6 Things Guaranteed to Happen in the NFL Playoffs

  • Richard Sherman

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    The Seahawks won’t repeat

    Perhaps this seems crazy right now. Seattle’s monstrous defense is peaking at the right time after sputtering through the middle of their season, and they beat last year’s AFC champion Denver Broncos easily. It is tough to imagine them losing at the moment, and you can line up to point and laugh if Seattle triumphs in the Super Bowl.

    The reality is that repeating as a champion is one of the toughest tasks in sports, particularly in the modern NFL. While the early Super Bowl days were populated by back-to-back champs – Lombardi’s Packers, Shula’s Dolphins, and Noll’s Steelers – there has only been one repeat champion since the turn of the century. Bill Belichick’s Patriots were the last to accomplish the feat.

    Despite Seattle’s dominance, they are prone to the same factors that have derailed other title hopefuls. Injuries, in-game luck, and officiating play a major role in single-game elimination tournaments, and the Seahawks will have to hope those factors play in their favor for a second straight year. It’s not impossible for them to repeat, but I think they go down.

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  • Drew Stanton

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    Arizona goes one-and-done

    Bruce Arians and his staff deserve loads of credit for soldiering on through an injury-plagued season. Winning games with your second and third-string quarterbacks and with numerous starters lost for the year is stunning in its own right; doing it in the NFC West is even more impressive.

    Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they are simply running out of bodies to trot out there. Instability, particularly at the quarterback position, is a death sentence once the football calendar reaches the postseason. Getting away with fill-ins will only get you by if you have a historically good defense. No offense to Arizona’s D, a game unit in their own right, but they aren’t the 2000 Baltimore Ravens or anything close.

    Best of luck to the boys from ‘Zona – you’re going to need it…against the streaking Panthers.

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  • Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Denver and New England will decide the AFC

    In a continuation of one of the league’s all-time great rivalries, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning appear to be on a collision course for what feels like the 1000th time. It’d be enough just to have these two old gunslingers in the postseason again while their careers wind down, but Denver and New England look primed for a championship game matchup.

    Can you find someone you feel has a chance to derail the showdown? Denver and New England went a combined 18-3 from October 5 through mid-December, handily disposing of several AFC “contenders” along the way. Andrew Luck has been a savage in his third season, but the Colts are still a few pieces away from the big time. The AFC North was a pile of mediocrity for most of the season, and it’s hard to see a real challenger coming out of that group.

    If you think this rivalry is overdone, you might want to shield your eyes in January. Brady and Manning have at least one more battle left.

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  • Cam Newton

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The NFC South will win a playoff game

    Most discussion on the NFC South this season has been heated debate over whether sub-.500 teams should be included in the playoff picture – division wins be damned. There’s little evidence to suggest that a playoff winner will emerge from an obvious down year.

    The same things were said about the 2010-11 Seahawks, who had the luxury of hosting the reigning Super Bowl champs from New Orleans. Despite their less than inspiring record, those yet-to-bloom Seahawks triumphed following a last-minute scamper by Marshawn Lynch, leaving pundits and fans stunned at the turn of events. Seattle rode a raucous home crowd and was fueled by the disrespect thrown their way.

    Look for Carolina to take advantage of similar circumstances. There will be plenty of doubters, but complacency and perhaps a favorable draw against the sputtering Cardinals will propel them to a win – even if that’s all they get. They smoked Atlanta in the last regular season game to win the division, and have won four straight. Peaking at the right time.

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  • Aaron Rodgers

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    Aaron Rodgers will make it rain

    The Packers are far from a lock to advance in the playoffs – their defense lags well behind the other side of the ball – but if you’ve watched Green Bay play at all this season, you are preparing for the Aaron Rodgers firework display that has been showcased time and time again, despite the calf issues. And there’s more than just this postseason at stake for Rodgers.

    Going back a few seasons, the postseason hasn’t been kind to Rodgers since his Super Bowl triumph. Storming to a 15-1 record in the season immediately following the win, Rodgers’ Packers became the first team to amass that many wins without winning a playoff game. 2012-13 and 2013-14 were no friendlier; Colin Kaepernick ran wild on Green Bay in the former year and overcame icy conditions at Lambeau in the latter.

    Those 49ers won’t stand in Rodgers’ way this time. He’s been on a totally different level this year, dropping balls into Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson that look more like a well-oiled machine than the actions of a human being. Even if he goes down again, the likely MVP is going to go out in a blaze of glory.

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  • Peyton Manning

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    Denver will avenge their Super Bowl defeat

    This may be more of a sentimental pick than one grounded in reality, but the script is there for Peyton Manning to execute. With his career winding down, another Super Bowl title is within the grasp of his Broncos. He isn’t playing at the historic levels reached last season, but he may not have to – Denver’s D is the second-best rush defense in the league and the third-best unit in total defense.

    For the man that has accomplished so much, only another championship will do. After coming painfully close last season and receiving a bevy of reinforcements on the other side of the ball, it’s time for Manning to cash in on a late-career crack at the ultimate honor. The talent, the gumption, and the fire are there – Denver is aimed at the Lombardi.

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  • Richard Sherman
  • Drew Stanton
  • Cam Newton
  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Peyton Manning

The NFL’s postseason tournament is among the most beloved spectacles in sport. That’s not especially surprising given football’s status as America’s athletic overlord, but the reasons for loving pro football’s postseason go beyond generic love for the game. Aesthetics hit their peak during the winter months; the crunch of pads colliding and heroics of behemoths are amplified by our fascination with how they can withstand the elements. Even as they fly around the gridiron, the sight of their breath in cold air reminds us all they’re humans just like us.

The teams change year after year, but the sights and sounds remain similar. Unlike in America’s indoor sports or baseball’s postseason, NFL players have to brave the elements like many Average Joes if they wish to reach the pinnacle of their sport. It’d be a stretch to suggest that they’re “just like us,” but it makes football players feel just a bit more sympathetic, their postseason a tad more interesting.

In case you haven’t been drawn in by the spectacle of winter football, we have a primer for you to get ready for the 2014-15 Playoffs. Years of devoted fandom and watching how things play out have informed us on the future of the sport, even if I’m no fortuneteller. Studying trends and observing the game will teach you a thing or two about postseason football, and soon you’ll be able to tell your friends that you saw things coming in advance.

What can we count on, other than cold weather and hard hits? Here are 6 Things Guaranteed to Happen in the NFL Playoffs.

Follow Kyle on Twitter at @kyleneubeck

image via Harry How/Getty Images