What If The Conference Championship Losers In The NFL All Won?

One exercise that I often see done regularly is to tally up the number of Super Bowls teams would have if the losers all won.  If you’re a Broncos fan, you know well that this would help out Denver the most, as they’ve lost the most Super Bowls in NFL history.  Inverted, they would instead have the most wins, at 5-3.

But one exercise I have yet to see is what would happen if you invert the results of the conference championship games.  Simply put, how many Super Bowl appearances would be generated, and what Super Bowl matchups would we get, by sending the NFC and AFC Finalists?

The number of Super Bowl appearances that would result can be found beyond the fold, as well as some insights that come from this data.  Additionally, I used What If Sports to simulate hypothetical games between the Super Bowl participants. You may find all of those results here.

And be forewarned: if you’re a Broncos fan, this is a dark, dark timeline.

The 49ers and Raiders would be tied for most Super Bowl appearances at 9.

Bay Area football fans rejoice: their region combines for a total of 17 Super Bowl appearances. (One of the Raiders’ would have been in Los Angeles.)  And in the case of the Raiders, one observation emerges crystal clear: if they could string together victories in the Super Bowl, it is they, and not the Steelers, that would be the unquestioned team of the 1970s–and the late 1960s, as well.  The Raiders would have represented the AFC in seven of ten Super Bowls from 1968 to 1977, including two spans of three straight AFC Championships.  Thankfully, What If Sports gave them only two Super Bowls in nine tries.

The 49ers, on the other hand, would be recognized as a team whose dominance was not focused in one single decade (1980s), but instead well spread throughout its history.  San Francisco would have back to back Super Bowl appearances in 1970-1971, only one in the 1980s (1983), four in the 1990s, and two in the 2010s.  What If Sports, however, still gave them the unquestioned title of best team in NFL history, winning eight of their nine appearances.

The Steelers and Cowboys still go to exactly eight Super Bowls apiece.

Not much changes for these two stalwart franchises.  What If Sports gave the Steelers five Super Bowls, while only giving the Cowboys three.

The Rams and Browns rise as Super Bowl powerhouses.

The Rams would go to six Super Bowls, including three of five from 1974-1978.  All six appearances would be as the Los Angeles Rams, and not as the St. Louis Rams.  The Browns would have a pair of faceoffs against the Raiders in Super Bowls III and IV, and then get a whole lot of bad history against the Broncos wiped out in the 1980s.

The Jets go to four Super Bowls…and the Giants go to none.

That’s right, despite having four Super Bowls in real life, New York’s premier NFL franchise is instead one of the most disappointing in this world.  Meanwhile, while the Jets no longer sniff the Super Bowl with Joe Namath at quarterback, the New York Sack Exchange gets a shot at a ring, as does Bill Parcells after failing repeatedly with the Giants.  But the most shocking Jets observation here: Mark Sanchez, back to back Super Bowl champ?  What If Sports at least thought a hypothetical matchup against Jay Cutler and the Bears in 2010 would make that possible.

The Eagles don’t go to the Super Bowl until 2001…when they then go three years in a row.

Remember how pathetic of a reputation the Eagles had for always failing in the NFC Championship game at the peak of the careers of Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid?  Now they have three straight chances to get Lombardis.  Do they squander those away like they did with NFC Championships in real life?  What If Sports said no, they would have won two of three, as well as another one in 2008 over the Ravens.

The Patriots don’t go to the Super Bowl until 2006.

Among the current 32 teams, the Patriots would be tied for the 26th team to finally make it to the game. The team they’re tied with is the Saints, who’d they face in 2006–Bill Belichick’s seventh season with the Patriots and Drew Brees’s first with the Saints.  They would return to the Super Bowl three years out of four in 2012, 2013, and 2015.

Dan Marino goes to more Super Bowls than Fran Tarkenton, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Troy Aikman, and Peyton Manning

Marino shouldn’t get two excited, he merely doubles his existing number of Super Bowl appearances.  But at least he gets two, while all the other Hall of Fame quarterbacks listed get one.  Within Miami, Marino also blows away Bob Griese, who never goes to the Super Bowl–also meaning that there is no undefeated 1972 Dolphins.

Quarterbacks that see their Super Bowl appearances rise include Daryle Lamonica (3), Ken Stabler (3), Danny White (3 straight from 1980-1982), Dan Fouts (2), Steve Young (3), Mark Brunell (2), and the aforementioned McNabb (4). Brett Favre would also get 3 appearances, 2 as a Packer and 1 as a Viking.

As for the Broncos, they’re unfortunately just a rather unremarkable franchise when it comes to Super Bowls.

Denver would win the AFC Championship for the first time in 1991, and also have to face off against another first time participant: the Detroit Lions.  Containing Barry Sanders would be very difficult, but What If Sports said it was doable, giving the Broncos a 27-24 edge.

They would also face the Panthers a decade earlier in Super Bowl XL.  I also want to highlight how crazy the last two-plus minutes of this game was in What If Sports’s simulation:

  • With the Panthers leading 16-10, Jake Plummer throws an interception deep in Denver territory right before the two minute warning.
  • But then right after the two minute warning, Stephen Davis fumbles.
  • After the Broncos get stopped on downs, and force a three and out by using timeouts, they return the Panthers’ punt all the way to the Carolina 30. (What If Sports doesn’t list who ran it back; hopefully it was Darrent Williams ?)
  • And with ten seconds left, Plummer tosses a touchdown to Ashley Lelie to win 17-16.

Some notable Super Bowl matchups:

  • II: Cowboys vs. Oilers in a battle of Texas
  • V: 49ers vs. Raiders in a Bay Bridge Super Bowl
  • XVIII: 49ers vs. Seahawks, future division rivals
  • XXVIII: 49ers vs. Chiefs: Joe Montana against his former team
  • XXXI: Jaguars vs. Panthers, expansion franchises making the game in their second year of existence
  • XXXVI: Steelers vs. Eagles, a Keystone State Super Bowl
  • XLVI: 49ers vs. Ravens, the Harbaugh Bowl one year earlier