With two Week 16 games between an AFC and NFC contender, we look back at the 14 times regular season opponents met in the Super Bowl. Photo Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports Feb 3, 2008; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree (85) pulls down a pass over New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison (37) in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII at the University of Phoenix Stadium. New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots with a final of 17-14. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Two of Week 16’s biggest games will match a top NFC team against a top AFC team. On Sunday, the Miami Dolphins will host the Dallas Cowboys in a matchup between the conference’s respective No. 2 seeds entering the week. On Monday night, the Baltimore Ravens will go on the road to take on the San Francisco 49ers, matching up the No. 1 seeds in the AFC and NFC.

Those matchups, as well as others that we’ve seen throughout the 2023 season, could end up being repeated at Super Bowl LVIII. AFL and NFL teams didn’t play regular season games against each other until after the merger. So, a Super Bowl rematch of a regular season matchup wasn’t possible until Super Bowl V and didn’t happen until Super Bowl XII. In total, it’s happened 14 times.

Interestingly enough, the team that lost the regular season matchup is 8-6 in the Super Bowl. And if it happens again this year, what, if anything, will those first 14 matchups teach us? To answer that question, we have to look back at them.

1977: Dallas Cowboys vs. Denver Broncos

  • Regular season matchup, Week 14: Cowboys 14, Broncos 6

On paper, this was a dream matchup. Not only were the Cowboys and Broncos the top seeds in their respective conferences, but they were meeting in the final week of the season. Unfortunately, that worked more against this game than for it. Both teams had the top seed clinched and in an era before first-round byes, both teams made liberal use of their benches.

  • Super Bowl XII rematch: Cowboys 27, Broncos 10

While the regular season game didn’t offer much to preview, the Super Bowl was similar. The defenses dominated. The Broncos fumbled the ball four times while the Cowboys fumbled six. But while Dallas put more balls on the ground, only two of its fumbles were lost. Denver, meanwhile, lost all four of its fumbles. Roger Staubach also didn’t throw a single interception while his Denver counterpart and former teammate Craig Morton threw as many passes to the Cowboys (four) as he did the Broncos.

1980: Philadelphia Eagles vs. Oakland Raiders

  • Regular season matchup, Week 12: Eagles 10, Raiders 7

Defenses largely dominated this game. Quarterbacks Ron Jaworski and Jim Plunkett were a combined 24-for-68. The Philadelphia defense sacked Plunkett eight times. Plunkett and Cliff Branch managed to connect on an 86-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-3 fourth-quarter lead. Wilbert Montgomery responded with a three-yard touchdown run, giving the Eagles the 10-7 win.

  • Super Bowl XV rematch: Raiders 27, Eagles 10

Oakland’s offense was in much better form. An 80-yard touchdown catch from Kenny King gave the Raiders a 14-0 lead after one quarter, tying a still-standing Super Bowl record. Philadelphia’s offense had chances, but one touchdown pass was wiped out due to a penalty and another was missed by Jaworski. Jaworski threw three interceptions, all to Rod Martin, and the Raiders were never seriously challenged.

1981: San Francisco 49ers vs. Cincinnati Bengals

  • Regular season matchup, Week 14: 49ers 21, Bengals 3

The 49ers rolled into Cincinnati for a battle of unexpected No. 1 seeds. Taking a 14-3 lead at halftime, San Francisco effectively took the run away from the Bengals. The 49ers intercepted Ken Anderson two times and Jack Thompson once. And while it wasn’t a perfect game for Joe Montana, he threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third, helping his team to an easy win.

  • Super Bowl XVI rematch: 49ers 26, Bengals 21

San Francisco had a more dominant first half than they did in the regular season, going up 20-0. This time, though, Cincinnati mounted a strong comeback. The Bengals were poised to cut the lead to 20-14 late in the third quarter, but the 49ers responded with a goal line stand. Cincinnati got the score on its next possession after a San Francisco three-and-out but lost critical time. The 49ers kicked a pair of fourth-quarter field goals and while the Bengals did score again, it was with only seconds remaining.

