Remaining Teams with the Toughest Paths to Super Bowl: Road to MetLife Stadium

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2014

Remaining Teams with the Toughest Paths to Super Bowl: Road to MetLife Stadium

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    Nobody is given an easy path to the Super Bowl; it must be earned.

    But some teams have to earn more than others. They play much tougher schedules than their opponents, and if they want to be successful, they have to swallow hard and play their best football on the road against the toughest teams in the league.

    In this feature, we look at the eight remaining playoff teams and determine the difficulty of their paths to MetLife Stadium based on their regular-season and playoff opponents.

8. New England Patriots

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    Record: 12-4, first in AFC East

    Record vs. playoff teams: 2-2, 2-0 at home, 0-2 on road

    Road record vs. opponents with .500 record or better: 1-4

    Most impressive victory: 34-31 (OT) victory over Denver Broncos in Week 12

    Overview: The Patriots are battle-tested because they have been so consistent in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era. They have been to the playoffs 11 of the past 13 years and have won three Super Bowls.

    However, the Pats had a relatively easy go of it this year, largely because the AFC East was not a very impressive division. While home victories over the New Orleans Saints (30-27 in Week 6) and the Broncos were impressive, the Pats could not win a road game against a team with a .500 record or better until they overwhelmed the Baltimore Ravens 41-7 in Week 7.

    If the seeds hold up, they will have to go to Denver and defeat the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game. Based on their road record against competitive opponents, that is quite unlikely.

7. San Francisco 49ers

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    Record: 12-4, second in NFC West; 1-0 in postseason

    Record vs. playoff teams: 3-4, 2-2 at home, 1-2 on road

    Road record vs. opponents with .500 record or better: 3-2

    Most impressive victory: 23-20 victory at Green Bay Packers, Wild Card Round

    Overview: The 49ers had a relatively slow start this year, and they were forced to chase the Seattle Seahawks for the majority of the season. While they are on a seven-game winning streak, they struggled against playoff teams this year.

    Their postseason is a gauntlet. They defeated the Packers in brutal single-digit temperatures in the Wild Card Round, and that earned them a game against the red-hot Carolina Panthers on the road this week. If they can find a way to defeat the Panthers—a team that beat them in San Francisco during the regular season—they will most likely be forced to play for the NFC Championship by going to Seattle.

    The Niners did not have a difficult schedule during the regular season compared to the other playoff teams. However, if they are going to make it to MetLife Stadium next month, they will have gone through a postseason gauntlet.

6. New Orleans Saints

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    Record: 11-5, second in NFC South; 1-0 in postseason

    Record vs. playoff teams: 3-3, 2-0 at home, 1-3 on road

    Road record vs. opponents with .500 record or better: 2-4

    Most impressive victory: 26-24 victory at Philadelphia in Wild Card Round

    Overview: The Saints demonstrated their strength and consistency at home (8-0) in the regular season, but they enhanced their reputation with their wild-card win on the road against the previously red-hot Philadelphia Eagles.

    Drew Brees had never led the Saints to a road playoff victory prior to that game, and it gives the Saints confidence that they can play a competitive game away from home against a powerful opponent.

    They will be put to the test this week against the powerful Seahawks, a team that punished them 34-7 in a Week 13 meeting on the West Coast. If the Saints can find a way to pull off the upset, they will have to play the Panthers or 49ers on the road for the NFC Championship.

5. Carolina Panthers

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    Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera
    Carolina Panthers head coach Ron RiveraJeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    Record: 12-4, first in NFC South

    Record vs. playoff teams: 3-2, 2-1 at home, 1-1 on road

    Road record vs. opponents with .500 record or better: 2-2

    Most impressive victory: 10-9 victory at San Francisco 49ers, Week 10

    Overview: The Panthers were on a fairly impressive roll when they played at San Francisco in early November. They had reeled off four straight victories, but none of those games had been as challenging as playing the 49ers on the road. The powerful Carolina defense held the Niners without a touchdown and pulled off one of the most impressive victories of the year.

