Everything gets instantly hyped as the Greatest Ever. So it was with the Seahawks victory over New Orleans on Saturday afternoon, when the 7-9 team knocked off the defending Super Bowl Champions. Adam Rank of nfl.com included it in his “pick six” of greatest upsets at #5 all time.
I wouldn’t put it in the top ten, and probably would have it closer to #20 in the history of NFL playoffs. If you are inclined to call it the greatest ever merely because a losing team won a playoff game, then I suppose I can’t dissuade you. I happen to believe that upsets are far greater when a perceived unbeatable or dominant team is upset, either in their place or on a neutral court, by a team nobody gave much of a chance. Seattle won a game against a wildcard team — albeit one that won a Super Bowl the year before — and the Saints were not a dominant team in 2010. Playoff caliber teams losing a road game at a losing team’s place isn’t exactly rare; it’s happened over 70 times in just the last five years in the regular season.
Sure, the Seahawks were a bad 7-9 team, but this was at home, in the elements against a dome team that was banged up. The fact that Seattle stayed with them in a game with those factors did not surprise me. If we just look at point spreads, nine other playoff upsets since 1990 have featured double digit underdogs winning a game. Here are my top selections as the greatest playoff upsets of all time.
13. San Francisco at Minnesota, December 27, 1970. The Vikings were the defending NFL champions, had the best record in the NFC, had outscored opponents by almost 14 points a game, and had not lost a home game in frigid Minnesota for almost two and a half years. The game was played in negative wind chill conditions. The upstart 49ers were making their first playoff appearance in over a decade, and immediately fell behind with a fumble return for touchdown on the opening drive. San Francisco rallied to win 17-14.
12. Kansas City vs. Minnesota, January 11, 1970. The Chiefs were almost a two touchdown underdog in Super Bowl IV because the NFL was thought of as the far superior league, and Minnesota had absolutely dominated the NFL and just destroyed Cleveland in the championship game. 65 Toss Power Trap, Baby!
11. Atlanta at Minnesota, January 17, 1999. Even though the Falcons were 14-2, they were a prohibitive 11 point underdog at Minnesota, which set a single season scoring record. Gary Anderson missed a field goal that would have won it, and the Falcons won in overtime to go the Super Bowl.
10. Pittsburgh at Indianapolis, January 15, 2006. The Steelers had lost in Indianapolis on Monday night in embarrassing fashion a month and a half earlier, and were double digit underdogs. The liquored up kicker missed a game tying attempt at the end of the game.
9. Denver vs. Green Bay, January 25, 1998. Denver was a double digit underdog, but this was due to the fact that the NFC had dominated the AFC in the Super Bowl for over a decade, and not because the Broncos didn’t matchup with Green Bay. This one was for John.
8. Green Bay at San Francisco, January 6, 1996. A young Brett Favre went on the road with the Packers as a double digit underdog against the defending Super Bowl Champions, who led the league with a +199 point differential in 1995, and pulled a 27-17 upset.
7. Minnesota at San Francisco, January 9, 1988. The Anthony Carter game. The 8-7 Vikings went on the road against the 13-2 49ers as double digit underdogs, and harrassed Joe Montana to the point Bill Walsh benched him in the third quarter with San Francisco down by 17.
6. Indianapolis at Kansas City, January 7, 1996. The 9-7 Colts were an 11-point underdog at Kansas City, and faced long odds as a dome team in freezing temperatures, and playing without star running back Marshall Faulk. Lin Elliott missed three field goals, and Kansas City lost 10-7.
5. Jacksonville at Denver, January 4, 1997. The second year Jaguars went into the #1 seed Denver Broncos as a 14 point underdog, and came out with the biggest upset in divisional round history.
4. New York Giants vs. New England, February 3, 2008. Perfection Ruined.
3. Washington vs. Chicago, December 13, 1942. The Bears were undefeated, were the two time defending champs, had only lost one of their last 26 games, and destroyed the Redskins 73-0 in the title game two years earlier. Washington was a 14 point underdog, but ended the Bears’ perfect season 14-6.
2. New England vs. St. Louis, February 3, 2002. The upstart Patriots were a two touchdown underdog to the Greatest Show on Turf, and won on a late field goal by Adam Vinatieri, 20-17.
1. New York Jets vs. Baltimore, January 12, 1969. Jets were an 18-point underdog as the champions of the Mickey Mouse league, while the Colts came in as an unstoppable force. Namath guaranteed victory, and the Jets delivered, 16-7.
[photo via Getty]