Monday Feb 12, 2018
Monday Feb 12, 2018
Monday Feb 12, 2018
The 2017 NFL season is in the books. During the regular season, controversy, injuries, and an overall lack of quality play made it one of the most maligned seasons in recent memory. Ratings were down, and fan interest seemed to be waning. The NFL needed to get a home run out of the playoffs to save the season in the eyes of many…and boy did they get it. Despite a field lacking many traditional power teams and stars, the 2017 Playoffs were as enjoyable as any I’ve ever seen. Many new teams and faces made a name for themselves and combined to produce classic after classic. In the end, it was castoff backup quarterback Nick Foles outdueling the legendary Tom Brady in a Super Bowl shootout for the ages and delivering the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the NFL’s classic franchises, their first championship in nearly six decades. This postseason won’t soon be forgotten.
I began to wonder where I would rank the 2017 playoffs among the postseasons I’ve seen. I was born in 1987 and have seen every playoff game that occurred in my lifetime, including the last 23 seasons as they happened. Which was the best? Throughout this week, I’ll rank each of the past 31 playoff seasons by their general excitement and their enjoyability to watch for football fans. I tried my best to remove my obvious Packers’ bias and assessed each year on things like the number of close games (decided by one score or less) vs. blowouts (decided by three or more scores), the number of upsets, and my memories. In the event I found two years to be very similar, I gave the higher ranking to whichever year had the better Super Bowl. After all, how something ends usually determines how we feel about it in the long run. Obviously, this is very subjective, but it should create the opportunity for some fun discussion.
I’ll be counting down five years each day, but since we have an odd number, today, you’ll get an extra year. I’m sure you are very excited. Please share any comments you have below. On to the list!!
Super Bowl: Baltimore 34 NY Giants 7
Avg Margin of Victory: 17.73 pts
Close Games: 2
Best Game: New Orleans 31 St. Louis 28 – NFC Wildcard
Worst Game: Baltimore 34 NY Giants 7 – Super Bowl XXXV
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Ravens and Giants score three Touchdowns in 36 Seconds (BAL vs. NYG – Super Bowl XXXV)
The 2000 playoffs are remembered for the sheer dominance of the Baltimore Ravens defense. In four games, they gave up just one offensive touchdown. Their opponents scored 23 total points (5.75 per game). Once you get past how damn impressive that is, all you are left with are some terrible football games. The Ravens offense didn’t help matters. In their run to a Super Bowl Championship, Baltimore’s offense failed to top 300 total yards a single time. QB Trent Dilfer never topped 200 yards passing and never completed more than 12 passes in a game (Remember that next time someone tells you that quarterbacks should be judged by championships). The rest of the playoffs were equally as dull. Five of 11 games saw the loser score three or fewer points. The only exciting day of the entire playoffs was the first Saturday. The Dolphins opened the playoffs by beating the Colts 23-17 in overtime after a 17 yard Lamar Smith TD run. In the late game, the Saints were on their way to crushing the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams before the Greatest Show on Turf came alive. The Rams rallied from 24 points down and closed to within 31-28 with about two minutes left. With the offense ready to embark on a game-winning drive, Rams WR Az Hakim fumbled the Saints punt. New Orleans’ recovered and escaped with the franchise’s first playoff win. Those are the only highlights. If you are a crazy fan that likes to see touchdowns and close games, 2000 has almost nothing for you. I initially had this ranked higher due to enjoying Baltimore’s shocking run from the Wildcard Round as a teenager watching it live. As I was making this list, I kept pushing 2000 lower and lower. There literally aren’t any good games after the first day of the playoffs. I doubt even Ravens fans spend much time rewatching their snoozers from 2000. This year is terrible.
Super Bowl: San Francisco 49 San Diego 26
Avg Margin of Victory: 13.73 pts
Close Games: 4
Best Game: San Diego 22 Miami 21 – AFC Divisional Round
Worst Game: San Francisco 49 San Diego 26 – Super Bowl XXIX
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Dennis Gibson breaks up Neil O’Donnell’s 4th down pass at the goalline (SD at PIT- AFC Championship)
In 1994, the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers were head and shoulders above the rest of the NFL and were really the only two teams with a serious chance to win a title that season. However, this was the first year that I saw live, so I was excited, nonetheless. As expected, both steamrolled to the NFC Title Game. Once there, they played a largely forgettable game, as the 49ers raced out in front 21-0 in the 1st quarter and held on to a two-score lead throughout the game before winning 38-28. The Chargers had an exciting run in the AFC by winning two last-second heart-stoppers over Miami and Pittsburgh. Of course, that led to them getting squashed like a bug by the 49ers on Super Bowl Sunday in probably the most one-sided game I’ve ever seen. The rest of the playoffs offered little in the way of excitement. Lions/Packers and Chiefs/Dolphins were competitive games, but the Detroit and Green Bay matchup was very disappointing compared to their regular season shootouts and the Dan Marino vs. Joe Montana classic dual fizzled after halftime. The rest of the playoffs were either blowouts or poorly played games. 1994 was about as uneventful as the NFL playoffs can be, and it ended with a Super Bowl were Goliath effortlessly crushes David. As a kid who had made a custom Chargers jersey and banner in preparation for my very first Super Bowl experience, it was an early reminder that sports are not like movies or cartoons: your heroes usually lose in the end.
