-NFC era .
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1977 AFC championship: Raiders at Broncos
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Making their first playoff appearance, the Broncos ended the John Madden-Ken Stabler playoff run after two touchdowns from top receiver Haven Moses. Following his 74-yarder to start the game, the veteran wideout’s 12-yard TD gave Denver a 10-point lead in a 20-17 win. The rivalry rubber match did feature one of the most controversial officiating decisions in playoff history. Officials ruled Broncos running back Rob Lytle’s forward progress had stopped, negating a clear goal-line Raiders fumble recovery in the third quarter. That swing led to a Denver touchdown and keyed an uphill Oakland climb. Madden retired after the 1978 season.
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1980 AFC championship: Raiders at Chargers
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The high-flying Chargers played two games with names in the early 1980s — the “Epic in Miami” and the “Freezer Bowl” — but Dan Fouts’ squad wasted a No. 1 seed for the second straight season. This game — a 34-27 Raiders win — doubled as a microcosm of the Air Coryell era, with bad luck and the usual bad defense dooming the Bolts. After a tipped pass that turned into a 65-yard touchdown from tight end Raymond Chester, the Raiders took a 28-7 lead. The Bolts could not rally back, though Chuck Muncie’s third-quarter TD pulled them to within 28-24. Stickum hound Lester Hayes also notched his season’s 17th INT to help the Raiders become the first wild-card Super Bowl champ.
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2008 AFC championship: Ravens at Steelers
Aaron Josefczyk / Icon Sportswire
Like 2022, the January 2009 divisional-round weekend saw three favorites lose. The Steelers were the only home team to survive, and they met an AFC North rival to ignite a hotly contested period between the franchises. The biggest game in the NFL’s last physical rivalry included, predictably, plenty of defensive muscle. Troy Polamalu not only dialed up his over-the-top line-of-scrimmage leap to stop Joe Flacco on a fourth-and-1, preceding a slick Santonio Holmes catch-and-run score. Although the Ravens kept this matchup close, Polamalu weaving his way to a game-sealing pick-six downed the wild-card entrant in a 23-14 AFC finale.
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2011 AFC championship: Ravens at Patriots
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Baltimore let New England off the hook here, allowing the worst defense of Bill Belichick’s Patriots tenure to reach a Super Bowl. After a Ravens defensive stop allowed for a final-minute possession, Flacco drove the visitors into the red zone. An all-time undoing commenced, with Lee Evans losing control of a TD reception and Billy Cundiff missing a 32-yard game-tying field goal. This 23-20 Pats win featured two Tom Brady INTs and Julian Edelman getting slot corner reps on Baltimore’s last drive. Pats injurer Bernard Pollard’s tackle on Rob Gronkowski also left the young star limited for that Super Bowl XLVI tilt. The Ravens won the teams’ AFC title rematch a year later.
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1979 AFC championship: Oilers at Steelers
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The blown call that denied Mike Renfro a game-tying touchdown late in the third quarter sank the Oilers in their second straight AFC title game loss in Pittsburgh, this one a 27-13 Steelers win. Dialing up a shutdown performance against MVP Earl Campbell (17 carries, 15 yards) on an icy day, the Steel Curtain also forced three Oiler turnovers. The last of those, a Donnie Shell hit on Guido Merkens that forced a fumble to end a would-be game-tying Houston drive, preserved Pittsburgh’s fourth AFC title of the decade. Though the Oilers never reached another conference final, the Renfro controversy did help greenlight instant replay years later.
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1994 AFC championship: Chargers at Steelers
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Nine-point favorites entering their first AFC title game since 1984, the Steelers faced a Bolts team previously 1-6 in AFL or AFC championship games. A stacked Pittsburgh defense received a 349-yard Neil O’Donnell passing day in support, but the Steelers blew a 10-point second-half lead in a 17-13 upset that led to the Chargers’ only Super Bowl berth. Stan Humphries threw two 43-yard touchdown passes in the second half — to Alfred Pupunu and deep threat Tony Martin — and a Dennis Gibson goal-line pass breakup thwarted a Steelers go-ahead drive. Of course, the Bolts earned the right to face a stacked 49ers team, which promptly thrashed the AFC champs.
