NFL Title Games–Top Seed Meltdowns

In two weeks, the NFL offers us the Super Bowl.

This weekend brings something that on some levels is even more exciting, the AFC and NFC Title Games.

I say more exciting because the right to get to the Super Bowl is a thrill ride.

Yet one very strange occurrence keeps happening on Title Game Sunday.

Top seeds keep losing.

Teams fight all year for home field advantage. In football, playing at home is supposed to be a bigger advantage than any other sport. For 16 years that advantage has been wasted.

In 1993, the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills were the top seeds (The Houston Oilers had the same record as the Bills, but the Oilers were the # 2 seed). The Cowboys and Bills both reached the Super Bowl with relative ease. This was the last time both top seeds made it.

Below is what has happened since, with analysis.

1994: AFC: Steelers  NFC: 49ers

The 49ers won it all. The Steelers lost in the AFC Title Game to the San Diego Chargers.

Analysis–This was a stunning upset. The Chargers started 6-0, but they were a very weak 11-5 playoff team. The 12-4 Steelers had no business losing that game. Pittsburgh led 13-3 in the fourth quarter before melting down and losing 17-13. Pittsburgh would have most likely lost in the Super Bowl, but should have gotten there.

1995: AFC: Chiefs  NFC: Cowboys

The Cowboys won it all. The Chiefs lost in the AFC Divisionals to the Colts

Analysis–As big an upset as 1994, this one was one of the very biggest. The Chiefs were 13-3, while the 4-7 Colts ran the table to get to 9-7. This is the game where Steve Bono threw 3 interceptions and Lin Elliott missed 3 field goals, none from long range. This was the game where analyst Paul Maguire said, “I hate kickers. They should be paid $50 a game. Don’t worry about Lin Elliott, because he’s not going to be a Chief next year.” The Colts won 10-7 in one of football’s all time great upsets.

1996: AFC: Broncos  NFC: Packers

The Packers won it all. The Broncos lost in the Divisionals to the Jacksonville Jaguars

Analysis–Fans kept complaining that the NFC was winning blowout Super Bowls, but part of the reason was because the AFC top seeds kept going down early. For the 3rd straight year, the AFC had a shocker. The Broncos started 12-1, rested people, and finished 13-3. The Jaguars began 4-7, ran the table to get to 9-7, and stunned the Bills in Jim Kelly’s final game. The Broncos led this game 12-0 before getting surprised. The Jaguars won 30-27 in a game that should have been a Denver coronation.

1997: AFC: Chiefs  NFC: 49ers

This year both top seeds went down. The Chiefs lost in the Divisionals to the Broncos, while the 49ers lost in the Title Game to the Packers.

Analysis: Neither of these games were a surprise. Despite the seedings, the Broncos and Packers really were the best teams.

In the AFC, the Broncos destroyed the Chiefs in Denver and lost at KC on a 55 yard Pete Stoyanovich field goal at the gun. Denver led the division most of the year and stumbled late. Yet despite being a wildcard, they had the best AFC record the year before and really were still expected to win. The 12-4 Broncos beat the 13-3 Chiefs 14-10.

In the NFC, the Packers and 49ers both were 13-3. The 49ers coasted with 8 wins in a wretched division. When they finally played a good team in KC, they lost 44-9. The Packers were the defending champions. The Packers dominated 23-10.

1998: AFC: Broncos  NFC:Vikings

The Broncos started 13-0 and ended up winning it all. The Vikings lost at home in the NFC Title Game to the Falcons.

Analysis: The Vikings beat themselves. That team with Randy Moss went 15-1. They should have blasted the Falcons into pieces. The Vikings led 20-7, and then got bored. Gary Anderson missed a field goal for the first time all season. The 1998 Vikings are one of the best teams ever not to have a ring as the Falcons won 30-27 in overtime.

1999: AFC: jaguars  NFC: Rams

The Rams won it all. The Jaguars lost in the AFC Title Game to the Titans.

Analysis: This was not a surprise. The Titans went 13-3 and the Jaguars were 14-2. Yet both Jacksonville losses were to Tennessee. The Titans trailed 14-10 at the half, but romped in the second half to win 33-14 to beat the Jaguars for the 3rd time in one season.

