Super Bowl Tournament: A Big Game Bracket to Crown the Greatest NFL Champion of All Time

Welcome to Sportscasting’s Super Bowl tournament to crown the greatest NFL champion of all time.

The format here is simple. We assigned seeds to all 56 Big Game winners, creating matchups you’ve likely never even thought about. And these legendary squads will duke it out throughout the 2022 NFL season until just one emerges as the ultimate champion.

As for how the seeding was done, we took emotion out of the process to create a fair and impartial bracket. Regular-season winning percentage was the primary determinant. As there were obviously plenty of ties in that department, the first tiebreaker was the margin of victory in the Super Bowl. It’s a Super Bowl tournament, so that had to come into play somewhere, right?

When a second tiebreaker was needed — and it did come up a few times — the overall point differential from each team’s respective season was used. And that was enough to get our bracket.

Sportscasting NFL Super Bowl Tournament
NFL Super Bowl Tournament | Mike Calendrillo/Sportscasting

With 56 teams involved, the top eight seeds receive an opening-round bye, and here are those eight teams:

  1. 1972 Miami Dolphins
  2. 1985 Chicago Bears
  3. 1984 San Francisco 49ers
  4. 1976 Oakland Raiders
  5. 1982 Washington Commanders
  6. 1989 San Francisco 49ers
  7. 1986 New York Giants
  8. 1998 Denver Broncos

The opening round features the remaining 48 and will take place from Weeks 1-8 on the 2022 NFL schedule. The Round of 32 takes place from Weeks 9-16, the Round of 16 begins Week 17 and runs through the Divisional Round, the Round of Eight transpires during Conference Championship week, the final four play during Pro Bowl week, and the title game commences the week of Super Bowl 57.

And the best part is that you, our loyal Sportscasting readers, decide the outcome as you’ll vote on each and every game through our various social media channels. So be on the lookout for those, or just cast your vote in the comments section at the bottom of this page, and be sure to bookmark this page to check back and see which teams advance.

And without further ado, here’s a look at the 24 opening-round matchups.

(32) 2000 Baltimore Ravens vs. (33) 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL Champions Tournament Opening Round 2000 Ravens vs. 2002 Buccaneers
2000 Baltimore Ravens vs. 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Mike Calendrillo/Sportscasting

In their first four years of existence, the Baltimore Ravens had never even finished above .500, their best season coming in 1999 at 8-8. But that all changed in 2000 as Brian Billick led the team to a 12-4 mark, good for second place in the AFC Central and the No. 4 seed on the AFC side of the postseason bracket.

After dismantling the fifth-seeded Denver Broncos in the Wild Card Round, 21-3, Ray Lewis and the vaunted Baltimore defense stifled the top-seeded Tennessee Titans in a surprise 24-10 victory. Baltimore then knocked off the second-seeded Oakland Raiders, 16-3, in the AFC Championship Game before dismantling the New York Giants, 34-7, in Super Bowl 35.

Riding a string of three consecutive playoff appearances, the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the NFC South with a 12-4 record, earning them the No. 2 seed in the postseason and a first-round bye.

Led by Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Brooks, the Bucs’ defense displayed its dominance in the Divisional Round as Tampa Bay trounced the fourth-seeded San Francisco 49ers, 31-6. Jon Gruden’s group scored another big win in the NFC Championship, easily knocking off the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10, before stomping the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl, 48-21.

Team2000 Ravens2002 Buccaneers
Record12-4 12-4
Super BowlDef. NY Giants 34-7Def. Oakland Raiders 48-21
SB MVPRay LewisDexter Jackson

It doesn’t get much more evenly matched than this, which is why this is the 32 vs. 33 matchup. You’ve got the same regular-season record and the same margin of victory in the Super Bowl. Both defenses were incredible, and there’s no edge at quarterback, with Trent Dilfer under center for the Ravens and Brad Johnson taking snaps for the Bucs.

Winner: 2000 Baltimore Ravens

While the seeding was close here, the vote wasn’t as Ray Lewis and the Ravens took 75% of the vote. And that was the right call. Had the seeding not been calculated formulaically, I certainly would’ve had Baltimore higher given that defense.

So what is the Ravens’ prize for this victory? A date in the opening game of the Round of 32 with the top-seeded and undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. Look for that one come Week 9.

(17) 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. (48) 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers

NFL Champions Tournament 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers
1975 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers | Mike Calendrillo/Sportscasting

You just have to love what random seeding can create, don’t you? Holding six of the 56 slots in this tournament, the Pittsburgh Steelers are tied for the most Super Bowl victories of all time. But one of those squads is going home early.

Coming off the franchise’s first Super Bowl win, the 1975 Steelers dominated for a second straight season, going 12-2 in the regular season to claim the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Defensive Player of the Year Mel Blount led a dominating defense that put up its best numbers since 1946, and Terry Bradshaw led an offense that scored more points than any other team in Steelers history up to that point, a mark that wouldn’t be broken until 2010.

Pittsburgh gave up just 10 points each to the Colts and Raiders in the AFC Playoffs but did get a test in Super Bowl 10 from Tom Landry’s Cowboys. But the Steelers had enough to pull out a four-point victory, a win that featured MVP Lynn Swann’s famous grab.

Despite an 11-5 record, the 2005 Steelers just snuck into the postseason as the sixth and final seed in the AFC, needing a four-game win streak to close out the year to do so. But once they were in, Ben Roethlisberger & Co. did some damage.

Pittsburgh first knocked off the rival Bengals, who won the AFC North with the same 11-5 record, and did so in convincing fashion, 31-17. They then shocked Peyton Manning and the top-seeded 14-2 Colts in the Divisional Round, 21-18, before stomping the second-seeded 13-3 Broncos in the AFC title game, 34-17. The Steelers became only the second team in NFL history and the first in two decades to win three postseason games on the road.

