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This is Part 5 of an ongoing series ranking every NFL playoffs I've ever seen. 

Check out No. 31-26No. 25-21, No. 20-16, and No. 15-11

Also, don't forget to vote for this year's Goldie Awards! The subject of those awards, the 2017 Packers, will not be discussed on this countdown.

 

10. 2014
Super Bowl: New England 28 Seattle 24
Avg Margin of Victory: 11.45
Close Games: 5
Blowouts: 1
Upsets: 2
Best Game: New England 28 Seattle 24 – Super Bowl XLIX
Worst Game: New England 45 Indianapolis 7 – AFC Championship Game
Eric’s Strongest Memory: The Collapse (GB vs. SEA – NFC Championship Game)

I’ll always remember 2014 as that year that a viable Super Bowl contender in the NFC choked away a game in each playoff round in an increasingly absurd fashion. First, the 11-5 Lions, with their solid defense, blew a 13 point second half lead in a 24-20 loss at the Dallas Cowboys. They committed three defensive penalties in the fourth quarter that gave Dallas three extra first downs – two of which came on the Cowboys’ game-winning touchdown drive. Dallas paid this good fortune forward by traveling to Green Bay and losing to the Packers in the infamous Dez Bryant Catch game. By the letter of the rule, Dez dropped the ball. The rule really screwed the Cowboys, much like their second half defense, who could not prevent the Packers from scoring on all three of their possessions after the Cowboys took a 21-13 lead. Following the Dez Bryant ruling, there were still nearly five minutes remaining. However, Dallas allowed Green Bay to convert on two third downs and run out the clock. The Packers won 26-21. They took this momentum to the top-seeded Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game and dominated for the first 55 minutes of the game. Leading 19-7 and having just intercepted Russell Wilson for the 4th time, the Packers proceeded to collapse in a manner rarely seen in sports. Just over 8 minutes of game time after the interception, the Packers series of absurd blunders allowed Seattle to win 28-22 in overtime. Seattle went to Super Bowl XLIX to defend their title against the New England Patriots after having inflicted the perhaps the worst loss in history on the Packers. That was until they did worse to themselves. Down 28-24 with :26 seconds left and the ball at the Patriots 1 yard line, the top rushing offense in the NFL elected to throw. Russell Wilson did something that no passer had done in 2014, and statistically, fewer than 2% of passers have ever done in this situation: he threw an interception. Malcolm Butler made the play, the Patriots won again, and the NFC’s elite all took their turn squandering a rare championship opportunity. These four contests were the wildest succession of games I remember seeing in the playoffs and created one of the most interesting postseasons in memory. It might have even been higher on this list had the ultimate beneficiary of this late-game madness been someone other than a team that reached the Super Bowl allegedly due to using illegal formations in the Divisional Round and deflated footballs in the Championship game. But oh well. The 2014 postseason had the feel of an old Wild West shootout. All participants had blood on their hands, and the winner was the one that had the most luck. No shame in that.

 

9. 2008
Super Bowl: Pittsburgh 27 Arizona 23
Avg Margin of Victory: 9.82
Close Games: 5
Blowouts: 2
Upsets: 5
Best Game: Pittsburgh 27 Arizona 23 – Super Bowl XLIII
Worst Game: Baltimore 27 Miami 9 – AFC Wildcard Round
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Larry Fitzgerald scoring a long touchdown and realizing that the Arizona Cardinals might win the Super Bowl (PIT vs. ARZ – Super Bowl XLIII)

