Fans are already lining up for Super Bowl XLVII (just kidding).
They’ve been pretty super as of late.
Once upon a time in a galaxy not so far away, the Super Bowl would fail to live up to its lofty name. Scores like 46-10, 55-10 and 52-17 were common place in the game that would decide the National Football League’s champion.
These days, more times than not, the big game has been pretty entertaining. All told, nine of the last 15 Super Bowls have been decided by seven points or less. That includes the last two as the Green Bay Packers edged the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-25 (XLV) and the New York Giants did the same to the New England Patriots, 21-17 (XLVI).
By late Sunday night, we’ll know the teams that will square off at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Super Bowl XLVII. But here we took the time to rank the four possible matchups, all of which will have their share of great storylines.
Here come the New England Patriots, headed to a record-tying eighth Super Bowl with a chance to win their fourth NFL title.
Here come the Atlanta Falcons, headed to just their second Super Bowl with a chance to win their first NFL championship.
On center stage are the quarterbacks. While New England’s Tom Brady is attempting to win his fourth championship ring, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan takes aim at the franchise he probably got to know a little while he was at Boston College.
So what could happen? Brady is a perfect 3-0 vs. the Falcons, who haven’t beat the Patriots since 1998. That was the season Atlanta and the “Dirty Birds,” led by head coach Dan Reeves, advanced to their first Super Bowl (XXXIII), a loss to the Denver Broncos in South Florida.
Wouldn't it be interesting to see Brady marching down the field against the Falcons defense, only to be picked off by cornerback and former teammate Asante Samuel in the closing seconds?
While it’s not necessarily Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, there’s a little something to be said for another pair of quarterbacks taken in the 2008 draft's first round.
Atlanta Falcons field general Matt Ryan was the third overall pick and the Ravens' Joe Flacco was a mere 15 choices later.
During the regular season, Ryan owns a 56-24 lifetime record while Flacco isn’t far behind with a 54-26 slate. But there’s been a huge difference come the playoffs. While the Falcons’ fifth-year hurler just won his first postseason game as a starter this past weekend, Flacco owns a 7-4 playoff record and has won at least one postseason contest in each of his five seasons.
Now the two prepare to square off in the season’s biggest game. Over the last year or so, both Ryan and Flacco have been given the keys to their respective cars and have responded in a big way. The former threw a career-high 32 touchdown passes this season and led Atlanta to a 13-3 mark, tied for the best record in the league in 2012.
Flacco has saved his best for the playoffs and has put the long ball front and center in wins over the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.
But forget the quarterbacks for a while. How much fun would it be to see retiring legendary linebacker Ray Lewis cover likely retiring star tight end Tony Gonzalez once or twice during the game?
Who could forget this season’s Week 15 Sunday night showdown as the San Francisco 49ers went into Gillette Stadium and survived a furious rally by the New England Patriots and emerged with a huge 41-34 victory?
That night, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's four touchdown passes were part of the reason Jim Harbaugh’s team owned a 31-3 third-quarter lead. But on a night in which San Francisco would run 65 offensive plays and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady would attempt 65 passes, the Niners watched the Pats come back to tie the game in the fourth quarter before San Francisco rallied again to eventually hang on for the seven-point win.
Now it’s time for the battle in the bayou. The Superdome holds some great memories for both of these franchises.
A mere 23 years ago, San Francisco capped off one of the great postseason runs in NFL history with the most lopsided Super Bowl win ever, a 55-10 destruction of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV.
Of course, while New England’s first two losses in the big game came under the roof at New Orleans (XX and XXXI), so did the team’s first Super Bowl victory (XXXVI) as Bill Belichick’s club stunned the heavily favored St. Louis Rams, 20-17.
But back to the present as this would mark the 14th time that two teams meet in the regular season and then later in the Super Bowl. It’s worth noting that the club that won the first encounter is just 6-7 in the Super rematch (although the New York Giants pulled off a sweep of the Patriots last season).
It’s safe to say that Super Bowl Sunday has become a holiday of sorts across the nation, if not the world.
And there’s no more important aspect of the holidays than spending time with family.
Obviously, the National Football League agrees with that theory. Hence, on Thanksgiving night at Baltimore in 2011, the Ravens hosted the San Francisco 49ers in a meeting of head coaching brothers in the Ravens' John Harbaugh and the Niners' Jim Harbaugh.
Later last season, there was the possibility of seeing a “We Are Family” Super Bowl at Indianapolis. But Baltimore lost a 23-20 heartbreaker to the New England Patriots in the AFC title game, and hours later, San Francisco fell to the New York Giants in overtime, 20-17, in the NFC Championship Game.
Of course, it’s obviously a different story this time around as both teams would have to post road wins to get to New Orleans. And there are some interesting similarities between these current squads.
The Ravens scored 398 points during the regular season, while the 49ers were right behind them with 397. Baltimore and San Francisco each forced 25 turnovers and gave up the football just 16 times in 16 outings, giving both teams a plus-nine turnover differential.
Both Harbaugh and Harbaugh Part Deux stress physical football in all three phases of the game. And in the playoffs to date, both quarterbacks have made been a part of big-yardage plays, Joe Flacco with his deep passes and Colin Kaepernick with his long runs.
So here’s a scenario: The Ravens and 49ers are tied on Super Sunday. The Niners are mounting a drive that takes them to the Baltimore 33-yard line with three seconds to play in regulation. With kicker David Akers having already missed two field goals, Jim Harbaugh turns to veteran and former Ravens’ specialist Billy Cundiff for the game-winner.
You can’t make this stuff up.