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2014 NFL Schedule: Path back to Super Bowl

The daunting, grinding task of making a Super Bowl run generally doesn't lend itself to playoff success the following season.

The previous two Super Bowl winners failed to even make the postseason the next year. There also is the widely discussed Super Bowl "curse," which especially is tough on losing championship teams. (Only two have ever won a Super Bowl the year after a loss.)

The last team to make (and win) back-to-back Super Bowl games was Bill Belichick's 2003 and 2004 New England Patriots. We have to go back to Super Bowl XXVII and XXVIII to find a losing team that returned to the big game. Those contests also were the last time the same teams faced each other in back-to-back Super Bowls -- with the Dallas Cowboys walloping the Buffalo Bills in consecutive championships.

So what path must our reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and runner-up Denver Broncos take to withstand the historical difficulties in 2014? Let's take a look:

Seattle's path to repeating

The Seahawks' overall youth puts them in a prime position to repeat more than the other recent Super Bowl champs. While Seattle didn't necessarily have a phenomenal offseason, the marked improvement in young players each season under Pete Carroll is reason to believe the Seahawks will not make it three consecutive seasons in which the champs miss the playoffs.

Looking at the Seahawks' schedule, however, it won't be an easy undertaking. The NFC West is the NFL's toughest division, and with the ascent of the Arizona Cardinals, it's only getting tougher.

Seattle's season starts with three games against 2013 playoff teams before the Week 4 bye: "Fail Mary II" vs. the Green Bay Packers, at the San Diego Chargers and home against the Broncos. Getting two of their toughest non-divisional opponents out of the way early is beneficial, but also has the chance to put the defending champs in an early hole.

The division's fate will be determined down the stretch. Six of the Seahawks' last seven games are divisional contests -- with a visit to 2013 NFC East winner Philadelphia Eagles jammed in between (ouch). We don't get our first Seahawks-49ers bout until Thanksgiving. The rematch takes place two weeks later, which is just enough time to get the blood out of their mouths before cracking skulls again.

The Seahawks entered the offseason facing the sixth-toughest schedule. With offseason improvements made to many of their opponents (i.e. Cardinals, Redskins, Giants), it only got tougher.

The road to repeating is always a rocky path.

Denver's route to returning

John Elway knows what it's like to lose Super Bowls as a player. It took the former quarterback three failed attempts before he broke through. As the Broncos' general manager, he decided if his team was to recover expediently, it needed to get tougher defensively. He added secondary help and DeMarcus Ware up front.

However, it's not just the additions that might give the Broncos the best chance to get Peyton Manning that second ring he's been scouring for like Gollum. The Broncos piled up significant injuries on the road to the Super Bowl last season. Getting back Von Miller, Ryan Clady, Rahim Moore, Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson is a wave of improvement itself.

Like the Seahawks, the Broncos open up 2014 against three teams that made the playoffs last season before their own Week 4 bye -- home against the Colts and Chiefs before traveling to take on the Super Bowl champs.

Denver has a brutal stretch with three games in 12 days from Oct. 12 to 23 -- back-ended with home games against the 49ers and a Thursday night tussle with the Chargers. They follow up that fun-run by visiting Foxborough and Manning's dear best friend, Tom Brady.

With games against the Bills, Jets and Raiders, overall it's an easier path back to the postseason than what the Seahawks face.

Of course, having Manning always makes the path easier. In the 15 seasons Manning has seen the field, he's missed the playoffs just twice (once being his rookie year). It's what his teams do once they get into the postseason that he'll continue to be judged upon.

The "Around The League Podcast" NFL Schedule Extravaganza will change the way you look at everything.

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