1. Carolina Panthers
Losing to the Falcons in sorta embarrassing fashion at Week 16 ultimately might’ve been a good thing for their psyche. Panthers started feeling themselves a little too much and were able to refocus and gain home-field throughout the postseason. Plus it doesn’t hurt that coach Ron Rivera is pulling the “they don’t believe in us” card which in actuality is somewhat true. Most people will choose Arizona or Seattle to storm through the NFC. Carolina should follow Rivera’s lead.
2. Arizona Cardinals
I don’t think it’s a bad thing the Cards got smacked around by the defending NFC champs to close out an otherwise successful 13-3 campaign. Sometimes losses like that tend to refocus the brigade and with an extra week off I still think Arizona has just as good a chance to represent in Santa Clara as any other contender in the conference.
3. Seattle Seahawks
Many believe they are the most dangerous team in this entire tournament and while I tend to agree with most, the difference this time around as opposed to the last two seasons is Seattle will have to accomplish all of this on the road. But if there is any team equipped, experienced and quite frankly good enough to accomplish a third straight Super Bowl berth it’s these Seahawks. Plus this time around this team goes where Russell Wilson goes. It’s his team now.
4. New England Patriots
While the Pats did struggle their way at the finish line and ultimately an opportunity to lock up home field advantage throughout the postseason, if they can somehow get healthier especially around their offensive line by divisional weekend, I don’t see how they don’t end up representing the AFC in Santa Clara come February.
5. Denver Broncos
Was it a good thing Denver was able to wrap up home field throughout the playoffs? Absolutely. That said I do not co-sign with the decision to start Peyton Manning on divisional weekend over Brock Osweiler. In my opinion I don’t feel like Osweiler played bad enough to lose his job and in the back of my mind I really believe this decision may come back to haunt the Broncos in more ways than just this postseason but this decision may be THE catalyst in severing a possible future with Osweiler in a post Manning world as he’s due to become a free agent this spring.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
Weeks ago I thought they were the biggest threat to the Patriots in the AFC. Now with recent injuries to RB D’Angelo Williams and an offense while lethal led by Ben Roethlisberger will most likely be one dimensional, it’s hard to tell right now how effective the Steelers can be bigger picture. But they remain dangerous.
7. Cincinnati Bengals
How far this team goes in the postseason really hangs on who will be the starting quarterback Wildcard Weekend. Now this isn’t necessary a negative on AJ McCarron but I don’t think people understand just how great Andy Dalton was this season and this is coming from someone who’s been very critical of him in years past. He was the highest rated quarterback in the league prior to injury. Cincy fans may end up appreciating him more if he’s unable to suit up this weekend.
8. Kansas City Chiefs
The hottest team in the league and a definitive Coach Of The Year candidate in Andy Reid. They’ve won 10 straight games even with their best player (Jamaal Charles) who’s been out since early October with a torn ACL. Still a large question how far Kansas City’s ceiling is especially with captain check down himself Alex Smith at the helm.
9. Washington Redskins
Say what you want about their 9-7 record but they are peaking at the right time, playing well on both sides of the ball and given that no one expects them to do much in the postseason the “they don’t believe in us” mantra can be used to their advantage. Plus I have to give Captain Kirk Cousins tons or credit here. For all the criticism I’ve given him he’s rised to the occasion and played some phenomenal football the 2nd half of the season. Now whether he deserves a monstrous contract extension is a whole other discussion for the offseason.
10. Minnesota Vikings
I pegged them making the postseason during my preseason predictions back in August but no way did I think not only would outright win the NFC North, but in the process clinch at Lambeau Field in Week 17. Not sure if I can see them getting past Seattle Wildcard weekend but I will guarantee you this contest will be much closer than the Week 14 game was.
11. Green Bay Packers
I want to remind you this has nothing to do with Aaron Rodgers greatness but since starting the season 6-0, the Packers have looked average at best. A balanced running attack of Eddy Lacy and James Stark can help their chances moving forward but unless their defense plays better out the gate, Green Bay’s Super Bowl chances will go by the wayside quick and fast.
12. Houston Texans
I guess I can send a congratulatory card to the Texans for being able to “rise above” the otherwise pathetic trash that is the AFC South. Will be surprised if they get past the red hot Kansas City Chiefs this weekend.