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History of the NFL championship

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Throughout its history, the National Football League (NFL) and other rival American football leagues have used several different formats to determine their league champions, including a period of inter-league matchups to determine a true national champion.

Following its founding in Canton, Ohio (1920), the NFL first determined champions through end-of-season standings, switching to a playoff system in 1933 (a one-game playoff was required in 1932).

The rival All-America Football Conference (AAFC) and American Football League (AFL) have since merged with the NFL (the only two AAFC teams that currently exist, the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers, joined the NFL in 1950), but *AAFC Championship Games and records are not included in the NFL's record books.[1][2] The AFL began play in 1960 and, like its rival league, used a playoff system to determine its champion.

From 1966 to 1969, prior to the merger in 1970, the NFL and the AFL agreed to hold an undisputed Championship Game called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game (renamed the Super Bowl after 1968).

Following the merger in 1970, the Super Bowl name continued as the game to determine the NFL champion. The most important factor of the merger was that all ten AFL teams joined the NFL in 1970, while all AFL Championship Games and records are included in NFL record books. The former NFL Championship Game became the NFC Championship Game, while the former AFL Championship Game became the AFC Championship Game. The NFL lists the old AFL/NFL championship games with "new" AFC/NFC championship games in its record books.

The Green Bay Packers have won the most NFL championship titles with 13 (nine pre-Super Bowl era NFL championships and four Super Bowls, including the first two AFL-NFL World Championship Games). The Chicago Bears have won the second most overall championships with nine (eight pre-Super Bowl era NFL championships and one Super Bowl). The Cleveland Browns are tied with the New York Giants for the third most overall championships with eight. The Cleveland Browns (four NFL Championships, four AAFC Championships) Their next Championship would be their ninth, tying the Bears. New York Giants would also tie the Chicago Bears with nine championships with their next win. (Four pre-Super Bowl era Championships and four Super Bowls.). The New York Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL won the last two AFL-NFL World Championship Games, after the Super Bowl name had been officially adopted.

1920–1932: The early years[edit]

At its inception in 1920, the NFL had no playoff system or championship game: the champion was the team with the best record during the season as determined by winning percentage, with ties excluded. This sometimes led to very unusual results, as teams played anywhere from six to twenty league games in a season, and not all teams played the same number of games or against league talent.

As a result, in the league's first six seasons, four league titles were disputed and had to be resolved by the league's executive committee. In 1920, the Akron Pros went undefeated, tying three games, but two teams that had won more games (and who had both tied Akron), the Buffalo All-Americans and Decatur Staleys, petitioned the league for a share of the title; both teams' petitions were denied, and Akron was awarded the first (and only) Brunswick-Balke Collender Cup. According to modern tie-breaking rules, Akron and Buffalo would be co-champions.[3] Akron and Buffalo both awarded their team members with gold medallions.[4]

The next was in the 1921 NFL season, between the same All-Americans and Staleys (with the latter now being based in Chicago). Buffalo had insisted that the last matchup between the two was an exhibition game not to be counted toward the standings, however, Chicago owner George Halas and league management insisted the game be counted in its standings (the league, at the time, did not recognize exhibition matches). The result was that although the two teams were effectively tied in the standings, the disputed game, having been played later, was given more weight and thus ended up being considered a de facto championship game. Chicago also had one fewer tie game.

A nearly identical situation recurred in 1924, when Chicago tried the same tactic of a final game against the Cleveland Bulldogs, but the league ruled the opposite and declared the last game "post-season", giving the Bulldogs their third consecutive league title.

The fourth and final disputed title was the 1925 NFL Championship controversy between the Pottsville Maroons and the Chicago Cardinals. The Maroons had been controversially suspended by the league at the end of the 1925 NFL season for an unauthorized game against a non-NFL team, allowing the Cardinals to throw together two fairly easy matches (one against a team consisting partly of high school players, also against league rules) to pass Pottsville in the standings. The league awarded the Cardinals the title, one of only two in the team's history, but the Cardinals declined the offer and the championship was vacated.

Only in 1933, when the Bidwill family (which still owns the Cardinals) bought the team, did the Cardinals reverse their decision and claim the title as their own, a decision that continues to be disputed, with the Bidwills opposing any change in the record and the two current Pennsylvania teams in favor. The league recognized the Bidwills' claim to the title and has taken no other action on the issue, although a self-made championship trophy from the Maroons sits in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ironically, it was Pottsville's win in that game against the Notre Dame All-Stars that gave professional football legitimacy over college football.

Part of the controversy over these older championships stems from the criteria the league used to determine its champion. The league used a variation of win percentage as its criterion, in which the number of wins is divided by the sum of wins and losses, and ties were excluded. The league began considering ties in its standings in 1972, counting them as half a win and half a loss, but this was not applied retroactively. Had it been, it would have changed the outcome of four 1920-1931 championships: the Buffalo All-Americans would have tied the Akron Pros for the 1920 title, the Duluth Kelleys would have tied the Cleveland Bulldogs for the 1924 title, the Pottsville Maroons would have won in 1925, and the New York Giants would have won in 1930.

Had win–loss differential (the standard method in baseball) been used, the Decatur Staleys would have won the 1920 title by virtue of being one game ahead of Buffalo, and the 1924 title would have been won by the Frankford Yellow Jackets, who were four games ahead of actual champion Cleveland in the standings by that measure.

