Tampa Bay is favored by 8.5 points on Saturday. That’s understandable. They’ve got a lot of talent, while Washington bumbled to a 7-9 record in the regular season. But these kind of playoff games don’t tend to be as one-sided as you would think.
The NFL switched to the eight-division format in 2002. Since that time, four divisions have been won by teams that didn’t finish with winning records. All of those teams opened the playoffs at home against teams that won 11-12 games in the regular season.
Remarkable, all of those seemingly lesser teams won in those games.
Three of the upset victims included quarterbacks who’ll likely end up in the Hall of Fame: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger.
The two coaches in Saturday’s game were involved in one of these games, with Ron Rivera’s 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers beating Bruce Arians’ 11-5 Arizona Cardinals. That game was different in that Arizona had lost its top two quarterbacks (Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton) to injuries, going with unheralded youngster Ryan Lindley. (Carolina was favored by 6.5.)
I’m not saying we’ll see an upset on Saturday. This is one of the two games being played this weekend where I simply see no viable path for an upset. (The Saints are winning, and the Bucs are winning, in my opinion.)
But with this history of misfires, that 8.5-point difference in the point spread looks a little high. And if Washington somehow makes a run at them, I supposed we’ll all be kicking ourselves for not doing a better job of recognizing the possibility.
|DIVISION CHAMPIONS THAT DIDN'T HAVE WINNING RECORDS|
|2014||Carolina (7-8-1)||Arizona (11-5)||W, 27-16|
|2011||Denver (8-8)||Pittsburgh (12-4)||W, 29-23 (ot)|
|2010||Seattle (7-9)||New Orleans (11-5)||W, 41-36|
|2008||San Diego (8-8)||Indianapolis (12-4)||W, 23-17|
|2020||Washington (7-9)||Tampa Bay (11-5)||?|
Note: as I glance at the boxscore from the 2014 game, I am also reminded that Logan Thomas (pictured) was on that 2014 Arizona team – as the rookie backup quarterback behind Lindley. Like Arians, Thomas was a quarterback at Virginia Tech. Thomas is now playing well as a tight end for Washington.