1983: Washington Redskins vs. Los Angeles Raiders

  • Regular season matchup, Week 5: Redskins 37, Raiders 35

This game had a lot of points and a lot of big momentum swings. Washington took a 20-7 lead early in the third quarter but the Raiders stormed back, going up 21-20 after three and led 35-20 into the fourth quarter. But a touchdown pass from Joe Thiesmann to Charlie Brown and a Mark Moseley field goal brought to game to 35-30. Theismann then found Joe Washington on a six-yard touchdown pass in the final minute, putting his team ahead for good in what was a thrilling game.

  • Super Bowl XVIII rematch: Raiders 38, Redskins 9

The offense that Washington had in the regular season did not make the trip to Tampa. Jack Squirek’s pick-six of a Theismann screen pass just before halftime made what was already a bad first half for the Redskins a complete disaster. Washington cut the deficit to 21-9 in the third quarter, but Marcus Allen responded with two touchdown runs. The second, a 45-yarder on the final play of the third quarter, is one of the most famous plays in Super Bowl history and ended any faint comeback hopes.

1985: Chicago Bears vs. New England Patriots

  • Regular season matchup, Week 2: Bears 20, Patriots 7

New England kept the Chicago offense by keying on the running game. Walter Payton, Thomas Sanders and Matt Suhey combined for 30 carries and 112 yards. But while the Patriots managed a 90-yard touchdown pass from Tony Eason to Craig James, they did little else offensively. A Jim McMahon touchdown pass to Dennis McKinnon, a one-yard run from Suhey and a pair of Kevin Butler field goals were more than enough to carry the day for the Bears.

  • Super Bowl XX rematch: Bears 46, Patriots 10

Chicago’s offense struggled early and thanks to a turnover, New England not only led 3-0 early in this game, but scored the first points the Bears allowed all postseason. Once the offense got in gear, there was no stopping Chicago. The Bears also scored a defensive touchdown and recorded a safety. They also smothered the New England offense, with Eason getting pulled in the second quarter without completing a pass.

1986: New York Giants vs. Denver Broncos

  • Regular season matchup, Week 12: Giants 19, Broncos 16

John Elway threw for 336 yards but also had a pair of interceptions. That included a 78-yard pick-six from George Martin, which gave the Giants a 10-6 halftime lead. Trailing 16-9, Elway led the Broncos on a scoring drive, which was capped off by a four-yard touchdown run from Sammy Winder to tie the game with 1:55 remaining. But the Giants responded in kind, with Raúl Allegre kicking the game-winning field goal with only six seconds remaining.

  • Super Bowl XXI rematch: Giants 39, Broncos 20

While the underdog Broncos led the Giants 10-9 at halftime, Denver was the team that had more to be frustrated about going into the locker room at halftime. The Broncos were well positioned to score two touchdowns but both times, had to settle for field goals. Making matters worse is that kicker Rich Karlis missed both. Behind a near-perfect game from quarterback Phil Simms, the Giants took over in the second half en route to a decisive victory.

1990: New York Giants vs. Buffalo Bills

  • Regular season matchup, Week 15: Bills 17, Giants 13

While the Giants struck first, touchdowns from Andre Reed and Thurman Thomas gave the Bills a 14-7 halftime lead. A pair of Matt Bahr field goals trimmed the lead to 14-13 in the third quarter, while a Scott Norwood kick gave Buffalo a 17-13 lead in the fourth. New York had two possessions deep into Buffalo territory in the fourth quarter but managed no points. Worse than the loss, Simms suffered what would be a season-ending injury, leaving the Giants offense in the hands of Jeff Hostetler.

  • Super Bowl XXV rematch: Giants 20, Bills 19

New York used its running game to keep the ball away from Buffalo’s famed K-Gun offense. The Giants then went up 17-12 in the third quarter on a drive best known for Mark Ingram’s huge catch-and-run, breaking five tackles for a massive third down conversion. Thomas scored on the first play of the fourth quarter, putting the Bills up 19-17. A Matt Bahr field goal gave the Giants a 20-17 lead. Jim Kelly and the Bills moved down the field, setting up a 47-yard field goal attempt from Scott Norwood — which missed.