At the end of the 1932 season, the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans were tied with the best winning percentage at .857, with the Spartans record of 6–1–4 and the Bears record of 6–1–6 taken to be six wins, one loss, while the Green Bay Packers finished 10–3–1. Had pure win–loss differential or the current (post-1972) system of counting ties as half a win, half a loss been in place in 1932, the Packers' record of 10–3–1 (.750, +7) would have won them a fourth consecutive championship, ahead of the Spartans' 6–1–4 (.727, +5) and the Bears' 6–1–6 (.692, +5).

To determine the champion, the league, reportedly at the behest of George Preston Marshall, voted to hold the first official playoff game in Chicago at Wrigley Field. Because of severe winter conditions before the game, and fear of low turnout, the game was held indoors at Chicago Stadium which forced some temporary rule changes. The game was played on a modified 80-yard dirt field, and Chicago won 9–0, winning the league championship. Since the game counted in the standings, Portsmouth finished third behind Green Bay.

A number of new rule changes were instituted, many inspired by the 1932 indoor championship game: the goal posts were moved forward to the goal line, every play started from between the hash marks, and forward passes could originate from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage (instead of five yards behind).

The playoff game proved so popular that the league reorganized into two divisions for the 1933 season, with the winners advancing to a scheduled championship game.

1933–1965: The advent of the postseason[edit]

1933–1965: NFL Championship Game[edit]

Starting in 1933, the NFL decided its champion through a single postseason playoff game, called the NFL Championship Game. During this period, the league divided its teams into two groups, through 1949 as divisions and from 1950 onward as conferences.

  • Divisions (1933–1949): Eastern and Western
  • Conferences (1950–1952): American and National
  • Conferences (1953–1966): Eastern and Western
  • Conferences and Divisions (1967–1969): Eastern (Capitol and Century) and Western (Central and Coastal)

Home field for the 1933 title game was determined by the won-lost percentage in use at the time; the Western Division champion Chicago Bears (10–2–1, .833), having a better record than the Eastern Division champion New York Giants (11–3–0, .786), won the right to host the first title playoff. Thereafter, from 1934 onward, the divisions alternated the site of the playoff, with the East/American hosting in even years and the West/National in odd years. If there was a tie for first place within the conference, an extra playoff game decided who would go to the NFL Championship Game, with a coin toss deciding where the game would be played. (This occurred nine times in these 34 seasons: 1941, 1943, 1947, 1950 (both conferences), 1952, 1957, 1958, and 1965.)

This last occurred during the 1965 season, when the Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Colts tied for first place in the Western Conference at 10–3–1. Green Bay had won both its games with Baltimore during the regular season, but because no tie-breaker system was in place, a conference playoff game was held on December 26 (what was scheduled to be an off-week between the end of the regular schedule and the NFL Championship Game). The Cleveland Browns, the Eastern champion at 11–3–0, did not play that week. The championship game was then held on its originally scheduled date, January 2, 1966—the first time the NFL champion was crowned in January. Green Bay won both post-season games at home, beating the injury-riddled Colts (with third-string QB Tom Matte) in overtime by a controversial field goal, and taking the title 23–12 on a very muddy field (in what turned out to be Jim Brown's final NFL game).

For the 1960 through 1969 seasons, the NFL staged an additional postseason game called the "Playoff Bowl" (aka the "Bert Bell Benefit Bowl" or the "Runner-up Bowl"). These games matched the second-place teams from the two conferences; the CBS television network advertised them as "playoff games for third place in the NFL." All ten of these consolation games were played in the Orange Bowl in Miami in January, the week after the NFL championship game. The NFL now classifies these contests as exhibition games and does not include the records, participants, or results in the official league playoff statistics. The Playoff Bowl was discontinued after the AFL–NFL merger; the final edition was played in January 1970.

Starting with the 1934 game the winning team received the Ed Thorp Memorial Trophy. The trophy was named after Ed Thorp, a noted referee, rules expert, and sporting goods dealer. Thorp died in 1934 and a large, traveling trophy was made that year, passed along from champion to champion each season with each championship team's name inscribed on it. Teams would also receive a replica trophy. The trophy was last awarded to the Minnesota Vikings in 1969.

Late in the 1940 season, NFL President Carl Storck announced that sudden death periods would be authorized for any playoff game needed to decide either division title. It was emphasized that this did not apply to the final championship game, which would crown co-champions in the event of a tie.[5] While a shared championship was deemed an acceptable solution, it must have become obvious that an elimination game leading to the championship must necessarily produce a winner. Commissioner Elmer Layden approved a similar arrangement for the 1941 season, with the same limitation. A coin toss would decide possession of the Ed Thorp trophy that accompanied the league title should the championship game result in a tie.[6]

Sudden death overtime was finally approved for the NFL championship game in 1946[7] and has remained in effect ever since.[8][9] The first playoff game requiring overtime was the 1958 NFL Championship Game.

The 1955 and 1960 NFL championship games were played on Monday afternoons, Christmas having fallen on a Sunday in those years.

1946–1949: AAFC championship game[edit]

The All-America Football Conference was created in June 1944 to compete against the NFL. Even though the league drew comparable crowds to the NFL in its final three seasons, the continuing dominance of the Cleveland Browns led to the league's downfall.

