The Advocate’s NFL playoff preview

The postseason party starts Saturday. Who’s in line for a trip to New Jersey for Super Bowl XLVIII?

One of the zaniest NFL regular seasons ever is in the books, which means it’s time for the “second season.” After 18 teams were in contention for a playoff berth going into the final week of the season — and only one of the 12 seeds were locked down — everyone had to take a deep breath after a frantic last day.

Now, the 10-game tournament to determine who will play in Super Bowl XLVIII in MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2 (barring the snowstorm of the century) begins with players and coaches from 12 teams wanting to put their hands around the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Let’s hope it’s as fun as it was watching those teams get here.

Five players to watch

TE Jimmy Graham, Saints

The former college basketball player punctuates his touchdown catches with a dunk over the crossbar, which happened 16 times this season — one shy of the NFL record for a tight end. He had 86 receptions for 1,215 yards and 14.1 yards per catch.

QB Peyton Manning, Broncos

What’s new? The four-time league MVP is a heavy favorite to make it five after breaking Drew Brees’ single-season record for passing yards with 5,477 and Tom Brady’s mark for touchdown passes with 55. Manning also had a passer rating of 115.1.

RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs

Charles didn’t lead the league in rushing — the Eagles’ LeSean McCoy did — but Charles was still worth the price of admission with 1,287 rushing yards and 12 TDs and 693 receiving yards and seven scores. He had 1,980 total yards from scrimmage.

WR A.J. Green, Bengals

A big, strong receiver, Green was marked for stardom when he entered the league as the fourth pick in the 2011 draft. He showed why this season with career highs in receptions (98) and yards (1,426). He matched his career best with 11 TDs.

DE Robert Mathis, Colts

A speedy pass-rusher, Mathis played most of his career in the shadow of one of the NFL’s premier pass-rushers, Dwight Freeney. But the 11-year veteran was outstanding in 2013 with a league-best 191/2 sacks and eight forced fumbles.

Mick’s Picks

The Advocate’s Sheldon Mickles makes his playoff choices, with team seeds in parentheses:

AFC

WILD-CARD ROUND

Bengals (3) over Chargers (6)

Chiefs (5) over Colts (4)

DIVISIONAL ROUND

Broncos (1) over Chiefs (5)

Patriots (2) over Bengals (3)

CHAMPIONSHIP

Broncos (1) over Patriots (2)

NFC

WILD-CARD ROUND

Saints (6) over Eagles (3)

49ers (5) over Packers (4)

DIVISIONAL ROUND

Seahawks (1) over Saints (6)

49ers (5) over Panthers (2)

CHAMPIONSHIP

Seahawks (1) over 49ers (5)

SUPER BOWL XLVIII

Seahawks 24, Broncos 19

NFC team-by-team capsules

No. 1 seed: Seattle Seahawks

Record: 13-3 (first, NFC West)

Playoff appearances/record: 12/9-12

Super Bowl appearances/titles: 1/0

Coach: Pete Carroll (eight NFL seasons)

Carroll’s record: 71-57 (3-4 playoffs)

Storyline: Their playoff run ended a little short in the divisional round last season, so they took care of business and won’t have to travel this time.

Why they can get to the Super Bowl: Russell Wilson and a great defense. Plus they won’t have to leave home, where they’ve lost once in the past two seasons.

Why they’ll come up short: Wilson and Marshawn Lynch can get it done, but the offense overall has been mediocre.

No. 2 seed: Carolina Panthers

Record: 12-4 (first, NFC South)

Playoff appearances/record: 4/6-4

Super Bowl appearances/titles: 1/0

Coach: Ron Rivera (three seasons)

Rivera’s record: 25-23 (0-0 playoffs)

Storyline: After a 1-3 start, they won 11 of 12 — no small feat in the NFL. Everyone thought they’d stumble and go away, but they never did.

Why they can get to the Super Bowl: Like the Seahawks, they have a great front seven on defense and the offense can certainly get things done.

Why they’ll come up short: The offense has lapses at times.

No. 3 seed: Philadelphia Eagles

Record: 10-6 (first, NFC East)

Playoff appearances/record: 23/19-20

Super Bowl appearances/titles: 2/0

Coach: Chip Kelly (one season)

Kelly’s record: 10-6 (0-0 playoffs)

Storyline: The Eagles appeared to be dead in the water at 3-5 after a 15-7 loss to the Giants on Oct. 27, but they won seven of eight to take the NFC East.

Why they can get to the Super Bowl: A great running game led by LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles, a young quarterback who doesn’t get his team beat.

Why they’ll come up short: They rank 29th in total defense and 32nd in passing D.

No. 4 seed: Green Bay Packers

Record: 8-7-1 (first, NFC North)

Playoff appearances/record: 28/30-18

Super Bowl appearances/titles: 5/4

Coach: Mike McCarthy (eight seasons)

McCarthy’s record: 82-45-1 (6-4 playoffs)

Storyline: They appeared to be circling the drain after going 0-4-1 in a five-game stretch when Aaron Rodgers was hurt, but they’re rejuvenated with his return.

