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This is Part 3 of an ongoing series ranking every NFL playoffs I've ever seen. Check out yesterday's installment here. Here is Part 1 from Monday

Also, don't forget to vote for this year's Goldie Awards! Was beating the Browns the best moment? That's for you to decide!

 

20. 2005
Super Bowl: Pittsburgh 21 Seattle 10
Avg Margin of Victory: 13.82
Close Games: 3
Blowouts: 4
Upsets: 5
Best Game: Pittsburgh 21 Indianapolis 18 – AFC Divisional Playoff
Worst Game: Pittsburgh 21 Seattle 10 – Super Bowl XL
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Jerome Bettis' fumble at the 1, Big Ben's tackle, Vanderjagt's missed FG (PIT at IND – AFC Divisional Round)

Looking back on 2005, I remember it more fondly than it probably deserves. There are two great storylines that I associate with this season: the Steelers run from the sixth seed to the championship, and Steve Smith’s invincibility. Everyone knows Pittsburgh’s story. After squandering a 15-1 record and Homefield Advantage in 2004, they come back and embark on an amazing run to the Super Bowl. The highlight of that journey is their 21-18 win at the top-seeded 14-2 Colts. It includes the wild ending where Jerome Bettis fumbles a yard away from what would have been the game icing score allowing the Colts to recover and subsequently drive for a game-winning field goal attempt, which Colts Kicker Mike Vanderjagt would epically shank as time expired. On the NFC side, nearly everyone but Panthers WR Steve Smith played uninspired. As a big Smith fan, I love 2005. In the Panthers Wildcard and Divisional Round victories, Smith hauled in a combined 22 receptions for 302 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also ran four times for 38 yards and a another touchdown. He was a one-man wrecking crew. He was unable to will the flawed Panthers to the Super Bowl, however. In the NFC Championship Game, the Seattle Seahawks decided they would essentially triple-team Smith on offensive plays and take their chances with everyone else. It worked. Seattle won 34-14, but not before Steve Smith took his only punt return back 59 yards for a touchdown. Someday, I believe Steve Smith will get into the Hall of Fame, and the 2005 postseason should be one of the key reasons why. 2005 ends with Super Bowl XL. I say without exaggeration that this is one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever seen. I was rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers to beat the Seahawks, but the preponderance of penalties in critical moments made this such an unenjoyable experience that I was not even that happy for the Steelers. Their win felt tainted. It also didn’t help that two quarterbacks put on perhaps the worst combined showing by Super Bowl passers ever. This season was fun for the runs of the Steelers and Panthers, but Super Bowl XL was so bad, it nearly soiled the entire season.

 

19. 1990
Super Bowl: NY Giants 20 Buffalo 19
Avg Margin of Victory: 15.33
Close Games: 3
Blowouts: 4
Upsets: 3
Best Game: NY Giants 20 Buffalo 19 – Super Bowl XXV
Worst Game: NY Giants 31 Chicago 3
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Scott Norwood’s Game-Winning Field Goal Attempt Sails Wide Left (BUF vs. NYG)

I don’t have a ton to say about the 1990 playoffs. It’s the first year of the six-team per conference format that is still in use today. The expanded playoffs did not provide expanded excitement, as just one of the four wildcard games produce much action. The Divisional Round is not much better, but we do get a classic Jim Kelly vs. Dan Marino shootout in the snow. Buffalo would outrun Miami 44-34, before demolishing the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3 the following week. Over in the NFC Divisional Round, it ended up being a mini-tournament of the four best teams of the 80s: Redskins at 49ers and Bears at Giants. Unfortunately, both of these are lopsided blowouts. The Giants went out to Candlestick Park the following week and beat San Francisco 15-13 in one of the hardest hitting games you’ll ever see. But 1990 is forever known for Super Bowl XXV. The Giants and Bills conflicting styles complemented each other beautifully and created an awesome Super Bowl. Bill Belichick’s gameplan to allow Buffalo free reign to run so they can stifle the pass is famous among football fanatics. While it slowed the Bills down, it nearly backfired as the Bills rushed into field goal range with :07 left. Of course, Scott Norwood would miss his 47-yard field goal attempt by a few feet and kickoff the Bills’ four years of Super Bowl misery. Super Bowl XXV is one of my favorite games ever, but the rest of the 1990 playoffs is pretty unremarkable.