Super Bowl: Tampa Bay 48 Oakland 21
Avg Margin of Victory: 17.09 pts
Close Games: 3
Best Game: San Francisco 39 NY Giants 38 – NFC Wildcard Round
Worst Game: Tampa Bay 31 San Francisco 6 - NFC Divisional Playoff
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Rich Gannon keeps throwing pick-sixes in the Super Bowl (OAK vs. TB – Super Bowl XXXVII)
There isn’t much remarkable about the 2002 playoffs – just a lot of one-sided games. This was the only year in the first decade of the new millennium that the teams with first round byes played like the best teams in the league. Tennessee got a scare from the Steelers (and got a second chance on their game-winning field goal due to a dubious roughing the kicker penalty), but the other three teams coasted to convincing blowout wins over the Wildcard winners. Neither conference title games were all that memorable either. The Super Bowl matched the Raiders' number one offense vs. Tampa’s number one defense. The Bucs defense was the best offense AND defense that day, scoring as many points as the Raiders by themselves and cruised to the franchise’s first and only championship with a 48-21 win. Much like 2000, these playoffs only featured one solid day of action. The Steelers kicked off a wild Wildcard Sunday by fighting back from a 17 point deficit in the 2nd half to beat the Browns 36-33 in the snow and mud (yes, the new Browns almost won a playoff game once). This game is mostly forgotten because that evening, the 49ers one-upped the Steelers. After falling behind the New York Giants 38-14 in the 3rd quarter, San Francisco scored on four straight possessions to take a 39-38 lead with a minute remaining. Then the game entered NFL folklore for its crazy ending. When attempting a game-winning field goal, a poor snap by the Giants led to a wild scramble to get off a pass attempt. There were lineman downfield, and a blatant tackle of a Giants “receiver” went uncalled by the referees. The Niners won and provided some of the only excitement for football fans in the 2002 playoffs. Ultimately, I prefer this year over 2000 because the Raiders’ blowouts had a lot of scoring, and the Bucs defense is more interesting to watch than the Ravens due to all the touchdowns they score. Still, both years left you feeling empty.
Super Bowl: Dallas 52 Buffalo 17
Avg Margin of Victory: 18.18 pts
Close Games: 2
Best Game: Buffalo 41 Houston 38 – AFC Wildcard Round
Worst Game: Buffalo 29 Miami 10 – AFC Championship Game
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Frank Reich throwing TDs to Andre Reed to power Buffalo’s comeback over the Oilers (HOU at BUF – AFC Wildcard Round)
If 1994 is the culmination of Dallas and San Francisco’s dominance, 1992 is the beginning. However, the matchup still felt fresh here, as these Cowboys were still new to the playoff scene, and the teams hadn't played since Steve Young took the 49ers' quarterback reins from Joe Montana. This game is slightly better too, with the upstart Cowboys winning 30-20 at rainy Candlestick Park. The rest of the playoffs are mostly one-sided affairs. The eight blowouts are the most in any playoff year on this countdown. However, there were a few highlights. Washington’s last stand under Joe Gibbs sees them take the 49ers to the limit in the Divisional Round before losing 20-13. The Eagles win their only playoff game of the Randall Cunningham/Reggie White era by coming from 13 points down in the 4th quarter and running away from the Saints 36-20. But this playoff year is forever defined by the Buffalo Bills and Frank Reich. Filling in for injured starter Jim Kelly, Reich led the Bills from 35-3 down in the second half to stun the Houston Oilers 41-38 in overtime. This game is a classic that everyone should see. The remainder of the Bills run is largely terrible. They beat Pittsburgh and Miami by a combined 49-13 and then get demolished by Dallas 52-17 in the Super Bowl. Despite the awful Super Bowl capstone, I went with the AFC Championship as the worst game of the 1992 playoffs. Buffalo and Miami had many classic matchups in the 1990s, but their meeting in the conference finals was a sloppy, mistake-filled, bore of a game. It was apparent to even the most casual football fans that the winner was going to be nothing but a mere speed bump for the NFC winner on their road to a championship in Super Bowl XXVII. When I think of the lopsided AFC/NFC balance in the 1980s and 1990s, my first thought is always Championship Sunday in January 1993. The drastic difference in the quality of play was never more apparent than it was that afternoon.