For its first three seasons, the league was divided into two divisions: Eastern and Western (1946–1948). The league had no divisions in 1949. The site of the championship game during the first three was determined just as it was in the NFL—a divisional rotation. In 1949, the league held a four-team playoff, with home field based upon won-lost record.

The Browns, led by Quarterback Otto Graham, won all four of the league championship games.

A tiebreaker playoff game was played in 1948 to break a tie between the Baltimore Colts and Buffalo Bills (AAFC) for the Eastern Division championship. Semifinal playoff games were held in 1949, setting up a championship final between the first-place Browns and the second-place San Francisco 49ers.

In 1948, the Browns became the first professional football team to complete an entire season undefeated and untied — 24 years before the 1972 Miami Dolphins of the NFL would accomplish the task, but this feat is not recognized by NFL record books. Unlike the AFL statistics which are treated as NFL statistics, records of the AAFC and its teams (most of which folded) are not recognized. However, individual AAFC player statistics are included in Pro Football Hall of Fame records, and the defunct conference is memorialized in the Hall.

From 1946 to 1948 the champions of each division met in the AAFC championship game. In 1949, there was only one seven-team division, so the championship game was the final round of a four team tournament.

1946 December 22 Cleveland Browns 14–9 New York Yankees, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, 41,181
1947 December 14 Cleveland Browns 14–3 New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium, 60,103
1948 December 19 Cleveland Browns 49–7 Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, 22,981
1949 December 11 Cleveland Browns 21–7 San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Municipal Stadium, 22,550

1960–1969: AFL Championship Game[edit]

With its creation in 1960, the AFL determined its champion via a single playoff game between the winners of its two divisions, the Eastern and Western. The AFL Championship games featured classics such as the 1962 double-overtime championship game between the Dallas Texans and the defending champion Houston Oilers. At the time it was the longest professional football championship game ever played. Also in 1963, an Eastern Division playoff was needed to determine the division winner between the Boston Patriots and Buffalo Bills.

1966–1969: NFL vs. AFL—The beginning of the Super Bowl era[edit]

In 1966, the success of the rival AFL, the spectre of the NFL's losing more stars to the AFL, and concern over a costly "bidding war" for players precipitated by the NFL's Giants' signing of Pete Gogolak, who was under contract to the AFL's Buffalo Bills, led the two leagues to discuss a merger. Pivotal to this was approval by Congress of a law (PL 89-800) that would waive jeopardy to anti-trust statutes for the merged leagues. The major point of the testimony given by the leagues to obtain the law was that if the merger were permitted, "Professional football operations will be preserved in the 23 cities and 25 stadiums where such operations are presently being conducted." The merger was announced on June 8, 1966, and became fully effective in 1970.

The Packers defeated the Chiefs in the first AFL–NFL Championship Game (Super Bowl I)

After expanding to enfranchise the New Orleans Saints in 1967, the NFL split its 16 teams into two conferences with two divisions each: the Capitol and Century Divisions in the Eastern Conference, and the Coastal and Central Divisions in the Western Conference. The playoff format was expanded from a single championship game to a four-team tournament, with the four divisional champions participating. The two division winners in each conference met in the "Conference Championships", with the winners advancing to the NFL Championship Game. Again, the home team for each playoff game was determined by a yearly divisional or conference rotation.

The AFL, on the other hand, raised its total franchise number to ten with the Miami Dolphins joining the Eastern Division in 1966 and the Cincinnati Bengals joining the Western Division in 1968. The league until 1969 kept using the one-game-playoff format except when division tie-breakers were needed. In its final season, 1969, the AFL adopted a four-team playoff to determine its champion.

Following the NFL and AFL Championship Games for the 1966 through 1969 seasons, the NFL champion played the AFL champion in Super Bowls I through IV, the only true inter-league championship games in the history of professional football. The first two of these games were known as the AFL-NFL Championship Game, as the title Super Bowl was not chosen until 1968. Thus the third AFL-NFL matchup was dubbed "Super Bowl III" and the first two matches were retronamed as Super Bowls I and II. The first two games were convincingly won by the NFL's Packers, the last two by the AFL's New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, leaving the leagues even at 2–2 in "Championship" competition when they subsequently merged.

All participants in those four AFL-NFL championship games were either AFL champions or NFL champions in the record books, no matter the outcome of the Super Bowl. Three of the four league champions who lost one of the first four Super Bowls would eventually win at least one. The exception is the Minnesota Vikings which went to three others and lost all of them.

1970–present: The Super Bowl era[edit]


After the 1969 season and Super Bowl IV, the AFL and NFL fully merged and underwent a re-alignment for the 1970 season. Three of the pre-merger NFL teams were transferred to the AFC (Browns, Colts, and Steelers) to level the conferences (AFC and NFC) at 13 teams each; each conference split into three divisions.

The Colts beat the Cowboys in the first Super Bowl after the AFL–NFL merger (Super Bowl V)

With only six division winners in the newly merged league, the NFL designed an eight-team playoff tournament, with four clubs from each conference qualifying. Along with the three division winners in each conference, two wild card teams (one from each conference), the second-place finishers with the best records in each conference, were added to the tournament. The first round was named the "Divisional Playoffs", the winners advancing to the "Conference Championships" (AFC & NFC). Two weeks later, the AFC and NFC champions met in the Super Bowl, now the league's championship game. Thus, Super Bowl V in January 1971 was the first Super Bowl played for the NFL title.