 

18. 1996
Super Bowl: Green Bay 35 New England 21
Avg Margin of Victory: 15.73
Close Games: 2
Blowouts: 5
Upsets: 3
Best Game: Jacksonville 30 Denver 27 – AFC Divisional Round
Worst Game: New England 28 Pittsburgh 3 – AFC Divisional Round
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Desmond Howard's 99 yd KO Return clinches the title for Pack (NE vs. GB)

Since this is a Packers site, you might be surprised that this isn’t higher. If this were a list of my favorite playoffs, this would easily be no lower than two, because it’s one of the pair of Packers championships I experienced firsthand. From a more objective standpoint, the 1996 playoffs didn’t feature many classic games. They did have the memorable Jaguars win at Mile High Stadium over the Broncos in Jacksonville’s second season. It is one of the biggest upsets in NFL playoff history. However, the magnitude of that upset has grown larger over the years than it felt in the moment. We didn’t know at the time that Denver was going to win the next two Super Bowls. In 1996, the Broncos had only been in the playoffs once in the previous five years, and they felt much more like a fluke 13-3 team that had dominated a bad AFC than a true NFL power. What made this year more fun than some others in the 90s was how different it felt. Just once in the previous eight seasons had there been an NFC Title game without the Cowboys or 49ers or an AFC Championship game without the Steelers or Bills. And those teams occupied all but a couple of the Super Bowls spots in the decade. In 1996, we got the Packers, hosting their first title game at Lambeau Field in 29 years, and the Patriots, hosting their first conference title game ever. Their respective opponents would be the 1995 expansion teams: the Panthers and Jaguars. After seeing so little parity in the 80s and 90s, it was surreal that this was the NFL’s final four, and it gave the playoffs it’s most vibrant feel in years (especially considering the teams all had bright, well-contrasting uniform colors). 1996 also culminated in a pretty darn good Super Bowl. Super Bowl XXXI might not seem that great to the casual fan in the present day due to the ridiculous number of amazing Super Bowls we’ve had in the last twenty years, but at the time, this was very exciting. In 2001, Sports Illustrated ranked Green Bay’s back and forth 35-21 victory over New England as the tenth best game in Super Bowl history. Plus, the Packers won the Super Bowl with one of the most dominant teams ever. How could that not skew my opinion? The only thing I wish had been different was for Dallas to have come to Lambeau in the NFC Championship Game instead of Carolina. While the Packers finally stomped them in Green Bay in the 1997 regular season, this would have made this Super Bowl run the perfect capstone for Packers fans. As it is, it’s still pretty great, and 1996 holds some of my fondest NFL memories.

 

17. 1987
Super Bowl: Washington 42 Denver 10
Avg Margin of Victory: 15.33
Close Games: 4
Blowouts: 4
Upsets: 5
Best Game: Denver 38 Cleveland 33 – AFC Championship Game
Worst Game: Minnesota 44 New Orleans 10 – NFC Wildcard Game
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Redskins 35 point 2nd Quarter (WAS vs. DEN – Super Bowl XXII)

