6 Wild Card Super Bowl Winners

December 30, 2019

It’s hard enough to make the NFL Playoffs on the back of a decent regular season record. Going on to win the Super Bowl is even tougher. But, doing so as a wild card entrant is often considered beyond the realms of possibility until a resilient team comes along to prove us all wrong.

There have been a few of those in the NFL’s storied history. In fact, a total of 10 teams have made it to the game’s biggest stage as wild cards. Not all of them were able to lift the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy though. The unfortunate ones are the Dallas Cowboys (1975), the New England Patriots (1985), the Buffalo Bills (1992) and the Tennessee Titans (1999).

The other six, however, sent shockwaves through the football world. In this piece, we take a look at their wild card exploits and the journey that led to the ultimate triumph.

  1. Oakland Raiders (1980; Super Bowl XV)

Regular Season Record

Games Played

Wins

Losses

Win Percentage

Division

Finish

16

11

5

.688

2nd

The Raiders were only the second team to make it to the Super Bowl (and the first to win it) after entering the playoffs as wild cards. Five years earlier in Super Bowl X, the Dallas Cowboys ran out of steam against the Pittsburgh Steelers when it mattered most. Having reached Super Bowl XV the hard way, the Raiders were keen to avoid the same fate.

The odds were stacked against the Silver & Black early on during the regular season when they lost starting quarterback Dan Pastorini in Game Week 5. With a 2-3 campaign record at that point, few gave the side from Oaktown much of a chance to make the postseason.

But, the Raiders rallied behind 33-year-old backup QB Jim Plunkett. He was supported by 13 interceptions from cornerback Lester Hayes and the Raiders eventually finished 11-5. That was enough for a wild card entry into the playoffs.

The Houston Oilers offered little resistance in the wild card round, allowing the Raiders to set up a road clash against the Cleveland Browns in the Divisional Playoffs with ease.

Edging the Browns 14-12 on their own turf, the Silver & Blue then got the better of the San Diego Chargers – the side that had beaten them to the AFC West Division title earlier in the campaign – to earn the right to play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. And in the big game, Plunkett completed three touchdown passes while linebacker Rod Martin managed as many interceptions to secure a 27-10 triumph against the Philadelphia Eagles.

  1. Denver Broncos (1997; Super Bowl XXXII)

Regular Season Record

Games Played

Wins

Losses

Win Percentage

Division

Finish

16

12

4

.75

2nd

Following the Raiders’ heroics in 1980, it would be 17 years before another wild card entrant would lift the Lombardi Trophy. That honor went to the Denver Broncos who outplayed the Brett Favre-led Green Bay Packers 31-24 in Super Bowl XXXII.

Unlike the Raiders nearly two decades earlier, this Broncos side was actually a force to be reckoned with. With a 12-4 regular season record, they only entered the playoffs as wild cards because the Kansas City Chiefs took the AFC West Division crown.

At the wild card stage, the Orange Crush blew away the Jacksonville Jaguars 42-17 before prevailing over the Kansas City Chiefs, 14-10 in the Divisional Playoffs. In the  AFC Championship Game, they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-21 to set up their date with destiny.

  1. Baltimore Ravens (2000; Super Bowl XXXV)

Regular Season Record

Games Played

Wins

Losses

Win Percentage

Division

Finish

16

12

4

.75

2nd

The 2000 Baltimore Ravens were a highly adaptable outfit who played to their strengths and found a way around their limitations to go all the way. A stellar defense combined with an offense that many didn’t rate as highly to pull off one of the more unlikely Super Bowl wins.

Led by linebacker Ray Lewis, the Baltimore defense was pretty much impregnable. They only gave up 5 rushing touchdowns and 60.6 rushing yards a game all season. In total, the Ravens only conceded 165 points from start to finish. These are record stats for an NFL campaign comprising of 16 games.

