The Wild History of NFL Wild-Card Weekend

Football is one of America’s favorite sports. Although there have been changes throughout its history, including team names changing, formatting changes, and updates to rules, none of them have been as exciting as the 1970 addition of wild-card slots to the National Football League. With this addition, the NFL increased the number of teams that competed in the playoffs, drew in more fans from around the country, and promoted some of the NFL’s greatest moments in history. Below is the history of the NFL’s wild-card games, including stats, players, teams, and the history of the wild-card format for the NFL.

What day is the 2023 NFL wild card game?
The NFL wild-card games are played over three days:
Saturday, January 14 @ 4:30 PM EST
Sunday, January 15 @ 1 PM EST
Monday, January 16 @ 8:15 PM EST

Who is playing in the NFL wild card games?
Seahawks at 49ers on Sat., Jan. 14 @ 4:30 PM EST
Chargers at Jaguars on Sat., Jan. 14 @ 8:15 PM EST
Dolphins at Bills on Sun., Jan. 15 @ 1 PM EST
Giants at Vikings on Sun., Jan. 15 @ 4:30 PM EST
Ravens at Bengals on Sun., Jan. 15 @ 8:15 PM EST
Cowboys at Buccaneers on Mon., Jan. 16 @ 8:15 PM EST

History of the Wild-Card Format

In 1970, the NFL and the American Football League (AFL) merged, creating a new format for American football. At the time, the NFL had two conferences with three divisions each. The teams that qualified for playoffs were the three division-winning teams with the best win-loss percentage that didn’t win the division. Even though this format changed again in 1975, wild-card placements remained. As the league structure changed, so did the wild-card placements.

In 1978, when the NFL adopted a new format with a 16-game schedule, the league added a wild-card placement to each conference. In 2002, the league expanded again into a 32-team format, with four teams across eight divisions and several teams moving conferences. Currently, the format includes the four division winners and three wild-card teams from each conference. The changes in format and rules created different odds for each team in the history of the NFL’s wild-card games.

The 1975 Dallas Cowboys

With the new wild-card format introduced that year, the Dallas Cowboys became the first to get a wild-card spot in the playoffs. This wild-card spot came as part of a desperation pass touchdown pass in the last minute of the game against the Minnesota Vikings.

The 1980 Oakland Raiders

Five years after the NFL introduced the wild-card spots into the format, the first team to win the Super Bowl after earning a wild-card spot was the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders earned their Super Bowl win in Super Bowl XV.

The 1992 Buffalo Bills

In 1992, the Buffalo Bills earned the wild-card spot, despite a regular season where they went 11-5. The best moment was when the Buffalo Bills shocked the Houston Oilers by making a legendary comeback from 35-3 by winning the game 41-38. After that game, Buffalo beat Pittsburgh and Miami’s first and second seeds to attend Super Bowl XXVII.

The 1993 Green Bay Packers

In 1993, the Green Bay Packers were on a streak thanks to Brett Favre, who made several integral passes to Sterling Sharpe. One happened with 55 seconds left in the game, granting the Green Bay Packers the win and sending them further in the playoffs.

The 1997 Denver Broncos

After a nearly unstoppable streak, the Green Bay Packers seemed destined to take home the championship title for a second year. Instead, the Denver Broncos, who’d been on a winning streak, surprised the Packers and won Super Bowl XXXII, making them another wild-card team to take the title.

The 1998 San Francisco 49ers

With 1:56 remaining in the game, the San Francisco 49ers faced the impossible: make a full-length run down the field. In a moment captured by Joe Starkey, the team made a 25-yard touchdown pass granting them the final game lead. This play broke the team’s three-game postseason losing streak to the Green Bay Packers.

The 1999 Tennessee Titans

In 1999, the Tennessee Titans were facing off against the Buffalo Bills. With 16 seconds remaining in the game, the Bills were leading 16-15. In a play the team had practiced with Derrick Mason, who was injured earlier in the game, the team managed to get the ball to Kevin Dyson, who made a 75-yard for a go-ahead touchdown with three seconds left, granting the Tennessee Titans the win.

The 2000 Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens in 2000 had one of the best defenses in the history of the NFL. Using this defense, they defeated four of their regular-season opponents and earned a wild-card spot. They continued to use their defense in the playoffs to beat the Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, and New York Giants.

The 2002 San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers

In 2002, two teams earned their wild-card spots and advanced into the playoffs. First, the Pittsburgh Steelers rallied from two deficits to defeat their rivals, the Cleveland Browns. Just hours later, the San Francisco 49ers made their comeback, going from a 38-14 deficit to a 39-38 victory over the New York Giants.

The 2003 Seattle Seahawks

With a tie at the end of the fourth quarter, the Packers-Seahawks game advanced into overtime. After winning the coin toss, the Seattle Seahawks claimed possession of the ball. In a dramatic turn of events, the Green Bay Packers cornerback Al Harris intercepted a pass and made a 52-yard touchdown to give the Packers the lead with 3:54 left on the clock. The Seattle Seahawks then made a comeback touchdown with 51 seconds remaining. With five seconds remaining, the Green Bay Packers needed a field goal to win, which they missed, allowing the Seattle Seahawks to advance to the playoffs.

The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the playoffs as the sixth seed. With their 11-5 game differential, the team earned a wild-card spot by beating the Cincinnati Bengals and securing a surprising victory over the first seed Indianapolis Colts, before advancing to Super Bowl XL by beating the Denver Broncos. Then, the team faced the Seattle Seahawks and won, earning them the title and marking them as the first sixth-seeded team to win the Super Bowl.

The 2006 Seattle Seahawks

In 2006, the Seattle Seahawks took a simple lead against their opponents, the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas fumbled a snap on a Cowboys possession, which ultimately lost them the game and sent the Seahawks onward through the playoffs.

The 2007 New York Giants

In 2007, the New York Giants were facing off against the New England Patriots, a matchup that would fall into the legendary moments of NFL history. The Patriots were leading for most of the game. As the end of the fourth quarter came and went, the Giants had tied. In overtime, the Giants gained one of the best catches in NFL history to beat the Patriots 17-14 and earn a massive upset.

The 2008 San Diego Chargers

The San Diego Chargers won a wild-card spot in the postseason with an 8-8 record, mainly because of the Denver Broncos collapsing. While playing the Colts, fans assumed the Chargers would lose, but Darren Sproles earned 328 all-purpose yards, and a field goal from Nate Kaeding tied the game in the fourth quarter with 31 seconds left to force overtime. In that overtime, the Chargers won, ending the game at 23-17.

The 2009 Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers clashed in a record-breaking and record-setting game in 2009. During the game, there were over 1,000 offensive yards, a massive 21-point comeback from the Packers in the second half, a franchise record for the most points scored and allowed by the Packers, and a defensive touchdown by the Cardinals in overtime which won them the game. Other records from this matchup include 96 total points in the game, the most in the playoffs, and nine touchdown passes by a single team.

The 2010 Green Bay Packers

In 2010, the Green Bay Packers became the second team to win a Super Bowl as the sixth-seeded team. Their comeback happened in the postseason, when Aaron Rodgers threw for 304 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions, leading his team to victory 31-25 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In 2020, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 7-5 while entering the postseason, enough to earn a wild-card spot. Even though they hadn’t looked the best all season, they suddenly reignited in the playoffs, securing wins over the first and second-ranked teams and passing through into Super Bowl LV in their home stadium. At that point, the team faced the Kansas City Chiefs, which they promptly shut down throughout the game, winning 31-9.

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