Vernon Biever/National Football League
Cleveland Browns vs. Green Bay Packers -- 1965 NFL Championship
This confluence of excellence saw one team's remarkable run end and another team embark on a march toward football immortality. The Browns were playing in their ninth NFL championship game in 16 years, entering the 1965 title game as defending champions (the 1964 league crown would be the last in team history). The Packers used a 23-12 triumph in this tilt to commence a brilliant run of three consecutive NFL championships (including the first two Super Bowls) that would cement coach Vince Lombardi and his team's lofty place in pro football history. En route to victory, the Packers shut down the great Jim Brown (12 carries for 50 yards and no touchdowns) in what turned out to be the running back's final game.
Kevin Terrell/Associated Press
New England Patriots vs. Carolina Panthers -- Super Bowl XXXVIII
While the Patriots were appearing in a second Super Bowl in three years, the Panthers were two years removed from a 1-15 disaster of a season. What started slowly -- neither team could function offensively for more than a quarter -- quickly erupted into what would go down as one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever played. Just like in Super Bowl XXXVI, the Patriots used a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri to win, prevailing 32-29 as Tom Brady collected a second Super Bowl MVP award.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Minnesota Vikings -- Super Bowl IX
Two powerhouses of the 1970s met up at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans (the game had been intended to be played at the Superdome, but the facility had not yet been completed). For the Steelers, the 16-6 victory in Super Bowl IX marked the franchise's first championship en route to winning four Super Bowls in six seasons. The Vikings, on the other hand, wound up with four Super Bowl defeats in an eight-year span. Franco Harris earned MVP honors in Super Bowl IX after rushing for a then-Super Bowl record 158 yards and a touchdown.
Oakland Raiders vs. Baltimore Colts -- 1977 AFC Divisional playoff
Once upon a time before the Raiders become a laughingstock and the Colts packed up the Mayflower and headed to Indianapolis, the two teams engaged in one of the most epic playoff encounters in NFL history. This classic AFC divisional playoff showdown featured seven lead changes before heading into overtime, and it took a second overtime to finally determine the winner in the fourth-longest game in NFL history. The most famous play in the game was the "Ghost to the post" -- a high-arching heave from quarterback Ken Stabler to tight end Dave Casper that set up the game-tying field goal in the Raiders' 37-31 win.
Michael S. Green/Associated Press
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Denver Broncos -- 1996 AFC Divisional playoff
In just their second season of existence, the expansion Jaguars managed to pull off one of the most shocking upsets in league history. The Jaguars went into Mile High Stadium and handed the AFC's top playoff seed a demoralizing 30-27 defeat. A year later, the Broncos exacted a measure of revenge on the Jaguars in a 42-17 wild-card playoff win, and then went on to win Super Bowl XXXII.
National Football League
Denver Broncos vs. Dallas Cowboys -- Super Bowl XII
Much like how the pregame banter for the 2013 edition of this showdown will center around those lining up behind center, the storyline entering Super Bowl XII also surrounding the quarterbacks. Roger Staubach was facing Craig Morton, who had played in Dallas and ultimately lost his starting job to Staubach. The game itself turned into a laugher, with Staubach and the Doomsday Defense manhandling the overmatched Broncos in the 27-10 win.
National Football League
Chicago Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Eagles -- 1948 NFL Championship
This championship game marked the last time the Cardinals (then the Chicago Cardinals) appeared in an NFL championship game until they reached Super Bowl XLIII following the 2008 season (coincidentally, the Cardinals defeated the Eagles en route to SBXLIII). In 1948, the Cardinals and Eagles were pro football's elite, having already met for the 1947 NFL championship (won by the Cardinals). The 1948 title game was played in a major snowstorm and elevated running back Steve Van Buren -- who scored the game's only touchdown in a 7-0 Eagles triumph -- to legendary status in one of the NFL's all-time weather games.
Chicago Bears vs. Washington Redskins -- 1940 NFL Championship
With a title on the line, the Bears administered the most lopsided beatdown in league history, a 73-0 win that helped shape the future of pro football. The game's opening score -- Bill Osmanski's 68-yard touchdown run -- helped set the tone for the 11-touchdown rout.
Detroit Lions vs. Cleveland Browns -- 1957 NFL Championship
Two forgotten football dynasties lost to history in the pre-Super Bowl era belong to the 1950s Browns and Lions. The two teams met four times with the NFL championship on the line, and the Browns were concluding an incredible run of 11 championship game appearances in 12 years (that's including four title-winning years in the All-American Football Conference). The Lions had won two of the previous three championship games against the Browns and would collect a third triumph with a 59-14 win over the Browns in 1957. The 1957 championship remains the Lions' last appearance in a game with a league championship on the line.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Washington Redskins -- 1983 NFC Championship
The Redskins entered this game as defending champions and having scored a league-record 541 points (since broken twice, first by the 1998 Minnesota Vikings --556 -- and again by the 2007 New England Patriots -- 589), and the 49ers were two years removed from their first Super Bowl victory. The 1983 NFC Championship was a clash-of-the-titans sort of showdown, won by the Redskins, 24-21, after holding off a frenzied fourth-quarter rally by the 49ers and ultimately winning on kicker Mark Moseley's field goal. The Redskins' quest to win a second consecutive title hit a major snag in Super Bowl XVIII, where the Los Angeles Raiders rolled to a 38-9 victory. The next year, the 49ers defeated the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.
Elise Amendola/Associated Press
Minnesota Vikings vs. New York Giants -- 2000 NFC Championship
The Giants shocked just about everybody when they steamrolled the Vikings, 41-0, in the 2000 NFC Championship. Journeyman quarterback Kerry Collins threw for five touchdowns in the rout, which set the Giants up for a Super Bowl XXXV meeting with the Baltimore Ravens (which New York lost, 34-7). The 41-point throwdown by the Giants is the most lopsided NFC Championship Game ever, and second-largest rout in conference championship history (behind the 51-3 dumptrucking the Buffalo Bills dealt the Los Angeles Raiders in the 1990 AFC Championship).
San Diego Chargers vs. Miami Dolphins -- 1981 AFC Divisional playoff
The Chargers and Dolphins produced one of the iconic games in NFL history during the 1981 playoffs. The "Epic in Miami" ended with a dehydrated and exhausted Kellen Winslow being carried off the field not long after Rolf Benirschke's 29-yard field goal mercifully ended the marathon game. Winslow's gutsy performance -- 13 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown, plus a blocked field goal that forced overtime -- helped the "Air Coryell" Chargers advance to the AFC Championship Game, where they lost one of the coldest games in NFL history.
Mark Duncan/Associated Press
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Buffalo Bills -- 1993 AFC Championship
The Bills advanced to their fourth consecutive Super Bowl after a 30-13 win over the Chiefs in the 1993 AFC title game. This game marked quarterback Joe Montana's final appearance in a conference championship game. The Bills, meanwhile, were led by Thurman Thomas' 186 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Between 1988 and 1999, the Bills made 10 playoff appearances in 12 seasons. Since then, the Bills have gone 13 consecutive seasons without reaching the postseason.
More Photo Essays:
- Farewell campaign? QBs destined for 2016 relocation
- WWE and the NFL
- 2014 Top 20 fantasy point-per-touch wide receivers
- Active GMs with best record of drafting Pro Bowlers
- 2014 Top 10 fantasy point-per-touch tight ends
- Most impactful NFL compensatory picks of all time
- 2014 Top 10 fantasy quarterbacks points-per-touch
- Top 20 fantasy point-per-touch running backs
- Top 20 quarterbacks who went No. 1 overall in NFL draft