Who doesn’t love a good upset? When it comes to the NFL we all find ourselves rooting for the underdogs as they try to pull off the impossible. Thankfully we have been given a ton of unlikely upsets over the years that have shocked fans around the world. Below, we will take a look at some of the biggest upsets in NFL history and examine what made them so memorable.
Super Bowl III – New York Jets vs. Baltimore Colts
One of the most famous upsets in NFL history came in Super Bowl III when the New York Jets, led by charismatic quarterback Joe Namath, defeated the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. The Colts were considered one of the greatest teams in NFL history, having finished the regular season with a record of 13-1 and sporting one of the league’s best defenses.
Despite being 19.5 point underdogs, the Jets came out firing on all cylinders and took an early lead. Namath, who famously guaranteed a Jets victory before the game, threw for 206 yards and helped lead his team to a 16-7 upset victory. This game is often cited as the moment when the AFL finally established itself as a legitimate rival to the more established NFL.
Super Bowl XLII – New York Giants vs. New England Patriots
Super Bowl XLII featured another memorable upset as the New York Giants defeated the undefeated New England Patriots. The Patriots, who had gone 18-0 in the regular season and playoffs, were seeking to become the first team in NFL history to complete a perfect season.
The Giants played an aggressive and physical game and were able to disrupt Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, sacking him five times and holding the high powered New England offense to just 14 points. The Giants scored a late touchdown to take the lead and held on for a 17-14 victory, denying the Patriots a perfect season and cementing their place in NFL history as one of the greatest upsets of all time. This game also featured the infamous “Helmet Catch” which is one of the greatest catches of all time.
Super Bowl XXXVI – New England Patriots vs. St. Louis Rams
In 2002, the upstart New England Patriots faced off against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. The Rams were no doubt the favorite, having finished the regular season with a record of 14-2 and boasting one of the most potent offenses in NFL history, you might know them as the “Greatest Show on Turf”.
The Patriots, were led by second-year quarterback Tom Brady and came into the game as double digit underdogs. However, they were able to keep pace with the Rams as the game was tied 17-17 in the final minutes. Brady then pulled out his late game heroics and led the Patriots down the field to kick a field goal as time expired. It completed one of the biggest upsets in NFL history and launched the beginning of a dynasty that would go on to win six Super Bowls over the next two decades.
2010 Divisional Playoffs – Seattle Seahawks vs. New Orleans Saints
Let’s now go back to 2011, when the Seattle Seahawks pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent NFL history. They defeated the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in the divisional playoffs. The Seahawks, who had finished the regular season with a record of just 7-9, were huge underdogs against the potent Saints offense.
The Seahawks played a nearly flawless game, using a strong running game powered by Marshawn Lynch and timely passing to keep the Saints defense off balance. They also forced two critical turnovers and scored on Lynch’s memorable long touchdown run in the fourth quarter to seal the upset victory. The win propelled the Seahawks to the NFC Championship Game and showed that anything can happen in the NFL playoffs.
Super Bowl XXXII – Denver Broncos vs. Green Bay Packers
In Super Bowl XXXII, the Denver Broncos faced off against the defending champion Green Bay Packers. The 13-3 Packers were the favorites and had one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks at that time in Brett Favre.
However, the Broncos, led by running back Terrell Davis, were able to control the game with a dominant running attack that kept the Packers defense off balance. Davis rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns, earning Super Bowl MVP honors and leading the Broncos to a 31-24 upset victory over the Packers.
2001 AFC Championship Game – New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
The 2001 AFC Championship Game featured another memorable upset by New England. In this matchup the Patriots defeated the heavily favored Pittsburgh Steelers who had one of the NFL’s best defenses.
The Patriots did not care about the underdog status as they were able to limit Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart and force three crucial interceptions. Many forget, but this was the game Drew Bledsoe came in on relief of Tom Brady to lead them to a 24-17 victory.
These upsets show that anything can happen in the NFL, no matter how heavily favored a team may be. From underdog victories in the Super Bowl to unexpected playoff runs, these upsets have cemented their place in NFL history. While these games may be few and far between, they serve as a reminder that in the NFL, any given Sunday can change the course of history.