Back at the beginning of October, I ranked the potential World Series matchups. Now, I’m back, doing the same trick with all the possible Super Bowls.
I’m aware that this has been done before and elsewhere. But I’m looking at some of the intriguing games in depth and ranking all of the 36 matchups, with the playoff field set. I’d like to think that makes this one worthwhile.
You’ll see that these overviews of some of the more intriguing are incomplete and no particular order; you can check the bottom of the post for that. And, remember, these are my rankings: I consider ESPN hype and media markets, but I weigh those things as I see fit.
The Commercial Bowls: Ravens vs. Cardinals, Dolphins vs. Cardinals, Dolphins vs. Panthers
I’ll admit, I’m a little bit lazy in doing this. But these seem to be mismatched media markets, or clashing storylines. Joe Flacco against Kurt Warner isn’t anyone’s idea of a headliner-of-the-card bout, the Dolphins and Cardinals would give us Joey Porter jawing with Larry Fitzgerald or something, and I can’t get jazzed about Tony Sparano matching wits with John Fox. These ones, we will watch because it’s the Super Bowl; you’re not, unless you’re a fan of these teams, watching the Super Bowl because of them.
The Super Six Seed Bowl: Ravens vs. Eagles
The two teams that would have to play three road games to get to Tampa would meet there for a roundtable discussion on the NFL’s wonderful parity-heavy system. The Eagles would be favored to win their first Super Bowl. Donovan McNabb would get to talk about ties for a week. But the real attraction’s here: Jim Johnson and Rex Ryan get two weeks to map out their defenses, and they’re throwing them at two vulnerable quarterbacks in Flacco and McNabb. Call it the Blitz Bowl: if you like chaos, this is promising.
The Throw Bowls: Colts vs. Cardinals, Chargers vs. Cardinals, Colts vs. Eagles, Chargers vs. Eagles
All of these teams have shown the capacity to be great on offense, and woeful on defense; the Colts’ and Eagles’ defenses have been good down the stretch, but I would have a hard time thinking that either team wouldn’t be taken for a couple of first-half touchdowns in these games, and, from there, I think the race is on. None of these are particularly bad matchups, unless the ones featuring the Cards have a little too much Kurt Warner for your taste, and they would all be partially pyrotechnic. Not my favorites, but good possibilities.
The Blue-Collar Bowl: Steelers vs. Panthers
Though it’s not as if Charlotte’s the only town in the world that mills things, and it’s not like Pittsburgh, because of the banking done there, is totally reliant on the steel industry, this Super Bowl would seem far more like the Bailout Bowl we richly deserve and will never get (thank you, William Clay Ford, Jr., though I’m okay with you, personally, getting zero more dollars) than anything else in the slate. Good matchup of good teams, too.
The Ron Mexico Bowl: Chargers vs. Falcons
Remember when San Diego traded the number one pick to Atlanta to get Michael Vick, and the Chargers ended up with LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees?
Well, that’s the reason these two teams are playoff teams now: Atlanta certainly doesn’t get this far without Michael Turner, who doesn’t get as much play in San Diego without the Second LT ripping through defenses with speed and balancing Turner’s power, and they don’t fall far enough to snatch Matt Ryan except by plummeting in the post-Vick Petrino Era. Likewise, San Diego doesn’t see a need to take Philip Rivers if they stick with Vick, and they don’t get to be a middling team in the AFC West, allowing them to scoop up talents like Quentin Jammer, Shawne Merriman (who, granted, is out this year), and Antonio Cromartie, if Vick’s allowed to play against those porous defenses twice a year instead of getting hammered by superior Panthers and Bucs teams in the NFC South.
Now, some might say that I’m stretching things a little bit, and that the valleys these teams went through to get to this point, and this potential peak, were bad enough that Norv Turner had to be brought in to coach one of these teams and the Atlanta Hawks became the most popular professional team in the other’s town.
They would be right.
The Brian Billick Bowl: Ravens vs. Vikings
Two teams forever haunted by the ghost of Brian Billick were perhaps bettered by it: Minnesota sunk far enough in the Mike Tice Era that the Brad Childress Era was begun with a couple of run-stuffing tackles and probably the best rookie running back since, well, Edgerrin James, who we thought would be a Hall of Famer, and Baltimore was just bad enough last year to take Joe Flacco, who, save the barely pre-grave Steve McNair, is probably a better quarterback than anyone Billick had during his tenure.