With the introduction of the wild card, a rule was instituted to prohibit two teams from the same division (champion and wild card) from meeting in the first-round (Divisional Playoffs). This rule would remain in effect through the 1989 season. More significantly, the home teams in the playoffs were still decided by a yearly divisional rotation, not on regular-season records (excluding the wild-card teams, who would always play on the road). This lack of "home-field advantage" was most evident in the 1972 playoffs, when the undefeated Miami Dolphins played the AFC Championship Game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh against the Steelers, who were undefeated at home during the regular season, but had three losses on the road.

Beginning in 1972, tie games were included in the computing of each team's winning percentage. Each tie was then counted as half of a win and half of a loss, rather than being omitted from the computation. Previously, the NFL disregarded any tie games played when they computed the standings, basing it on winning percentage with any ties thrown out and ignored. Overtime games were not played during the regular season until 1974.

The institution of "home-field advantage"[edit]

In 1975, the league modified its 1970 playoff format by instituting a seeding system. The surviving clubs with the higher seeds were made the home teams for each playoff round. The three division champions in each conference were seeded first through third based on their regular-season records, with the wild-card team in each conference as the fourth seed.[10][11][12][13]

Teams that earned the top seed became known as clinching "home-field advantage" throughout the playoffs, since they played all of their playoff games at their home stadium (except for the Super Bowl, played at a neutral site).

However, the league continued to prohibit meetings between teams from the same division in the Divisional Playoffs. Thus, there would be times when the pairing in that round would pit the first seed versus the third, and the second versus the fourth.

Further playoff expansion[edit]

The league expanded the playoffs to 10 teams in 1978, adding a second wild-card team (a fifth seed) from each conference. The two wild-card teams from each conference (the fourth and fifth seeds) played each other in the first round, called the "Wild Card Playoffs."[11] The division winners (the first three seeds) would then receive a bye to automatically advance to the Divisional Playoffs, which became the second round of the playoffs. In the divisional round, much like the 1970 playoff format, teams from the same division were still prohibited from playing each other, regardless of seeding. Under the 1978 format, teams from the same division could meet only in the wild-card round or the conference championship. Thus, as before, a divisional champion could only play a divisional foe in the conference championship game.

A players' strike shortened the 1982 season to nine games. The league used a special 16-team playoff tournament for that year. The top eight teams from each conference qualified (ignoring the divisional races—there were no division standings, and in some cases, two teams from the same division did not play each other at all that season). The playoffs reverted to the 1978 format in the following year.

In 1990, the NFL expanded the playoffs to twelve teams by adding a third wild-card team (a sixth seed) from each conference. The restrictions on intra-division playoff games during the Divisional Playoffs were removed. However, only the top two division winners in each conference (the 1 and 2 seeds) received byes and automatically advanced to the Divisional Playoffs as host teams. The 3 seed, the division winner with the worst regular-season record in each conference, would then host the 6 seed in the Wild Card Playoffs.[14][15][16]

In each conference, the matchup between the 3 and 6 seeds in the wild-card round dictated where the wild-card round winners traveled to for the divisional round:

  • If the 3-seeded team won, they traveled to the 2-seeded team while the winner of the 4 vs. 5 matchup traveled to the 1-seeded team.
  • If the 6-seeded team won, they traveled to the 1-seeded team while the winner of the 4 vs. 5 matchup traveled to the 2-seeded team.

In 2002, the NFL realigned into eight divisions, four per conference, to accommodate a 32nd team, the Houston Texans. The playoffs remained a 12-team tournament, with four division winners (the 1, 2, 3, and 4 seeds) and two wild cards (the 5 and 6 seeds) from each conference advancing to the playoffs.[17][18][19][20] Again, only the top two division winners in each conference would automatically advance to the Divisional Playoffs, while everybody else had to play in the Wild Card round. Furthermore, the league still maintains the names "Wild Card Playoffs", "Divisional Playoffs", and "Conference Championships" for the first, second, and third rounds of the playoffs, respectively.

A proposal to expand the playoffs to 14 teams by adding a third wild card team (a seventh seed) from each conference, and only giving the 1 seeds the bye in the first round, was tabled by the league owners in 2013.[21] Finally, for the 2020 season, seven teams per conference made the playoffs, with only the top seed in each conference receiving a bye.[22][23][24]

Championship games per season[edit]

Below is a list of professional football champions per season as recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

APFA/NFL standings champions (1920–1932)[edit]

For the first thirteen seasons, the APFA/NFL did not hold a championship game, except in 1932, when a playoff game was held. Played indoors on a reduced-size field in order to break a tie in the standings, it was the precursor to the championship game (though the losing team finished in third place in the final standings). For the seasons from 19201971, the NFL did not include tie games in the winning percentage; they were omitted from the calculation.

