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Ranking All 16 Possible Matchups for Super Bowl LVII

Superstar quarterbacks, rematches of past title games, teams of destiny and fresh faces. There are many factors when thinking about the best possible way to end the NFL season.

We are two rounds of playoff games away from Super Bowl LVII in Arizona, and it’s certainly not too early to dream about the matchup—especially if you’re a fan of one of the eight teams still alive. But even if you’re not, I think we’re all on board that we’d like a good Super Bowl, yes?

There are 16 combinations still on the table, so before they are whittled down to just four after the divisional round, let’s rank all 16! Because nothing says January fun like detailed breakdowns of 15 games that won’t happen.

How did I rank them, you might ask? It’s part art, part science. A heavy focus on superstars and quarterbacks. It’s the Super Bowl, after all, and for many people the game is more about the narratives off the field than the action on it. I considered both.

I took into account the quality of the teams, the history between opponents and the dominant story lines that would be beaten to death in the two weeks leading up to the game. Not just who’d be the main characters on the marquee, but how they’d play off each other.

Anyway, you know how internet rankings work. Let’s save the best games for last.

Separate photos of Andy Reid, Stefon Diggs, Nick Bosa and Jalen Hurts.

Reid, Diggs, Bosa and Hurts: four of the main characters who could factor prominently in the Super Bowl LVII story line.

16. Giants vs. Jaguars

I’m not here to pick on anyone. And don’t get me wrong, this would still be a fun Super Bowl. It’s still the Super Bowl, and the hype machine would spend two weeks working its magic. This matchup would pit the upstart Jaguars, in the first Super Bowl in franchise history, against a decorated old-school team with four Lombardi Trophies. But one of the games has to be ranked last, and the fact is six of the eight teams remaining won at least 12 games this season. The other two are the 9–8 Jaguars and the 9-7-1 Giants.

Do we love underdogs? Sure! Teams with barely-above-average records sneaking into the big game? Well, maybe not two in one year. It’s more fun when one of them goes up against a Goliath, as the Giants did against the Patriots twice. The Jaguars have played much better in the second half of the season than their record might indicate, but either of these teams would have the worst record of any champion since … the 2011 Giants. Tom Coughlin would be a popular guy on radio row and spend the week making jokes about how the game should start five minutes early, but there are better matchups out there.

15. Giants vs. Bengals

We really are stocked with great teams this year, and the quartet of quarterbacks in the AFC necessitates that some truly great players and teams are sliding further down the board than I would have guessed.

Joe Burrow is one of the top young, exciting, charismatic players in the league, and it would be fun to see him play in back-to-back Super Bowls in his second and third years. But seeing him get back to the big game and face the Giants would not be the most satisfying narrative arc available to us.

Imagine this as a movie: Burrow goes through his rookie growing pains, comes back from injury, gets to the big game and loses to a Hollywood Rams team full of highly paid stars. Then the Bengals improve the offensive line, battle back, win two more road playoff games and meet the 9-7-1 Giants? A worse team than they faced last year? Who optioned that sequel?

This is a Bengals team we have adored for having a chip on its shoulder. For being the underdogs, feeling disrespected and not being afraid to say something about it. To see them get back to the Super Bowl and be a big favorite would not be the most appropriate ending for this journey. They’ll have better options below.

14. 49ers vs. Jaguars

Brock Purdy, as you may have heard a few hundred times over the past month, was the very last pick in the 2022 draft. Two of the four QBs in the AFC were once drafted with the very first pick: Burrow in ’20 and Trevor Lawrence in ’21. You can imagine that being a talking point, right?

I think the can-you-believe-one-of-these-quarterbacks-was-drafted-first-and-the-other-was-drafted-last chuckle-fest would be leaned on a bit more heavily here than in a 49ers-Bengals game. Having reached a Super Bowl sort of takes over as the defining fact of Burrow’s career at this point, much in the same way that no one would really talk about Patrick Mahomes’s draft position unless he was facing someone from his own class. But Lawrence vs. Purdy sets up a cleaner story, the tale of how these two players took different routes to meet each other in each of their first Super Bowls.

