Which two teams should scare the top playoff seeds?


New England and Seattle have the luxury of sitting at home this wild card weekend as the top seeds in their conferences, but that is no guarantee the two will be preparing for one another just over a month from now in Arizona.

The top seeds in the AFC and NFC have only met in the Super Bowl twice in the 21st century – the Colts and Saints in Super Bowl XLIV and the Seahawks and Broncos last year.

The playoffs are all about matchups, which is why the team with the best record often doesn’t get all the way through. The teams that match up the best against the Patriots and Seahawks aren’t necessarily the ones that will meet in the Super Bowl themselves – it’s possible to spring a divisional round upset and then get tripped up the next week. But here are the teams the Pats and Hawks need to be most wary of.

NFC: Dallas Cowboys

The one team capable of knocking off the defending champs on their home field is the one team that did it in the regular season.

Seattle’s worst performance of the year came against the Cowboys on Oct. 12 as Dallas sliced and diced the Seahawks for 401 yards. Demarco Murray ran for 115 yards against the NFL’s best run defense. The Cowboys held the ball for nearly 38 minutes. Russell Wilson was completely ineffective, completing 14 of 28 passes for 126 yards and an interception.

Life has changed since then, most notably with the Seahawks dealing locker room wart Percy Harvin. Seattle is 9-2 since jettisoning Harvin to the scrapheap that is the Jets. But Dallas still has the best formula for winning at Qwest Field.

The only question is whether the Cowboys can get there. A tough divisional round matchup at Lambeau Field looms, and the Packers are capable of exploiting Dallas’ weaknesses just as much as Dallas is capable of exploiting Seattle’s. The Seahawks may end up dodging their greatest threat.

AFC: Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens are the weakest team in the AFC playoff field. Yet they also pose the greatest threat to top-seeded New England.

Say what you will about Joe Flacco – and believe us, some of the things you might say are unprintable – but the guy seems to have the patented Eli Manning knack for playing lousy except for when the stakes are highest.

Flacco and Baltimore took a similar path to the Super Bowl two years ago, beating top-seeded Denver in the divisional round before beating the Patriots at Gillette Stadium for the AFC title.

In order to face New England, Baltimore needs to go on the road and beat division rival Pittsburgh. There’s no such thing as a sure thing in the NFL’s most hate-filled modern rivalry, but consider this: Flacco is 4-0 in the wild card round in his career.

Like I said earlier, the playoffs are all about matchups. And it’s hard to see the Steelers getting to New England via Denver. Likewise, neither Indianapolis nor Cincinnati pose an imminent threat to the Patriots in the divisional round. Peyton Manning is 0-12 at New England in his career. Even Kyle Orton has a better record there.

If anyone beats the Pats at Gillette, it will be Flacco and the Ravens in the divisional round.

About Alex Hickey

Alex Hickey

Alex Hickey can vividly recall most significant NFL events going back to Walter Payton's final game in 1987, including the ones that didn't make him cry. Since 2008, his full-time job has been covering college football, specifically McNeese State, for the Lake Charles (La.) American Press. Free time is spent informing, amusing or annoying you for Football Insiders.