Everybody loves an underdog story. There’s just something exciting about a bad team beating a contender because it doesn’t happen often. The last decade saw some shocking NFL upsets that fans will never forget. From Super Bowl victories to regular-season meltdowns, we broke down some of the best.
Many of these teams came into games on lengthy losing streaks but somehow turned it around. Others fell behind and came back in the most unlikely circumstances. Each upset resonated as one of the defining games of the past decade. Check out the list below via ESPN.
25. Buffalo Bills vs. Minnesota Vikings (2018)
The Bills became an NFL force in 2020. But it’s easy to forget they weren’t great just two years earlier. They started the 2018 season in grim form. Nobody came them a chance when they went up against the Vikings. Buffalo came into the game as double-digit underdogs but belied their lowly status. They put pressure on Vikings QB Kirk Cousins and sacked him twice early.
This rocked Minnesota and the Bills soared into a lead. Meanwhile, rookie QB Josh Allen chose this day to signal his arrival in the NFL. In the end, the Bills won 27-6. To put this in perspective, they lost the first two games of the season by a combined 78-23 score (via SBNation). On this day, they were on fire. Furthermore, gamblers were delighted because of the 17-point spread. Gamblers made a fortune off one of the biggest upsets of the last decade.
24. New York Giants vs. New England Patriots (2012)
This victory isn’t as iconic as the Giants’ Super Bowl win in 2008. However, it was still quite an underdog story. Eli Manning and his Giants had a history of upsetting the Patriots. They met again in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. Manning was crucial to his team’s chances again. He threw for 296 yards with one touchdown, enough to secure the showcase game’s MVP award (via Bleacher Report).
Nobody would claim that Manning was a better quarterback than Tom Brady. However, the Giants’ signal-caller always shone in the clutch. He proved this on two occasions when it counted against the Pats. Meanwhile, New England started the game too slowly and allowed the Giants to build momentum. Later, they turned it around but found themselves with too much work to do.
The Titans defeated the Ravens earlier in the season as Derrick Henry ran roughshod over their defense. But they suffered defeat when it counted the most in the AFC Wild Card game. This was one of the biggest playoff upsets of the 2020 season as well as the last decade. It occurred because Baltimore put Ryan Tannehill under severe pressure. They also succeeded in stopping Henry from making the kind of impact everyone expected (via Tennessean).
Henry was magnificent throughout the regular season as he rushed for over 2000 yards. But he became increasingly ineffective in this game as the Titans threw away a 10-0 lead. Their much-admired offense just couldn’t fire as Baltimore took over. Tennessee had genuine Super Bowl ambitions but couldn’t seal the deal. Lamar Jackson and company turned up when it counted.
22. Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (2015)
According to Las Vegas oddsmakers, this was one of the biggest upsets in Ravens history. They came into this game against the Steelers as 11.5-point underdogs. But they didn’t let this affect them in the slightest. Instead, they put on a superb display that rattled Pittsburgh. This was the first time that the franchise won a game as 10-point underdogs or more (via ESPN).
However, they earned this one. Most analysts predicted a 20-point margin of victory for the Steelers. But Baltimore flipped the script as they won 20-17. Pittsburgh came into this game off the back of significant wins. Their defense was key as they intercepted two of Ben Roethlisberger’s passes. Furthermore, backup Ryan Mallet had a solid game for Baltimore as Joe Flacco’s replacement.
The Rams were pitiful in 2011. They carried a 0-6 record into this game against the Saints. But the double-digit underdogs sparked one of the biggest shocks of the last decade. St. Louis only won two games that season, however, they enjoyed this victory. Steven Jackson had a career game. He rushed for over 100 yards and two touchdowns.
Drew Brees extended his touchdown streak to 35 games but threw two key interceptions. It just goes to show that the stat line doesn’t always tell the full story. The Rams were a good value for their victory because they never stopped running. Steve Spagnuolo didn’t have a lot to celebrate during his tenure in Missouri (via St. Louis Post-Dispatch). But this was a great day for the defensive expert.
This was the season where it became clear that Cam Newton was no longer at the peak of his powers. The Bears played the Panthers in a bizarre performance in one of the big upsets of the last decade. Meanwhile, Eddie Jackson became the first NFL player to score multiple defensive touchdowns of 75 yards or more in a game. One of these came directly from a Newton interception (via The Ringer).
It was a strange game because the Panthers dominated every aspect. They had the most possession as well as offensive plays and first downs. But they failed to capitalize on their pressure and the Bears made them pay. Newton played reasonably well but Jackson punished his mistake. Sometimes sports are cruel. The Panthers discovered this the hard way because they should have won.
