What are the factors that make up the best Super Bowl matchups? What causes more NFL fans to become glued to their televisions and actually sit through — and finish watching — a great Super Bowl battle?
To me, the core factors that make a Super Bowl great are: competitive balance, star power, strength of quarterback, highlight plays, compelling story lines, and historic rivalries.
Here’s a look at how I’d rank the potential Super Bowl 50 matchups based on these criteria.
Best potential Super Bowl 50 matchups
- Kansas City Chiefs vs. Carolina Panthers
There’s nothing special about this potential matchup. There’s no rivalry and very few marquee names. Alex Smith is the least interesting quarterback and he faces a dynamic defense that likely would crush him.
- Kansas City Chiefs vs. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks offer a slightly more intriguing matchup against the Chiefs than the Panthers do, because the Seahawks have more characters on their team. The game also would be closer.
- Kansas City Chiefs vs. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals are perhaps the most complete of the remaining playoff teams and would be entertaining to watch in the Super Bowl, but the Chiefs don’t excite me.
- New England Patriots vs. Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton is likely the NFL’s MVP, but I think he’s horribly overrated. Here’s his opportunity to show a big dog like Tom Brady what he can do. This is also a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVIII after the 2003 season.
- Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Carolina Panthers
The Steelers were one of the hottest teams coming into the playoffs, and short of their rash of injuries, they could have made the most noise. Two solid defenses going head to head, plus a potential matchup of former Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams (if he can get healthy) against his old team would be fun.
- Kansas City Chiefs vs. Green Bay Packers
The only thing keeping the Chiefs from having the four lowest-ranked matchups is the history behind this game. The NFL reached a milestone this year with its 50th Super Bowl. How cool would it be if it featured a rematch of Super Bowl I?
- New England Patriots vs. Arizona Cardinals
A Tom Brady versus Carson Palmer matchup would be cool. The Cardinals are a complete team and their pass rush against a veteran like Brady would be a fun matchup.
- New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks
I would love to see a rematch from last year’s Super Bowl, especially given that the Patriots stole one after a horrible goal line play call. This Super Bowl would provide a lot of drama and I think the Seahawks would get their revenge.
- Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers
The Steelers and Packers have a great rivalry and are two of the most popular NFL teams, not just nationwide but throughout the world. Big Ben and Aaron Rodgers are two great quarterbacks, and this would be a rematch of Super Bowl XLV following the 2010 season.
- Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers
The Broncos and Panthers have two of the top defenses in the NFL and two vastly different quarterbacks. Peyton Manning is an old pocket passer and Cam Newton is a young versatile athlete.
- Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Seattle Seahawks
I always enjoy watching hot wild card teams in the playoffs, and these are arguably the two best from each conference. If not for a rash of injuries for the Steelers, this could arguably be the most competitive of the Super Bowl matchups. This is also a rematch of Super Bowl XL following the 2005 season.
- Denver Broncos vs. Green Bay Packers
Quarterback matchups always get heavy hype and Manning versus Rodgers would be a big one. The Broncos defense likely would overwhelm the undermanned Green Bay Packers.
- Denver Broncos vs. Arizona Cardinals
Manning versus Palmer is another great matchup, slightly less than Manning-Rodgers, but the Cardinals have a much more complete team than the Packers do, and that makes it a better overall matchup.
- Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Arizona Cardinals
The Steelers are a hot, albeit injured football team and the Cardinals are perhaps the most well-rounded team. Bruce Arians, Cardinals head coach, would face the team he spent eight seasons with and helped lead to two Super Bowl titles. This would also be a rematch of Super Bowl XLIII following the 2008 season.
- Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks
Two years ago, the Seahawks dominated the Broncos with a ferocious defense. Now the Broncos have that dominant defense and the Seahawks aren’t as potent. This would be a great rematch of Super Bowl XLVIII, and I think Manning would get his revenge.
- New England Patriots vs. Green Bay Packers
As much as I hate this potential matchup of my two least favorite teams — and would strongly consider leaving the TV off on Super Bowl Sunday — the Patriots and Packers offer the best potential matchup, and it has everything to do with the franchise quarterbacks. For a few years now, most NFL punditry has either predicted and/or yearned for a Brady versus Rodgers Super Bowl. You can’t help but think there’d be some fireworks in this potential matchup.