I know this is probably not a shock to you, but the Conference Championship teams tend to make the playoffs in the following year. Good teams usually stay good enough to at least crack the postseason. But every single season, at least one of those teams falls out of the mix. It’s been 25 years since all four conference championship teams all made the playoffs the following year.
As a reminder, 2020 was the first year seven teams from each conference made it, so generally speaking we are talking about the reigning conference champions being among the six best teams in their conference again the next season.
2020: San Francisco 49ers
The 2019 San Francisco 49ers made it all the way to the Super Bowl, but didn’t make the playoffs in 2020 following an injury-plagued year where they lost multiple starters including QB Jimmy Garoppolo. They went from 13-3 to 6-10.
2019: Los Angeles Rams
The Rams represented the NFC in the Super Bowl in 2018 with a 13-3 record, but fell to 9-7 in 2019. Their offensive line had a bit of a problematic year and they suffered from inconsistent QB play. It’s important to note they would have qualified as the seventh team in the NFC under the current league rules.
2018: Jacksonville Jaguars
We knew the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars were holding it together with chewing gum and masking tape, and the bottom fell out in 2018. After going 10-6 and putting together an unlikely playoff run, they fell to 5-11 the following season with Blake Bortles.
2018: Minnesota Vikings
The 2017 Vikings went 13-3 to secure the second seed in the NFC then a come-from-behind miracle propelled them to the NFC Championship. But in 2018, they finished 8-7-1 as they lost their Week 17 game to the Chicago Bears and were eliminated from the playoffs.
2017: Green Bay Packers
The 10-6 Packers fell to 7-9 in 2017, largely due to coaching. That eventually fell apart with Mike McCarthy getting fired.
2016: Carolina Panthers
From 15-1 to 6-10, this is the biggest slide we’re going to see on this list. Cam Newton’s injuries caught up with him following his MVP season, with concussions and poor line play derailing a promising season. Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane were both on this team, so it hits close to home.
2016: Arizona Cardinals
After going 13-3 in 2015, the Cardinals finished 7-9-1 in 2016. Close losses and injuries to Carson Palmer and the offensive line limited the offense’s effectiveness.
2016: Denver Broncos
The Broncos went 12-4 and won the Super Bowl before falling to earth in 2016. They finished at 9-7 and eight in the AFC after Peyton Manning retired. That’s obviously a pretty big shift.
2015: Indianapolis Colts
Injuries to Andrew Luck and some questionable coaching dropped the Colts to 8-8 after an 11-5 season in 2014.
2014: San Francisco 49ers
After a 12-4 in 2013, the 49ers fell apart in 2014, finishing 8-8. They lost several defensive starters to injury but still managed a decent season on that side of the ball. Colin Kaepernick was sacked 52 times and the passing offense could not get in a rhythm.
2013: Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens went from 10-6 and a Super Bowl win to 8-8 and the eighth spot in the AFC. Eight starters left that roster, including Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. Joe Flacco came back to earth.
2012: New York Giants
The 2011 New York Giants were a 9-7 football team that got hot at the right time to win the Super Bowl. The 2012 New York Giants were 9-7 and missed the playoffs by one game, finishing eighth in the NFC.
2011: Chicago Bears
The Bears started 7-3 after getting to the NFC Championship Game but fell apart, going 1-5 down the stretch to finish 8-8 and seventh in the NFC.
2011: New York Jets
The Jets were a flash in the pan and ran a successful defense to the AFC Championship Game with Mark Sanchez under center. After an 11-5 season, they could only muster 8-8 in 2011 to finish eighth.
2010: Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings went from 12-4 to 6-10 after injuries to Brett Favre limited his effectiveness. Percy Harvin migraines, the roof of their stadium collapsing, and the eventual firing of their coach in-season just a few months removed from playing in the NFC Championship Game.
2009: Pittsburgh Steelers
At 9-7, the Steelers were tied with too many other teams in the Wild Card race and failed to qualify for the postseason a year after winning the Super Bowl. A five-game AFC losing streak in the middle of the season killed their chances, even though they were all one-score losses.
2008: Green Bay Packers
From 13-3 to 6-10, the Packers fell off a cliff after Brett Favre was traded and Aaron Rodgers stepped in. It wasn’t the fault of Rodgers, who was fourth in the league in passing. The defense wasn’t up to snuff.
2007: Chicago Bears
The Rex Grossman Chicago Bears made a run to the Super Bowl at 13-3 but couldn’t recapture the magic, finishing 7-9 the following year. Their team was built on big plays on defense and special teams, which isn’t exactly sustainable.
2007: New Orleans Saints
The other NFC Championship team also finished 7-9 after their 10-6 season in 2006. An 0-4 start was hard to overcome, with their defense struggling.
2006: Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger’s motorcycle accident, appendectomy, and an in-season concussion really messed up their repeat chances. They finished 8-8.
2006: Denver Broncos
They missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker, finishing seventh. A four-game losing streak to mostly division opponents due to a lack of scoring sank the season.
2006: Carolina Panthers
An 8-8 finish was good enough to lose out on the tiebreaker for the final playoff spot. A four-game losing streak in November and December hurt their chances. The offense couldn’t produce with Jake Delhomme.
2004: Carolina Panthers
2003: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oakland Raiders
2002: St. Louis Rams, New England Patriots
2001: New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings
2000: Jacksonville Jaguars
1999: Denver Broncos, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons
1998: Pittsburgh Steelers
1997: Carolina Panthers
In 1996, the Steelers, Colts, Cowboys, and Packers all made the playoffs after playing in the conference championship games. That was back when there were three divisions and the Colts squeaked in at 9-7 as the final Wild Card team.
So the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers should all be on the lookout for a downfall. An injury or two, fall off from key contributors, or some other factor could really impact their 2021 season and add them to the list.