The 6 Most Unlikely Playoff Runs in NFL History

Justine BrownCorrespondent IINovember 30, 2011

The 6 Most Unlikely Playoff Runs in NFL History

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    The NFL is a league where we are reminded time and time again that anything can happen. Even a team facing a perfect season can be defeated if they are off their game for just one day.  

    When a wild-card team makes the playoffs and advances to the Super Bowl, surprising even their own fans, it often comes on the heels of a historic run.

    The NFL is an exciting league and here are some of its most exciting playoff runs, made by a few of the most unsuspecting teams.

2005 Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers won their last five regular season games, defeating the Detroit Lions in Week 17, to earn the sixth and final playoff spot. 

    In the AFC Wild Card game, the Steelers played the No. 3 Cincinnati Bengals in Cincy and defeated them 31-17, extending their win streak to six games.

    From there the Steelers headed to play the No. 1 seeded Colts, who were having a phenomenal year at 14-2.  Leading the Colts by 18 points at one time, the Steelers held on to win 21-18, pulling off yet another upset.

    The Steelers next matchup was with the No. 2 seeded Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game.  The Steelers won that game too by a score of 34-17 and advanced to the Super Bowl to take on the Seattle Seahawks.

    In the Super Bowl, the Steelers handled the Seahawks 21-10 and became the first ever No. 6 seed to win a Super Bowl. 

2010 Green Bay Packers

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    Heading into the final week of the 2010 season, the Green Bay Packers' playoff hopes were on the line. The Packers needed either a win against the Chicago Bears or for the New York Giants and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to both lose in order clinch the sixth NFC wild-card seed.

    When the Packers played the Bears in Week 3, they were defeated, 17-20. In their Week 17 matchup, the Packers were tied with the Bears all the way up until the fourth quarter, 3-3. The Packers finally scored in the fourth, giving them a 10-3 lead that they would hang onto to win and clinch a playoff berth.

    In their first game of the playoffs, the Packers were matched up in a wild-card game with the third-seeded Eagles at home in Philadelphia. The good news for the Packers was that the Eagles' record for the season at home was only 4-4, with one of those losses coming to Green Bay in Week 1.

    The Packers led the Eagles for the whole game and won 21-16, advancing them to the NFC Divisional Round against the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons.

    For the Packers, playing at the Georgia Dome was a much more hostile environment, as the Falcons had lost just one game at home all season and had already defeated the Packers 20-17 in Week 12. Until midway through the second quarter, the teams were neck-and-neck trading scores, but then the Packers took off and never looked back. Green Bay defeated the Falcons, 48-21, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers played a nearly perfect game, throwing 31/36 for 366 yards and three touchdowns.

    All of a sudden, the Packers were starting to look like a playoff threat—a team that was hitting their stride at the right time.

    For the NFC Championship game, the Packers would face their historical rival for the third time that season, the second-seeded Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

    The Packers got off to a hot start and led 14-0 going into halftime. At the end of the second quarter, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was injured and never returned to the game. The Bears did not score until the fourth quarter to make it 14-7, but the Packers immediately struck back with a B.J. Raji interception and touchdown, making it 21-7. The final score ended up being 21-14 and, once again, the Packers survived.

    Going 3-0 on the road in the postseason, the Packers became the first ever NFC No. 6 seed to make the Super Bowl.

    In the Super Bowl, the Packers jumped out to a 21-3 second-quarter lead and the Steelers never recovered. Led by the play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Jordy Nelson, the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, 25-31.   

2007 New York Giants

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    In Week 16 of the 2007 NFL season, the New York Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills 38-21 to earn an NFC Wild Card and clinch a playoff spot.

    In Week 17, the Giants faced the 15-0 New England Patriots in a game that did not effect the playoffs, but the Patriots were in pursuit of being the first team in NFL history to go 16-0 in the regular season. They succeeded in doing so, defeating the Giants, 38-35.

    The Giants went on to defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-14 in the Wild Card game at Tampa.

