With the coaching carousel moving in a rapid motion, the playoffs have taken a back seat.
Get refocused and buckle up.
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.
Allow me to explain ...
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Analysts' picks: Wild Card Weekend
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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.