in Seattle as the Seahawks squeaked out a 26-20 overtime victory. On a neutral field with a much-improved defense, the Broncos would surely make the game a lot closer than last season’s snooze fest. If the potential rematch would be anything like that Week 3 meeting, it could be one of the best Super Bowls of all time.
1 New England Patriots vs. Green Bay Packers
When these two teams met at Lambeau a few weeks ago, fans were treated to an awesome football game. These two teams have been on fire after struggling out of the gate. Both teams’ success is largely dependent on how their quarterback plays. Both Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers did not look like themselves when their teams were struggling. They’ve been great since and Rodgers looks like a shoe-in for NFL MVP. Both franchises have a large and loyal following and both have been extremely successful on the field. The Packers last brought the Lombardi trophy back home in 2010 defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25. The Patriots meanwhile, won three Super Bowls in four years between 2001 and 2004 but have lost two straight Super Bowl appearances (both to the New York Giants) as favourites. To see a future hall of famer in Brady go head-to-head with today’s best in Rodgers with everything on the line would be quite a thing to see. As a football fan, what more can you ask for?
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