NFL playoff teams are quite familiar with their opponents

By Jerry Tapp

If you are a fan of the NFC North, the NFC West or the AFC South, you may be hoping this weekend that the Conference Championship Games scheduled for Sunday January 19 feature a pair of divisional rivals who will play for a chance to advance to the Super Bowl.

Of the eight teams remaining in this year’s NFL playoffs, there are two teams each from the NFC North (Green Bay and Minnesota), two from the NFC West (San Francisco and Seattle) and two from the AFC South (Houston and Tennessee). And because these divisional foes will not meet in this week’s games, there’s a chance that both Conference Championship Games could feature teams from the same division.

(Note: Of these three potential conference title game matchups between two divisional rivals, Green Bay defeated the Vikings twice in the 2019 regular season; San Francisco and Seattle split their two regular season games; and Houston and Tennessee split their two games this season.)

Divisional rivals facing off in the Conference Championship has happened three times since the NFL went to a four-division format in each conference in 2001. The three times divisional rivals met in the conference title game since 2001:

2008: AFC, Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh

2010: NFC, Chicago vs. Green Bay

2013: NFC, San Francisco vs. Seattle (a repeat this year?)

Let’s take a quick look at these three matchups.

  • Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh, 2008: Pittsburgh won the AFC North with a 12-4 record. Baltimore ended the season 11-5. Pittsburgh beat the Ravens twice in the regular season (23-20 and 13-9) and then defeated Baltimore a third time, 23-14, before advancing to the Super Bowl to beat Arizona.
  • Chicago vs. Green Bay, 2010: The Bears won the NFC North with an 11-5 record, the Packers were 10-6. The teams split their two regular season games. Green Bay beat the Bears 21-14 in Chicago to advance to the Super Bowl where they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • San Francisco vs. Seattle, 2013: Seattle won the NFC West with a 13-3 record, a game ahead of the 49ers. The teams split two regular season games. Seattle then won the NFC title game 23-17 before a lopsided Super Bowl win over the Denver Broncos.

If we go back to 1970, when the two leagues (AFC and NFC) merged, there were 15 times when two teams from the same division met in the conference title contest.

It’s interesting to note that on only four occasions did a team defeat a division foe twice in the regular season and then defeat them in the conference title game… Miami in 1982 over the Jets; New York Giants in 1986 over the Redskins; Tennessee in 1999 over Jacksonville; and 2008 (noted above) when Pittsburgh beat the Ravens twice in the regular season and then in the ’08 Conference Championship Game

One final note: Only once has a team defeated a divisional foe twice in the regular season and then lost to that team in the conference title game. It happened in 1983 when the Seattle Seahawks beat the Oakland Raiders twice in the ’83 regular season but lost to the Raiders 30-14 in the AFC title game. The Raiders then went on to beat the Redskins 38-9 in the Super Bowl that year.

Follow Jerry on Twitter @StatsonTapp

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