Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Decade (and a year) of NFL Playoffs: Ranking the Wild Card Games, Pt. 1

**Yes, this is cheating by essentially running the same stuff each summer, but this time with 10 added games, but since I don't care, I am doing it.**

Tier I – It’s Just Bad (sometimes just by one team), Boring Football

44.) 2002 AFC Wild Card – (A5) Colts 0 @ (A4) Jets 41

Review: This is the largest blowout since the new playoff format began. Oddly, it was also the very first playoff game since the new format began, so it really a case of “it can’t get any worse.” In a game that was 17-0 by the time Manning went back to throw his 4th pass the Jets dominated in every way, outgaining the Colts 396-176, with Pennington going 19-25 for 222 yards and 3 tds. Manning was admittedly bad, but the Colts defense and run game was worse, in a game that marked the high-point of the Herman Edwards/Chad Pennington era. For them, it was mostly “it can’t get any better.”

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was the Jets last playoff game in the Meadowlands, and the last home playoff win by either team that called the Meadowlands home.

43.) 2010 AFC Wild Card – (A5) Ravens 30 @ (A4) Chiefs 7

Review: To describe this game in one line, it was Matt Cassel against the Ravens defense. It should be no surprise that Cassel went 9-18 and somehow in those 18 passes managed to throw three interceptions. That said, this was the only time that Flacco played well in playoff game in his first three seasons, going 25-34 for  265 yards and 2 tds. The Ravens had a yardage edge of 390-161, and ran 78 plays versus 40 against a horribly outmatched Chiefs team that coasted to the AFC West Title mainly because of god-awful special teams by the Chargers.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was the 3rd straight time the Ravens played the 1pm Sunday game in the Wild Card round. All three were Ravens wins on the road, and in the three, they outscored their opponents 90-30.

42.) 2005 NFC Wild Card – (N5) Panthers 23 @ (N4) Giants 0

Review: Stop me if this sounds familiar, this was a snoozefest where one team dominated the proceedings, outgaining the loser 335-132. The scariest part of this one, though, was that the Giants were the 4th highest scoring team in the NFL in 2005, and the Panthers made their offense look amateurish. Eli Manning was awful in his playoff debut, matching Matt Cassel in throwing 3 interceptions In just 18 throws. Steve Smith was Steve Smith, but the real story was that defense that held Tiki Barber (off of an 1.860 yard season) to 41 yards on 13 carries.

Interesting/Memorable Plays: Steve Smith had a rushing and receiving touchdown in this game, which was the most recent time a receiver has done that in the same game.

41.) 2007 AFC Wild Card – (A6) Titans 6 @ (A3) Chargers 17

Review: For the first time, the losing team wasn’t held to under 200 yards. It might seem odd to rank a game that was only ended at an 11 point difference this low, but all you need to know about the game was that the Titans QB was Vince Young and the Titans RB was Chris Brown. That is how good Albert Haynesworth was in his prime, that his defense could carry a team with those skill players to the playoffs. Rivers had a nice game going 19-30 for 292 yards, but he could have done less and just let Vince Young screw it up some more.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: The Titans actually led this game 6-0 at the half. It is sad they didn’t pull it off, actually, because then the Chargers wouldn’t have beaten Indy the following week, plus we would have gotten that mess of a playoff team in Tennessee against the 16-0 Patriots.

40.) 2012 NFC Wild Card - (N6) Vikings 10 @ (N3) Packers 24

This game was essentially over the second it was announced that Joe Webb was starting in place of Christian Ponder. The only thing that saved this game from being last on this list was the first Vikings drive, where Webb had a nice read-option run and they drove it down and come close to getting a TD to take a quick 7-0 lead. Of course, the Packers held them to a field goal, and then started just systematically taking over the game. What hurt even more for this game was that the Vikings defense did a good job against a listless Packers offense, holding them to seven(!) straight three-and-outs in the 2nd half, not even allowing a fun blowout. 

Interest/Memorable Fact: Joe Webb set a new record for the fewest starts in the regular season for a playoff starter with zero, a rare unbreakable record. Even Rob Johnson, in 1999, started a game, as did Rex Grossman when he came back from injury late in 2005.