Season League Name Team Win Loss Tie Pct.
  1920[25] APFA Akron Pros (1) 8 0 3 .864
1921 APFA Chicago Staleys[26] (1) 9 1 1 .864
1922 NFL Canton Bulldogs (1) 10 0 2 .917
1923 NFL Canton Bulldogs (2) 11 0 1 .958
1924 NFL Cleveland Bulldogs (1) 7 1 1 .833
1925 NFL Chicago Cardinals (1) 11 2 1 .821
1926 NFL Frankford Yellow Jackets (1) 14 1 2 .882
1927 NFL New York Giants (1) 11 1 1 .885
1928 NFL Providence Steam Roller (1) 8 1 2 .818
1929 NFL Green Bay Packers (1) 12 0 1 .962
1930 NFL Green Bay Packers (2) 10 3 1 .750
1931 NFL Green Bay Packers (3) 12 2 0 .857
1932 NFL Chicago Bears (2) 7 1 6 .714

NFL Championship Game (1933–1965)[edit]

Season League Winning Team Score Losing Team Venue Attendance
1933 NFL Chicago Bears (3) 23–21 New York Giants Wrigley Field 26,000
1934 NFL New York Giants (2) 30–13 Chicago Bears Polo Grounds 35,059
1935 NFL Detroit Lions (1) 26–7 New York Giants University of Detroit Stadium 15,000
1936 NFL Green Bay Packers (4) 21–6 Boston Redskins Polo Grounds 29,545
1937 NFL Washington Redskins (1) 28–21 Chicago Bears Wrigley Field 15,870
1938 NFL New York Giants (3) 23–17 Green Bay Packers Polo Grounds 48,120
1939 NFL Green Bay Packers (5) 27–0 New York Giants Dairy Bowl 32,279
1940 NFL Chicago Bears (4) 73–0 Washington Redskins Griffith Stadium 36,034
1941 NFL Chicago Bears (5) 37–9 New York Giants Wrigley Field 13,341
1942 NFL Washington Redskins (2) 14–6 Chicago Bears Griffith Stadium 36,006
1943 NFL Chicago Bears (6) 41–21 Washington Redskins Wrigley Field 34,320
1944 NFL Green Bay Packers (6) 14–7 New York Giants Polo Grounds 46,016
1945 NFL Cleveland Rams (1) 15–14 Washington Redskins Cleveland Municipal Stadium 32,178
1946 NFL Chicago Bears (7) 24–14 New York Giants Polo Grounds 58,346
1947 NFL Chicago Cardinals (2) 28–21 Philadelphia Eagles Comiskey Park 30,759
1948 NFL Philadelphia Eagles (1) 7–0 Chicago Cardinals Shibe Park 36,309
1949 NFL Philadelphia Eagles (2) 14–0 Los Angeles Rams Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 27,980
1950 NFL Cleveland Browns (5) 30–28 Los Angeles Rams Cleveland Municipal Stadium 29,751
1951 NFL Los Angeles Rams (2) 24–17 Cleveland Browns Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 57,522
1952 NFL Detroit Lions (2) 17–7 Cleveland Browns Cleveland Municipal Stadium 50,934
1953 NFL Detroit Lions (3) 17–16 Cleveland Browns Briggs Stadium 54,577
1954 NFL Cleveland Browns (6) 56–10 Detroit Lions Cleveland Municipal Stadium 43,827
1955 NFL Cleveland Browns (7) 38–14 Los Angeles Rams Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 85,693
1956 NFL New York Giants (4) 47–7 Chicago Bears Yankee Stadium 56,836
1957 NFL Detroit Lions (4) 59–14 Cleveland Browns Briggs Stadium 55,263
1958 NFL Baltimore Colts (1) 23–17 (OT) New York Giants Yankee Stadium 64,185
1959 NFL Baltimore Colts (2) 31–16 New York Giants Memorial Stadium 57,545
1960 NFL Philadelphia Eagles (3) 17–13 Green Bay Packers Franklin Field 67,325
1961 NFL Green Bay Packers (7) 37–0 New York Giants "New" City Stadium 39,029
1962 NFL Green Bay Packers (8) 16–7 New York Giants Yankee Stadium 64,892
1963 NFL Chicago Bears (8) 14–10 New York Giants Wrigley Field 45,801
1964 NFL Cleveland Browns (8) 27–0 Baltimore Colts Cleveland Municipal Stadium 79,544
1965 NFL Green Bay Packers (9) 23–12 Cleveland Browns Lambeau Field 50,777

Super Bowl championship (1966–present)[edit]

