With 14 teams in the playoff race entering Super Wild Card Weekend, there are technically 49 different matchup possibilities for Super Bowl LVI at the close of the 2021 NFL season. And if the NFL has proven anything over the years, it's that anything can happen come January. But what are the juiciest, spiciest scenarios for Super Bowl Sunday?
We're glad you asked. Here are 13 of the best possible matchups for the big game on Feb. 13:
Nationally, the hype would surely be quite tame, with Philly mostly relying on the run to beat lowly teams and Pittsburgh entering with not even a semblance of a colorful offense. But there are real storylines: the Pennsylvania Bowl, Ben Roethlisberger trying to go out with one more totally improbable ring, Jalen Hurts erasing national-championship memories to help Nick Sirianni win it all during their first year together.
Dallas is a big draw, if you can't tell. And no, this matchup might not sound wild on paper, but it's the same formula as the Patriots and Titans showdowns, to an exaggerated degree. The Raiders play ugly and win ugly. But wouldn't that make for an enticing Super Bowl matchup, with Derek Carr and Rich Bisaccia powering Las Vegas to a potential upset of America's Team?
11. Cowboys vs. Titans
This has the same kind of appeal as Cowboys vs. Patriots, with a big brand and splashy offense running into a more tough-minded contender in Tennessee. The Titans may not always be pretty to watch, but Derrick Henry would make for one heck of a potential Super Bowl MVP, bruising his way to hopeful glory against the Dallas "D."
Can you imagine if Jimmy Garoppolo guides San Francisco back to the Super Bowl, for a chance at avenging his previous title-game loss to Patrick Mahomes? Kyle Shanahan's run game and defense obviously fuel the 49ers just as much, but the drama surrounding their future at QB would be rampant.
9. Chiefs vs. Rams
Matthew Stafford has struggled in some key spots down the stretch, but if he actually finds himself in the Super Bowl in his first year post-Detroit, the pressure will be through the roof to do what Jared Goff couldn't and bring home the trophy. Plus, L.A. would be playing in its own brand-new stadium against a similar offensive juggernaut.
8. Cowboys vs. Chiefs
If you're looking for a big-play showdown, this offers just as much upside. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, CeeDee Lamb and Co. are a machine when they're in rhythm, and Dan Quinn has their defense buzzing, too. The America's Team brand obviously bumps the appeal, too, with Dallas looking to secure its first championship since 1995.
Old Legend against New Superstar, with Aaron Rodgers and Joe Burrow on the scene. The Bengals may not have the draw of bigger-market contenders, but Joey Cool and Ja'Marr Chase and their young gunslinging bunch would have the media fawning over them in the lead-up as underdogs. A really underrated matchup.
6. Bills vs. Cowboys
Josh Allen against Prescott, with two teams desperate for a title. Need we say more?
5. Cowboys vs. Patriots
They may represent two of the most despised franchises in the NFL, but they also represent two of the most watchable franchises in the NFL. The marketing writes itself: Jerry Jones and America's Team looking to revive 1990s glory against Bill Belichick and the league's most recent dynasty. It also pits big-play flashiness against a more rugged old-school approach.
4. Buccaneers vs. Chiefs
Unoriginal? Perhaps, as these two just met in the last Super Bowl, with Brady and the Bucs routing Mahomes and the Chiefs 31-9. But that would make a rematch all the more enticing. Would TB12 pad his all-time record for Super Bowl wins with an eighth ring, or would Mahomes avenge their last meeting to restore the prospects of a Chiefs dynasty?
3. Bills vs. Packers
2. Buccaneers vs. Patriots
Of course. Aesthetically, this game might actually be pretty ugly, as it was when the two sides clashed in the regular season. Belichick would surely try to take pressure off his rookie QB, Mac Jones, if it came to this. But the human element here is unmatched: Brady, fresh off a title run without his old team, gets a big-stage chance to prove he is the man, not the Pats.
1. Chiefs vs. Packers
Rodgers against Mahomes. Two explosive offenses. Two feisty defenses. A rematch of Super Bowl I. The potential for fireworks is through the roof. Plus, you've got A-Rod looking to get over the hump after two straight NFC title-game losses, not to mention win his first Lombardi Trophy in over 10 years; and Mahomes looking to rebound from last year's big Super Bowl loss.