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This is Part 2 of an ongoing series ranking every NFL playoffs I've ever seen. Check out yesterday's installment here.

Also, vote for this year's Goldie Award's! You don't want to just stand there and watch the action unfold without you, like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix playing safety in 2017, do you?

 

25. 2004
Super Bowl: New England 24 Philadelphia 21
Avg Margin of Victory: 13.27
Close Games: 4
Blowouts: 4
Upsets: 3
Best Game: NY Jets 20 San Diego 17 – AFC Wildcard Round
Worst Game: Philadelphia 27 Atlanta 10 – NFC Championship Game
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Randy Moss mock moons the Lambeau crowd and Joe Buck loses his mind (MIN at GB – NFC Wildcard Round)

After the spectacular 2003 playoffs, I decided to start recording all NFL playoff games for my collection the following year. As luck would have it, the 2004 playoffs was one of the worst in recent memory. It was clear from the middle of the season that the Steelers (15-1), Patriots (14-2), and Eagles (13-3) were head and shoulders above all other teams in the NFL and would decide the Super Bowl. That was mostly how it played out. The Eagles easily reached the Super Bowl notching two comfortable but unimpressive wins. Things were slightly more interesting in the AFC. In the Divisional Round, Peyton Manning and the Colts traveled to play Tom Brady and the Patriots for the 2nd year in a row. Peyton was coming off his record-setting 49 touchdown season and was having maybe the best quarterback season in NFL history. As fate would have it, a snowstorm settled over Foxboro that day, and our Brady vs. Manning dual became a punchless 20-3 Patriots win where neither quarterback played very well. The Steelers struggled in their initial playoff outing but still beat the Jets 20-17 in overtime in a messy game that both teams continuously tried to give away (Steelers with interceptions and the Jets with missed field goals). In the AFC Title game, rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger showed himself to be not quite ready for prime time. Big Ben turned in a disastrous performance, and the Patriots prevailed 41-27. In the Super Bowl, the Eagles and Patriots both played below their lofty standards. The game was a close one, but not a particularly good one. The Patriots won 24-21 in their least memorable Super Bowl game in the Belichick/Brady era and secured their 3rd title in 4 years. While the rest of the playoffs produced a few good games on Wildcard weekend, they were between heavily flawed teams that had no hope of winning a championship (plus it didn’t help that the two teams I was rooting for, San Diego and Green Bay, were knocked out in the first round). The 2004 playoffs were about those three power teams. The Patriots made the fewest mistakes and took home the Lombardi Trophy, but it was far less interesting than it could have been.

 

24. 1989
Super Bowl: San Francisco 55 Denver 10
Avg Margin of Victory: 16.00
Close Games: 4
Blowouts: 4
Upsets: 3
Best Game: Cleveland 34 Buffalo 30 – AFC Divisional Round
Worst Game: San Francisco 30 LA Rams 3 – NFC Championship Game
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Joe Montana can’t be stopped (SF vs. DEN – Super Bowl XXIV)

The AFC lost every Super Bowl from 1984-1996. In the middle of that streak of futility, the AFC produced possibly their worst season. The Denver Broncos were the only AFC team to win more than nine games in 1989. However, the conference’s relative mediocrity actually led to some excellent playoff games. All four AFC playoff games were close or competitive. The best game was a wild shootout at Cleveland Municipal Stadium between the Browns and Bills in the Divisional Round. Cleveland won 34-30 by preserving the game when Clay Matthews intercepted Jim Kelly's pass at the one-yard line with just seconds remaining. Denver would win the AFC for the 3rd time in four years and meet the 49ers, who had steamrolled through the NFC field. Outside of the Rams 19-13 overtime win in New York, the other NFC games were all decided by 14 points or more. Famously, the Denver/San Francisco Super Bowl is a blowout, but it’s one of the most entertaining blowouts you’ll ever see. The 49ers offense is so good against the number one Denver defense, that it looks like a practice nine on seven drill. San Francisco’s defense was equally as dominant against John Elway and company. Super Bowl XXIV is not a good game, but there was a beauty and elegance to the 49ers destruction that’s rarely seen in a game that lopsided. Plus, Bud Bowl II is on during the commercial breaks to keep your interest.

