Ranking the best potential Super Bowl LVI matchups originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Super Wild Card Weekend was anything but super. Four of the six games were decided by at least two touchdowns, and three were 20-plus-point blowouts.
But I have some good news: we get a chance at redemption this weekend, with four more postseason battles on tap. The matchups for divisional round weekend are juicy – Cincinnati Bengals vs. Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers on Saturday, Los Angeles Rams vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
One of those eight teams will hoist the Lombardi Trophy at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles next month. To do so, it’ll take an impressive victory this weekend followed by two more even tougher games in the coming weeks. By the time Super Bowl Sunday rolls around, there are a handful of potential matchups that would be thrilling.
There are currently 16 potential Super Bowl scenarios, and all of them have flair. But which would be the best? Here’s a look at the top five potential Super Bowl LVI matchups heading into the divisional round:
5. 49ers vs. Titans
Between Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Matthew Stafford and Joe Burrow, this playoff field is filled with star quarterbacks. You’ll notice that the 49ers and Titans employ none of those players. Their quarterbacks – Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Tannehill – aren’t the most flashy signal callers in the field. Garoppolo, 30, had 20 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions this season, while the 33-year-old Tannehill tossed 21 touchdowns and 14 picks.
So, what makes this matchup so intriguing? It’s the guys around Garoppolo and Tannehill. 49ers star Deebo Samuel, a self-proclaimed “wide back,” has electrified San Francisco’s offense as a receiver and a runner. Rookie running back Elijah Mitchell and second-year receiver Brandon Aiyuk have also emerged as capable weapons for Jimmy G.
On the other side, Titans running back Derrick Henry will presumably be back after missing the final nine games of the season due to injury. He rushed for over 2,000 yards last year and was on pace to break the single-season record this year before getting hurt. Tennessee also has two impressive wideouts in AJ Brown and Julio Jones. So while this game wouldn’t have the usual quarterback star power, it more than makes up for it with these skill position players.
4. Buccaneers vs. Chiefs
The NBA recently had a stretch of four straight years where two teams – the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors – played each other in the NBA Finals. Football is much different, as it’s almost non-existent to see a Super Bowl rematch. In fact, it’s only happened once in NFL history – the Dallas Cowboys beat the Bills in back-to-back Super Bowls in 1992 and 1993.
Bucs-Chiefs would not only be a historic anomaly, it would be a thrilling battle between two all-time greats. Brady and Mahomes have played five times in their career (including playoffs), with Brady winning three times (including both playoff matchups). Last year’s Super Bowl was a blowout, 31-9 in favor of Tampa. An evenly-matched, back-and-forth battle between Brady and Mahomes would be epic.
These two crossing paths would feel as if Michael Jordan and LeBron James’ careers overlapped. That is to say, we need to appreciate the greatness and realize that we could be watching the two best quarterbacks in history on the biggest stage. Mahomes is still a ways away from achieving the accolades to get there, but he has certainly shown the talent in his early career. And of course, there’s always the possibility that this could be Brady’s final game.
3. Rams vs. Bengals
This matchup would check a lot of boxes. Two teams that haven’t won a Super Bowl in a while (or ever, sorry Cincy)? Check. Two exciting quarterbacks? Check. Two young, offensive-minded coaches? Check. The list goes on and on.
Stafford has experienced some growing pains in his first season with the Rams. After 12 years with the Detroit Lions, he came out firing in Hollywood – 22 touchdowns and four interceptions through eight games. His last nine weren’t as smooth, with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. If the Rams get to the Super Bowl, Stafford has to be the guy from the first half of 2021.
Burrow and the Bengals came out of nowhere this season after the 2020 No. 1 overall pick tore his ACL as a rookie. With help from college teammate Ja’Marr Chase, Burrow has emerged as a young star. No one expected Cincinnati to get this far, and they’re playing with house money at this point. Head coach Zac Taylor, a disciple of Rams coach Sean McVay, would have to cook up an impressive game plan against Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and Co.
2. Buccaneers vs. Bills
Looking at these two franchises, this game has zero historical relevance. They’ve played just 12 times, with Tampa winning eight, and they have never met in the postseason. But when you dig deeper, you can find a simple connection: it’s Brady vs. the city of Buffalo.
The small city in Western New York has a long, tortured history against the 44-year-old GOAT. For 19 years, the Bills were toyed with as Brady’s New England Patriots made Orchard Park their home. Brady was 32-3 with 70 touchdown passes against the Bills as a member of the Patriots. The two met again in Week 14 of the 2021 season, with Brady again victorious in a 33-27 game.
But after all those nightmares, the Bills are finally waking up. Led by star quarterback Josh Allen, Buffalo exercised one demon by beating the Patriots in the wild card round. To complete the exorcism, it might take a Super Bowl win over Brady and the Bucs. Buffalo has experienced heartbreak before, once losing a record four consecutive Super Bowls. Perhaps this is the way it has to end, completing a dream season with separate playoff wins over the Patriots and then Brady.
1. Packers vs. Chiefs
The game that everyone has wanted since Mahomes became the Chiefs’ starting quarterback in 2018. Green Bay and Kansas City played in 2019 and 2021, but neither featured the coveted Mahomes vs. Rodgers battle. The first game was Rodgers against Matt Moore, while this year’s edition pitted Mahomes against Jordan Love.
Historically, this game would offer more weight than any potential matchups. The Packers and Chiefs met in Super Bowl I, with Green Bay winning 35-10. That game was played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in front of nearly 62,000 fans. Fifty-five years later, the franchises could meet in the same city at the brand-new SoFi Stadium with over 70,000 fans in attendance.
Putting aside the quarterbacks and the history, this battle would simply be between the two best teams. The Packers, at 13-4, are the NFC’s top seed after posting a top 10 offense and defense this season. They have stars all over the field, including receiver Davante Adams, running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, cornerback Jaire Alexander and linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. The Chiefs have similar star power, with receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce, defensive tackle Chris Jones and safety Tyrann Mathieu. It would be a treat to see all these players on the field at the same time with Rodgers and Mahomes slinging the ball around, both in pursuit of a second ring.