Ranking the Biggest NFL Playoff Upsets Since 2000

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2022

Ranking the Biggest NFL Playoff Upsets Since 2000

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    DOUG MILLS/Associated Press

    Everyone loves an underdog story. Although top-seeded teams generally end up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, the NFL playoffs aren't immune to stunning results.

    What exactly defines a big upset is subjective, and many interpretations are reasonable. Rather than targeting pre-game narratives alone, we're focused on the largest upsets against the spread. Since the 2000 season, seven double-digit underdogs have pulled off an upset in the playoffs.

    Most impressively, one team even accomplished two of those victories in the same postseason.

    For consistency, all betting info is from Stathead's database. From there, the ranking is subjective but considers the teams' regular-season performance and game context.

7. 2019: Titans 28, Ravens 12

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens' early exit from the 2019 postseason wasn't totally unexpected after they had stumbled against the Los Angeles Chargers the year prior. However, this lopsided loss to the Tennessee Titans ended Lamar Jackson's MVP-winning campaign in an unceremonious fashion.

    As a 10-point favorite, Baltimore hosted a seven-loss Tennessee squad that upset the New England Patriots to begin the playoffs (in what would be Tom Brady's final game with the franchise).

    But the Ravens just had a miserable day.

    The defense found no solutions to contain Derrick Henry, who piled up 195 rushing yards and even threw for a touchdown. He also hit Earl Thomas with one of his signature stiff-arms that had the safety looking like one of his lead blockers. 

    Tennessee capitalized on an interception and a turnover on downs to take a 14-0 lead, then scored touchdowns on consecutive drives in the second half after another turnover on downs and a fumble to create an insurmountable 28-6 lead. Jackson struggled, and a handful of key dropped passes didn't help, either.

    After posting a 14-2 record with the AFC's No. 1 overall seed, the Ravens scuffled to a frustrating 28-12 loss.

6. 2008: Cardinals 33, Panthers 13

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    During the 2008 regular season, the Carolina Panthers edged the Arizona Cardinals 27-23. Vegas expected a similar result in the NFC Divisional Round, installing the Panthers as a 10-point favorite.

    Carolina seemed to meet the expectations right away, putting together a five-play touchdown drive on the opening possession.

    But then, Jake Delhomme kept finding the wrong team.

    In the first half, the Panthers' quarterback lost a fumble and threw two interceptions that led to 17 Arizona points. It also didn't help that Carolina's defense couldn't contain Larry Fitzgerald, who caught a touchdown and recorded 151 of his 166 receiving yards by halftime.

    Carolina trailed 27-7 entering the third quarter, and it didn't get better. Delhomme tossed another three picks, and the Panthers only scored again in the last minute of regulation.

    Six turnovers was a pretty effective way for the NFC's No. 2 team to implode at home to a double-digit underdog.

5. 2001: Patriots 24, Steelers 17

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    CHRIS GARDNER/Associated Press

    Although the New England Patriots earned the AFC's No. 2 seed, they escaped the divisional round only because of the infamous "Tuck Rule" play. For the AFC Championship Game, Brady and the Pats traveled to face the top-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers.

    The Steelers had a fearsome defense, leading the league in total defense and finishing third in points allowed.

    Then, as if the Patriots needed another obstacle, Brady exited in the second quarter with a leg injury. Losing their QB should have been a disaster for the 10-point underdog.

    Fortunately for the Patriots, however, they had Drew Bledsoe—and a terrific supporting cast. Because of his own injury in September, Bledsoe became the backup. But he replaced Brady and, four snaps later, threw a touchdown to David Patten.

    New England also received a punt-return touchdown from Troy Brown, who later scooped up a blocked field goal and lateraled the ball to Antwan Harris for a touchdown.

    For good measure, the Patriots intercepted two Kordell Stewart passes in the closing three minutes to seal a 24-17 victory.

