Best Conference Championship Games

January 25, 2024

There is so much hype built around Super Bowl Sunday each that sometimes the game is lost in the shuffle. Conference Championship Sunday features double the action and fewer glitz and glamour. It’s the reason it is actually my favorite football day of the year!

As a Bengals’ fan the Freezer Bowl in the 1981 AFC Championship and the 1988 game will amongst my most memorable, but bias aside these games were actually the best over the last 40 plus years…

2021 AFC Championship Game
Bengals 27, Chiefs 24

After trailing 21-3 late in the 2Q, the Bengals scored 21 unanswered points and came back to beat the Chiefs in Kansas City to earn the team’s third-ever trip to the Super Bowl. The Chiefs scored touchdowns on each of their first three possessions and things were looking grim for the Joe Burrow led Bengals. However, the defense came up with a big goal line stand just before the half and stymied Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered KC offense much of the second half, holding them to just three points. The 18-point comeback by Cincinnati tied Indianapolis (vs. New England in 2006) for the largest in AFC championship history.

1981 NFC Championship Game
49ers 28, Cowboys 27
In a game that would begin one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the game, Joe Montana and Dwight Clark connected on “The Catch” to give the 49ers’ lead late in the game. Danny White and the Cowboys would try to answer the call, but a key fumble by the San Fran defense would seal the deal and send the 49ers the Super Bowl XVI, their first-ever trip to the big game.

1986 AFC Championship Game
Broncos 23, Browns 20 (OT)
Just when it appeared that the Browns had finally earned a Super Bowl berth, John Elway drove Denver 98 yards in 15 plays to tie the game at 20-20 as time ran out in regulation. The Broncos’ D held in overtime before Elway came back out on the field and got his team in field goal range as they prevailed.

1990 NFC Championship Game
Giants 15, 49ers 14
Backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler did just enough with the help of the Giants’ D, which knocked Joe Montana out of the game, to take down the 49ers behind five Matt Bahr field goals. The seven-point underdogs ended San Francisco’s bid for a three-peat.

1994 AFC Championship Game
Chargers 17, Steelers 13
San Diego quarterback Stan Humphries rallied the Chargers from a 13-3 deficit with a pair of second-half TD passes and his defense came up with a huge stop on 4th-and-goal from the three, knocking down a Neil O’Donnell pass as San Diego earned its first and only Super Bowl berth by picking up a huge road win.

1995 AFC Championship Game
Steelers 20, Colts 16
For the second straight season the Steelers got all they could handle at Three Rivers as Jim Harbaugh led the Colts to a 16-13 fourth-quarter lead. Unlike the previous season though Neil O’Donnell would help Pittsburgh answer and Bam Morris punched in the go-ahead score with just minutes left in the game.

1998 NFC Championship Game
Falcons 30, Vikings 27 (OT)
The two teams combined for a 34-3 record during the ’98 season and their meeting in the Metrodome lived up to the hype. Minnesota built an early lead, but the Falcons rallied. Gary Anderson, who had hit 38-of-38 field goals leading up to a potential game-winning kick, missed as 38-yarder leaving the door open for Chris Chandler to set up Morten Anderson for a game-winning boot in overtime.

1999 NFC Championship Game
Rams 11, Bucs 6
The “Greatest Show on Turf” put up big points all season long behind quarterback Kurt Warner. However, they would run into Tony Dungy and his stingy Bucs’ defense led by Warren Sapp. Despite being limited to a late touchdown it would be the Rams’ defense that would do the job in punching the team’s Super Bowl ticket.

2006 AFC Championship Game
Colts 38, Patriots 34
Down 21-3 Peyton Manning finally dispelled critics that he couldn’t win the big-game by leading the Colts on three straight touchdown drives and then capped it off with a game-winning drive which he took the Colts down the field 80 yards in seven plays.

2007 NFC Championship Game
Giants 23, Packers 20 (OT)
The underdog Giants led by Eli Manning went into Lambeau Field and knocked off the Packers in what turned out to be Brett Favre’s last game in a Packers uniform. Ironically, it was a Favre interception on the second-play of the extra frame that set up Lawrence Tynes for the game-winning field goal in overtime.

2009 NFC Championship Game
Saints 31, Vikings 28 (OT)
Drew Brees and Brett Favre dueled off in an offensive thriller in game that featured four different ties. However, Favre was intercepted towards the end of regulation with Minnesota in field goal range which led to overtime. The Saints won the toss and Brees put them in field goal range.

2015 AFC Championship Game
Broncos 20, Patriots 18
It’s was the final meeting ever between old foes, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Manning, far removed from his peak, threw for a pair of touchdowns early on as the Broncos held off New England to advance. Denver would go on to win Super Bowl 50 over the Panthers behind a stellar defense in Manning’s final game.

2018 AFC Championship Game
Patriots 37, Chiefs 31 OT
Tom Brady and the Patriots punched their third straight ticket to the Super Bowl by winning in a shootout vs. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs on the road. Brady led the Pats on a 65-yard TD drive to take a the lead with 0;39 to play after a 4-yard TD pass to Rex Burkhead. However, that was still enough time for Mahomes to get KC in field goal range and Harrison Butker hit the 39-yard field goal to force overtime. Mahomes would never touch the ball in the extra frame as New England won the toss and Brady led them down 75 yards for another TD pass to Rex Burkhead to seal the deal.

 Let me know which game you remember most. Hit me up on Twitter @DanClasgens


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