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TGS SPECIAL REPORT...CONF. TITLE REVIEW AND SUPER BOWL COUNTDOWN!
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor



Some of the most compelling viewing in recent NFL seasons has come in conference championship games. That certainly has not been a constant since the AFL-NFL merger of 1970, however, especially a period of time the ‘80s and into the early ‘90s when conference title games usually featured one-sided results. But those blowouts have been the exception of late in these showdown games, as only two conference title clashes over the past six seasons have been decided by double-digit margins. And even in those affairs, the games were not romps, as the Jets were ahead well into the second half and still in a threatening position deep into the 4th Q of the 2009 AFC title game eventually won by Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, 30-17, while New England led at halftime of last year’s AFC finale against Baltimore before the Ravens rallied for a 28-13 win.

For a while, however, we wondered if we were ever going to see a competitive conference title game or Super Bowl. Especially throughout much of the ‘80s, in particular, a stretch of three straight NFC title games (49ers over Bears in 1984, Bears over Rams in 1985, and Giants over Redskins in 1986) that resulted in dominating shutouts for the victors, all of whom basically doing the same thing thereafter when romping in the Super Bowl. Those results, however, were nothing new; historically, championship-level battles, whether they were for conference crowns (since 1970), AFL-NFL in the early Super Bowl era from 1966-69, or other league title games in the pre-Super Bowl days, have often featured lopsided results.

We have always found it fascinating that the biggest blowout in pro football history occurred in the 1940 NFL title game when George Halas’ Chicago Bears stepped on the throat of the Washington Redskins (who had beaten Halas three years earlier in the championship battle) by a whopping 73-0 count! (And, no, TGS was not around to cover that game!) In a four-year span in the mid ’50s, NFL title games produced scorelines of 56-10 (Browns over Lions in 1954), 38-14 (Browns over Rams in 1955), 47-7 (Giants over Bears in 1956), and 59-14 (Lions getting their revenge on the Browns in 1957). It was more of the same throughout much of the 1960s, with NFL title games featuring some romps such as 37-0 (Packers over Giants in 1961), 27-0 (Browns over Colts in 1964), 34-0 (as the Colts gained revenge over the Browns in 1968), and 27-7 (Vikings over the poor Browns again in 1969). Meanwhile, old AFL title games featured some lopsided results as well, including wipeouts such as 51-10 (Chargers over Patriots in 1963), 23-0 (Bills over Chargers in 1965), 31-7 (Chiefs over Bills in 1966), and 40-7 (Raiders over Oilers in 1967).

Meanwhile, since this is our penultimate football issue of a memorable 2013 publishing season for TGS, we can’t help but look ahead to Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2 at the Meadowlands. Which also means we are running out of time to post an updated and revised ersion of our popular all-time Super Bowl rankings that we first presented almost a decade ago. There have been several Super Bowls in the interim, and since we are often asked about our special “list” (which we have some expertise in constructing, being that we were just concluding our tenth season of publishing when the inaugural Super Bowl was played in January of 1967, and have been around for that event since its inception ...in fact, we were there at the L.A. Coliseum 47 years ago to the day on Wednesday!), we present once again, by popular request, our TGS all-time Super Bowl rankings. These are offered in inverse order, beginning with our 47th and lowest-ranked Super Bowl game. We’ll get almost halfway through the list this issue and conclude our rankings in our Super Bowl edition two weeks hence.

47-XXXV, Baltimore 34 - N.Y. Giants 7 (at Tampa)...An exceedingly drab game with little or no drama, dominated by the Ravens defense, which rendered the Giants’ offense helpless while holding it without a score. Indeed, the only fireworks in XXXV came in bang-bang-bang succession in the 3rd Q, with TDs on successive plays by Baltimore’s Duane Starks (interception), New York’s Ron Dixon (kickoff return), and the Ravens’ Jermaine Lewis (yet another kickoff return). Otherwise, XXXV threatened to put Sominex out of business.