2000: AFC: Titans  NFC: Giants

With 3 weeks left, the Giants were 9-4 and the Vikings were 11-2. The Giants won all 3 and the Vikings collapsed for the second time in 3 years, which is why the Giants were the top seed. They made it to the Super Bowl. The 13-3 Titans lost at home to the 12-4 Ravens.

Analysis: This was not a shocker, but not expected either. The teams split the seasons series, both teams winning on the road. The Titans lost the home game when Al Del Greco missed an extra point and the winning field goal at the gun. In the playoff game, Steve McNair was injured with a late hit shot to the chest. A 10-10 4th quarter game was broken open when Al Del Greco had the go ahead field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown. Ray Lewis ripped a pass out of Eddie George’s hands to complete the 24-10 Ravens win. The Titans had the top defense in yards and the Ravens had the top defense in points. Yet the Ravens had no offense, making the win not completely expected.

2001: AFC: Steelers  NFC: Rams

The Rams got to the Super Bowl again by surviving the Buccaneers 11-6 after trailing 6-5 late. The STeelers lost in the AFC Title Game to the Patriots.

Analysis: The Patriots win was a bit of a surprise, although Pittsburgh had lost playoff games at home before. New England survived a controversial tuck rule win over the Oakland Raiders, and Tom Brady was injured during the title game. Pittsburgh had a special teams breakdown and lost 24-17 in a mildly surprising result.

2002: AFC: Oakland Raiders  NFC: Philadelphia Eagles

The Raiders got to the Super Bowl. The Eagles lost in the NFC Title Game to the Buccaneers.

Analysis: The Eagles had their bags packed for the Super Bowl. The game was the final game at Veterans Stadium, and they had crushed the Bucs 6 straight times by wide margins. The Eagles led 7-0 only one minute into the game. The Bucs did win the Super Bowl, but the title game was a major upset. The Bucs only got the bye because the Packers gave it away. This was a crazy year where Michael Vick and the Falcons shocked Brett Favre and the Packers in the snow. In an up for grabs year, the Eagles were gift wrapped  a Super Bowl trip and they gave it away, losing 27-10 to Tampa Bay.

2003: AFC: Patriots  NFC: Eagles

The Patriots won it all. The Eagles lost in the NFC Title Game for the 3rd straight year, the 2nd straight year at home. This time the Carolina Panthers took them down.

Analysis: The Philly loss a year earlier was a stunner, but this was less surprising. Donovan McNabb was injured in the game and was practically immobile. The Panthers did just enough and won 14-3.

2004: AFC: Steelers  NFC: Eagles

The Eagles finally got to the Super Bowl on their 4th try, 3rd straight try at home. The Steelers lost at home in the AFC Title Game to the Patriots.

Analysis: This was not a surprise at all. The 14-2 Patriots did lose during the year to the 15-1 Steelers, but the game was in Pittsburgh and the Patriots were injured. New England had beaten Pittsburgh in the title game 3 years earlier, and were favored in this game. Ben Roethlisberger was unbeaten as a rookie, but Tom Brady had the experience. Most people thought the defending champion Patriots were the top seed anyway, given how expected the result was. The Patriots won 41-27.

2005: AFC: Colts  NFC: Seahawks

The Seahawks made it to the Super Bowl. The Colts lost in the Divisonals to the Steelers

Analysis: This was a moderate surprise. The Steelers were 15-1 year earlier, but this year were only 7-5 before running the table to make the playoffs. The Colts started 13-0, but the entire season seemed an afterthought when Tony Dungy’s son committed suicide. The 14-2 Colts appeared flat, fell behind 21-3, got to within 21-18, and saw Mike Vanderjagt miss the tying field goal to end the game. The Colts made no excuses, but the loss of Jamie Dungy could have left them drained.

2006: AFC: Chargers  NFC: Bears

The Bears made it to the Super Bowl. The Chargers lost in the Divisionals to the Patriots.