This is an early appearance on this list for a team as good and interesting as the 49ers, and they’re the top possible matchup for at least one other AFC team. But these franchises don’t have quite the history together that makes some other potential matchups more appealing.

13. Giants vs. Chiefs

Giants fans may hate me by this point, having stuck them in three of the bottom four matchups, but it’s nothing personal. As I said at the top, these would all still be fun. I know Giants fans in particular would enjoy two weeks of a Daniel Jones revenge tour, or perhaps it would be a media apology tour. Kayvon Thibodeaux feels born to be on the Super Bowl media-night stage, and Saquon Barkley would be fun, too. If the Giants actually reach the game, that means they’ll have won in Minnesota, in Philly and then in either Dallas or San Francisco. These writeups are all fan fiction: Every matchup looks good when you game out what must have happened in the weeks leading up to them.

If the Giants actually reach the Super Bowl, they’ll be a better story then than they are on paper now. This team, again? After beating Tom Brady twice as a four-seed and a five-seed they’d get to face Mahomes as a six-seed? The degree to which Jones would be living out life as Eli Manning’s successor would be a little too on the nose. It would be like watching them reboot the Bond franchise around a new Bond and complaining they used the same plot devices.

On the opposite sideline, this game would put Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo in the spotlight, as he was also the coordinator of the 2007 Giants defense that toppled the previously undefeated Patriots. And we love a good defensive coordinator revenge game, don’t we? Did I mention he was the team’s interim head coach for four games in ’17?

I just think the games below start from a higher point of interest and thus have more juice.

12. Eagles vs. Bengals

This is the Eagles’ first appearance on this list, and they’re the only NFC team for which I’d rank the Bengals as the least appealing Super Bowl matchup. On the field, these two teams have kind of an odd history with each other, including ties in two of their four most recent meetings—the 2008 game when Donovan McNabb famously said he didn’t know games could end in a tie, and then a rematch during Burrow’s rookie year, when Doug Pederson caught blowback for punting from midfield with 19 seconds left in OT. Aside from that, there’s no real history to speak of. I just see a couple of really good teams in what would probably be a competitive Super Bowl.

One leading story of the Bengals’ last Super Bowl run was how they did it despite their shaky offensive line that got Burrow sacked 70 times between the regular season and playoffs, the third-highest total ever. Then they totally remade that unit (though they’ve had injury issues along the line recently) and could get all the way back to the Super Bowl to face the first team in NFL history with four pass rushers who have registered 10 sacks in one year (Haason Reddick, Javon Hargrave, Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham).

The eight starting quarterbacks remaining in the playoff field were drafted in seven different seasons, so Burrow vs. Jalen Hurts is the only possible matchup between QBs from the same draft class. The debates about Burrow vs. Justin Herbert vs. Tua Tagovailoa have raged over the past three seasons, while Hurts, by virtue of being a second-rounder, has mostly slipped out of the direct-comparison discussions. But fair or not, you better believe every football expert and casual fan would be asked to rank those four players before, during and after the game—especially if the Eagles won.

Jaguars safety Rayshawn Jenkins runs into the end zone with a game-winning pick-six against the Cowboys.

Jenkins made one of the most pivotal plays of the year when the Jaguars met the Cowboys in the regular season.

11. Cowboys vs. Jaguars

The Cowboys are deeply polarizing. There are many, many people out there who would love nothing in the world more than to see them back in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995. There are also many, many people who would rather be left overnight in a tank of tarantulas. And there are probably a lot of people in the middle who say they wouldn’t want to see the Cowboys in the Super Bowl, but deep down would find the idea exciting. Given all this, they are a tough team to rank. I’m trying to be as objective as possible. This list doesn’t perfectly align with my personal preferences; it’s what I think would be best for the world. So here’s the first Cowboys appearance.

