This past weekend, NFL fans were treated to some of the wildest divisional round booking in recent history.
The weekend started with a stubborn decision to stick with a floundering team, but came to a close with a couple of memorable moments. The Jacksonville Jaguars were given the nod against the Pittsburgh Steelers, blowing up the plans of a Steelers-Patriots showdown that had been in the works for months. And then, at the buzzer, Case Keenum and the Minnesota Vikings took out Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. This put a stop to the hype of a Brady vs Brees showdown for the Lombardi Trophy.
Moments like these happen for a number of reasons, ranging from a star being born to an audible being called. While exciting in the moment, it can take time to determine whether or not the right call was made. The jury is still out on last weekend’s games, but let’s take a look at some of the wildest booking from divisional rounds of the last decade.
Chapter I: The Good
It’s no secret that the teams awarded the number one seed at the end of the season are favored when the playoffs begin. So when the NFL decided to have both top seeds fall in the divisional round of the 2010 season, it was a welcome change. In the NFC, the high flying Falcons fell to the Green Bay Packers. In the AFC, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were upset by the New York Jets. Led by Mark Sanchez. Seriously.
So, what caused these decisions? As far as the AFC goes, there was a time when the NFL believed in Sanchez as a potential star. Seriously. Keep in mind that just one week earlier, Sanchez and the jets took down Peyton Manning and the Colts. The Jets are one of the most recognizable franchises in the history of the company. The argument could even be made that having the Jets win it all in 2010 would have created that star. So why didn’t that happen? It’s hard to make more than one star at a time.
That brings us to the other side. The sixth-seeded Packers grounded the Falcons, mauled the Bears, and pounded the Steelers on the way to having their hands raised at the end of the season. You see, the NFL also held the Packer’s young quarterback in high regard. Not to mention the Packers are even more recognizable than the Jets. The creative team had to make a tough decision here. They ended up with a true superstar.
Chapter II: The Bad
The 2012 season was one for the history books. It started out with one of the strangest storylines the league has ever run: Replacement refs. What was intended to be a season long story that resulted in a questionable finish was scrapped when fans failed to get behind it. The season ended with a questionable finish regardless.
As the regular season came to a close, it felt like a Broncos-Falcons matchup was headed our way. But a last second change came down from the top. In the divisional round, the league went with a relative unknown in Joe Flacco over one of it’s biggest stars, Peyton Manning. To their credit, they booked a wild game that had fans on the edge of their seats. One of the few double overtime games in league history ended, along with Denver’s 11-game winning streak, when Justin Tucker connected on a field goal.
Peyton Manning’s free agency tour was the biggest story of the offseason heading into the year. Finally free from Indianapolis, he had all the momentum in the world heading into those playoffs. However, the league chickened out at the last second on crowning their hero based on the serious injury he was returning from. Even then, it was a bold choice to stick it out with the Ravens the whole way. They didn’t want to waste Manning’s defeat. Makes sense. Sadly, judging by the fans reaction to Flacco in the following years, that’s exactly what they did.
Chapter III: The Ugly
What was the point of that?
The last thing the NFL wants to leave fans thinking. That was the result of a divisional round game between the Packers and Dallas Cowboys at the end of the 2014 season. The game itself was great. Two of the league’s most marketable quarterbacks battling it out for a chance to go to Seattle for the NFC Championship.
So when the ending of the game was muddled by an overturned catch by Dez Bryant, fans wanted to know what the goal was. It was nothing more than a unique way to protect the Cowboys in defeat, but it left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Bringing the rulebook into question is never the right way to go in a game of that magnitude. That’s the kind of issue you touch on during a Browns game in September. What’s worse is it made the Packers less credible heading into the the title game.
This is one the league could have done without.