Super Bowl 50 is a matchup of arguably the two best teams of the regular season. Both the Panthers and Broncos finished first in the respective conferences, making this Super Bowl the third consecutive matchup between No. 1 seeds in the Super Bowl.
Of course, not every year brings us the matchup of the two top seeds. And not every year are the No. 1 teams the most interesting ones in the playoffs. We looked back at the last 25 years of Super Bowls and picked out 10 teams we would have liked to see in the big game.
1991 Detroit Lions
It's really a shame we never got to see Barry Sanders in the Super Bowl. The closest he got was in 1991, when Lions went 12–4 in the regular season and earned a first–round bye. Detroit beat the Cowboys 38–6 in the divisional round—still the Lions' only playoff victory since 1957—before falling to Washington 41–10 in the conference championship game. If starting quarterback Rodney Peete hadn't torn his Achilles in Week 8, perhaps the Lions would have had a better chance, though Detroit did fall to Washington 45–0 in Week 1.
1993 Kansas City Chiefs
However strange it was to watch Joe Montana put on another uniform, he was actually quite effective during his first season with the Chiefs. He led the team to an 11–5 record and a berth in the AFC Championship Game against the Buffalo Bills. Montana sustained a concussion during the game, robbing him of a chance to make another signature comeback. Montana was very close to facing the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl, where he could have vanquished the rival tormenting his former team, the 49ers.
1996 Jacksonville Jaguars
The 1996 season marked the Jaguars' second year in the NFL, and they made it all the way to the conference championship. Imagine having the Mark Brunell–led squad in the Super Bowl, with half the audience still realizing that the Jaguars were a real NFL team.
1998 Minnesota Vikings
Randall Cunningham. Randy Moss. Cris Carter. The 1998 Vikings were stacked. Cunningham was equally deserving as John Elway to end his career on a high note. Despite sitting out all of 1996 and playing sparingly in 1997, Cunningham had a career year for the ’98 Vikes, posting a 106.0 passer rating en route to leading Minnesota to a 15–1 record.
Minnesota's season ended in heartbreak, with the Vikings falling in overtime to the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game after surefire kicker Gary Anderson missed a field goal attempt late in regulation.
Cunningham would never reach these heights again, as age and injuries finally caught up to him in his final two seasons. At the very least, these Vikings likely would have put up a better fight than the Falcons against Elway’s Broncos in the Super Bowl.
2004 Indianapolis Colts
The crazy thing about Peyton Manning's 2004 season isn't that he broke the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season (49), but that 9.9% of his passes were touchdowns. It was also a breakout year for Reggie Wayne, and Edgerrin James had the second-most yards from scrimmage in the NFL. The Patriots dominated the Colts in the AFC Divisional Round, 20–3.
2004 Atlanta Falcons
The 2004 Falcons featured three outstanding runners in Warrick Dunn, T.J. Duckett and most notably Michael Vick, who was named to his second Pro Bowl. A Vick–led Super Bowl run one year after his devastating broken leg would have made for a great storyline, and the team would have brought a certain unpredictability to the proceedings.
The Falcons lost in the NFC Championship to the Eagles, but a Falcons–Patriots matchup in the Super Bowl would have been a fascinating contrast of styles.
2006 San Diego Chargers
This was when LaDainian Tomlinson was at his peak. He led the league with 1,815 yards, averaging 113.4 yards per game. He set the single-season record for rushing touchdowns with 28 and had two four-touchdown games. The Chargers finished the year 14–2, but they were upset at home in the playoffs by the Patriots, 24–21.
2007 Green Bay Packers
A Brett Favre resurgence led this Packers squad to the cusp of the Super Bowl, but they lost to the New York Giants in overtime of the NFC Championship Game after Favre threw a costly interception in overtime. Favre would never play for Green Bay again, feeling pushed out the door because of Aaron Rodgers’s emergence. Maybe if Favre wins one more Super Bowl, he never feels the need to make a comeback with the Jets and Vikings.
2011 Denver Broncos
This team was not very good and arguably benefited from serious luck, but Tim Tebow in a Super Bowl? As much as you’d hate the two-week lead-up to the game, watching a quarterback who can’t throw try will his team to its umpteenth impossible victory would have been thrilling in its own special way. Instead, Tebow’s Broncos were clobbered by the Patriots, and Denver would sign some guy named Peyton Manning to replace him in the off-season.
2014 Dallas Cowboys
Will Tony Romo ever get to play in a Super Bowl? He's been fairly consistently one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but his teams have never even reached a conference championship. Their best chance was probably 2014, when Jerry Jones ran DeMarco Murray into the ground in the last year of his contract. Also, Dez caught it.