This game would pit former Eagles coach Doug Pederson against his former city’s most hated rival. It’s actually incredible how the makeup of this final eight creates so many Philly-centric story lines where former Eagles coaches could take on Eagles rivals or their actual former team. The AFC bracket features Reid and Pederson, and even Bills coach Sean McDermott, who got his start on Reid’s staff in Philly. (And had the Ravens upset the Bengals, longtime Reid assistant John Harbaugh could have made it 4-for-4.) In the case of this matchup, the Pederson-Cowboys angle got a boost thanks to the regular season.

This game would be a rematch of the fantastic Week 15 game that the Jaguars won 40–34 on a walk-off pick-six in overtime by Rayshawn Jenkins. That game was a huge moment in Jacksonville’s turnaround this year, as Lawrence led a last-minute drive to set up a field goal at the final buzzer just to force overtime. That was Jacksonville’s second of five straight wins to close out the regular season, and it gave the Eagles breathing room in the NFC East. The Eagles organization responded by literally sending Pederson and his staff cheesesteaks. Naturally.

So we know who that city would be pulling for in a rematch on the biggest stage in sports.

10. Cowboys vs. Bengals

Remember what I wrote about Bengals-Giants, and how the Bengals are better when they’re in the underdog role? This would be a perfect spot for them to squeeze the most out of that ornery world-against-us attitude. The Bengals would be favored to win the game, comfortably I believe, and they and their fans would absolutely spend the two weeks leading up to it complaining to anyone who will listen that they are the better team and asking why everyone on earth is talking about the Cowboys instead and treating Cincinnati like the undercard. They would be publicly pissed and they would be right, and it would be a righteous way to channel all of the anti-Cowboys sentiment that would swirl around any appearance by Dallas. And then the debate shows and panels would triple-down on Jerry Jones and Dak Prescott, and invite their next few former Cowboys to join the set.

This matchup would be a rematch of a game from Week 2, when the Cowboys stunned the Bengals in Cooper Rush’s first start and the Bengals dropped to 0–2. Was it a Super Bowl loser’s curse? A hangover? Were they not as good as we thought? Was Joe Burrow’s appendix good luck? These were questions from some at the time (the last one might have just been from me). In the end, it’s a long season, things happen, it doesn’t mean too much. But you’d see highlights of that game and they’d face questions about it.

9. Giants vs. Bills

Four of the 16 possible matchups at this point would be rematches of previous Super Bowls, and this is the first of those pairings. Bills-Giants would be a rematch of Super Bowl XXV, not just any Super Bowl but a quite famous one. The first of Buffalo’s four losses in the ’90s, and the closest they ever came. Imagine the pressure on current Bills kicker Tyler Bass headed into a reenactment of the famed Wide Right game.

Speaking of coaches squaring up against their former team, ex-Eagles aren’t the only ones facing that possibility. Welcome to the Daboll Bowl—the DaBowl, if you will. First-year Giants coach Brian Daboll spent the last four years as the offensive coordinator in Buffalo, creating the offense that facilitated Josh Allen’s rapid development from questionable prospect to perennial MVP candidate. After Jones ran 17 times for 78 yards in the wild-card round, our Conor Orr called him the economy version of Allen, and it would be fun to watch them take turns with the ball.

These teams have ties beyond the coaching staff, as Giants GM Joe Schoen made the move with Daboll and imported a few of their former players to East Rutherford. The two of them should be very familiar with the strengths of weaknesses of Buffalo’s roster.

And finally, this game would be a nice opportunity for Bills fans to drum up their “Actually, we are the only NFL team in the state of New York” schtick.

8. Cowboys vs. Chiefs

As I feel like I’ve repeated ad nauseum here, so much of the hype around the Super Bowl is focused on the big names on the marquee. Nobody in the league has a higher Q Score than Mahomes, except Tom Brady and maybe Aaron Rodgers. Yes, the league would be in a great place if more young stars got their chance on the stage, but from the day Mahomes took over the QB1 gig in Kansas City, he seemed destined for great things. He won MVP in his first year as the starter, then won a Super Bowl over Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers in his next year. From that point he became Patrick Mahomes, no-doubt-Hall of Famer. This would be his third Super Bowl appearance in four years. And in this scenario, the two after putting his name on the list of champions forever would have come against Brady and then the Cowboys, two of the most famous brands in football history. (Let’s just call Brady a brand at this point.) Mahomes is an all-timer, and he’d add to a growing list of memorable events.