They then locked up title number five as they bested the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl 40, 21-10, sending Jerome Bettis into retirement as a champion.

Team1975 Steelers2005 Steelers
Record12-211-5
Super BowlDef. Dallas Cowboys 21-17Def. Seattle Seahawks 21-10
SB MVPLynn SwannHines Ward

If nothing else, wouldn’t you love to see Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher on opposing sidelines just scowling at one another?

The ’75 Steelers are obviously the favorite here. You’ve got loads of Hall of Famers and the historic Steel Curtain defensive line, which might not bode too well for Big Ben, who currently holds the record for the most times sacked in NFL history. But just imagine the collisions when Bettis attempts to ram through that line. Oh, the humanity.

Winner: 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers

This was another blowout, which it should have been, as the ’75 Steelers easily took care of their counterparts from 40 years later by earning a whopping 88.9% of the vote. There’s really not much analysis needed here. The old-school squad simply had more weapons.

Up next for Bradshaw and his boys is a date with another famous No. 12.

(16) 1977 Dallas Cowboys vs. (49) 2018 New England Patriots

NFL Champions Tournament 1977 Dallas Cowboys vs. 2018 New England Patriots
1977 Dallas Cowboys vs. 2018 New England Patriots | Mike Calendrillo/Sportscasting

Closing out the first trio of opening-round games sees a matchup of two of the best to wear No. 12 as Roger Staubach and the 1977 Dallas Cowboys take on Tom Brady and the 2018 New England Patriots.

The ’77 Cowboys were the last Super Bowl-winning team to play a 14-game regular season as two games were added to the schedule the following year. And it was quite the regular season for America’s Team as they went 12-2 to easily lock up the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

While the league scoring average was just 17.2 points per game, the Cowboys averaged an NFL-best 24.6, thanks in large part to rookie running back Tony Dorsett, who became just the second player in franchise history to rush for 1,000 yards. He also added a dozen touchdowns.

But the defense was just as strong as Defensive Player of the Year Harvey Martin and company held opponents to just 12.47 points per game. The Cowboys breezed through the NFC bracket, beating the Bears and Vikings by a combined 47 points, and then torched the Broncos in Super Bowl 12, 27-10. Martin and Randy White shared MVP honors.

Coming off a gut-wrenching loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl 52, the 2018 Patriots got off to a rocky start on their journey back to the title game. Bill Belichick & Co. started 1-2 and took double-digit losses to the Jaguars and Lions, which is never fun. But the Pats righted the ship and won 10 of their next 13 games to finish with an 11-5 mark, good enough for a 10th straight AFC East title and the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

The 2018 campaign saw the emergence of a young Patrick Mahomes, who won NFL MVP in leading the Kansas City Chiefs to the top seed with a 12-4 mark. Seen as Brady’s heir apparent in the AFC, the second-year stud was ready to take his place among the elite, but TB12 had other plans.

After New England disposed of the Chargers in the Divisional Round, they traveled to Kansas City for a high-profile showdown that lived up to its billing. With the score tied at 31 after 60 minutes, Brady didn’t even let young Mahomes touch the ball, leading the Pats on a 75-yard drive in overtime to secure a 37-31 win.

And in Super Bowl 53, Brady didn’t even have to do that much work as the New England defense held the LA Rams to just a field goal in a 13-3 victory. This was the Patriots’ sixth and final Super Bowl victory.

Team1977 Cowboys2018 Patriots
Record12-211-5
Super BowlDef. Denver Broncos 27-10Def. LA Rams 13-3
SB MVPHarvey Martin/Randy WhiteJulian Edelman

Some may think the 2018 Patriots are seeded a bit low at No. 49. Honestly, though, that just shows how strong every team in this tournament is. And, come on, I know a lot of you love seeing Brady seeded so low.

Truthfully, this wasn’t Belichick’s strongest unit. But wouldn’t it be a blast to see what Brady could do against that vaunted Cowboys defense? On the flip side, it might not be fun for the New England defense, who didn’t even crack the top 20 in 2018, against Staubach and the Dallas offense.

Winner: 2018 New England Patriots

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first upset as the 49th-seeded Patriots knock off the 16th-seeded Cowboys, earning them a date with the ’75 Steelers. What, nobody wanted to reminisce about those old-school Dallas-Pittsburgh Super Bowl matchups in the ’70s?

It was a close vote as Brady & Co. just edged out Staubach’s squad, earning 54.5% of the vote. Honestly, this wasn’t much of a surprise to me. Given the divisive nature of both of these franchises, I expected a tight race, and that’s what we got. In an actual game, I’d also predict a close matchup, with both teams having a shot at the end to win.

(9) 1991 Washington Commanders vs. (56) 2011 New York Giants

Super Bowl Tournament 1991 Washington Commanders vs. 2011 New York Giants
1991 Washington Commanders vs. 2011 New York Giants | Mike Calendrillo/Sportscasting

Coming off a solid 10-6 season in 1990 that ended in a Divisional Round loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Washington Commanders (go ahead and scream at me all you want — I’m not using the old name) came back in 1991 with one of the strongest seasons in franchise history.

NFL Coach of the Year Joe Gibbs led his squad to a league-best 14-2 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC Playoffs. And those two losses were by a combined five points. Washington led the NFL in offense, scoring 485 points, and allowed the second-fewest points at 224.

They coasted through the NFC bracket, first taking out the sixth-seeded Falcons, 24-7, and then destroyed Barry Sanders and the second-seeded Lions in the conference title game, 41-10. Washington then easily disposed of Buffalo in Super Bowl 26, 37-24, handing the Bills their second of four straight losses in the Big Game. Mark Rypien led the way with 292 yards and two touchdown passes and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

With the worst regular-season record of any Super Bowl champion at 9-7, the 2011 New York Giants are the lowest-seeded team in our tournament. Earning the fourth seed in the conference due to a weak NFC East that season, the Giants went on an incredible postseason run as they had four years earlier.

