2014 NFL Playoff Picks and Predictions: NFC Power Rankings: The NFL regular season has come to a close, and with the Wild-Card Round of the playoff set to begin this weekend, it is time to take a look at how the title contenders stack up. The NFC is a particularly interesting case because there is a pair of division winners that will be hosting opponents with far better records. Throw in the fact that three of the best defenses in the NFL are all in the mix, and the road to the Super Bowl in NFC isn’t an easy one. With that in mind, here is a closer look at how the six teams in the NFC playoffs stack up.
1. Seattle Seahawks
With home-field advantage locked up, the Seahawks are going to be tough to stop in the NFC. After all, the Seahawks went 7-1 at home, outscoring opponents by a combined score of 233-110 and slaughtering San Francisco and New Orleans along the way. Heck, they even went on the road and beat Carolina, and they haven’t lost a game by more than seven points all year. The efficient play of quarterback Russell Wilson and top-five ground attack led by Marshawn Lynch has provided more than enough offense to support the NFL’s stingiest defense in terms of both yards and points. Seattle might be the most complete team in either conference, and armed with arguably the best home-field advantage in the NFL, they have a clear path to the Super Bowl.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Since a 1-2 start to the year, San Francisco went 11-2 the rest of the way and rolls into the playoffs on a six-game winning streak. During the stretch, they knocked off the top-seeded Seahawks, and there two losses came by a combined four points to a pair of playoff teams in Carolina and New Orleans. By the way, the 49ers didn’t have Michael Crabtree in either defeat. With their star receiver back in the fold, San Francisco’s offense seems to have found its stride. Meanwhile, the defense has remained stellar, allowing the third-fewest points and fifth-fewest yards during the regular season. In the first round, San Francisco gets a Green Bay team that they torched in last year’s playoffs and torched again earlier this year. The Seahawks could be waiting in the next round in what could be the de facto NFC title game.
3. Carolina Panthers
Carolina won 11 of its final 12 games after a 1-3 start to snag the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. Along the way, the Panthers picked up statement victories against San Francisco, New Orleans and New England. The secret to success has been timely plays from quarterback Cam Newton and an excellent defensive unit. Star linebacker Luke Kuechly leads a unit that allowed the second-fewest points and yards while ranking sixth against the pass and second against the run. A lack of offensive playmakers has led to a lot of close games, but a dynamic QB like Newton and an elite defense isn’t a bad recipe for a deep playoff run.
4. Green Bay Packers
Timing can be everything in the playoffs, and Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb couldn’t have picked a better time to get healthy. The two hooked up on the game-winning score against the Bears that clinched the NFC North and put the Packers in the playoffs, and while Rodgers looked a little rusty, the Green Bay offense is explosive when he is at the helm. Yes, the Packers’ defense is in the bottom 10 against both the run and the pass, but with an X-factor like Rodgers back in the fold, the Packers have a puncher’s chance against any team they face.
5. New Orleans Saints
On the plus side, the Saints have a much-improved defense and an MVP-caliber quarterback in Drew Brees that has already shown that he can take New Orleans to a Super Bowl title. On the flip side, the Saints’ high-powered offense has struggled to find its rhythm on the road. The Saints lost road games to the Jets and Rams, and they were crushed 34-7 in Seattle. Meanwhile, New Orleans scored 42 points against Tampa Bay at home and just 16 on the road and scored 31 points against Carolina at home and just 13 on the road. Having Brees under center gives them a fighting chance against any team, but struggling on the road is not ideal for a No. 6 seed.
6. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles won a winner-take-all showdown with Dallas in the regular-season finale to take the NFC East crown and a spot in the playoffs, capping a 7-1 stretch to close the year. Quarterback Nick Foles and running back LeSean McCoy have Chip Kelly’s offense firing on all cylinders, and the Eagles finished the regular season ranked first in rushing and ninth in passing. While Philadelphia’s offense may be the real deal, the Eagles’ secondary is the worst in the NFL. With Drew Brees and company heading to town for a first-round matchup, the Eagles may need a bout of severe weather to slow down the Saints.
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