What are the biggest upsets in NFL Playoff history? Which teams ended the regular season as odds-on Super Bowl favorites, only to be victimized by a premature playoff exit?
With NFL Championship Sunday now upon us, we figured it made sense to check in on the five biggest upsets in NFL Playoff history.
Said history could very well be duplicated with a couple teams seen as huge favorites during the divisonal round. These five games listed below gives the underdogs some hope.
Biggest upsets NFL Playoff history
Baltimore Ravens stun Denver Broncos
- Game: 2012 NFL Divisional Playoffs
- Score: Ravens 38, Broncos 35
- Point spread: Broncos -9.0
The 2012 AFC Divisional Playoffs featured a 10-win Ravens squad heading to Mile High to take on a Broncos team that won 13 games during the regular season. Led by Peyton Manning, Denver ranked second in the NFL in scoring at 30.1 points per game. Its defense yielded just over 18 points per outing. There’s no way Joe Flacco and Co. had a chance here, the oddsmakers said.
About that? In what was one of the greatest playoff games in history, each of the first four quarters ended in a tie. The score was 14-14 after the first 15 minutes, including a Corey Graham pick-six of Peyton Manning. It was nodded up at 21 through 30 minutes and at 35 as regulation ended, aided by an epic 70-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left.
In what was just the sixth double-overtime game in postseason history, Baltimore came out on top as Justin Tucker nailed a 47-yard field goal — continuing his legacy as the greatest kicker in football history and resulting in one of the biggest upsets in NFL Playoff history.
Joe Namath’s guarantee heard around the world
- Game: Super Bowl III in 1968
- Score: Jets 16, Colts 7
- Point spread: Ravens -18.0
The upsets by point spread in NFL history, Namath guaranteed that his Jets would make a name for the AFL in a championship game against the heavily favored Baltimore Colts.
Legitimately, no one gave Broadway Joe and Co. a chance in this one. Baltimore finished the regular season with a 13-1 record. It outscored opponents by north of 18 points per game and had just shutout the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship Game by the score of 34-0. While the Jets did their thing by posting an 11-3 regular-season record, they were outmanned on the field.
It didn’t matter once Super Bowl III kicked off from the Orange Bowl in Florida. The Jets’ defense forced five Colts turnovers, including three interceptions of Earl Morrall. They took a 16-0 lead on three field goals from Jim Turner and a Matt Snell four-yard touchdown run. Namath won Super Bowl MVP by completing 17-of-28 passes without an interception, etching his name in NFL lore.
Biggest upsets in NFL Playoff history actually includes the Vikings
- Game: 1987 NFC Divisional Playoffs
- Score: Vikings 36, 49ers 24
- Point spread: 49ers -11.0
The 1987 season saw San Francisco boast a 13-2 record while outscoring its opponents by two touchdowns per game. The team finished first in scoring at 30.6 points per outing. Jerry Rice won NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Joe Montana was an MVP finalist. Everything was set up well for San Francisco to win another title, starting with this divisional round home matchup against Jerry Burns and the 8-7 Vikings.
In one of the worst performances of the 49ers’ dynastic run, Montana was actually benched in favor of Steve Young after completing just 12-of-26 passes with an interception. Wade wilson threw for nearly 300 yards for the Vikings.
But it was the performance of Anthony Carter against the league’s second-best pass defense that led to one of the biggest upsets in NFL Playoff history. The wide receiver hauled in 10 passes for 227 yards in the win, cementing his status as a Vikings franchise legend and sending the team on to the next round.
Denver Broncos on receiving end of NFL Playoff upset
- Game: 1996 AFC Divisional Playoffs
- Score: Jaguars 30, Broncos 27
- Point spread: Broncos -12.5
Led by John Elway and leading rusher Terrell Davis, the 1996 Broncos were 13-3 during the regular season. They finished fourth in scoring and allowed seventh-fewest points in the league. In just their second year of existence, the Jags finished 9-7 and inched into the playoffs by virtue of a five-game winning steak to conclude the season.
After falling down 12-0 in Mile High, the Jags’ came to play big time. They scored the final 13 points in the first half before Mark Brunell hit Keenan McCardell on a 31-yard touchdown pass for the only scoring of the third quarter. A Brunell touchdown to Jimmy Smith in the fourth quarter gave Jacksonville a 10-point lead and pretty much iced things.
In all, Brunell vastly outplayed Elway as Natrone Means outgained Davis in creating creating one of the biggest upsets in NFL Playoff history. As for Elway’s Broncos it was not all bad. Denver would go on to win two consecutive Super Bowl titles in 1997 and 1998 to conclude his legendary career.
Greatest Show on Turf goes down in Super Bowl
- Game: Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002
- Score: Patriots 20, Rams 17
- Point spread: Rams -14.0
The 2001 St. Louis Rams entered that season as Super Bowl favorites with +400 odds. As for Bill Belichick and the Patriots, they had the seventh-longest odds in the league. In a Week 2 game against the New York Jets, quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered a serious and near-fatal chest injury after a hit by Mo Lewis. He was replaced under center by a little-known player in Tom Brady who was a sixth-round pick the year prior.
All Brady did was lead New England to an 11-3 record in his 14 starts en route to winning the AFC East. Even after defeating the Oakland Raiders in the Tuck Rule game to open the playoffs and taking out the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, no one really gave New England a chance.
About that? New England opened up a 17-3 lead through three quarters in large part due to a Ty Law pick-six of Kurt Warner. The Greatest Show on Turf would then show up inside the Louisiana Superdome with two consecutive fourth-quarter touchdowns, the latter via a 26-yard pass from Warner to Ricky Proehl with just 1:30 remaining.
Then, the legend of Tom Brady was born. Including a 23-yard pass to Troy Brown in the final seconds, Brady led the Pats down the field for a potential game-winning 48-yard field goal attempt from Adam Vinatieri. In helping start a dynasty that included six Super Bowl titles, Vinatieri nailed the kick to give New England the Lombardi in one of the biggest upsets in NFL playoff history.