46-XXVII, Dallas 52 - Buffalo 17 (at Pasadena)...The Bills’ capitulation was particularly appalling because they simply didn’t seem so overmatched in this game. But their almost-comical nine turnovers precluded this from becoming the competitive affair most envisioned. Buffalo’s only highlight was WR Don Beebe streaking downfield to slap the ball out of Leon Lett’s hand before the latter would have scored one last TD for the rampant Cowboys.

45-XXVI, Washington 37 - Buffalo 24 (at Minneapolis)...More one-sided than the final might indicate, as the Redskins enjoyed 24-0 & 37-10 leads before a couple of garbage-time Buffalo TDs made the final more respectable. Thurman Thomas forgetting about his helmet at the start of the game portended a dispirited effort by the Bills, who lost contact early and were never in the game.

44-XV, Oakland 27 - Philadelphia 10 (at New Orleans)...A disappointing showing by the Eagles, who were down 14-0 before the 1st Q ended, contributed heavily to an absolute lack of drama in XV. Three TD passes by Jim Plunkett and 3 picks by Raider LB Rod Martin highlighted the surprisingly one-sided proceedings.

43-XXII, Washington 42- Denver 10 (at San Diego)...This one ceased to be a competitive affair about midway in the 2nd Q, when the Redskins were in the midst of the most-devastating stanza in SB history. The startling 35 points (including four Doug Williams TD passes) in that period required only 18 plays in the five TD drives and set a one-quarter SB scoring record that will be hard to top, and it was all the more amazing because Denver had looked ready to score an early KO of its own when it jumped to a quick 10-0 lead. When the carnage was complete, Washington had amassed a SB record 602 yards, and theretofore obscure RB Timmy Smith gained a SB-record 204 yards rushing. With the result a fait accompli, the second half more resembled a scrimmage than a championship game.

42-XXIV, San Francisco 55 - Denver 10 (at New Orleans)...The biggest-ever SB blowout lacked any drama whatsoever. But San Francisco’s dominance was so complete, and, indeed, breathtaking, that we felt almost privileged to watch such excellence.

41-XX, Chicago 46 - New England 10 (at New Orleans)...Although this game was absolutely no contest, it was a bit more entertaining than other title game blowouts simply because the “Super Bowl Shuffle” Bears were such a colorful (and absolutely dominating) bunch.

40-XXIX, San Francisco 49 - San Diego 26 (at Miami)...Though the final margin wasn’t quite as large as some other famous SB beatings, this game was every bit as one-sided as the worst of them, as the 49ers appeared capable of scoring whenever they pleased before easing up in the 2nd half. Complete mismatch.

39-XII, Oakland 32 - Minnesota 14 (at Pasadena)...The Vikings were simply manhandled in a battle that lacked much intrigue after the Raiders moved easily to a 16-0 halftime lead and cruised home. Oakland’s dominance was reflected in a then SB-record 266 yards rushing, with vet DB Willie Brown’s 75-yard interception return TD (captured so eloquently by Raiders radio play-by-play voice Bill King) a nice capper in the 4th quarter.

38-VIII, Miami 24 - Minnesota 7 (at Houston)...A surprisingly non-competitive game, as most figured the Vikings, with Fran Tarkenton back at the controls, rated a good chance. Instead, the outcome was never in doubt past the 1st Q, with the Dolphins practically disdaining the pass (Bob Griese only threw the ball 7 times!) and instead bludgeoning the Vikes behind Larry Csonka’s 145 yards rushing. A more impressive Miami win than in the Super Bowl vs. the Redskins the previous year.

37-XXXIII, Denver 34 - Atlanta 19 (at Miami)...Denver finally got to enjoy an easy Super Bowl win in a contest that lacked any sustained drama, with the Broncos up by as much as 31-6 in the 4th Q. In the aftermath, there would be a nice “feel good” factor as John Elway, in what would be his final game, was named MVP following his 336-yard passing night.

36-XXVII, Dallas 30 - Buffalo 13 (at Atlanta)...Even when the favored Cowboys seemed to sleepwalk through the 1st half, trailing 13-6 at intermission, there seemed to be an inevitability about XXVII that the Bills would again find a way to lose, as they had done in the three previous Super Bowls. It took James Washington’s 46-yard fumble return for a 3rd-Q TD to finally turn the tide, and Dallas never seemed in danger thereafter, with Buffalo providing little resistance in the 2nd half and surrendering meekly in the end.

