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Super Bowl LI: Ranking the sexiest potential matchups

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The combinations alone make the head spin.

With eight teams left, the carousel of potential matchups for Super Bowl LI offers a fascinating journey into the universe of "What if?"

With so many possibilities kicking around, they've asked me to cook up a list ranking my favorite would-be Super Bowl showdowns.

Invariably, this will not comply with your list, which will lead to an urge -- in some -- to tweet at the author with low-wattage jabs such as: YOUR DUMB, THIS LIST SUX and DO U EVEN WATCH FOOTBALL?

The thorny arrangement between us is clear. Now let's get down to business:

1) Dallas Cowboys vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

The historical perks are obvious. As two gridiron titans of the 1970s, the Steelers and Cowboys clashed twice, with Pittsburgh nipping Dallas in Super Bowls X and XIII. But Troy Aikman's Cowboys returned to deep-six Neil O'Donnell's Steelers in Super Bowl XXX. The ingrained lore adds juice to this matchup, but these two teams also gave us the game of the season back in Week 10. It would be a joy to watch these two defenses try to slow the back-and-forth heroics of two game-changing runners in Ezekiel Elliott and Le'Veon Bell. Besides, it's only fitting that Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, who became the youngest quarterback to win a Lombardi in Super Bowl XL, would be playing not to lose that honor to 23-year-old rookie Dak Prescott.

2) Green Bay Packers vs. New England Patriots

For obvious reasons. While a whiff of exhaustion lingers around the idea of seeing New England in another Super Bowl, all that flies out the window at the idea of Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers. These teams authored a classic back in the 2014 regular season -- with Green Bay winning, 26-21, in Lambeau -- and the potential for a February doozy is legitimate. A win would slay recent playoff ghosts for Rodgers, while another Lombardi for Brady would destroy any nit-picky debates about who reigns as the greatest quarterback in the history of Planet Earth.

3) Dallas Cowboys vs. New England Patriots

Trust me: The league office is salivating for this clash. For those of us who cover the game, 'Boys-Pats would flip the switch on the wildest Super Bowl Week of all time. A hyped-up media circus for the ages, but armed with the potential for a tremendous game. Besides, a lot can happen between now and early February. If Prescott were to stumble in any way -- not something I'm hoping for -- the table would be set for Brady vs. A Fellow Named Tony Romo.

4) Atlanta Falcons vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Long-maligned as a dull team tucked away in a largely ignored division, this year's Falcons have scattered those jabs to the wind. Atlanta's offense hits January as the juiciest X-factor of the postseason. While last year saw an MVP quarterback from the NFC South fold on the game's biggest stage, Matt Ryan -- soon to win that same award (I think) -- would have a chance to change minds forever about his career. Coach Dan Quinn and play-caller Kyle Shanahan could travel Georgia for the rest of time and never pay for another drink. I'm tossing Pittsburgh in here for the pure shootout potential of two wild offenses trading shots on a glorious Sunday in February.

5) Seattle Seahawks vs. New England Patriots

The rematch angle is overt, especially after watching Seattle's Richard Sherman lose his cool last month with Seahawks play-caller Darrell Bevell, who annoyed the star defender by repeatedly throwing the ball on the goal line against the Rams. It was a painful reminder for 'Hawks fans of the ill-fated Russell Wilson pick that ended Super Bowl XLIX. While this hypothetical bout's saturated with ready-to-bake storylines, I remain suspicious: Could a rematch possibly live up to what we enjoyed two winters ago?

BONUS GAME: Green Bay Packers vs. Kansas City Chiefs

When they ask you to craft a top-five list, but you still have more to say, the best way to hoodwink your editor is through the creation of a nebulous "Bonus" category. Works every time. I'm sneaking this matchup into the mix for two reasons: It would serve as a rematch of Super Bowl I -- a tidy 50 years later -- while also bringing the careers of Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith full circle. A decade-plus after the Niners made Smith the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, the reliable Chiefs quarterback would have the chance to permanently change minds by taking down Rodgers, the golden-armed passer saddled with an eternal chip on his shoulder after falling in that draft to the Packers at No. 24. Draped in themes of revenge and redemption, this would be plenty of fun.

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