Analysis  

 

Dream final fours for 2014 season: Six juicy playoff possibilities

We did it. We made it through another offseason.

There were highs and there were lows. The World Cup was cute. LeBron's sequel to The Decision was more satisfying than the original. There was a Winter Olympics in Russia, with the most memorable event being Bob Costas' pink eye. But that's all in the rearview mirror now, because ...

Football's back!

And this year, it's gonna be even better, thanks to college football finally adding a four-team playoff. Cynics are already bellyaching that there aren't enough teams in the tourney, but let's not quibble: It's gonna be positively grand.

Of course, NFL fans know this. Pro football's Championship Sunday perennially ranks among the best days on the sports calendar. And while I'm almost as excited for college football's new playoff, I'll leave the speculation about which four teams will get there to my colleagues at College Football 24/7.

At the risk of spoiling the NFL's latest sure-to-be blockbuster novel by jumping straight to the last chapter, though, let's lay out a half-dozen of the most entertaining -- if not necessarily the most likely -- final foursomes to finish off the 2014 season:

The Bro Bowl

AFC Championship Game: Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots
NFC Championship Game: Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers
Super Bowl: New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks

Déjà vu? Sure, but let's start nice and easy here with the most obvious quartet: Last year's. Why overcomplicate matters when this group features the NFL's two best rivalries of the 21st century: Peyton v. Tom and Seattle v. San Francisco. This time, though, let's flip the 2013 AFC side of the script and put the Pats in the big game against the defending champs. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick try to break their decade-long Lombardi-less streak, while the 'Hawks shoot to become the first team to repeat since ... the '04 Patriots.

Not convinced? Well, then consider one of these two scenarios: 1) An emboldened Richard Sherman again asking Brady, who's got tears in his eyes, "You mad, Bro?"; 2) Brady chasing down Sherman on the crowded field postgame to say, "You remember that question you asked me a couple years ago? The answer is 'no.' "

The Buddy Bowl

AFC Championship Game: New York Jets vs. Baltimore Ravens
NFC Championship Game: New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers
Super Bowl: New York Jets vs. New Orleans Saints

If you liked the Harbowl, you're going to love this Championship Sunday: It's Ryan brother vs. Harbaugh brother ... times two!

Nothing against the Harbaughs, but we just saw them face off in Super Bowl XLVII, when John's Ravens beat Jim's Niners. So instead of setting up the sequel, let's give the Ryan boys a turn in the spotlight and pit Rex's Jets against Rob's Saints (if only because -- deep down -- we all know it'd be more fun to take a two-week road trip with Buddy Ryan's sons than Jack Harbaugh's).

The Old Bowl

AFC Championship Game: Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots
NFC Championship Game: New Orleans Saints vs. Arizona Cardinals
Super Bowl: Denver Broncos vs. Arizona Cardinals

Arizona is known as a mecca for senior citizens. How better to honor that distinction than by having four of the NFL's oldest starting quarterbacks vie for the right to play in the desert come February?

In the name of seeing something unique, let's make 34-year-old Carson Palmer's Cardinals the first team to play the sport's biggest game on its home field ... and let's put 'em up against the Broncos and Peyton Manning, who at 38 would be the oldest guy to start a Super Bowl (beating out his boss, John Elway, by three months). Maybe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would even consider pushing the kickoff time back, so that Peyton and Carson could hit the early bird dinner special first.

The Salad Bowl

AFC Championship Game: Indianapolis Colts vs. Denver Broncos
NFC Championship Game: Washington Redskins vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Super Bowl: Indianapolis Colts vs. Washington Redskins

The autumn months of 2012 were the salad days for Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. The first- and second-overall draft picks that year, respectively, Luck and RGIII hit the ground running (and throwing), eventually making the playoffs as rookies. For all the pie-in-the-sky talk about how both were destined to win multiple championships someday, the cold, hard math -- there's still only one Lombardi Trophy handed out annually -- limits their chances, especially as long as elder statesmen named Peyton, Drew and Tom are still out there chasing the same prize. So the quest continues for the most esteemed members of the 2012 NFL Draft, even as third-round pick Russell Wilson chills in the clubhouse with that new ring on his finger.

Fans wouldn't complain about a Broncos-Eagles Super Bowl, but we can't miss the opportunity to see Luck and RGIII go head to head.

The Super-est Bowl

AFC Championship Game: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Oakland Raiders
NFC Championship Game: San Francisco 49ers vs. Dallas Cowboys
Super Bowl: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Dallas Cowboys

For those fans who follow the game's history, this would be the ultimate final four. On the AFC side, the six-time Super Bowl champion Steelers and thrice-victorious Raiders resuscitate their 20th-century postseason rivalry, while in the NFC, the first new installment of the long-running Dallas-San Francisco title-game rivalry is written since the days of Troy Aikman and Steve Young.

A showdown between the Steelers and the five-time champion Niners, arguably the NFL's two greatest Super Bowl-era dynasties, would be great, but better still is the fourth edition of Pittsburgh and Dallas (the NFL's version of Celtics-Lakers) battling it out -- again -- on the game's biggest stage. By late Super Sunday, the Steelers would own a seventh Lombardi Trophy -- or the Cowboys would have their sixth.

(By the way, Ben Roethlisberger vs. Tony Romo would trump any soap opera or reality show imaginable.)

The Impossi-Bowl

AFC Championship Game: Cleveland Browns vs. Buffalo Bills
NFC Championship Game: Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings
Super Bowl: Buffalo Bills vs. Minnesota Vikings

Debate: Division title drought to end?
It's been a while since certain teams -- like Calvin 
Johnson
's Lions -- have won a division title. Who can snap the dry spell? READ

If the previous final four represented the league's haves, this one's for the have-nots -- specifically, those with some of the longest-suffering fan bases in the NFL. (Sorry, Arizona fans; we only have four spots.) On one side, we have Cleveland visiting Buffalo, home of some of pro football's most loyal enthusiasts. In the NFC, two North division foes tangle in the Vikes' temporary outdoor home -- which will be rendered exponentially better by the football gods on the eve of the game, when a blizzard dumps a foot of fresh powder on the field.

In Glendale, it would be the Vikings (0-4 all time in the Super Bowl) against the Bills (also 0-4 in Super Bowls) -- not exactly a legendary showdown, but win or lose, both teams and their fanbases will get a nice vacation in the desert. By NFL rules — and moral decency -- someone has to win ... even if the final score is 5-4.

Follow Dave Dameshek on Twitter @Dameshek.

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