Note: While I would pick Denver over Seattle for Super Bowl XLVIII if I take into account this past season’s results, I will hold true to the most meaningful preseason prediction I made four months ago for the following playoff picks–my one for the super bowl.
AFC Wild Card–
Kansas City @ Indianapolis
The Colts will be riding their momentum into this matchup, having swept their last three contests and looking more refined as whole now than at any other point this season; the key will be for the run defense (ranked 26th in rushing yards allowed) to control the explosive Jamal Charles.
San Diego @ Cincinnati
The Bengals are simply a different, more composed squad on their home turf; Cincinnati won all their games at Paul Brown Stadium this season by an average of 18 points. And if I’ve learned anything about the San Diego Chargers in the last decade, it’s that they’re nothing better than a mirage of a successful NFL franchise.
NFC Wild Card–
New Orleans @ Philadelphia
I’ve wavered on this matchup more than any other on wild card weekend, but since weather might not make as big an impact as expected, I’ll side with Drew Brees tearing through a horrid Eagles pass defense (ranked 32nd in the league) to determine the game rather than Philly running back LeSean McCoy doing the same against a poor Saints run defense.
San Francisco @ Green Bay
The Packers as a whole play at another level come playoff time, but defensive woes will be too much of a problem as Colin Kaepernick & Co. is progressively regaining its dynamic style of play.
Indianapolis @ Denver
Cincinnati @ New England
The divisional round in the AFC will feature the conference’s powerhouses avenging earlier, away-game losses; in both matchups, the mentality of playing either at home or away will prove a decisive factor.
New Orleans @ Seattle
San Francisco @ Carolina
It seems appropriate that the best teams from the best NFC divisions (South and West) make up the conference’s divisional round. And to continue this trend, the teams from the better division–the NFC West–will advance to the championship.
New England @ Denver
Getting revenge for regular season losses away from home turf continues to be a theme in the AFC postseason, as the Broncos, in this case, when they get another shot against the Patriots at Sports Authority field; the combined effect of injuries to starters over the span of the season, and the resulting lack of reliable players, will finally lead to New England’s downfall.
San Francisco @ Seattle
The Arizona Cardinals poked a hole in the Seahawks’ home supremacy, and if there’s any other team that can outlast Seattle at home–and has the ample familiarity with the Hawks to help in doing so–it’s the 49ers.
Super Bowl XLVIII–
Denver vs. San Francisco
The power generated from a hot streak going into the playoffs (a common theme for successful wild card teams), the gradual improvement of health for the team’s key players, and the developed chemistry between QB Colin Kaepernick and his targets: it all comes together for the Niners, who avenge a loss at this stage a year ago. The vaunted San Fran defense–albeit exposed at times this season–will come in full force, a necessity for stopping presumable MVP Peyton Manning.