5 Biggest Upsets in NFL Playoff History

What are the biggest upsets in NFL playoff history? We comb through the vast tales of underdogs and give you the biggest point-spread surprises.

Who doesn’t like to root for an underdog? Underdogs occupy a special place in the hearts and minds of sports fans. And the 2022-2023 NFL Playoffs has set up an opportunity for a massive underdog to etch their names in the fibers of history: The Miami Dolphins are 13-point dogs to the Buffalo Bills. Where would this rank among the biggest upsets in playoff history? We sift through the archives to find that very answer for you.

5 Biggest Upsets in the NFL Playoffs

A surprising amount of the biggest playoff upsets in history happened on the biggest stage — the Super Bowl. And it wouldn’t be a playoff list without involving Tom Brady once or twice. Let’s get to it!

5) 1987 Divisional Round: Vikings (+10.5) @ 49ers

A strike marred the 1987 season, but a familiar face sat in the NFC Playoffs — the San Francisco 49ers. 13-2 record. Joe Montana. Jerry Rice. Bill Walsh. The Minnesota Vikings? Barely over .500.

Though the 49ers would win the following two Super Bowls, they bowed out to the Vikings 36-24. Vikings WR Anthony Carter went ballistic, gaining 227 receiving yards, the second-most in NFL playoff history.

4) Super Bowl XLII: Giants (+12.5) vs. Patriots

How many times have kids tried to emulate “The Helmet Catch“? The New England Patriots were absolute juggernauts, finishing the first undefeated regular season since the ’72 Dolphins. But they were no match for the New York Giants’ final drive of the game.

David Tyree’s catch for 32 yards with the ball pinned against his helmet sticks out, but a big conversion on 3rd-and-11 to Steve Smith and the eventual fade to the back pylon to Plaxico Burress sealed the deal.

The ’72 Dolphins popped a big ‘ol bottle of champagne.

3) 1996 Divisional Round: Jaguars (+14) @ Broncos

The biggest road underdog win in playoff history occurred with a team in only its second year of existence. The Jacksonville Jaguars, led by the play of southpaw Mark Brunell and RB Natrone Means, went into Mile High and pulled out a 30-27 victory.

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Don’t feel too sorry for the Denver Broncos. John Elway and Co. would go on to win the next two Super Bowls.

2) Super Bowl XXXVI: Patriots (+14) vs. Rams

Before Tom Brady started winning so much that it bored people, he and the Patriots were significant underdogs to the Greatest Show on Turf in Super Bowl XXXVI (that’s 36 for the Roman numeral-challenged).

Despite getting outgained by 160 yards and having the ball seven minutes fewer than San Fran, the Patriots forced three turnovers, one of which was a Ty Law pick-six. New England won 20-17 on an Adam Vinatieri field goal as time expired.

1) Super Bowl III: Jets (+19.5) vs. Colts

Jets QB Joe Namath gets the headlines for “The Guarantee“, but the Jets’ defenders should be the ones immortalized. They picked off the Indianapolis Colts a whopping four times (three from Earl Morrall, one from Johnny Unitas), possessed the ball 13 minutes more than the Colts, and came away from Super Bowl III with a 16-7 victory.

Not only is Super Bowl III one of the biggest upsets in NFL playoff history, but it’s one of the biggest in all of professional sports.

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