2017 NFL playoff primer: Bracket, schedule, Super Bowl paths, more

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We have arrived, at long last, upon the NFL postseason.

This is lousy news for 20 teams but wonderful news for 12. And if you're a fan of one of those 12, this right here is the document you want to clip and save -- or whatever the 2018 internet equivalent of that might be.

ESPN's 2018 playoff primer breaks down each team's path, looks at its chances and tells you everything you need to know about what your team must do to reach Super Bowl LII next month in Minneapolis. We hope you find it enjoyable and educational.

Click the links below to go to each team:

NFC: 1. PHI | 2. MIN | 3. LAR | 4. NO | 5. CAR | 6. ATL
AFC: 1. NE | 2. PIT| 3. JAX | 4. KC | 5. TEN | 6. BUF


1. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)

First game: Home game in divisional round on Saturday, Jan. 13 (4:35 p.m. ET on NBC) | Tickets

Path to Super Bowl LII: The Eagles get a bye, then will host either the sixth-seeded Falcons (if they win their first-round game), the fourth-seeded Saints or the fifth-seeded Panthers. Win that, and the Eagles would host the NFC Championship Game against either the Vikings, Rams, Saints or Panthers.

Reason for hope: The Eagles have been the best team all season. Their only losses entering Sunday (when they rested many starters in a home loss to Dallas) were road defeats in Kansas City and Seattle -- hardly anything of which to be ashamed. Even at their worst, which they were against the Giants on defense in Week 15 and against the Raiders on offense in Week 16, they've managed to find ways to win. They are deep and talented on both sides of the ball and can play a variety of styles and still win.

Reason for concern: Don't know if you've heard, but star quarterback Carson Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14, and the Eagles are rolling into the playoffs with Nick Foles. While Foles looked great in his first game, he doesn't offer Wentz's ability to make chicken salad on third and fourth downs. That was a key element of what made Philadelphia different from the other NFC contenders all season, and without it they may be just one of several very good teams in the NFC field.

X factor: Jay Ajayi. The Eagles should have the ability to lean on their run game to control games, especially once they take the lead. They got Ajayi to be a guy on whom they could rely for a heavy workload, and so far they haven't used him that way. It's possible they have a plan for him in the playoffs that would offer a new dimension to an offense that needs a post-Wentz jolt.

2. Minnesota Vikings (13-3)

First game: Home game in divisional round on Sunday, Jan. 14 (4:40 p.m. ET on Fox) | Tickets

Path to Super Bowl LII: The Vikings will get a bye week and then host a playoff game Jan. 14 against either the Rams, Saints or Panthers. If the Falcons beat the Rams in the wild-card round, the Vikings would host the Panthers-Saints winner. If the Rams beat the Falcons, the Vikings would host the Rams. If they win that, they would play in an NFC Championship Game either in Philadelphia or at home against the Falcons, Saints or Panthers.

Reason for hope: The defense is an absolute monster. Entering Sunday's game, the Vikings had held four of their previous six opponents under 10 points, and two of those opponents were the Rams and the Falcons. They allowed the fewest points per game and fewest yards per game of any team in the league. They had the second-best third-down defense and the second-best goal-to-go defense. You wish they were better at generating turnovers (just 19 all season entering Sunday), but the defense is so good at limiting opponents in so many situations that it should keep the Vikings in every game.

Reason for concern: Since they didn't secure the No. 1 seed, the prospect of having to win an outdoor game in Philadelphia to advance to the Super Bowl (which would be in their own home stadium, by the way) looms large. And as great as Case Keenum's story and season have been, we haven't seen him tested under playoff pressure.

X factor: The pass protection. One of the key elements to Keenum's season has been the Vikings' ability to keep him protected. Entering Sunday, he'd been sacked just 20 times -- fewer than any other quarterback in the NFC field besides Drew Brees. (And of course Nick Foles, who has started only three games.) Can the Vikings' improved offensive line keep Keenum clean against the type of pass rushes he'll see on the road to Super Bowl LII?