In the Wild Card Round, the G-Men knocked off the fifth-seeded Falcons, 24-2. In the Divisional Round, New York roughed up the top-seeded Packers at Lambeau Field, 37-20. And in the NFC title game, New York bounced second-seeded San Francisco in overtime, 20-17.

And, again, just as he’d done four years earlier, Eli Manning did what nobody thought he could and beat Tom Brady and the heavily-favored Patriots in the Super Bowl, winning MVP for a second time. He completed 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown in the Giants’ 21-17 victory.

Team1991 Commanders2011 Giants
Record14-29-7
Super BowlDef. Buffalo Bills 37-24Def. New England Patriots 21-17
SB MVPMark RypienEli Manning

ln my eyes, the Giants are the lowest-seeded team in this tournament for a reason. But there’s no denying that Eli’s group knew how to get it done when it mattered, even against clearly better teams. And that 1991 Washington squad is the better team from top to bottom. And, yes, that’s me saying that Mark Rypien was better than Eli Manning, which I genuinely believe.

Winner: 1991 Washington Commanders

This was far closer than it should have been, with Washington’s 1991 unit grabbing just 54.5% of the vote. Do you think it’s because Eli has become a lot more likable these days with the ManningCast? Whatever the reason, his 2011 Giants snagged a surprising 45.5% of the vote. We’ll see him again down the line when his 55th-seeded 2007 team gets another shot at Tom Brady.

As for Washington, Rypien & Co. will square off with the blowout winner of this next matchup.

(24) 2017 Philadelphia Eagles vs. (41) 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers

Super Bowl Tournament 2017 Philadelphia Eagles vs. 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers
2017 Philadelphia Eagles vs. 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers | Mike Calendrillo/Sportscasting

Some might be surprised that the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles are the higher seed here. But given how things played out with the underdog mentality that came when Nick Foles was forced to replace an injured Carson Wentz, it’s easy to forget the Birds went 13-3 in the regular season to earn the top seed in the NFC.

While a lot of experts counted the Eagles out when Wentz went down in Week 14, Philly just kept going. After edging out the sixth-seeded Falcons in the Divisional Round, 15-10, the Eagles torched the second-seeded Vikings in the NFC Championship, 38-7, setting up a matchup with NFL MVP Tom Brady and the defending champion New England Patriots.

And what a matchup it was. In a dramatic affair that saw several Super Bowl records fall, Foles refused to let the Eagles lose, throwing for 373 yards and three touchdowns and catching one of his own in the famed “Philly Special” play call on the way to a 41-33 victory.

The 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers kicked off the dynasty that won four Super Bowls in six seasons. Led by a defense that included Defensive Rookie of the Year Jack Lambert and Defensive Player of the Year “Mean” Joe Greene, the Steelers went 10-3-1 in the regular season to win the first of six consecutive AFC Central titles.

Pittsburgh breezed through the AFC Playoffs, first beating the wild-card Bills, 32-14, before knocking off the rival Oakland Raiders in the AFC title game, 24-13. It was the third straight year the Steelers and Raiders met in the postseason, with Pittsburgh winning twice. They’d meet again the next two years, each winning once.

In Super Bowl 9, Pittsburgh matched up with Fran Tarkenton and the Minnesota Vikings, who’d lost the Super Bowl the previous year to the Miami Dolphins. And while the Vikes’ Purple People Eaters defense held Terry Bradshaw to just 96 yards passing, they couldn’t stop Franco Harris, who rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown to win MVP honors.

And the Steelers defense certainly did its job, holding the Vikings to just six points in the 10-point victory.

Team2017 Eagles1974 Steelers
Record13-310-3-1
Super BowlDef. New England Patriots 41-33Def. Minnesota Vikings 16-6
SB MVPNick FolesFranco Harris

A high-octane Eagles offense against the always-tough Steelers defense? Yes, please. So who do you have taking this battle of Pennsylvania?

Winner: 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers

I guess Nick Foles didn’t have another upset in him as his ’17 Eagles were blown out in this matchup by the ’74 Steelers, who earned a whopping 83.3% of the vote.

While this is technically an upset given the seeding, it really doesn’t feel like one. As mentioned, this was the Steelers team that kicked off the Pittsburgh dynasty, and it was loaded on both sides of the football. Up next for the black and gold is a date with another NFC East team as Bradshaw & Co. take on the ’91 Commanders in the Round of 32.

(25) 1999 St. Louis Rams vs. (40) 1995 Dallas Cowboys

Super Bowl Tournament 1999 St. Louis Rams vs. 1995 Dallas Cowboys
1999 St. Louis Rams vs. 1995 Dallas Cowboys | Mike Calendrillo/Sportscasting

What’s not to love about the 1999 St. Louis Rams? The franchise hadn’t had a winning season in a decade but made some significant changes ahead of the ’99 campaign, most notably bringing in running back Marshall Faulk, who had a phenomenal year and was the runner-up in the NFL MVP vote.

And to whom did he lose? That would be Rams QB Kurt Warner, a true journeyman who came out of nowhere to lead St. Louis to a 13-3 record and the top seed in the NFC. With Faulk and wideouts Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, the famed “Greatest Show on Turf,” which I recently calculated would still be the No. 1 offense in today’s NFL, was an absolute joy to watch and put up 6,412 yards and averaged nearly 33 points per game.

After knocking out the Vikings and Buccaneers en route to Super Bowl 34, the Rams engaged in one of the most dramatic title games of all time against the Tennessee Titans, winning 23-16. Oddly enough, it was a play from the St. Louis defense that’s most remembered as linebacker Mike Jones famously stopped Titans wideout Kevin Dyson one yard short of the goal line as time expired.