Analysis: This was no surprise. The 14-2 Chargers could have been beaten by the Patriots, Colts or Ravens. All of them could have beaten the Bears. The Chargers were up 21-14 when they intercepted a pass, only to fumble it back on the return. The Patriots already had 3 rings, and Tom Brady and Adam Vinatieri won when Nate Kaeding missed a field goal at the gun. Marty Schottenheimer was not to blame for this one. The Patriots and Colts played one of the greatest AFC Title Games in NFL History, with the Colts winning 38-34 after falling behind 21-3. The Colts won the Super Bowl, and the Chargers were an afterthought.  Most people still think the Colts and Patriots were the top 2 seeds.

2007: AFC: Patriots  NFC: Cowboys

The Patriots went 16-0 and reached the Super Bowl. The Cowboys lost in the Divisonals to the Giants.

Analysis: This was a shocker on so many levels. The 13-3 Cowboys had swept the 10-6 Giants during the regular season, but the Giants won the playoff game 21-17 when Romo was intercepted in the end zone on the final play. These playoffs featured tons of shocks. The Greatest game to never happen was the non-rematch between the Patriots and 14-2 defending champion Colts. This year the Chargers shocked the Colts 28-24 with backup Billy Volek. The biggest shock was the 10-6 Giants, who lost 38-35 at home to New England in the final week, win the Super Bowl 17-14 and end the speculation of the 2007 Patriots as the greatest team ever.

2008: AFC: Titans  NFC: Giants

Both top seeds went down in the Divisionals as the Titans lost to the Ravens and the Giants lost to the Eagles.

Neither of these results were total surprises. The Titans were 13-3, but the one team that gave them fits over the years was the Ravens. The Ravens won a slugfest 13-10. The Titans would have beaten any other AFC team. Some would say that the 13-3 Giants losing to the 9-7 Eagles was a shocker, but it was not. A few weeks earlier the Eagles beat the hell out of the Giants in New York, leading 20-7 and winning 20-14. So they had confidence that they could win on the road again. The year before the Giants were the upstarts, but as the favorites they went down.

This may have been the first time that neither top seed even reached the title games, much less the Super Bowl. The real shocker was the 9-7 Cardinals, who stunned 12-4 and Super Bowl ready Carolina (# 2 seed, but seen as the best by many) on their way to an improbable Super Bowl trip. The STeelers won it all, but it should be noted that late in the regular season, the Titans beat them up.  Pittsburgh benefited from an AFC Title game hosting Baltimore instead of at Tennessee.

So for 16 straight years, at least one top seed has lost. So what will happen in 2009?

The AFC Title Game is the 9-7 Jets @ the 14-2 Colts.

The NFC Title Game is the 12-4 Vikings @ the 13-3 Saints.

Will both top seeds finally make it?


In the AFC, the Jets are a feel good story. They beat the Colts in Super Bowl III, and in the regular season this year against Curtis Painter and other backups. Yet they will need another miracle to win this one. Everybody keeps counting them out, and they keep confounding. Rex Ryan is a winner, and Mark Sanchez is inspiring to his Mexican community. They love him the way they loved Jim Plunkett and Tom Flores of the Raiders. The Jets only hope is that the Colts get too cocky and take the Jets too lightly. Peyton Manning won’t do that. He remembers past losses. The Colts would be a bigger feel good story had they not finally won it in 2006. The Colts will win easily.

In the NFC, the Vikings and Saints are happy stories. Brett Favre is trying to win it all again at age 40, 13 years after he first won it. The Vikings have never won it all, and do not want to be the 1st 5 time losers if they get there. The Saints have never been there, and are 4 years removed from Katrina. The Saints started 13-0 but lost 3 straight. The Vikings started 10-1 before going 2-3 down the stretch. This game could go either way, but the Vikings may win a shootout.

What makes this year enjoyable is that all 4 of these teams are likable. They are all heroes, with no villains.


AFC: Colts 31, Jets 13

NFC: Vikings 34, Saints 31

Super Bowl: Colts 34, Vikings 30

Are you ready for some Title Game football!!!!!!

Let’s get it on!


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