The 2016 regular season is over. That means that the NFL playoffs are set and 12 teams are officially on the road to Super Bowl LI in Houston.
Your 2016 Playoff Teams:
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) January 2, 2017
As always, 12 teams are in the playoffs and 36 possible Super Bowl matchups exist. Still, some are better than others.
If the Patriots and Cowboys meet, it will be the fourth consecutive Super Bowl matching up the two No. 1 seeds. Is that something we want to see? Which five potential Super Bowl rematches should we most want to see again? What possible intrigue would there be if the Texans made the Super Bowl?
Of the 36 possible Super Bowl matchups, which 10 are a cut above the rest?
10. Houston Texans vs. Anyone
Admittedly, a few individual opponents are slightly better than the rest.
Those in Texas would have a lot of fun seeing the state’s two NFL teams go at it in any Super Bowl. Opposing teams from the same state have clashed only twice before (Super Bowls XXV and XXIX) and it’s never happened inside of the home state of the two teams.
So, a Texans Super Bowl against the Cowboys would be fun for those in The Lone Star State.
— The Bishop (@BillBishopKHOU) December 21, 2016
A Houston Super Bowl against the Detroit Lions would also be a solid underdog story. It would have added intrigue with Matthew Stafford returning to his home state to play in the biggest game of his life.
But really, the Texans are an intriguing Super Bowl team because regardless of their opponent, it would be an historic game. No team has ever played a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
For that reason, a Super Bowl with Tom Savage or Brock Osweiler as a starting quarterback is one of the 10 most intriguing games, regardless of who the NFC Champion is — even if that does sound odd to say out loud.
9. Oakland Raiders vs. Dallas Cowboys
Prior to Derek Carr’s injury, this game would have been comfortably in our top five. Carr going against Dak Prescott would pit two of the game’s brightest young stars against each other on the biggest stage.
Unfortunately, even if Oakland makes the Super Bowl, Carr is a long shot to be ready (read more about that here).
Still, should this Super Bowl happen, it would be quite special. The Raiders and Cowboys have made 13 Super Bowls between them. But despite that, the two have never met each other on Super Bowl Sunday.
Oakland and Dallas are two of the proudest franchises in the league. Furthermore, both have been through some rough times in recent years. Prior to Carr’s injury, both were experiencing dream seasons. It would only be fitting if the two dream seasons ended on Super Bowl Sunday in a game between two of the sport’s most iconic franchises.
8. Miami Dolphins vs. Detroit Lions
Like the Texans, the Lions have never been to a Super Bowl. So, any big game including them will have a decided underdog feel to it.
That’s never bad to see.
So, why is Miami Detroit’s most intriguing potential opponent instead of an AFC stalwart like New England or Pittsburgh? Quite simply — Ndamukong Suh.
Suh is a lightning rod of controversy and would be for two weeks against any potential NFC opponent.
LeGarrette Blount didn't mince words on his opinion of Ndamukong Suh. pic.twitter.com/UO3rUHJvhK
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 1, 2017
But with the Lions as the opponent, we’d get the added layer of Suh going against his old team. What would Suh say about his former teammates? What would they say about him?
7. Kansas City Chiefs vs. Atlanta Falcons
These two franchises aren’t exactly loaded with a vast Super Bowl history. The Chiefs haven’t played in a Super Bowl since right before the 1970 merger. The Falcons’ lone trip to the Super Bowl was 17 years ago and resulted in a rather forgettable defeat.
So, what’s the appeal?
Kansas City took a trip to Atlanta in Week 14 in what was one of the most memorable games of the season. A go-ahead touchdown from the Falcons was completely negated when Eric Berry intercepted a two-point conversion pass from Matt Ryan and returned it for two points, which you can see here.
It was one of the season’s most unforgettable moments. But even before that memorable finish, the teams were evenly matched in one of the best games of the year. A rematch would be hard to turn away from.
6. Kansas City Chiefs vs. Green Bay Packers
If these two teams square off, get ready to hear stories and watch features about the 2005 NFL Draft…on an endless loop.
In case anyone needs a refresher, San Francisco entered that draft with the first overall pick. Rodgers, who grew up a 49ers fan and attended college at nearby Cal, was a possible No. 1 pick. Instead, San Francisco selected Utah quarterback Alex Smith. Rodgers, meanwhile, fell to the Packers at No. 24 overall.
Smith is no longer with the 49ers, but this Super Bowl would pair off those quarterbacks.
This potential Super Bowl matchup is relevant for the older fans, as well. It would be a rematch of Super Bowl I, played 50 years after the two teams met at the Los Angeles Coliseum in January of 1967.
So, a Chiefs vs. Packers Super Bowl would combine a mini-rivalry and a great deal of nostalgia. When it boils down to it, Super Bowls can get a lot worse than this one.
