Sunday’s AFC Championship Game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs could be a classic. Per NFL odds, this is a toss-up with the Chiefs listed as one-point favorites. The line has continually shifted. It opened with Kansas City favored, swung to the Bengals, and is now back with the Chiefs after positive updates surrounding Patrick Mahomes’ ankle injury.
The matchup features the NFL’s top quarterbacks – Mahomes and Joe Burrow. This will also be the fourth meeting between the teams since Jan. 2, 2022. The rematch storyline takes the cake. The Bengals rallied from a 21-3 deficit against the Chiefs in last year’s AFC Championship Game. This could be the league’s next classic rivalry that controls the AFC for years to come.
The much-anticipated rematch stirs nostalgia for other classic conference title clashes. Let’s take a look at 10 unforgettable AFC Championship games.
Let’s check the latest NFL picks, stats, injury reports, and odds. We’ve got plenty of NFL lines for NFC Conference Championship Games.
10. Broncos 20, Raiders 17
- Date: Jan. 1, 1978
- Site: Mile High Stadium, Denver
- Line: Denver -3.5
The Oakland Raiders were the defending Super Bowl champions after winning their franchise’s first ring in 1977. The Denver Broncos were in their first playoff appearance led by linebacker Randy Gradishar and the “Orange Crush” defense.
This game had one of the most controversial no-calls in NFL history. In the third quarter, the Broncos led 7-3 and were looking for more points on the Raiders’ goalline. Raiders safety Jack Tatum delivered a big hit on Denver running back Rob Lytle at the one-yard line, which jarred the ball loose. Oakland recovered. However, a fumble was not called, though it was clear as day.
The Broncos scored, making it 14-3, and went on to win 20-17. The no-call completely swung the game. This would be a bullet point for the NFL to eventually begin replay review in 1986.
9. Raiders 34, Chargers 27
- Date: Jan. 11, 1981
- Site: Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego
- Line: Oakland +4
Hall of Famer Dan Fouts is one of the greatest quarterbacks to never win a Super Bowl. No playoff loss was more heartbreaking than the 34-27 loss against the Oakland Raiders in the 1980 AFC Championship Game. This was a game the Chargers were supposed to win, as the Raiders were a Wild-Card team.
San Diego’s defense continually allowed big plays and folded in the clutch. The Chargers trailed 28-7 in the second quarter and stormed back, cutting the deficit to 34-27 with 6:52 left in the fourth quarter. Fouts would not touch the ball again, as the defense allowed a demoralizing 15-play drive that featured 14 run attempts. Following the upset, Oakland would go on to become the first Wild Card team to win the Super Bowl.
8. Chargers 17, Steelers 13
- Date: Jan. 15, 1995
- Site: Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh
- Line: Pittsburgh -9
The 1994-95 San Diego Chargers were not a great team and lacked offensive firepower. Surely they would fall to the heavily favored Pittsburgh Steelers.
Junior Seau, who is one of the best all-time linebackers, had other plans. Against Pittsburgh’s dominant run game, the Chargers allowed only 66 rushing yards on 2.5 yards per carry. Seau was the star of the show with 16 tackles.
San Diego pulled ahead 17-13 with 5:13 remaining thanks to a 43-yard touchdown from wide receiver Tony Martin. The Bolts’ defense held strong the rest of the way leading to the 17-13 win. This would be San Diego’s only Super Bowl appearance, which it lost 49-26 against the San Francisco 49ers. However, this wins remains the peak of the Chargers’ franchise.
7. Bengals 27, Chiefs 24 OT
- Date: Jan. 30, 2022
- Site: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City
- Line: Kansas City +7
Last year’s AFC Championship Game was one to remember. The Bengals were on an improbable run that no one saw coming. However, it looked to be the end of the road as Cincinnati trailed 21-3 in the second quarter against Mahomes and the Chiefs.
The Bengals grabbed some momentum going into halftime, cutting the lead to 21-10. Then, Cincy’s defense turned into a masterclass in the second half, holding Kansas City to only three points the rest of the way. Burrow started to cook and Evan McPherson hit clutch kick after clutch kick. Mahomes led a game-tying drive in the final six minutes that would force overtime. Cincinnati quickly put the game away with an interception and field goal to win the game
6. Patriots 37, Chiefs 31
- Date: Jan. 20, 2019
- Site: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City
- Line: Kansas City +3
The 2018 AFC Championship Game featured an intriguing matchup with old school vs. new school. Tom Brady was hunting his sixth ring with the New England Patriots, while Mahomes won the MVP Award and led the Chiefs to their first conference title game since 1993 in his first season as starting signal-caller.
Through three quarters, the game was nothing spectacular. Then, a flurry of points ensued.
Mahomes caught fire, leading a 24-point fourth quarter. In the final 3:30, Kansas City scored a touchdown in five plays, followed by New England scoring seven in six plays. With seconds on the clock, the Chiefs went 48 yards in four plays, leading to a game-tying 39-yard field goal from Harrison Butker with eight seconds on the clock.
After winning the coin toss, Brady led a game-winning 75-yard drive in overtime. The 37-31 affair remains one of the most exciting finishes in AFC Championship history.
5. Broncos 20, Patriots 18
- Date: Jan. 24, 2016
- Site: Empower Field, Denver
- Line: New England -3
The 2015 AFC Championship Game was one of the most hyped-up games in recent memory. Brady and Peyton Manning renewed their rivalry on the biggest stage.
