It’s championship weekend in the NFL, and while it’s best not to think too far ahead, just for fun, let’s take a sneak preview at the four possible Super Bowl matchups.
NEW ENGLAND VS. ATLANTA
If the home teams are able to hold serve, this will be our Super Bowl. The key player in this matchup would be Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. Since coming into the league, Ryan has strived to be counted as one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, and a Super Bowl victory -- especially one that comes against Tom Brady -- would certainly intensify that conversation.
With wide receivers like Roddy White and Julio Jones, as well as aging but effective tight end Tony Gonzalez, at his disposal against a lackluster New England secondary, Ryan would be in good position to go head-to-head with Brady in what could be a high-scoring Super Bowl. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that the Patriots would go into the game as heavy favorites; that being said, the Falcons would have a fighting chance.
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BALTIMORE VS. SAN FRANCISCO
This matchup would quickly get dubbed “The Harbaugh Bowl”, as a matchup between Jim and John Harbaugh, the first pair of brothers to be NFL head coaches. Fans have dreamed for years about a brother vs. brother Super Bowl at the quarterback position involving Peyton and Eli Manning, but the possibility of a brother vs. brother Super Bowl involving head coaches has snuck up on us.
Jim, head coach of the 49ers, would enter the game as the favorite to beat older brother John, head coach of the Ravens. A secondary storyline would undoubtedly be the swan song of Ray Lewis, playing the final game of his career in the Super Bowl. Lewis would also help to headline a matchup of two stout defenses.
The one area where these teams would differ heading into the Super Bowl would be the route they took to get there. The 49ers are a young upstart team under Jim Harbaugh, while the Ravens have been gradually building towards a Super Bowl for several years. After coming up just short last year, and with an aging defense, this might be Baltimore’s last chance to win a Super Bowl.
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BALTIMORE VS. ATLANTA
This may be the least attractive matchup from a fan’s perspective; however, it would guarantee a Super Bowl victory for one of the league’s second-tier quarterbacks desperately trying to assert themselves as an elite-level quarterback: either Joe Flacco or Matt Ryan. Also, it may not seem like it, but this would actually be a David vs. Goliath matchup of sorts.
Atlanta rolled through much of the regular season, finishing with a 13-3 record and the top seed in the NFC playoffs. Meanwhile, the Ravens backed into the playoffs, losing four of their final five games and barely hanging on to win their division, only to get hot at the right time and take down the AFC’s top two teams (assuming they beat New England this weekend), both on the road. Of course, in this matchup the advantage would likely go to Goliath, with the Falcons being more comfortable playing inside a dome stadium, and having an offense that’s better able to take advantage of the indoor playing conditions.
NEW ENGLAND VS. SAN FRANCISCO
This may be the most appealing Super Bowl matchup, and fortunately for fans, it also appears to be the most likely. Not only would it set up to be a good game, but it would also have deeper meaning as well. New England quarterback Tom Brady has long been the poster boy of a league that has been dominated by pocket passers, and his team has been the closest to a dynasty that exists in the NFL today.
Meanwhile, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick has quickly asserted himself as the leader of a new group of mobile quarterbacks that are more dangerous with their legs than with their arms. Meanwhile, the 49ers have been fast risers into the spotlight under head coach Jim Harbaugh, and look like a team that could stay at the top for a long time.
A Patriots vs. 49ers Super Bowl would not only be a game with a championship on the line, but it would also represent a clash of the old vs. the new. The winner could very well dictate whether or not the NFL could see a passing of the torch, both at the quarterback position and among the elite and dominant teams in the league.