The Super Bowl is good for drawing the largest single-event television night of the year. The final NFL game of the season routinely eclipses 100 million, though Patriots-Rams two seasons ago averaged slightly less with 98 million.
While the country will gather together regardless of the teams involved, there are select matchups that would increase the night’s overall viewership.
Here are the top five Super Bowl matchups, based on the ratings they’d draw.
(Self-decided rule: a team can make the ranking only twice.)
5. Bills vs. Seahawks
The Saints can easily be swapped with the Seahawks here, but Saints-Bills is a more enticing matchup on the field.
Josh Allen and Russell Wilson would light it up. In Week 9, the Bills beat the Seahawks 44-34. Seattle’s defense has improved substantially since then.
Ever heard of the cool factor? Both teams have it. The Seahawks have the uniforms, the swagger, the 12th Man. The Bills have the Bills Mafia, an underdog drive, and are universally considered the “fun” pick. Allen and Wilson, in whatever order, are the third and fourth best QBs in the NFL.
Wilson is a star. With a Super Bowl win, Josh Allen would move to superstardom. The Bills would win this game.
4. Steelers vs. Saints
Football fans nerd out whenever a star player leaves the game on top by winning a Super Bowl in his final NFL game, and Adam Schefter reported Sunday that this season is likely Drew Brees’ last. Thus, the NFL would love to have him in the Super Bowl.
A Steelers/Saints matchup is also Hollywood enough to attract the attention of those at the socially-distanced party just for the beer and wings.
The Steelers and Chiefs are the clear top draws out of the AFC, and close Super Bowls rate the best. Pittsburgh matches up better with New Orleans than Kansas City. Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Sean Payton, Mike Tomlin, and defense. Sign America up.
3. Chiefs vs. Bucs
The NFL would be thrilled to have Brady in the Super Bowl as a Buc. The storylines would include making the Super Bowl without Bill Belichick, going for ring No. 7 and competing for the chip as the hometown team.
Now, add in Patrick Mahomes, who is trying to be this era’s Tom Brady by hoping to drive the NFL’s next dynasty. The Guy vs. the Former Guy. Pretty good, no?
Stylistically, it gets no better. The Bucs and Chiefs have two of the most exciting offenses in all of sports. A last-minute shootout wouldn’t just be possible, but probable.
In Week 12, the Bucs-Chiefs thriller drew 23 million viewers. A Super Bowl rematch would promise back-to-back years of 100 million.
(Due to the Rule, Bucs-Steelers isn’t on the list but would be a top-five matchup.)
2. Chiefs vs. Packers
Aaron Rodgers vs. Patrick Mahomes. The NFL’s two best QBs in the Super Bowl. When’s the last time that happened? Due to conference alignment, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning couldn’t meet in the Super Bowl. Rodgers and Brady never have, and now never will. The NFL would sell the individual matchup as a “passing of the torch,” a la the 1991 NBA Finals when Michael Jordan overtook Magic Johnson.
The more interesting storyline, though, is the present-day debate.
The football world was quick to move off of Rodgers to crown Mahomes. Was it premature? It seems so. Rodgers just completed one of the five greatest individual QB seasons on record. He crushed Mahomes in touchdowns, completion percentage, and passer rating. Forget “passing the torch.” How about “return the torch to the king”?
There isn’t a better matchup for pre-game buzz, Sunday jitters, or hot-take Twitter fights than Packers-Chiefs. Oh, and the next-day headlines might save the newspaper industry.
1. Steelers vs. Packers
The NFC wants the Packers in the Super Bowl. That’s wish No. 1. And while most NFL fans would prefer the Rodgers-Mahomes storyline, the Super Bowl audience is mostly made up of casual fans and viewers who watch only one game a year. As hard as it is to believe, most Americans still aren’t familiar with Patrick Mahomes. The Steelers, as a brand, are widely recognized. The logo, the colors, the history — it’s all known. Your down-the-road isolated, loner neighbor is more likely to notice the Steelers on Super Bowl Sunday than any other team not named the Cowboys. The Packers would be third.
Green Bay and Pittsburgh have two of the largest, most passionate fan bases in the NFL. Additionally, it’d be a rematch of the only Super Bowl Aaron Rodgers has won. Not a bad promo.
Finally, Super Bowl viewership goes upward with a late-game spike. See Super Bowl XLIX’s record-setting 114 million. Pittsburgh’s defense can hold down Rodgers’ offense as well as any team out of the AFC.
Super Bowl XLV in 2011 between the Packers and the Steelers averaged 111 million viewers. Times have changed, so I’d predict 105 million this time around.