Super Bowl: San Francisco 20 Cincinnati 16
Avg Margin of Victory: 11.11
Close Games: 3
Best Game: San Francisco 20 Cincinnati 16 – Super Bowl XXIII
Worst Game: San Francisco 28 Chicago 3 – NFC Championship Game
Eric’s Strongest Memory: Montana to Taylor clinches a Super Bowl win with :34 left (CIN vs. SF – Super Bowl XXIII)
1988 is the lowest-ranked year that has a good Super Bowl. Super Bowl XXIII is a classic game, and Joe Montana’s game-winning touchdown pass to John Taylor provided perhaps the defining image of the legendary quarterback’s career (with the possible exception of the ‘The Catch’ in the 1981 NFC Championship Game). The rest of the 1988 playoffs were not very good. Some of the games that appear close actually aren’t do to the lack of a two-point conversion option. The Bears 20-12 win over the Eagles and the Bengals 21-13 win over the Seahawks are actually two-score games in that era. This year is disappointing for several reasons. It contains few blowouts, but few competitive games either. Most games saw one team consistently outpacing another without ever putting them away convincingly. Also, few unexpected things happened. Houston beating Cleveland in the AFC Wildcard game was the only upset of the playoffs - the fewest number of upsets in the last 30 years. The Bears/Eagles famous Fog Bowl is an interesting spectacle for about 5 minutes, but it really sucks as an overall viewing experience. I found myself getting a headache trying to decipher what was going on in the second half despite watching a good copy on a modern TV. I can’t imagine trying to watch it through antenna static on an old console TV. It’s also disappointing that the high flying Bengals offense failed to show up in the playoffs. Despite coming within a fingertip of winning it all, Cincinnati was past its peak by the postseason. League MVP Boomer Esiason turned in one of the all-time worst postseason runs for a quarterback. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice were superb, but with the Redskins and Giants failing to make the playoffs, it feels slightly hallow against shallower competition. As a Packers’ fan, it’s sort of fun to watch the Niners stomp out the myth of Ditka’s Bears on a below-zero night at Soldier Field, but I doubt they had much legend by then anyways. By 1988, the Bears and their defense had proven themselves to be a paper tiger in all years but 1985. Perhaps I would view this year better had the Bengals won the title. They had championship-level stories and personalities and remain one of my favorite teams to go back and watch. If you want to see Montana and Rice at their peak or experience the atmosphere at “The Jungle” in Riverfront Stadium, check this year out. Otherwise, there are better years from the 1980s.
Super Bowl: New England 34 Atlanta 28
Avg Margin of Victory: 14.82
Close Games: 3
Best Game: Green Bay 34 Dallas 31 – NFC Divisional Round
Worst Game: Houston 27 Oakland 14 – AFC Wildcard Round
Eric’s Strongest Memory: The Falcons wilt and die with a Super Bowl within their grasp and annoyingly give lazy people the final bit of evidence they need to elevate Tom Brady to Michael Jordan status (NE vs. ATL – Super Bowl LII)
Yes, part of this ranking is due to my saltiness over the result of the Super Bowl. And while it might seem strange to rank a year with arguably a top 10 Super Bowl this low, you have to remember how god awful the rest of the 2016 playoffs were. The AFC playoffs were a forgone conclusion with teams led by Connor Cook, Brock Osweiler, and Matt Moore trying to unseat Tom Brady’s top-seeded Patriots. The only good game in the AFC Playoffs, the Steelers 18-16 win over the Chiefs, saw the winning team fail to score a touchdown and the final margin coming due to a penalty wiping out the game-tying two point conversion. The NFC playoffs were nearly as bad. Only one game was decided by fewer than 16 points. That lone exception was a classic. Green Bay beat the Cowboys 34-31 in Dallas by kicking a game-winning field goal and capping one of the best 4th quarters in playoff history. Outside of that, the 2016 playoffs were very uninteresting. It featured blowouts with the favorites almost always winning. These games were played just 13 months ago and how many do you remember?
Check back tomorrow for a continuation of the list. What are your memories of the playoff years discussed today? Do you remember any of these seasons more fondly than I do?
Green and Gold Forever