With eight teams still alive and kicking, the flock of possible matchups for the Lombardi Trophy is limitless.
OK, not true. There are actually 16 possible matchups, a total figured out for this math-challenged, mezzanine-level blogger by multitalented NFL.com editor Andie Hagemann.
Whether or not you agree, here they are:
1) New Orleans Saints vs. New England Patriots
Look, people. Daddy gets it. There's an understandable level of exhaustion tied to any matchup involving the Patriots. We've seen this show before a thousand times, but the AFC lacks for juicy teams outside of New England and Pittsburgh. Besides, what's not to like about a coaching duel between Bill Belichick and Sean Payton? A tussle between Tom Brady and Drew Brees would serve as the titanic capper to an otherwise-strange NFL season. Hating the Patriots is easy, but give them their due: New England's last two Super Bowl appearances have been ultra-thrillers. Games for the ages. In fact, when was the last Pats-infused Super Bowl that wasn't highly entertaining? A showdown with the Saints has the potential to top them all.
2) Minnesota Vikings vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last year brought us our first Super Bowl overtime. Why not another benchmark come February, with the Vikings operating as the first team to play for the title in their home stadium? Bottom line: Minnesota's fan base has voyaged through the Nine Circles of Hell. What better purifier than a Super Bowl Week celebrated in your own town before trotting out for an epic rematch of Super Bowl IX? Is there a better strength-on-strength fight than Minnesota's steel-trap defense facing a Pittsburgh attack led by Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown? I'm also a fan of Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer having the chance of a lifetime after eons of toiling as an assistant.
3) Atlanta Falcons vs. New England Patriots
We haven't seen a Super Bowl rematch since the Cowboys and Bills went back-to-back to cap the '92 and '93 campaigns. Those games were Dallas-centric blowouts, but the Falcons and Pats gave us a thunderous doozy last February. Atlanta spent most of this season looking like a fraction of last year's high-powered beast, but the Super Bowl hangover is finally over. Suddenly, the Falcons have awoken, knocking off the Panthersin Week 17 before confidently topping the Rams on the road in Saturday night's wild-card upset. After a week of hearing everyone croon over Sean McVay, it was Atlanta's Dan Quinn who won that coaching battle. I'd love to see the Falcons earn the chance to erase last season's heart-crusher.
4) New Orleans Saints vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Saints are pure fun to watch. Same goes for the Steelers -- when they play to their potential. For many of the reasons New Orleans vs. New England would be a joy, the matchup of Big Ben vs. Brees would come packed with high-stakes career implications. Roethlisberger -- after an offseason of retirement whispers -- would have a shot to nab his third Super Bowl title before possibly calling it quits. Brees, meanwhile, could bookend his wonderful NFL journey with a second title -- a feat that seemed so far away just months ago. Two future Hall of Famers guiding high-flying offenses into the biggest game around? Sign me up.
5) Philadelphia Eagles vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
I can already envision the NFL's Twitter handle sending this entry out like a guided missile into the social-media abyss. The result will be a thousand tweets aimed violently back -- your wicked dumb / who the f is mark sessler? / dont ever write another article again please -- filled with caring words and career advice. Most fans want nothing to do with a Super Sunday featuring Blake Bortles vs. Nick Foles. Understood. Still, there's something fun about this unusual season finishing with the most unorthodox Super Bowl showdown in modern history. Two teams playing around their quarterbacks. Two clubs with fascinating defenses. And, for me, the idea of someone like Bortles being crowned champion after taking so much abuse from fans and players league-wide. In this scenario, Bortles would need to mow down the Steelers and (barring an apocalyptic stunner Saturday night) the Patriots. Pull that off and he's earned anything that comes his way. On the Eagles front, it's not about Foles for me, but more about a fan base that waited decades to be coronated. Weird season. Weird ending. Why not?