39.) 2005 AFC Wild Card – (A5) Jaguars 3 @ (A4) Patriots 28

Review: In classic Dynasty-Era Patriots fashion, what is a close game by yards somehow became a total joke of a game because of some long touchdowns. Asante Samuel, as he is known to do, returned an interception for a TD right after Ben Watson of all people broke a couple tackles for a long TD. Brady, in classic Brady fashion, completed just 15-27 passes, but threw for 3 TDs. In more classic Patriots fashion, Willie McGinest somehow had 4.5 sacks in this game. What I’m saying is that if you could draw up a classic Dynasty-Era Patriots blowout, this is how that game comes out.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was the last playoff win by a defending Super Bowl Champion. The 2006 and 2009 Steelers didn't make the playoffs. The 2007 Colts, 2008 Giants and 2011 Packers all had great seasons (13-3, 12-4, 15-1) but lost their divisional round home game, and the 2010 Saints lost to the Seahawks.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was the last time a non-Super Bowl Patriots playoff game was called by anyone other than Jim Nantz and Phil Simms (because they couldn’t, because it was on ABC). That streak will end probably sometime around 2020.

38.) 2005 NFC Wild Card – (N6) Redskins 17 @ (N3) Buccaneers 10

Review: This game happened right before the one right above it, and is easily among the worst one-score playoff games in my lifetime. The Redskins won the game, but did it with a record-low 120 yards, and a record-low 25(!) net yards passing. Mark Brunell went 7-15 for 48 yards, while Chris Simms (remember him – he was the starting QB for an 11-5 team) went 25-38 for just 198 yards. Sean Taylor (RIP) returned a fumble for a touchdown, and that and a disputed non-catch that would’ve been the tying touchdown by Edell Shepard (again, who?) marked the only two interesting things to happen.

Interesting/Memorable Play: Sean Taylor, after his TD, was ejected for allegedly (but pretty clearly) spitting in the face of Cadillac Williams.

Interesting/Memorable Fact II: I was babysitting for a friend during each of these two 2005 Saturday Playoff games. We started playing NFL Blitz in the middle of the Pats game. Way more fun than the alternative.

37.) 2006 AFC Wild Card – (A6) Chiefs 8 @ (A3) Colts 23

Review: We return to Standard Protocol here, with the Colts winning by running 80 plays to the Chiefs 45 and outgaining them 435-126. That was the 3rd largest differential in NFL playoff history. The big story was the historically shitty Colts run defense limiting Larry Johnson, when he was still good, to 32 yards on 13 rushes. By the way, those other two games ended 41-0 (NYG def. MIN, 2000) and 62-7 (JAX def. MIA, 1999). This was one obviously much closer, and that is because Manning threw three interceptions, marking the first time a QB was ever, half-correctly, criticized in a game where he went 30-38.

Interesting/Memorable Play: Lawrence Tynes, the man who would in his 2nd career with the Giants make two field goals that won NFC Championship games in overtime, missed a 23-yard field goal; the game was played in a dome.

36.) 2004 AFC Wild Card – (A6) Broncos 24 @ (A3) Colts 49

Review: Since I placed the Episode 1 of this two-part movie quite a bit higher than it probably should, I am downgrading this game for being a bad sequel. Instead of accentuating what was fun about the first iteration of this playoff game, the Colts did the opposite. Their long TDs came via YAC instead of bombs by Manning. Manning threw a pick which allowed him to avoid another perfect passer rating playoff game. The Broncos actually played decent against a prevent in the 2nd half this time, making the game seem slightly closer than it was the first time. All in all, the least enjoyable Manning blowout win ever.

Interesting/Memorable Play: Marvin Harrison did little in this game as Champ Bailey blanketed him (while Roc Alexander did the opposite of blanket Reggie Wayne), but he did lay a hellacious block on Bailey on Wayne’s 2nd touchdown.

Tier II – Meh… I won’t rewatch, but at least I didn’t want to stop watching.

