With two more wins, every member of the Detroit Lions would see their lives change forever.
There's no better story in the NFL playoffs than the Lions being one game from a Super Bowl. Detroit had only been to the conference championship round once before. If the Lions can beat the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game on Sunday, their story will grow even larger. And half of Michigan might book flights to Las Vegas for Super Bowl weekend.
Allow yourself to imagine what a Lions title would mean to that fan base, which has endured a lifetime of losing and jokes about it. There wouldn't be enough room for all of the new statues outside of Ford Field. Everyone in the organization would become an instant legend.
It's not like the other three teams still alive in the playoffs don't have a lot on the line too. The 49ers haven't won a Super Bowl since the 1994 season. The Baltimore Ravens beat the 49ers for their last championship in the 2012 season, but the only player left from that team is kicker Justin Tucker. The Kansas City Chiefs have won plenty lately, but they're chasing history and a place at the table with the NFL's famous dynasties.
There's pressure on everyone when you get to the conference championship round, but some have more on the line than others. Here are the power rankings for the 10 figures with the most on the line going into the conference championship games:
10. Ravens LB Roquan Smith
Smith should be a household name. He has been a first-team All-Pro each of the last two seasons. He's 26 years old and probably the premier inside linebacker in the NFL. That used to be a glory position. The days of Dick Butkus, Jack Lambert and Mike Singletary being among the biggest stars in the NFL might have passed, but Smith should still have a higher stature in the NFL. The way he can boost his name to a star level is by following Ray Lewis' footsteps and helping the Ravens win a Super Bowl.
9. Lions DE Aidan Hutchinson
Perhaps the most powerful image of the postseason so far was Hutchinson, a Michigan native, soaking in the scene after the Lions' divisional round win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
— NFL (@NFL) January 21, 2024
Hutchinson went to the University of Michigan, where he almost won a Heisman Trophy, then was the second overall pick to the Lions. He would take a unique place in Lions history if they win a Super Bowl. And he'd also vault into the T.J. Watt/Myles Garrett/Micah Parsons/Maxx Crosby tier of elite edge rushers, if he's not there already.
8. Ravens OC Todd Monken/DC Mike Macdonald (tie)
John Harbaugh is a great head coach. Part of being a great coach is picking great coordinators. Monken's prestige continues to grow. He was a big part of Georgia's back-to-back national title teams as offensive coordinator, and following that up with a Super Bowl ring would be impressive. The 36-year-old Macdonald is getting a lot of attention on the head-coaching carousel after his work with a fantastic Ravens defense. Both coordinators would get a ton of credit if the Ravens win a title.
7. 49ers RB Christian McCaffrey
McCaffrey is a top-10 running back in NFL history. That sounds weird, right? McCaffrey doesn't have that argument right now, but with a Super Bowl title he'd jump up into the conversation. McCaffrey has had four seasons with at least 1,880 yards from scrimmage. He has had four seasons with at least 13 touchdowns from scrimmage. LaDainian Tomlinson, who will show up on most top-10 running back lists, had four and six of those seasons, respectively. Marshall Faulk, another consensus all-time great, reached 1,880 yards in a season four times and 13 touchdowns three times. We're about to have a serious conversation about where McCaffrey ranks on the all-time list if he is the key part of a Super Bowl championship 49ers team. And he's going to rank higher than you think.
6. Lions head coach Dan Campbell
Campbell is already becoming a legend among Lions fans. His approach and personality fits the fan base perfectly. With a Super Bowl win, he'd be among the biggest figures in Michigan sports history. And his stature around the league would grow as well. Super Bowl wins take coaches to a new level, and taking the Lions to a Super Bowl win would be something that has seemed inconceivable at times through that franchise's history. It's hard to imagine anyone in Lions history being more popular than Barry Sanders, but Campbell might come close if he is the one to get the Lions to the top of the NFL.
5. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
We should already be having the conversation about Mahomes' place in history, even though he's just 28 years old. With every Super Bowl, Mahomes goes up the list of all-time greats. He has two titles already and three total Super Bowl appearances. Only four quarterbacks have at least three Super Bowl wins (Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman). It seemed impossible that anyone could catch Brady's record of seven Super Bowl rings, but Mahomes has a chance. To get to seven, he can't let many opportunities pass.
4. 49ers QB Brock Purdy
In 2013, Joe Flacco won a Super Bowl and the Ravens signed him to a six-year, $120.6 million deal. If Flacco's desperation pass to Jacoby Jones in the divisional round that year is knocked away and Baltimore loses in Denver, does Flacco get almost $121 million? Nope. Super Bowl wins change everything, particularly for quarterbacks. Purdy might get paid well no matter if the 49ers win a Super Bowl, because he's a great fit for Kyle Shanahan's offense. But Purdy's bank account, and his reputation, would grow with a title. Purdy will always have detractors who believe he's a late-round pick who got lucky to fall into a good situation, but he won't care if he's in the middle of a Super Bowl parade.
3. Lions QB Jared Goff
There's a reason so many people on this list are quarterbacks and coaches. Receivers and cornerbacks don't get solely judged by Super Bowls like coaches and QBs do. It's a bit misguided that a quarterback's legacy is weighted so heavily on whether he's won a Super Bowl, but that's not changing. And now we get to Goff. What's your opinion of Goff right now? Probably as a somewhat disappointing No. 1 overall draft pick. That won't be what people remember about Goff if he leads the Lions to their first Super Bowl title. It would also boost the accomplishment of leading the Rams to an NFC title five years ago and push Goff's reputation to a different level. A lot of this is illogical. But it's also accurate. Goff goes from a mostly forgettable middle-of-the-road quarterback to a level of immortality if he leads Detroit to a championship.
2. Ravens QB Lamar Jackson
Nobody should be questioning Jackson anymore. He's great. He will win his second MVP soon, and the list of players with multiple MVPs is a list of NFL legends. But the one thing Jackson's few detractors can hold onto is a lack of success in the postseason. Before this postseason, the Ravens were just 1-3 in Jackson's playoff starts, and he hadn't played well in the losses. He was great in the divisional round win over the Texans. But a loss in the AFC title game or even the Super Bowl will bring up the tired storyline that Jackson is incapable of winning a championship. There's only one way to end that for good.
1. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan
Shanahan is considered a brilliant coach with one big problem. Three, actually. He was offensive coordinator of the 2016 Atlanta Falcons when they blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl, and was head coach of the 49ers when they blew a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead in the Super Bowl four years ago and when they blew a 17-7 lead in the NFC championship game two years ago. Until he wins a Super Bowl, those playoff failures will get brought up every time the 49ers come up short. But one Super Bowl title would validate all of the impressive accomplishments on Shanahan's résumé. It's hard to choose between Shanahan and Lamar Jackson for whose legacy will change the most with two more wins this postseason, but we'll go with Shanahan by the smallest of margins.