Football fans love conference championship game upsets. The reason is not hard to comprehend. People usually hate the favored teams, because the favored teams are usually teams who win all the time. And people hate you when you win all the time.
Alas, this year we did not get any conference championship game upsets. As a result, Super Bowl XLVIX will be contested between two of the most-hated teams in North American pro sports.
Does this give you heartburn? Does it cause mental anguish? If so, you probably should see your doctor and maybe start doing some yoga or something. But until then, trick your brain into being happy by checking out this list of times the underdog did pull off major conference champion game upsets.
Let’s get started, shall we?
With coach Tom Landry and quarterback Roger Staubach, the Dallas Cowboys reached the Super Bowl five times in the 1970s. So it might seem strange to you that the Cowboys beating the Los Angeles Rams in the 1975 NFC Championship (played January 4, 1976) is considered an upset. But it was.
The Rams had one of the greatest defenses in NFL history in 1975. Anchored by Fred Dryer, Jack Youngblood, and Merlin Olsen, the Rams gave up a league-low 135 points that year. That's just 9.6 points per game, the second-lowest per game total in NFL history. And over their final six game of the season—all wins—they gave up just 32 points.
The Cowboys were decent at 10-4, but nobody thought they'd beat the Rams, let alone by a score of 37-7.
Then again, nobody thought the Cowboys beat the powerhouse Vikings in the divisional round, either either, but they did.
9. Cowboys Over Rams, 1975 NFC Championship
The Patriots went 12-4 in 2012, leading the league with an insane 557 points for an insane 14.1 average point differential. Plus they were a respectable 8th in the league with 331 points allowed.
The Ravens? Only 398 points for and 344 points against. They were a four-seed, and they were not supposed to beat the Pats in the AFC Championship game. But they did. After going to the break trailing New England 13-7, Joe Flacco and company scored 21 straight, unanswered points in the second half.
Final score: 28-13.
8. Ravens Over Patriots, 2012 AFC Championship
The 2005 Denver Broncos were hardly the 2013 Denver Broncos. But they were pretty damn good, scoring 395 points (6th) and allowing just 258 (3rd) while going 13-3.
The 2005 Steelers, meanwhile, were hardly bad. Their 389 points scored (8th) and 258 points allowed (3rd) got them an 11-5 record. However, that was only good for a #6 seed, and since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, no #6 seed had ever reached the Super Bowl.
The Steelers reached the Super Bowl, however, and won it. They manhandled Denver 34-17, becoming just the second team ever to reach the Super Bowl by winning three consecutive games on the road. Then the Steelers beating Seattle 21-10 in Super Bowl XL.
7. Steelers Over Broncos, 2005 AFC Championship
At #6 we have the Steelers on the other side of the upset. The Steelers' stingy defense gave up just 234 points in 1994, 3rd-best in the NFL. The offense, meanwhile, scored 316, giving them a big enough differential to go 12-4, win their division, and earn the top seed in the AFC. And all of that was expected of them.
Nobody expected the Chargers to be any good. Experts picked them to miss the playoffs. However, they won their division with a record of 11-5 and squeaked by Miami 22-21 to set up what was supposed to be a lopsided AFC Championship Game against the Steelers.
The funny thing here is the Steelers actually did outplay the Chargers on January 15, 1995. Pittsburgh had 349 passing yards, San Diego had 160. Pittsburgh had 415 total yards on offense, San Deigo had 226.
However, Junior Seau had one of the greatest games of his career, recording 16 tackles, and the Chargers made the big plays when it mattered most. So they won 17-13.
6. Chargers Over Steelers, 1994 AFC Championship
Yes, believe it or not, there was a day when the Patriots were an underdog. It was all the way back in 2001, when a second year quarterback taken in the 6th round of the NFL draft took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe.
That quarterback, as I've so dramatically hinted, was Tom Brady. And despite the fact that he went 11-3 as a starter, leading the Pats to a division title and the second seed in the AFC, nobody really thought their "luck" would carry them to a win over the top-seeded, 13-3 Steelers. But it did. The Pats won 24-17, then beat the heavily favored St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
5. Patriots Over Steelers, 2001 AFC Championship
Everyone remembers how Eli Manning and the Giants upset the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. But it's important to remember that, before they upset Tom Brady and the Pats, the Giants upset Brett Favre and the Packers.
The Packers were good that year, too. Not 16-0, 589 points good. But 13-3, 435 points for, 291 against good. The Giants, meanwhile, had to win their last six games in a row just to go 10-6 and earn a wild card.
Once they were in, though, it was upset after upset for the Giants. First they beat Tampa. Then #1 Dallas. Then #2 Green Bay...in Green Bay...in -1ºF...in overtime...after intercepting Brett Favre's last pass as a Packer.
Talk about team of destiny.
4. Giants Over Packers, 2007 NFC Championship
The Falcons were a good team in 1998. They were 4th in points scored and 4th in points allowed with a record of 14-2. However, the Vikings were Vikings were historically good. QB Randall Cunningham and rookie WR Rand Moss connected 69 times for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns, leading Minnesota to a then-record 556 points. Meanwhile, the defense allowed just 296, which was 6th in the league, making the Vikings just the third team in history to win 15 games.
Unfortunately, the Vikings became the first team to win 15 games and not reach (and win) the Super Bowl. Vikings kicker Gary Anderson, who hadn't missed a FG all season, missed a late 38-yarder that would have iced the game. The Falcons then scored a TD to tie the game with less than a minute to play before winning the game in overtime.
They were the least-likely 14-2 Super Bowl team of all time.
3. Falcons Over Vikings, 1998 NFC Championship
The Patriots started the 1985 season 2-3. Much like the 2007 Giants, it took a six-game winning streak just to finish the season 11-5 and earn the AFC's fifth and final playoff spot. And they were led by quarterback Tony Eason, who threw way more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (11).
In the AFC Championship Game, the 12-4 Dolphins, led by none other than Dan Marino, were supposed to destroy the Patriots, who had lost 18 consecutive games in Miami. But they didn't. New England destroyed Miami 31-14, becoming the first team ever to win three road games to reach the Super Bowl.
Of course, that was the end of the good times for the Pats. They got annihilated by the Bears in Super Bowl XX, 46-10.
2. Patriots Over Dolphins, 1985 AFC Championship
The biggest conference championship game upset of all time belongs to—who else?—the 2011 New York Giants.
Amazingly, the Giants were even worse in 2011 than they were in 2007. They won their division with a 9-7 record, scoring 394 points but giving up 400.
However, after making the Green Bay Packers the second 15-win team not to reach and win the Super Bowl, the Giants faced off against the 13-3 San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
They beat them 20-17, with an overtime field goal.