1993: Dallas Cowboys vs. Buffalo Bills

  • Regular season matchup, Week 2: Bills 13, Cowboys 10

This was not only a Super Bowl preview, but a Super Bowl rematch. With Emmitt Smith still in a holdout, the Dallas offense was stagnant. Buffalo took full advantage, not only getting a measure of revenge from the previous Super Bowl but dropping the defending champs to 0-2 on the season. After what was essentially a locker room mutiny, the Cowboys and Smith would agree to terms after the loss. He would win the 1993 NFL MVP and would be a big factor in the Super Bowl rematch.

  • Super Bowl XXVIII rematch: Cowboys 30, Bills 13

Not only did the Bills lead 13-6 at halftime, but they received the second-half kickoff and after picking up 15 yards over the first two offensive plays, looked poised to build on the lead. Then Thomas fumbled. Dallas’ James Washington recovered the loose ball and returned it 46 yards for the tying touchdown. Then, after a Buffalo punt, Dallas went on a 64-yard scoring drive, with Smith accounting for all but three yards. A similar drive in the fourth quarter essentially iced the game.

1994: San Francisco 49ers vs. San Diego Chargers

  • Regular season matchup, Week 15: 49ers 38, Chargers 15

There’s not much to analyze or break down here. The 49ers opened up a 21-0 lead and cruised from there. San Diego was driving for a late garbage time touchdown in the final minute, but Deion Sanders recorded his third and final pick-six of the season to seal a 23-point win.

  • Super Bowl XXIX rematch: 49ers 49, Chargers 26

Another 23-point win for San Francisco followed a similar script to the regular season matchup. There have been more decisive Super Bowl wins but no Super Bowl was truly over this quickly. The 49ers scored on each of their first three possessions, led 28-10 at halftime and 42-10 after their first two possessions of the third quarter. 

1999: St. Louis Rams vs. Tennessee Titans

  • Regular season matchup, Week 8: Titans 24, Rams 21

St. Louis suffered its first loss of the season in this midseason battle of unexpected powerhouses. Tennessee took full advantage of two first-quarter fumbles from Kurt Warner, opening up an early 21-0 lead. From there, it was the high-powered Rams offense trying to mount a comeback. Ultimately it fell just short. An Al Del Greco field goal gave the Titans their only points after the first quarter, but that was enough.

  • Super Bowl XXXIV rematch: Rams 23, Titans 16

The roles were reversed in this one. Three first-half touchdowns gave the Rams a 9-0 lead, then a touchdown pass from Warner to Torrey Holt made it 16-0 in the third quarter. But Tennessee fought back, tying the game with two touchdown runs from Eddie George and a field goal from Del Greco. The tie was short-lived, though, as Warner hit Isaac Bruce on a 73-yard touchdown pass. Steve McNair led Tennessee down the field. On the final play of regulation, McNair hit Kevin Dyson on a slant route. Mike Jones made one of the greatest tackles in NFL history, sealing the thrilling Super Bowl.

2001: St. Louis Rams vs. New England Patriots

  • Regular season matchup, Week 10: Rams 24, Patriots 17

With a chance to take a 17-7 lead late in the second quarter, the Patriots fumbled deep in St. Louis territory. The Rams drove down the field to take a 14-10 lead and stayed ahead for the remainder of the game. New England’s offense, though, generally played well, even scoring a touchdown. More than that, keeping the high-powered St. Louis offense in check let the Patriots know that the Rams were heavily favored to win a second Super Bowl in three years — but not invincible.

  • Super Bowl XXXVI rematch: Patriots 20, Rams 17

New England carried what — considering the opponent — is one of the greatest defensive gameplans in Super Bowl history. Ty Law got the Patriots on the board with a 47-yard pick-six and New England took a 17-3 lead into the fourth quarter. The Rams, though, were not done. After another defensive touchdown was offset by a penalty, a Warner touchdown run cut the lead to 17-10. Warner and Ricky Proehl then connected on a game-tying touchdown pass.

With less than two minutes left, John Madden suggested that Tom Brady and the Patriots run the clock out and play for overtime. They went against that advice. It worked out.