Some see the 1995 Dallas Cowboys as the weakest of Jerry Jones’ three title teams in the ’90s, but they were still pretty damn good. As if America’s Team didn’t have enough star power (total pun intended) with the trio of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, who helped the 49ers beat Dallas the previous year in the NFC title game, was added to the mix.

After going 12-4 in the regular season to earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the Cowboys matched up in the Divisional Round with the rival Eagles, who’d scored 58 points in their wild-card win over the Lions. But the Dallas defense held them to just 11 points in a 19-point win. The Cowboys then knocked off Brett Favre and the Packers in the conference championship game, 38-27, setting up a date with the Steelers in Super Bowl 30.

While Dallas won the game by 10, 27-17, it was actually a lot closer. And despite all the stars (sorry, I can’t help myself) on their roster, Larry Brown emerged as the hero, picking off two passes to become the first cornerback to take MVP honors. Although some might say Steelers quarterback Neil O’Donnell was the real MVP as it almost looked as if he was actually targeting Brown on those two game-changing interceptions.

Team1999 Rams1995 Cowboys
Record13-312-4
Super BowlDef. Tennessee Titans 23-16Def. Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17
SB MVPKurt WarnerLarry Brown

Just think of the buildup this matchup would’ve gotten. Troy Aikman vs. Kurt Warner. Emmitt Smith vs. Marshall Faulk. So many incredible receivers with Michael Irvin, Jay Novacek, Isaac Bruce, and Torry Holt. And, again, Deion Sanders right there in the mix. I’m not going to lie. This is one of my favorite first-round matchups.

Winner: 1999 St. Louis Rams

This was a fairly close vote, which I expected as I genuinely believe this would have been a very close football game. In the end, the ’99 Rams won out, 60% to 40%, which has me thinking they would have won by a score of 31-21.

While Deion keeps either Bruce or Holt somewhat in check, he can’t cover both. So whichever one he didn’t cover likely torches Larry Brown for two scores. Sorry, Larry, I know you were the Super Bowl MVP, but Kurt Warner ain’t Neil O’Donnell and isn’t gifting you two picks. So two scores from Bruce or Holt, a pair of TDs from Marshall Faulk, and a field goal get the job done.

Up next for “The Greatest Show on Turf” is a date with John Elway and the eighth-seeded 1998 Denver Broncos.

(29) 1969 Kansas City Chiefs vs. (39) 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers

Super Bowl Tournament 1969 Kansas City Chiefs vs. 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers
1969 Kansas City Chiefs vs. 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers | Mike Calendrillo/Sportscasting

While the NFL was celebrating its 50th season in 1969, the AFL was wrapping up its 10-year existence ahead of the 1970 merger. A year earlier, the Kansas City Chiefs had gone 12-2 to get into the AFL Playoffs but were destroyed in the opening round by their Western Division rivals, the Oakland Raiders, by a score of 41-6.

The ’69 Chiefs season was nearly ruined by an injury to legendary quarterback Len Dawson, but backup Mike Livingston filled in beautifully, going undefeated in his six starts as Kansas City went 11-3 and finished second in the West behind the 12-1-1 Raiders.

The KC defense was incredible that season and was just the fourth team in pro football history to lead its league in the fewest rushing yards allowed, the fewest passing yards allowed, and the fewest total yards allowed. ESPN once ranked this defense as the seventh-best in history.

In the opening round of the AFL Playoffs, the Chiefs knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion New York Jets. They then got revenge on the Raiders in the AFL title game, upsetting their rivals 17-7 to earn a Super Bowl 4 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.

Kansas City made easy work of the Purple People Eaters in the final AFL-NFL showdown, easily winning 23-7.

The 1979 Steelers were the last Super Bowl-winning team of the ’70s Pittsburgh dynasty and earned the No. 2 seed in the AFC with a 12-4 regular-season record. Jack Lambert was named AFC Defensive Player of the Year for the second time in four years, leading a unit that gave up just 16.4 points per game. And Terry Bradshaw’s offense led the league in scoring, averaging 26 points per game.

Pittsburgh was never truly tested in the AFC bracket, easily taking care of the third-seeded Miami Dolphins in the Divisional Round, 34-14, before disposing of the fourth-seeded Houston Oilers in the conference title game, 27-13.

In Super Bowl 14, the Steelers squared off with the LA Rams, who beat the top two seeds in the NFC, the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on their way to the title game. But a third upset wasn’t in the cards as Pittsburgh was just too much to handle.

Behind 309 yards and a pair of touchdown passes from Bradshaw, who earned his second straight Super Bowl MVP trophy, the Steelers won their fourth title in six years with a 31-19 victory.

Team1969 Chiefs1979 Steelers
Record11-3 (AFL)12-4
Super BowlDef. Minnesota Vikings 23-7Def. LA Rams 31-19
SB MVPLen DawsonTerry Bradshaw

Perhaps the most fun fact about the ’79 Steelers? This was the last Super Bowl-winning unit to feature an entire roster of players who’d never suited up for another team. Their 46-man roster featured 40 original draft picks and six free agents out of college. Just a different world today, isn’t it?

Winner: 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers

Well, this wasn’t even close in the slightest, as the ’79 Steelers took a whopping 83.3% of the vote. And while the ’69 Chiefs were the higher seed here, this was probably the right call. I’ll admit to voting for Pittsburgh myself for the upset, but this really isn’t a huge upset in my eyes.

The Steelers were the first great Super Bowl-winning dynasty for a reason, and this ’79 squad now moves on to a huge Round of 32 matchup with another great team from the decade in John Madden’s 1976 Raiders.

(20) 1992 Dallas Cowboys vs. (45) 2021 Los Angeles Rams

Super Bowl Tournament 1992 Dallas Cowboys vs. 2021 Los Angeles Rams
1992 Dallas Cowboys vs. 2021 Los Angeles Rams | Mike Calendrillo/Sportscasting

Just three years removed from a 1-15 campaign, Jerry Jones watched his Dallas Cowboys go 13-3 in 1992 to win their NFC East title since 1984.