Neither offense found much success for most of the game as both quarterbacks were up and down. However, after all of the hype, the contest delivered with theatrics in the dwindling seconds.
The Pats were down 20-12 with 1:52 on the clock. The offense marched down the field and tight end Rob Gronkowski reeled in a four-yard touchdown with 12 seconds left. New England needed a two-point conversion to force overtime against one of the league’s best defenses.
Brady rolled out to his right and cut one across the middle of the field to Julian Edelman on the goalline. The ball was deflected and Bradley Roby secured a game-winning interception. When it mattered most, the titanic clash delivered a thrilling finish. Manning and the Broncos would go on to win Super Bowl 50.
4. Steelers 20, Colts 16
- Date: Jan. 14, 1996
- Site: Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh
- Line: Pittsburgh -12
The Indianapolis Colts, led by quarterback Jim Harbaugh – the current coach of Michigan football – visited the daunting Pittsburgh Steelers as major underdogs in the 1995 AFC Championship Game. Through three quarters, it was a defensive affair but Indy was hanging around. Pittsburgh led 13-9 entering the fourth quarter.
Harbaugh had a reputation for engineering comebacks, earning the nickname “Comeback Captain.” Indianapolis nearly pulled off an all-timer in the final quarter.
With nine minutes remaining, Harbaugh led a 70-yard touchdown drive. Pittsburgh was down 16-13. After several punts, the Steelers would answer with a touchdown and led 20-16 with under two minutes to go.
The Colts calmly moved the ball down the field but were running out of time. On the final play of the game, Harbaugh launched a Hail Mary 30 yards into the end zone. The ball pinballed around and fell into the chest of wideout Aaron Bailey … but he dropped it as he fell to the turf. After losing the 1994 AFC Championship as big favorites, the Steelers narrowly escaped another all-time upset.
3. Broncos 38, Browns 33
- Date: Jan. 17, 1988
- Site: Mile High Stadium, Denver
- Line: Denver -2.5
Following a gut-wrenching 23-20 loss to the Denver Broncos in the 1986 AFC Championship Game, the Cleveland Browns had a shot at redemption in 1987. The two met once again in the AFC title game, but it seemed Cleveland was not up for the task as it trailed 28-3 at halftime.
The Browns came roaring back, knotting the game at 31 apiece early in the fourth quarter. Then came the infamous fumble – a moment that will torture Cleveland fans until the end of time.
Denver took a 38-31 lead, and the Browns answered with a sustained drive. Cleveland had a second-and-five on the Broncos’ eight-yard line. Running back Earnest Byner bounced it out to the left hash with a wide-open lane headed for the endzone. Denver defensive back Jeremiah Castille ripped at the ball on the three-yard line. The ball popped out followed by a Broncos recovery.
The Browns would fall short 38-33 and the game would forever be referred to as “The Fumble.”
2. Broncos 23, Browns 20 OT
- Date: Jan. 11, 1987
- Site: Cleveland Municipal Stadium, Cleveland
- Line: Cleveland -3
Before the “The Fumble” in the 1987 AFC Championship Game, the Broncos and Browns delivered a classic in the 1986 AFC Championship Game dubbed “The Drive.”
The 1986 season was the Browns’ most successful year since their past glory in the 1960s. Cleveland held the No. 1 seed and hosted John Elway and the Broncos.
The Browns were on track to appear in their first Super Bowl, holding a 20-13 lead with 5:43 on the clock, especially following Ken Bell’s crucial mistake on the kickoff return. Denver was on its own two-yard line. The Broncos needed a miracle, and Elway would deliver.
Denver meticulously drove the length of the field in 15 plays. On a third-and-one on the Browns’ five-yard line, Elway delivered a five-yard touchdown strike to Mark Jackson. The Broncos went 98 yards in front of a ruckus crowd and forced overtime. Denver quickly sealed the game with a stop and game-winning field goal in overtime. It was a gut-punch for the Browns, and Elway added a resume booster to his ensuing Hall of Fame career.
1. Colts 38, Patriots 34
- Date: Jan. 21, 2007
- Site: RCA Dome, Indianapolis
- Line: Indianapolis -3.5
The Brady vs Manning rivalry is one of the best quarterback duels of all time. They faced off 17 times with Brady winning 11 games. Ahead of the 2006 AFC Championship, Manning was 2-6 against Brady, including two playoff losses in 2004 and 2005.
Could Manning and the Colts finally get over the hump? At first, it seemed Brady would win yet again as New England stormed out to a 21-3 lead. Indy would climb back into the game with two quick touchdowns in the third quarter, trailing 21-19.
With 13:34 remaining, the game was tied at 28 all. The teams went back and forth with field goals until Manning got the ball with 2:17 left on the clock, down 34-31. It was now or never. Could Manning finally prove he was not the choker everyone labeled him as?
Manning shredded New England’s secondary until the Colts entered the red zone. Running back Joseph Addai punched in a three-yard touchdown to take the lead. Brady would throw an interception on the ensuing drive, securing Manning’s biggest win yet. The Colts would go on to win Super Bowl XLI against the Chicago Bears.
We can only hope this year’s edition of the AFC Championship Game can deliver like its predecessors. Will the Bengals vs Chiefs become the next Broncos vs. Browns? Or will Burrow vs. Mahomes become the next great QB rivalry?