Season League Game Winning team Score Losing team Venue Attendance
1966 NFL
I Green Bay Packers (1) (10) 35–10 Kansas City Chiefs Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 61,946
1967 NFL
II Green Bay Packers (2) (11) 33–14 Oakland Raiders Miami Orange Bowl 75,546
1968 NFL
III New York Jets (1) (1) 16–7 Baltimore Colts Miami Orange Bowl 75,389
1969 NFL
IV Kansas City Chiefs (1) (1) 23–7 Minnesota Vikings Tulane Stadium 80,562
1970 NFL V Baltimore Colts (1) (3) 16–13 Dallas Cowboys Miami Orange Bowl 79,204
1971 NFL VI Dallas Cowboys (1) (1) 24–3 Miami Dolphins Tulane Stadium 81,023
1972 NFL VII Miami Dolphins (1) (1) 14–7 Washington Redskins Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 90,182
1973 NFL VIII Miami Dolphins (2) (2) 24–7 Minnesota Vikings Rice Stadium 71,882
1974 NFL IX Pittsburgh Steelers (1) (1) 16–6 Minnesota Vikings Tulane Stadium 80,997
1975 NFL X Pittsburgh Steelers (2) (2) 21–17 Dallas Cowboys Miami Orange Bowl 80,187
1976 NFL XI Oakland Raiders (1) (1) 32–14 Minnesota Vikings Rose Bowl 103,438
1977 NFL XII Dallas Cowboys (2) (2) 27–10 Denver Broncos Louisiana Superdome 76,400
1978 NFL XIII Pittsburgh Steelers (3) (3) 35–31 Dallas Cowboys Miami Orange Bowl 79,484
1979 NFL XIV Pittsburgh Steelers (4) (4) 31–19 Los Angeles Rams Rose Bowl 103,985
1980 NFL XV Oakland Raiders (2) (2) 27–10 Philadelphia Eagles Louisiana Superdome 76,135
1981 NFL XVI San Francisco 49ers (1) (1) 26–21 Cincinnati Bengals Pontiac Silverdome 81,270
1982 NFL XVII Washington Redskins (1) (3) 27–17 Miami Dolphins Rose Bowl 103,667
1983 NFL XVIII Los Angeles Raiders (3) (3) 38–9 Washington Redskins Tampa Stadium 72,920
1984 NFL XIX San Francisco 49ers (2) (2) 38–16 Miami Dolphins Stanford Stadium 84,059
1985 NFL XX Chicago Bears (1) (9) 46–10 New England Patriots Louisiana Superdome 73,818
1986 NFL XXI New York Giants (1) (5) 39–20 Denver Broncos Rose Bowl 101,063
1987 NFL XXII Washington Redskins (2) (4) 42–10 Denver Broncos Jack Murphy Stadium 73,302
1988 NFL XXIII San Francisco 49ers (3) (3) 20–16 Cincinnati Bengals Joe Robbie Stadium 75,129
1989 NFL XXIV San Francisco 49ers (4) (4) 55–10 Denver Broncos Louisiana Superdome 72,919
1990 NFL XXV New York Giants (2) (6) 20–19 Buffalo Bills Tampa Stadium 73,813
1991 NFL XXVI Washington Redskins (3) (5) 37–24 Buffalo Bills Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome 63,130
1992 NFL XXVII Dallas Cowboys (3) (3) 52–17 Buffalo Bills Rose Bowl 98,374
1993 NFL XXVIII Dallas Cowboys (4) (4) 30–13 Buffalo Bills Georgia Dome 72,817
1994 NFL XXIX San Francisco 49ers (5) (5) 49–26 San Diego Chargers Joe Robbie Stadium 74,107
1995 NFL XXX Dallas Cowboys (5) (5) 27–17 Pittsburgh Steelers Sun Devil Stadium 76,347
1996 NFL XXXI Green Bay Packers (3) (12) 35–21 New England Patriots Louisiana Superdome 72,301
1997 NFL XXXII Denver Broncos (1) (1) 31–24 Green Bay Packers Qualcomm Stadium 68,912
1998 NFL XXXIII Denver Broncos (2) (2) 34–19 Atlanta Falcons Pro Player Stadium 74,803
1999 NFL XXXIV St. Louis Rams (1) (3) 23–16 Tennessee Titans Georgia Dome 72,625
2000 NFL XXXV Baltimore Ravens (1) (1) 34–7 New York Giants Raymond James Stadium 71,921
2001 NFL XXXVI New England Patriots (1) (1) 20–17 St. Louis Rams Louisiana Superdome 72,922
2002 NFL XXXVII Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1) (1) 48–21 Oakland Raiders Qualcomm Stadium 67,603
2003 NFL XXXVIII New England Patriots (2) (2) 32–29 Carolina Panthers Reliant Stadium 71,525
2004 NFL XXXIX New England Patriots (3) (3) 24–21 Philadelphia Eagles Alltel Stadium 78,125
2005 NFL XL Pittsburgh Steelers (5) (5) 21–10 Seattle Seahawks Ford Field 68,206
2006 NFL XLI Indianapolis Colts (2) (4) 29–17 Chicago Bears Dolphin Stadium 74,512
2007 NFL XLII New York Giants (3) (7) 17–14 New England Patriots University of Phoenix Stadium 71,101
2008 NFL XLIII Pittsburgh Steelers (6) (6) 27–23 Arizona Cardinals Raymond James Stadium 70,774
2009 NFL XLIV New Orleans Saints (1) (1) 31–17 Indianapolis Colts Sun Life Stadium 74,059
2010 NFL XLV Green Bay Packers (4) (13) 31–25 Pittsburgh Steelers Cowboys Stadium 103,219
2011 NFL XLVI New York Giants (4) (8) 21–17 New England Patriots Lucas Oil Stadium 68,658
2012 NFL XLVII Baltimore Ravens (2) (2) 34–31 San Francisco 49ers Mercedes-Benz Superdome 71,024
2013 NFL XLVIII Seattle Seahawks (1) (1) 43–8 Denver Broncos MetLife Stadium 82,529
2014 NFL XLIX New England Patriots (4) (4) 28–24 Seattle Seahawks University of Phoenix Stadium 70,288
2015 NFL 50 Denver Broncos (3) (3) 24–10 Carolina Panthers Levi's Stadium 71,088
2016 NFL LI New England Patriots (5) (5) 34–28 (OT) Atlanta Falcons NRG Stadium 70,807
2017 NFL LII Philadelphia Eagles (1) (4) 41–33 New England Patriots U.S. Bank Stadium 67,612
2018 NFL LIII New England Patriots (6) (6) 13–3 Los Angeles Rams Mercedes-Benz Stadium 73,019
2019 NFL LIV Kansas City Chiefs (2) (2) 31–20 San Francisco 49ers Hard Rock Stadium 62,417
2020 NFL LV Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2) (2) 31–9 Kansas City Chiefs Raymond James Stadium 25,000
2021 NFL LVI Los Angeles Rams (2) (4) 23–20 Cincinnati Bengals SoFi Stadium 70,048
2022 NFL LVII Kansas City Chiefs (3) (3) 38–35 Philadelphia Eagles State Farm Stadium 67,827
2023 NFL LVIII Kansas City Chiefs (4) (4) 25–22 (OT) San Francisco 49ers Allegiant Stadium 61,629

