Four teams remain in the hunt for the 2014 Super Bowl, and not all potential matchups are created equal.
Let's be honest—fans and casuals alike are going to watch the Super Bowl regardless of which teams partake in the action. For some, it's a general love of the sport if no rooting interest in a participant; for others, it is a chance to catch some of the best commercials of the year.
Regardless, some matchups are better suited for entertainment value. Whether it is outstanding matchups on the field or intriguing storylines off, here are how the potential matchups stack up based on both.
|1||Seattle Seahawks vs. Denver Broncos||+130|
|2||San Francisco 49ers vs. Denver Broncos||+250|
|3||Seattle Seahawks vs. New England Patriots||+350|
|4||San Francisco 49ers vs. New England Patriots||+500|
4. New England Patriots vs. San Francisco 49ers
There are really no bad potential matchups when it comes down to it, but this one has to take the cake for the sheer boredom factor that would ensue.
The NFL is about sexy passing attacks these days, so two teams that specialize in the running game are not going to make for the most exciting matchup.
That is right—a team led by Tom Brady specializes in the run this year, especially as of late. With inexperience and injury the name of the game as far as passing weapons go, the Patriots have leaned on a running game led by LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for 355 yards and six scores in the team's last two games.
San Francisco is well known as a rush-first team behind the ever-churning legs of Frank Gore, with a bit of quarterback Colin Kaepernick sprinkled in for good measure. While a solid matchup, it's not one that quite lives up to the potential of the others.
3. New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks
Alright, perhaps the New England Patriots are just boring at this point. So is this whole underdog thing from Tom Brady, as captured by Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk:
I know when we played Baltimore no one picked us to win and no one's gonna pick us to win this week. We've had our backs against the wall for a while, really the whole season. We've lost players and teams have really counted us out. We've got a bunch of underdogs on our team and we'll be underdogs again. We'll see how that shakes out at the end of the week.
Right. Part of the reason this is not a horrible matchup is because the Patriots have advanced to the AFC Championship for the third consecutive time.
In this scenario, fans will get to see if Brady has what it takes against Seattle's elite defense, which ranked in the top 10 against the rush and No. 1 overall against the pass in the regular season.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks would bruise away with running back Marshawn Lynch and truly test the mettle of a Patriots team that not only thinks itself an underdog, but is suddenly a power running team.
Something would have to give in this titanic bout.
2. Denver Broncos vs. San Francisco 49ers
This is the type of shootout non-traditional enthusiasts would want to see.
This is especially the case after Manning's 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns as the leader of the most prolific offense in NFL history.
On the flip side, Gore and Kaepernick would be able to find plenty of success against the Broncos' defense. While Denver does rank well against the rush, Kaepernick would be able to find weapons such as receivers Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree often enough to make this one a close contest.
Fans saw the 49ers in the big dance last year, but this time would be a much more entertaining bout, as a defense led by linebacker Patrick Willis would have to find an answer to Manning.
1. Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks
While certainly not a shootout, the best treat of all this year would be seeing Manning attempt to take down the NFL's best secondary led by Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas.
As ESPN's Darren Rovell points out, this is the matchup fans most want to see:
POLL RESULTS: Broncos-Seahawks bests Broncos-49ers as most preferred Super Bowl matchup http://t.co/uHsEFyDoaW— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) January 13, 2014
Of course they do. Arguably the best offense in NFL history meets the NFL's best defense (which allows an average of 14.4 points per game). What's not to like?
Seattle can not only match up with the trio of Thomas, Decker and Welker well on the outside, the linebackers are also athletic enough to keep up well with tight end Julius Thomas.
Outside of on-field scenarios, this one is also littered with interesting storylines. The Broncos and Seahawks have taken two very different paths to being contenders. Denver broke the bank with Manning, while Seattle built its elite defense through the draft. ESPN captures it best:
If Broncos & Seahawks meet in Super Bowl, the entire Seahawks defense might cost less than Manning. http://t.co/TolsnbH40D— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 15, 2014
There is also the fact that this could be the last time fans get to see Manning play. Yes, that seems like a long shot, but he has always been smart about his body. Should Manning win, does anyone want to bet against him being content with going out on top after overcoming Brady and the NFL's best defense?
The only answer is no, because the possibility is there. This is far and away the best matchup and seems the fitting way to end a wildly entertaining season.