2019 NFL Playoffs: Ranking the four possible Super Bowl matchups, and the odds each actually happen
Who do you want to see in Super Bowl LIII on CBS? The good news is there are no bad potential matchups
Folks, Championship Sunday is HERE. In just a few hours, we'll find out which teams get to represent the AFC and NFC in Super Bowl LIII, which you can stream right here on CBSSports.com. With four teams remaining, there are four possibilities for the matchup we'll see: Chiefs vs. Saints; Chiefs vs. Rams; Patriots vs. Saints; and Patriots vs. Rams.
With the help of our friends from SportsLine (shout out to Stephen Oh), we've broken down the percentage chance that we will see each of those matchups come February 3, from most likely to least likely. The projections for each game are generated using the probability that each individual team wins their respective conference championship matchup. In addition to projecting the likelihood of each game, SportsLine went ahead and projected the percentage chance of who would win each of those matchups as well.
Using this as a guide, what we've done below is power rank the potential Super Bowl matchups in an attempt to determine which would objectively be the "best." How did we do that? Naturally, we did so by using a completely arbitrary and subjective system in which the committee (mostly just me, but with scattershot input from some CBS Sports colleagues) ranked each of the four potential matchups across eight categories, with 1 being the best score and 4 before the worst:
- How much media hype would the specific matchup receive? (Hype)
- How much does it seem like NFL fans want to see this specific matchup? (Desire)
- Would this specific matchup yield a quality football game? (Quality)
- How interesting is the matchup of offensive schemes? (Offense)
- How interesting is the matchup of defensive schemes? (Defense)
- How interesting is the coaching matchup? (Coaching)
- How much on or off-field drama would be associated with the game? (Drama)
- How interesting is the main narrative hook for the matchup between the two teams? (Narrative)
After ranking each game from 1-4 in those eight categories, they received a completely objective (i.e. 100 percent subjective) score that led us to the following inarguable Power Rankings.
1. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New Orleans Saints
SportsLine: 36.5 percent chance of being Super Bowl LIII matchup
This seems like the matchup that at least a plurality of NFL fans want to see at this point. A Chiefs vs. Saints Super Bowl would pit the No. 1 team from each conference against each other in a game featuring the two best offenses in the league, as well as the two best quarterbacks -- who are also likely to be the top two MVP finishers. We'd get two weeks of hype about how this has the potential to be the highest-scoring Super Bowl ever, and there would probably be a completely insane over-under total to discuss.
There would be stars all over the field on offense (Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Tyreek Hill, Michael Thomas, Travis Kelce, Alvin Kamara) and defense (Dee Ford, Justin Houston, Chris Jones, Cameron Jordan, Marshon Lattimore), as well as two of the league's best coaches in Andy Reid and Sean Payton. There's not much inherently interesting about a Reid vs. Payton matchup, though, beyond the fact that they are both good coaches. So even though they're excellent, the coaching matchup got the lowest ranking out of the four potential Super Bowl matchups.
The game would presumably be evenly matched, which SportsLine's projections back up by giving the Chiefs a 52.8 percent chance of winning compared to 47.2 percent for the Saints. It's also a matchup that nobody has seen yet this season, so there would be a lot of interesting things to analyze on both sides of the ball, with no real roadmap through which to analyze them. There's not necessarily an elite narrative hook here, but "the two best teams in the league" is still pretty compelling.
2. New England Patriots vs. New Orleans Saints
SportsLine: 23.4 percent chance of being Super Bowl LIII matchup
Do you think there might be an interesting narrative hook to a Tom Brady vs. Drew Brees Super Bowl? Do you think networks like CBS, America's Most Watched Network, would have an absolute field day promoting a matchup between the greatest quarterback of all-time and possibly the most underrated quarterback of all time? Is it even possible to get a better narrative hook than this? (Not this year, says the committee.)
If only the narrative were the only thing that mattered here. This presumably does not come as news to Patriots fans, but most fans of other NFL teams are sick of the Patriots being in the Super Bowl every year, so a Pats-Saints Super Bowl scored relatively low in the hype and desire categories, compared to what you might think it deserves.