While I was less than a year old when the 1987 playoffs occurred, I know this season better than most I actually experienced. As a young football fan in the mid-1990s, I wanted to get my hands on any football-related media I could. I read any old football book I could find, and, since I could not afford the new ones, I would hunt bargain bins at video stores looking for old NFL VHS tapes. The first I ever bought was NFL ’87 - the one-hour cinematic recap of the 1987 season. I think I watched that tape every Saturday morning for at least a year. When I was bored at school, I would recite the entire narration of the program in my head to pass the time (yes I had friends and yes I got good grades). When I finally acquired the broadcast copies of these games, it was surreal to see them as they were. Most of it still held up. Sure Vikings receiver Anthony Carter’s acrobatic catches that propelled Minnesota to an all-time great upset over the 49ers at Candlestick Park looked cooler in slow motion. And Ernest Byner’s fumble at the end of the classic 38-33 Broncos win over Cleveland in the AFC Championship Game is more dramatic with the NFL Films music. But the one thing that looked even more impressive on the original broadcast than on NFL Films was the Washington Redskins 2nd quarter explosion in Super Bowl XXII. In the game, the Broncos take a 10-0 lead to the 2nd period while looking unstoppable through the opening quarter. Their offense is humming, and their defense is completely suffocating the Redskins attack. Then, for reasons I don’t understand, the Redskins immediately become a juggernaut. I don’t think I have ever seen an offense as good as Washington was in that second quarter. The Redskins gain 356 yards (228 passing and 128 rushing) and score 35 points on only 19 plays! It’s one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen in sports. Every time I see that first quarter, I just can’t fathom that what is about to transpire will actually happen. 1987 is a very nostalgic year for me, but it’s also a pretty good year by 1980s standards. There are five upsets. Both title games are fantastic. The Vikings are as fun a team to watch as the Vikings are capable of being for a Packers fan. Two of my childhood favorites, Bernie Kosar’s Browns and Joe Gibbs’ Redskins, are at their absolute best. And the Super Bowl produced some of the most incredible action you’ll ever see in a 42-10 blowout. I’ll always have a soft spot for these playoffs.

 

16. 2015
Super Bowl: Denver 24 Carolina 10
Avg Margin of Victory: 11.55
Close Games: 7
Blowouts: 3
Upsets: 3
Best Game: Arizona 23 Green Bay 20– NFC Divisional Round
Worst Game: Kansas City 30 Houston 0 – AFC Wildcard Round
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Aaron Rodgers hits Jeff Janis on a Hail Mary with :00 left in Regulation to Force Overtime. Then I don’t remember what happened (GB at ARZ – NFC Divisional Round)

Despite beginning with a Chiefs 30-0 win over the hapless Houston Texans, the first two weekends of the 2015 playoffs were some of the most memorable in NFL History. In addition to having 7 of 8 games be competitive affairs, it produced three of the most memorable finishes of all-time. On Wildcard Saturday, the Bengals and Steelers had one of the ugliest, most controversial games in memory. I don’t think I have to recap that game for anyone reading this, but it’s one of the strangest series of events you’ll ever see as the Steelers win 18-16 on a walk-off field goal. The following day, the Vikings hosted the Seahawks for one of the coldest games on record in perhaps the final outdoor game ever to be played in Minnesota (provided their new roof doesn’t cave in like the old one). Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed a chip shot field goal with seconds left delivering Seattle a 10-9 win. Then, of course, we have the Packers vs. Cardinals Divisional Round matchup. Packers WR Jeff Janis manages to record 101 receiving yards on a single drive. Memorably, Janis caught a 41 yard Hail Mary from an unbelievable Aaron Rodgers pass that saw him escape a blitz and throw the ball 50 yards without setting his feet. Of course, as they do, the Packers lost anyways in overtime 26-20. Following the drama of the Divisional Round, the conference title games gave us matchups of the teams that had dominated the 2015 regular season: New England vs. Denver and Arizona vs. Carolina. From this point on, the playoffs took a total nose dive. The Patriots and Broncos came down to the wire, but we had seen Brady vs. Manning so many times, it didn’t feel special. Not helping matters, Peyton Manning was clearly on borrowed time. I wanted it to be a shootout, but it ended up being close because Peyton couldn’t do it anymore and Brady couldn’t crack the vicious Broncos defense. It’s a good game, but it was quickly forgotten. In the NFC, the Panthers obliterated the Cardinals 49-15 in a game that saw Carson Palmer turn in one of the worst performances in championship game history. The Super Bowl was great on paper, with Carolina’s number one offense against the Broncos number one defense. As these matchups tend to go, the elite defense completely stymied the elite offense, and Denver was able to win a lackluster 24-10 affair that saw them register some of the worst offensive totals for a winning team. The 2015 playoff started with a bang, but fizzled out at the end, making this postseason less enjoyable than it could have been.

 

In part 4, we begin the top half of the list. Has your favorite year appeared yet? What are your thoughts on these five seasons discussed today?

 

No. 31-26

No. 25-21

No. 15-11

No. 10-6

 

Eric Drews 
Host 
Green and Gold Forever 
@GreenGold4Ever

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