By Don Banks
January 11, 2012

We're down to the final eight teams in the NFL playoffs, and that means there are only 16 potential matchups remaining for Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium next month in Indianapolis. Don't worry, I did the math so you don't have to. Here's a pregame storyline or reason to care about each and every Super pairing, as we rank them from most intriguing to least appealing. As always, your results may vary...

1. Ravens-49ers -- The coaching Harbaugh brothers facing off against one another on the game's grandest stage? Yeah, that might work. East Coast vs. West Coast. Ray Rice- and Frank Gore-led running games. Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis holding down the middle of two proud defenses. I see some potential here.

2. Patriots-Packers -- Not only would we have a matchup of the two top seeds, but also we'd have Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady riddling the two most porous pass defenses in NFL history in terms of yardage allowed (Green Bay gave up 4,796, New England 4,703), making for a Super Bowl shootout of epic proportions. Topping it off, it would be a 15-year anniversary rematch of the Packers' win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans.

3. Giants-Patriots -- Getting another New York-New England pairing four years after their first Super Bowl matchup would certainly prove the point of all those who said this year's Giants were poised to recreate the magic of their 2007 playoff run. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady get their shot at revenging their perfect season lost, and here's hoping David Tyree is available to handle the pregame coin flip (trapping it on a Giants helmet as Rodney Harrison watches helplessly).

4. Saints-Patriots -- Drew Brees vs. Brady, with an undercard of offensive guru Sean Payton matching wits with noted defensive savant (not this year) Belichick would be fun. You'd also have the two best young tight ends in the NFL -- Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham -- competing to see who could be the first MVP-winning tight end in Super Bowl history.

5. Broncos-Packers -- In this Super Bowl rematch, Denver quarterback Tim Tebow would be the obvious surrogate for Broncos football czar John Elway, whose long quest to win a Super Bowl ring finally came to fruition 14 years ago against Brett Favre's Packers in Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego. Tebow and Aaron Rodgers might just offer the ultimate in contrasting quarterback styles as an intriguing sidebar, and talk about TV ratings.

6. Patriots-49ers -- Brady, who grew up in northern California with a Joe Montana poster on his bedroom wall, goes up against his boyhood team, with the chance to match Montana with four Super Bowl rings. What more could we want in terms of Super Bowl week fodder than that?

7. Packers-Ravens -- The theme of dominant offense vs. dominant defense would get most of the pregame hype, but in the interest of transparency, I'm shamelessly rooting for this Super Bowl matchup because it would prove my preseason prediction prescient. That's allowed. We all want to look prescient.

8. Ravens-Saints -- Saints head coach Payton was the Giants' offensive coordinator under Jim Fassel in 2000, when the Ravens won their only other Super Bowl, destroying New York 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa. You know what they say about paybacks. Payton's motivation level would be sky high, and I don't think he'd take his foot off the gas for a single second.

9. 49ers-Broncos -- Yep, another Super Bowl rematch, albeit a forgettable one from the 1989 season, when San Francisco humiliated Denver 55-10 in New Orleans in the largest blowout in the game's 45-year history. But the storyline of the two discounted and disregarded starting quarterbacks -- Alex Smith and Tebow -- would breathe fresh new life into this Super pairing.

10. Saints-Texans -- The first Gulf Coast region Super Bowl matchup would pit offenses designed by a pair of former quarterbacks -- and not the superstar variety -- in Houston's Gary Kubiak and New Orleans' Payton. The game's accomplished defensive coordinators Wade Phillips and Gregg Williams would have their moment in the spotlight as well, matching wits and blitz packages.

11. Giants-Ravens -- There would be a certain clean sense of symmetry if the Ravens went for their second Super Bowl win in franchise history against the same team they demolished to earn their first ring, 11 years ago in Tampa. Ray Lewis is still around for Baltimore, but Trent Dilfer, Kerry Collins, Brian Billick and Fassel are long gone by now.

12. Saints-Broncos -- The two head coaches know each other well. Not only did Payton and Denver's John Fox do regular battle against one another for years in the NFC South (when Fox was in Carolina), but also the two were coordinators on Fassel's staff when the Giants went to the Super Bowl against Baltimore in the 2000 season. We could also do a lot worse than a quarterback matchup of Brees vs. Tebow.

13. 49ers-Texans -- Raise your hand if you foresaw a Super Bowl quarterback matchup of Alex Smith and T.J. Yates in the preseason? Anyone? And did you know that Texans head coach Gary Kubiak was quarterbacks coach for San Francisco and Steve Young in the 49ers' most recent Super Bowl season of 1994? It's true. I looked it up.

14. Texans-Packers -- I would think the young linebackers would take center stage if it's Houston and Green Bay meeting in Super Bowl XLVI. Could you really tell all that hair apart when the Packers' Clay Matthews and the Texans' Brooks Reed are side by side? And then there's the history that Matthews and Houston's Brian Cushing share, with both of them being former USC Trojans who were drafted in 2009's first round.

15. Broncos-Giants -- We've already noted that Denver head coach Fox was once New York's defensive coordinator on a Super Bowl team, but on top of that, it's the 25th anniversary of the Giants' first Super Bowl victory -- a 39-20 conquest of the Elway-led Broncos in Pasadena's Rose Bowl. Denver gets its revenge?

16. Giants-Texans -- I've inspected this potential Super Bowl matchup from every possible angle and applied the full six degrees of Kevin Bacon treatment to it, and I can't find anything significant that connects these franchises. One had the league's second-best running game this season (Houston) and one had the 32nd-best (the Giants), but other than that, nada. Giants OC Kevin Gilbride did serve in the same role in Houston once upon a time, but it was the Oilers, so that doesn't really count. But, hey, it's the Super Bowl, so we'll watch. What else we gonna do on the first Sunday in February?

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