If it’s not gonna be the Seahawks, might as well be… who?
Super Bowl LII: you will watch it. You might as well enjoy it.
But how? There will be no (active) Seattle Seahawks in Minneapolis for the title game. Again.
Well, how about one or two reasons to root for each team, then three dream Super Bowl matchups to spice up your wild-card weekend viewing?
Each team’s redeeming quality
1 seed: New England Patriots
If Tom Brady wins, maybe he retires? More realistically, it’s good football the Patriots churn out season after season. The Titans or Chiefs bring a less exciting, less clean, less deserving brand of football. If you’re stuck watching the biggest game, might as well be the best team, right…
2 seed: Pittsburgh Steelers
Antonio Brown is the best receiver in the league today. Take all of Doug Baldwin’s toe-tapping exploits and ratchet them up a level. That’s Brown. Watching him is the stuff of tell-your-grandchildren-stories. Why would you not want to watch him the maximum amount of times possible? (The rest of the team, take ‘em or leave ‘em, with emphasis on the latter.)
Brown’s still questionable on the injury report with a calf muscle tear. But he’d probably find a way to return in time for the conference championship game and/or the Super Bowl.
3 seed: Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville’s annual wins, current decade: 8, 5, 2, 4, 3, 5, 3… and 10. The suddenly competent Jaguars do one thing really, really well: defend the pass.
They’re first in passer rating against, first downs allowed, net yards/attempt allowed, and points allowed per drive. They’re second in turnovers forced and interceptions. The secondary is designed to stop the best quarterbacks in their tracks. Maybe Jacksonville is the best bet to keep Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger out of the Super Bowl altogether. If you’re into that sort of thing.
4 seed: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have one playoff win since 1993. It was a 30-0 drubbing of the overmatched Houston Texans following the 2015 season. They’ve lost three playoff games this decade by a total of 10 points. They’ve paid their dues.
Part of the drama of KC hanging around in the postseason is waiting for the Andy Reid clock management brain fart. You can wait for it dispassionately and it’s fun, or dread it as a fan and it’s less fun. Either way you know it’s coming.
The Chiefs offense is a well-oiled machine, regardless, second in the league at 6.1 yards/play. If you’ve grown tired of watching offenses sputter up and down the field, these guys (specifically Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce) are a great palate-cleanser.
5 seed: Tennessee Titans
They’re a Cinderella, a real, live Cinderella. They’re an 11 seed in the NCAA tournament, a mid-major that caught fire in their conference tournament to salvage a meh season. The Titans are not great on offense or defense, they carry a -22 point differential into the postseason, their quarterback has more picks than touchdowns, and it’s their first playoff appearance in nine years (since Jeff Fisher!).
There is no good reason why they should emerge from the AFC. Therefore —
6 seed: Buffalo Bills
Let the wife of their familiar kicker talk you into it.
— Lindsey Hauschka (@lindseyhauschka) January 2, 2018
Pretty common knowledge by now that the Bills had been suffering the longest postseason drought among teams in the four major North American sports*. The wait lasted 17 seasons. With Buffalo’s dramatic entry into this year’s playoffs, the dubious national distinction falls to the Seattle Mariners, a professional baseball team located in the northwest corner of the country.
*not now, soccer fans. I’m on your side. Our side. But not now
1 seed: Philadelphia Eagles
Forget that Nick Foles stole Russell Wilson’s thunder in 2013 with his ridiculous/unduplicatable 27 TD-2 INT season. Forget that Foles made all of two good passes in the entire 2015 season, and both were against the Seahawks in Week 1. It’s always a testament to team football when the backup QB can step in and shepherd the franchise to a title. If you hate how much praise and blame quarterbacks get while the defense and special teams toil away in relative obscurity, the Eagles are your team to bandwagon.
Also, the Seahawks beat them convincingly in Week 13 — another year of besting the eventual champion might help remove some of the stench from Seattle’s 2017 season.