Led by the trio of Troy Aikman (3,445 passing yards, 23 TDs), Emmitt Smith (1,713 rushing yards, 19 total TDs), and Michael Irvin (1,396 receiving yards, 7 TDs), the Cowboys’ offense was one of the highest-ranked in the NFL that year, averaging 25.6 points per game.

But while it’s often easy to remember the Triplets, let’s not forget the Dallas defense was ranked No. 1 in 1992, a dynamic group that featured the likes of Ken Norton Jr., Charles Haley, Tony Tolbert, and Russell Maryland, among others.

While experience is often essential when making a Super Bowl run, that wasn’t an overall factor for the ’92 Cowboys, as they were the youngest team in the NFL.

Dallas entered the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the NFC and made easy work of the rival Eagles in the Divisional Round, winning 34-10 to set up another rivalry game with the top-seeded 14-2 San Francisco 49ers for the right to go to Super Bowl 27.

The Niners were the only team to average more points than the Cowboys in the regular season, but the Dallas defense held Steve Young and Jerry Rice’s group to 20 points in a 30-20 upset.

In the Super Bowl, America’s team squared off with the Buffalo Bills, who made their third consecutive appearance in the title game. But Jim Kelly & Co. never stood a chance as the Cowboys rolled over the Bills, 52-17, behind MVP Troy Aikman, who completed 73.3% of his passes for 273 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.

Despite leading the LA Rams to a Super Bowl just a few years earlier, Jared Goff was traded prior to the 2021 season for longtime Lions QB Matthew Stafford. And it’s safe to say the move worked out quite nicely for Sean McVay.

Stafford quickly developed fantastic chemistry with Cooper Kupp, who had one of the most outstanding wide receiver campaigns in NFL history, winning the Triple Crown with 145 catches for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns. And it certainly didn’t hurt Stafford when the Rams signed Odell Beckham Jr. midway through the season.

In another significant move near the halfway point, LA added former Super Bowl MVP to a defense that already featured three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.

Following a three-game losing streak after starting the year 7-1, the Rams only lost once the rest of the way, a Week 18 overtime defeat to the San Francisco 49ers, which didn’t mean much as they’d already locked up the NFC West.

They entered the postseason as the No. 4 seed in the NFC and decimated the Cardinals in the Wild Card Round, 34-11, before upsetting Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champion Buccaneers in the Divisional Round, 30-27. LA then ended the Cinderella run of the sixth-seeded Niners in the NFC Championship Game, 20-17.

The Rams got another tough battle in Super Bowl 56 against the No. 4 seed in the AFC, the Cincinnati Bengals. But despite losing OBJ early, LA hung tough and walked away with a 23-20 victory. Kupp finished off his dominant year by winning Super Bowl MVP, catching eight passes for 92 yards with two touchdowns.

Team1992 Cowboys2021 Rams
Record13-312-5
Super BowlDef. Buffalo Bills 52-17Def. Cincinnati Bengals 23-20
SB MVPTroy AikmanCooper Kupp

You just gotta love the seeding in this tournament sometimes as we get our second Cowboys vs. Rams matchup in as many weeks. Personally, I think the ’92 Cowboys win this game. It might not be the blowout they had against the Bills in that first of three Super Bowl wins in the ’90s, but with that talent and that youth and that coaching staff, I see Dallas cruising to a 14-point win.

Winner: 1992 Dallas Cowboys

I guess I wasn’t the only one to think the Cowboys would win this one, as they earned exactly three-quarters of the vote here. So that evens things out between these two teams in the tournament as the ’99 Rams eliminated the ’95 Cowboys a few games back.

But I’ve got a feeling the next game for this edition of America’s team might be a little closer.

(13) 2003 New England Patriots vs. (52) 2010 Green Bay Packers

Super Bowl Tournament 2003 New England Patriots vs. 2010 Green Bay Packers
2003 New England Patriots vs. 2010 Green Bay Packers | Mike Calendrillo/Sportscasting

Following their Cinderella run to the Super Bowl in 2001, the New England Patriots actually missed the postseason in 2002, going 9-7.

And the 2003 season didn’t start particularly well either as Bill Belichick & Co. lost two of their first four games, including a 31-0 thumping at the hands of the Buffalo Bills to start the year. But those two defeats were the only two the Pats took.

While Tom Brady and the New England offense were solid enough, scoring 21.8 points per game, good for 12th in the NFL, the defense was the main reason the Patriots went 14-2 to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

Despite the loss of Lawyer Milloy, a salary-cap casualty just five days before the season began, the Pats’ defense, which included the likes of Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest, Rodney Harrison, and Tedy Bruschi, gave up a league-low 14.9 points per game.

New England survived a scare from the fifth-seeded Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round, hanging on for a 17-14 victory, and then ousted Peyton Manning and the third-seeded Indianapolis Colts in the AFC title game, 24-14.

In Super Bowl 38, the defense was a little off, giving up 29 points to the Carolina Panthers. But behind 354 yards and three touchdown passes by Brady, who won his second Super Bowl MVP, the New England offense put up 32 for a three-point victory.

Some might not like Aaron Rodgers’ lone Super Bowl win being seeded so low, but it is what it is as his 2010 Green Bay Packers snuck into the postseason as the No. 6 seed in the NFC with a 10-6 record. Rodgers and the Green Bay offense averaged 24.3 points per game, good enough for 10th in the league.

But like the ’03 Pats, the true strength of the ’10 Packers was the defense, led by Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson, which only allowed 15 points per game, second-best in the NFL that season to only the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Packers kicked off their playoff run with an upset victory over the third-seeded Eagles in Philadelphia, 21-16, but weren’t expected to go any further as they matched up with the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Round.