The actual quality of the game would likely be great (SportsLine has it as the most evenly-matched potential Super Bowl, giving the Saints a 51.4 percent chance of winning the the Patriots' 48.6 percent chance) given the strengths of the two teams and the likelihood that the game would be well-coached (and while Bill Belichick vs. Sean Payton is not the most interesting coaching matchup, it is pretty damn close), the schematic matchup wouldn't be as interesting simply because everybody knows so damn much about Belichick's defense, Payton's offense, and Josh McDaniels' chameleon-esque offense at this point.
And with little connecting the two teams beyond all-time great quarterbacks and elite coaches whose specialties lie on opposite sides of the ball, there doesn't appear to be much potential for drama.
3. Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Rams
SportsLine: 24.4 percent chance of being Super Bowl LIII matchup
Look at your TV guide from Wednesday night and flip over to NFL Network at 8 p.m. Eastern. Seriously. Go do it. (Waits.) OK. You back? Great. What did you see there? Chiefs vs. Rams from Week 11! The best game of the entire NFL season! 54-51! A gazillion touchdowns. A bagillion yards! Eleventy-trillion pass attempts! Drama to the absolute max!
Yeah, I think this matchup would receive a fair amount of hype. NFL Network might replay that Chiefs vs. Rams game every three hours for the next two weeks if this ended up being the Super Bowl matchup. And while Chiefs vs. Saints seems like the matchup the greatest number of people want to see, I don't think the public would sneeze at getting a rematch of the single most compelling game of the season.
All that said, this matchup falls short in a lot of the other categories. SportsLine has it as the most lopsided potential Super Bowl matchup, which the Chiefs having a 56.2 percent chance of victory to just 43.8 percent for the Rams. The offensive schemes are wildly interesting because Reid and Sean McVay are two of the most creative offensive coaches in the league, but the Rams' offensive slump over the second half of the season prevents it from being the best potential offensive matchup. These two teams also have the two worst defenses of the remaining teams, even though one of them employs the best defensive player in football.
A coaching matchup between the seemingly ageless offensive genius (Reid) and the wunderkind offensive genius (McVay) is compelling, but not necessarily as compelling as other potential matchups, for various reasons. Two young teams with loads of stars, one of whom was traded from one team to the other last offseason (Marcus Peters) and who likes to talk makes for high drama potential, but the narrative hook suffers because we've already seen this matchup this season.
4. New England Patriots vs. Los Angeles Rams
SportsLine: 15.7 percent chance of being Super Bowl LIII matchup
It seems absolutely crazy to have this matchup last, but as you can see from the cumulative scores, it's not actually that far behind any of the others anyway. They're all really good and really fun and we'd be lucky to see any of them.
Where this specific matchup scores best is on the coaching front: Bill Belichick, the greatest coach in the history of football, against Sean McVay, the guy that oh so many people are pegging as the next guy to take that mantle over the next couple decades. Belichick's defensive genius clashing with McVay's offensive mastery would make for a fascinating narrative hook, especially with the potential that it could represent a changing of the guard of sorts of the Rams managed to pull off a win.
That said, this seems like the least interesting on-field matchup between the two actual teams we'd see out there. It's hard to see Pats vs. Rams getting more hype than other matchups, given that this particular Pats team seems much weaker than previous versions we've seen and that the Rams have not been operating at full strength for a while now. And again, non-New England fans seem fairly disinterested in watching yet another Brady-Belichick coronation (sorry, it's true) and there is certainly a bit of McVay-related backlash going around in NFL circles as well.
The offensive matchup here would be interesting, but defense actually seems like the more compelling side of the ball here. How would Belichick scheme to stop McVay's offense? Is it all about Todd Gurley or does he mimic the game-plan the Lions, Bears, and Eagles used so successfully earlier in the season? And how would Wade Phillips, one of the best defensive coordinators ever, deal with Tom Brady for the umpteenth time? How would Belichick and McDaniels account for the game-wrecking ability of Aaron Donald?
This all seems fascinating, but SportsLine pegs the Pats as (comparatively) heavy favorites with a 55.4 percent chance of victory to the Rams' 45.6 percent chance, making it the second most-lopsided matchup of the four. With the Patriots always attempting to keep off-field drama to a minimum at all times, even a wildly intriguing matchup like this one ends up coming up short compared to the others.
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