The NFL can be a cruel mistress. Super Bowl 55 will be Tom Brady’s tenth appearance in the championship game. Seven franchises have won back-to-back Super Bowls, including twice by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s.
And then you have these four teams yet to dance in America’s biggest gala. Current Super Bowl odds for the big game in 2022 bode well for one AFC North squad on this list, while the others are brutally ensconced near the bottom and should probably look to 2023 and beyond.
First Season: 1946
Total Playoff Games: 38
Playoff Records: 17-21
Closest They Came: You simply can’t overstate how snakebitten the Cleveland Browns franchise is when reflecting on its five AFC Conference Championship appearances.
Pick your poison in terms of the year they came the closest. You can roll with “The Fumble” in 1988 or the infamous “The Drive” the year before.
But here’s a little did-you-know tidbit to share with your friends: Did you know the Browns almost appeared in Super Bowls three and four? Yes, the same Super Bowls that changed the course of NFL history after Joe Namath’s famous upset over the Colts in Super Bowl III and the Chiefs stomping of the Vikings in Super Bowl IV solidified the AFL’s ability to hang with the “almighty” NFL.
Those two upsets changed football forever, but one has to wonder what would’ve happened if the Browns hadn’t lost to the Colts 34-0 in 1968 and Vikings 27-7 in 1969.
What if those Cleveland teams defeated the Jets and Chiefs? What would the NFL look like today?
First Season: 1930
Total Playoff Games: 20
Playoff Records: 7-13
Closest They Came: No, 20 total playoff appearances in 90 seasons is not a typo.
The Lions haven’t won a playoff game since 1992, and even more difficult to fathom is just a single NFC Conference Championship appearance during the Super Bowl era — a 1991 41-10 thrashing at RFK Stadium against Washington.
First Season: 2002
Total Playoff Games: 10
Playoff Records: 4-6
Closest They Came: Despite approaching 20 years in the league, the Texans are the only NFL franchise to never play in a conference title game.
The 2011 campaign was the closest Houston came score-wise to advancing to the AFC Championship, but Ray Lewis and Ed Reed helped to force four touchdowns in a 20-13 divisional win.
First Season: 1995
Total Playoff Games: 14
Playoff Records: 7-7
Closest They Came: I bet you didn’t think the Jags had a career playoff winning percentage of .500, did you?
Incredibly, Jacksonville has appeared in three times as many conference title games as the Lions (1996, 1999, 2017).
The 2017 season-ender is easily the toughest AFC title defeat in Jags’ history. Behind the randomly hot arm of Blake Bortles, Florida’s finest entered the fourth quarter with a 20-10 advantage before Tom Brady rallied the home Patriots for 14 points en route to a 24-20 win.
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Andy Coffaro is a sports journalist and managing editor with published work in USA Today, MSN, HERO Sports, The Mercury News, East Bay Times, Phil Steele’s College Football Preview magazine, and more. He graduated from San José State University with a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Kinesiology. Follow him on Twitter @andycoffaro.