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Biggest Upsets In NFL Playoff History

The saying goes, “on any given Sunday,” and it’s completely true. There have been some monumental upsets in NFL playoff history, sometimes headlined by a famous play (helmet catch) and others just an old-fashioned beatdown. We’ve chosen our 10 favorites, so take a trip with us down memory lane.

Super Bowl XLII (2008) – New York Giants (17) vs. New England Patriots (14)

Point Spread: Patriots by 12

The 2007 New England Patriots were aiming to complete a perfect season and were heavy favorites entering Super Bowl XLII. However, the New York Giants’ defense, led by Michael Strahan, and a clutch performance by Eli Manning, culminated in one of the most dramatic plays in Super Bowl history. Manning’s pass to David Tyree, who pinned the ball against his helmet to make the catch, set up the winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress. The Giants’ victory ended the Patriots’ bid for perfection, leaving them at 18-1.

Super Bowl III (1969) – New York Jets (16) vs. Baltimore Colts (7)

Point Spread: Colts by 18

In what is often considered the greatest upset in NFL history, Joe Namath guaranteed a Jets win despite the Baltimore Colts being overwhelming favorites. Namath didn’t throw a touchdown in the game, but he controlled the offense effectively. Matt Snell supported the offense with 121 rushing yards and the game’s only Jets touchdown. The Jets’ defense intercepted Colts quarterback Earl Morrall three times before Johnny Unitas came in as a replacement.

1998 NFC Wild Card Game – San Francisco 49ers (30) vs. Green Bay Packers (27)

Point Spread: Packers by 3

The Packers had eliminated the 49ers from the playoffs each year from 1995 to 1997. Steve Young threw for 182 yards and Terrell Owens, despite several dropped passes earlier in the game, redeemed himself with the game-winning touchdown now known as “The Catch II.” Brett Favre passed for 292 yards in the loss, with the Packers unable to add to their recent playoff dominance over the 49ers.

2007 AFC Wild Card Game – San Diego Chargers (24) vs. New England Patriots (21)

Point Spread: Chargers by 5

Despite having a 14-2 record, the San Diego Chargers fell to the New England Patriots, who were led by Tom Brady‘s 280 passing yards. The Chargers had four Pro Bowlers on offense and a top-ranked defense, but crucial mistakes, including Marlon McCree’s fumbled interception, allowed the Patriots to rally from an 8-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

2010 NFC Wild Card Game – Seattle Seahawks (41) vs. New Orleans Saints (36)

Point Spread: Saints by 10

The Seahawks entered the playoffs with the first losing record (7-9) for a division winner in a non-strike year. They faced the previous season’s Super Bowl champions, the New Orleans Saints. Marshawn Lynch‘s “Beast Quake” run – a 67-yard touchdown that saw him break nine tackles – was the highlight of the game. Matt Hasselbeck contributed with four touchdown passes in the victory.

2018 AFC Divisional Round – Jacksonville Jaguars (45) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (42)

Point Spread: Steelers by 7.5

The Jaguars’ defense, led by Jalen Ramsey and Calais Campbell, forced Ben Roethlisberger into two turnovers, including a fumble returned for a touchdown. Blake Bortles managed the game effectively, and Leonard Fournette rushed for 109 yards and three touchdowns. Despite Roethlisberger’s 469 passing yards and five touchdowns, the Steelers could not overcome the deficit.

Super Bowl XXXVI (2002) – New England Patriots (20) vs. St. Louis Rams (17)

Point Spread: Rams by 14

The Rams, with Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk leading “The Greatest Show on Turf,” were anticipated to overpower the Patriots. However, New England’s defense, coordinated by Bill Belichick, contained the Rams’ high-powered offense, and a then-unknown Tom Brady engineered a final drive that set up Adam Vinatieri‘s game-winning field goal.

1994 AFC Championship Game – San Diego Chargers (17) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (13)

Point Spread: Steelers by 8.5

Few expected the Chargers to come out on top against the Steelers, especially at Three Rivers Stadium. Stan Humphries‘ 43-yard touchdown pass to Tony Martin in the fourth quarter proved decisive. The Steelers, led by Neil O’Donnell, had a chance to take the game in the final minutes, but the Chargers’ defense held firm.

Super Bowl XXXVII (2003) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (48) vs. Oakland Raiders (21)

Point Spread: Raiders by 4

Jon Gruden’s Buccaneers faced off against his former team, the Oakland Raiders. The Buccaneers’ defense, featuring players like Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp, intercepted Rich Gannon five times, three of which were returned for touchdowns. The defensive prowess overshadowed an efficient performance by Tampa Bay’s offense under Brad Johnson.

1987 Divisional Playoff – Minnesota Vikings (36) vs. San Francisco 49ers (24)

Point Spread: 49ers by 11

The Vikings managed to stifle Joe Montana and the high-powered 49ers offense. Minnesota’s Anthony Carter had a stellar performance with 10 catches for 227 yards, and the Vikings’ defense forced Montana to the bench in favor of Steve Young. This victory was particularly shocking because the 49ers had been the best team in the NFL during the regular season.

These upsets are remembered not only for the surprise outcome but also for the individual performances that defied expectations and proved that any team could win on any given Sunday (or Saturday).

Listicled Staff
Listicled Staff
Listicled staff covers everything from sports to entertainment, politics to parenting, and everything in-between.

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