Super Bowl Matchups: Every Possible Scenario, Ranked

Super Bowl Matchups Vince Lombardi Trophy held up by a player in a football stadium
Celebrating with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl LI in 2017Kevin Dietsch/UPI / Shutterstock

The NFL’s conference championship weekend is here, and that means there are currently four potential Super Bowl matchups. This season has led to a good place, because none of the four possibilities (the Kansas City Chiefs or Cincinnati Bengals against the Los Angeles Rams or San Francisco 49ers) strike me as boring Super Bowl pairings. Three of the four teams have played in a Super Bowl in the last four years, but they’re all fun enough that they shouldn’t bring about viewer fatigue in the same way that, say, another Tom Brady appearance might have.



If you care deeply about one of these teams, the most enticing scenarios are probably the ones that involve your team playing. If you don’t, here’s an index of the four possible Super Bowl matchups, ranked by how exciting they’d be to watch.

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Super Bowl Matchups: Every Possible Scenario, Ranked

1. Chiefs vs. Rams

As will be frequently pointed out beforehand if these teams wind up facing each other, the last Chiefs-Rams game was one of the most fun regular-season games ever. In 2018, the Rams hosted the Chiefs on Monday Night Football for a 54–51 barnburner that felt more like a college game than the NFL. That game was a watershed moment for the modern NFL; afterward, it became clear that offenses were carrying bigger guns than ever before, and any team that couldn’t chuck the ball around the field with precision would get left behind. (Relatedly, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have made every AFC Championship since 2018.)

A rematch won’t have that much scoring. The Chiefs’ defense has improved by leaps and bounds since then, the Rams have maybe the NFL’s best cornerback in Jalen Ramsey, and it’s hard to see both defenses looking so overmatched in a Super Bowl. But this would still be pure power against pure power, as Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and company go up against the best football player in the world (Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald) and a solid group of defensive talent surrounding him. Plus, the Rams’ QB-receiver duo of Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp would give Los Angeles plenty of chances to score.

2. Bengals vs. Rams

The Bengals are strange Super Bowl contenders. Their defense is average, their offensive line is probably worse, and they don’t have a great running game. What they do have is an ascendant Joe Burrow, the second-year QB out of LSU who has busted out this year and established himself as one of the league’s most productive passers. He’s had help from a great trio of receivers, headlined by rookie Ja’Marr Chase, who starred alongside Burrow on a national champion LSU team in 2019 and has only become more dominant as a professional. Fellow wideouts Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd have had a lot of great moments this season, too.

This matchup would be compelling because it would feel like a straightforward case of a quarterback and a few receivers trying to win a game by themselves. The Rams’ defensive front (which is No. 1 in both ESPN’s Pass Rush and Run Stop Win Rate metrics) would likely abuse the Bengals’ offensive line, and the Stafford-led offense would probably have a nice outing against a so-so Bengals defense. But Burrow and Chase could be good enough to win anyway, and it’d be fun to watch them try.

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3. Bengals vs. 49ers

Everything that’d be fun about a Bengals-Rams Super Bowl matchup would apply in slightly lower measure to Bengals-49ers. The Niners have an excellent defensive front of their own, and while they don’t have Donald, they do have a dominant right side of the line with end Nick Bosa and tackle/end Arik Armstead. They also have one of the best linebackers in football in Fred Warner, who gave the Green Bay Packers all kinds of problems in San Francisco’s recent divisional round win.

A 49ers appearance would mean watching Jimmy Garoppolo play in the Super Bowl for the second time in about two calendar years. That would be fine; there’s something fun about watching an injured, average QB try to navigate his way through the biggest stage in the sport. Garoppolo is better than he looked during last week’s game at Lambeau Field, when he went 11-of-19 for 131 yards. But is he good enough to outscore Burrow and company? Maybe, although it might depend on how well his recently injured right thumb—that’s on his throwing hand—holds up.

4. Chiefs vs. 49ers

Reruns are reruns, and these teams played a Super Bowl in February 2019. It was a good one, though: The Chiefs came back in the fourth quarter to win, thanks in large part to Niners coach Kyle Shanahan coaching too conservatively late in the game.

This would make for a great game, and I stress again that none of the prospective Super Bowl pairings look bad this year. If this matchup happens, I’ll talk myself into believing that San Francisco’s quest to avenge its Super Bowl loss of two years ago is a great plot point. I’d just rather see something else, particularly while Garoppolo plays at a level below the other remaining teams’ QBs.

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