Playoffs  

 

My Championship Sunday: Patriots-Broncos, Seahawks-Packers

Ric Tapia/NFL
Dubbed the "Fail Mary," Golden Tate's game-winning score vs. the Green Bay Packers was mired in controversy.

With the coaching carousel moving in a rapid motion, the playoffs have taken a back seat.

Get refocused and buckle up.

Wild Card Weekend

The playoffs are finally here. Take a closer look at the wild-card matchups that will kick off the action:

» Bengals at Texans
» Vikings at Packers
» Colts at Ravens
» Seahawks at Redskins

» NFL.com's analysts' picks.

On Twitter: #NFLPlayoffs

Two teams playing this weekend will be competing on Championship Sunday, while four teams playing this weekend don't have a prayer. Did I mention that a No. 1 seed will lose next week?

As a football fan, my dream matchups in the conference title games also happen to be my predictions.

The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots are on a collision course in the AFC, with no other team having a chance to disrupt the party. You can just fast forward to Jan. 20 in Denver.

Meanwhile, on the NFC side, the Green Bay Packers will get their rematch with the Seattle Seahawks. But this time, the game will take place at Lambeau Field -- with the replacement refs at home. Without any help from the 13th man, the Packers will go to Super Bowl XLVII.

Allow me to explain ...

AFC

The Houston Texans are fraudulent, as I've written before. It was easy to pick the Indianapolis Colts over them last week. The Texans were playing for the No. 1 seed. They can't handle the pressure. The Cincinnati Bengals have a strong defense, led by Geno Atkins. I like Cincy in an upset.

One of the greatest and most inspirational players in NFL history is calling it a career. And the timing of Ray Lewis' announcement that he will retire at the end of the season is an emotional boost for the Baltimore Ravens, playing at home against the Colts. But Indy has been on an emotional high all year, playing for coach Chuck Pagano as he battles leukemia. I trust Andrew Luck more than Joe Flacco on Sunday. I think Baltimore gets upset.

But let's be honest: It doesn't matter.

There's Peyton Manning's Broncos and Tom Brady's Patriots. Then draw the line and you have every other AFC team.

Broncos executive vice president John Elway told me something important on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday: "Peyton gives the other 52 guys on the team the confidence that if they do their jobs, we can be a Super Bowl team." Elway is spot on. After Denver earned an astonishing comeback victory over the San Diego Chargers in mid October, I predicted that the Broncos wouldn't lose again. They didn't.

Manning is amazing and as good as ever. He has maximized the passing attack. But it is the surrounding parts that make the Broncos the most complete team in the NFL heading into the tournament. Denver's defense is legit with a fierce pass rush. Knowshon Moreno has gained confidence and knowledge and provides Manning with the balance necessary for a playoff run.

The Pats' defense has improved with Devin McCourty's move to safety. Tom Brady is in a zone and I loved how he went bonkers on his teammates after the Jacksonville Jaguars game to sharpen the focus.

Does anyone actually think Flacco or Matt Schaub -- if they were to win this weekend, which I don't think they will -- can beat these quarterbacks this year? The Bengals and Colts are great stories for different reasons. But they aren't in the same league as the Broncos and Patriots.

Everyone in America wants to see Brady and Manning rekindle a classic rivalry. I picked the Patriots to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl in the preseason, and I will stay with that prediction.

NFC

Here's the big question in the absolutely wide-open NFC (where you can make an intelligent argument for every team):

Who do you trust?

The star quarterback? The rookie quarterbacks? The dominant defenses out West? The team with the best record in the NFC? The best running back and 2012 MVP?

Give me the Packers and the Seahawks in a date with destiny.

While nothing is guaranteed this weekend, I like Green Bay over the Minnesota Vikings. Sure, you can argue that Minnesota actually outplayed the Packers twice this year, only losing the first game because Christian Ponder served as a double agent, making foolish decisions and throws that doomed Minnesota. But the return of Charles Woodson and the likely return of Jordy Nelson are big upgrades for the banged-up Packers. Woodson should be able to at least help tackle the unstoppable Adrian Peterson. And Aaron Rodgers can help stop Peterson by scoring touchdowns early to give Green Bay a lead and take the Vikes out of their offensive game plan.

I'm intoxicated by the Washington Redskins and Robert Griffin III. The NFL is a better place when you have a scene like last Sunday night, with the 'Skins' band playing and the great Redskins Nation singing as Washington wrapped up a gigantic win. This coming Sunday, the scene at FedExField for a home playoff game against Seattle will be amazing. The problem is, I don't think Washington can beat Seattle with a compromised RG3 at less than 100 percent. This isn't akin to beating Philly and Dallas, like the 'Skins did over the last couple weeks. I think Seattle's defense is dominant. I think Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch can make plays on the Redskins' defense. I really like Seattle. The Seahawks are that good.

The Seahawks proved to themselves that they could win on the road with a 23-17 result at Chicago in Week 13, getting a clutch performance from Russell Wilson. Now, they can go into Atlanta and win. The Falcons will be feeling the pressure to perform in the playoffs. If Seahawks win this weekend, they will be super confident and possess the better defense and run game, with a quarterback -- albeit a rookie -- who protects the ball.

I think the Seahawks have all of the traits of a Super Bowl team, and as general manager John Schneider says, the "mentality to win a street fight." They just have to put it together on the road.

I love the San Francisco 49ers. I want to make a case for them as a Super Bowl team. But I think the Justin Smith injury is gigantic, taking the teeth away from their defense. I'd take Rodgers and Co. to win that divisional-round game.

Analysts' picks: Wild Card Weekend
Can Robert Griffin III topple red-hot Seattle? Our analysts provide their picks for each game of Wild Card Weekend. More ...

If this holds, sign me up for the M.D. Jennings-Golden Tate rematch.

The Seahawks have become a popular team this year with their showings in primetime and style of play. That rematch would be spectacular and appropriately hyped.

The Packers still feel robbed. And they should. They won that Sept. 24 game on Monday Night Football. Everyone in America knows it, except the overmatched replacement officials. Wayne Elliott and his crew were clueless. Seattle would come in playing the disrespect card. It would be epic. Seattle would have an advantage with its defense against Green Bay's much-maligned offensive line and spotty run game. But I would never go against Aaron Rodgers in a spot like this.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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