But that proved to be no problem for the Packers as they routed Atlanta, 48-21, behind three touchdown passes from Rodgers, who also ran in another to set up a date with the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game.

And as he typically does, Rodgers disposed of Green Bay’s biggest rival, 21-14, to take his team to Super Bowl 45, where the Packers matched up with the aforementioned Steelers. But Pittsburgh’s defense wasn’t so daunting that night at Cowboys Stadium as Rodgers threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns with no picks en route to winning Super Bowl MVP in a 31-25 victory.

Team2003 Patriots2010 Packers
Record14-210-6
Super BowlDef. Carolina Panthers 32-29Def. Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25
SB MVPTom BradyAaron Rodgers

To me, this is a no-brainer, as the ’03 Patriots are just the better team overall. And that’s not solely because of the difference in regular-season records. Of Green Bay’s six losses, none were by more than four points, and two were in overtime. So they were in every game they played.

I just don’t think the Green Bay offense would have enough to take down that New England defense, despite what it did to that Steelers unit in the Super Bowl. Furthermore, history sides with Brady here as he’s only suffered one loss to Rodgers throughout his career, at least at this point. (Update: TB12 lost to Rodgers in Week 3 of the ’22 season, the same week this fictional game was played.

Winner: 2003 New England Patriots

As it typically goes in the Brady-Rodgers storyline, TB12 came out on top here with the ’03 Patriots earning 60% of the vote to set up a date with the ’92 Cowboys, which will likely end up being one of my favorite matchups in the Round of 32.

And for those wanting a little more old-school Brady, here you go.

(12) 2004 New England Patriots vs. (53) 1988 San Francisco 49ers

Super Bowl Tournament 2004 New England Patriots vs. 1988 San Francisco 49ers
2004 New England Patriots vs. 1988 San Francisco 49ers | Mike Calendrillo/Sportscasting

For those who love to compare Tom Brady and Joe Montana, here’s your dream matchup.

Coming off a 14-2 season in 2003 and a second Super Bowl victory in three seasons, the New England Patriots were again dominant in 2004. The Patriots’ offense ranked fourth in the NFL in scoring, averaging 27.3 points per game, behind a solid season from TB12, who threw for 3,692 yards and 28 touchdowns, the latter tying his career-best at the time.

Bill Belichick added running back Corey Dillon to the mix in the offseason, who rushed for a career-high 1,635 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The New England defense took a significant hit when Ty Law suffered a season-ending foot injury in a Halloween loss to the Steelers. Belichick was forced to adjust as the other starting cornerback, Tyrone Poole, had been injured just two weeks earlier. But Asante Samuel, then in just his second season, stepped up, as did undrafted free agent Randall Gay. Even wide receiver Troy Brown chipped in to assist on defense.

And it all worked just fine as the Patriots gave up the second-fewest points in the league en route to a second consecutive 14-2 season.

Despite the impressive mark, New England was the No. 2 seed in the AFC behind the 15-1 Steelers. Following a first-round bye, the Patriots made easy work of Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional Round, 20-3, setting up a showdown with Pittsburgh and highly-touted rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

But the Pats went into Heinz Field and gave Big Ben his first loss as a starter, picking him off three times in a 41-27 victory to earn a trip to Super Bowl 39, where they faced a strong 13-3 Eagles team.

And this first Super Bowl matchup with Philly went much better for Brady than did the second years later. He completed 23 of 33 passes, nearly half of those to game MVP Deion Branch, for 236 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-21 win.

The Patriots remain the most recent back-to-back Super Bowl winners and were just the second franchise to win three Super Bowls in four years, joining the 1990s Dallas Cowboys.

Eleven games through the 1988 season, the San Francisco 49ers were 6-5 and in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since the strike-shortened 1982 campaign. And that certainly wasn’t the way Bill Walsh envisioned his final season with the Niners going.

But his team rallied to win four of its final five games to win the NFC West with a 10-6 record to earn the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

Joe Montana didn’t have his most outstanding season, completing just 59.9% of his passes, the lowest percentage of his career as a starter, for 2,981 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. But Roger Craig picked up the slack, winning Offensive Player of the Year with a career-high 1,502 rushing yards with nine touchdowns, also adding 534 receiving yards to accumulate a league-best 2,036 yards from scrimmage.

In the Divisional Round of the postseason, the Niners exacted some revenge on the Vikings, who’d bounced them from the playoffs the year before after San Francisco went 13-2 in the regular season. The 49ers had no trouble with Minnesota this time, easily winning 34-9.

The Niners then upset the top-seeded Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game, 28-3, earning a trip to Super Bowl 23, where they faced the Cincinnati Bengals in a title-game rematch from seven years earlier.

Montana had a fantastic showing that night in Miami, completing 23 of 36 passes for 357 yards and two touchdowns. Eleven of those passes were caught by MVP Jerry Rice, who set a Super Bowl record with 215 receiving yards. But John Taylor played the hero, catching a 10-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass with just 34 seconds remaining to give San Francisco a 20-16 victory.

Team2004 Patriots1988 49ers
Record14-210-6
Super BowlDef. Philadelphia Eagles 24-21Def. Cincinnati Bengals 20-16
SB MVPDeion BranchJerry Rice

Are the 49ers seeded a little low here? Yeah, maybe. But, again, they were in serious danger of missing the postseason before getting hot late in the year. So that 10-6 record held them back as the seeding played out. Was it the best Montana Niners team? Absolutely not. But they were still pretty damn good.

But, obviously, so were those ’04 Patriots. That group won back-to-back Super Bowls for a reason. Think about it. Including the postseason, Brady & Co. went 34-4 over those two years. And, yes, I know we’re just supposed to focus on the 2004 team. But you know what I mean. They’re a top-12 seed and deservedly so.

