This weekend, NFL fans will be treated to two amazing Conference Championship Games. In the NFC it’s the NFL’s newest rivalry—and currently it’s best—with Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks hosting Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers. Meanwhile, in the AFC, it’s Tom Brady and the New England Patriots vs. Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos—perhaps better known as Brady-Manning XV.
Two great matchups? You bet. Two great rivalries? Absolutely. But are they among the best playoff rivalries in NFL history? No way—or at least, not yet. There’s definitely a lot of potential here. Brady and Manning are both getting old, but if both stay healthy there’s no reason to think we couldn’t see a rematch between the Pats and Broncos next year. Meanwhile, Wilson and Kaepernick look like they’re going to be foes for the next decade, so this could very well be the start of something really special. But this will actually be the first ever playoff meeting between the Niners and Seahawks.
So what are currently the best NFL playoff rivalries? You’re about to find out. Click on those arrows and we’ll get started.
If you want to get really picky, I guess you could say this isn't that great of a rivalry, given that the Colts and Chiefs have now played each other in the playoffs four times, and the Colts have won every time. However, here's what makes this one really noteworthy: with this year's Wild Card loss to Indy, Kansas City has now lost a record seven straight playoff games. And all four of the Colts-Chiefs playoff meetings have come during this span.
The first was in 1995, when the 13-3 Chiefs, who were Super Bowl favorites, lost 10-7 to the 9-7 Colts in the Divisional round. The next two meetings came in 2003 and 2006, and the Colts won 38-31 and 23-8. And, finally, the last meeting was two Sundays ago, when the Chiefs totally choked and let Andrew Luck and company stage the second-biggest comeback in playoff history.
What if these teams meet again next year in the first round and the Colts win again? It would be insane.
So yeah, this is a pretty interesting playoff rivalry.
This year the Patriots and Colts played each other in the playoffs for the fourth time, which is nice. But it's obviously the Brady-Manning matchups that make this one special.
The first meeting of the Brady Patriots and Manning Colts came in 2003, when New England beat Indianapolis 24-14 en route to their second Super Bowl victory in three years.
The second meeting then came the following year. Manning set the new TD record that year, throwing for 49 scores, but the defending Super Bowl champs shut him down in the Divisional round, winning 20-3 on the way to their second straight Super Bowl victory.
Finally, two years later, in the third meeting between the Brady Pats and Manning Colts, Peyton got his revenge. Down 18 points in the second quarter and 15 points at the half, Manning led the Colts to a thrilling comeback and 38-34 win in the AFC Championship Game en route to their Super Bowl victory.
The Steelers and Cowboys have only met in the postseason three times—but of course, all three times were in the Super Bowl.
Their first meeting was in Super Bowl X in 1976, when the "Steel Curtain" won their second straight Super Bowl by beating America's Team 21-17. Then, just three years later, the two teams met again in Super Bowl XIII, and time it was the Cowboys looking to win their second consecutive Super Bowl. However, the result was the same—Pittsburgh won 35-31.
Of course, the Cowboys would finally get their revenge on the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX. Dallas beat Pittsburgh that year 27-17 to win their third title in four years, and fifth overall—surpassing Pittsburgh's total (at the time) of four.
To be honest with you, this one surprised me. The Rams and Cowboys have absolutely no rivalry to speak of today. However, from 1973 to 1985—a span of 13 seasons—they played each other in the playoffs eight times. And that's pretty amazing.
Even more amazing? The players involved in this rivalry. On the Rams side there was Jack Youngblood, Jackie Slater, Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, and Eric Dickerson. On the Cowboys side there was Roger Staubach, Mel Renfro, Bob Lilly, and Tony Dorsett.
So yeah, it seemed like every year this collection of Hall of Famers met up in the playoffs. And the rivalry was evenly matched, too, with four wins for each team. If the Rams had ever won the Super Bowl during this stretch—they made the title game in 1980, but lost 31-19 to the Steelers—this playoff rivalry would rank even higher.
Now the Cowboys-Niners playoff rivalry? That's one that decided some championships.
The first three of the seven playoff matchups between these two storied franchises came back-to-back-to-back in 1971, 1972, and 1973. The Cowboys won all three times, and the second of those victories led the way to a Super Bowl victory over the Dolphins.
Their next meeting didn't come until the NFC Championship Game in 1982. This time, the Niners finally won thanks to a game-winning 89-yard drive that concluded when Joe Mantana threw a little touchdown pass to Dwight Clark with just :58 left on the clock. That play became known as "The Catch." Maybe you've heard of it?
