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NFL Divisional Playoffs Greatest Upsets in History

NFL Divisional Playoffs Greatest Upsets in History

Divisional Round Often Brings Shocking Moments

The Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs brings a lot of intrigues as it's basis is built for that. On one hand, you've got four teams who were the Top 2 teams in their respective conferences rested and playing at home, expected to move on with ease against teams that often struggled to make it into the playoffs and haven't had a week off in months. But there is something to be said about being "battle tested" and getting those playoff nerves out during Wildcard Weekend and winning for these visiting squads as nearly every year we see at least one of them win during Divisional Weekend. This round is really about the classic "rest vs rust" debate for home squads.


1996 AFC Divisional Round

Jacksonville Jaguars 30-27 win vs #1 seed Denver Broncos


Ranking NFL Playoffs upsets tend to be somewhat subjective and tough, and while those types of lists aren't what I'm here for, there are a handful of Divisional games that do tend to rank up there in most people's Top 10 of biggest playoff upsets when you eliminate Super Bowl games from the equation. Let's take a look at a few:

This is the first game many will point to when discussing upsets in the Divisional Round, as the Jags were just in their second year of existence as a franchise and were expected to get slaughtered in Denver. Remember this is also one year before the Broncos went on to win back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998, and when you listen to guys from those teams talk about that era, many of them will say that their 1996 team was the best of the bunch.

Denver was a -14 favorite in this game and opened it up in dominating fashion with two 1st quarter touchdowns. But a blocked XP on the first one and failed 2pt try on the second only made it a 12-0 lead and that's when the entire game flipped. Jacksonville went on to score 23 unanswered points to build a commanding lead and were able to hold on down the stretch for the 30-27 win.

It was a shocker in all senses of the word, as Head Coach Tom Coughlin announced his presence on the NFL scene with this victory before finding even more success a few years later with Jacksonville (1999 AFC Championship Game loss) and ultimately two Super Bowl Titles with Eli Manning and the New York Giants in the 2000's. In fact, both of Coughlin's SB wins came in big upset fashion over New England - including ending the Patriots perfect season in 2007 - and the groundwork for those shocking upsets was laid back in 1996 with his Jackonsville team.


1983 AFC Divisional Round

Seattle Seahawks 27-20 win vs. #1 Miami Dolphins

1983 AFC Divisional Round


Miami was the defending AFC Champions in 1983 and finished with a conference best record at 12-4 SU. They had grabbed most of those wins with rookie QB Dan Marino under center and we all know how his career turned out. But even with a rookie under center, Miami was heavy home favorites against a Seahawks organization that were making their first ever appearance in the playoffs as a franchise. Sound familiar?

Miami's downfall in this game - as it usually is with these big upsets - was mistakes and turnovers. The Dolphins coughed the ball up five times in this contest and Seattle leaned on their running game to shorten the game and ultimately get the win. But this game was more about Miami's choke job as it was the lone playoff loss for them outside of Super Bowl appearances during a three-year stretch. They were in the Super Bowl in both 1982 and 1984.


2005 AFC Divisional Round

Pittsburgh Steelers 21-18 win vs #1 Indianapolis Colts

2005 AFC Divisional Round


2005 was supposed to be the coronation of Peyton Manning with his first Super Bowl title as he and the Colts went 13-0 SU to start the year before they started to rest guys for the postseason, finishing 14-2 SU. Nobody could really compete with the Colts when they were on all year, but in came the 6th seeded Pittsburgh Steelers in this game and their physical brand of football was too much for the finesse-minded Colts.

Pittsburgh jumped out to a 14-3 lead at the break, bumped it up to 21-3 in the 2nd half and then had to withstand a furious rally from Manning and company in the 4th. With Pittsburgh up by three late, QB Big Ben had to make a TD saving tackle on a Steelers fumble and then left it up to the defense as Indy's kicker - who was dominant all year long - missed a FG try to send the game to OT. Manning's coronation would come the following year with a Super Bowl win.


Other Huge NFL Divisional Round Upsets From NFC

  • 1979 NFC Divisional: L.A Rams 21-19 vs Dallas Cowboys
  • 1970 NFC Divisional: San Francisco 49ers 17-14 vs Minnesota Vikings
  • 1987 NFC Divisional: Minnesota Vikings 36-24 vs San Francisco 49ers

Will We Have More Shocking Moments In Store This Week?

The 2017-18 version of the NFL Divisional Round may not turn out to be any different as we've got some big point spreads in the AFC games and some surprising numbers over in the NFC. New England and Pittsburgh are the top two seeds in the AFC and are each laying more than a TD on their current spreads which puts them in the unenviable position of possibly ending up on this list next year should they lose. 

Over in the NFC, we've got the NFL first as the injury-riddled #1 seed Philadelphia Eagles are the first ever #1 seed to be a home underdog in the Divisional Round, while the #2 Minnesota Vikings are laying 4 points against New Orleans. There is support for both sides in each of these games, and with that being the case it's unlikely that no matter who wins we see any of these NFC games make a list like this in the future.

So if it's shocking upsets you are looking for this week in the NFL, stick to the AFC games as we've got two teams from the AFC South Division - Jacksonville and Tennessee - that are looking to make some noise and made it to the next round. Those two organizations actually met in the 1999 AFC Championship game when Tom Coughlin was still in Jacksonville - as he is once again this year - when Jacksonville's three losses for the entire 1999 season all came against Tennessee, with the final one being that AFC title game.

Both of these teams will have to pull off some shockers to make it happen again, but history tells us to expect the unexpected during the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs each year and this year could be no different. Stay tuned on Canada Sports Betting and enjoy our NFL postseason picks!

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