Of course, these two will probably be out by the divisional round, keeping Billick’s post-Trent Dilfer luck intact for both teams.
The Parcells Bowl: Dolphins vs. Giants
As a younger sports fan, I’m not supposed to remember this, but there was a time when Bill Parcells was his day’s Bill Belichick. He ran the Giants efficiently in the late ’80s and early ’90s, winning two Super Bowls and turning his staff into a network of head coaches that included Belichick, the Giants’ Tom Coughlin, and the Dolphins’ Tony Sparano.
And look what we would have here: one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in NFL history, and the underdog-cum-juggernaut from East Rutherford, meeting up for the Super Bowl, both piloted by Parcells proteges, one with Parcells employed as a pseudo-GM. Oh, and Parcells is basically a free agent, and almost sure to leave the Fish.
Apparently, hype smells like Tuna.
Don’t forget the New York angle, too, of Eli Manning reigning in the Big Apple while Chad Pennington flourishes on South Beach. I can’t see Jets fans being too happy about this one.
But the game? It won’t happen, and the Giants would roll. Little on-the-field interest here.
The Deserted for the Desert Bowl: Steelers vs. Cardinals
Remember that Ken Whisenhunt left Pittsburgh to go to Arizona after the Steelers’ Super Bowl, partly because he wasn’t going to get the Pittsburgh job? And that Mike Tomlin got that job?
If you do, or you care, you might consider this a revenge game. Or something.
Note the use of you.
The Redemption Bowl: Dolphins vs. Falcons
One team rises from the ashes of 1-15, the other above the shocking fall of Michael Vick, and both make it to the Super Bowl? It would be storybook enough if Pennington, comeback specialist, and Matt Ryan, unflappable and “NEXT,” weren’t the quarterbacks of these teams.
But, really, do we want to see these two marginally talented teams going at it when there’s all sorts of more interesting stuff going on in the league? The Wildcat Bowl (featuring Ronnie Brown and Jerious Norwood!) just doesn’t seem like it could hold a candle to seeing some of the better defenses go at it, or the masterful Manning(s) throwing.
The Rookie Bowl: Ravens vs. Falcons
Sam Bradford and Matt Stafford have to be hoping for this one, in which they see their draft stock get hitched to the rookie field generals, Flacco and Ryan, who would be the rock stars of Media Day and praised for “doing things the right way” and “beyond-their-years maturity,” helpfully ignoring the contributions of John Harbaugh (who revitalized the Ravens) and Michael Turner (the workhorse Atlanta’s needed since Jamal Anderson danced out of town), the key ingredients to their success.
The Graybeards Bowl: Titans vs. Cardinals
Kerry Collins and Kurt Warner would have writers scrambling for quotes from the local retirement home. (It’s Tampa. There are more than a few.) But it would also give those writers the re-redemption angle, with Collins and Warner, both former Super Bowl starters, both returning with different teams. And this would, indeed, be the oldest combined quarterbacking matchup in Super Bowl history.
Rick Reilly’s saccharine piece might require floss.
And the game would pit the most underrated team in the league against the most underwhelming team in the playoffs; the storylines do not make up for the game, which I fully expect would be the Titans crushing the Cards.
The Gray Beards Bowl: Titans vs. Eagles
And here we have the owners of the two weirdest beards on NFL sidelines. Andy Reid came out with an interestingly stubbly look against the Cowboys in Week 17, and Jeff Fisher often looks like he lost his razor in 2002.
In a league where longevity is almost impossible, Fisher and Reid have stuck around and staked their teams to playoff spots, Reid by getting just enough out of a frequently banged-up offense and an often-fierce, Fisher by committing to the run and using all manner of starting quarterbacks (McNair, Billy Volek, Vince Young, and Collins).
And this game has the added wrinkle of McNabb/Young comparisons. Rush Limbaugh feels a song coming on.
The game would probably be decent, too. That’s a plus.
The Stock Versus Open-Wheel Bowl: Colts vs. Panthers
It’s a fun title, but it describes the teams: the Colts can’t exactly run the ball, while the Panthers would rather not throw, so you get a team based on precision and timing, led by the guy who can best navigate the NFL’s hairpins, against a bruising running game and a defense that is stronger than it is fast.
