After what was one of the most controversial seasons yet, the NFL is finally entering the playoffs, and we're seeing a lot of familiar faces once again.
Grant it, we saw a lot of suspensions, people "partying a bit too hard," and the inevitable "Black Monday" when your smartphone blows up about coaches and other front office personnel getting fired--or in one case, going back to college. Some of these things are what we have come to expect year in and year out; however, the players in which these circumstances have affected is what makes it even more shocking.
Are we ready to go? Let's check out who we're going to be seeing this January in the NFL Playoffs on the road to Super Bowl XLIX.
AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
East Division - New England Patriots (12-4) - Been there a million times, done that a million times. It goes without saying that the Patriots are always bound to be a threat in the AFC. The Brady-Gronk one-two punch is an infamous offensive force, and the defense has been as strong as ever. It's going to start getting colder at Gillette, so hits will be harder. The best thing to do is protect Brady, and we could see these guys in the Super Bowl once again.
(Destination: Naptime - First Round Bye with Home Advantage)
North Division - Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) - You know, I honestly didn't think they'd have it in them this year. A team that was once infamous for the run about ten years ago, you're seeing much more action coming from the pocket by Ben Roethlisberger, who is having the season of his career. A James Harrison-led defense is also seeing an awakening as well. While they aren't as consistent, it's still enough to hold off the opposition. Where the team will go will depend on the defense showing up or not.
(Destination: Baltimore Ravens, Saturday 8:15 EST) (Uh Oh...)
South Division - Indianapolis Colts (11-5) - In case you didn't know this by now, Andrew Luck is awesome, and almost everything he touches turns to gold and says: "We don't love Manning here anymore." I know I constantly bring up Peyton here, but knowing that there is another guy with another squad who is playing some absolutely scrappy ball here is a great sign. Plus, the defense and special teams are holding up their end of the bargain here too. Again, the biggest issue here this time around is going to be health and nerves. Now is not the time to choke and go home after one game, you guys.
(Destination: Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday 1:05 EST)
West Division - Denver Broncos (12-4) - Peyton didn't exactly end the season the way he liked--in fact, he was taking a shellacking for a while there. However, the team is still strong enough on all ends to deliver a shellacking of their own. This alone is a sign; it doesn't take one guy to win games, there is no "I" in team. Because of that formula, we're going to see other people come in, especially on the defense, that will step up and surprise the heck out of audiences. The road will be a rocky one, but this isn't anything Denver hasn't seen before.
(Destination: Siesta - First Round Bye)
AFC Wild Card
Oh look... The AFC North is having a huge party and didn't think to invite Johnny Manziel and the Browns. RIMSHOT!
Cincinnati Bengals (10-5-1) - This team may be the biggest worry in the case of a one-and-out in the playoffs. A lot of players are hurt, and most of them are key players on offense. Sure, Jeremy Hill has been a one-man-mafia for the past several weeks and is really making the rush offense look superb, but the rest of the team doesn't look too hot. The defense can hold up the run for the most part, but let's not set the expectations too high here.
(Destination: Indianapolis Colts, Sunday 1:05 EST)
Baltimore Ravens (10-6) - It's funny, but with all of the hubbub going on about other quarterbacks in the NFL, it's almost as if Joe Flacco is flying under the radar and being a silent killer of sorts. He's been strong, the run has been really strong too, and the defense has been really great too, despite all of the controversy that has been surrounding the team and its players since the very beginning of the NFL season. It's like they're being avoided on TV at all costs just to make them look bad. Well, they know about that, and they're out for attention.
(Destination: Pittsburgh Steelers, Saturday 8:15 EST) (Yikes)
NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
East Division - Dallas Cowboys (12-4) - This year, the Cowboys are the epitome of the term "taking the ball and running with it." This doesn't mean I'm taking away from the likes of Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten, who have all been fantastic in their own right this year. The undisputed star of the team this year has been DeMarco Murray, who has been running all over defenses without much of a problem. Knowing that you have an all-out offensive threat from what people still consider to be "America's Team" means that your defense better be healthy for your hot date.
(Destination: Detroit Lions, Sunday 4:40 EST)
North Division - Green Bay Packers (12-4) - Okay, how many of you screamed bloody murder when Rodgers went down in Week 17 prior to a touchdown pass? If you were a Packers fan, you may have done just that. He may be the strongest name and possibly the biggest threat on the team, but don't discount the fact that the defense can pick up the slack and stop the pass when need be. It's almost like the whole entire team gets overshadowed, especially when you're an outsider to it all. Don't let the Aaron Rodgers hype fool you; we have a lot of wolves in sheep's clothing in this town.
(Destination: Couch - First Round Bye)
South Division - Carolina Panthers (7-8-1) - Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the "WTF Division," where it is perfectly fine to go to the playoffs with a sub-.500 record. This isn't to say that the Panthers didn't earn their spot, per se. They had a really shaky season in the realm of injury and the like, but former 1st round pick Cam Newton hasn't really lost his touch. Actually, it gets quite annoying when he's referred to as the "next Michael Vick," because he's his own guy. I digress. They will certainly have to play to their strengths from here on out and prove that regular season records mean nothing in the playoffs.
(Destination: Arizona Cardinals, Saturday 4:35 EST)
West Division - Seattle Seahawks (12-4) - People were rather scared about this team at first. You'd hear: "Oh, these guys are returning champs! Things don't look too good for them," throughout the first half of the season. However, with a second half surge and a wake-up from The 12th Man, the boys are back, and they look like just as much of a threat as they have been for the past several years. Wilson and Skittles Lynch are continuing strong, and the defense says there is no such thing as the pass. No, really. This team is disgusting.
(Destination: Pillow and Blanky - First Round Bye with Home Advantage)
NFC Wild Card
Detroit Lions (11-5) - For the past several seasons, the biggest strength of the Lions has been in the defense. However, a thorn in that side of the strength has been health and, well... temper. A previous story stated that Ndamukong Suh was nearly suspended from play after "deliberately" stepping on Aaron Rodgers' leg during a recent game, but Suh's appeal was won. So there... The defense is set. Is the offense? Surprisingly enough, they've been able to hold their own. Shock and momentum and atmosphere is going to be a key for them. Stafford has to stay calm and steady.
(Destination: Dallas Cowboys, Sunday 4:40 EST)
Arizona Cardinals (11-5) - Arizona had a crazy first half run. The defense was nearly unstoppable, and Carson Palmer was working magic wherever he threw. However, the team started to deal with excessive injury, and the wheels nearly fell off. Oh, who am I kidding? They did, but with the way the Division looked, they could easily hobble up to the finish line without looking back for people catching up. There are a lot of questionable players going into their game on Saturday, so expect a kitchen sink thrown from all participants.
(Destination: Carolina Panthers, Saturday 4:35 EST)
It looks like 2015 is already off to an insane start for everybody. We won't be out of the woods on this one for a whole month, so buckle up and get ready for some hard hits and late-game theatrics. I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple of upsets along the way, because while there is a lot of star power on certain teams, the atmosphere is going to be completely different, and if you want to be engraved on the wall of immortals in the NFL, you have to throw everything you did in the season out the window. This is a new slate, and there is a new set of tasks to perform.
Because of work scheduling, there won't be any predictions this year for the playoffs except for the NFC and AFC Championships on Tumblr. I hate to say this, but time really crept up on us. Plus, Andrew works really weird hours nowadays. No offense, buddy.
Do you have your facepaint ready? Your cheese puffs? Your beer? Your jersey? Your spot on the couch? Let's play some football. It's time to be immortal.