35-VI, Dallas 24 - Miami 3 (at New Orleans)...Although the outcome was still in doubt at halftime, when Dallas led only 10-3, the Cowboys quickly took control in the 3rd Q, and Miami didn’t threaten thereafter. The enduring memory of this game was controversial Cowboy RB Duane Thomas (flanked by none other than Jim Brown) and his famous one-word answer (“evidently”) to a long-winded question from CBS broadcaster Tom Brookshier on the postgame show.

34-XVIII, L.A. Raiders 38 - Washington 9 (at Tampa)...Another good-looking matchup that failed to materialize, the outcome essentially decided by Jack Squirek’s 5-yard interception return TD off an ill-advised Joe Theismann screen pass just 5 seconds before halftime. Indeed, the Raider dominance was somewhat startling, with CBs Mike Haynes & Lester Hayes blanketing the Skin wideouts. A number of highlight-reel runs by Marcus Allen (en route to a then-SB record 191 yards rushing) provided some excitement after the outcome was decided.

33-XXXVII, Tampa Bay 48 - Oakland 21 (at San Diego)...This game was almost more interesting for its ironies (none greater than HC Jon Gruden, in his first year with the Bucs after leaving Oakland) than any action on the field. The Raiders made it mildly interesting in the 4th Q, cutting a 34-3 deficit to 34-21, before the Bucs capped the game with a pair of exclamation points in the form of two interception TDs in the last two minutes, their 2nd and 3rd such scores of the contest.

32-II, Green Bay 33 - Oakland 14 (at Miami)...The Super Bowl concept was still enough of a novelty in January of 1968 that just seeing AFL and NFL teams on the same field was something special. Unlike the previous year vs. the Chiefs, however, Green Bay was in control from the outset and never seriously threatened. This SB would eventually gain more notoriety for being Vince Lombardi’s last game as head coach of the Packers.

31-XXI, N.Y. Giants 39 - Denver 20 (at Pasadena)...This was a bit more competitive than the Broncos’ other one-sided SB losses of the era, as Denver performed ably in the first half and even led at intermission, 10-9. But the game became a runaway before the 3rd Q ended when the Giants erupted behind Phil Simms’ deadly accuracy (completing 22 of 25 passes!) en route to a then-SB record one half record for points (30 of ‘em!).

30-XIX, San Francisco 38 - Miami 16 (at Palo Alto)...Unless you were a 49er fan, this one was a disappointment, as it failed to live up to its much-hyped “shootout” billing. The San Francisco defense, however, made sure there was no drama by muffling Dan Marino and his record-setting Dolphin offense, while Joe Montana & Co. toyed with an overmatched Miami stop unit.

29-XII, Dallas 27 - Denver 10 (at New Orleans)...What shaped up as an intriguing matchup failed to materialize as expected, as Denver self-destructed with 6 turnovers and QB Craig Morton was banished to the bench in the 3rd Q. Although the Broncos rallied briefly behind backup QB Norris Weese and hinted at a possible grandstand finish for a time in the second half, the Cowboys’ arsenal of weapons proved too much, with a couple of spectacular TDs (Butch Johnson’s acrobatic 45-yard TD catch from Roger Staubach, which might have been overturned had replay been in effect, and an option pass from RB Robert Newhouse to WR Golden Richards) sealing the outcome in the 2nd half.

28-VII, Miami 14 - Washington 7 (at Los Angeles)...Added significance because it was the final installment of the Dolphins’ perfect 17-0 season. But the game was mostly a bore after the Dolphins took control in the 1st half, with the “No-Name” defense throttling the Skins for most of the day. Became mildly interesting late in the 4th Q after Garo Yepremian’s infamous flubbed FG and Mike Bass’ subsequent TD return, but that was about the only drama of the afternoon.