Let’s talk more about what’s at stake for the Cowboys, since this went unmentioned in their Bengals and Jaguars blurbs. The team has been to eight Super Bowls and won five of them. Eight appearances was the record back in the ’90s, until this drought allowed the Steelers and Broncos to equal them, and the Patriots to surpass them. And that fifth title in the ’95 season tied the Niners for the most in football, before the Patriots and Steelers both zoomed past them in the 2000s. So the Cowboys aren’t the Cowboys just because they put a star on their helmets and got famous. They did earn the appeal by winning championships. So for both Dallas and San Francisco, this month is a chance to match the Patriots and Steelers for Super Bowl supremacy.

Going into this game knowing Mahomes would join the 12 quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl wins or the Cowboys would reestablish themselves with the top teams would apply stakes. Of course, the same is true of Chiefs-49ers, which we’ll get to below.

7. Eagles vs. Jaguars

Four head coaches in NFL history have gone on to new gigs and faced their former teams in the Super Bowl: Weeb Ewbank (Jets vs. Colts, SB III), Dan Reeves (Falcons vs. Broncos, SB XXXIII), Jon Gruden (Buccaneers vs. Raiders, SB XXXVII) and Pete Carroll (Seahawks vs. Patriots, SB XLIX). Doug Pederson and Andy Reid have a chance to be the fifth.

Pederson coached the Eagles for five years, made three trips to the playoffs and won the franchise’s only Super Bowl, earning a cult following for his aggressive in-game decision-making and a statue of the Philly Special outside Lincoln Financial Field. He has been gone only two years, and already both sides may be better off, like awkwardly running into your ex on the street and discovering you’ve both won the lottery.

The split is fresh, with Pederson having had one year off and then taken over a Jags team with Lawrence. The Eagles have had plenty of turnover since they’ve retooled under Nick Sirianni and around Hurts, though they still have multiple contributors who started Super Bowl LII on the offensive and defensive lines.

Obviously the Super Bowl would matter against anyone, but like the Harbaugh Bowl or other notable matchups, this one would have to mean just a little bit more. Would Pederson go out of his way to call a trick play? Would Sirianni try to beat him to the punch? People would spend 60 minutes waiting for it.

The two sides got their first reunion out of the way early, with Pederson getting a standing ovation in Philly in Week 4. With no rematch guaranteed until 2026, this would be quite a spot for Round 2. Pederson would be the first coach to win a Super Bowl with two teams, and he’d win both franchises their first Lombardi Trophies.

And, because we are talking about the Eagles in the playoffs, we must discuss the possible necessity of a backup quarterback. So just leave open that tiny sliver of a chance, should anything happen with Hurts’s shoulder, that this game could turn into Gardner Minshew vs. his old Jaguars.

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6. 49ers vs. Bengals

The next three games are all Super Bowl rematches, so let’s start with 49ers vs. Bengals, which would join Steelers-Cowboys as the second three-peat. These two teams squared off in Super Bowls XVI and XXIII, with San Francisco coming out on top in both. Those were Cincinnati’s only appearances in the big game until last year, as the team keeps searching for its first title. While the 49ers have been synonymous with winning for the majority of the Super Bowl era, this game would pit a couple of recent Super Bowl losers against each other. The Niners have lost their two appearances this century, including three seasons ago to the Chiefs.

Like I said earlier about Eagles-Bengals, this would also be a test for that Bengals’ line. Swapping out a date with Aaron Donald last year for Nick Bosa this year, as they take on the best defense in football.

These teams also ended the regular season with the longest winning streaks in the NFL: 10 straight for San Francisco and eight straight for Cincinnati.