The Chargers pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the last decade when they defeated the Broncos. Denver had an incredible home defensive record at the time. Furthermore, opposition teams found it difficult to put pressure on Peyton Manning. San Diego came into this game with a 7-7 record but they weren’t as bad as their record suggested.
Denver’s defense was in decline after a season of toil. Also, their offense was the only one with a better record than the Chargers’ that year. But it was second-best on the day as San Diego won 27-20 (via New York Times). Philip Rivers was accurate and calm with his passes. They took their time and allowed time to drift by as they held the ball. It was an ingenious tactic that worked perfectly against the Broncos.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (2014)
Mike Glennon has had one of the most nomadic careers in NFL history. He proved that it’s possible to make a great career as a backup quarterback because he accumulated a $30 million fortune over the years. But he was a starter for Tampa in 2014 and he helped pull off one of the biggest of the last decade. The Bucs re-signed Louis Murphy before the game because they wanted to kick-start their offense.
It worked perfectly because he rekindled a partnership with Glennon. Meanwhile, Vincent Jackson scored the winning touchdown with just seven seconds left off a sharp touchdown pass from Glennon. In the end, the Buccaneers won 27-24 as they shocked Pittsburgh (via Tampa Bay Times). Tampa won their first game of the season after a humiliating defeat to Atlanta the previous week.
17. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Indianapolis Colts (2020)
Nobody gave the Jaguars much of a chance on opening day in 2020. The young team came into the game against the Colts off the back of a bad season. Most fans expected them to tank again and they did. However, they stunned the Colts in Week One with one of their biggest upsets. Jacksonville had 16 rookies on their roster but the lack of NFL experience didn’t impede them. In the end, they won 27-20.
Undrafted rookie running back James Robinson ran for 62 yards in a scintillating performance. Meanwhile, the Colts attempted to pressure Gardner Minshew but he remained accurate. The quarterback completed 19 of 20 passes for three touchdowns and 173 yards (via Florida State-Union). Indianapolis led at multiple points but they couldn’t put the Jags away.
There are a few Super Bowl games on this list but this was one of the biggest upsets. It wasn’t just because the Seahawks were underdogs. But nobody expected them to win by such a wide margin. They obliterated the Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVII. This was a clash between the league’s top offense against the best defense. However, the Legion of Boom had the last laugh (via ABC).
Peyton Manning had just won his fifth NFL MVP award. But the Seahawks never allowed him to get started. Instead, their sophomore quarterback, Russell Wilson took control of the game. He completed 18 of 25 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson didn’t throw a single interception. Denver faced an uphill battle after just 12 seconds. This came after the fastest touchdown in Super Bowl history.
The Jets were riding a seven-game losing streak before this game. Indeed, their losing streak extended back to the previous season. But nobody had high hopes for their chances against Dallas. Sam Darnold returned from injury to start again for the Green Gang (via New York Post). He put in the best performance of his young career as they created one of the upsets of the last decade.
Adam Gase didn’t enjoy a lot of success during his Jets’ tenure. He even infuriated their fanbase by winning games when they wanted to tank for Trevor Lawrence. But this was a rare bright spot in his dismal tenure. Their record became 1-4 in 2019 and analysts questioned if they were finally getting it together. However, that’s not what happened. This 24-22 victory was like an oasis in a desert of despair.
Atlanta knows all about blowing massive leads. This one isn’t as historically infamous as their Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. But it was still one of the worst upsets of the last decade. The Falcons had a 17-point lead over the Dolphins but still contrived to lose. According to SBNation, they had a 98.2 percent win probability in the third quarter.
The momentum shifted after Matt Bryant’s missed kick at the end of the second quarter. Suddenly, the momentum swung in Miami’s favor. A 20-0 lead would have been insurmountable, but the Dolphins prevented this from happening. Meanwhile, Jay Cutler stayed calm and rolled back the years as his team won 20-17. Matt Ryan picked the wrong day to throw a pair of interceptions.
13. Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (2020)
There was no reason to believe that the Bengals would win this game. They came into it on an 11-game losing streak. Meanwhile, the wounded Steelers lost their previous two games. However, they started 2020 with an 11-game winning streak. Most fans believed they had too much for their divisional rivals. Cincinnati was without star rookie QB Joe Burrow because of injury.
Ryan Finley started the game and the Bengals jumped into a 17-0 lead. They allowed the Steelers back into the game but held out for a famous victory. As upsets go, this one was huge. The final score was 27-17 and the Bengals were good value for their win. Cincinnati won the turnover battle for just the fourth time all season. In the end, this was crucial for their chances of victory (via The Enquirer).
The Niners welcomed Chicago to Levi Park for their home debut. Fans expected them to kickstart their new era with a bang. But the Bears stormed Santa Clara with a shock victory. Jay Cutler played like an elite quarterback and had Bears’ fans salivating. He found Brandon Marshall on three key occasions to drive the score up. Meanwhile, Kyle Fuller had an excellent game with two interceptions on his rookie debut.
