This year’s NFC playoff bracket looks almost like a veritable “Who’s Next” issue that any garden variety, mainstream magazine would publish. The NFL features promising rookies aplenty—the QB class alone is one of the best on record, rivaling the fabled 1983 class—but it is most concentrated in the NFC.
Robert Griffin, Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin, Alfred Morris—all were in the conversation (to varying degrees) for their side of the ball’s Rookie of the Year awards, and that’s just two of the teams.
Of course, the NFC playoffs also feature Aaron Rogers and the Green Bay Packers, those time tested veterans that are ruining the ‘Rookies Taking Over!’ storylines. Many have the Pack winning it all, in fact.
That doesn’t diminish the excitement that the January playoffs portend, however. Below, a look at the best and worst case scenarios for all six teams, in no particular order.
Green Bay Packers
Record: 11-5, NFC North Champions
Opponent: Minnesota Vikings
Best Case Scenario: The Packers get healthy at the right time, utilizing their experience and talent, executing to the hilt.
Translation? They win it all.
It may not be the most exciting way for things to unfold—it’s their, what, 64th NFL title?—but it’s a very real possibility. Aaron Rogers squelches the rookie mania, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in three years. Mike McArthy and Aaron Rogers steal Coach of the Year and MVP honors, respectively. Charles Woodson patents the fountain of youth, a dynasty begins.
Worst Case Scenario: The over-achieving Vikings beat the Pack again, with Adrian Peterson rushing for 300 yards in the process. LB Clay Matthews and Woodson both go down with career-threatening injuries, and a disgruntled front office fires McArthy for the embarrassment, in spite of the good year (remember Marty Schottenheimer getting canned by the Chargers for a 14-2 finish in 2006?). Rogers demands a trade.
San Francisco 49ers:
Record: 11-4-1, NFC West Champions
Opponent: winner of Green Bay/Minnesota
Best Case Scenario: The Niners right the ship in their bye round, and take care of business all the way to the Super Bowl. They become the complete team that they looked like for about two thirds of the year.
They fall just short, however, losing to the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, but there’s no shame in that. In the offseason, they trade Alex Smith for either a shutdown corner and/or a speedy complement to WR Michael Crabtree, becoming unstoppable for years to come.
Worst Case Scenario: They draw the Packers in the second round, getting shellacked by Aaron Rogers to the tune of 51-10, and thus furthering their status as “not quite there, yet, fellas.” Harbaugh has a meltdown, influences the front office to rid themselves of Smith and Kaepernick, drafting (gulp) Matt Barkley of USC. Randy Moss jumps ship to the Seahawks, has a career revival. Hated rival Pete Carroll and his Seahawks win the Super Bowl, with Carroll sarcastically dedicating the win to Harbaugh.
Record: 11-5, 2nd place, NFC West
Opponent: Washington Redskins
Best Case Scenario: Seattle’s Russell Wilson wins the duel with Robert Griffin III, propelling the Seahawks all the way to the NFC Championship Game, where they fall to the NFC’s team of destiny, the Vikings.
It’s more than expected, and the Seahawks further ensure that this year was no fluke by stealing a speedy receiver to complement Sidney Rice in the draft. Seattle goes on to win two out of five Super Bowls. Wilson, the dark horse candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year, “steals” the award.
Worst Case Scenario: The ‘Hawks make the NFC title game, only to get embarrassed by Green Bay in a “revenge game.” Rogers, in his usual smug way, pontificates on and on about how he always knew the Pack was better. Wilson suffers a slight MCL tear, all but guaranteeing a sophomore slump next year. Harbaugh sarcastically sends Carroll flowers, saying he’s ‘sorry’ for their loss.
Record: 13-3, NFC South Champions
Opponent: winner of Seattle/Washington game
Best Case Scenario: The Falcons prove their doubters wrong, winning the Super Bowl over the Denver Broncos in a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIII.
Matt Ryan and coach Mike Smith get the monkey off of their back, winning close game after close game in the tournament. They’re the most boring championship team ever, but they pull it off. Ryan sneaks away with MVP honors, Roddy White and Julio Jones get unprecedented contract extensions. The Saints are rocked with yet another scandal.
Worst Case Scenario: Atlanta yet again loses in their first game in spite of a great regular season. Russell Wilson gives the Falcons and their 23rd ranked defense fits, and the game isn’t even close. Owner Arthur Blank furiously “Schottenheimers” coach Smith, and Chan Gailey takes over the reigns for 2013. Matt Ryan falls in the “where are they now?” category.
Record: 10-6, NFC East Champions
Best Case Scenario: RGIII makes coach Mike Shannahan look like a genius, taking the ‘Skins all the way to the Super Bowl, where they lose to the Broncos (Shannahan’s old team).
All is well, however, as the foundation is laid for years to come. The Cowboys and Giants get old in a hurry, Philadelphia is slow in their rebuilding efforts, and Washington dominates the NFC East for a decade. Two more Lombardi trophies are added to the front office display case before it’s all said and done. Owner Dan Snyder drafts some defense studs to go along with the now-injured stars coming back, a 16-0 record is not out of question.
Worst Case Scenario: The Redskins lose the ‘Hawks, 32-6, as it turns out that RGIII was rushed back a bit too soon from his knee injury. Not only is he ineffective, he further injures himself, endangering his second season. Off the field, defensive stalwart Brian Orakpo reinjures himself as well, filming another Geico commercial. OC Kyle Shannahan joins Cowboys coach Jason Garrett’s staff as the new coordinator there. Snyder brings in Tim Tebow as “offensive consultant/quarterback coach.”
Record: 10-6, 2nd Place, NFC North
Opponent: Green Bay Packers
Best Case Scenario: The Vikes continue to ride all-world RB Adrian Peterson, and in spite of everyone knowing it’s coming, it still works. Embattled QB Christian Ponder channels his inner Gus Frerotte and finds ways to not screw up, perhaps even throwing a TD every so often (hey, this is meant to be a bit humorous, remember).
Peterson does find that elusive 2,105 rushing yards mark…in the playoff games alone. They lose to eventual NFC champion Seattle in the conference title game. However, all agree that with a good draft, the Vikings are here to stay; here to crash the Bears/Packers party for years to come in the NFC North. It’s later discovered that AP is a real-life Benjamin Button, explaining his freakish abilities.
Worst Case Scenario: Minnesota quickly bows out of the playoffs, getting blown out by Green Bay. Peterson re-injures himself, and Ponder goes the way of Eric Crouch, becoming another formerly hyped QB deciding that NFL football is not for him. Green Bay wins the Super Bowl, and Chicago hires Jon Gruden to replace the recently canned Lovie Smith, all but ensuring the Vikes’ “also-ran” status for years to come.