Winner: TBD

(21) 1994 San Francisco 49ers vs. (44) 1987 Washington Commanders

Super Bowl Tournament 1987 Washington Commanders vs. 1994 San Francisco 49ers
1987 Washington Commanders vs. 1994 San Francisco 49ers | Mike Calendrillo/Sportscasting

If not for the Dallas Cowboys, we might look at the 1990s San Francisco 49ers with Steve Young and Jerry Rice as one of the great dynasties in NFL history.

After losing the NFC Championship Game to America’s Team following the ’92 and ’93 campaigns, the Niners added a little more firepower by signing Deion Sanders ahead of the ’94 season. And how did “Prime Time” do in his lone season in a San Francisco uniform?

Pretty damn well, I’d say. He won Defensive Player of the Year honors after recording six interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns. Two picks were returned at least 90 yards, making Sanders the first NFL player in history to do so. Deion finished fourth in the NFL MVP voting. Another Sanders, Barry, finished second, but the other two were also 49ers. And we’ve already mentioned both their names.

Finishing third in the vote was Jerry Rice, who did Jerry Rice things in catching 112 passes for a league-high 1,499 yards and 13 touchdowns.

But the runaway MVP winner was Niners quarterback Steve Young, who completed a ridiculous 70.3% of his passes, a career-high, for 3,969 yards and an NFL-best 35 touchdowns. He also rushed for 293 yards and seven scores to help the San Francisco offense lead the league in scoring at 31.6 points per game.

The 49ers went 13-3 in the regular season to take the No. 1 seed in the NFC and decimated the sixth-seeded Bears in the Divisional Round, 44-15. The victory set up a third straight NFC title game matchup with the Cowboys, and San Francisco wouldn’t be denied this time around, beating their rivals by 10, 38-28, to earn a trip to Super Bowl 29.

Most saw the NFC Championship Game as the title game that year as the AFC representative in the Super Bowl, the San Diego Chargers, really didn’t stand a chance against either San Francisco or Dallas. And the Niners proved that with a 49-26 win behind a ridiculous performance from Young, who threw six touchdowns, which remains a Super Bowl record to this day.

The 1987 NFL season was certainly interesting as replacement players played several games due to the 24-day strike that began after Week 2, which also shortened the season to 15 games. Honestly, if I’m a Commanders fan, which I’m not, I’d be hoping for some sort of strike every year. There were two NFL strikes in the 1980s, and Washington won the Super Bowl both years.

But this 1987 Washington team was still solid. The previous season, Joe Gibbs’ group had gone 12-4 and knocked the defending champion Bears out of the playoffs en route to the NFC title game, where they lost to the eventual champion New York Giants, who are the No. 7 seed in this tournament.

So this Washington group was legit. In 1987, they finished fourth in offense and sixth in defense on the way to an 11-4 record, good for the No. 3 seed in the NFC.

Gibbs made the interesting choice to bench starting quarterback Jay Schroeder ahead of the playoffs in favor of Doug Williams, who started just two games in the regular season. But the move worked out just fine.

In the Divisional Round, Washington again knocked off the Bears, 21-17, to send Walter Payton into retirement. And they then took care of the Vikings in the NFC Championship, 17-10, to set up a date with John Elway and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 22.

The Washington defense gave Elway fits that night at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego as No. 7 completed 36.8% of his passes and threw three interceptions. On the other side, Williams played a fantastic game, winning Super Bowl MVP by completing 62.1% of his passes for 340 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-10 romp.

And that was after getting a six-hour root canal done the day before. It was a historic night as Williams became the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl.

Team1994 49ers1987 Commanders
Record13-311-4
Super BowlDef. San Diego Chargers 49-26Def. Denver Broncos 42-10
SB MVPSteve YoungDoug Williams

As fun as the ’87 Washington story is with the replacement players (the famous win over a fully-loaded Cowboys team actually inspired The Replacements film with Keanu Reeves) and Doug Williams and beating Elway in the Super Bowl and such, they don’t beat the ’94 Niners.

That San Francisco team was loaded on both sides of the ball, and I don’t even think this game would be close.

Winner: TBD

(28) 1971 Dallas Cowboys vs. (37) 2006 Indianapolis Colts

Super Bowl Tournament 1971 Dallas Cowboys vs. 2006 Indianapolis Colts
1971 Dallas Cowboys vs. 2006 Indianapolis Colts | Mike Calendrillo/Sportscasting

Coming off a heartbreaking three-point loss to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl 5, the 1971 Dallas Cowboys didn’t get off to the most remarkable start and were just 4-3 at the midway point of the 14-game regular season.

As third-year quarterback Roger Staubach was coming into his own, Tom Landry alternated him and veteran Craig Morton as the starter in the first half of the year before finally handing the reins to Staubach full-time in Week 8.

And the Cowboys didn’t lose the rest of the way.

Dallas finished with an 11-3 record, good for a sixth consecutive division title. Staubach finished the regular season with a 10-0 record and was the NFL’s highest-rated quarterback, leading the top-ranked Cowboys offense to a league-best 29 points per game.

In the Divisional Round, Dallas knocked off the Central Division champion Vikings, who also went 11-3, by a score of 20-12, setting up an NFC Championship Game rematch with the San Francisco 49ers.

A year earlier, the Cowboys had defeated the Niners on the road, 17-10. And this time around, at home, Dallas emerged triumphant once again, 14-3, setting up a Super Bowl 6 date with the Miami Dolphins.

As it had done against San Francisco, the underrated Dallas defense gave up just a field goal to Miami while the Cowboys offense did its thing in an easy 24-3 win. Staubach wasn’t flashy, completing 12 of 19 passes for 119 yards, but he threw two touchdowns and no picks en route to winning Super Bowl MVP. That was the last game the Dolphins lost for a while.

Coming off a fantastic 2005 regular season in which they went 14-2 but had another disappointing postseason, losing in the Divisional Round, Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts finally got over the hump in 2006.