The 1989 playoffs did not have any all-time great games, but it had enough of what made the 80s great that I can’t hate on it too much. It’s far from one of the better playoff years, but I enjoyed it. Granted, this was one year I didn’t experience in real-time. Fans of the day that didn’t know that this would be the Super Bowl swan song for Joe Montana’s 49ers and many 80s NFL staples (Cleveland, LA Rams, Reeves’ Broncos last Super Bowl) might have found it more frustrating. If only the 1989 Cardiac Packers had won that tiebreaker over the Vikings. They probably would’ve won three one-point games on their way to a Super Bowl title, vaulting this year into the top five. Surely they would’ve beaten the 49ers for a second time that year and not lost 42-3 or something. I’m sure.

 

23. 1993
Super Bowl: Dallas 30 Buffalo 13
Avg Margin of Victory: 13.45
Close Games: 4
Blowouts: 5
Upsets: 2
Best Game: Green Bay 28 Detroit 24 – NFC Wildcard Round
Worst Game: San Francisco 44 NY Giants 3 – NFC Divisional Round
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Favre to Sharpe for a 40-yard game-winning TD with :55 Left (GB at DET – NFC Wildcard Round)

The 1993 Wildcard Round is one of the best weekends in NFL playoff history. It’s got a bit of everything – one of Montana’s last comebacks, one of Favre’s first comebacks, a defensive slugfest in New York, and an offensive shootout in LA. The Divisional Round is where things start getting bad. Both AFC games are good, but both NFC games are your typical 90s one-sided destructions. The Conference Title matchups pit Montana’s Chiefs at Buffalo and a rematch of the 1992 championship game - 49ers at Cowboys. While fans started to dream of a Super Bowl matching Steve Young’s 49ers against Joe Montana’s Chiefs, both teams were underdogs, and if everything went as expected, we’d have a rematch of the previous year’s awful Super Bowl. That’s precisely what happened. The Bills knocked Montana out of the game in the 3rd quarter and cruised to a dominating 30-13 win. The Cowboys rolled the 49ers 38-21 and set up the Super Bowl no one wanted to see. Bills vs. Cowboys II started off looking like it might flip the script. Dallas was uncharacteristically sloppy and Buffalo was playing well. The Bills led 13-6 at halftime and received the second half kickoff. Then disaster struck when Buffalo's Thurman Thomas fumbled on the Bills' first drive. James Washington of the Cowboys scooped it up and ran it for the game-tying touchdown. After that mistake, the Bills completely crumble under the pressure and Dallas dominates from that moment forward. The Cowboys win 30-13 and seals Buffalo’s sad fate as the ultimate big game loser. The 1993 playoffs feel like a missed opportunity. Many new, exciting playoff teams were available to create some fresh matchups in the later rounds, but we got stuck with rematches in the two biggest games of the year (NFC Championship and Super Bowl). Neither was good, and Dallas won them both for the second year in a row. That ending leaves a sour taste in your mouth. It may have been exciting for Cowboys fans, but it’s a chore for the average football fan.

 

22. 1991
Super Bowl: Washington 37  Buffalo 24
Avg Margin of Victory: 13.00
Close Games: 6
Blowouts: 4
Upsets: 2
Best Game: Denver 26  Houston 24 – AFC Divisional Round
Worst Game: Washington 37  Buffalo 24 – Super Bowl XXVI
Eric’s Strongest Memory: John Elway Drives the Broncos to a Last-Second Victory (HOU at DEN - AFC Divisional Round)