2007: New York Giants vs. New England Patriots

  • Regular season matchup, Week 17: Patriots 38, Giants 35

New York took a 21-16 lead at halftime and bumped that to 28-16 in the third quarter. But after a Lawrence Maroney touchdown cut the lead to 28-23, Brady and Randy Moss connected on a 65-yard touchdown pass. That not only gave the Patriots a 31-28 lead, but gave Brady the record for single-season touchdown passes and Moss the still-standing record for touchdown receptions. Maroney added a later touchdown and while the Giants finish the scoring late, the Patriots held on for a win.

In a sense, this was similar to the aforementioned Cowboys vs. Broncos from 30 years earlier. It was the final game of the season and both teams were locked into their playoff seeds. This time, though, an undefeated regular season was at stake for the Patriots. It had no impact on the seeding but we can’t call it meaningless.

  • Super Bowl XLII rematch: Giants 17, Patriots 14

Six years after the Patriots upset a heavy Super Bowl favorite after a close regular season loss, the tables were turned. The game was much lower scoring than the regular season matchup, with the Patriots leading 7-3 after the third quarter. New York took the lead early in the fourth quarter on a touchdown pass from Eli Manning to David Tyree. But the Patriots regained the lead on an 80-yard drive, capped off by a six-yard pass from Brady to Moss. Then, things got weird.

Brandon Jacobs picked up two yards on a critical fourth-and-one, keeping the Giants alive. A miscommunication between Manning and Tyree gave Asante Samuel a clean chance at a game-sealing interception. But Samuel missed the chance, dropping the pass. On the following play, a third-and-five, Manning was nearly sacked but stayed on his feet. He then launched the ball down the field for Tyree, who made the famous (or in New England, infamous) Helmet Catch.

The Giants later scored on a touchdown pass from Manning to Plaxico Burress. Brady and the Patriots couldn’t answer.

2011: New York Giants vs. New England Patriots

  • Regular season matchup, Week 9: Giants 24, Patriots 20

Trailing 17-13, Brady led the Patriots on a late drive and put his team ahead on a touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski. Manning again had the final word, though. The Giants went 80 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds left, with Manning and Jake Ballard connecting on a one-yard touchdown pass to win the game.

  • Super Bowl XLVI rematch: Giants 21, Patriots 17

No perfect seasons were on the line here, but this game was quite similar to the one four years earlier. The Patriots took a while to get going offensively, but eventually took a 17-9 lead. After a pair of field goals cut the lead to 17-15, the Giants went on a drive, which ended humorously. Realizing New York could effectively run the clock out to kick the game-winning field goal, New England’s defense opted to let Ahmad Bradshaw score a go-ahead touchdown, hoping to preserve the clock. Bradshaw seemed to realize this too late, as he unsuccessfully tried to stop before crossing the plane.

While the Patriots made some noise and got into Brady’s Hail Mary range, the Giants defended the play and won the game. To date, this is New York’s most recent Super Bowl win. All four wins came against an AFC Champion the Giants played earlier in the season.

2020: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Kansas City Chiefs

  • Regular season matchup, Week 12: Chiefs 27, Buccaneers 24

Tyreek Hill had one of the greatest receiving days in NFL history, accumulating 269 yards and catching three touchdown passes. Brady and the Buccaneers did claw back into the game but two big Patrick Mahomes first-down runs allowed the Chiefs to hold onto the narrow victory. Of note, while Hill crossed the goal line on his first touchdown catch, he flashed the peace sign to Tampa’s rookie safety, Antoine Whitfield — who did not forget.

  • Super Bowl LV rematch: Buccaneers 31, Chiefs 9

People felt that the underdog Buccaneers would win. But not many people were predicting that Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs would not only get blown out, but wouldn’t score a touchdown. Behind two touchdown passes from Brady to Rob Gronkowski, Tampa built a 14-3 lead. A field goal from Harrison Butker seemed to give Kansas City a manageable 14-6 halftime deficit. But Brady led the Buccaneers down the field and found Antonio Brown for a one-yard touchdown pass, putting Tampa up 21-6.

The Bucs built on their lead in the second half and while the Chiefs moved the ball well at times, they couldn’t manage anything more than a Butker field goal. Late in the game, Kansas City’s faint comeback hopes ended with a turnover on downs. Mahomes tried to find Hill on fourth down but the ball fell incomplete. Whitfield remembered the regular season taunt from Hill and responded in kind.


About Michael Dixon

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