There's eight teams left to compete for the highest honor in football. There's been many lists of exciting super bowl matchups we'd all like to see, most competitive possible super bowls, etc.
But before there can be a Super Bowl, we have to get through the playoffs. As such I thought I would rank the most competitive possible playoff matchups, including those that are already going to happen. I have ranked these based on how close I think the game will be, or how good of a chance the underdog has (if there even is an underdog). There will not be any Super Bowl pairs as there's 200 other articles on the internet for that, and this is not a "love to see" list because I'm not really in the business of ranking hype.
So let's proceed!
Since 2007: 2-0 Falcons
Point differential: +19 Falcons
Point differential per game: +9.5 Falcons
If the Seahawks are able to pull off the upset against the Bears, and the Packers fall to the Falcons in the Georgia Dome, we'll get to see the worst team to ever make the playoffs play in a dome against a team that has been completely unbeatable on their own turf. Even the most optimistic Seahawk fan can not like their chances in this one, and Seattle should be advised to cheer for the Packers on Saturday. While the Saints were able to beat the Falcons in the dome, and the Seahawks beat the Saints, this is the least competitive possible matchup on the map.
Since 2007: 5-3 Patriots
Point differential: +70 Patriots
Point differential per game: +8.75 Patriots
I don't know if I've ever seen a bigger gap between hype and game quality than the Patriots/Jets since the week 13 Monday Night drubbing. If that's removed from the above totals, the edge remains for the Patriots, but not by as much. Since that loss, the Jets have gone 2-2 to close out their season, losing to the Dolphins only to beat the Steelers the next week. Not many gave the Jets a chance to beat the Colts last week, and I for one will remain unconvinced that they can take it to the Patriots back in Foxborough. This game has been the most hyped of the postseason thus far, partly due to the teams being in Boston and New York (er, kind of) and partly because Rex Ryan used to write storylines for the WWE (I can only assume). I'm expecting some abuse in this one, but I'd love for the Jets will be able to pull off another surprise. I'm just not betting money on it.
Since 2007: 2-0 Falcons
Point differential: +9 Falcons
Point differential per game: +4.5 Falcons
Poor Bears. Despite being a team of destiny, they can't get any respect. For years everyone says they're not living up to their potential, and when they finally win everyone calls them overrated. That might have something to do with their losses to Seattle and Washington, or that they have the lowest net points (48) of any remaining playoff team not from the NFC West. By comparison, the Packers, which won one game less, have 100 more net points. Even though the Bears are expected to come on top of Seattle, they'll still be the ugly duckling of the playoffs.
I don't see anyone outside of Chicago taking the Bears over the Falcons in Atlanta. That dome is a destroyer, even if Chicago has had a phenomenal second half of their season. It would take a flawless Jay Cutler and Lovie Smith performance for Chicago to advance to the Super Bowl, and I don't see that being in the cards.
Since 2007: 2-0 Packers
Point differential: +48 Packers
Point differential per game: +24 Packers
Why am I rating this even this high? Two words: Qwest Field. Qwest is the biggest homefield advantage in sports. It turns the Seahawks into an average to good team. On the road? Bottom five in the NFL. Sure, the Falcons never lose in the Georgia Dome, but they're good on the road too. If the Seahawks make it this far, they'd be doing the Packers a huge favor by knocking off the Bears the previous round. Seattle fans would be excited to host the NFC championship game, but the point remains that the Packers are a very scary team that have had the Seahawks number in the past.
Since 2007: 2-0 Ravens
Point differential: +8 Ravens
Point differential per game: +4 Ravens
Here's where the games start that are actually worth watching. The Ravens have had the advantage, and I'd expect that to continue. This game will be a very entertaining watch, but Mark Sanchez vs. elite defenses isn't particularly inspiring. This game, like all those ranked above it, can very conceivably go either way.
Since 2007: 3-0 Patriots
Point differential: +12 Patriots
Point differential per game: +4 Patriots
The Patriots have a history of winning in the playoffs, even when they probably shouldn't have. The Ravens have a history of losing in the playoffs, even when they probably shouldn't have. The Patriots have swept the Ravens over the past four seasons. As great as the Ravens are, I don't see them giving the Patriots too much trouble. Especially in Foxborough.