Of course, the Cowboys-Niners playoff rivalry didn't get really good until 10 years after the catch, when the teams met in the NFC Championship Game for three straight years—with the winning team going on to claim the Super Bowl each time. In 1993 and again in 1994, the Cowboys were victorious. However, in 1995 the Niners and Steve Young struck back, beating the 'Boys en route to another Super Bowl victory of their own.
Everyone knows that the Giants beat the Packers in overtime of the 2007 NFC Championship Game en route to their shocking upset of the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. And everyone also knows that the Giants beat the Packers again in 2011 in the Divisional round en route to yet another shocking upset of the Patriots another Super Bowl.
However, the Packers-Giants playoff rivalry is much deeper than that. These two storied franchises played for the NFL Championship in 1938, 1939, and 1944, and every time the national sports media billed it as a Big City vs. Small Town, David vs. Goliath thing—especially after New York won the first meeting 23-17. When the Packers struck back and pounded the Giants 27-0 in 1939 and again in 1944, the press just ate the whole "small town underdog" thing right up.
Oh, and that 1944 Championship Game? Yeah, that featured the original "spygate"—only they didn't call it "spygate" back then because "Watergate" hadn't even happened. You see, in 1944 Packers coach Curly Lambeau accused the Giants of spying on his practices prior to their regular-season meeting, which the Giants won 24-0. So Green Bay's victory in the Championship Game was especially meaningful.
These two teams didn't meet again until the Championship Games in 1961 and 1962, and the Packers won both times by a combined score of 53-7. Making those games more interesting? The career path of Vince Lombardi. The winningest playoff coach in NFL history started out at the Giants' offensive coordinator, but became the Packers head coach in 1960...and then he beat his old team.
It's hard to imagine the 49ers having a greater playoff rival than the Cowboys, but it's true. The Niners and Giants met in the playoffs six times between 1981 and 1993, and during that time these franchises combined to win a whopping six Super Bowls.
The first ever playoff meeting between these two? That would be 1982, during the Niners' first Super Bowl run. Then they met again in 1985, 1986, and 1987, with the Niners winning the Super Bowl in 1985 and the Giants winning in 1987.
After that the teams didn't meet again until 1991, when the Giants beat the 49ers en route to their second Super Bowl title. In the meantime, however, San Francisco won two more Super Bowls of their own, bringing their total to four. Then the teams played one more time in 1994, just for good measure—but neither of them ended up winning the Super Bowl that year.
Oh, and lets not forget the classic 49ers-Giants playoff meetings of the new millennium. In 2003, San Francisco staged the third-biggest playoff comeback in NFL history, overcoming a 24-point deficit to beat New York 39-38. Then, in 2012, the Giants got revenge by squeaking out a 20-17 overtime victory on the way to their fourth Super Bowl title.
What makes this playoff rivalry special is not just the fact that these were two of the best teams of the 1970s, nor was it the fact that they played each other in the playoffs five straight years from 1973 to 1977, with both teams winning a Super Bowl during that stretch (with a bonus meeting in 1984 that culminated in another Super Bowl for the Raiders).
No, what made this rivalry really special was the clash of cultures. The Steelers, owned by the legendary Art Rooney, were an original NFL franchised and with a straight-laced ethic. The Raiders, owned by NFL renegade Al Davis, were from the old AFL, and the team was made up of a bunch of hard-drinking wild men.
So, really, this was just a perfect narrative that played out wonderfully on the field.
Bears and Redskins, you say? What?
Yes, Bears and Redskins. These two teams have two great stretches in which a series of playoff meeting resulted in championships.
The first was from 1937 to 1943. Washington beat Chicago in the NFL Championship game at a frozen Wrigley Field for the franchise's first ever championship in 1937. However, three years later, the Bears would hand the Redskins the biggest championship game beatdown in NFL history when they absolutely destroyed Washington at home by a score of 73-0.
Two years after that disaster, though, Washington was back on top, beating Chicago 14-6. Then the see-saw went back the other way the following year, with Chicago drubbing Washington 41-21 in 1943.
That right there is enough for a pretty great rivalry. But this one gets better.
Fast forward to 1985. The Bears beat the Redskins 23-19 in the Divisional round of the playoffs. Then, in 1986, the Bears beat the Redskins again, this time going on to victory in Super Bowl XX. However, in 1987, the Redskins got revenge and beat the defending champs in the divisional round, 21-17, en route to their own victory in Super Bowl XXI.
So that's seven total meetings and six total championships between the two teams.
Yeah, I'd say that's a pretty good playoff rivalry.