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1987 NFC championship: Minnesota at Washington
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Nearly missing the playoffs at 8-7, a mark their 0-3 replacement players’ record contributed to, the underdog Vikes nevertheless upset the 13-2 49ers to reach this round. But the visitors experienced red zone issues in Washington and lost a 17-10 game overshadowed by the ensuing AFC title tilt. Washington sacked Minnesota QB Wade Wilson eight times, but he outplayed Doug Williams, who went 9-for-26. Williams’ 7-yard TD pass to Gary Clark gave Washington a late lead, and the eventual champs won after a Darrin Nelson goal-line drop sealed a second drive in which the Vikes scored no points after reaching the 5-yard line.
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2017 AFC championship: Jaguars at Patriots
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After the Jaguars upset the Steelers, they entered Foxborough as 7.5-point underdogs. The Patriots were fortunate to escape this surprise team, which rebounded from a 3-13 2016 season. The Jags held a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, on the strength of a quality first half from Blake Bortles, and should have been up 17 had the officials not incorrectly ruled Myles Jack down after his pivotal fumble recovery. As he is wont to do, Tom Brady capitalized on this break and engineered a 24-20 comeback win. With Rob Gronkowski concussed midgame, Brady found Danny Amendola for two scores to close out the pesky underdog.
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1999 NFC championship: Buccaneers at Rams
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A collision between one of the best offenses in NFL history and the guts of a future Super Bowl champion defense veered toward the Bucs’ style. Tampa Bay intercepted MVP Kurt Warner thrice but could not score a touchdown, leaving the door open for St. Louis to capture an 11-6 win. Ricky Proehl battled blanket coverage for a 30-yard, go-ahead TD late in the fourth quarter, capping the Rams WR3’s 100-yard day, but the Bucs’ ensuing effort is the other play remembered from this game. A replay review deemed an apparent Bert Emanuel reception incomplete, setting up two decades of “What is a catch?” arguments, to help the Rams hang on.
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1995 AFC championship: Colts at Steelers
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This game is known for a Jim Harbaugh Hail Mary attempt that required clutch officiating — during a period without instant replay — to send the right team to Super Bowl XXX. Harbaugh’s lob caromed off Aaron Bailey’s hands to the Three Rivers Stadium turf for a split second, allowing the Steelers to fend off the 9-7 Colts in a 20-16 win. (Of course, officials also missed Kordell Stewart stepping out of bounds before a prior TD catch.) After upsetting the top-seeded Chiefs, a Colts team missing Marshall Faulk held a late lead on Floyd Turner’s TD grab. Bam Morris’ 1-yard run ended the Steelers’ game-winning drive, sending them to their first Super Bowl in 16 years.
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1992 NFC championship: Cowboys at 49ers
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One of the great rivalry stretches in NFL history produced three straight NFC title games; none of them ended with a single-digit margin. The first was the series’ most competitive matchup, but the 49ers’ four turnovers harpooned their chances in a 30-20 Cowboys win. A leaping Alvin Harper grab to set up one Cowboys score, and his pivotal catch-and-run late in the game staved off the 49ers’ final comeback bid. Emmitt Smith totaled 173 scrimmage yards, with his 16-yard TD catch giving Dallas a 24-13 fourth-quarter lead. The Cowboys won this decade-defining playoff series 2-1, with the Bills also not up to the task of derailing them.