Because I wasn’t watching at the time, I still am not quite sure the 1991 playoffs ever happened. It’s just such a weird lineup of teams. Missing are some of the most dominant teams of the era: the 49ers, Giants, and Dolphins. Instead, we have teams like the Falcons, Jets, and Raiders – teams that made few appearances in the late 80s and would mostly be absent for the rest of the 90s. Plus, since I didn’t see this first hand, there are several odd clashing of eras type games like Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys vs. Mike Ditka’s Bears and Dan Reeves Broncos vs. Marv Levy’s Bills in a championship game. It just has a strange vibe. The playoffs themselves aren’t terrible. Typical of the decade, the 1991 playoffs start with four competitive Wildcard Round games. Also, typical of the decade, most of the Divisional Round sees the home teams dominate – including the eye-popping result of Wayne Fontes’ Lions pulverizing Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys 38-6. There is a gem in Denver’s 26-24 win over Houston. In one of Elway’s lesser-known classics, he rallies the Broncos from 21-6 down and drives them into field goal range in the final seconds despite starting at their own 2 with less than 2 minutes remaining and having to convert two fourth downs. The rest of the playoff is a disappointment. Buffalo sneaks past Denver 10-7 in the title game despite Elway missing the entire second half. Washington spends its final two games making its case as the best team ever by crushing Detroit 41-10 and then steamrolling Buffalo in the Super Bowl. While the 37-24 score doesn’t look bad enough to make this the worst game of the playoffs, the score was 37-10 before Joe Gibbs called off the hogs. For a Super Bowl matchup that looked amazing on paper, it was very disappointing that it didn’t result in a better game. 1991 feels so out of place in the late 80s and early 90s period in many ways, but fits nicely in one aspect: it features a dominant NFC power smashing the competition and little drama following Wildcard weekend.

 

21. 1998
Super Bowl: Denver 34  Atlanta 19
Avg Margin of Victory: 12.36
Close Games: 4
Blowouts: 2
Upsets: 2
Best Game: Atlanta 30  Minnesota 27 – AFC Divisional Round
Worst Game: Denver 34  Atlanta 19 – Super Bowl XXXIII
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Gary Anderson misses his kick, Morten Anderson makes his (ATL at MIN - NFC Championship Game)

1998 felt like a changing of the guard. For most of the 90s, the Cowboys, 49ers, Packers, Bills, and Steelers featured prominently in the playoffs. This year, all but the 49ers were gone after the first weekend. That led to some surreal Divisional Round games. Cardinals vs. Vikings? Jaguars vs. Jets? While it felt at the time like these new teams were here to stay, the only standard that was set by 1998 was that chaos and high turnover of playoff teams would become the norm for the next several years. There aren’t many blowouts this year, but there are many one-sided games where one team led handily from bell to bell. There were, however, several very memorable moments. The upstart Arizona Cardinals beat the Cowboys in Dallas 20-7. This was the most shocking upset I have ever seen in the playoffs. The Cardinals hadn’t won a game in Dallas in the 90s and lost most of the games by several touchdowns. This would be like Buffalo destroying New England in a playoff game in Foxboro. It was a result that seemed impossible. 1998 also produced two bonafide classics. The first was the Catch II when Jerry Rice fumbled late in the game and the Packers beat San Francisco for the fourth consecutive season Terrell Owens caught a pass in heavy traffic with three seconds left to win 30-27 over the Packers and end the Mike Holmgren era in Green Bay. The second was the Atlanta Falcons iconic win over the 15-1 Vikings at the Metrodome in the NFC Championship Game. After Gary Anderson missed a field goal that would’ve put the Vikings up 10 with just over 2 minutes to play, the Falcons drove the field and tied the game with :57 seconds left. After a back and forth overtime period, Atlanta won 30-27 on a 38 yard Morten Anderson field goal and sent the Falcons to their first Super Bowl. The reason 1998 is lower is that the Falcons Super Bowl opponent, the Denver Broncos, was nearly unstoppable throughout the playoffs. They crushed the Dolphins 38-3, in a game that was more lopsided than the score suggests, before topping the Jets at home 23-10. In the Super Bowl, Denver didn’t even play that well but easily trounced Atlanta 34-19. 1998 was a year of change and had quite a few memorable moments, but the Super Bowl was a bore and produced a repeat champion without sufficiently testing them. That can’t help but make the year feel disappointing.

 

Tomorrow we finish up the bottom half of playoff years. What are your thoughts of the playoff years discussed today? Any rankings you would change?

No. 31-26

No. 20-16

No. 15-11

No. 10-6

 

Eric Drews 
Host 
Green and Gold Forever 
@GreenGold4Ever

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