2 seed: Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are the top scoring defense and have allowed only 22 sacks of Case Keenum. It’s like watching the 2014 Seahawks, only with good pass protection. Their brand of football feels familiar and old-school. Also, Blair Walsh will not be missing any game-winning kicks for them this year.
A team has never hosted the Super Bowl. Why not this year?
3 seed: Los Angeles Rams
Offer not valid.
4 seed: New Orleans Saints
If you need a reason to root for the team with the explosive running offense, the short quarterback and the tough secondary that emerged of the toughest division in football, then I don’t know what to tell you.
Realistically the last chance for a ring for Thomas Davis and Julius Peppers, two all-time greats. Christian McCaffrey is everything C.J. Prosise could be if the latter could only stay healthy for more than ten consecutive snaps. Watch how the Panthers use him (117 carries, 80 receptions, 25 kick returns, 1,306 all-purpose yards) for a glimpse into the future of the running back position.
A) Dan Quinn, B) Desmond Trufant, and to boot, C) Marquand Manuel is their defensive coordinator. Besides, no team or fanbase should have to suffer under the weight of 28-3. The Falcons should win it all for the same reason the Seahawks should do the same at their next opportunity: unfinished business.
Three dream matchups
As promised, there are three most-watchable Super Bowl combinations. I even made one involving the Patriots, because every rebel force needs a backup plan in case the Empire wins again.
Bills-Vikings (10/10 sentimentality)
Theoretically, in a Minnesota-Buffalo meeting, one of the teams would actually walk away with a Lombardi in tow. They can’t. Both lose. If they. Play each other.
Somehow the Vikes and Bills are 0-8 combined in Super Bowl appearances. Granted, one franchise would add to its collection of heartbreaking history. But another would heave the largest sigh of relief.
Patriots-Saints (10/10 quarterbacks)
Brady and Drew Brees are two of the century’s five best quarterbacks. They’ll be a combined 79 years old on January 15, when Brees turns 39. They’ve never faced each other with a title on the line. We’ve had countless postseason Brady-Mannings (featuring even a couple memorable stand-ins by Eli The Understudy) but zero Brady-Brees big games. It is overdue.
Brees just topped 70,000 yards for his career; he managed to lead the league in completion percentage (72.0) and Y/A (8.1). Brady was tops in the NFL with 4,577 passing yards this season and found the old-man strength to exceed his career norms in Y/A, QB rating and TD/INT ratio. Brees’ 122 ANY/A+ was the best in show. Guess who was second with a 120 mark? Tommy.
Both men are a decade older than Russell Wilson, and playing some of the best ball of their careers. Food for thought.
Fun stat: Brees has three seasons in New Orleans with fewer than 600 pass attempts and nine with more than 600 pass attempts. In the three seasons he’s thrown less, the Saints are 34-14. In the nine seasons he’s thrown more, they’re 78-66. Causation can be debated, but it’s a fun stat regardless.
This year, you ask? A scant 536 throws.
Chiefs-Eagles (10/10 fresh feeling)
Another meeting between two snakebitten teams. Philly has one Super Bowl appearance, a loss to the Patriots (get in line) and Kansas City last won a title in the first Nixon administration.
Subplots: Reid faces his old team, Alex Smith finally gets a shot at a ring, Chiefs had lost six of seven games midseason but turned it around, Eagles are on the Jeff Hostetler title plan, and the teams are a welcome change from the usual fare (no Pats! no Steelers! no Broncos! no Seahawks even). The running games, defenses and special teams will likely decide the outcome for a change.
I would never elaborate on the possible nightmare matchups, because even mentioning them casually is asking for trouble. Few people know this, but if you stand in front of a mirror and chant “Rams-Steelers, Rams-Steelers, Rams-Steelers…,” not only will those two teams face each other on February 4, but your roommate or lover will also move out summarily, leaving you to die alone and penniless.