In this wide-open NFL postseason, SI explains how each and every remaining team could make it to the Super Bowl—and our Monday Morning Quarterback tells you which ones will
Keep one thing in mind as the top seeds open play this weekend: Only once in the past 19 seasons has form at the top held in the NFL playoffs. Only once in a generation have the two No. 1 seeds met in the Super Bowl—four years ago, when the Saints beat the Colts in Miami.
The chalk is already blurry after wild-card weekend, with road wins by two six seeds (the Saints over the Eagles; the Chargers over the Bengals) and a No. 5 (the 49ers over the Packers). The top seed in the NFC, Seattle, has issues beyond the rejuvenated Saints on Saturday: Defenses have figured out how to bottle up this offense over the last month, holding the Seahawks to an average of 19.3 points over their last four games. In the AFC, the No. 1 Broncos open at home on Sunday against San Diego, a convincing 27--20 winner at Mile High in Week 15, when Peyton Manning struggled for one of the few times this season. Without injured outside linebacker Von Miller, Denver's defense isn't good enough to win if Manning—on the eve of winning his fifth MVP award (he's a lock)—has another 200-odd-yard clunker.
While I trust enough in the Seahawks' defense and home field advantage to pick them to reach the Meadowlands on Feb. 2, I'm going against the grain in the AFC, with the No. 2--seeded Patriots winning at Denver in the 15th Brady-Manning Bowl, on Jan. 19. I like Tom Brady's arm better in the cold, plus I favor the New England D. And after a nine-year Super Bowl--winning drought, I like the Pats to beat Seattle for the title. Too much experience, and too much Julian Edelman. The ultimate underdog, New England's smurfy wideout—a former Kent State option quarterback—will be the Super Bowl XLVIII MVP with double-digit receptions. He's been there before, against the Giants two years ago. As have the Patriots.
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY SI PREMEDIA. PATRICK SMITH/GETTY IMAGES (GATES); JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SI (KAEPERNICK); DAMIAN STROHMEYER FOR SI (EDELMAN); MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/AP (THOMAS); DILIP VISHWANAT/GETTY IMAGES (HILTON); CHRIS KEANE FOR SI (NEWTON); CARLOS M. SAAVEDRA FOR SI (BREES); MSA/ICON SMI (CLEMONS)
Scouting Reports by Andy Benoit