3. Los Angeles Rams (11-5)

First game: vs. Falcons in wild-card round on Saturday (8:15 p.m. ET on NBC) | Tickets

Path to Super Bowl LII: The Rams host the defending NFC champion Falcons. If they win that, they would travel to Minnesota for a divisional-round game against the Vikings. Win that, and the Rams would find themselves in an NFC Championship Game either in Philadelphia or at home against the Saints or Panthers.

Reason for hope: The Rams were the highest-scoring team in the league at 31 points per game before Sunday's white-flag, regular-season finale. Todd Gurley, who didn't play Sunday, led the NFL with 2,093 yards from scrimmage, and with top wideout Robert Woods back from injury, the passing game is in position to click the way it was during the middle part of the season. Coach Sean McVay isn't running out of creative offensive ideas anytime soon.

Reason for concern: Same as for a lot of teams in this NFC field -- inexperience. Jared Goff has been an NFL starter for a season and a half. Gurley is a third-year player. The wideouts and tight ends are a young, inexperienced group. And there's also the fact that no other potential playoff team but Tennessee entered Week 17 with more turnovers than the Rams' 19. The margin for error shrinks this time of year.

X factor: Aaron Donald. The Rams' all-world defensive tackle is the kind of player you just feel is built for the playoffs. He might be the best defensive player in the league, he's looking for a big new contract, and there just aren't many interior offensive linemen who can handle him. Donald is Wade Phillips' game-wrecker, the way Von Miller was for the Broncos on their Super Bowl run two years ago.

4. New Orleans Saints (11-5)

First game: vs. Panthers in wild-card round on Sunday (4:40 p.m. ET on Fox) | Tickets

Path to Super Bowl LII: The Saints will host the division-rival Panthers, against whom they went 2-0 this season, in their playoff opener. If they win that, they'll travel to either Philadelphia or Minnesota for the divisional round. (If the Falcons beat the Rams, a victorious Saints team would go to Minnesota. If the Rams beat the Falcons, the Saints would go to Philadelphia). Win that game, and the Saints would find themselves in an NFC Championship Game against either the Falcons, Eagles or Vikings. The only way the Saints can play the NFC Championship Game at home is if their opponent is the Falcons.

Reason for hope: They have the best quarterback in the NFC field. Drew Brees might not have had his usual, eye-popping statistical season, but his efficiency was off the charts. And just because the Saints were able to win by running the ball and making a few big plays on defense doesn't mean they can't count on Brees to put them on his back and win them a game when they need him to. He's the only quarterback in the field who has won a Super Bowl.

Reason for concern: There's really not much not to like here, but if you're looking for reason to worry, four of their losses were on the road and four were to playoff teams. However, two of those were in Weeks 1 and 2 to Minnesota and New England, and the Saints obviously didn't have their feet under them yet. They will be more formidable in the Superdome.

X factor: The defense. It's still a young group, and until you see young players under playoff pressure you can't know what to expect. New Orleans' offense is so good and so versatile and so balanced that you feel certain they can score with any team. But can that young Saints defense make a big play to win a playoff game when it needs to?

5. Carolina Panthers (11-5)

First game: at Saints in wild-card round on Sunday (4:40 p.m. ET on Fox) | Tickets

Path to Super Bowl LII: The Panthers have to solve the Saints in order to start their road back to the Super Bowl. They went 0-2 against New Orleans this season. But if they beat them this time, they will travel to either Philadelphia or Minnesota in the divisional round. (To Philadelphia if the Rams beat the Falcons, to Minnesota if the Falcons beat the Rams.) Win that, and the Panthers would land in an NFC Championship Game against either the Eagles, Vikings, Rams or Falcons. The only way that game would be at home is if it were against the Falcons.

Reason for hope: The Panthers know the way to the Super Bowl as well as anyone in this field, having reached the big game two years ago. There has been a lot of turnover since then, but quarterback Cam Newton, tight end Greg Olsen and linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly are the team leaders and all were part of that run. That 2015 Carolina team was a front-runner that went 15-1 and didn't confront much adversity until the Super Bowl, when it crumbled. This Carolina team has overcome a lot and shown a seasoned contender's ability to thrive under difficult circumstances.

