We’re into December and a full two weeks away from eliminating a slew of teams and determining who will make it on to the NFL playoffs. Up for grabs are the woeful NFC South and impressive AFC North, along with fierce battles in the National Football Conference’s East, North, and West divisions. Then there are also the Patriots and the Colts who have all but punched their ticket, while a bunch of teams at 8-6 and 7-7 are desperate for wins.
Instead of posting the favorite question of sports bloggers everywhere – what if the playoffs started today – or predicting which teams will make it where, and which won’t, we’re going to anticipate and excite in a different way. Let us get ponder here what would be the most fascinating of Super Bowl matchups, the bittersweet spectacle at the end of what always seems to be a fleeting and chaotic season
There are plenty of possibilities left, and while we’re still just under two months away, it’s as good a time as any to wonder about the big game.
Now, inevitably, the Super Bowl will be watched by millions and there will be no shortage of storylines, but not all games are created equally, and some potential matchups are more exciting than others. There is no real bad Super Bowl – at least not before the game starts, because then anything could happen – but if the Eagles face off against the Bengals, how excited are we about watching Mark Sanchez or Nick Foles against Andy Dalton?
The hope of course is that a great game comes from two thrilling and deserved teams. Last year was much anticipated, but the Seattle Seahawks did away with Denver Broncos quickly, ending a surprising run of annually exciting championships.
With that in mind, we take a look at the top ten most exciting potential matchups. We are incorporating here performance from this season, geographic rivalries, past Super Bowls tilts, fervent debate, and, perhaps most importantly, electric players that could and should dazzle on the world stage.
10 New Orleans Saints/Atlanta Falcons v. Anyone
Beyond players, coaches, and rivalries, should the winner of the NFC South make it to the Super Bowl, and right now the Falcons and the Saints are the front runners, it would turn the NFL on its head. The champion of this anemic division will not have a winning record, but they will host a home game. Granted, neither of these teams has looked impressive, but at home in the postseason, they could pull off a win. After that they might have to play Green Bay. For all the Saints troubles, they crushed the Packers and just last week the Falcons exploited their defense and nearly pulled the upset.
The Saints and Falcons would need some luck – maybe a bad call, a fluke fumble, or a blocked punt – anything to swing a game, but in one sixty-minute span where anything could happen, anything, well, could happen. It’s exciting simply because of the chaos. Their presence would inspire two weeks of frustration, animosity, and confusion among pundits and analysts. It would throw into question the value of the regular season. Above all, it wouldn’t be the best product, and that makes it a compelling watch, and no shortage of deep bombs, sacks, and potential for return touchdowns.
9 Seattle Seahawks v. Cleveland Browns
Similarly, this one is pretty much about one factor: Manziel. Johnny Clipboard looks to return to Johnny Football as he takes the field in his second start this week (his first was a noted disaster). He’s a polarizing rookie, and the only first year quarterback with a shot at the playoffs. If he is on the field, people want to watch, and the excitement surrounding a playoff run in Cleveland would be insane. What’s more, there seems to be so much animosity towards Manziel from football people, as other coaches have openly criticized him, and even his own coach has been so reluctant. It's looking unlikely right now, but this is about what we hope to see, not what is probably.
Seattle would be a great opponent too. Pete Carroll has found great success with Russell Wilson, an equally dynamic playmaker that isn’t the biggest player, but one who has shown he can win. It would be a behemoth versus an upstart, one team with a recent history of success against another with a sad, long history of despair. Added bonus, these two teams figured prominently in this year’s Draft Day, a film far more unrealistic than the Browns making the Super Bowl this year.
8 Carolina Panthers v. New England Patriots
Well, we’ve already addressed the wreck that is the NFC South, but whereas the Saints’ inconsistent play has been rather inexplicable, indicating turmoil inside the locker room, and the Falcons simply have a terrible defense, the Panthers are actually a pretty good team plagued by injuries and suspensions. Now, they’re not great, but for much of the year Cam Newton has looked to be recovering from injuries and never fully 100%. When he wasn’t running, they couldn’t win, and now that he is again, their offense is a threat. They are also buoyed by the return of Jonathan Stewart, as the Panthers running game was previously nonexistent. Newton’s latest injury from a car accident makes him questionable in the short term, but it seems their ceiling is high when everyone is healthy. What’s more, Greg Hardy isn’t coming back, and it looks like Ron Rivera has finally accepted that the team needs to change the defensive scheme that they created around the all star defensive end in the off-season.
So they make it, and they play the Patriots, recreating their memorable Super Bowl in 2004 where defensive domination in the first half gave way to explosive plays in the second. Plus you have human highlight reels Kelvin Benjamin and Rob Gronkowski, and maybe the return of Riverboat Ron.