NFL championships by franchise[edit]

In the sortable table below, teams are ordered first by number of wins, then by number of appearances, then by year of first championship won, and finally by year of first appearance. Does not include the AFL or NFL championships won during the same seasons as the AFL–NFL Super Bowl championships before the 1970 AFL–NFL merger. Does not include AFL titles won from 1960 to 1965 or AAFC titles won from 1946 to 1949. Does not include folded NFL teams with zero "Appearances/Top 2 Finishes." In the "Seasons" column, bold years indicate NFL championships won.

Current NFL Team Folded Team

Appearances/Top 2 Finishes Franchise Wins Losses/Runner-Ups Win % Seasons
18 Green Bay Packers 13 5 .722 1927, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1936, 1938, 1939, 1944, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1996, 1997, 2010
19 Chicago Bears 9 10 .474 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1937, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1946, 1956, 1963, 1985, 2006
22 New York Giants 8 14 .364 1927, 1929, 1930, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1944, 1946, 1956, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1986, 1990, 2000, 2007, 2011
11 Boston / New England Patriots 6 5 .545 1985, 1996, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018
8 Pittsburgh Steelers 6 2 .750 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1995, 2005, 2008, 2010
11 Boston / Washington Redskins / Commanders 5 6 .455 1936, 1937, 1940, 1942, 1943, 1945, 1972, 1982, 1983, 1987, 1991
8 Dallas Cowboys 5 3 .625 1970, 1971, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1992, 1993, 1995
8 San Francisco 49ers 5 3 .625 1981, 1984, 1988, 1989, 1994, 2012, 2019, 2023
10 Cleveland / St. Louis / Los Angeles Rams 4 6 .400 1945, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1955, 1979, 1999, 2001, 2018, 2021
9 Cleveland Browns 4 5 .444 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1957, 1964, 1965
8 Philadelphia Eagles 4 4 .500 1947, 1948, 1949, 1960, 1980, 2004, 2017, 2022
7 Baltimore / Indianapolis Colts 4 3 .571 1958, 1959, 1964, 1968, 1970, 2006, 2009
6 Detroit Lions 4 2 .667 1931, 1935, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1957
6 Dallas Texans / Kansas City Chiefs 4 2 .667 1966, 1969, 2019, 2020, 2022, 2023
8 Denver Broncos 3 5 .375 1977, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1997, 1998, 2013, 2015
5 Oakland / Los Angeles / Las Vegas Raiders 3 2 .600 1967, 1976, 1980, 1983, 2002
5 Miami Dolphins 2 3 .400 1971, 1972, 1973, 1982, 1984
4 Chicago / St. Louis / Phoenix / Arizona Cardinals 2 2 .500 1925, 1947, 1948, 2008
2 Canton Bulldogs 2 0 1.000 1922, 1923
2 Baltimore Ravens 2 0 1.000 2000, 2012
2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2 0 1.000 2002, 2020
3 Seattle Seahawks 1 2 .333 2005, 2013, 2014
2 Frankford Yellow Jackets 1 1 .500 1926, 1928
1 Akron Pros 1 0 1.000 1920
1 Cleveland Bulldogs 1 0 1.000 1924
1 Providence Steam Rollers 1 0 1.000 1928
1 New York Jets 1 0 1.000 1968
1 New Orleans Saints 1 0 1.000 2009
4 Minnesota Vikings 0 4 .000 1969, 1973, 1974, 1976
4 Buffalo Bills 0 4 .000 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993
3 Cincinnati Bengals 0 3 .000 1981, 1988, 2021
2 Atlanta Falcons 0 2 .000 1998, 2016
2 Carolina Panthers 0 2 .000 2003, 2015
1 Buffalo All-Americans 0 1 .000 1921
1 Pottsville Maroons 0 1 .000 1925
1 San Diego / Los Angeles Chargers 0 1 .000 1994
1 Houston Oilers / Tennessee Titans 0 1 .000 1999
0 Jacksonville Jaguars 0 0
0 Houston Texans 0 0

List of various league/world championship game systems[edit]

Current NFL championship system Inter-league/world championship system Defunct league championship system
League Official name Common name First year Last year Trophy name
NFL NFL champion
(No championship game played)
NFL Champion 1920 1932 Brunswick-Balke Collender Cup, 1920
None, 1921–32
NFL Championship Game NFL Championship 1933 1965 Ed Thorp Memorial Trophy
AFL AFL Championship Game AFL Championship 1960 1965 AFL Trophy
AFL-NFL World Championship Game[broken anchor] World Championship of Pro Football
AFL-NFL World Championship Game
Super Bowl
1966 1969 Vince Lombardi Trophy
NFL Super Bowl
"(Modern) NFL Championship"
Super Bowl
World Championship
(Modern) NFL Championship
1970 Present