While these teams did not play against each other this year, this would be a rematch of a fun game from Week 14 in 2021. The Bengals rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter with a pair of Ja’Marr Chase touchdowns. Then Cincinnati opened OT with a field goal before a walk-off touchdown pass from Garoppolo to Brandon Aiyuk.

That loss dropped the Bengals to 7–6, and then they didn’t lose another meaningful game until the Super Bowl. This team is all grown up now, and the current iteration of the Niners would make both a worthy adversary for this group of Bengals and a fitting opponent from a historical context for them to finally break through.

Patrick Mahomes scrambles against the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV

Will history repeat itself with a rematch of Super Bowl LIV?

5. 49ers vs. Chiefs

Here we have our most recent Super Bowl rematch in the bunch, a throwback to Super Bowl LIV in February 2020. On that night, Mahomes rallied his team from a 20–10 deficit with under eight minutes to go. Garoppolo started the first one, and we assume he wouldn’t be back for this (though the door is slightly ajar?), but many of the principal characters would. That includes Travis Kelce and George Kittle in a battle of unfairly good tight ends.

On the field, this would be the best possible strength-on-strength matchup, with the Chiefs’ No. 1 offense in the league going up against the 49ers’ No. 1 defense.

The x-factor might be Jerick McKinnon, who signed a four-year deal with the 49ers in 2018, missed two full seasons with a torn ACL and then played a minor role for the team in ’20. He has now provided a massive spark for the Chiefs, scoring nine total touchdowns in his past six games, including a receiving TD in every one of them.

The Niners’ offense is definitely more potent than during their last Super Bowl, having now fully committed to Deebo Samuel’s involvement in the running game and added Christian McCaffrey.

Remember these teams met in Week 7, when everyone was surprised how much McCaffrey played after they traded for him the Thursday before the game. The Chiefs won 44–23, and the game got so out of hand that Purdy actually threw his first career passes, going 4-for-9 with an interception. The loss dropped the Niners to 3–4, and they haven’t lost since. It would be fun to see a rematch with that offense now at full force.

4. Cowboys vs. Bills

The Bills rank highly on any list of tortured sports franchises. It’s not just that they’ve lost four Super Bowls, but that they lost four in a row. It sets up a unique dichotomy where the fan base had one stretch of unprecedented acute sports pain and has otherwise had two distinct droughts. They won a pair of AFL championships in the two years immediately preceding the Super Bowl era, then endured 24 years of misery before their streak and now 28 years since.

If they are to fully expunge more than 50 years’ worth of misery, you could find few opponents more fitting than the Cowboys. Dallas was the tormentor in their third and fourth Super Bowl appearances, a pair of lopsided affairs that finished with final scores of 52–17 and 30–13.

So if these two teams meet in February, go get your Starter jacket out of the attic and drink in the ’90s nostalgia.

Like Niners-Bengals, this game would join Cowboys-Steelers as the only three-time Super Bowl matchup. With a win, Dallas would become the first franchise to beat another team three times.

Looking at the present-day rosters, this game would match up a Cowboys defense that led the league in takeaways against a quarterback in Allen who has been just a little too careless with the ball at times this season. The headliners, of course, would be brothers Stefon and Trevon Diggs. Stefon led the league in receptions and yards in 2020, and has made three consecutive Pro Bowls. Trevon led the league in interceptions in ’21 and has made two straight Pro Bowls. The two have yet to play against each other since younger brother Trevon entered the league three years ago.

Should the Bills win, Allen and his teammates would become legends in Buffalo. Should the Cowboys win, Prescott would join Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman on the list of Cowboys greats to capture the ultimate prize.

3. Eagles vs. Chiefs

Welcome to the Andy Reid Bowl. People know the stakes by now. Reid, the winningest coach in Eagles history, spent 14 seasons in Philly, leading the team to five NFC championship games and one Super Bowl loss. He then moved on to Kansas City, where he kept chugging right along. In this scenario, it would mark five consecutive AFC championship games and a third Super Bowl appearance with K.C. As I wrote in my MMQB staff playoff prediction, I don’t think this game would be a cataclysmic event like it would have been five years ago, if both sides were still battling for their first title. I wrote a piece in January 2020 where I spoke to Eagles fans, both traditional celebrities and a few with viral internet fame, about how they were all rooting for Reid to get his own ring once the Eagles had finally gotten theirs. Now that both sides have one, this would be more of a “Nice to see you here kind of affair” than an all-out war. Still, it would be a great story as Reid and the Eagles compete to see who could win a second title since the breakup.