It’s also a bayou reunion of sorts, with Southerners Delhomme and Manning meeting. It wouldn’t be the best game, and it’s got some pretty terrible markets involved, but Peyton’s presence helps offset the low wattage this theoretically very good on-field game would have.
The New South Bowls: Titans vs. Panthers, Titans vs. Falcons
These would be good, solid matchups of running teams with decent defenses, and the winner would get their first Super Bowl. Woo. Hoo.
Sorry, those are the noises I make when I yawn. Titans-Panthers is a much better game; Titans-Falcons has the better storyline (Old Kerry vs. Young Matt).
The Keystone Bowl: Steelers vs. Eagles
Jawing would be required, Mike Tomlin would get some of the praise he so richly deserves, Ben Roethlisberger would get praised for his exquisite game-managing skills, and the Eagles would get talking heads to talk up the “Philly is the new Boston” storyline.
But, really, is there a better Super Bowl than this? Both teams can throw and run, and they’ll put their speed (Willie Parker, DeSean Jackson, Brian Westbrook, and both defenses) on a field in Tampa that’s more conducive to fleet feet than the Ketchup Bottle and the Linc, chilly and brutal as they are.
Oh, and it’s a regional rivalry. Oh, and it’s interesting, nationally, two bigger markets with high profile names. Oh, and it’s new coach vs. old coach, McNabb vs. his past, Jim Johnson vs. Dick LeBeau, and the never-done-it Eagles vs. the one-for-the-other-thumb Steelers.
I like this possibility.
The Tie Bowl: Steelers vs. Falcons
I’m not sure if everyone remembers this, but there was another tie in the NFL this decade, and it was also a fantastic game, if you can get past it featuring the XFL’s only MVP and Michael Vick. This game would be the rematch of that one, with about one-tenth the exciting offensive talent that was on display there.
(Limas Sweed, you are no Plaxico Burress. And you also can’t say this and have it be unintentionally hilarious: “I always tell myself every Sunday on the field. I tell Tommy the same thing: Don’t be afraid to be great.”)
Also, both head coaches, Tomlin and Smith, are named Mike; that hasn’t happened since Shanahan beat Holmgren to win Super Bowl XXXII. I can’t say that’s a bad thing.
The Old School Bowl: Steelers vs. Giants
The two best young quarterbacks in the game might be in this one; the best young coach in the NFL definitely would be. One of the better line-and-backfield rushing attacks we’ve seen would be on display, as would one of the best line-to-secondary defenses of the decade.
These two franchises have the most Super Bowl wins (five for Pittsburgh and three for Big Blue) of teams in this postseason, and their game earlier this season was a good, gritty one, featuring a bizarre safety from the backup long snapper, James Harrison, who just happens to be the Steelers’ best defensive player. The Giants neutralized Pittsburgh’s pass rush, and Ben Roethlisberger was hampered by injuries; for once, they were to other players.
In any case, these are two very good teams who played one very good game. Give them the stage of the Super Bowl, and perhaps we could hope for great.
The Rematch Bowls: Steelers vs. Vikings, Ravens vs. Giants, Dolphins vs. Vikings
All of these are rematches of prior Super Bowls. None of those previous Super Bowls were memorable.
I would be hard-pressed to call any of these games particularly good.
The Manning Bowl: Colts vs. Giants
Right now, at the very least, someone should be trying to figure out how to redirect a meteor to Tampa Bay for February 1st, 2009, if only to make all those “I’m cheering for the meteor” jokes we’re likely to hear in the time between the final whistle of the later conference championship that sets up this matchup and the kickoff of the Super Bowl.
On the bright side, we could test our power as consumers and willpower as TV watchers by trying to avoid the hype and ESPN in the interim. Could, I said; I don’t want to have to watch Bromance.
Still, the game itself is an intriguing one, with divergent offensive philosophies and defensive talent playing for the once-again-clicking Colts and the less-fearsome-than-last-year Giants; it’s also a chance to see how different Peyton, the improviser and offensive genius, and Eli, the cooler, more “clutch” little brother, really are. I’d be paying attention to the football in this one, and I would guess most other would, too.
The Best Teams Bowl: Titans vs. Giants
The two top seeds have strong, balanced teams that do very little that is flashy; Fisher and Coughlin are soup-and-nuts coaches, and their offensive and defensive gameplans for this one would revolve around trying to knock the snot out of the opposite eleven, I’d assume, as no one, except maybe Chris Johnson, is sprinting away from anyone else in this game.