If you were playing Madden and this playoff bracket was produced, you would close out and resim the season. This field of teams was so strange for this time period. It had no Packers. It had no Seahawks. It had no PATRIOTS. Instead, it had Tavaris Jackson’s Vikings, Chad Pennington’s Dolphins, Kerry Collins’ Tennessee Titans as a ONE SEED. And it had the Arizona Cardinals playing the role of unstoppable offensive machine. While just 9-7 in the regular season, playoff Kurt Warner showed up in the postseason. The Cardinals scored 95 points in their three NFC playoff wins. While they played great, they also had the good fortune of becoming the lowest seed ever to host a Championship Game. They took advantage and went all the way to the Super Bowl. The AFC saw the near-miracle run of the tough Baltimore Ravens. They beat the Dolphins and Titans with great defense and dragged rookie QB Joe Flacco into the championship game. There, they met a team that always seemed to take advantage when the absence of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning left a void in the AFC: the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers went to yet another Super Bowl without having to play Tom Brady by beating the scrappy Ravens and claiming their second AFC Championship in four years. At the time, I couldn’t believe that the NFL season had led us to this point. This was seriously the Super Bowl? On one side, we had the Steelers, who lost to every playoff bound team they played in the regular season except for the two they ended up having to play in the playoffs (8-8 San Diego and the Wildcard Ravens). On the other side, we had the 9-7 Arizona Cardinals, a team so rich in tradition that they won more playoff games in their 2008 NFC Championship run than they had their first 88 years as a franchise. And yet, this turned out to be one of the most exciting football games of all time. It had big plays on offense and defense, it had lead changes in the 4th quarter, it had a last-second toe-tapping game-winning touchdown, it had The Boss Bruce Springsteen playing the halftime show, and it was the legendary John Madden’s last game in the booth. Pittsburgh won 27-23. It was a hard-fought game, and while the teams playing in it might not have been the best, they gave us a show worthy of the game’s biggest stage. As a matter of fact, that statement describes the 2008 playoffs nicely.

 

8. 2012
Super Bowl: Baltimore 34 San Francisco 31
Avg Margin of Victory: 9.00
Close Games: 5
Blowouts: 0
Upsets: 3
Best Game: Baltimore 38 Denver 35 – AFC Divisional Round
Worst Game: Houston 19 Cincinnati 13 – AFC Wildcard Round
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones sends Ravens to OT and eventually victory (BAL at DEN – AFC Divisional Playoff)

2012 is the only season in the past 31 years to not have a single playoff game decided by more than three scores. Even the one-sided games were somewhat tightly contested. The Wildcard Round was not great, but each games was close until well into the second half. The Divisional Round is where things turned. It began with the game of the year. The Baltimore Ravens went to the top-seeded Denver Broncos and matched them score for score through three quarters. With less than a minute left, the Ravens trailed by 7 and looked headed for elimination. Then Joe Flacco hit Jacoby Jones with a floating bomb that somehow sailed over the Denver secondary for a tying touchdown. This game became just the 6th in playoff history to go to double overtime, where Baltimore eventually won 38-35. New England beat Houston, and San Francisco beat Green Bay in games that were shootouts for the first half before the home teams kicked it into high gear and ran away (literally in Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers' case). In the other Divisional Round game, the Seattle Seahawks came back from 20 points down to take a 28-27 lead with :31 seconds left over the top seed Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons responded by somehow getting into field goal range in just three plays and won with a Field Goal 30-28. The conference championship games were solid, with the 49ers and Ravens each winning on the road. The Super Bowl gave us our first and likely only matchup of brother Head Coaches in championship game history – Jim vs. John Harbaugh. The game was a crazy affair that saw a furious comeback by the 49ers from 22 points down to pull to within 3. They would lose as their final pass fell short, though not without cries from San Francisco of a missed pass interference call. Not one of the best Super Bowls, but probably in the top third and definitely top 10 in best uniform matchup. 2012 is an all-around solid year. The only thing holding it back is the stupid colored uniform collars that several teams had. 2012 was thankfully the first and last year that Nike would put those on most teams' jerseys. If you want to see Joe Flacco play like Joe Montana and teams of guys looking to be wearing dress shirts underneath their pads, then 2012 is the year for you. If neither of those is your thing, there is still a ton in 2012 for you to enjoy.