Undefeated regular seasons and "perfect seasons" in professional football[edit]

Perfect Season
League Season Franchise Regular Season Post Season Result(s) Recognition
Wins Losses Ties Pct. Finish
NFL 1920 Akron Pros* 8 0 3 0.864 1st NFL No Post-Season – Championship by league vote NFL: No
1922 Canton Bulldogs* 10 0 2 0.917 1st NFL No Post-Season – Championship by standings NFL: No
1923 Canton Bulldogs* 11 0 1 0.958 1st NFL No Post-Season – Championship by standings NFL: No
1929 Green Bay Packers* 12 0 1 0.962 1st NFL No Post-Season – Championship by standings NFL: No
1934 Chicago Bears 13 0 0 1.000 1st NFL West Lost NFL Championship (Giants) (13-30) NFL: Yes
HOF: Yes
1942 Chicago Bears 11 0 0 1.000 1st NFL West Lost NFL Championship (Redskins) (6-14) NFL: Yes
HOF: Yes
AAFC 1948 Cleveland Browns 14 0 0 1.000 1st AAFC West Won AAFC championship (Bills) (49-7) NFL: No
HOF: Yes
NFL 1972 Miami Dolphins 14 0 0 1.000 1st AFC East Won Divisional Playoffs (Browns) (20-14)
Won Conference Championship (Steelers) (21-17)
Won Super Bowl VII (Redskins) (14-7)
NFL: Yes
HOF: Yes
NFL 2007 New England Patriots 16 0 0 1.000 1st AFC East Won Divisional Playoffs (Jaguars) (31-20)
Won Conference Championship (Chargers) (21-12)
Lost Super Bowl XLII (Giants) (14-17)
NFL: Yes
HOF: Yes

(*) Since the NFL did not count tied games in league standings until 1972, these seasons were considered to be "perfect" at the time they finished; further, these teams had no incentive to avoid tied games in order to maintain a "perfect" season. Thus, the accuracy of calling these seasons "imperfect" is still disputed.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daniel Brown; Mark Emmons (November 8, 2011). "49ers great Joe Perry and the stats that don't count". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved November 8, 2011.
  2. ^ Tony Grossi (February 2, 2008). "Browns put together a forgotten perfect season in 1948". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved February 2, 2008.
  3. ^ "NFL tie breaking rules". NFL.com.
  4. ^ "Akron Pros' Karl Johnson fob".
  5. ^ The New York Times, November 19, 1940. Novel Plan Adopted to Decide Play-offs, p. 22
  6. ^ The New York Times , December 2, 1941. Play-Off Plans Given by Layden, p. 33.
  7. ^ The New York Times, April 30, 1946. Danzig, Allison, Pro Giants To Play Seven Home Games, p. 27.
  8. ^ The New York Times, December 18, 1948, Cards And Eagles Evenly Matched, p. 17.
  9. ^ The New York Times, December 11, 1950, Sudden Death Overtime For Play-Off Contests, p. 33
  10. ^ "Top Seeds | Pro Football Hall of Fame". pfhof. Retrieved 2024-02-19.
  11. ^ a b "Teams without a bye have a tough road to the Super Bowl". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2024-02-19.
  12. ^ "Graphic: Which NFL playoff seeds succeed?". ESPN.com. 2013-01-03. Retrieved 2024-02-19.
  13. ^ "1975 | Pro Football Hall of Fame". pfhof. Retrieved 2024-02-19.
  14. ^ Stewart, Larry (1990-03-02). "NFL Adds Two Teams to Playoffs : Pro football: Lucrative four-year agreement with ABC allows the network to keep Monday night games and add postseason games". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2023-12-12.
  15. ^ Oates, Bob (1990-12-27). "Reaction Mixed to Playoff Changes : NFL: New rules hurt some division champions, but spur fan interest of extra wild-card teams". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2023-12-12.
  16. ^ Eskenazi, Gerald (March 2, 1990). "N.F.L. Is Expanding Playoffs And Revenue From Television". New York Times. p. B9. Retrieved December 11, 2023.
  17. ^ "Realignment for 2002". National Football League. May 23, 2001. Retrieved November 6, 2016.
  18. ^ Mason, Andrew (May 23, 2001). "Old faces, new places". National Football League. Archived from the original on June 5, 2001. Retrieved November 6, 2016.
  19. ^ Farmer, Sam (2001-05-23). "NFL Votes to Realign in 2002". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2024-01-07.
  20. ^ Oates, Bob (2002-02-02). "Schedules Will Be Balanced". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2024-01-07.
  21. ^ For more information on the proposed playoff expansion visit
  22. ^ Seifert, Kevin (March 31, 2020). "NFL owners vote to approve expanded 14-team playoff format". ESPN. Retrieved April 1, 2020.
  23. ^ Seifert, Kevin (2020-03-31). "How will expanded NFL playoffs work? Here's what you need to know". ESPN.com. Retrieved 2024-02-19.
  24. ^ Patra, Kevin (March 31, 2020). "Owners approve expanding postseason to 14 teams". NFL.com. Retrieved 2024-02-19.
  25. ^ No official standings were maintained for the 1920 season, and the championship was awarded to the Akron Pros in a league meeting on April 30, 1921. Clubs played schedules that included games against non-league opponents.
  26. ^ Became the Chicago Bears in 1922