Week 17 in the NFL season has come to a close, the playoff match-ups are set, and the road to the Super Bowl is under way. Which two teams will earn a crack at bringing home the Lombardi? Will the Seahawks return to the promised land for the second year in a row? Can the Patriots roll through the playoffs like they rolled through the last three quarters of the season?
Let's start with who is in. The Patriots, Broncos, Steelers, Colts, Bengals, and Ravens will represent the AFC in the 2015 playoffs while the Seahawks, Packers, Cowboys, Panthers, Cardinals, and Lions will square off in the NFC.
Wild Card Weekend
Arizona vs. Carolina
In the first game of the 2015 playoffs the Arizona Cardinals will match-up with the NFC South Division Champions, the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers will be looking to prove that they deserved their playoff spot after finishing the season with an underwhelming 7-8-1 record. On the other side of things, the Arizona Cardinals will aim to keep overcoming the adversity that has been brought upon them by the injury bug and make a strong showing in the playoffs after starting the season 9-1 and finishing 11-5.
Prediction: Arizona Cardinals. Arizona's defense proves it is good enough to earn one playoff win, but it looks to be their last real chance at winning this season.
Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore
Steelers vs. Ravens has to be the most intriguing first round match-up for NFL fans, even if you are not a Steelers fan like me. One of the best rivalries in all of sports electrified by the opportunity to advance and possibly make some real noise in the 2015 playoffs. Pittsburgh is aiming to advance out of the first round with a hard fought win without their star running back Le'Veon Bell. The purple birds are searching for consistency in their play in order to be able to make a run at their second Super Bowl in three years.
Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers. Ravens vs. Steelers once again proves to be the best rivalry in football. Le'Veon Bell's absence is very apparent, but Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown carry the Steelers past their hated rivals. The Ravens inconsistency toward the end of the season repeats itself in the playoffs.
Indianapolis vs. Cincinnati
The Colts and Bengals finished the season heading in opposite directions. The Colts are experiencing serious issues with their offensive line and recent struggles from Andrew Luck. The Bengals finished their season with a tight loss to Pittsburgh, but played some of their best football of the season towards the end of their regular season campaign.
Prediction: Indianapolis Colts. Andrew Luck steps up on the bright stage while Andy Dalton's playoff struggles, once again, cost the Bengals a victory they should have had.
Dallas vs. Detroit
Tony Romo and his Cowboys are drooling over another opportunity to prove themselves in the playoffs, with probably their best team in recent memory. The solid defense of the Detroit Lions will be looking to put enough pressure on Tony Romo that he once again coughs up a chance to earn a playoff win.
Prediction: Dallas Cowboys. Tony Romo plays as well as he has most of the season, showing he is an elite quarterback in the NFL and has the ability to win big games. Dallas wins in a shootout.
Denver vs. Pittsburgh
Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers. Le'Veon Bell returns for the Steelers and shines as Peyton Manning can't overcome his end of the year struggles. The Steelers win the battle of elite quarterbacks in an exciting AFC match-up.
New England vs. Indianapolis
Prediction: New England Patriots. Tom Brady shows his prominence over Andrew Luck and the Patriots prove that they are just flat out better than the Colts.
Seattle vs. Arizona
Prediction: Seattle Seahawks. The Cardinals injuries finally become to much to overcome and they fall to a Seahawks squad that looks poised to return to the Super Bowl.
Green Bay vs. Dallas
Prediction: Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers further establishes himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the game and shreds the Cowboys defense. Green Bay wins a shootout.
New England vs. Pittsburgh
Prediction:Pittsburgh Steelers. The Pittsburgh Steelers, the only team that poses a serious threat to Tom Brady and the Patriots, win a dog fight to advance to Arizona for the Super Bowl. It is once again a thrilling match-up between New England and Pittsburgh in the playoffs.
Seattle vs. Green Bay
Prediction: Seattle Seahawks. The combination of the Seahawks defense and the 12th man in Seattle are too much for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to overcome. Aaron Rodgers finds more success against the 'Legion of Boom' than Peyton Manning did last year in the Super Bowl, but the Hawks defense proves once again that they are the best in the NFL.
Super Bowl XLIX
Seattle vs. Pittsburgh
Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers. I will first admit that I am a Steelers fan, but I truly believe that the Steelers are the dark horse to win Super Bowl 49. Big Ben has shown an incredible ability to step up in big games and he has an extremely talented group of skill players around him along with a much improved offensive line. If Pittsburgh can slip past Baltimore in the first round and Le'Veon Bell can come back and return to form, the Steelers are a dangerous team. The Seahawks cannot find the same success they did in last year's Super Bowl and are an example of how difficult it is to repeat as champions even when the talent is there. Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona is an instant classic.
Check back each week for updated predictions and analysis on the 2015 NFL playoffs as these intriguing games play out.