This unconquerable defense was complemented by a counter-attacking approach that led Brian Billick’s charges to Super Bowl XXXV. While they lost out on the AFC Central Division title, the Ravens thrashed the Denver Broncos 21-3 in the wild card round to set up a Divisional Playoffs clash with the Tennessee Titans.

The Titans put up the most fight out of all of Baltimore’s postseason opponents but a 24-10 win was still comfortable for the Ravens. After that, the Oakland Raiders were swept aside 16-3 in the AFC Championship Game to set up a Super Bowl XXXV encounter with the New York Giants. Restricting the side from the Big Apple to just 152 yards in total, the Ravens took home the Lombardi Trophy after a crushing 34-7 win.

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers (2005; Super Bowl XL)

Regular Season Record

Games Played

Wins

Losses

Win Percentage

Division

Finish

16

11

5

.688

2nd

The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers gave new meaning to the phrase “coming back from the brink.” With a 7-5 record at the end of Game Week 12 of the regular season, the Black and Gold Brigade rallied to win their final four regular season showdowns to earn a wild card entry.

Once there, they won three consecutive road games to reach Super Bowl XL. The Cincinnati Bengals were dispatched with relative ease, 31-17, in the wild card round before a hard-fought victory, 21-18, over the Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional Playoffs sent the side from the Steel City into the AFC Championship Game.

The Denver Broncos were the next victims of the Steelers’ juggernaut as they were beaten 34-17. The Steelers then swept the Seattle Seahawks aside 21-10 to become the very first NFL side to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy after being seeded 6th.

  1. New York Giants (2007; Super Bowl XLII)

Regular Season Record

Games Played

Wins

Losses

Win Percentage

Division

Finish

16

10

6

.625

2nd

The New York Giants’ Super Bowl XLII victory is surely one of the biggest fairytales in NFL history. Having made the playoffs after a modest regular season, they weren’t expected to do much. But, the side from The Empire State had other ideas.

After taking down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 24-14, at the wild card stage, the Giants met the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Playoffs. In what was an absolute thriller, the Giants held their nerve to run out 21-17 winners and set up an NFC Championship battle against the Green Bay Packers.

This is where the Big Blue took their giant-killing act to a whole other level. For 60 minutes, they matched the Packers play for play before shocking the great Brett Favre and his team in overtime. Winning 23-20, the Giants booked their place in Super Bowl XLII where the undefeated New England Patriots were waiting for them.

And what was supposed to be a walk in the park for Tom Brady and co. proved to be anything but. The Giants played like men possessed and, despite trailing 7-3 at half time, notched up 14 points in the last quarter to win 17-14. In the process, the Patriots’ bid to record a perfect season was thwarted at the final hurdle and the Giants became the first NFC team to lift the Lombardi Trophy after being seeded 6th.

  1. Green Bay Packers (2010; Super Bowl XLV)

Regular Season Record

Games Played

Wins

Losses

Win Percentage

Division

Finish

16

10

6

.625

2nd

The world knows Aaron Rodgers today as one of the greatest QBs to play the game. That wasn’t quite the case a decade ago. Back then, he still operated under the shadow of the legendary Brett Favre while linebacker Clay Matthews was also a young up-and-comer. In short, the 2010 Packers had plenty of talent but they weren’t the finished article.

This showed in the regular season which they ended 10-6. However, with a wild card spot in the playoffs assured, the Green and Gold really came into their own. The wild card clash with the Philadelphia Eagles was the first of their three road games on the way to winning Super Bowl XLV.

Following a 21-16 win over the Eagles, the Packers brushed aside the Atlanta Falcons 48-21 in the Divisional Playoffs before getting the better of the Chicago Bears, 21-14 in the NFC Championship Game. The grand showdown then brought the Packers face-to-face with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Rodgers made the stage his own. Notching up 304 yards, the former California Golden Bears quarterback threw for 3 touchdowns to lead his team to a 31-25 triumph over the Steelers.

More than anything, these six teams proved that anything is possible once a team makes it to the postseason. It may not be common but once the playoffs start, anything can happen.

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