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2008 NFC championship: Eagles at Cardinals
Brian Garfinkel / Icon Sportswire
The only NFC championship game to stop through Arizona delivered fireworks, with Larry Fitzgerald and DeSean Jackson each scoring 62-yard touchdowns. The Cardinals, who had lost by nearly 30 in Philadelphia barely a month earlier, survived a challenge from the Eagles in a 32-25 shootout. Fitzgerald’s historic postseason included three first-half TDs in this game, but Donovan McNabb — in the last of his five NFC title games in the 2000s — led an 18-point comeback that ended with Jackson’s circus-catch TD. A Kurt Warner-to-Tim Hightower screen pass allowed Arizona to recapture the lead and advance to its first Super Bowl.
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2012 NFC championship: 49ers at Falcons
Jeff Lewis / Icon Sportswire
Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers landed in some memorable conference championships. This is the one that went their way. It took a 17-point comeback to beat the NFC’s top seed. The 49ers overcame a monster Julio Jones game (11 catches, 182 yards, two TDs) to win, 28-24, and advance to their first Super Bowl in 18 years. Frank Gore’s back-to-back TD runs put the Falcons behind for the first time, but Matt Ryan orchestrated a methodical drive that reached the 49ers’ 10-yard line. A fourth-down throw to Roddy White fell incomplete, and NaVorro Bowman’s contact on the Atlanta receiver went uncalled to essentially end the game. The 49ers were done in by a controversial no-call two weeks later.
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2013 NFC championship: 49ers at Seahawks
JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO / MediaNews Group / Bay Area News via Getty Images
The Seahawks erased a 10-point 49ers lead to take a six-point advantage, and their closeout effort set up a memorable stretch of NFC West football. Richard Sherman’s tip to Malcolm Smith denied the 49ers a chance at a game-winning TD, giving the Seahawks a 23-17 win and a bridge to a Super Bowl XLVIII romp. Colin Kaepernick delivered one of the great TD passes in playoff history — a jump-toss to Anquan Boldin — but also committed three fourth-quarter turnovers. Russell Wilson matched his rival with a 35-yard fourth-down TD pass to Jermaine Kearse. This ended an era for the 49ers and began an eventful Seahawks stay at the NFC mountaintop.
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2018 NFC championship: Rams at Saints
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One event in this game obscured an elite kicker performance. Greg Zuerlein hit a 48-yard game-tying field goal to produce overtime and then sent the Rams to Super Bowl LIII on a 57-yarder. But…the most consequential pass interference in modern NFL history occurred, almost certainly sending the wrong team to that Super Bowl. Nickell Robey-Coleman’s uncalled DPI on Tommylee Lewis denied the Saints a chance to milk the clock and kick a game-ending short field goal. Drew Brees’ overtime INT set up Zuerlein’s final make in a 26-23 Rams win. Twelve years into the current OT format, toss winners are 10-1 in the playoffs. These Saints are the “1,” though no investigations covered that ground.
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2009 NFC championship: Vikings at Saints
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The signature win in the Superdome’s history involved five Vikings turnovers, a spree that concluded with the oft-replayed Tracy Porter interception of bounty target Brett Favre. A Vikings team that had seen Favre change its fortunes after a late-summer signing still forced overtime, but the Saints capitalized on the NFL’s even shakier overtime rule at the time by kicking an opening-drive field goal to win 31-28. The teams traded TDs until OT, with Adrian Peterson and Pierre Thomas combining for four. This was the last playoff overtime game to be decided on a first-drive field goal, with the NFL introducing the current rule the following year.
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2015 AFC championship: Patriots at Broncos
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Home underdogs, these Broncos used this game as a springboard toward defensive immortality. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware hounded Tom Brady throughout, but Denver’s limited offense narrowly escaped in a 20-18 win. Brady’s 17th and final duel with Peyton Manning came with the latter in a steep decline, but he connected on two early TD passes to Owen Daniels to give the Broncos a lead they did not surrender. Miller and Ware combined for three sacks, 11 QB hits, and an INT. After two fourth-down stops, the Broncos needed a two-point conversion denial to hold off Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Bradley Roby’s INT propelled Denver’s defense to its Super Bowl 50 coronation.