 

7. 1997
Super Bowl: Denver 31 Green Bay 24
Avg Margin of Victory: 9.82
Close Games: 5
Blowouts: 1
Upsets: 3
Best Game: Denver 31 Green Bay 24 – Super Bowl XXXII
Worst Game: New England 17 Miami 3- AFC Wildcard Round
Eric’s Strongest Memory: John Elway's Helicopter Run (GB vs. DEN – Super Bowl XXXII)

Personally, thinking about 1997 breaks my heart. The Packers run as defending champs was every bit as good of a story as the year before, if not better. They finally beat the Cowboys. They finally won at the Metrodome. Just like 1996, they won seven straight blowouts entering the Super Bowl. They beat Tampa Bay in the Divisional Round 21-7 in a blood and guts battle typical of the 1990s Black and Blue NFC Central. They dominated the 13-3 San Francisco 49ers at rainy Candlestick Park in the NFC Championship Game 23-10. They were one win away from staking their claim as one of the greatest teams in history. A win in the Super Bowl likely moves Brett Favre even higher on most all-time best quarterback lists and secures Hall of Fame enshrinements for Leroy Butler and Mike Holmgren. But they lost. It hurts. However, that hurt is somewhat eased by the realization that they didn’t choke. They were beaten fair and square by a better team. Super Bowl XXXII is a battle of two of the best organizations of the 1990s and is one of the best Super Bowls ever. For Denver, it was the best of their remarkable playoff run. They beat Jacksonville in a competitive game that got out of hand late. They won razor-close slugfests on the road in two the toughest venues in sports – Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, and Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium. They earned their way to the Super Bowl. There were two one-point games as well. Minnesota’s 23-22 4th quarter comeback win over the Giants was exciting. The Steelers 7-6 win over the Patriots was for real football fans only. 1997 had some great action that showcased what made 90s football awesome. Ultimately, it is remembered for the clash of the titans in the Super Bowl. It was a great game and a capstone to a great year. I just wish it wouldn’t have been my team taking the fall.

 

6. 2011
Super Bowl: NY Giants 21 New England 17
Avg Margin of Victory: 12.64
Close Games: 6
Blowouts: 5
Upsets: 3
Best Game: San Francisco 36 New Orleans 32 - NFC Divisional Round
Worst Game: Houston 31 Bengals 10 - AFC Wildcard Round
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Alex Smith to Vernon Davis with :09 left (NO at SF - NFC Divisional Round)

2011 was feast or famine. Every game of these playoffs was either a blowout or a one-score game. The Packers lost a 37-20 blowout to the Giants and became the only 15-1 team not to win a playoff game. If you can somehow swallow that bitter pill, the good games of 2011 were as good as they get. Each round featured a classic. The Wildcard round saw Tebowmania run wild all over the Steelers. Tim Tebow’s 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime propelled the Broncos to a 29-23 victory and provided the most memorable highlight to his strange career. The Divisional Round featured the Catch III in San Francisco. The Saints and 49ers traded the lead four times in the final four minutes. San Francisco snatched the lead for good when Alex Smith hit Vernon Davis for a touchdown with just nine seconds left. Both championship games were outstanding. The Patriots were as lucky as ever as the Ravens receiver Lee Evans dropped the would-be game-winning touchdown with :27 left. Two plays later, K Billy Cundiff missed the would-be game-tying 32-yard field goal, and the Patriots escaped with a 23-20 win. In the NFC, the Giants had their own good fortune. After a four quarter stalemate, 49ers KR Kyle Williams fumbled a punt in overtime, allowing New York kicker Lawrence Tynes to hit a 31-yard field goal and send the Giants to the Super Bowl with a 20-17 overtime win. Super Bowl XLVI was a rematch of the fabled Super Bowl XLII four years earlier. The big moments weren’t as dramatic, but this was arguably a better game from start to finish than its counterpart. It didn’t have David Tyree, but it did have Mario Manningham down the sideline. Somehow, Eli Manning bested Tom Brady again, and the Giants claimed their second title in 5 seasons with a 21-17 victory. The best of 2011 had much of what I love about football. The games weren’t perfect. There were mistakes in critical moments. But football isn’t supposed to be pretty. The team that wins isn’t always the most precise one. It’s the one that can overcome adversity and capitalize on its opportunities. These playoffs were messy. That’s what made them beautiful.

 

Next time, we get the Top Five Playoffs of the past 30 years. Can you guess what order they will be?

Check out the rest of the series:

No. 31-26

No. 25-21

No. 20-16

No. 15-11

 

Eric Drews 
Host 
Green and Gold Forever 
@GreenGold4Ever

 

 

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