Reason for concern: The passing game. The Panthers entered Sunday's regular-season finale ranked 27th in the league with 194.4 passing yards per game and 21st at 6.24 yards per pass attempt. They win with their run game and their fearsome front seven, and Newton's ability to make plays with his legs when things break down is a big part of what they do. When they do throw it, it's often short to dynamic running back Christian McCaffrey. But with Kelvin Benjamin shipped off to Buffalo, Curtis Samuel injured and Devin Funchess playing hurt, there aren't many downfield weapons for Newton in a league that tends to require one or two of those in big games.

X factor: Olsen. He missed nine games with a foot injury but returned late in the season and looked like his old self down the stretch. If he can stay healthy and productive in the coming weeks, it's possible he could help cure what ails the Panthers' passing game.

6. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)

First game: at Rams in wild-card round on Saturday (8:15 p.m. ET on NBC) | Tickets

Path to Super Bowl LII: The Falcons will open in Los Angeles. Beat the Rams, and they get a trip to Philadelphia the following week for a matchup with Nick Foles' Eagles, who suddenly look a little vulnerable. If they win that, they'd get an NFC Championship Game in either Minnesota, Charlotte, New Orleans or Los Angeles. As the No. 6 seed, the Falcons cannot play a home playoff game.

Reason for hope: They've done this before, and not long ago. The Falcons were a division champion and had a bye last season, but they did reach the Super Bowl and came about as close as a team can come to winning it without winning it. Their coaches, quarterback and pretty much whole roster knows what it takes to win these games, and while the season was rocky, once teams get into the field, you never know what might happen. Running back Devonta Freeman looks fantastic, too.

Reason for concern: The season was rocky, and the offense isn't humming the way it was this time a year ago. Something has been off with the Matt Ryan/Julio Jones connection almost all season. Maybe it's as simple as the change in offensive coordinators, but maybe it's just a factor of "not every year is great." The Falcons have hurt themselves with drive-extending penalties and just generally don't look like the same operation they looked like in 2016.

X factor: Jones. While he hasn't had his best season, Jones is capable of making any catch at any time and taking over a game, as he did against Green Bay in last year's NFC title game. If he and Ryan find that elusive connection, he'll be a nightmare for any opponent.


1. New England Patriots (13-3)

First game: Home game in divisional round on Saturday, Jan. 13 (8:15 p.m. ET on CBS) | Tickets

Path to Super Bowl LII: The Patriots' first playoff game will be at home against either the Bills, Chiefs or Titans. If the Bills beat the Jaguars in the wild-card round, they'd travel to New England for the divisional round. If the Jaguars win that game, the Patriots' first game would be against the Titans-Chiefs winner. Win that, and the Patriots would host the AFC Championship Game against either the Steelers, Jaguars, Chiefs or Titans.

Reason for hope: Uh ... it's the Patriots. You can have a 25-point lead against them in the Super Bowl, and they still win. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are the greatest of all time at what they do, and there's no team in the field that has even close to the amount of experience the Patriots have in big January games.

Reason for concern: The defense has held together for much of the season in spite of a slew of big-time losses, and it still misses linebacker Dont'a Hightower. That's the kind of thing that could show up in a different way once the competition stiffens. They're not far removed from a loss in Miami in which Brady looked terrible and the Dolphins ran all over their defense. So while they're the favorite, they're not invincible.

X factor: The run game. Dion Lewis has been a machine, and the Patriots will lean on him to carry the load. But their run game is at its best when it has diversity with Rex Burkhead and James White, who can be factors in the passing game as well. Each has dealt with injuries toward the end of the season, and it will be important for New England to get them back for their playoff run. Brady can bring the Patriots back at the end, but it helps to control games if they have balance on offense.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)

First game: Home game in divisional round on Sunday, Jan. 14 (1:05 p.m. ET on CBS) | Tickets

Path to Super Bowl LII: The Steelers' first playoff game will be a home game against either the Jaguars, Titans or Chiefs. If the Bills beat the Jaguars, the Steelers would host the Titans/Chiefs winner in the divisional round. If the Jags beat the Bills, Jacksonville travels to Pittsburgh for the divisional round. If the Steelers win their first game, they would play in the AFC Championship Game against either the Patriots, Bills, Titans or Chiefs. It would be a Steelers home game unless the opponent is the Patriots.