35.) 2011 NFC Wild Card – (N5) Falcons 2 @ (N4) Giants 24

Review: Just imagine if the Falcons convert either of those two failed 4th-down conversion (I believe the scores were 7-2 and 10-2 when they happened), this game could have been higher up. It was oddly defense-heavy in the 1st half, but the Giants started dominating. Eli Manning finally put up a great playoff game at home, going 23-32 for 277 yards and 3 tds, after two destitute performances in his first two. Hakeem Nicks was the real hero, though, breaking off a long TD to make it 17-2 and slam the door on any chances the Falcons had. One thing: why are there so many QBs that get caught doing illegal grounding in the End Zone?

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was Matt Ryan’s 3rd playoff game, and the 3rd out of those three games that he has failed to have 10 yards per completion or throw for 200 yards. He had 199 yards on 24 completions in this game, after having 186 on 20 in 2010 and 199 again on 26 in 2008.

34.) 2008 AFC Wild Card – (A6) Ravens 27 @ (A3) Dolphins 9

Review: In one of those incredibly predictable games the Ravens did all of those Raven-ish things, like win by forcing five turnovers against a team that had only 13 on the season, and picking off Pennington four times after he threw just seven picks on the year. The Ravens won when their QB completed just 9 of 27 passes. The only reason that this game is high is because watching the Ravens do Raven-type things is usually quite fun. WatchingEd Reed picking off two passes is fun. Watching Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis andTerrell Suggs dole out hellacious blocks on Reeds TD return was awesome. At their best, the Ravens defense is easily worth the price of admission.

Interesting/Memorable Play: On Ed Reed’s second interception, he basically sprints the second the Dolphins snap the ball to a spot to cut off a slant, and starts this well before Pennington even looks to that side, and easily picks off a pass. If ever you can describe Ed Reed in one play, that one is it.

33.) 2008 NFC Wild Card – (N6) Eagles 26 @ (N3) Vikings 14

Review: This is the first game on the list that I didn’t watch live and didn’t go back and watch at any point other than brief highlights. Not much to share here. It was a close game in a way, and featured some big plays, like a long touchdown run by Peterson, a 76-yard screen pass for a TD to Brian Westbrook. And of course, like the sun rising and taxes, Asante Samuel returned an interception for a TD in a playoff game. Also, this game was notable for the fact that it provides evidence that Tarvaris Jackson started a playoff game. He had a most-Tarvaris like day, going 15-35 for 165 yards and a pick. The scariest thing is that if he wins the starting job, Tarvaris has a shot at starting another one with Seattle.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: The Vikings leading wide receiver on the day was the one and only Bobby Wade. It is odd that he hasn’t played since 2009, considering he put up decent depth receiver type numbers over the course of his career.

32.) 2003 NFC Wild Card – (N6) Cowboys 10 @ (N3) Panthers 29

Review: I was in Italy during Wild Card Weekend in 2003, so I know little of these games as well, especially this one. What I do know is the Panthers dominated, outgaining the Cowboys 380-202, but were forced into five field goals by John Kasay. Jake Delhomme started his first postseason game and played well, with one perfectly thrown deep fade to Steve Smith for a TD. As for the Cowboys, all you need to know is somehow the combination of Quincy Carter and Troy Hambrick couldn’t score enough points. Actually, given that it was them, I’m surprised they got to 10.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This game set an NFL record for most sub-40 yard field goals, as all six field goals kicked in the game were from under 40 yards.

(I totally made this record up, This game could very well have it, but who knows – overall, I couldn’t think of anything interesting or memorable about the game).

31.) 2007 NFC Wild Card – (N5) Giants 24 @ (N4) Buccaneers 14

Review: The Giants started their march to the 2007 Title a lot like how they started their march to the 2011 title, with a solid win over a good but not great team from the NFC South. In both games, the Giants scored 24 points, and Eli Manning had multiple TDs and no picks. The weirdest part of the game was the fact that the Giants had -1 yards of offense in the 1st quarter, with no first downs, and still won the game rather easily. I guess that is what happens when the other team has an offense that features a guy who the Giants cast off in 2004 (Ike Hilliard) and Earnest Graham.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: Michael Pittman caught 5 passes for 62 yards, being the Buccaneers best receiver on the day. What is interesting about this: Michael Pittman is a running back who had just one carry on the game, and also the fact that I was shocked Michael Pittman was still in the league in 2007.