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1983 NFC championship: San Francisco at Washington
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Some long-debated 49ers defensive penalties allowed Mark Moseley a redemption opportunity, one that freed Washington’s kicker from playoff infamy. Moseley, the 1982 strike-shortened season’s MVP, missed four field goals in the defending champions’ bid to reach Super Bowl XVIII. Amid the inaccuracy montage, Joe Montana orchestrated a three-touchdown comeback to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Iffy pass interference and holding flags on Eric Wright and Ronnie Lott, respectively, set up Moseley’s 25-yard try that gave Washington a 24-21 win. Moseley saving face denied the 49ers a chance to expand their Super Bowl dossier.
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2011 NFC championship: Giants at 49ers
Jeff Lewis / Icon Sportswire
Kyle Williams’ two fumbles overshadow this game, and other Eli Manning-era playoff upsets receive more attention. But this matchup offered throwback appeal. The Vic Fangio-coordinated 49ers’ defense cemented its breakout, and the Giants’ NASCAR package revved up for its Super Bowl bid. The 49ers posted six sacks and 12 QB hits but could not force a turnover despite 58 Manning passes; the Giants held the 49ers without a third-down conversion in regulation. The teams traded defensive stops late in this physical, rain-soaked contest, but Williams’ second fumble — after a second 49ers OT stop — gave the Giants field goal real estate in the visitors’ 20-17 win.
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1990 NFC championship: Giants at 49ers
George Rose / Getty Images
Two sequences in this game ended one of the great runs in NFL history. Leonard Marshall’s blindside hit on Montana knocked the two-time reigning MVP out of the game in the fourth quarter. Due to future injuries, Montana never started another meaningful 49ers game. Matt Bahr’s fifth field goal gave Bill Parcells’ team a 15-13 win, ending the 49ers’ three-peat odyssey. Eight-point favorites, the 49ers scored the game’s only TD — a 61-yard John Taylor catch-and-run — but saw a late Roger Craig fumble prevent them from salting away a win. This marked the Giants’ third straight playoff victory over the 49ers and catapulted them to their second Super Bowl triumph.
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2018 AFC championship: Patriots at Chiefs
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The first glimpse of Patrick Mahomes’ playoff powers showed up in a Chiefs loss. After the Patriots shut out the insta-explosive (thanks to Mahomes replacing Alex Smith that season) Chiefs in the first half, the No. 1 seed quickly erased the two-score deficit. The Pats took a three-point lead with 39 seconds left, but Mahomes — in a precursor to his 2022 Bills heroics — motored downfield in three plays to set up a game-tying field goal. This 38-31 Pats win is still remembered for Dee Ford’s crushing neutral-zone alignment. No athlete makes teams pay for errors like Tom Brady, and the Pats outscored the Chiefs 14-3 after seeing that penalty negate a season-ending INT.
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2007 NFC championship: Giants at Packers
Sporting News / ZUMA Press / Icon SM
One of the coldest games in NFL history (minus-23-degree wind chill) furthered Eli Manning’s Hall of Fame case, which is based heavily on playoff dominance. The Packers could not cover Plaxico Burress, who caught 11 passes for 151 yards and could not vanquish a Giants team riding momentum from its toe-to-toe Week 17 matchup with the unbeaten Patriots. Despite Lawrence Tynes’ two missed field goals, a near-frostbitten Tom Coughlin OK’d a 47-yard overtime try. This is probably the worst of Brett Favre’s collection of overtime INTs, with his toss right at Giants corner Corey Webster leading to the 7.5-point favorites’ 23-20 loss.
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2014 NFC championship: Packers at Seahawks
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On the growing list of Aaron Rodgers playoff near-misses, this one is tough to beat. Russell Wilson’s four INTs helped keep the Seahawks off the board until late in the third quarter. A punter-to-O-lineman fake field goal and a backup Packer tight end’s dropped onside kick somehow slid Green Bay from being up 16 to down three in the final regulation minute of this 28-22 Seattle overtime win. Mike McCarthy’s refusal to let Rodgers throw on a key fourth-quarter drive burned him, with the Packers soon needing the MVP to drag them to a game-tying field goal. Wilson’s dime to Jermaine Kearse sent Seattle back to the Super Bowl, denying the NFL its best chance at a Rodgers-Brady finale.
