We’re down to just eight NFL teams in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy.
This week’s Divisional Round will see the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers make their 2024 playoff debuts. They’re the clear favorites to make it to Super Bowl LVIII, but can a team like the Detroit Lions or Buffalo Bills play spoiler to that potential matchup in the NFL’s final game?
Or will we see Patrick Mahomes lead the Kansas City Chiefs to a third title in five years?
With still a quarter of the NFL’s 32 teams still alive, there’s a variety of possible Super Bowl matchups we could see. Which ones would bring the most excitement?
Here’s a look at the best Super Bowl LVIII matchups still in play.
Chiefs vs. Bucs: This gets a shoutout since they both played each other in Super Bowl LVI, though it would be missing big names like Tyreek Hill, Rob Gronkowski, and that Tom Brady fellow.
Ravens vs. Lions: While this looks like a good game on paper, it’s hard to forget the Ravens dismantling Detroit 38-6 in Week 7, which takes a bit of luster away from this potential matchup.
Texans vs. Bucs: The Texans have never been to a Super Bowl, while the Bucs would be the first No. 7 seed in playoff history to make the Super Bowl, though that’s only been a possibility since 2020. And the Bucs just won it all in Super Bowl LVI when Brady was still around.
No. 5: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Detroit Lions
What better way to cap off the 2023 NFL season than with a rematch of a game that ushered it in?
On Opening Night, it was the Chiefs who hung their latest Super Bowl banner, but it was the Lions who came away with a stunning 21-20 upset, setting the tone for what would be the franchise’s best season since 1991 (and maybe ever, depending on how it ends).
This would also have the potential for major fireworks since the Lions sport the fifth-best scoring offense but the 10th-worst scoring defense.
Plus, these teams frequently play in one-score games. The Chiefs had 11 games decided by one score this season, while the Lions had eight — nine if you count their 24-23 Wild Card win over the Rams.
There’s also a bit of a David and Goliath aspect in terms of where these franchises stand in the NFL hierarchy. In the Super Bowl era, which dates back to 1967, the Lions have won just two playoff games, with their second postseason win coming just a week ago, and have never been to a Super Bowl.
The Chiefs? They’ve been to five Super Bowls, winning three, two coming in the last four years, and they will probably win several more so long as they have Mahomes.
No. 4: Buffalo Bills vs. San Francisco 49ers
If not for the Ravens, the Bills would have a strong argument as the AFC’s best team. They also have exactly the kind of offense that could give the vaunted 49ers defense fits.
Josh Allen can be masterful at escaping pressure and finding one of his dynamic trio of pass catchers in Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, and Dalton Kincaid.
On the other side, good luck stopping the 49ers offensive juggernaut led by MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey. This matchup would have a lot of potential to be a shootout that comes down to who has the ball last.
And what better way for the Bills to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl than against the franchise that’s already claimed five Lombardi Trophies?
No. 3: Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Francisco 49ers
These have been arguably the two best NFL franchises since the 2019 season. That was when Kyle Shanahan finally had his breakout year while guiding San Francisco to the big game with Jimmy Garoppolo of all people as his QB.
Shanahan’s offense has dramatically evolved since then, thanks to landing a true franchise QB in Brock Purdy while surrounding him with the league’s best group of offensive skill players in Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle.
However, it was Patrick Mahomes and his Chiefs who won that Super Bowl, rallying from 10 down in the fourth quarter to stun the 49ers for a 31-20 victory, the first of two titles Mahomes has claimed.
While Mahomes is well on his way to going down as an all-time great QB, claiming a third Lombardi in a five-year span would start to put him in the GOAT conversation.
No. 2: Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers
If you’re simply looking for the AFC’s best vs. the NFC’s best, it’s hard to argue against Ravens-Niners. Both teams looked like their respective conference’s best throughout the season and cruised to the No. 1 seed.
Lamar Jackson and Brock Purdy look like they’ll be among the NFL’s best QBs for the foreseeable future, and they would both have to face an elite defense on the game’s biggest stage for either to claim their first Lombardi Trophy. Jackson is likely to earn his second NFL MVP award. What better way to cap it off than with his first Super Bowl trophy, no less in a year when he requested a trade and no other team came calling?
Plus, it’s just really fun to watch Lamar Jackson play football.
What takes some luster away from this potential matchup is they just played each other in Week 16 at San Francisco, a game the Ravens dominated and entered the fourth quarter up 21 before winning 33-19.
There’s also the added storyline of John Harbaugh looking to win his second Super Bowl against the same franchise he won his first against — the same franchise that also unceremoniously fired his brother, Jim Harbaugh.
No. 1: Buffalo Bills vs. Detroit Lions
What’s better than an underdog story? Two underdog stories!
While it may seem counterintuitive to call the 12-6 Bills and 13-5 Lions underdog teams, they’re absolutely underdog franchises.
After all, neither has ever won a Super Bowl. The Lions have never even been to one, and they just ended their 31-year drought of no playoff wins with a thrilling 24-23 Wild Card win over the Rams.
Meanwhile, the Bills have had just one conference championship appearance since 1994. And it wasn’t that long ago they endured a 17-year playoff drought, which ended in the 2017 season. At the time, it was the longest non-playoff drought in North American pro sports.
While the Bills entered the season as one of the Super Bowl favorites, they quickly fell from grace after starting the season 6-6 while firing offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey in Week 10 following a 5-5 start. Buffalo had to win out just to make the playoffs, and they did just that while beating playoff teams like the Chiefs, Cowboys, and Dolphins.
Sure, they’re both better than, say, the Packers and Bucs, but those two franchises have combined for six Super Bowl victories all-time, four of which have come since 1996.
This is the matchup to root for.