With Conference Champions weekend grabbing most of the attention in the NFL and American sports for the next few days, it’s a good opportunity to go over the teams that have made the most trips to this stage over the last 26 years, which includes 3 teams that will play this year too: The Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Why 1990, by the way? Well, in 1990 the NFL playoffs moved to a 12-team system, with two Wild Card teams. The league has changed since then with more expansion and the most recent realignment coming in 2002, but what matters here is the postseason system, not the road to making the playoffs.
One thing worth mentioning before we kick off the list: There are three teams that haven’t made a conference title game in the current playoff system. The Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans. Both the Bengals and Texans have made the postseason regularly over the last few years, but the Texans never get far, the Bengals haven’t won a postseason game since 1990, and the Browns have been terrible for over a decade.
Indianapolis Colts: 5
The Colts have made the conference title game in the 1995, 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2014 seasons. Jim Harbaugh was there in the 1990’s when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The next three appearances were with Peyton Manning at quarterback, including two trips to the Super Bowl. Their most recent appearance in the conference title game was with Andrew Luck, in the famous “deflategate” game, losing 45-7 to the New England Patriots.
Philadelphia Eagles: 5
All five NFC championship game appearances for the Eagles came within 8 seasons, all with Donovan McNabb at quarterback and Andy Reid on the sidelines. The Eagles made four in a row from 2001 through 2004, only in the fourth time making it through to the Super Bowl (which they lost). In 2008 they made it there again, losing to Arizona and failing to win a playoff game ever since.
Denver Broncos: 6
The Broncos made the conference championship game in 1991, the last playoff game coached by Dan Reeves, losing to the Bills. Next came their two Super Bowl winning seasons with Mike Shanahan and John Elway. They made it back in the 2005 season with Jake Plummer at quarterback, but lost at home to the Steelers. The Broncos made two more AFC title games with Peyton Manning, twice beating the New England Patriots. One of the times it also ended with a Super Bowl.
Green Bay Packers: 7
Two time Super Bowl champions since 1990, the Packers made the NFC title game from 1995 through 1997, twice making it to the Super Bowl, winning it once. They waited 10 years to get back there again, losing to the New York Giants in overtime, which was Brett Favre’s finale with the team. In 2010 they won the Super Bowl and went through the Chicago Bears in the conference championship game, lost to the Seahawks in Seattle four years later, and are back in the NFC championship game to play the Falcons this year.
San Francisco 49ers: 8
The 49ers Conference Championship appearances are split into two eras. The 1990’s, which began with Joe Montana and the title in 1990, followed by Steve Young and three consecutive duels with the Dallas Cowboys (1992-1994), and another appearance in 1997 against Favre and the Packers. It took the 49ers 14 years to get back there, as Jim Harbaugh took the Niners to 3 consecutive NFC title games, one of them turning into a Super Bowl appearance which the team lost.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 9
The team with the most Super Bowl titles in NFL history added a couple of them since 1990. During the 90’s they made the conference championship game 3 times in 4 years, only once making it to the Super Bowl (and losing). From 2001 to 2010 they went there five more times, including Super Bowl championship runs in 2005 and 2008, and the final appearance in 2010: Beating the Jets to reach the Green Bay Packers in the SB and lose to them.
New England Patriots: 12
The Patriots went through four coaches since 1990 until getting to Bill Belichick. Only once before Belichick did they make the conference championship game, back in 1996 when Bill Parcells was their coach. They went to the Super Bowl and lost to the Green Bay Packers. Belichick has the other 11 appearances to his name, all that in 17 seasons. The Patriots are now in the AFC title game for the 6th straight season, hoping to make it their 7th Super Bowl appearance in the Belichick-Brady era.