Why they can get to the Super Bowl: It’ll be tough, but they’ll draw inspiration from the 2010 team that barely got into the playoffs, then won Super Bowl XLV.

Why they’ll come up short: Their defense ranked 25th in total yards allowed.

No. 5 seed: San Francisco 49ers

Record: 12-4 (second, NFC West)

Playoff appearances/record: 25/29-20

Super Bowl appearances/titles: 6/1

Coach: Jim Harbaugh (three seasons)

Harbaugh’s record: 36-11-1 (3-2 playoffs)

Storyline: They were 6-4 on Nov. 17, but all they did was win six in a row. No one wants to play this team right now.

Why they can get to the Super Bowl: They were there a year ago and know what it’ll take to get back.

Why they’ll come up short: If teams can shut down Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore, the offense is vulnerable.

No. 6 seed: New Orleans Saints

Record: 11-5 (second, NFC South)

Playoff appearances/record: 9/6-8

Super Bowl appearances/titles: 1/1

Coach: Sean Payton (seven seasons)

Payton’s record: 73-39 (5-3 playoffs)

Storyline: The Saints are disappointed because they had an eye on the No. 2 seed and a bye, but all that matters now is they’re in the tournament.

Why they can get to the Super Bowl: Drew Brees has to be sharp, and they can’t afford to turn the ball over. The defense must play as it did most of the year.

Why they’ll come up short: They must win not one, not two, but three road games. That’s a major task.

AFC team-by-team capsules

No. 1 seed: Denver Broncos

Record: 13-3 (first, AFC West)

Playoff appearances/record: 19/18-17

Super Bowl appearances/titles: 6/2

Coach: John Fox (12 seasons)

Fox’s record: 107-85 (6-5 playoffs)

Storyline: Motivated by a loss to the Ravens in the divisional round last year, Peyton Manning and the Broncos are determined to reach their goal.

Why they can get to the Super Bowl: What’s not to like about a quarterback who threw 55 TDs and only 10 interceptions while leading an offense that ranked first in yards, yards per play and scoring?

Why they’ll come up short: As great as the offense is, the defense is iffy.

No. 2 seed: New England Patriots

Record: 12-4 (first, AFC East)

Playoff appearances/record: 20/24-17

Super Bowl appearances/titles: 7/3

Coach: Bill Belichick (19 seasons)

Belichick’s record: 199-105 (18-8 playoffs)

Storyline: While the Patriots offense didn’t blow the doors off teams like it normally does, they went about their business and got the job done — as usual.

Why they can get to the Super Bowl: Even though they ranked only seventh in total offense, don’t ever count out Belichick and Tom Brady.

Why they’ll come up short: If everything goes according to form, they’ll face the Broncos for AFC title.

No. 3 seed: Cincinnati Bengals

Record: 11-5 (first, AFC North)

Playoff appearances/record: 11/5-11

Super Bowl appearances/titles: 2/0

Coach: Marvin Lewis (11 seasons)

Lewis’ record: 90-85-1 (0-4 playoffs)

Storyline: Few thought the Bengals could win the division over the Ravens and Steelers, but they did. Now they want to prove they belong.

Why they can get to the Super Bowl: They have a balanced offense with Andy Dalton and a solid running game. They’re one of just two teams in the top 10 in offense and defense.

Why they’ll come up short: They’ve been snake-bitten in the playoffs.

No. 4 seed: Indianapolis Colts

Record: 11-5 (first, AFC South)

Playoff appearances/record: 25/19-21

Super Bowl appearances/titles: 4/2

Coach: Chuck Pagano (two seasons)

Pagano’s record: 22-10 (0-1 playoffs)

Storyline: In Year 2 of the Andrew Luck era, they weren’t spectacular, but they got it done in a dreadful division.

Why they can get to the Super Bowl: They won some huge games outside of their division by beating Denver, Seattle and San Francisco.

Why they’ll come up short: Two of their losses were by 30 and 29 points.

No. 5 seed: Kansas City Chiefs

Record: 11-5 (second, AFC West)

Playoff appearances/record: 16/8-14

Super Bowl appearances/titles: 2/1

Coach: Andy Reid (15 seasons)

Reid’s record: 141-98-1 (10-9 playoffs)

Storyline: There’s no understating the job Reid did in turning around a team that won two games in 2012. But can they do it in the playoffs?

Why they can get to the Super Bowl: Running back Jamaal Charles and a defense and special teams that combined for 11 TDs. They also had 47 sacks and allowed just 19.1 points per game.

Why they’ll come up short: They wobbled to the finish line with a 2-5 record after an amazing 9-0 start.

No. 6 seed: San Diego Chargers

Record: 9-7 (third, AFC West)

Playoff appearances/record: 17/10-16

Super Bowl appearances/titles: 1/0

Coach: Mike McCoy (one season)

McCoy’s record: 9-7 (0-0 playoffs)

Storyline: Much like the Chiefs, no one saw this coming from the Chargers and their rookie head coach.

Why they can get to the Super Bowl: They ranked fifth in total offense behind a rejuvenated Philip Rivers.

Why they’ll come up short: They’ll go as far as Rivers will take them.