30.) 2009 AFC Wild Card – (A5) Jets 24 @ (A4) Bengals 14

Review: The Jets have a way of following the Giants. In 2002, they matched the Giants 41-0 playoff score. In 2009, they matched the Giants 24-14 score from two years previous. This game could easily have been tight had Shayne Graham not shanked two field goals from inside 40 yards. Either way, Cedric Benson and Shonn Greene both had good days, but only one of the two QBs did. Carson Palmer was undone by drops and the power of Darrelle Revis. Mark Sanchez was brilliantly efficient, going 12-15 for 182 yards and a TD.

Interesting/Memorable Plays: In the game, Jets punter Steve Weatherford got hurt early, so kicker Jay Feely punted, and didn’t embarrass himself, with 7 punts with a 32 yard average.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: The game was stunningly called by the trio of Tom Hammond, Joe Theismann and Joe Gibbs. Surprisingly, Theismann was better than Gibbs, but overall it worked about as well as the Matt Millen as NBC Football Expert idea. NBC smartly replaced those two with Mike Mayock the next season.

29.) 2012 AFC Wild Card - (A5) Colts 9 @ (A4) Ravems 24

Just like the other two miracle Giants runs, the Ravens started their four-game march to the Super Bowl in a slightly listless game against the Colts. The only memorable part of game was that it was the start of Joe Flacco's amazing playoff run. Flacco wasn't even that good in the 1st half, but facing a 3rd and 19 early in the 3rd quarter, he just threw one up to Boldin for 50 yards. On the next drive, he threw another lob up to Boldin for 46 yards. This would become a recurring theme for the Ravens in their playoffs, as were other things, like Ray Lewis' impending last games (this was his last home game), and Ray Rice fumbling. 

Interesting/Memorable Fact: With this win, the Ravens became just the sixth team to win a playoff in five straight seasons, the most recent being the 2003-07 Patriots (right behind them, the 2000-04 Eagles).

28.) 2012 AFC Wild Card - (A6) Bengals 13 @ (A3) Texans 19

In a rare playoff rematch, the Bengals and Texans met at the same place at the same time on the same network (NBC's kind of black-sheep 4:30 Saturday Wild Card Game), and despite this game being 15 points closer than last year, it was probably a little worse. Instead of the energy of the first playoff game in Reliant Stadium, the fans were dour as their assumed first round bye had slipped through their fingers. Instead of this being JJ Watt's coming out party (2011 Playoffs, when he pick-sixed the Bengals to break a 10-10 game), it was a relatively quiet game by Watt's standards. Instead of a dominant Texans effort, it was more about how awful Andy Dalton was on deep throws. Just a forgetttable game that is propped up because at least it was somewhat close.

Interesting/Memorable Play: It was during a play early in the 2nd quarter when NBC cutaway to Al and Cris at Lambeau to give us the news that Christian Ponder would not play against Green Bay, making this the first game to not only be boring, but to cause people to already dislike the game to come.

Tier III – It wasn’t close, but it was still a Good Ride

27.) 2009 NFC Wild Card – (N6) Eagles 14 @ (N3) Cowboys 34

I remember this game turning on one (admittedly correct) overturned interception. After a back-and-forth dull 1st quarter, the Eagles, with Michael Vick throwing a laser for a 76-yard TD to Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles appeared to pick off Tony Romo deep in Dallas territory. The stadium was damn silent at that moment, all thinking “here we go again.” In the end, the Cowboys somehow rattled off 20 more points in that quarter. The Cowboys played pretty perfect. Multiple TDs and no INTs by Romo? Check. Long run by Felix? Check. TD reception for Miles Austin? Check. Pound the shit out of the Eagles o-line missing starting center Jamaal Jackson? Check. It really was that simple.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: In what was Donovan McNabb’s last game as an Eagle, the Reid & McNabb Eagles lost their first playoff game for the first time, after not going one-and-done in 2000-2004, 2006 & 2008.