They weren’t quite as good in the regular season, going 12-4, but it was good enough for a fourth straight division title and the No. 3 seed in the AFC. While the defense wasn’t overly strong, ranking 23rd of 32 teams, the offense was plenty potent, ranking second.

Manning, who finished third in the NFL MVP vote behind LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees, had another fantastic year, completing 65% of his passes for 4,397 yards with a league-best 31 touchdowns against just nine interceptions.

The Colts kicked off the postseason with an easy Wild Card Round victory over the sixth-seeded Chiefs, 23-8, and the Indy defense came through again in the Divisional Round in an ugly 15-6 win over the second-seeded Ravens.

Fittingly, the Colts didn’t face the top-seeded Chargers in the AFC Championship Game as San Diego was upset in the Divisional Round by the fourth-seeded New England Patriots, setting up a Manning-Brady showdown for the ages.

The Pats kept Manning in check in the first half and took a 21-6 lead into the final 30 minutes. But the Colts came out firing in the second half, scoring 15 unanswered points to tie the game at 21-21. Four lead changes later, Indianapolis came out on top, winning 38-34 in an instant classic.

You know how it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Boston Red Sox would win the 2004 World Series after getting past the New York Yankees? That’s how it felt with Manning and the Colts getting past TB12 and the Patriots en route to Super Bowl 41.

With all due respect to the ’06 Chicago Bears, who were the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a 13-3 record, they were never winning that Super Bowl. It may have felt like it when Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, but this was No. 18’s coronation.

Manning won MVP honors by completing 25 of 38 passes that night in Miami for 247 yards with a touchdown in a 29-17 win, giving the Colts their first championship since Johnny Unitas’ 1970 unit knocked off the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl 5.

So how’s that for coming full circle?

Team1971 Cowboys2006 Colts
Record11-312-4
Super BowlDef. Miami Dolphins 24-3Def. Chicago Bears 29-17
SB MVPRoger StaubachPeyton Manning

Despite the difference in seeding, I see this as a pretty even matchup. As mentioned, the ’06 Colts defense wasn’t great, but it stepped up in the postseason. I give Manning the edge over Staubach in the quarterback department, but Staubach won just as many Super Bowls as his counterpart in this game. Very curious to see how this vote plays out. Who you taking?

Winner: TBD

(31) 1983 Los Angeles Raiders vs. (34) 1993 Dallas Cowboys — coming Week 5

Team1983 Raiders1993 Cowboys
Record12-412-4
Super BowlDef. Washington Commanders 38-9Def. Buffalo Bills 30-13
SB MVPMarcus AllenEmmitt Smith

(18) 1970 Baltimore Colts vs. (47) 1980 Oakland Raiders — coming Week 5

Team1970 Colts1980 Raiders
Record11-2-111-5
Super BowlDef. Dallas Cowboys 16-13Def. Philadelphia Eagles 27-10
SB MVPChuck Howley (Cowboys)Jim Plunkett

(15) 1973 Miami Dolphins vs. (50) 2001 New England Patriots — coming Week 5

Team1973 Dolphins2001 Patriots
Record12-211-5
Super BowlDef. Minnesota Vikings 24-7Def. St. Louis Rams 20-17
SB MVPLarry CsonkaTom Brady

(10) 2016 New England Patriots vs. (55) 2007 New York Giants — coming Week 6

Team2016 Patriots2007 Giants
Record14-210-6
Super BowlDef. Atlanta Falcons 34-28Def. New England Patriots 17-14
SB MVPTom BradyEli Manning

(23) 2009 New Orleans Saints vs. (42) 1997 Denver Broncos — coming Week 6

Team2009 Saints1997 Broncos
Record13-312-4
Super BowlDef. Indianapolis Colts 31-17Def. Green Bay Packers 31-24
SB MVPDrew BreesTerrell Davis

(26) 1981 San Francisco 49ers vs. (39) 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers — coming Week 6

Team1981 49ers2008 Steelers
Record13-312-4
Super BowlDef. Cincinnati Bengals 26-21Def. Arizona Cardinals 27-23
SB MVPJoe MontanaSantonio Holmes

(30) 1968 New York Jets vs. (35) 2015 Denver Broncos — coming Week 7

Team1968 Jets2015 Broncos
Record11-3 (AFL)12-4
Super BowlDef. Baltimore Colts 16-7Def. Carolina Panthers 24-10
SB MVPJoe NamathVon Miller

(19) 2013 Seattle Seahawks vs. (46) 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — coming Week 7

Team2013 Seahawks2020 Buccaneers
Record13-311-5
Super BowlDef. Denver Broncos 43-8Def. Kansas City Chiefs 31-9
SB MVPMalcolm SmithTom Brady

(14) 1966 Green Bay Packers vs. (51) 1967 Green Bay Packers — coming Week 7

Team1966 Packers1967 Packers
Record12-29-4-1
Super BowlDef. Kansas City Chiefs 35-10Def. Oakland Raiders 33-14
SB MVPBart StarrBart Starr

(11) 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. (54) 2012 Baltimore Ravens — coming Week 8

Team1978 Steelers2012 Ravens
Record14-210-6
Super BowlDef. Dallas Cowboys 35-31Def. San Francisco 49ers 34-31
SB MVPTerry BradshawJoe Flacco

(22) 1996 Green Bay Packers vs. (43) 2014 New England Patriots — coming Week 8

Team1996 Packers2014 Patriots
Record13-312-4
Super BowlDef. New England Patriots 35-21Def. Seattle Seahawks
SB MVPDesmond HowardTom Brady

(27) 1990 New York Giants vs. (38) 2019 Kansas City Chiefs — coming Week 8

Team1990 Giants2019 Chiefs
Record13-312-4
Super BowlDef. Buffalo Bills 2019Def. San Francisco 49ers 31-20
SB MVPOttis AndersonPatrick Mahomes

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference; Contract info courtesy of Spotrac

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