NFL

30 NFL Conference Championship Games That Changed Football Forever

Darren - February 2, 2022
NFL

30 NFL Conference Championship Games That Changed Football Forever

Darren - February 2, 2022

Mandatory Credit: Sports Illustrated

16. Vikings vs. Giants (2000)

Nobody pretends that Kerry Collins was a world-beater. But the Giants QB was a dependable operator with some massive moments. One of these came in the NFC Championship game. Fans will never forget how he threw five touchdowns against the Vikings. This was a nightmarish evening for Minnesota because nothing they did went right (via Sports Illustrated).

Mandatory Credit: Sports Illustrated

New York held them to nine first downs as Collins ran rampant. He was like a gunslinger in the Wild West as he went 28 for 39 in completed passes. In the end, it was a grim 41-0 shutout. Nobody in Minnesota likes to think about this game because it was so one-sided. It also wasn’t much of a spectacle for neutral fans because they want to see a competitive game.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

15. Panthers vs. Eagles (2003)

The Panthers are a franchise without a ton of success. However, their NFC title game victory over the Eagles was a game that fans will never forget. It was another painful experience for Philadelphia fans because their team lost again. This was their third straight NFC Championship game defeat.

Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

Somehow Jake Delhomme and Carolina conjured up a win. The remarkable aspect of this was that they were just two years out from a 1-15 season. In the end, they dominated the Eagles in a tight 14-3 win. Of course, they came undone against the Patriots but this was a great day for the franchise. It also gave Delhomme some of the credibility he earned (via New York Times).

Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

14. Chiefs vs. Bengals (2021)

Cincinnati fans will never forget this game for several reasons. First, they went 30 years without winning a playoff game. Then, they made it to the AFC Championship against Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium. This was already a major challenge because the Chiefs were Super Bowl favorites. Joe Burrow came of age in this outstanding title game (via Vavel).

Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

Then it became even more difficult because the Chiefs soared into an 18-point lead. Nobody gave the Bengals a chance at this point but they didn’t give up. They battled back before the game went to overtime. Next, the Chiefs won the coin toss. The writing appeared to be on the wall after Patrick Mahomes’ heroics against the Bills. But he threw an interception and the Bengals made them pay.

Mandatory Credit: Sports Illustrated

13. Broncos vs. Browns (1987)

It may seem surprising to younger NFL fans but Cleveland had a good team in the eighties. They made back-to-back AFC title game appearances in 1986 and 1987. However, they suffered successive defeats to Denver. They were out for revenge in this match after the previous year’s disappointment. Unfortunately for Cleveland, the Broncos didn’t bow down (via New York Times).

Mandatory Credit: SBNation

Denver led this game for significant chunks but Cleveland didn’t give up.Quarterback Bernie Kosar had an excellent game as he tried to conjure up some magic. Finally, they came within a score of winning the game. It appeared as though they had the game-winning touchdown but Earnest Byner fumbled the ball two yards short of the end zone.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

12. Bears vs. Packers (2011)

Arguably, Chicago is the franchise that has treaded water the longest without an elite quarterback. They faced the Packers in 2011 with Jay Cutler as their starter. Nobody pretends that he was elite but he was the best of a bad bunch. But an injury compromised him and the Bears pulled him in the third quarter. Up stepped third-stringer Caleb Hanie on the biggest stage of his career.

Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

Hanie only threw 14 passes in the NFL before this game. Fortunately, he didn’t let his team down as he went 13-for-20 and almost won his team the game. However, the Bears weren’t able to finish the comeback. In the end, Green Bay had too much in the tank for them. The question is what would have happened if Hanie started the game? (via Bleacher Report)

Mandatory Credit: Denver Post

11. Broncos vs. Steelers (1998)

This was a glorious season for the Broncos where they won the Super Bowl. First, they had to beat Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game. Denver lost to the Steelers during the regular season so they were out for revenge. But they were full of confidence after a victory over the Chiefs in the divisional round. However, they were up against it from the start as they fell behind early.

Mandatory Credit: Denver Post

It didn’t matter because they had Terrell Davis, who rushed for 139 yards. Meanwhile, their defense was like a brick wall as they intercepted Kordell Stewart four times. Finally, John Elway found Shannon Sharpe to end the pain for Denver. The Super Bowl stole its thunder but this was also magnificent (via CBS Sports).

Mandatory Credit: Sports Illustrated

10. Giants vs. 49ers (1990)

The Giants conquered the mighty 49ers in this classic clash. They faced each other in the 1990 NFC Championship game. Watching fans will never forget the way Lawrence Taylor knocked Joe Montana out of the game. We mean this in the most literal sense because ‘Joe Cool’ went unconscious after the brutal hit. The Giants were definitely up for this one.

Mandatory Credit: Sports Illustrated

It was the beginning of the end for the 49ers after a period of dominance (via USA Today). They relied heavily on Matt Bahr’s impressive kicking. He scored some crucial field goals to help the Giants secure the win. Furthermore, it helped them to a Super Bowl clash against their state rivals Buffalo. They were victorious that day too.

Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

9. Patriots vs. Chiefs (2018)

New England inflicted another cruel defeat on an AFC rival in 2018. This time their victims were the Chiefs after a brutal overtime period. Kansas City was the better team throughout this game but they failed to seal the deal. This proved costly because Tom Brady is one of the best clutch players in NFL history. In the end, the quarterback made the difference (via Boston.com).

Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

The game went to overtime and Brady proved to be clinical. It’s usually the case that teams win the game after winning the toss. This one was no different as Brady proved to Patrick Mahomes that he is peerless. Kansas City fans will never forget the agony of this defeat. Fortunately, they rebounded the following season and won their first Super Bowl in 50 years.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

8. Saints vs. Vikings (2009)

Brett Favre was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He helped the Packers to a Super Bowl but he should have had more than one ring. Unfortunately, he choked more often than not and threw crucial interceptions when they counted. A classic example came for the Vikings against the Saints. Favre threw a pair of interceptions and cost his team dearly.

Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

Saints fans remember this game fondly because it helped them to their first Super Bowl. However, it wasn’t all Favre’s fault. That’s because New Orleans deliberately tried to take him out of the game. The Bountygate scandal emerged after this victory and resulted in multiple suspensions. In the end, it was another sickening loss for the Vikings as their Super Bowl misery continued (via The Vikings Gazette).

Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

7. Broncos vs. Browns (1986)

John Elway was responsible for one of the most iconic quarterback plays of the decade in this thriller. The Broncos trailed the Browns in the AFC title game. The clock ticked down as Denver began to run out of time. Finally, with 37 seconds left, they finished a remarkable 98-yard touchdown drive. Suddenly, the two teams were tied(via ESPN).

Mandatory Credit: Bleacher Report

They carried this momentum into overtime as they opted to receive the ball. Then, the Broncos scored a field goal to win the game and earn a Super Bowl place. However, ‘The Drive’ was the real story of this game. It’s a play that is immortalized in NFL history because it’s an example of football at its best. Elway was crucial in this clutch situation because a lesser quarterback may have wilted.

Mandatory Credit: Sports Illustrated

6. Falcons vs. Vikings (1998)

Gary Anderson will never forget this game because of his awful miss. The placekicker maintained a perfect record throughout the regular season. Then he came up against Atlanta in the NFC Championship game. He had the chance to be the hero but instead ensured his place in infamy. It’s a shame because he was a consistent and talented player. But those are the breaks.

Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

Many consider this to be the most heartbreaking field goal, miss, in NFL history. All he had to do was kick the ball over from 38 yards to seal the win for Minnesota. It appeared to be a formality before he hit it wide left. Then, Atlanta dragged the game to overtime. Ironically, their kicker Morten Andersen won them the game. This rubbed salt into Anderson’s wounds (via Yahoo! Sports).

Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

5. Colts vs. Patriots (2006)

Tom Brady has been involved in some classic quarterback duels and usually, he is the winner. The New England Patriots were a clinical winning machine for most of his tenure. However, there were exceptions as this game proves. He met his match in Peyton Manning in the 20006 AFC Championship. This didn’t seem likely because the Pats led 21-3 at one point (via Fansided).

Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

The Colts showed great heart because they rebounded from a pick-six and scored 18 straight points. Finally, the fans had a game that they will never forget. Manning recovered from his earlier mistake and threw multiple touchdowns. Meanwhile, Brady had one of the few major costly blips of his career. An interception ended the game as well as New England’s hope of a Super Bowl appearance.

Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

4. Steelers vs. Colts (1995)

This title game was close throughout its entirety. In the end, it was a harrowing defeat for the Colts after a late Bam Morris touchdown. They tried a Hail Mary in the dying moments but it didn’t pay off. Instead, it was Pittsburgh who won the game and a place in the Super Bowl. It’s also likely that Aaron Bailey will never forget his failed catch.

Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

That moment surely haunts his dreams because the ball slipped through his fingers. If he caught it, Indy would have won the game. Instead, the Steelers held onto a narrow 20-16 victory. Title games are all about fine margins but this took it to the extreme. It was an amazing moment for Steel City but it could have been so different (via 247 Sports).

Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

3. Cowboys vs. 49ers (1992)

Some title games are more significant than others because they represent the start of a dynasty. That was the case in this NFC Championship. America’s Team hadn’t won a Super Bowl since 1977. They were on track to break their duck but they needed to overcome San Francisco first. This wasn’t going to be easy because the 49ers were the best team of the ’80s.

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Fans will never forget this game because it felt like a changing of the guard. Dallas clung desperately to a tight lead when they made a brave call. Some might even call it foolhardy because it could have gone very wrong. But they opted to seal the win instead of holding on. Troy Aikman threw a spectacular game-winning touchdown to Kelvin Martin (via CBS Sports).

Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

2. Seahawks vs. 49ers (2013)

Seattle fell behind early in this game but steadied the ship quickly. Russell Wilson didn’t play brilliantly for the Seahawks but it didn’t matter. Colin Kaepernick couldn’t deal with the 49ers’ defense because they were on top. They forced the Niners’ quarterback into a pair of crucial interceptions. In the end, these proved to be the difference between the two teams (via SBNation).

Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports

Meanwhile, it sealed Seattle’s first Super Bowl appearance since 2005. Fans will never forget this season because they were rampant. After winning the conference title, they crushed Peyton Manning’s Broncos. It’s also a painful memory for San Francisco fans because of the nature of the defeat. However, the Seahawks were too balanced for them to overcome.

Mandatory Credit: Sports Illustrated

1. 49ers vs. Cowboys (1981)

This NFC Championship game was one of the greatest of all time because of ‘The Catch’. It finished 28-27 after a dramatic series of events. The Cowboys took an early lead but couldn’t hold onto it. Joe Montana’s men came roaring back into contention and lit up Candlestick Park. This was a game for the ages because both teams showed a do-or-die attitude (via Sportscasting).

Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

However, in the end, there could only be a single winner. San Francisco fans rejoiced after a Danny White interception. This was a historic moment that they will never forget because it signified their first Super Bowl trip. Then, they became one of the greatest teams of the decade. This was also a major step toward superstardom for Joe Montana.

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