The Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs produced some of the most heart-pounding finishes that the sport has ever seen. Each game ended up being decided by one score or less, including three contests being decided by a last-second field goal.
On Saturday, the Cincinnati Bengals clinched their spot in the AFC Championship Game with a 19-16 win over the Tennessee Titans, thanks to a game-winning 52-yard field from Evan McPherson as time expired. In doing so, the Bengals advanced to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 1988.
In 1988, the Bengals defeated the Seattle Seahawks, 21-13, in the Divisional Round and ended up beating the Buffalo Bills, 21-10, in the AFC title game. While star quarterback Boomer Esiason threw for just 94 yards and tossed two interceptions, Bengals running back Ickey Woods racked up 102 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
With the Bengals' win on Saturday, the franchise broke a long 33-year championship game drought. History has now been altered, so let's take a look at the new five longest active NFC and AFC Championship Game droughts.
The Washington Football Team is currently tied for the longest conference championship drought at a whopping 30 years. The franchise hasn't been to the NFC Championship Game since 1991, when they defeated the Detroit Lions, 41-10. The teams were evenly matched in the first half before the Washington Football Team outscored the Lions, 24-0, in the second half en route to the easy victory.
Washington quarterback Mark Rypien tossed a pair of second-half touchdowns and a 32-yard pick six from Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell Green helped seal the victory. Washington advanced to Super Bowl XXVI, where they defeated the Buffalo Bills, 37-24. They have not gotten out of the Divisional Round since that fateful 1991 campaign.
Ironically enough, the Detroit Lions and Washington Football Team are tied for the longest conference championship drought at 30 years. Since the 1991 NFC Championship Game in which they lost to Washington, the Lions have only made it to the Wild Card Round - and have lost all eight Wild Card games that they have appeared in. The most recent one came in the 2016 season, when the Lions fell, 26-6, at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.
The Cleveland Browns are tied for the second-longest conference championship game drought at 29 years. The Browns last appeared in the AFC Championship Game during the 1989 season when they fell, 37-21, to the Denver Broncos. Despite falling behind 13-0 at halftime, the Browns did rally back and even trimmed the deficit to 24-21 in the third quarter. However, the Broncos outscored the Browns, 13-0, in the final quarter to help clinch the easy win.
Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar struggled throughout the contest as he completed just 19-of-44 passes for just 210 yards while throwing two touchdowns and three interceptions. Since that AFC title game appearance, the Browns have only been to the Divisional Round and have lost both times, most recently in 2020 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Miami Dolphins are tied with the Browns for the second-longest conference championship game drought at 29 years. The Dolphins appeared in the AFC Championship Game back in 1992 when they lost to the Buffalo Bills, 29-10. The Bills defense got the best of Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino as Marino completed just 22-of-45 passes for 268 yards while throwing just one touchdown and two interceptions. Since the 1992 AFC title game, the Dolphins have advanced to the Divisional Round just four times and have lost in all of those contests.
The Dallas Cowboys have the next-longest conference championship game at 26 years. The Cowboys were victorious in the 1995 NFC Championship Game over the Green Bay Packers as they came away with a 38-27 win. Quarterback Troy Aikman threw for 255 yards and a pair of touchdowns while running back Emmitt Smith racked up 150 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Since that game, the Cowboys have had their fair share of postseason struggles, including falling to the San Francisco 49ers earlier this month. Dallas has been to the Divisional Round just five times over the past 26 years and haven't been able to clear that plateau.