7 Seattle Seahawks v. Baltimore Ravens
For all the talk of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs, Wilson and Joe Flacco have proven unflappable as well. These are two Super Bowl winning quarterbacks who for whatever struggles they have had in the regular season, rise to the occasion in the playoffs.
With great coaches, disciplined play, and explosive players on offense and defense, Seattle versus Baltimore is a Super Bowl matchup we didn’t know we wanted. Plus, the chance to watch Steve Smith Sr. face off against Richard Sherman would be a treat every single snap.
6 Detroit Lions v. Indianapolis Colts
Two of the biggest arms, two highly talented WRs, and a coach facing off against his old team would make this an underrated and exciting matchup. Similar to last year’s game, this would pit a high-powered offense against a stout defense – would Indy even pretend to try to run against the Lions' front four? Caldwell would face off against the team he coached from 2009-2011, and the big stage would be set for deserved stars Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson. Sacks, bombs, and quarterback scrambles could come in bunches, and both Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford have proven adept at late game comebacks. and that’s what we want to see.
5 Arizona Cardinals v. Indianapolis Colts
It may not be the most marquee matchup, but a bout between the Cards and the Colts provides the world with a slew of likeable coaches and players, while also pitting one of the most explosive aerial attacks against one of the strongest defenses, similar to the Colts playing the Lions. Andrew Luck has risen and is knocking on the door of elite NFL QB status. All he needs to do now is win in the postseason. While the Colts offense, including T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne would get plenty of attention, the Cards, much like their division rival Seattle, have found a way to thrive with defense in a league that stacks the deck in favor of offense.
It would be an interesting a game off the field as well, as two of the most celebrated NFL coaches face off, and Chuck Pagano takes on his former colleague Bruce Arians. The current Cards coach filled in for Pagano during the 2012 season when the Colts' leader was diagnosed with leukemia. Both have found success, with Arians leading the Cards to their first ever consecutive ten win season. Arizona would also be home in this game, and that would be something special as well. In a season filled with off-field disturbances and questions of leadership, it would be nice to see some teams that enjoy more feel good stories.
4 Dallas Cowboys v. Anyone
The Cowboys in the Super Bowl would shatter all the ratings, as the country’s richest, most famous team, as well as one of the most hated, would be a treat to watch in the big game. That they are led by three dynamic stars in Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, and Dez Bryant also helps, but this is Jerry’s world and the Cowboys playing in Arizona in February would be a whirlwind, regardless of who they face. After years of mediocrity and heartbreak, the Cowboys look poised for a deep playoff run, and the emotional and physical pain placed on the back of Romo could be unburdened in a big win. Then again, NFL fans also enjoy tragedy on the field, and people would eat up Romo choking on the biggest stage in football.
3 Green Bay Packers v. Denver Broncos
Now we move on to the big stars: those that have annually dominated the regular season and boast high powered offenses and veteran winning quarterbacks. Rodgers against Manning would pit two greats against each other, see a lot of points racked up, and hopefully result in one of these leaders with a chance to win the game in the final minutes. The Broncos defense has improved, and they will need everyone at their best to stop Rodgers, who in his current state is playing as the best quarterback in the league. The Packers defense hasn’t proven too great either, allowing for this to be a very high scoring game with star power on both sides of the ball.
2 Seattle Seahawks v. Denver Broncos
Early in the season, this seemed like not only the rematch people actually wanted to see, but one that was very likely to happen. Both teams have endured lapses as the season has worn on, but both are regaining their form and appear poised for a deep run.
A championship hangover is clearly hard to shake, but the Seahawks may be finally overcoming infighting, media fatigue, and the fact that every team is giving them their best shot. After back to back losses in October, including one at home, Seattle have won seven of eight with wins against Arizona and San Francisco (twice). Meanwhile, the Broncos, after a poor showing at St. Louis (where the Seahawks also lost), have strung together four big wins against playoff contenders by utilizing a strong running game. A rematch wouldn’t feel the same, and certainly no one would suspect a similar blow out, but it would surely not disappoint.
1 Green Bay Packers v. New England Patriots
If there was ever any doubt about this as the stellar matchup, it disappeared pretty fast a couple weeks ago. In one of the most anticipated regular season games this year, the Pats and the Packers delivered excitement during their meeting in Green Bay. Two of the best quarterbacks faced off, each throwing a pair of TDS with no picks in a game that featured big plays and key players making a difference. Tom Brady had a chance to win it at the end, and the Packers defense stepped up when it counted.
We’re in need of this potential sequel to that game. The chance to watch these two great quarterbacks play on the grand stage would be a reward for fans having to deal with so much chaos, frustration, and disappointment with the NFL’s off the field proceedings this year. To have this game be close late in the fourth, with one of these quarterbacks getting the ball with a chance to score, would be the perfect finale.