27-XL, Pittsburgh 21 - Seattle 10 (at Detroit)...Although there was considerable drama for a time well into the 4th quarter, XL was a bit of a disappointment and hardly a shining hour for the referees, whose series of extremely questionable calls (almost all favoring the Steelers) at crucial moments of the game distorted the proceedings. Pittsburgh did capitalize when presented with opportunities, however, and used big scoring plays by Willie Parker & Hines Ward to shift the momentum in the second half.

26-IX, Pittsburgh 16 - Minnesota 6 (at New Orleans)...A taut affair (with a 2-0 halftime score!) dominated by LB Jack Lambert and the Steel Curtain defense, which held the Vikes to a SB-low 117 yards. Indeed, Minnesota’s offense didn’t score, but Matt Blair’s blocked punt and recovery by Terry Brown for a TD early in the 4th Q did get the Vikings within 9-6 and suggested a possible dramatic finish before game-MVP Franco Harris (a then-SB record 158 yards rushing) put the contest away, and giving beloved Steelers owner Art Rooney his first-ever title.

25-XXXIX, New England 24 - Philadelphia 21 (at Jacksonville)...The final score of the only Jacksonville SB suggests it might warrant a better ranking. But the game never had a real flow to it, there were few memorable plays, and the only enduring memories of XXXIX are the Eagles taking their own sweet time during a late drive that demanded more urgency, and Terrell Owens’ post-game complaints about Donovan McNabb. Hardly a classic.

24-XLI, Indianapolis 29 - Chicago 17 (at Miami)...Arguably the best 1st Q in SB history, featuring the first-ever opening kickoff returned for a TD (Chicago’s Devin Hester going 92 yards). But another SB first, almost an entire game played in a deluge, slowed the contest thereafter and exacerbated a feeble performance by Bears QB Rex Grossman. Although Peyton Manning and the Colts dominated the statistical battle, Chicago gamely hung around until Kelvin Hayden’s 56-yard interception TD return in the 4th quarter finally gave Indy some breathing room.

Next issue (Jan. 27)...TGS ranks the all-time Super Bowls from 23 to 1!

MEANWHILE, ON SUNDAY...


While results of conference championship games since the merger still tilt toward the home teams and favorites, those trends have not been as pronounced in recent years. Especially in the NFC regarding the home teams, which have lost outright in three straight conference title tilts and failed to cover in five of the last six. Last year, the road teams (Baltimore in the AFC, San Francisco in the NFC) also both won for the first time since the 1997 playoffs, when Green Bay and Denver turned the trick.

Favorites continue to hold a pointspread edge in conference championship games since the merger year of 1970 (46-37-2), although, as mentioned, their dominance has been less pronounced in recent years, with the dogs covering five of the last six conference title battles over the past three seasons. Although the 8-point favorite Patriots were dumped in last year’s AFC title game, that “intermediate/high” chalk (those teams laying between 7-9½ points) stand 15-6 vs. the number in conference championships since 1970. Double-digit favorites, however, are only 4-8 vs. the line. Even with last year’s losses by hosts New England and Atlanta, home teams have won straight up almost two-thirds of the time since the merger (57 of 86). Conference title “totals” also have trended “over” (9-5) the last seven seasons, though we’ve seen “unders” in three of four games the past two years.

Acknowledging the earlier references to historical one-sided results in these games, please note that even with the closer conference title clashes in recent years, almost half of the AFC & NFC championship battles since the 1970 merger (39 of 86) have been decided by 14 points or more, with nearly two-thirds (54 of 86) being decided by double digits.

Following is a list of pointspread breakdowns and results of AFC & NFC Championships since 1970.


CATEGORY ...RESULT
Favorites/Underdogs (one pick ‘em)... 46-37-2
Favorites straight up... 56-29
Favored by 1-3 points... 12-10
Favored by 3½-6½ points... 15-13-2
Favored by 7-9½ points... 15-6
Favored by 10 or more... 4-8
Home teams straight up... 56-30
Home teams vs. spread... 46-38-2
Home favorites vs. spread... 38-29-2
Home underdogs vs. spread... 8-8
Home pick’em vs. spread 0-1...
Overs/unders (since 1986)... 30-24


MARGINS OF VICTORY

1-3 points...12
4-6 points...12
7-10 points...12
11-13... points 11
14 or more points... 39


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