It’s also, obviously, the Kerry Collins Revenge Game. Raise your hand if you care about that. I’ll keep typing.
And, with those covered, and other less-intriguing potentialities ignored (if there is a Dolphins-Vikings Super Bowl, I think I might make dip during the game and watch just the commercials; a Chargers-Giants tilt might be decent), it’s time to reveal my rankings:
Rockabye’s Rankings: The Potential Super Bowl XLIII Matchups
- Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Philadelphia Eagles
- Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New York Giants
- Indianapolis Colts vs. New York Giants
- Tennessee Titans vs. New York Giants
- Tennessee Titans vs. Philadelphia Eagles
- Miami Dolphins vs. New York Giants
- Indianapolis Colts vs. Philadelphia Eagles
- Tennessee Titans vs. Carolina Panthers
- Baltimore Ravens vs. Philadelphia Eagles
- Baltimore Ravens vs. Atlanta Falcons
- Miami Dolphins vs. Atlanta Falcons
- Indianapolis Colts vs. Carolina Panthers
- Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Carolina Panthers
- San Diego Chargers vs. New York Giants
- Indianapolis Colts vs. Arizona Cardinals
- Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Carolina Panthers
- San Diego Chargers vs. Philadelphia Eagles
- Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals
- San Diego Chargers vs. Carolina Panthers
- Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Atlanta Falcons
- Tennessee Titans vs. Arizona Cardinals
- Baltimore Ravens vs. New York Giants
- Indianapolis Colts vs. Atlanta Falcons
- Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Minnesota Vikings
- Tennessee Titans vs. Minnesota Vikings
- San Diego Chargers vs. Arizona Cardinals
- Indianapolis Colts vs. Minnesota Vikings
- San Diego Chargers vs. Minnesota Vikings
- Baltimore Ravens vs. Minnesota Vikings
- Miami Dolphins vs. Arizona Cardinals
- Miami Dolphins vs. Minnesota Vikings
- Baltimore Ravens vs. Arizona Cardinals
So what have I realized through doing this?
I really like regional rivalries: I know that if there had been a potential Jets-Giants matchup, I would have probably swooped on it. (I also know that part of the reason I liked Steelers-Eagles so much is that their game earlier this year was a defensive masterpiece.)
I hate the Vikings: Perhaps part of this is me being a fan of that 6-10 NFC North team, and a little bit of jealousy, but I can’t really envision enjoying watching this Vikings team. I realize Adrian Peterson should be a draw, but, unless he morphs into Jim Brown for this playoffs, I don’t think the Vikings, quarterbacked by Tarvargus Frejackson, with their defensive studs ill-equipped to handle their first-round opponent, are really watchable or viable Super Bowl contenders.
Viability was a factor: Sure, I put the sixth-seed showdown in ninth. But would I be surprised if the Eagles have finally figured it out and ride through the NFC with their defense and the attack-the-outside offense, and the Ravens, led by Ray Lewis, clamp down to grind the AFC into submission? No. That’s why better teams are almost universally above lesser teams; sorry, the Chargers are better than the Dolphins, and I think the Eagles are the best of the four NFC teams playing on Wild Card Weekend.
But I made exceptions for good story: Yeah, I’m interested in what I wrote, and I do want to see what a Parcells Bowl, with the Tuna seemingly off the hook with his full salary due to him in Miami. Will the NFL once more lay itself at his feet? I do want to see Peyton play Eli, if only so we can get that particular nightmare over with while their teams are actually good. I would rather see the Titans or Eagles win first Super Bowls for their veteran coaches than see the Cardinals or Falcons do the same.
The AFC should be fun: Really, the potential AFC divisional and conference title round are almost better than the Super Bowl. Titans-Colts for the third time could be good; Steelers-Colts could be another classic; Ravens-Steelers for the third time would be fun. Of course, Colts-Ravens has all sorts of bad blood; Chargers-Steelers, especially for spurned bettors, would be compelling. I can’t say there’s any similarly good matchups in the NFC, where there are three teams (Giants, Panthers, Eagles) that make for really good gridiron theater, and we could only get two good games out of them, rather than the top-down good play this AFC slate promises.
Questions, comments, corrections? Have at it.