2023 NFL playoffs: Ranking four potential Super Bowl LVII matchups, including Bengals vs. 49ers rematch

Two rounds of 2023 NFL playoff football are in the books, and we’re officially down to four teams left in the race for the next Lombardi Trophy. Fourteen contenders opened the postseason with hopes of basking in the confetti, but after this weekend’s action, where the Chiefs edged the Jaguars, the Eagles stomped the Giants, the Bengals routed the Bills and the 49ers survived the Cowboys, only two games remain until Super Bowl LVII.

That means there are just four possible Super Bowl matchups on the table. Here’s how we’d rank them:

4. Chiefs vs. 49ers

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We just saw this one in 2019, when Patrick Mahomes won his first ring at age 24. But a lot has also changed since then: Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers QB at the time, is now sidelined in favor of Brock Purdy, although there’s a chance Jimmy G himself could be recovered from injury to serve as Purdy’s backup in this year’s big game.

The revenge factor is the driving force here, with Kyle Shanahan surely eager to offset his 31-20 defeat in Super Bowl LIV. But there are plenty of other storylines as well: Purdy’s chance to edge the NFL’s best QB on the biggest stage as “Mr. Irrelevant,” Nick Bosa’s opportunity to disrupt Andy Reid’s offense like the Buccaneers did in the 2020 title game, the Travis Kelce -George Kittle tight end battle.

3. Bengals vs. Eagles

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If your chief priority is collective QB swagger, then vault this one to the top. There are perhaps no two signal-callers with more natural, steely charisma than Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts, who each boast championship experience from their prime-time college days at LSU and Alabama, respectively.

Cincinnati would be eyeing its first Lombardi Trophy against a franchise that just got its first ring five years ago, while the combined star power at wide receiver — Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins for the Bengals, AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith for the Eagles — might be worth the watch alone. All in all, these teams have both been incredibly balanced and particularly clutch throughout the season, likely guaranteeing a battle to the buzzer.

2. Bengals vs. 49ers

Brock Purdy

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This one’s for the history buffs — a beautiful clash of old-school franchises featuring new-school talent. Not only would this be a rematch of both Super Bowl XVI (1981) and XXIII (1988), when the Joe Montana-led 49ers beat Cincy both times, but barring injury, it’d likely mean either Joe Burrow, in just his third NFL season; or Brock Purdy, San Francisco’s improbable rookie QB, would go out on top.

Burrow has survived banged-up offensive lines before, but his vision and quick release would be up for a real challenge against DeMeco Ryans’ ferocious front, looking to avenge 2021’s Super Bowl defeat against yet another NFC West opponent on the big stage. From an X’s and O’s standpoint, this might be the most even, well-rounded matchup possible.

1. Chiefs vs. Eagles

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The Super Bowl is all about spectacle: explosive plays, flashy halftime shows, dramatic finishes. And in that regard, there just isn’t a more tantalizing pairing than this one. Yes, it’s predicated on Patrick Mahomes’ ankle holding up well enough for No. 15 to be his freewheeling self. And yes, maybe there’s a touch of Chiefs fatigue developing now that KC has reached the AFC Championship in five straight seasons. But no one ever complains when they actually do watch the Chiefs play football, and when firing on all cylinders, the Eagles have come closest to matching, if not eclipsing, their offensive production this year. The duel between Mahomes and the unshakeable Jalen Hurts would be a sight to behold.

And then there’s the Andy Reid factor, with KC’s coach looking for his second ring against the team with which he built his career. Standing in his way on the opposite sideline: Nick Sirianni, who’d be looking to follow in Doug Pederson’s footsteps as a second-year Super Bowl winner. The last time these two teams met, in 2021, they scored a combined 72 points, and that was before Hurts was an MVP candidate throwing to both AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith. If this one comes to fruition, there will almost assuredly be fireworks.

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