    In the NFC Divisional game, the Giants pulled off another upset, defeating the top-seeded Dallas Cowboys 21-17 on their home field. 

    Going from 70-degree and 60-degree weather, the Giants headed to Green Bay and zero-degree weather to take on the Packers in the NFC Championship game. The Giants managed to squeak out a victory in overtime and defeated the Packers, 23-20.

    From there, it was on to the Super Bowl for the New York Giants. Just three games after losing to the Patriots to extend their record to 17-0, the Giants would get another shot at the undefeated team. Going untouched all season, the Patriots were undoubtedly the favorite.

    Facing a fourth down with 2:40 remaining in the game and trailing 10-14, Giants quarterback Eli Manning miraculously escaped a sack and completed what would be the game-winning touchdown pass. The Giants defeated the Patriots 17-14, ending their undefeated season and winning Super Bowl XLII.

1992 Buffalo Bills

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    The 1992 Buffalo Bills finished their regular season 11-5, earning themselves an AFC Wild Card into the playoffs.  

    Having made it to the previous two Super Bowls, the playoff appearance didn't seem as much of a surprise. However, in the last game of the regular season during Week 17, the Bills' starting quarterback Jim Kelly suffered an injury that would force his back-up, Frank Reich, to take over come playoff time.

    In the AFC Wild Card playoff a week later, Reich quickly became a hero when he orchestrated one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. Trailing 32 points at one point to the Oilers, the Bills put together a 35-3 run in the second half to push the game into overtime. Once in overtime, the Bills came up with the win, 41-38, and moved on to the next round.

    Reich and the Bills then defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-3 in the divisional round and advanced to the Conference Championship. In the Conference Championship, quarterback Jim Kelly returned and defeated the Miami Dolphins 29-10, leading them to the Super Bowl.

    The Super Bowl is where the Bills' run came to an end, losing handily to the Cowboys handily, 52-17.

2008 Arizona Cardinals

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    The 2008 Arizona Cardinals started their season off hot, going 7-3 in the first eleven weeks, however by Week 17 they had won just two more games and finished 9-7.  

    But with just their 2nd winning season in 23 years, the Cardinals still managed to win the NFC West and host a Wild Card playoff game.

    In the Wild Card game the Arizona Cardinals defeated the No. 5 Falcons 24-30.  The win gave the Cardinals just their second playoff victory in 60 years.

    From there the Cardinals continued their run heading to Carolina to take on the No. 2 Panthers in the NFC Divisional game. The Cardinals pulled off a major upset, winning 33-13 and advanced to the franchises first NFC Championship game.

    In the NFC Championship game the Cardinals got to head back home playing another underdog in the No. 6 Philadelphia Eagles.  The Eagles upset the No. 1 Giants to earn their spot in the game.  The Cardinals once again stepped up to the challenge and defeated the Eagles 25-32, advancing to their first ever Super Bowl.

    In the Super Bowl, the Cardinals played the Pittsburgh Steelers pretty tough, but on their last opportunity the Steelers forced a fumble sealing their win.  The Cardinals were defeated by a score of 27-23 and their incredible playoff run came to an end. 

1996 Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The 1996 Jacksonville Jaguars went 9-7 in the regular season, winning six out of their last seven games in order to earn a playoff berth with an AFC Wild Card.

    In just the second year of the franchise, the Jaguars barely snuck into the playoffs when the Atlanta Falcons' legendary kicker Morten Anderson missed a 30-yard field goal in the final game of the season, giving the Jaguars the win.

    Receiving the fifth seed, the Jaguars went into the playoffs and upset the Bills in the Wild-Card game, 30-27. The win gave the Jaguars their first ever franchise playoff victory.

    The Jaguars advanced to play the top-seeded Denver Broncos and quarterback John Elway. Many thought it would be Denver's year, but the Jaguars once again pulled off the upset and defeated the Broncos, 30-27.  

    The Jaguars' magical run unfortunately came to an end in the AFC Championship when they were defeated by the Patriots, 20-6, and missed their opportunity to reach the Super Bowl.