Super Bowl 51: Ranking Remaining Potential Matchups

Ahead of the Conference Championships, ranking the four remaining matchups for Super Bowl 51.

Conference Championship Sunday has arrived and there are only four teams left in Super Bowl 51 contention. Either the Green Bay Packers or Atlanta Falcons will advance out of the NFC to face either the New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers. Thus, there are only four possible matchups remaining for Super Bowl 51 in Houston.

As we all know, though, not all matchups are created equal. Of course that statement applies to the potential to draw ratings, but also in terms of quality and entertainment. Some teams match up better against others and so on. Subsequently, now seems the perfect time to look at the remaining possible Super Bowl 51 matchups and stack them against one another.

But first, it deserves to be said that all four potential matchups would seemingly offer a fun Super Bowl 51. These are four of the best and most explosive offenses in the league, so fireworks would surely be in order. With that said, some are better than others.

Onto the rankings, starting with Packers vs. Steelers.

Aug 23, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) looks to pass against pressure from Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Arthur Moats (55) during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 23, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) looks to pass against pressure from Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Arthur Moats (55) during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

4. Green Bay Packers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

In terms of historical NFL significance, you could argue that this matchup tops them all. The Packers and Steelers are two of the most storied franchises in the history of the league with success and title wins spanning multiple decades. Moreover, these are two teams that are always favored at the start of the season to make it to the Super Bowl, so seeing them square off wouldn’t exactly be a great surprise to anyone.

With that said, this is the worst matchup of the bunch—even if it would still be enjoyable. Perhaps the biggest factor in that is the variance that both of these teams have in terms of their performance. Sure, both would be riding long winning streaks to earn a Super Bowl 51 berth. However, we’ve all seen how things can change for both teams in terms of performance on a game-to-game and even series-to-series basis. That’s certainly more so the case with Pittsburgh, but applicable to Green Bay as well.

Again, I still think this would ultimately be a quality game as the four teams left playing are all high quality. Of the matchups that can still happen, however, this one just doesn’t present the same sure-fire great game that the others do. When you have this much quality, one game has to be last.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

3. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Atlanta Falcons

The variance of the Steelers’ performance plays into this ranking again and is the primary reason why they’re part of the bottom-two matchups of the remaining four that are possible. If there was a guarantee that the Steelers were going to play as they did against the Dolphins in the Wild Card Round, that would change things. But they showed one week ago that they are liable to have a bit of a dud from time-to-time—though kicking six field goals with no touchdowns is a bit extreme.

Why the Falcons matchup comes before the one with Green Bay, though, is simply that they provide the more intriguing matchup for the Steelers. The prospects of having Rodgers vs. Big Ben are enticing, sure. However, I like the notion of the Steelers defense having to matchup with the balanced and versatile attack of the Falcons more so than I do against essentially going up against Rodgers—no offense to Ty Montgomery.

On the other side of the ball, I have more faith in the Falcons pass-rush to make things interesting against a stout Pittsburgh offensive line. Vic Beasley is a monster and that matchup would something worth following throughout. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t say that I like the perceived matchup of the two proverbial underdogs in this matchup. We all know that the NFL wants Packers-Patriots as the most marketable of the four possible matchups. This sits on the other end of the spectrum which, to a degree, makes it all the more appealing in my eyes.

Nov 30, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) after the game at Lambeau Field. The Packers won 26-21. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 30, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) after the game at Lambeau Field. The Packers won 26-21. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

2. Green Bay Packers vs. New England Patriots

Frankly, this is the matchup I’m sure many fans have at the top of their rankings. It’s not hard even superficially to see why. Matt Ryan might be on his way to winning NFL MVP this season, but I don’t think there would be much contention that Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are the two best quarterbacks in the NFL. They’re dominant now and they’ll both go down in the annuls of NFL history as a pair of all-time greats.

So the notion of seeing these two greats battle it out in the Big Game is wholly enticing—especially since fans have somehow never been treated to that Super Bowl matchup. What’s more, this is again like every possible matchup remaining in that every offense still playing has the potential to put on a show. Though watching the Broncos defense last year was great fun, who doesn’t want to see points and offensive scoring make a triumphant Super Bowl comeback?

However, the reason that I have this matchup falling short of the top spot is the fact that I’m fearful the outcome would wind up being one-sided. Of the four teams remaining, the Packers have seemingly the greatest flaw of the bunch. Yes, there are arguably four bad defenses remaining, but Green Bay’s is the worst of the bunch. We all know how Bill Belichick smells blood and attacks and there’s every reason to believe he’d do the same to that Packers defense. So the potential for that to happen causes Packers-Patriots to fall just shy of No. 1.

Sep 29, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) runs for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half at Georgia Dome. The Patriots defeated the Falcons 30-23. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 29, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) runs for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half at Georgia Dome. The Patriots defeated the Falcons 30-23. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

1. Atlanta Falcons vs. New England Patriots

Many people are already crying foul for a couple of reasons. First, the people that are dying for the Rodgers-Brady matchup in the Super Bowl are angry that matchup didn’t top the rankings. Secondly, there’s the fact that the Falcons aren’t the traditional powerhouse for narrative’s sake. Again, let’s just admit that all four possible matchups would be entertaining. You’re talking about four great quarterbacks and offenses. Ultimately, though, this season and these playoffs feel like they’ve been building to the Falcons taking on the Patriots in Houston.

You can talk about the narrative all you want for Packers-Pats, but how about the quarterback-based storyline presenting itself here. For Atlanta, you have the likely MVP, Matt Ryan, going up against Brady, the man that likely would win the award if not for being suspended during the opening four games of the season. It’s the man trying to etch his legend against the legend. That’s absolute gold for narrative’s sake.

What’s more, you’re also getting the underdog vs. empire narrative with Falcons vs. Patriots. New England is in this position every year it seems, while the Falcons have never established themselves in quite the same way in terms of success, fanbase, and so on. So to see Atlanta try and usurp might Belichick and the Pats would be highly entertaining.

All of that doesn’t even get into the football, which would surely be fantastic. These two offenses would be up against below-average defenses, likely resulting in a ton of points and a fantastically exciting contest in Houston. Call for Rodgers-Brady all you want, but Falcons-Patriots for Super Bowl 51 is the matchup we all deserve.

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