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Ranking the Biggest Upsets in NFL History

NFL games don't always play out according to the script. What are the biggest upsets in NFL history? Pro Football Network is counting down the list.

The NFL doesn’t always go according to the script. Throughout league history, players and teams have defied expectations, rising from the ashes to secure surprising victories when nearly everyone counted them out.

Pro Football Network is counting down the biggest upsets in NFL history. Which teams truly proved that anything can happen on any given Sunday?

Biggest Upsets in NFL History

7) 2010-11 Wild Card Round: Seahawks 41, Saints 36

No one expected the Seattle Seahawks to make much noise in the 2010-11 playoffs after becoming the first team in NFL history to make the postseason with a losing (7-9) regular-season record.

However, Seattle rallied back from a 10-point deficit and was protecting a 34-30 lead with roughly three and a half minutes remaining in the game when running back Marshawn Lynch erupted for one of the most memorable plays in league history.

Making his first career playoff appearance, Lynch famously broke nine tackles on a 67-yard touchdown run to put the game away. The Lumen Field crowd was so loud that a nearby seismograph registered a tremor.

The Seahawks’ playoff run ended with a Divisional Round loss to the Chicago Bears, but Lynch’s run and Seattle’s upset will never be forgotten.

6) 1996-97 Divisional Round: Jaguars 30, Broncos 27

John Elway’s 1996 Denver Broncos were arguably the best team in the league that season. The Broncos ranked first on offense and fourth on defense, earned the AFC’s No. 1 seed after posting a 13-3 record, and were widely expected to make a Super Bowl run.

But the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars, competing in just their second NFL campaign after joining the league as an expansion franchise the year earlier, had other ideas.

The Jags took down the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card Round despite being 8.5-point underdogs. They faced an even larger spread — 12.5 points — against Denver in the Divisional Round.

Still, Jacksonville took the lead in the second quarter and never looked back. Mark Brunell’s 16-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith sealed the deal in the 30-27 victory.

5) Super Bowl 32: Broncos 31, Packers 24

While Elway and Co. were stymied in 1996, the Broncos got their revenge the following season. Denver took down Jacksonville in the Wild Card Round, then beat the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers to secure a spot in Super Bowl XXXII against the Green Bay Packers.

The Broncos’ odds didn’t look good. While Denver had gone 12-4 during the regular season, the Packers were a juggernaut. Green Bay had won the previous year’s Super Bowl, while Brett Favre was coming off his third consecutive league MVP award.

But the Broncos’ status as 11-point underdogs didn’t faze them. Running back Terrell Davis dominated despite dealing with migraine headaches throughout the game. The future Hall of Famer took 30 carries for 157 yards and three touchdowns, including the eventual game-winning score with 1:45 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Elway won his first Lombardi after losing in his first three Super Bowl chances, while Denver became only the second Wild Card team in NFL history to win the title.

4) Super Bowl 4: Chiefs 23, Vikings 7

While the 1969 Chiefs ranked first in defensive scoring and second in offense, those statistics were from the AFL. Most observers didn’t give the younger league much respect or believe Hank Stram and Len Dawson could take down the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings — who finished first on offense and defense in the superior league — in Super Bowl IV.

The Chiefs got the last laugh in the final Super Bowl before the NFL-AFL merger. Playing in rainy weather in New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium, Kansas City’s defense held tough, limiting Minnesota to just 67 rushing yards while creating five turnovers.

The Chiefs had to wait 50 years before their next Super Bowl ring but have grabbed three Lombardis in the last five seasons. Meanwhile, the Vikings lost three more Super Bowls in the 1970s and haven’t returned to the title game since.

3) Super Bowl 36: Patriots 20, Rams 17

The St. Louis Rams were favored by a whopping 14 points against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXVVI, and it’s easy to see why.

Kurt Warner and the “Greatest Show on Turf” had won the Lombardi two years prior. Then, after a disappointing Wild Card exit in 2000, the Rams went 14-2 in 2001 while ranking first on offense and fourth on defense.

The Patriots were led by Tom Brady, a de facto rookie and hardly the GOAT he subsequently became. Many observers believed New England was lucky to have won the AFC Championship Game against the Oakland Raiders after the controversial “Tuck Rule” call gave the Pats the victory.

Despite St. Louis’ status as a two-touchdown favorite, Bill Belichick’s squad limited Warner and RB Marshall Faulk and held a 17-3 lead in the third quarter. While the Rams rallied back to tie the game with 1:30 remaining, Brady led a nine-play, 53-yard drive that culminated with Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard, game-winning field goal.

2) Super Bowl 42: Giants 17, Patriots 14

Brady finished his career with an NFL-record seven Super Bowl titles, but he could’ve had one more had the Patriots been able to hang on against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

No team has ever posted a better point differential (+315) than the 2007 Patriots. All but four of their regular-season victories came by more than one score.

Brady won his first MVP award after setting the league on fire with a then-record 50 touchdown passes. Offseason trade acquisition Randy Moss set an NFL record of his own, hauling in 23 TD catches for a mark that still stands.

But when it mattered most, New England scored just 14 points while being upset by the Giants. Leading by four points with 1:15 remaining, the Patriots allowed David Tyree’s improbably “helmet catch,” then let fellow New York wideout Plaxico Burress find the end zone for a game-winning touchdown.

Although the ’07 Patriots will go down as one of the greatest teams in league history, their inability to win the final game will always hold them back in the record books.

1) Super Bowl 3: Jets 16, Colts 7

While the NFL and AFL had merged in 1966, the NFL was still viewed as the superior league in 1969. The NFL’s Packers had won the first two championship titles, while the Baltimore Colts were 19.5-point favorites over the AFL’s New York Jets in Super Bowl III.

Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed a Jets victory three days before the Super Bowl — and the future Hall of Famer backed up his words.

New York held a 16-0 lead in the fourth quarter following a Matt Snell touchdown run and three field goals by kicker Jim Turner. The Colts, who committed five turnovers, scored a meaningless fourth-quarter touchdown, but Gang Green emerged with a shocking 16-7 victory.

The Jets were the only team to win the Super Bowl without scoring a touchdown until the Patriots accomplished the same feat against the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. New York hasn’t returned to the Super Bowl since, losing the AFC Championship Games after the 1982, 1998, 2009, and 2010 seasons.