5. New England Patriots vs. New York Giants
Boston and New York enjoy a vast sports history with one another. Regardless of the sport, when teams from the two cities square off on the big stage, the results are inevitably memorable.
But the Patriots and Giants have so much more history, and when we look back on it we should realize that this Super Bowl would give us a lot to look forward to.
In Week 6 of the 2003 season, New England defeated New York 17-6. Compared to the subsequent five meetings between the two teams, that game looks like a full-fledged blowout.
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) January 1, 2017
These teams play competitive games. They play games that aren’t decided until the final minutes — or even seconds.
So, if nothing else, a non-blowout would be all but guaranteed. Tom Brady and Eli Manning just don’t do lopsided games against each other.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers
Six years ago, the Steelers and Packers squared off in a Super Bowl that was quite entertaining. Ultimately, Aaron Rodgers and his Green Bay teammates held off a late charge from Ben Roethlisberger and his Pittsburgh cohorts.
One wouldn’t exactly need to twist our arms to get us to watch Big Ben and Rodgers go toe-to-toe in another Super Bowl.
And really, the same thing that made Super Bowl XLV so appealing well before it started would also make this one fantastic. These two franchises are loaded with history.
Neither team plays in a classic “big market.” But the fantastic history enjoyed by both gives each franchise scores of loyal fans throughout the country, and even the world.
While new blood is nice to see, there’s something special about seeing teams with immense tradition go at it on the sport’s biggest stage.
While we’re on that subject. …
3. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Dallas Cowboys
Here’s one for the history buffs and the fans who have been around for a while.
With six, Pittsburgh has more Lombardi Trophies than any other team. The Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers are right behind the Steelers with five. San Francisco can’t make the Super Bowl. Dallas can.
So, no possible Super Bowl would feature as many combined championships.
Additionally, no Super Bowl has been played more. The two teams met twice in the 1970’s (Super Bowls X and XIII), with the Steelers prevailing both times.
The Cowboys got a measure of revenge in the 1990’s. Dallas upended Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XXX, marking the most recent Super Bowl victory (and appearance) for the Cowboys.
Much like when the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers met in the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals, a Pittsburgh/Dallas Super Bowl would re-introduce to a new generation of fans what was once the NFL’s preeminent rivalry.
If the history doesn’t do it for you, then consider this. These two teams played in what was one of the best games of the 2016 regular season. In the final minute, Roethlisberger faked a spike and found Antonio Brown for what appeared to be the winning touchdown (watch here), only to be outdone by a late run from Ezekiel Elliott (watch here).
Who wouldn’t sign up to see more of that?
2. New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks
To understand the appeal of this Super Bowl, we have to look at the last three.
Super Bowl XLVIII was played in 2014, but belonged in the mid-1980’s. It was clear early on that the Denver Broncos did not belong on the same field as Seattle. Super Bowl 50 wasn’t quite that bad. But for fans outside of Denver and Carolina, it was an entirely forgettable game.
In between those two games, though, the Patriots and Seahawks treated us to an absolute classic when Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson in one of the most second-guessed play calls in NFL history.
"Pass is INTERCEPTED!!!"
Brady loses it.
Sherman loses it.
Twitter breaks in two.
One of craziest finishes EVER. http://t.co/GazYbK6Lsz
— NFL (@NFL) February 2, 2015
Beyond that classic Super Bowl, these two teams have a habit of playing great games. They met in the 2008 and 2012, as well is in this 2016 regular season. All three of those games were decided by seven points or less.
So, if you want a Super Bowl that will leave you captivated until the final seconds, this is a good one to hope for.
1. New England Patriots vs. Dallas Cowboys
This is the No. 1 vs. No. 1 matchup. Cinderella stories are always fun, but there’s always something special about watching two heavyweight teams duke it out. In 2016, this is the NFL’s ultimate heavyweight clash.
It would also be a classic old guard vs. new guard matchup. Pasts don’t get much more decorated than the ones enjoyed by Brady and Bill Belichick. As far as bright futures go, it’s hard to top the (deservedly) high expectations that are being piled onto Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott.
But ultimately, this is our best potential Super Bowl for a simple reason — people care.
Here’s a social experiment. Go into a sports bar and ask the patrons to rank the playoff teams 1-12, in order of their favorite to least favorite. Even in neutral cities, the Patriots and Cowboys would not get many in the 5-8 range.
People care about these two teams. That doesn’t mean that everyone loves these teams, but people are not neutral. No Super Bowl would inspire more passionate “neutral” fans. People may tune in hoping to see one of the teams get blown out, but the result would matter to the viewing public.
Everyone wants to see his/her favorite team in the Super Bowl. But ultimately, that’s only in play for fans of two teams. The next best thing is a Super Bowl with a strong rooting interest. If New England and Dallas play, most of us will have that.