Reason for hope: The defense appears to be in better shape than it was this time last year, with Cam Heyward healthy and some of the younger guys like Artie Burns and Javon Hargrave having grown in their roles throughout the season. We know what the Steelers can do on offense if healthy, but this year's defense has been consistently tough and gives Pittsburgh a better chance of slowing down Tom Brady & Co. than they've had in recent seasons.

Reason for concern: The health of WR Antonio Brown. He suffered a serious calf injury in Week 15 and missed the final two games of the regular season. The Steelers are hopeful that they'll have him for their playoff opener, but they can't be sure (A) whether they will or (B) how close to full strength he will be. Pittsburgh has been derailed by injuries to Brown and/or Le'Veon Bell in recent playoff runs, and the fact that they held Bell and Ben Roethlisberger out of Sunday's regular-season finale shows you just how panicked the Steelers are about not having their stars for the games that mean the most.

X factor: Wide receiver Martavis Bryant. He has been disgruntled for much of his first season back from suspension. He asked for a trade early in the season and probably will again after the season. But the Steelers kept him because they believe he can be a game-changing weapon for them with his rare combination of size and speed. He was (obviously) a bigger part of the game plan with Brown out in late December. Perhaps that sparks something that makes a difference in January.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)

First game: vs. Bills in wild-card round on Sunday (1 p.m. ET on CBS) | Tickets

Path to Super Bowl LII: The Jaguars' first playoff game in 10 years will be a home game against a team that hasn't played a playoff game in 18 years. They will host the Bills in the divisional round. Should they win, they would travel to Pittsburgh for their second-round game, and if they win that, they would play an AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, Chiefs or Titans. If they get that far, the Jaguars would host the AFC Championship Game as long as the Patriots are not their opponent.

Reason for hope: No team in the AFC field plays defense the way Jacksonville does. The Jaguars have stars at all three levels. They can rush the passer, their corners can cover receivers one-on-one and their linebackers are versatile. Prior to Sunday's game against the Titans, which was meaningless to them, the Jaguars hadn't lost to an AFC opponent since Oct. 1, when the Jets beat them. On either side of that game, they whipped the Ravens 44-7 and won 30-9 in Pittsburgh.

Reason for concern: The franchise hasn't played a playoff game in a decade, and the roster is loaded with dudes who've never played in one. This is a team built on its run game and its defense, which means it's built to play from ahead. Blake Bortles spent most of December red-hot, but if the Jags fall behind, is he capable of bringing them back?

X factor: Wide receiver health. The Jags lost top wideout Allen Robinson in the first game of the season and have had to play at times without Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns because of injury. And while Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook have shown flashes, teams don't want to be leaning too hard on rookies at this time of year. At some point, the Jags will have to rely on their passing game. When that time comes, it would help to have Lee and Hurns in there and healthy.

4. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)

First game: vs. Titans in wild-card round on Saturday (4:35 p.m. ET on ESPN/ABC/WatchESPN) | Tickets

Path to Super Bowl LII: The Chiefs will host the Titans in their opener at Arrowhead Stadium. If they win that, they will find themselves in either Pittsburgh or New England for the divisional round, depending on what happens in the Jaguars/Bills game. If Jacksonville wins, the Jags go to Pittsburgh and the Chiefs go to New England. If the Jags lose, the Chiefs -- as the highest-seeded wild-card-round winner -- would play the 2-seed Steelers in Pittsburgh in the divisional round. If they win their divisional round game, the Chiefs would play the Patriots, Steelers, Jaguars or Bills in the AFC Championship Game. The only way that game would be in Kansas City is if the opponent is the Bills.

