We’ve seen some amazing underdog moments in sport over the years proving that anything is possible. And in the NFL, things are no different, It doesn’t matter what seed you are in the NFL playoffs, the below seven wildcards prove that any team has a chance of winning the Super Bowl.
All the below teams struggled throughout the regular season but when they made it into the playoffs, they turned it on, caused major upsets and the rest is history.
What is a Wildcard in the NFL?
In North American professional sports leagues, a “wild card” refers to a team that qualifies for the championship playoffs without winning their specific conference or division outright.
In the NFL a wild card team is based on the team’s seeding at the end of the division championship. The division winner with the best record is given the top seed, the team with the second-best record is given the second seed, and seeding work like this for the rest of the playoff teams.
A wildcard is always the 5th and 6th seeded teams.
1980 – Oakland Raiders
In the 1980 NFL Season, when the playoff system expanded, the Oakland Raiders were the first team in the NFL to get a wild card and win a Super Bowl. The Raiders won 3 playoff games in a row, beating the Houston Oliers, Cleveland Browns and the San Diego Chargers.
Earning their place in the 1980 Super Bowl, the Raiders would face the Philadelphia Eagles. With Jim Plunkett throwing for 261 yards and three TDs and winning MVP, it was the wild card team who prevailed and beat the Raiders by a score of 27-10.
1998 – Denver Broncos
In 1998, the Broncos were the second wild card team to win a Super Bowl. The Broncos finished second in the AFC Western Division behind the Kansas City Chiefs. Denver then met the Jacksonville Jaguars in a Wild Card Playoff game. NFL legend, John Elway then led the Broncos on a three game winning streak, beating the Jaguars, Chiefs and Steelers.
With a super efficient run game Denver then beat favourites, Green Bay Packers 31-24.
2001 – Baltimore Ravens
2001 was a forgetful year for the Ravins, their offensive struggles made them one of the worst team to watch winning a Super Bowl. Finishing in second place in the AFC Central Division. The Ravens extraordinary defence helped them to win three straight games against the Broncos, Titans and Raiders.
The entered the Super Bowl against the Giants who were overwhelming favourites. But again Baltimore Ravens defied the odds and caused one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history when they beat the Giants.
2005 – Pittsburgh Steelers
In another big underdog Super Bowl story, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati met in the Wild Card Playoff game. The Steelers beat the Bengals 31-17. Then they had 2 more wins during the 2005 NFL Playoffs against the Colts and Broncos.
This earned them a berth in the Super Bowl against Seattle Seahawks. Fans and critics didn’t hold out much hope for the Steelers, but the underdogs rallied and beat the Seahawks in a final score of 21-10.
2008 – New York Giants
Again the Giants were big underdogs in 2008 and were not expected to survive the playoffs. But the Giants seemed destined by luck and won three straight road games against the Buccaneers, Cowboys and Packers. New York Giants.
Super Bowl XLII was to be the undefeated New England Patriots versus New York Giants. It looked like another Patriots title as they led at half time, but then the Giants rallied and scored 14 points to deny the Patriots a perfect record that season.
In another one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history, the Giants defeated the Patriots by the score of 17-14.
2011 – Green Bay Packers
Led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers the Green Bay Packers were a playoff team that no one held out much hope for, but a good defence made them hard to beat. This carried them through 3 wins, defeating defeat the Eagles, Falcons and Bears to make the Super Bowl XLV.
Green Bay Packers verses Pittsburgh Steelers had all the highlights of a worthy ultimatum, with the Packers prevailing to a 31-25 win over the Steelers.
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers season was all time NFL great, QB Tom Brady‘s first with the team. And I guess he wanted one more Super Bowl!
The Buccaneers finished 11–5 to qualify for the playoffs and won three road games to advance to the Super Bowl. Super Bowl LV was at Raymond James Stadium, making it a home game for the Tampa. They demolished the Kansas City Chiefs 31–9 to make it five wins in a row for Wild Card teams making the Super Bowl.
Wild Cards that made the Super Bowl but lost
In addition, five other teams reached the Super Bowl as wild cards, but were unable to become champions: the Dallas Cowboys (1976), the New England Patriots (1986), the Buffalo Bills (1993), the Tennessee Titans (2000).
Wild Card, the Cincinnati Bengals made the Super Bowl in 2022 but lost 20-23 to the LA Rams.