Mastering the NFL regular season and punching a ticket to the playoffs is hard enough. Maintaining a high level of play against the league’s toughest in pursuit of a Super Bowl berth is even less of a cake walk. Doing all that as an NFL wild card that must play all of their games on the road? Now, that takes some serious skill.
The Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in this situation heading into next weekend, as they visit Foxborough, Mass. to play the Patriots after narrowly defeating the Kansas City Chiefs 18-16.
This isn’t to say Mike Tomlin’s Steelers don’t have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with Bill Belichick’s Patriots next Sunday. In fact, six such wild-card teams from past seasons went on to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy since the league introduced the wild-card game in 1978. Maybe the Steelers have a better shot than meets the eye?
These six wild-card teams won the Super Bowl.
1. 1980 Oakland Raiders
The Silver & Black made history as the first team to make it to the Super Bowl after the NFL’s playoff system expanded. They also did it in high fashion, defying odds after losing their starting quarterback early in the season.
At 2-3 to start the campaign, Oakland lost Dan Pastorini to a broken leg. But they rallied behind 33-year-old quarterback Jim Plunkett to emerge 11-5 on the regular season — just like the Steelers did this season — and earn a wild-card berth. Then the Raiders won back-to-back road games to make it to the Super Bowl, which ended in victory.
2. 1997 Denver Broncos
Unlike the 1980 Raiders, this Broncos team was a dominant force. They went 12-4 on the regular season with John Elway captaining the ship. Denver only played in the wild-card round because the Chiefs took the AFC West title.
After a convincing wild-card victory (42-17) over the Jaguars, the Broncos continued their push to the Super Bowl. But their confident ground game, courtesy of running back Terrell Davis, helped them rally to take down the Green Bay Packers 31-24 and win Super Bowl XXXIII.
3. 2000 Baltimore Ravens
This Ravens team might be one of the “worst teams to win a Super Bowl.” By “worst,” we just mean that they “weren’t that great.” For this Raven’s team, “weren’t that great” is the best way to describe the offense — well, outside of tight end Shannon Sharpe.
The notorious defense, on the other hand, was stellar. The Ray Lewis-led D-corp only allowed five rushing touchdowns all season and allowed 60.6 rushing yards per game and 165 points all season; both are NFL records for a 16-game campaign. It was their counter-attack that catapulted the Ravens through this championship-winning playoff run.
4. 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers
The 2016–17 Steelers had the luxury of playing on their home turf after winning their wild-card battle. But that was not the case for the 2005 team; they had to rattle off three straight wins on the road. The feat was even more difficult because the Steelers sat at 7-5 through Week 12.
5. 2007 New York Giants
Of the two Giants teams that defeated the New England Patriots in closely-timed Super Bowls, the 2007 version was probably the most surprising. Not just because New York went up against a Tom Brady-led Pats team with a perfect record, but also because this Giants squad wasn’t expected to survive the playoffs.
After a modest 10-6 regular season New York defeated the Buccaneers to escape the wild-card round. Then they won their next two games by a combined seven points. Then, after being down 7-3 at halftime in the Super Bowl, Eli Manning’s Giants totaled 14 points in the fourth quarter to keep the Patriots from achieving a perfect season record.
6. 2010 Green Bay Packers
If there’s one thing the current Steelers don’t want to remember, it’s the Green Bay Packers’ wild-card team from 2010, which beat them in the Super Bowl. At the time, many weren’t familiar with the Packers defense, which featured veteran Charles Woodson and a young long-haired linebacker by the name of Clay Matthews. And Aaron Rodgers wasn’t a household name yet — despite the debut of his witty commercials, he still worked in the shadow of Brett Favre.
But after going 10-6 on the regular season, wild-card Green Bay caught fire and rolled through three road games on their way to the Super Bowl. They defeated the Steelers in a raucous bout, 31-25.