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Chris graduated from Georgia State University in 2009 with degrees in Journalism and Creative Writing. He has spent a lot of time working with the media. From engineering radio broadcast for most of Atlanta’s major sports teams to shooting high school football games behind a camera, Chris has a lot of media experience. Besides that, he loves soccer, detective shows, and a buffet list of 'nerdy' things that would embarrass his wife.

Into the Red Zone: Who’s Making It to the Postseason

Seattle Seahawks Playoff Chances

The defending Superbowl Champions might stumble their way into the playoffs this year. (Image Credit: Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

We’re into the late fall and for some teams in the NFL that means their idealized dreams of making the playoffs are falling like the leaves outside. It’s around this time of year that we start to see a huge divide between the hopeful and the dismal.

In a year where offensive records have been brushed aside and some of the League’s elite have inched themselves closer to Canton, the only thing that remains ever-important is the need to make it to the Superbowl. And with only 7 weeks left, it’s about time that we look at the most likely winners for the 12 playoff spots in the 2014 NFL postseason.

NFC

Division Winners (Cardinals, Packers, Saints, Eagles)

Wildcard (Lions and Seahawks)

Patrick Peterson Arizona Cardinals

Patrick Peterson and the Cardinals are on fire this year. (Image Credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo)

The conference that boasted two of the best teams in the NFL last year, the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, took a bit of a step back this year. Both of these teams have had issues finishing games and bringing the same intensity from prior seasons. While the Niners’ troubles may be attributed to injuries on the defense, Seattle simply hasn’t looked like the same team that throttled the Broncos en route to their first ever Superbowl victory. Now both teams are likely to be vying for a Wildcard spot, as the Arizona Cardinals march their way into the postseason as division winners.

The Cards look like the form team in the NFC West and could easily clinch the NFC’s top seed if they win four of their last 7 games. It may be tough, with two games left against the Seahawks and their final game of the season taking place on the road to San Francisco, but they haven’t shown any signs of slowing down (no matter which quarterback is under center) and have one of the fiercest defenses left in the NFC. Seattle could turn it around and make a run during the playoffs, but they will need to bring their A game as they’ll most likely be without the “12th Man” on the road as a Wildcard in the first round.

Green Bay, as they always seem to do, will find a way to win the North again; most likely on the back of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. They hardly have a “cupcake” schedule, but their hardest games will be at home against the Patriots and Lions. However, this division will most likely be decided in that final game against the playoff chasing Detroit Lions. While the Lions may have indeed finally realized their potential and will do enough to earn the other Wildcard spot in the NFC, I still have reservations about anointing them champions of the North. Detroit has never played consistently over the course of 16 games and I think they may still have a number of momentum-killing penalties left in that defense.

What I originally thought to be one of the toughest divisions in the NFC might prove to be, albeit because of their morbidly terrible game play. The NFC South is going to have to send someone to the playoffs (those are the rules) and it will most likely be a .500 or worse team. The candidate with the least noticeable flaws is the New Orleans Saints, and they’ll be the one representing a down year in the South come January. They have four more home games and only one away game against a playoff team (Steelers in Week 13). The key for them will be game management and Mark Ingram’s resurgence has the Saints poised to be the only decent rushing team in the NFC South. How bizarre is that?

Chip Kelly Eagles Offense

Chip Kelly is finding life as an NFL coach very rewarding. (Image Credit: Rob Carr_Getty images)

The final division winner will be the Philadelphia Eagles. Their defense has been making more plays than they were in the opening month of the season, and Chip Kelly’s offense is too hard to stop over four quarters. None of the defenses in the East can match up with all of the weapons at the Eagles’ disposal and the overall scheme has proven to be one that can negate mediocre quarterback play. Maybe the rest of the teams in that division should consider that last part…

AFC

Division Winners (Patriots, Broncos, Steelers, Colts)

Wildcard (Chiefs and Dolphins)

If you were to bet on any team to win the Superbowl this year, you’d be wise to invest in a team from the AFC. Almost every team in the conference has asserted it’s dominance over a NFC team this year and all of them are playing at a caliber that will be hard to match.

The Denver Broncos may be one of the scariest prospects in the NFL. Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are consistently finding space to get open for Peyton Manning, and the defense is infinitely better than last years’ incarnation. One thing that remains to be seen is whether Peyton will up his game in the playoffs. The recent debacle at New England reminded everyone of his limitations. But perhaps a vigorous running game and harder hitting defense will ease the “burden” of trying to get as many Superbowl rings as Eli.

Rob Gronkowski New England Patriots

Gronk Catch. Gronk Score. Gronk Spike. (Image Credit: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Speaking of (New England, not Eli), the Patriots look like a lock to make it out the East atop the division. They have a few tough games over the next few weeks, but the revival of Gronk gives them that superior edge that they’ve missed the past few seasons. No one can guard him, and it takes at least two people to tackle him. I think they’ll get revenge on Miami when the Wildcard contenders make the trip to Foxborough this winter to ensure another season as AFC East Champs.

The Miami Dolphins have been on a level defensively that few other teams have matched up with this year. Their defense has been smothering opposing quarterbacks and Ryan Tannehill is settling into his role as Miami’s new franchise quarterback. Last years’ “bully-gate” seems like a long time ago now and Joe Philbin has done an excellent job in turning things around.

Another team that has done an excellent job of turning things around has been the Pittsburgh Steelers. Outside of their losses to the Browns, Tampa and most recently the Jets, Pittsburgh has simply been unplayable. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and the rest of the Steeler offense has been on fire in recent weeks. However, the real turnaround should be credited to Mike Tomlin, who made some key moves (including bringing back James Harrison and activating rookie Martavius Bryant) that have really started to pay off in the second half of the season. The big thing for them, as last Sunday showed us, will be consistency on the defensive end of the ball.

Andrew Luck Indianapolis Colts

Andrew Luck is making his case for MVP of the league. (Image Credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

But even with all of these teams on top of their game, the real story of the AFC has been the Indianapolis Colts and their franchise talisman, Andrew Luck. He has been consistently putting up video game numbers and completely overshadowing a sub-par running game and weak offensive line. While they are most likely to be the first team to get exposed in the playoffs, they will also be the most entertaining to watch up until that point.

The final spot from the AFC will be the one big surprise of the NFL. Kansas City has quietly been playing better and better as the weeks have gone by. Andy Reid may finally have realized that running the football is the key to winning football games against tough opponents. Alex Smith is also playing some of the best football of any quarterback in the NFL. He simply doesn’t make many mistakes and takes exactly what the defense gives him. The Chiefs might still be outmatched when it comes to the likes of the Pats, Steelers and Broncos, but they are good value to make in with the big boys come January.

 With the 2014 NFL season winding down, it’s crucial to have the right momentum come the final few weeks. These 12 teams are showing that they have what it takes to battle it out with the rest and make it to the postseason, and maybe even the Superbowl.

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