With just a few weeks left until Super Bowl LI, it’s never too early to start looking at potential matchups. The Patriots and Cowboys are the favorites on each side of the bracket, but several strong teams stand in their paths to Houston. The Falcons, Chiefs, Steelers and Packers all pose serious threats to Dallas and New England, while boasting good chances to make the Super Bowl themselves.
To get you ready for all of the conceivable matchups for the Lombardi Trophy, we broke down every possible combination and ranked them from least to most likely. Get ready for a lot of Texans to start.
These are probably the least likely teams to make it to Houston, largely due to the paths they face and their unbalanced rosters. Both are outstanding defensively, but there are question marks on offense. For that reason, among others, we won’t be seeing a Texans-Seahawks Super Bowl, as badly as I know you all wanted that.
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The Texans simply have too many issues on offense, beginning with Brock Osweiler. The Packers are seemingly unstoppable with Aaron Rodgers playing out of his mind, but the defense is questionable and the possibility of not having injured receiver Jordy Nelson seriously hurts.
USA TODAY SportsJeff Hanisch
This matchup would probably only appease those in Houston and Atlanta because, well, it just wouldn’t be all that exciting. No offense to either team, but it’s not going to happen, and it’s because the Texans have to beat the Patriots and Chiefs/Steelers to get there. A Super Bowl home game is not in the cards.
Troy TaorminaTroy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
An all-Texas Super Bowl in Houston? Too bad it’s not happening. The Cowboys will remain in Texas the whole time if they make it to the Super Bowl, but the Texans are not good enough to go all the way. Not with Brock Osweiler at quarterback.
Tim HeitmanTim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
The Seahawks are the kicker here. They won’t be playing a home game this weekend and will do so next week only if the Cowboys lose to the Packers. Seattle is a very different team at home and on the road, so this matchup probably hinges on Green Bay winning.
Two of the league’s best defenses meeting would be similar to last year’s showdown between the Panthers and Broncos. It’s not likely, though, despite the mantra that “defense wins championships.”
This would be one for the ages, just based on each team's historical significance. Big Ben vs. Aaron Rodgers would certainly be fun to watch, but don’t get your hopes up for a Super Bowl XLV rematch. Neither team is predicted to win this weekend, let alone in the conference championships.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportCharles LeClaire
Yeah, this one would be fun, but don’t plan on it happening. The Seahawks get a lot of praise for being great based on their defense, but what was the last really good team they beat? The Lions were decent, but you have to go back to November when they beat the Patriots. Since then, they’ve beaten only the Eagles, Panthers, Rams, 49ers and Lions. Not to mention, each team is missing a star in New England's Rob Gronkowski and Seattle's Earl Thomas.
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Nine weeks ago, no one would have thought it’d be possible for this Super Bowl matchup to happen. Now, it’s far from impossible. Both teams are well deserving of trips to the big game, they’ll just need to play their best football against the best teams in their respective conferences.
Kevin Jairaj - Raymond Carlin III
There may not be more revered franchises in the NFL than these two. The Packers have a brutal path to the Super Bowl with road games at Dallas and Atlanta or Seattle standing in their way. The Patriots are obviously the favorites in the AFC, but it’ll be a challenge for the Packers to make it all the way.
The Steelers will have more trouble beating the Chiefs and Patriots than the Falcons will have with the Seahawks and Cowboys (or Packers), but that doesn’t make this potential matchup completely unlikely. With the way these offenses put up points, they might set a Super Bowl record for touchdowns. It would certainly be a shootout in Houston.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY SportsJason Getz
Meh, not the most exciting matchup, but don’t be surprised to see it happen. Both teams are much better than they’re getting credit for, and they could shock everyone by making it to Houston. Their paths aren’t exactly absent of hurdles, but I can easily see a Chiefs-Falcons Super Bowl.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY SportsDale Zanine
A rematch of their fantastic regular-season showdown? Yes please, and it just might happen. This hinges on the Steelers more than it does Dallas, considering they have to beat the Chiefs and (probably) Patriots to get to Houston. Round 2 of Steelers-Cowboys would anger a lot of haters, but it would also be a game to remember. So much history would come with it.
Jason Bridge-USA TODAY SportsJason Bridge
The Chiefs, not the Steelers, will be the Patriots’ toughest opponent – assuming they get past Pittsburgh this week. Kansas City is a much better team than it gets credit for, and meeting the Cowboys in Houston remains a good possibility. Their path to the Super Bowl is difficult, but you have to beat the best to be the best.
The Patriots don’t technically have a bye this weekend, but I expect them to handle the Texans by at least 10 points. That makes their path to Houston easier than most other teams, while the Falcons also have a good shot of reaching the Super Bowl. The Cowboys will be their toughest test, considering only they could force the Falcons to play a road game.
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The likeliest scenario remains a colossal meeting between the Patriots and Cowboys – two of the most highly regarded and hated franchises in all of football. It’s not just the most likely matchup, either. Patriots-Cowboys would certainly be the most entertaining and exciting Super Bowl in recent memory. The biggest threats to this collision course are the Chiefs and Falcons.