For the first three months of the 2018 NFL regular season, we all talked about how "top heavy" the league was, with three teams clearly distinguishing themselves as the best and most dangerous — the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, and New Orleans Saints, in some order, with the New England Patriots knocking on the door as the fourth best team, mostly out of respect to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
Then December hit, and losing hit these four teams relatively hard, with three of them (Rams, Chiefs, Patriots) dropping at least two games from Week 14 on. Meanwhile, the teams that would settle in as the 3-seed through 6-seed teams in the AFC and NFC all rode massive hot streaks into the postseason.
For example, to close out the season, the Cowboys won seven of their last eight. The Texans won 11 of their last 13. The Colts won nine of their last ten. The Ravens, six of seven, and on and on. This led to a spark of hope in the divisional round that the upstart road teams could waltz into the houses of the perhaps-limping 1-seeds and 2-seeds and do damage.
Man, was that hope unfulfilled or what? Instead, the Chiefs, Rams, and Patriots decimated the Colts, Cowboys, and Chargers, respectively, by halftime of their games this past weekend. The Saints needed a bit more time, but eventually in the fourth quarter they ended Nick Foles' second run as Cinderella.
And so we're left with the four heavyweights, same as it plays was back in November, battling for the right to face off in Atlanta for all the marbles at Super Bowl LIII. There is not even an average head coach or quarterback left in the dance. These four head coaches might be the four best in football, and the four quarterbacks include the best of all time, one of the ten best of all time, this season's likely MVP, and... Jared Goff. (OK, maybe one average quarterback.)
Purely subjectively, here is how I would rank, in reverse order, the permutations of Super Bowl match-ups that could emerge this coming weekend (with the odds that each match-up actually DOES emerge, courtesy of BetOnline.ag.)
4. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS vs NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Odds of happening: 8/5
That a matchup of the two No. 1 seeded teams in each conference is the LEAST desirable matchup of the four, a matchup that would include Drew Brees against the likely MVP of the league, Patrick Mahomes, gives you an idea of the star power in this weekend's games. The most compelling part of this matchup would be the two head coaches, Andy Reid and Sean Payton, arguably the best, most successful play callers of the last two decades.
3. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS vs LOS ANGELES RAMS
Odds of happening: 19/4
For years, teams went out of their way to try to hire head coaches from the Bill Belichick tree. (They still hire them, but not with as much gusto or frequency.) That distinction now belongs to Sean McVay, whose coaching tree is likely to include custodians and ballboys, at some point, that worked for the Rams with McVay in the building. My point is that the chess match between McVay on offense and Belichick on defense would be one of the most compelling head coaching confrontations in the history of the Super Bowl... and yet, there are two match-ups even more desirable! Let's keep going....
2. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS vs LOS ANGELES RAMS
Odds of happening: 13/4
We've seen this one already, back in Week 12, in a game that doubled as a pinball machine, a 54-51 Rams victory in Los Angeles (although the game was supposed to be played in Mexico City). This game got a lot of the requisite "OMG, CAN WE PLEASE SEE THIS AGAIN IN FEBRUARY?!?" reaction on Twitter, as one would expect. My big question, if this game comes to fruition — does anybody have the balls to take the UNDER, and what would the number be? The posted total back in November was 63.5, a record high for an NFL regular season game, and the two teams massacred the OVER. So what would the number in a Super Bowl, a game in which the total is usually inflated when two offensive juggernauts face off? Could we see a total of 70? (If so, I'd swallow hard, and take the UNDER, but I wouldn't feel good.)
1. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS vs NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Odds of happening: 13/5
I know, I know, does anybody outside of New England really want to see the Patriots in the Super Bowl AGAIN? I completely understand. However, at this point, the obnoxiousness of New England fans has become embedded in my sports experience, like humidity in Houston in July. I just accept it as fact, and try to avoid it whenever possible. If we can remove negative emotion for a second, let's just remember that we've NEVER seen Tom Brady and Drew Brees face off in a Super Bowl. Since 2000, Brady's rookie year, I think you could easily argue Brady has been the best quarterback in the AFC (sorry, Peyton) and Brees has been the best in the NFC (sorry, Aaron). And they've NEVER faced off with the title of the free world on the line. This is like the 1980s where we had to wait until the early '90s for Ric Flair to finally come to the WWF to face Hulk Hogan! SAME. EXACT. THING.
In Brady's eight Super Bowls, here are the quarterbacks that he's faced:
Super Bowl 36: Kurt Warner
Super Bowl 38: Jake Delhomme
Super Bowl 39: Donovan McNabb
Super Bowl 42: Eli Manning
Super Bowl 46: Eli Manning
Super Bowl 49: Russell Wilson
Super Bowl 51: Matt Ryan
Super Bowl 52: Nick Foles
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There are some good quarterbacks on that list. Hell, there are a couple of former MVP's on there in Warner and Ryan! None of them brought the star power or "big game" aura that Brees would bring into a match-up with Brady. None of them.
That's why we must see it. I just hope that if and when Brees wins, he gives a victory speech like this one....
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.