Putting aside the coaching staff ties, this is also a great game on the field. Both teams won a league-high 14 games in the regular season. We would get a matchup of the No. 1 seed in each conference for the first time since Eagles-Patriots in 2017. And we would get a matchup of the league’s first-team and second-team AP All-Pro quarterbacks for the first time since Matt Ryan and Tom Brady in ’16. In plenty of years it would be a good enough game to rank No. 1 on the list. But not this year …

2. 49ers vs. Bills

Speaking of ’90s nostalgia, this is the matchup we never actually got—no matter how many years in a row Chris Berman predicted it—as the Niners bookended the Bills’ Super Bowl stretch with championships, but lost the NFC title game three of the four years Buffalo made it.

From a historical standpoint, San Francisco won its first five Super Bowl appearances and would be trying to make Buffalo lose its fifth straight.

Looking at just this season, you could make the argument these are the two best teams in the league. They ended the regular season with the best point differentials (49ers first, Bills second) and the highest marks by Football Outsiders’ DVOA (Bills first, 49ers second). They are the two No. 2 seeds, now forced in the still-new-ish playoff format to forgo a first-round bye and win three games to reach the Super Bowl, which theoretically makes their paths to the game more grueling, but we are imagining a world where they’ve already gotten there.

And while the Chiefs have the league’s highest-scoring offense and best by a few statistical measures, let’s not pretend the Bills are slouches. There were five teams comfortably in the league’s top tier for the whole second half of the season, and any of the matchups between them have the potential to be all-timers. Seeing the Niners’ defense going to work against the Bills’ offense would be an immensely fun 60 minutes to spur an entire offseason of arguing about whether defense wins championships or an elite passing attack has become king.

On the other side of the ball, it’s possible 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan is the only figure remaining in these playoffs who is seeking Super Bowl redemption as much as the Bills, coming off his team’s late loss to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV and his Falcons’ blown 28–3 lead to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. He is still deserving of the accolades he receives, but the stakes are so high for whichever side loses this game.

1. Eagles vs. Bills

There are plenty of great matchups possible every year, but my preference is when the game doesn’t just match two great and interesting teams, but has the added bonus of really telling the story of the season. Again, it’s nice when it’s not just the big game, but it feels like the proper conclusion to the narrative we’ve been glued to for weeks (or years).

The Bills have had a Team of Destiny air about them all year. It extended from losing the overtime classic against the Chiefs last year. To the preseason hype of them as a Super Bowl favorite and Allen as an MVP front-runner. Through the blizzard that forced them to go on an unexpected road trip. And then obviously in Week 17 when Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field, and we watched how the team, its community and the football world came together. They have proved themselves to be a great team over the past three years, as the story has built to this squad finally getting over the hump.

Similarly, I know the Niners have come on like a freight train since halfway through the season, but the Eagles led the NFC from wire to wire. They were the story for most of the year: the last undefeated team at 8–0, with Hurts probably the leading MVP candidate before he injured his shoulder with the team 13–1. Even if San Francisco is currently playing better, Philly would be plenty deserving.

These fan bases would also add truly excellent theater to the proceedings, trying to outdo each other in the drinking and debauchery department. The Eagles won a Super Bowl recently, but you can’t fully shake a lifetime of self-loathing out of your DNA that quickly. Though you could forgive Bills fans, in the place Philly fans were five years ago, for wanting them to give it a rest.

This game would give us two great quarterbacks who can run and throw. One team trying to shed a history of losing vs. another that just did the unthinkable a few years ago, but still has enough new blood to stay hungry and make things feel fresh. It would be the rightful end to the 2022 season.