4. 2007: Chargers 28, Colts 24

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Speaking of injuries as an underdog, the San Diego Chargers should not have survived this trip to the Indianapolis Colts.

    Knee injuries sidelined both running back LaDainian Tomlinson and quarterback Philip Rivers in the second and third quarters, respectively. In their places, Michael Turner—who rushed for a game-high 71 yards—and Billy Volek emerged as unexpected standouts in the home of the reigning Super Bowl champions.

    Colts legend Peyton Manning hit Anthony Gonzalez for a 55-yard touchdown and 24-21 lead early in the fourth quarter. However, the Chargers answered with Volek's go-ahead QB sneak and stalled Indy's ensuing drive inside the 10-yard line.

    Down the starting QB and MVP-winning running back as 11-point underdogs? No problem, apparently.

    Also, even though Rivers tore his ACL, he still managed to play one week later in what would be his only appearance in the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots.

3. 2010: Seahawks 41, Saints 36

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    Peter Read Miller/Getty Images

    On paper, the Seattle Seahawks were just happy to be here. They backpedaled into the playoffs at 7-9, losing five of their last seven regular-season games but still winning a horrid NFC West.

    Reality, though, provided an iconic upset.

    Despite tying for the NFC's second-best record, the New Orleans Saints received the No. 5 seed because the Atlanta Falcons won the division. New Orleansthe defending Super Bowl champshit the road as a 10-point favorite, fully anticipating a comfortable win and even racing out to a quick 10-0 advantage.

    But the Seahawks recovered thanks to four touchdown passes from Matt Hasselbeck. And then, holding a 34-30 edge in the fourth quarter, Marshawn Lynch shook the stadium.

    The unforgettable "Beast Quake" run covered 67 yards, and Lynch broke nine tackles along the way. Seattle took an 11-point lead it would not relinquish, eliminating Drew Brees and the Saints.

2. Super Bowl XLII: Giants 17, Patriots 14

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    Boston Globe/Getty Images

    The Cinderella story met the undefeated buzzsaw in Super Bowl XLII, where most NFL fans expected the fairytale to end.

    It turns out the New York Giants had one final chapter to write.

    Following a 10-6 campaign, the Giants won three straight road games in the playoffs. Their reward was a date with the Patriots, who shattered numerous NFL records—including single-season points—en route to a 16-0 regular season and 18-0 overall mark. New York traveled to Arizona as a 12.5-point underdog.

    Without a doubt, an elite defensive effort braced the Giants. New England scored a touchdown on its opening drive, but New York sacked Brady five times and forced two three-and-outs, a fumble, a turnover on downs and another punt to give Eli Manning and Co. every chance to win.

    In the fourth quarter, the offense finally broke through when Manning threw a touchdown to David Tyree. Randy Moss' touchdown with under three minutes could have spelled doom, but Tyree's legendary helmet catch set up Plaxico Burress' game-winning score and ended the Patriots' perfect season.

1. Super Bowl XXXVI: Patriots 20, Rams 17

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    John Biever/Getty Images

    The start of a two-decade dynasty began in improbable fashion.

    Brady returned to the lineup after exiting the AFC Championship Game win over Pittsburgh, but expectations were low. Vegas viewed the St. Louis Rams and their record-setting "Greatest Show on Turf" offense as a 14-point favorite in Super Bowl XXXVI.

    After all, the Rams led the league in numerous categories during the regular season, including passing yards, passing touchdowns, rushing touchdowns and rushing yards per carry.

    As in Pittsburgh, though, a non-offensive score propelled New England. Through 21 minutes, the offense had managed a single snap on the Rams' side of midfield. Yet the Pats moved in front when Ty Law intercepted Kurt Warner and returned it for a touchdown.

    New England ultimately held a 17-3 lead before Warner engineered a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives to tie the game. He tossed a game-tying score to Ricky Proehl with 1:37 to play.

    But after five completions from Brady and a 48-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal as time expired, the Patriots completed the upset.

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