Since 2007: 2-1 Seahawks
Point differential: +4 Seahawks
Point differential per game: +1.33 Seahawks
Strangely enough, no matter how big of an advantage the Hawks have at Qwest field, their best possible playoff matchup is the one they're facing on the road this Sunday. Everyone outside of Chicago will be rooting for Seattle, as there's no doubt they're the least feared team in the playoffs. Seattle holds the advantage in the recent series, despite not being particularly good since 2006. The key player in this game is Jay Cutler. Even his biggest fans know he's a model of inconsistency. That may depend partly on how well his line protects him, which is another question mark for this game. I'm expecting a closer game than the story might be on paper here.
Since 2007: 2-0 Jets
Point differential: +8 Jets
Point differential per game: +4 Jets
The Jets have already beaten the Steelers this year, and have a two games to none advantage since 2007. While the Steelers are supposed to be a better team than the Ravens, the Jets seem to have had Pittsburgh's number as of late. That said, the Jets will still be going in as underdogs. The Steelers might just be the second best team in the entire league, and they'll have homefield advantage. The Jets will be coming in high off beating New England, but they'll be playing underdog again in this one.
Since 2007: 2-1 Patriots
Point differential: +11 Patriots
Point differential per game: +2.67 Patriots
This is the single game America might want to see the most. 3 Super Bowl Tom vs. 2 Super Bowl Ben for the right to represent the superior conference in Dallas. If any team can give the Patriots a run for their money, it's Pittsburgh. While I'll be praying for both teams to lose, New England will still be the favorite. That win by the Steelers in the past four seasons? That was when Brady was on the sideline and Matt Cassell was taking snaps. The Patriots have been the better team in the rivalry. They've been the better team head to head, they've been the better team this year, and they got homefield advantage. This is why I'm ranking this "only" fourth.
For old time's sake
Since 2007: 2-0 Falcons
Point differential: +6 Falcons
Point differential per game: +3 Falcons
This is the story of two teams that lost their pro bowl quarterbacks and have only gotten better because of it. For a #6 seed playing a at a #1, football fans are in for a real treat this Saturday. The Packers have the second highest net points in the entire league, but the fact is the Falcons have something more valuable: the best NFC win-loss record. Add in the undeniable homefield advantage, and we know who the favorite is. That said, this should be a very close game, and the winner of it will be favored over whoever comes out on top of the Bears/Seahawks scrum. Chances are looking good that whoever wins in Atlanta will be defending the NFC's honor in Dallas come February.
Since 2007: 5-3 Steelers
Point differential: +32 Steelers
Point differential per game: +4 Steelers
The best game guaranteed to happen, a quick look at the number makes things look pretty bad for the Ravens. This is largely because in 2007, the Steelers beat the Ravens 38-7 to make the second loss out of nine consecutive for the team in its most underperforming year. If we take that game out, we get 5-4 Steelers, +1 Steelers point differential, and all of .11 points per game in the Steelers favor. In fact, every other game has been decided by under four points. Talk about close. The Steelers do have homefield advantage though, and are coming off a better year. When Big Ben's on the field, the Steelers have faired better in the win-loss column. These factors will make them the favorite in this game, and that's why it'll miss the #1 slot.
Since 2007: 4-4 Draw
Point differential: +13 Packers
Point differential per game: +1.63 Packers
This is the game everyone should want to see. The teams have been deadlocked, and the net points difference is negligible. The Bears have had the better record, and have homefield advantage. The Packers have the net points advantage, a consistency advantage, and would be coming in off a win at the Georgia Dome. On paper, this is the best possible matchup in the playoffs, and I wouldn't be surprised to see there be no spread. The Packers might get a point advantage, but that can go in either direction. The storyline would be huge, as football's oldest rivalry would be playing in their biggest game possible. If this matchup happens, you can bet it'll be good.
Thoughts? Opinions? Think I'm a homer? Did I ignore the fact that your favorite team totally has momentum? Think it's weird that I rated the Bears-Packers and Packers-Falcons so high yet the Bears-Falcons so low? Please let me know in the comments and I'll be sure to reply. Thanks for reading!