Sure, it is week 17 in the NFL, and not every playoff participant has been determined. It is still fun to ponder what dream date Super Bowl LIII may hold. Two potential meetings, in particular, stand out as dream dates. That is, they pair the storylines and intrigue off the field with anticipation and drama on it. These also couldn’t be any different in terms of exactly what they bring to the table.
A Look at Some Intriguing Super Bowl LIII Matchups
For the Birds
The first dream date is a throwback in nature, where the Seattle Seahawks take on the Baltimore Ravens. The antithesis of what the NFL is today – pass happy offenses and rules making defense difficult – the Seahawks and Ravens rank first and second respectively in rushing offense with gritty defenses to boot. In Seattle, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has made a concerted effort to rely on the run game to alleviate the pressure on quarterback Russell Wilson; the Seahawks rank 29th in sack
Running back Chris Carson has emerged as the bell cow, ranking eighth in rushing with 1,029 yards with eight touchdowns. That has made Wilson more efficient; Seattle is fourth in passing touchdowns per game despite being 32nd in attempts. His pass-catchers are more difficult to gameplan for as well. Doug Baldwin has battled injuries all season – he missed practice Wednesday with a shoulder injury– but when on the field he provides a safety valve for Wilson. Tyler Lockett was once pegged as a deep-threat only but proved when Baldwin has missed that he can fill the primary-target role if needed.
The change in philosophy has led Seattle having the fifth-best time of possession this year. That’s a welcome development with the defense facing massive turnover from the Legion of Boom days. Bobby Wagner is unsurprisingly tied for fifth in tackles, but cornerback Shaquill Griffin and safety Bradley McDougald have been better than expected in replacing Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas on the backend.
Baltimore is riding rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson. They are 5-1 in his six starts. More runner than passer at this point, he at least has flashed the arm talent to suggest he is more than a novelty. Still, with a rookie quarterback, it has been imperative that they lean on the ground attack. Not wanting for ball carriers, Baltimore has watched rookie Gus Edwards average 18.3 carries and 96.3 yards per game since week 11. His bruising style compliments Jackson’s shiftiness perfectly.
They certainly do not get production from their receivers consistently. Baltimore’s pass-catching corp is a cast of spare-parts. They are more suitable for a savvy veteran than a limited rookie. Jackson has leaned on short and intermediate routes with slot-man Willie Snead and rookie tight end Mark Andrews being his most targeted options. This lack of a consistent threat is why the Ravens’ offense is 14th in scoring.
That mediocre output has been enough with the offense backed by the top-ranked defense in scoring and yardage. Getting it done more with technique than big plays, the Ravens are top-10 as a team in sacks yet no individual player has nine. They also rank 30th in turnovers, though they do have three touchdowns from fumble recoveries.
In a dream date seemingly straight out of NFL Films’ vault, the final score could very well end up 6-3, and it would still be one of the most thrilling in recent memory. All nostalgia aside, it is hard to overlook the veteran presence of Wilson for Seattle. Baltimore has the defense for the job, but Seattle wins in this hypothetical.
The other championship dream date would see the never-say-die New England Patriots take on the balanced New Orleans Saints. Of course, the real story would be Tom Brady versus Drew Brees. The Patriots are not nearly as equipped as the Saints, but that seems to be the Patriot Way as much as anything else. The Saints are capable of winning in a multitude of ways. Not relying solely on the arm of their Hall of Famer.
Looking like a player on the back-nine some weeks, and vintage Tom Terrific others, Brady is having a mixed bag of a season – illustrated by his lowest touchdown percentage since 2013 while the team is fifth in yards per game and eighth in scoring. The loss of Josh Gordon only amplifies that Rob Gronkowski is no longer the superior athlete he once was at the tight end position. Running backs James White and Sony Michel will be relied upon even more along with slot-receiver Julian Edelman to control the clock; the goal of most teams in the playoffs.
That will be paramount as New England sports a bottom-12 defense in yards per game. They are, however, a bend-but-don’t-break unit that is top-10 in scoring. They also balance being tied for 30th in sacks by being tied for sixth in takeaways. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore is capable of eliminating half of the field, but a lack of pressure beyond pass-rusher Trey Flowers means the turnovers will need to keep up for this defense to hold up.
In search of his first MVP award, Brees has marched the Saints to the number one seed in the NFC. Like Brady, Brees is closer to the end than the beginning, but the Saints quarterback is leading the league in completion percentage while guiding the second-highest scoring offense. That is despite opponents knowing where the ball is going…mostly.
The Saints passing offense runs through Michael Thomas who has set career-highs in catches and yards while catching an insane 85 percent of the passes thrown his way. His biggest ally in the in New Orleans’ air assault is Alvin Kamara. The all-purpose dynamo has stacked 81 receptions, 709 yards, and 4 scores through the air. That is on top of 194-883-14 on the ground. His backfield-mate Mark Ingram has chipped in with 133 carries, 617 yards, and six touchdowns and adding 19 catches for 155 yards and score. But a plethora of auxiliary weapons like Taysom Hill means there is no simple answer to stop this offense.
New Orleans defense started slowly for the second year in a row but have enjoyed a turnaround spurred by their eliminating opposing run games. The midseason acquisition of cornerback Eli Apple has not solved the Saints’ secondary woes as they rank 28th on the campaign in passing yards allowed. New Orleans is saved by ranking eighth in takeaways, leading to a tie for the fourth-best turnover differential in the NFL.
This dream date pits two quarterbacks with Hall of Fame resumes against each other with winner-take-all stakes. Add in that it may be the last time – they have met five times before with Brady holding the slight lead at 3-2. Brees, however, has looked like a man on a mission this year. The Saints defense also seems better than the Patriots, giving New Orleans the edge.
These are just two potential dream dates. Any of the top teams would provide fireworks as well. What matchup would be the best? Depends on what one prefers. Smashmouth, defensive battles or the modern-day version of a wild west shootout. Whatever the case, the playoffs will not lack for excitement.