The NFC West hype for 2021 proved to be more than justified.
Dramatic wins by the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Round have set up a trilogy matchup between the two for the NFC crown next Sunday at SoFi Stadium. This will be the third time in four seasons that this division will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Ever since the 32-team era produced divisional realignment in 2002 — the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals moved from the AFC West and NFC East respectively — no division has had more appearances in the NFC Championship than the West.
Total NFC Championship appearances by division since 2002
West - 12 (Everyone has made it at least twice)
South - 11 (Everyone has made it at least twice)
North - 10 (Lions haven’t made it)
East - 7 (Dallas and Washington haven’t made it)
Total Super Bowl appearances by NFC division since 2002
West - 8
South - 6
East - 4
North - 2
If you expand to all divisions, only the AFC East has more Super Bowl appearances (9) than the NFC West, but uh... yeah, Tom Brady skews that stat since it’s literally just the Patriots and no one else.
The Seattle Seahawks’ first NFC Championship occurred in 2005, followed by back-to-back conference titles in 2013 and 2014 and of course they won the Super Bowl in 2013. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals had a truly extraordinary run to an NFC crown in 2008 and then made it back in 2015, but lost badly to the Carolina Panthers.
For as much as we trash the 49ers on this site, it’s easy to forget that they made three straight NFC Championship games from 2011-2013, so this is their fifth NFC title game in the span of 10 years. They’ve accomplished this with three different starting quarterbacks and two head coaches. As for the Rams, they endured a massive playoff drought from 2005-2016, but Sean McVay has won at least one playoff game in three of his first five seasons and it’s his second NFC Championship appearance.
Another way to look at this statistic on a more recent scale is just how little the Seahawks have accomplished relative to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Both teams have won more playoff games (SF 4, LAR 5) than Seattle (3) since the Seahawks’ last NFC Championship season, and one of these two will have made the Super Bowl for a second time. The Seahawks have only had 1 offensive possession with a lead in their last three Divisional Round appearances, and it ended with Russell Wilson getting tripped by Rees Odhiambo for a safety.
What has yet to happen during the 32-team era is an NFC West team other than the Seahawks winning a Super Bowl, and ideally it stays that way this season and for many seasons to come. But the competitiveness of this division and tendency to produce Super Bowl contenders? That’s not going away any time soon, methinks.