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2006 AFC championship: Patriots at Colts
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The second of four Brady-Manning AFC deciders turned the tide in the rivalry, with the Colts QB winning the final three playoff meetings after the Patriots controlled the series early. This win required Indianapolis erasing an 18-point first-half deficit. Linemen Dan Klecko and Jeff Saturday two Colts first two touchdowns, but a late Stephen Gostkowski field goal forced Manning into a do-or-die drive. Edgerrin James replacement Joseph Addai’s TD ended up securing Manning his first Super Bowl berth, via a 38-34 win, and the Patriots would not represent the same kind of deterrent for the all-time great going forward.
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1986 AFC championship: Broncos at Browns
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Trailing Joe Montana and Dan Marino by a healthy recognition margin at this point, John Elway rocketed onto the top tier in one afternoon. Other notable plays happened before Brian Brennan beat Dennis Smith on a go-ahead Browns fourth-quarter touchdown, but the visitors’ Elway-directed 98-yard drive — quickly attaining “The” status, an unfortunate Cleveland theme — buries everything else here. Rookie Mark Jackson converted a third-and-18 and caught Elway’s overtime-forcing 5-yard TD in Denver’s 23-20 win. The Broncos’ 59-yard OT march, culminating in a long-debated Rich Karlis field goal, came after the Browns won the toss and punted.
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1998 NFC championship: Falcons at Vikings
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This game brought enough to the table to fire up late-career Pat Summerall. The Falcons’ final-minute, game-tying touchdown — a Chris Chandler rocket to Terance Mathis — prompted the stoic play-by-play man to suggest a two-point conversion try (rare 1999 dialogue). Eleven-point underdogs, the Falcons completed the biggest upset in championship-round history — a 30-27 overtime conquest — and saw ace Vikings kicker Gary Anderson provide the opportunity. A key part of a record-setting scoring attack, Anderson missed a 38-yard field goal — his first missed kick in his past 123 tries — that would have clinched a Minnesota win. Chandler’s OT drive led to Morten Andersen’s game-winner.
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1987 AFC championship: Browns at Broncos
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The Cleveland-Denver rematch produced an even crueler Browns result but a slightly superior game. The Browns rallied back from an 18-point second-half deficit, riding Earnest Byner’s 187 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns to forge a fourth-quarter tie. Elway and Bernie Kosar combined for 637 passing yards and six TDs, with the 1987 MVP needing only three plays to take the Broncos 77 yards on what became a game-winning drive — which Sammy Winder’s 20-yard catch-and-run wrapped. Byner’s infamous red zone fumble created another “The” label for the Browns, 38-33 losers, but this is as good as it gets for conference championship drama.
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1981 NFC championship: Cowboys at 49ers
George Gojkovich / Getty Images
This game’s nine turnovers go overlooked, and the 49ers contributed six of those. But this dynastic intersection overcomes the brigade of miscues. Aiming to keep their dynasty going post-Roger Staubach, the Cowboys took a six-point lead on a Danny White-to-Doug Cosbie 21-yard TD. They left the next NFC power more than five minutes. Bill Walsh turning to the run to start the famed 83-yard drive vexed a Dallas team prepared for Joe Montana strikes, but the 49er icon hit Freddie Solomon on a deep crosser before “The Catch.” After Dwight Clark’s revered leap gave the 49ers a 28-27 lead, cornerback Eric Wright prevented White from editing NFL lore, horse-collaring (decades before that was a problem) Drew Pearson to stop what would have been an epic Cowboys retaliatory strike.
Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo. – based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals & Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @ SRobinson25 .