26.) 2009 AFC Wild Card – (A6) Ravens 33 @ (A3) Patriots 14

Review: The only thing wrong with this game was that the Ravens dominated the 1st quarter so much that the rest of the game was more of a bore than a beatdown of the Patriots should have been. Just a quick reminder: The Ravens scored on the 1st play of the game with an 80-yard TD. Brady was sack/fumbled, with the Ravens turned into a TD. After trading punts, Brady threw back-to-back interceptions which the Ravens turned into 10 more points, and it was 24-0 before 15 minutes were up. Julian Edelman replaced the ACL-ed Wes Welker admirably. Tom Brady seemingly played with no-ACL as well, as he put up a performance far worse than Manning has in any home playoff game.

Intersting/Memorable Play: Brady’s first interception (a scared throw into the middle of the field to an area where two Ravens and zero Patriots resided) was among the worst I have ever seen from a big-QB, yet that great duo of Nantz and Simms never once questioned the shittiness of the throw. Not even once. Had Mark Sanchez, or Philip Rivers made that throw, they would be talking about their "lack of poise" or some other Nantz & Simms derivative crap.

25.) 2002 NFC Wild Card – (N6) Falcons 27 @ (N3) Packers 7

Review: Michael Vick’s first playoff game started in style, with his team taking a 24-0 lead into halftime, courtesy of some solid play on his part, and the harbinger-of-an-upset blocked punt return touchdown (other than the Raiders doing it in Super Bowl XXXVII, I can’t remember a team getting one and not winning). Brett Favre was in top-form, with a 20-42 day with one td and two picks. If I do remember correctly, it was snowing during the game, making the play of the indoor team from Atlanta all the more stunning.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: This was the first time the Packers ever lost a home playoff game. Of course, since then, it has happened three more times (2004 Wild Card, 2007 Championship, 2011 Divisional), and the Packers have won just twice at home in that span.

24.) 2011 NFC Wild Card – (N6) Lions 28 @ (N3) Saints 45

Review: Here’s another game that went from a close game where an upset was brewing to a blowout because of one call, this one not so correct. The Lions sack/fumbled Brees and the ball was returned for a TD, but the play was blown dead. The score was 14-7 Lions at the time, and it would have made it 21-7. Of course, the Saints ended up scoring TDs on 5 straight 2nd half drives (and ending the 6th drive inside the 10) so it may not have mattered, but that run game might not have worked so well down 21-10 at the half. In other news: Brees threw for 466 yards and 3 TDs, while Calvin was Calvin.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: The Saints gained an NFL-playoff record 626 yards in the game, with 459 passing and 167 rushing. The game it beat was the Chargers over the Boston Patriots in 1964, where the Chargers put up 610 yards.

23.) 2004 NFC Wild Card – (N6) Vikings 31 @ (N3) Packers 17

Review: The Packers lost another home playoff game, and once again it was because they couldn’t stop a gifted African-American QB while Favre got pick-happy. Daunte Culpepper, fresh off of his 39 TD season threw four more (including a screen pass to Moe Williams, who was one of three interchangeable Vikings RBs along with the Whizzinator Onterrio Smith and Michael Bennett), while Favre answered it with four interceptions. This game was most notable for being the game where Randy Moss scored a TD and then faked mooning the crowd (or mooning the Lambeau Field goalpost).

Interesting/Memorable Play: What is more funny than Moss mooning the crowd was two incidents it led to:
1.) Joe Buck’s hilarious white outrage at that “despicable act” in a move where the only recourse for Buck is to say he was doing a Jim Nantz impression.
2.) Randy Moss’s impromptu interview during the week after the game where he responded that he would pay his fine with “straight cash, homey.”

22.) 2005 AFC Wild Card – (A6) Steelers 31 @ (A3) Bengals 17

Review: We all remember where we were when it happened, whenKimo von Ollhoffen, with great malice, basically ended the upward trajectory ofthe sports fastest rising star at QB. Carson Palmer was once the guy who would inevitably challenge Manning and Brady after a fantastic 2005 season. Instead, Ollhoffen did his thing, and despite a fun 1st half where the Bengals took a 17-7 lead behind Jon Kitna, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers won, went on to win the Super Bowl and it was Ben who challenges Manning and Brady to this day. The Kimo hit might be one of the five most memorable, important, “what-if?” plays of the 2000s.