    They followed that victory with a 24-20 Monday night win over the New England Patriots. By beating two of the league's most glamorous teams in back-to-back games, the Panthers served notice that they were one of the league's elite teams themselves.

    They will get tested by the 49ers in the divisional playoffs, and it's likely that they will have to go to Seattle if they are going to get to the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.

4. Seattle Seahawks

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    Record: 13-3, first in NFC West

    Record vs. playoff teams: 3-2, 2-0 at home, 1-2 on road

    Road record vs. opponents with .500 record or better: 2-2

    Most impressive victory: 12-7 victory at Carolina Panthers in Week 1

    Overview: The Seahawks have been the most consistent team in the NFC, and their victory over the Panthers set the tone for the season.

    Few paid attention to that game, but the Seahawks became the only team to defeat the Panthers in their home stadium this season. 

    The Seahawks earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, and they will host the New Orleans Saints in the divisional playoffs. Seattle overpowered New Orleans in a Week 13 meeting at CenturyLink Field, and the Seahawks may be overconfident as a result.

    If they can survive that matchup, they will face the Panthers or the archrival 49ers at home in the NFC Championship Game.

3. Denver Broncos

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    Record: 13-3, first in AFC West

    Record vs. playoff teams: 4-3, 2-1 at home, 2-2 on road

    Road record vs. opponents with .500 record or better: 3-2

    Most impressive victory: 35-28 victory at Kansas City Chiefs in Week 13

    Overview: The Broncos were the most prolific offensive team in the NFL this season by a wide margin. They scored 40 or more points six time this season and Peyton Manning threw a record 55 touchdown passes.

    However, there are plenty of questions in Denver. The Broncos were the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs last year as well, but they could not defeat the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional playoffs and their season ended in humiliation.

    There will be plenty of trepidation as they host the San Diego Chargers in the postseason. If the Broncos can avoid the upset, they will host the Colts or Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. The Broncos lost to both of those teams on the road during the regular season.

2. Indianapolis Colts

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    Record: 12-4, first in AFC South; 1-0 in postseason

    Record vs. playoff teams: 5-2, 3-0 at home, 2-2 on road

    Road record vs. opponents with .500 record or better: 3-3

    Most impressive victory: 45-44 victory vs. Kansas City Chiefs, Wild Card Round

    Overview: The Colts overcame a 28-point deficit against the Chiefs to survive and advance in the postseason. While it can be argued that the Colts never would have been in such a position if they had played decent football in the first half, their ability to come back and steal the victory was remarkable.

    Second-year quarterback Andrew Luck was the architect of that win and he is a formidable talent. He should be able to challenge the injury-plagued New England defense and push the Patriots to the limit. This game could come down to a key possession late in the fourth quarter.

    The Colts are battle-tested, as they defeated the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos during the regular season.

    If they can beat the Patriots on the road in the divisional playoffs, they will likely have to go to Denver for the AFC Championship Game.

1. San Diego Chargers

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    Record: 9-7, third in AFC West; 1-0 in postseason

    Record vs. playoff teams: 6-2, 2-2 at home, 4-0 on road

    Road record vs. opponents with .500 record or better: 4-2

    Most impressive victory: 27-20 victory at Denver Broncos in Week 15

    Overview: The Chargers' performance this year against high-level opponents has been shocking. While they came into the playoffs as the sixth seed in the AFC, they were at their best when they played the strongest opponents on the road.

    In addition to giving both the Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals (in the Wild Card Round) their only home defeats this year, the Chargers also registered impressive victories at Philadelphia and Kansas City.

    The Chargers have have a complementary running game with Ryan Mathews that takes quite a bit of pressure off quarterback Philip Rivers, who no longer has to win games by himself.

    If the Chargers find a way to win at Denver for a second time this season, they will be forced to go to New England or Indianapolis for the AFC Championship Game. While they will be a huge underdog against either of those opponents, they will not be intimidated by their surroundings.

     

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