It’s this way on purpose. It’s what makes sports betting on football “fun.” The ball is oblong-shaped and it bounces funny. So, as the saying goes, on any given Sunday either of the NFL teams on the field could win. Let’s test our theory; from smallest to largest based on the point spread, the six biggest upsets in NFL divisional-playoff history.
Just like the Cleveland Browns in their trouncing of the Pittsburgh Steelers in last Sunday night’s NFL Wild-Card matchup, underdogs can sometimes pull off huge playoff upsets. As the sportsbook posts NFL odds for the upcoming division games, we take a walk down memory lane, and look at a six-pack of the biggest upsets in divisional-playoff NFL matchups.
Biggest Upsets in Divisional Playoffs #6
Seattle Seahawks 27, Miami Dolphins 20
Dec. 31, 1983
Though they were struggling with a rookie quarterback, the Miami Dolphins were a force. They appeared in the Super Bowl Odds the year before, and when they opened the following season with a shaky 3-3 record, they turned to that rookie Dan Marino with not much to lose. That sparked the match, and the Miami Dolphins finished the year 9-1.
Seattle, on the other hand, managed to grab one of the AFC Wild Cards. (That was when the Seahawks were an AFC team.) They were assumed to be road kill to the Dolphins on their way to the Championship game. Beating themselves, the Dolphins turned the ball over five times in a game that featured six lead changes, giving the Seattle Seahawks a touchdown win.
Biggest Upsets in Divisional Playoffs #5
Jacksonville Jaguars 30, Denver Broncos 27
Jan. 4, 1997
Under head coach Mike Shanahan, John Elway planned to make one earnest effort to earn a Super Bowl ring before his career was up. Boasting a 13-3 record the Broncos were the clear class of the AFC, while the Jacksonville Jaguars were last year’s expansion team who surprised everyone by snatching a Wild Card with a 9-7 record.
Jumping to a 12-0 lead, it certainly looked like the Denver Broncos would roll, but Jacksonville managed five consecutive scores, and still continued to trade points with the Broncos. Denver cut the Jags’ 10-point lead to a field goal, but too late to mount a comeback.
Biggest Upsets in Divisional Playoffs #4
Philadelphia Eagles 23, New York Giants 11
Jan. 11, 2009
In November of that season, Donovan McNabb learned the hard way that regular-season NFL games could, in fact, end in a tie, when they did so against the Cincinnati Bengals. Finishing the season 9-6-1, the Eagles snagged the last Wild-Card seed. That meant they faced the top-seeded New York Giants coming off their bye.
Biggest Upsets in Divisional Playoffs #3
New York Jets 28, New England Patriots 21
Jan. 16, 2011
The New York Jets weren’t bad, but they weren’t considered as good as the New England Patriots. Despite playing in the AFC Conference Championship the year before, the Jets had an inferior record to New England who finished off the year strong. That included a showcase Monday-nighter between these two where the Pats smacked the Jets to the tune of 45-3.
Catching almost double digits, the Jets went toe to toe with New England. Mark Sanchez threw three touchdowns, and New York sacked Brady five times. Leading by as many as 14 points, the Jets held on for a touchdown win. This was their second consecutive trip to the AFC Conference Championship game.
Biggest Upsets in Divisional Playoffs #2
Minnesota Vikings 36, San Francisco 49ers 24
Jan. 9, 1988
Joe Montana already had two Super Bowl rings and a bulldozer of a team looking to get back to the championship. The Vikings were a half-game above .500 coming into the playoffs and had to beat the New Orleans Saints as an underdog to play the San Francisco 49ers coming off their bye.
On the back of Anthony Carter’s 10-catch, 227-yard day, the Minnesota Vikings stormed to a 13-3 lead. Before the half, Montana threw a pick-six. He ended the game horribly enough to be benched in favor of Steve Young.
Biggest Upsets in Divisional Playoffs #1
Arizona Cardinals 33, Carolina Panthers 13
Jan. 10, 2009
Closing the season 2-4, it looked like the Arizona Cardinals wouldn’t make the playoffs save for being in a weak division. Facing the Carolina Panthers in the division round, Arizona was double-digit underdogs to the team most considered the NFC’s best odds to win the Super Bowl that year.
With quarterback Kurt Warner and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the Cards played up their “shock the world” motto and did indeed clobber the Panthers. It didn’t help that Panthers’ cause their quarterback Jake Delhomme threw five interceptions.