This weekend, the AFC's portion of the divisional round of the playoffs features two matchups that are both rematches of recent regular season blowouts. In week 15, the Broncos traveled to Baltimore, and soundly defeated the Ravens 34-17 in a game that was 31-3 heading into the 4th quarter. A week earlier, in Foxboro, the Patriots went up 28-0 early in the 2nd half on their way to clobbering the Texans 42-14. While many believe it's a foregone conclusion that the Broncos and Patriots will give us another Manning vs. Brady AFC Championship, history shows that we shouldn't completely write off the Ravens and the Texans this weekend. In a Special TopX playoff edition, below are 5 playoff rematches that flipped the script, proving time and time again that when it comes to the NFL playoffs, you just never know.
5. 1976- Oakland Raiders vs. New England Patriots
Regular Season- Patriots 48-17
Postseason- Raiders 24-21
The 1976 Raiders were one of the truly dominant teams in NFL history. They finished the year with only 1 loss on their way to the franchise's first Super Bowl victory. However, their only loss was a week 4 blowout at the hands of the New England Patriots. The rematch occurred in the divisional round of the playoffs, and is another in a long line of classic Raiders playoff games that ended embroiled in controversy. The Patriots led the Raiders 21-10 heading into the 4th quarter. Following a 70 yard drive that cut the Pats lead to 21-17, the Patriots were threatening to either run out the clock, or put the game out of reach with a late score. However, on a 3rd down, Raiders LB Phil Villapiano held Patriots TE Russ Francis, causing an incompletion. Pass interference was not called, and the Patriots then missed a 50 yard FG attempt. On the ensuing drive, the Raiders faced a 3rd and 18, when a controversial roughing the passer call by referee Ben Dreith against the Patriots' "Sugar Bear" Hamilton negated an incompletion, and handed the Raiders a 1st down deep in Patriots territory, as opposed to a 4th and 18. Shortly thereafter, Stabler called his own number, running from 1 yard out into the endzone for the winning score.
4. 1977- Minnesota Vikings vs. Los Angeles Rams
Regular season- Rams 35-3
Postseason- Vikings 14-7
On a Monday night in October, the Rams destroyed the defending NFC champions in front of a national TV audience. The Vikings also lost their starting QB, Fran Tarkenton, to a broken leg in that game. In the rematch, the Rams' home-field advantage was negated when a torrential rainstorm turned the game into what is now known as "The Mud Bowl". Behind backup QB Bob Lee, the Vikings capped a 1st quarter, 70 yard drive with a 5 yard TD by Chuck Foreman. The score remained that way until the 4th quarter, when the Vikings added to their lead on a Sammy Johnson 1 yard run. The Rams scored late to make it a 14-7 game, and recovered the ensuing onside kick. But QB Pat Haden threw an INT, his 3rd of the game, to end the game, and the Rams' season. Minnesota went on to lose in the NFC Championship game the following week to the Dallas Cowboys 23-6. Tarkenton returned for one final season in 1978, leading the league in completions, attempts, yards, and put together a mind-boggling 25/32 TD/INT ratio. The Rams went on to return the favor in the 1978 playoffs, beating the Vikings 34-10.
3. 1990- Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Oilers
Regular Season- Oilers 48-17
Postseason- Bengals 41-14
The Bengals responded to their October beatdown in Houston by winning the rematch in Cincinnati in December, on their way to a division title. A few weeks later, these two teams met for a 3rd time, and the Bengals destroyed the Oilers, jumping out to a 34-0 lead in the 3rd quarter. The Bengals totaled 349 yards of offense in this game, yet Boomer Esiason led them with 57 yards rushing, and no one totalled more than 2 receptions. The following week, the Bengals lost to the Raiders in Los Angeles, in a game made famous because it was Bo Jackson's final NFL game. This win over Houston still stands as the Bengals' most recent playoff victory.
2. 2005- Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Indianapolis Colts
Regular Season- Colts 26-7
Postseason- Steelers 21-18
Following a tough OT loss to Baltimore the previous week, the Steelers travelled to Indianapolis for a Monday night showdown. On the first play of the game, Peyton Manning hit Marvin Harrison for an 80 yard TD, and the route was on. The Steelers then lost their 3rd straight to Cincinnati the following week, dropping them to 7-5, and forcing them to win out if they wanted any shot at making the playoffs. The Steelers went on to win their last 4 games, earning the 6th and final seed in the AFC playoffs. They first travelled to Cincinnati, winning 31-17 to set up a rematch with the top-seeded Colts. In the rematch, Pittsburgh jumped out to an early 14 point lead, and confused Peyton Manning the entire game. But they let Indy hang around, and after a controversial replay reversal of a Troy Polamalu INT, the Colts cut the lead to 21-18. The Colts got the ball back again deep in their own territory, and the Steelers defense seemingly sealed the deal by sacking Manning on both 3rd and 4th down, turning the ball back over to the offense. But while running through a hole into the end zone, for the clinching TD, the sure-handed Jerome Bettis fumbled the football. Nick Harper recovered the ball, and appeared to be headed for the game-winning TD, but a combination of Ben Roethlisberger, Frenchy Fuqua, and Harper's wife (who had stabbed him the night before) miraculously brought Harper down in the open field. The Colts drove into FG range, but Mike Vanderjagt went Mike Vanderjagt, and missed his game-tying 46 yard FG attempt by roughly 347 yards, and the Steelers held on for a 21-18 victory. The Steelers went on to defeat the Denver Broncos the following week, and then the Seattle Seahawks to win Super Bowl XL.
1. 2010- New York Jets vs. New England Patriots
Regular Season- Patriots 45-3
Postseason- Jets 28-21
The New England Patriots closed out week 13 in style, but destroying the New York Jets 45-3 in front of a national audience on Monday Night football. The Jets ended up squeezing into the playoffs as the 6 seed, but no one thought they stood a chance to beat the Patriots in Foxboro, especially considering the outcome just a few weeks prior. The Jets took a 10 point lead when Mark Sanchez hit Santonio Holmes for a TD 2 minutes into the 4th quarter. The Patriots responded with an 8 minute drive, but instead of attempting a 52 yard FG, the Patriots decided to go for it on 4th down. Deion Branch dropped Tom Brady's pass, and the Patriots long drive went for naught. The Pats defense stopped the Jets, giving the ball back to the Patriots, but following a FG that cut the lead to 7, Antonio Cromartie returned the ensuing onside kick to the Patriots' 20 yard line. A few plays later, Shonn Greene sealed the deal with a 16 yard run to make the score 28-14. The Patriots scored on Brady-Branch TD pass with 24 seconds left, but the Jets won the game 28-21. The Jets went on the following week to Pittsburgh, where they lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship game.