A year of hard work will be put to the test for the NFL's top 12 teams. A grueling seventeen weeks of blood, sweat and tears will all be laid on the line. Legends can be born, legacies cemented and the best team in football will be crowned.
You won’t have to look far for storylines in this postseason.
Starting in the AFC, the Division Champion Denver Broncos, whose MVP/Comeback Player of the Year candidate Peyton Manning played with a vengeance this season since his not-so-storybook ending with the Indianapolis Colts. Manning sat out last season, after undergoing multiple neck surgeries, and it was clear Colts – with which Peyton lead to 9 consecutive playoff appearances, 2 Super Bowls and 1 Super Bowl Championship – were moving in a younger direction with the No.1 overall pick Andrew Luck.
In a tug of war of epic public relations proportions, Manning and Colts’ owner Jim Irsay positioned themselves for what appeared to be a bitter divorce, however, the professionalism of Manning and the uncertainty for the future embodied in Irsay played for an amicable severance. Fast forward to present day, the Broncos have the No.1 seed in the AFC, earned a bye and will wait for the winner of the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals and Manning in some circles is a hands down candidate for this year’s MVP award.
And it gets better.
Jim Irsay and the Indianapolis Colts chose to go in a new direction, parting ways with one of the NFL’s greatest regular season quarterbacks and electing to go with Stanford standout Andrew Luck. The Colts would ultimately go 2-14 in Manning’s absence, earning them the opportunity to pick Luck in the draft. So far the move has worked out, Indianapolis is now in the playoffs as the 5th seed, during which rookie Luck has redesigned the new quarterback prototype while breaking almost every rookie record, including many of Peyton’s. It’s quite possible the two teams could meet in the AFC Championship game, one that would determine who goes on to play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII.
So now we turn to the “As I See It” 2013 NFL Playoff Power Rankings, let’s break where I lay out the landscape of each conference playoff pyramids. Starting with the AFC,
6. Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals come into the playoffs as the most seasoned group of young talent perhaps in any conference. Leading scoring duo A.J. Green and Andy Dalton look to continue their record breaking team up deep into the postseason. Marvin Lewis finally has the squad to compete in the playoffs. The question is, will he?
5. Indianapolis Colts – Number 1 overall pick and Rookie of the Year candidate Andrew Luck has led a emotional Indianapolis Colts to a wildcard matchup, hosting a veteran Baltimore Ravens desperate to win with a rapidly closing window of opportunity. This should be a great matchup of old-school versus new school. The versatility and accelerated maturity of Luck, plus the emotional leadership of head coach Chuck Pagano who recently returned after a winning battle with cancer as he underwent chemotherapy treatment will give the Colts every bit of a motivation necessary to compete in a postseason matchup of the magnitude presently constituted.
4. Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens come into the playoffs as the team most desperate for a Super Bowl chance this season. As Ray Lewis plans to return to the field this postseason after injury in what will be his final run at a second Super Bowl ring, this team is perhaps Baltimore’s and head coach John Harbaugh’s best chance at winning it all. Joe Flacco (3,817yds, 22TD-10INT) has a lot to prove after comparing himself to the being on the level of some of the NFL’s best, however, everyone knows the real key to the Raven’s success will be getting the ball in Ray Rice’s (1,143 rushing yards, 9TD’s) hand.
3. Houston Texans – The Texans are the biggest mystery in the AFC. Finally out of the shadows of the Manning-led, perennial AFC South Champion Colts, the finally-completely healthy Houston Texans can make their best attempt at becoming legit contenders for the AFC Championship and Super Bowl. Behind a healthy Matt Shaub (4,008yds, 22TD-12INT), who gets his first chance at the playoffs after missing last postseason, when Houston made its first trip since becoming an NFL franchise. Much like the Ravens, the Texans will need a healthy dose of Arian Foster (1,424yds, 14TD’s) in the red-zone and take chances on big plays to Andre Johnson (1,598yds, 4TD’s) while relying on a stingy, top ten defense. I have Houston beating Cincinnati handily in an offensive showdown.
2. New England Patriots – The Patriots – once again – bring in a league’s best offensive scoring attack (34.8ppg) and while sneaking past Houston for the No.2 seed allows the unit to rest and wait for the winner of the Baltimore v. Indianapolis match. The scariest part about this New England team is the progress of its young defense, who improved from league’s 15th ranked defense to the 9th in points allowed (20.7ppg allowed). Whatever the case, the Pats’ will have an opportunity – once again – to cement a legacy of dominance in the modern-era of the NFL; participating in 5 Super Bowls since 2000, winning 3, and preparing for the opportunity at a fourth.
1. Denver Broncos – The Denver Broncos are my pick to win the Super Bowl. Outside of the built in storylines, Peyton Manning (4,659yds, 37TD-11INT) appears to right back where he left off in Indianapolis, as an on-field offensive coordinator of the Broncos offense and a strong candidate for this season’s MVP award. Denver’s defense just has to hold teams to under 21 points (18.1-4th) and let Manning and the Broncos offensive weapons do the rest. Ironically, the Broncos haven’t been in the driver’s seat of the AFC since 1998, John Elway’s final season in the NFL, and Peyton’s first…