5 Times the Top Seeds Were Eliminated from the NFL Playoffs
Wed, Jan 10, 2024
It's that time of the year again! The NFL playoffs are about to get underway, and fans all around the world are cheering for their favorite teams hoping that they make it to the Super Bowl. But as we know, anything can happen in the postseason, and sometimes, it's the teams with the best records that end up getting eliminated right off the bat.
This year, there are several surprising divisional winners. In the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs looked to be the dominant force however, they lost five games in six throughout the latter part of the campaign and suddenly there are doubts about the Arrowhead outfit. They still managed to win the AFC West however and will face the Miami Dolphins, who somehow conspired to finish second to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East.
In the AFC South, the Houston Texans proved that they were right to steal all the headlines in the 2023 NFL Draft and managed to finish ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts to secure the division. But the surprising top seed in the conference is the Baltimore Ravens, who secured safe passage to the divisional round courtesy of some Lamar Jackson brilliance.
In the NFC, the San Francisco 49ers is the top seed, and NFL lines and futures providers have made them the short-priced +180 favorites for the Lombardi this term. They too have faltered somewhat in recent weeks, and they are by no means guaranteed winners. Especially with both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys hot on their tail.
But things aren't always plain sailing for the top seeds when the postseason gets underway. Here are five times in which they were dumped out in their very first game in their playoff adventure.
Back in 2012, the Denver Broncos had one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history, led by quarterback Peyton Manning. They finished the regular season with a 13-3 record and were the top seed in the AFC. But in their first playoff game, they faced off against the Baltimore Ravens, who were coming off an emotional victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the wildcard round.
The Ravens shocked the Broncos with a double-overtime victory, thanks in part to a stunning 70-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones. It was a heartbreaking loss for the Broncos and a huge upset for NFL fans everywhere.
And for Flacco, he has made a miraculous comeback this season and has been the star of the show for the Cleveland Browns, who have reached the postseason for just the third time in 30 years. Does he have one last hurrah in his 39-year-old locker, and can he lead the Ohioans to the promised land for the first time in franchise history?
Jumping ahead a few years to 2016, we find another example of a top seed falling short. That year, the DallasCowboys had the best record in the NFC at 13-3, thanks in large part to the stellar play of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. However, their playoff hopes were dashed in the Divisional Round when they faced off against the Green Bay Packers.
They seemed like a lock to make it to the Super Bowl, but they were upset by A-Rod and Co. in a thrilling game. Despite leading for long periods, a late rally from the Cheeseheads provided the opportunity for Mason Crosby to sink a last-gasp field goal and seal victory and progression. Despite a fantastic regular season, the Lone Star State side just couldn't get it done in the playoffs, which is seemingly always the case.
The 2019 Baltimore Ravens were a dominant force, led by MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. With a league-best 14-2 record, the Ravens looked like a lock to make it to the Super Bowl. However, they ran into a buzzsaw in the form of the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round.
The Titans held Jackson to just 365 total yards and two touchdowns, while Titans running back Derrick Henry rushed for 195 yards and threw for a touchdown. The Ravens fell 28-12, and their record-breaking season came to an abrupt end.
2021 was a landmark season in the NFL for the sole reason that the top seeds in both the AFC and the NFC were eliminated in their first postseason foray onto the gridiron. The Tennessee Titans were number one in the former while Aaron Rodgers and his Packers were top of the latter. The Cheeseheads were narrowly pipped by the sixth-seed San Francisco 49ers in a shocker at Lambeau Field.
For the Titans meanwhile, superstar running back Derrick Henry was held to just 62 rushing yards by a staunch Cincinnati Bengals defense that had just picked up their first postseason victory in 30 years. Inspired by the brilliance of superstar quarterback Joe Burrow - in just his second campaign as a professional - Cincy ran out 19-16 victors. They then went on to stun Patrick Mahomes and his Chiefs at Arrowhead to secure a first Super Bowl appearance in 33 years.