Reason for hope: This team has been to the playoffs before -- just last year, in fact. And while that experience was a disappointing home loss to a Steelers team that didn't score a touchdown, sometimes negative experiences help teams grow. This Kansas City team has beaten the Patriots, Eagles and Chargers (twice), and their loss to the Steelers was a close one. They shook off their 1-6 midseason slump with three straight wins to claim their second straight division title, and they come in playing well.

Reason for concern: That 1-6 midseason slump did happen, and it put on tape for a lot of teams a blueprint for limiting the Kansas City offense. If the Chiefs' run blocking has a bad day, it makes them one-dimensional and allows teams to beat them with relatively simple Cover 2 shell concepts. Oh, and on defense they struggle against the run.

X factor: Justin Houston. The Chiefs' best pass-rusher hasn't been fully healthy for the playoffs the past two years. When he is, he's still a difference-maker on defense, where Kansas City needs to be better than it has been for much of this season. A healthy Houston could give the Chiefs an edge they haven't had in recent January matchups with the likes of Pittsburgh and New England.

5. Tennessee Titans (9-7)

First game: at Chiefs in wild-card round on Saturday (4:35 p.m. ET on ESPN/ABC/WatchESPN) | Tickets

Path to Super Bowl LII: The Titans travel to Kansas City to play the Chiefs in the first round. If they win that, they would travel to either New England or Pittsburgh for the divisional round. (New England if the Bills beat the Jaguars, Pittsburgh if the Jags beat the Bills). Win that, and the Titans would find themselves in an AFC Championship Game against either the Patriots, Steelers, Jaguars or Bills. The only way it would be a home game is if the opponent were the Bills.

Reason for hope: Uhhh ... they beat the Jaguars twice, which helps give them confidence they can beat the Jaguars. And hey, if DeMarco Murray can get back healthy, they have a 1-2 running back punch that can theoretically help them control games and maybe win ugly.

Reason for concern: They'd lost three games in a row before Sunday's playoff-clinching victory over the Jags, and they really haven't looked good in awhile. Marcus Mariota had 12 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions heading into Sunday's regular-season finale. The Titans have not been able to get the passing game going at all. Talk about coach Mike Mularkey's job security can't be helping matters.

X factor: Mariota. The dazzling young quarterback out of Oregon entered this season seemingly poised to make a big leap, and he did not. But the playoffs offer a fresh slate, and Mariota does bring a unique skill set with his ability to run as well as pass. If he gets on a roll, he could make a little magic.

6. Buffalo Bills (9-7)

First game: at Jaguars in wild-card round on Sunday (1 p.m. ET on CBS) | Tickets

Path to Super Bowl LII: The Bills' first playoff game in a generation will be a road game in Jacksonville. Win that, and they would head to New England to play the Patriots, against whom they went 0-2 this season. But if they shocked the world and won that, the Bills would play an AFC Championship Game in either Pittsburgh, Kansas City or Tennessee. As the 6-seed, the Bills cannot host a playoff game.

Reason for hope: If he's healthy, running back LeSean McCoy gives Buffalo a true top-of-the-league difference-maker in the running game and the passing game. The Bills have a solid offensive line, and if they can control games, they might have enough playmakers on offense to surprise a team or two.

Reason for concern: McCoy was carted off Sunday with an ankle injury, and without him the Bills wouldn't be the same team. But even with him, obviously very few of them have been here before. And while quarterback Tyrod Taylor might be the darling of the QBR/advanced stat circuit, one of his failings has been an inability to elevate his game and make the big-time plays that are required of quarterbacks in playoff games.

X factor: Kelvin Benjamin. Acquired from Carolina in a surprising deadline trade, Benjamin was to give the Bills the No. 1 receiver their offense lacked. He has struggled with a knee injury, however, and might not be fully healthy until he gets that thing fixed in the offseason. But he was their go-for-it move, and if he can play like a No. 1 wide receiver in the playoffs, he could make a difference.