I feel like the picture at the top of this post is perfectly appropriate for where we are with the Super Bowl. It was an epic battle, an amazing comeback, and I've managed to squeeze an entire extra week of posts out of it. Yay me!
But now it's time to turn out the lights and sweep up the confetti, and after the hangover wears off, we must come to this stark realization — there is almost zero doubt we will see the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl again next season. You know it's happening. At age 40, Tom Brady is going to march his guys right back into the biggest game of the season, next year in Minneapolis.
Who's stopping the Brady/Belichick combo in the AFC? Tomlin and Big Ben? They had their shot. Andy Reid and Alex Smith? Just good enough to lose in the divisional round. Jack Del Rio and Derek Carr? Not if they have to go to New England.
Pagano and Luck? Mularkey and Mariota? Gase and Tannehill? Lewis and Dalton? O'Brien and Anybody-Other-Than-Osweiler? No, no, nope, no, nah. Oddly enough, I have more confidence in John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco than anyone else, which is all you need to know about how dire this situation is. The Patriots ARE GOING back to the Super Bowl.
So let's put on our Vince McMahon hats for a second, and if we were allowed to book the main event of the NFL's answer to Wrestlemania, who would we put up against the "Ric Flair" of the NFL (that would be the Pats, the "dirtiest players in the game," and multiple-time heavyweight champions of the world). Here is one man's list, in reverse order of preference:
"JABRONI" SQUASH MATCH Tier
16. Los Angeles Rams
15. San Francisco 49ers
14. Chicago Bears
13. Philadelphia Eagles
12. Detroit Lions
11. Washington Redskins
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
COMPELLING "B-LEVEL" Pay-per-view Tier
9. Minnesota Vikings
The only thing keeping this off the "jabroni" tier is the Vikings' having a home field advantage, although a diluted one, since most of the seats will be taken by large clients of Fortune 500 NFL sponsors. Still, we could get a "Shawn Michaels battling Bret Hart in Canada" vibe for the Pats, up to and including the subzero temperatures.
8. Arizona Cardinals
The Kyle Shanahan versus Belichick/Patricia battle in Super Bowl 51 wound up being...well, we know how that ended. Bruce Arians versus Belichick/Patricia might live up to the hype.
7. Carolina Panthers
I missed getting to watch Cam Newton weep after a loss in the postseason. Let's make this happen again, football gods.
6. Atlanta Falcons
5. Seattle Seahawks
Rematches of Super Bowls XLIX and LI. Not the most imaginative booking, but should pop good pay-per-view buy rate, if it were a WWE card.
"HEEL vs HEEL MAIN EVENT" Tier
4. New Orleans Saints
Classic "heel versus heel" (or maybe "heel versus anti-establishment babyface," depending on whom you root for) matchup between the only two franchises to get hit with fines, suspensions and draft sanctions because of cheating tactics. WWE equivalent? Maybe an '80s Ric Flair versus 1998 Steve Austin matchup.
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"DECORATED CHAMP versus GREATEST WORKER" Tier
3. Green Bay Packers
Best quarterback versus most talented quarterback — that's the age-old argument anytime a Brady-Rodgers debate breaks out. This feels like Flair versus Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 24.
"FRANCHISE versus FRANCHISE" Tier
2. Dallas Cowboys
The matchup that would probably draw the biggest ratings of all time, and have a hype buildup to end all hype buildups. Think "Hogan versus Andre at Wrestlemania III."
"WRESTLEMANIA 52: THE BRADY REDEMPTION" Tier
1. New York Giants
In the end, the only thing Brady has tried and been unable to do is beat Eli Manning in a Super Bowl. He is 0-2 against Manning, much like Brock Lesnar is 0-2 against Goldberg at WWE pay per views.
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.