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Best Conference Championship games of all-time

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In sports, sometimes the appetizer is better than the main course, which is why some of the best NFL conference championship games have actually overshadowed the Super Bowl that follows.

Many of the best playoff moments and most entertaining NFL postseason games have come with a place in the Super Bowl on the line rather than in the Super Bowl. It’s not that we prefer things that way, but it did get us thinking about the greatest conference championship games ever played in NFL history.

Best NFL Conference Championship games

Of course, since there are twice as many conference championship games as Super Bowls, it’s in some ways harder to rank the best NFL conference championship games.

In the greatest conference championship games ever, both teams are usually Super Bowl-caliber teams playing a high-level game. It wasn’t easy but here is our list of the best NFL conference championship games in NFL history.

10. Saints 31, Vikings 28 (2009)

This game is memorable for a variety of reasons, First, it helped the NFL to change its overtime rules so that the first team to possess the ball couldn’t win on a field goal.


There were also nine fumbles between the two teams, which isn’t what you would expect from a conference championship game.

There is also Minnesota’s anguish of out-gaining the Saints by over 200 yards but failing to put the Saints away and win the game. Unfortunately for the Vikings, this isn’t the only time they were on the losing end of one of the best NFL conference championship games.

9. Seahawks 23, 49ers 17 (2013)

As we’ll see, nobody does drama quite like the Seahawks.

Seattle went down 10-0 in this game and later trailed 17-10 late in the third quarter. But two field goals and a Russell Wilson touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse helped give the Seahawks the final 13 points of the game.

Naturally, Seattle’s all-world secondary came up big, as Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman both had interceptions to help seal the win, setting up the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl behind their dominating defense.


8. Falcons 30, Vikings 27 (1998)

This is one of the most memorable conference championship games, although for all of the wrong reasons from Minnesota’s perspective.

The Vikings were 11-point favorites at home and had a chance to put the game on ice by taking a 10-point lead. However, Gary Anderson, who hadn’t missed a PAT or field goal all season, missed a field goal. That left the door open for the Falcons to tie the game and kick a field goal in overtime to shock the Vikings.

7. Broncos 37, Browns 33 (1987)

Did the Broncos win this game or did the Browns lose it?

Cleveland was two yards from avenging a devastating loss to Denver in the AFC Championship Game the previous year (more on that later) when Earnest Byner fumbled, allowing the Broncos to preserve their 38-31 lead.

Of course, the Browns also made mistakes early in the game that helped Denver jump out to a 14-0 lead. But Cleveland caught fire in the second half, ultimately tying the game at 31-31. After the Broncos retook the lead 38-31, the Browns responded, only for Byner to fumble two yards shy of the goal line. The Broncos gave Cleveland two free points on a safety but didn’t leave the Browns enough time to overcome all of their mistakes.

6. Giants 23, Packers 20 (2007)

The Wild Card Giants had already won two road games in the playoffs but then had to face freezing temperatures at Lambeau Field in the NFC Championship Game. But the G-Men brought their running game and their defense to Green Bay with them.

After the Packers kicked a late field goal to send the game to overtime, Corey Webster intercepted Brett Favre on the second play of overtime, setting up the game-winning field goal for the Giants, who would go on to beat the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl.

5. Broncos 20, Patriots 18 (2015)

This was the swan song for games between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Of course, while Brady threw for over 300 yards and Manning had two touchdown passes, this was not exactly a quarterback-driven game.

That being said, it did have the drama of one of the best NFL conference championship games ever played.

The Broncos led virtually the entire game but kept needing their historically good defense to keep the Patriots from coming back. Ultimately, it was a missed PAT by Stephen Gostkowski in the first quarter that doomed New England. Brady finally threw his first touchdown pass of the game with 13 seconds left. But because of the missed PAT, the Patriots trailed by two points rather than one.

The game came down to a two-point conversion attempt with the Denver defense getting the stop, sending the Broncos to the Super Bowl and allowing Manning to end his career with a Super Bowl win.

4. Colts 38, Patriots 34 (2006)

Out of every game between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning over the years, this was probably the best.

Manning’s Colts fell behind 21-3 out of the gate, only to get things going in the second half. Of course, it wasn’t that easy because every time Indy went ahead, Brady and the Patriots would respond and jump back ahead.

In the end, Manning led an 80-yard drive late in the fourth quarter with Joseph Addai finishing the drive in the end zone to give the Colts a 38-34 lead. Brady had one more chance but threw an interception, sending the Colts to the Super Bowl.

3. Seahawks 28, Packers 22 (2014)

The Seahawks were reigning Super Bowl champs at the time but found themselves down 16-0 at halftime after looking dreadful during the first 30 minutes.

In fact, Russell Wilson finished the game with four interceptions, which was uncharacteristic of him. But with a little help from Marshawn Lynch and his 157 rushing yards, not to mention a successful onside kick, Wilson led a fourth-quarter comeback, erasing a 19-7 deficit and giving Seattle a 22-19 lead.

However, the Seahawks left Aaron Rodgers enough time to get the Packers downfield for the game-tying field goal, sending one of the greatest conference championship games ever to overtime. In overtime, Wilson threw back-to-back 35-yard passes to Jermaine Kearse, the second one for the game-winning touchdown to send Seattle back to the Super Bowl.

2. 49ers 28, Cowboys 27 (1981)

This is undoubtedly one of the best NFL conference championship games of all time, although most people only recognize it because of one play. That play, of course, was “The Catch” by Dwight Clark.

But outside of Joe Montana’s iconic pass to Clark at the back of the end zone, this game offered so much more.

For starters, there were six lead changes.

Also, the drive that ended with Montana’s pass to Clark went for 89 yards and included big plays made by most members of the San Francisco offense. Finally, people forget that the Cowboys still had time to go downfield for the game-winning field goal. In fact, San Francisco’s Eric Wright had to drag Drew Pearson to the ground by grabbing the inside of his jersey on a touchdown-saving tackle that helped secure the win for the 49ers, and with it, the beginning of a dynasty.

1. Broncos 23, Browns 20 (1986)

This game is best remembered for two words: “The Drive.”

While this was a tight and competitive game the entire way, things got crazy after the Browns took a 20-13 lead in the fourth quarter. The Broncos misplayed the ensuing kickoff and ended up having to start at their own two-yard line.

Of course, that set up one of the most magical and iconic drives in NFL history.

John Elway orchestrated a 15-play, 98-yard drive that ended up with a touchdown catch by Mark Jackson that tied the game with 37 seconds left. The Browns got the ball to start overtime but had to punt. That gave the ball back to Elway, who led a 60-yard drive to set up the game-winning field goal to send the Broncos to the Super Bowl and create one of the best playoff moments in league history.

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