Interesting/Memorable Play: The end-around pitchback TD throw by Ben to Cedric Wilson (who had a monster playoffs in 2005) was eerily similar to the pitch-pitchback TD throw by Warner to Fitz in the 2008 NFC Championship Game. The link: Ken Whisenhunt was the Steelers coordinator – where he earned the now-forgotten great nickname “Inspector Gadget.”

21.) 2011 AFC Wild Card – (A6) Bengals 10 @ (A3) Texans 31

Review: The first playoff game in Reliant Stadium’s history gets extra points because it was just that. It was also a fun blowout because of the big-play Texans living up to that standard. Andre Johnson caught a long touchdown. Arian Foster had a long touchdown run. JJ Watt made an incredible snag of a Dalton pass and returned it to the house. It was a fun game in a raucous stadium that was built in the hopes it would one day have a game like that. The only sad part was that Matt Schaub (and Mario Williams) was on the sidelines while it happened, and instead we got TJ Yates, making this the first all-rookie QB game.

Interesting/Memorable Play: Marvin Lewis challenged the spot trying to make it 2nd and 1 instead of 2nd and 3 in one of the worst planned challenges I have ever seen. Of course, it wasn’t even overturned.

20.) 2006 AFC Wild Card – (A5) Jets 16 @ (A4) Patriots 37

Review: A lot of the talk before the game was about the handshake that would come at the end (yeah, that stuff started well before Spygate). In the end, after a nice victory, Belichick hugged Mangini in a “I’mdoing this to appease people, but you know I still own you” way. During the game, we saw the Patriots effortlessly take down a plucky, frisky Jets team that had the game at 23-16 early in the 4th quarter. What followed next was pure Patriots football: Vince Wilfork recovers a lateral as he’s the only one who doesn’t think it was an incomplete pass. Patriots score a TD. Asante Samuel gets a pick-6. You can’t script things any better for that team.

Interesting/Memorable Fact: Peyton Manning apparently saw Brady quick-snapping the Jets a lot in this game and decided to utilize it against Baltimore, where it delivered mostly horrible results - Manning threw both his interceptions on plays where he quick-snapped.

19.) 2007 NFC Wild Card – (N6) Redskins 14 @ (N3) Seahawks 35

Review: This was the final game in the Redskins emotional Todd Collins led run after the death of Sean Taylor. The game is mostly memorable because of the Seahawks relentless pass rush, keyed by the disappeared Patrick Kerney, and a rare back-to-back pick-sixes by Marcus Trufant and Jordan Babineauxm, which turned a 21-14 Seahawks lead into a 35-14 laugher. Of course, what made the game really special was that it was Joe Gibbs final game (and only the 2nd time he went one-and-done), Mike Holmgren’s final playoff game, and another game for that incredible Qwest Field crowId.

Interesting/Memorable Play: The game was 13-0 before a Redskins TD. On the ensuing kickoff, the ball bounced before the returner caught it and went straight up and was recoverd by the ‘Skins – the rare deep onside-kick in essence. At that moment, who didn’t feel Sean Taylor was hovering over that game.

18.) 2003 AFC Wild Card – (A6) Broncos 10 @ (A3) Colts 41

Review: Yeah, it is high, but if you want to see QB beingplayed as brilliantly as it ever will be played, watch this game. On just 26 throws, Manning threw for 377 yards and 5 tds (on 22 completions). He had just the 2nd perfect passer rating day in playoff history, and that all come when he had a Giant-sized monkey on his back having never won a playoff game. The game was notable for Brandon Stokley’s brilliance and the fact that the Colts won this game so easily (31-3 at the half) after losing to the Broncos in a meaningful game two weeks earlier in Indy 31-17 where they were outgained 465-183. Again, that was a meaningful game. Denver hammered Indy in Indy. Indy more than returned that favor.

Interesting/Memorable Play: On the game’s 2nd TD, Marvin Harrison caught a pass around the 25 yard line and went down. A cabal of Broncos surrounded him but argued who should have had the play and none of them touched Marvin down, so Marvin got up and raced for the world’s easiest TD. It was that kind of day.

Next up, the 17 Wild Card Games that are really worth rewatching.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.