You go through an entire sports season (in this case a 16-game, 17 week NFL slate) and get amped up for a thrilling match just to get something with no appeal. Oh, you thought this was about quality of play? Nah. More than likely, if a team is in the NFL playoffs the game will be good. Often the least expected matchups wind up being the most entertaining.
But that does nothing for the personal investment of a storyline that really piqued your interest never coming to fruition. For years the quintessential matchup was Tom Brady and the New England Patriots taking on Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Or Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Well, Manning is retired now and the other three now reside in the same conference with Brady’s move to Tampa.
Ideal Payoffs For a Long Road to the Playoffs
For the Nostalgia
Some combination of Rodgers versus Brady versus Brees is still very much a possibility. Rodgers is a legitimate MVP candidate. He has 33 touchdowns to just four interceptions and completing passes at his highest rate since becoming a full-time starter. Brees’ top-seeded Saints are 2-0 with him on the mend from 11 cracked ribs. Brady is bringing up the rear for the trio. His Bucs are still 7-5 with the seventh-ranked scoring offense and the second-highest DVOA of the three defenses, per Football Outsiders.
It wouldn’t matter what leg of the postseason. If any two of these three were to meet it would be must-see tv. Brees-Brady has the most extensive history, despite being in different conferences. Brees owns a decisive 5-2 edge in their head-to-head matchups, including a sweep of the season series this year. Next is Brees-Rodgers, where the Packers passer holds a 3-2 lead after winning in Week 3 this year. Brady-Rodgers have faced off three times as starters and had taken one apiece before Brady’s Bucs stomped a mudhole in Rodgers’ Packers in Week 6.
Again, all would be great matchups but, given the comparative rare nature of a Brady-Rodgers matchup that might be ideal to some. But if we are going off of the current performance of the principles, Brees-Rodgers 6 would be the one. Both quarterbacks are playing at an extremely high level (or were in Brees’ case). Brady’s team might be the most talented. But the cohesion hasn’t been there and Brady has committed many uncharacteristic mental errors this year.
Conference Championship week has often been referred to as the best round of the playoffs. The two teams are the best of their respective conferences but tend to have a level of familiarity that adds both to the strategery of the game as well as the personal investment. Losing is bad enough, losing to a “rival” is unfathomable. In that vein, is there a more exciting potential meeting than the seemingly inevitable one of the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers and the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs?
It’s really a matchup of Ben Roethlisberger and Patrick Mahomes, though they will never be on the field at the same time save for possibly the coin-toss and the post-game handshake. Still, Roethlisberger versus Mahomes is must-see programming at its finest. Mahomes has thrown 30 touchdowns to just two picks with 3497 yards to go with that. Roethlisberger, with his 26 touchdowns and six interceptions, hasn’t generated the same kind of buzz because his team is so well rounded. But he is still throwing touchdowns at his highest rate since 2012 and throwing interceptions at his lowest rate since 2010.
Home field advantage could play a significant part in this one; both locales are notoriously tough for visitors. That’s with fans though. With empty stadiums, the bigger deciding factor could be the defenses. This is where the Steelers could prove to be the kryptonite to Mahomes and the Chiefs’ Superman. Pittsburgh’s defense is first in DVOA, sacks, and scoring. Kansas City ranks 17th in DVOA and 23rd in sacks. They are sixth in scoring, though, so maybe that squares it.
Remember those fun, tiny little toy cars where the spokesman in the commercial talked like he was hooked up to a caffeine drip? This is kind of like that. Unconventional as they may be, the Seattle Seahawks Russell Wilson and the Arizona Cardinals Kyler Murray have proven they can hang with the big boys. Both of these players spent time as the MVP favorite this season. Wilson, who has never even received a first-place vote for the award, had a case for longer than Murray, but the latter was a popular preseason pick for MVP.
The season has been filled with ups and downs for both quarterbacks and franchises. Neither escaped the rash of severe injuries that hit the NFL so hard this season with Seattle losing their top-four running backs for different stretches of the season and Arizona losing stud pass-rusher Chandler Jones. The quarterbacks both had hands in their own undoing, with both having three-interception games at one point or another.
These two have split the series both seasons since Murray entered the league, with Seattle taking the most recent duel in primetime. Playing in what might be the toughest division in professional football, these teams have spent much of the season beating up on each other and that has led to many taking both to task for their flaws. But the NFC is wide open and both of these offenses can hang points on you in a hurry. Seattle is third in scoring and Arizona is eighth.
Picture Perfect NFL Playoffs Payoffs
There are just some of the potential NFL playoffs matchups that would be worth the price of admission. A playoff game between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins would be a throwback to the ’80s and ’90s. If they were healthy, seeing the San Francisco 49ers take on the Tennessee Titans might not be the Super Bowl the league wants. But seeing the game’s greatest rushing system and its greatest runner go at it for the ultimate glory just feels like an ode to its origins. At any rate, we’ll get to see the actual NFL playoffs pairings in just a few weeks. Hopefully, the payoff is worth it.