Chicago’s defense was the subject of criticism before the game. San Francisco took full advantage and stormed into a 17-point lead. It looked like the game was over for the Bears. But they stood firm in the face of adversity. This wasn’t the most enjoyable spectacle because of the number of penalties. There were 17 in the first half with an overall total of 26. This was one of the strangest games of the last decade (via Chicago Tribune).
This remains one of the biggest upsets of the last decade because of the statistical improbability. The Dolphins played the Patriots in 2018 and rocked the entire NFL. New England was an 8.5-point favorite and led for most of the game. However, they never put Miami away and paid the price. “The Miracle in Miami” instantly became an iconic moment as Kenyan Drake scored the game-winning touchdown.
The multi-lateral touchdown was breathtaking but eminently avoidable. If the Patriots put the game to bed, it wouldn’t have happened. But Miami believed in themselves. Ryan Tannehill started the move and it ended with Drake’s 52-yard winning run. The final score was 33-32 (via Action Network). Miami was a +319 underdog at this point in the game. Nobody gave them a chance.
10. New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks (2015)
The Seahawks should have sealed the deal in Super Bowl XLIX. They were one play away from winning the coveted prize for the second straight year. There were 20 seconds left on the clock and Russell Wilson had a choice to make at the one-yard line. Most people thought that he would offload to Marshawn Lynch. However, he attempted a pass to Ricardo Lockette instead. Then Pats’ rookie Malcolm Butler pulled off one of the most important interceptions ever.
Chaos ensued and finally, New England took a knee to win the game. Many fans and analysts called Wilson’s pass one of the worst play calls ever. However, a more balanced analysis proved that it was superb defense from the Patriots. Lynch had a poor record from that position and the Patriots line blocked his path (via CBS Sports). They left Wilson with no choice but to find Lockette.
Buffalo wasn’t great through much of the last decade. But they pulled off an overtime upset over the Bears in 2014. Fred Jackson was the oldest running back in the NFL but nobody would have guessed it. That’s because his 38-yard run helped to set up Dan Carpenter’s winning field goal. The Bears were favorites on opening day but Buffalo didn’t pander to expectations. They were relentless against a technically better team.
The final score at Soldier Field was 23-20. But this one stung the Bears because they should have had the game wrapped up. Buffalo led the game before Chicago fought back. They won the coin toss to start overtime. However, the Bills forced turnovers and played with a never-say-die attitude. They were sizable underdogs but proved that anybody in the NFL can win (via Democrat & Chronicle).
The Giants traveled to Lumen Field without starting quarterback Daniel Jones. Colt McCoy stepped up as a replacement. They produced one of the most dramatic upsets of the last decade, never mind the season. Seattle led the NFC West and expected to beat New York comfortably. However, that’s not what happened as Big Blue ran out 17-14 winners in Oregon (via USA Today).
This was a great defensive effort from the Giants. Meanwhile, their depleted attack did enough to win the game. They bullied one of the best teams in the NFL on their turf. Pete Carroll had no way to explain what happened because it was such a poor display from his team. But credit belonged to the Giants because this was an outstanding performance. Their long-suffering fans deserved it.
7. Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints (2020)
Minnesota achieved one of the biggest playoff shocks of the last decade in 2020. They defeated the Saints in overtime and left them shellshocked. Kirk Cousins played a crucial role in masterminding this victory. He previously received criticism because he didn’t show up in big games. But he pulled off two important passes to help his team win.
Cousins went 19 for 31 with 242 completed yards (via Sporting News). One pass went to Adam Thielen as he ran to the goal-line. Another went to Kyle Rudolph for a walk-off touchdown. First, the Vikings rocked the Saints by taking the lead. However, Sean Peyton’s men forced overtime and it looked like they regained the momentum. None of the Saints’ quarterbacks took to the field in overtime as the Vikings pulled off a smash-and-grab.
In 2020, the Rams were Super Bowl contenders. Sure, they lacked a genuine franchise quarterback, but they still had a strong roster. They entered Week 13 with a 9-4 record. So it was natural that they were massive favorites against the 0-13 Jets. There were even questions over the Jets’ will to win because they wanted the first overall draft pick. A Trevor Lawrence-sized prize was waiting for the worst team in the NFL.
But the Green Gang stunned the Rams with one of the upsets of the last decade. They won the game 23-20 and proved that sometimes football makes no sense. All of the analysis and pre-game predictions meant nothing because the Jets mugged their opponents (via NBC Sports). This shows just how difficult it is to have a winning season in one of the toughest sports in the world.
Bob McAdoo’s Giants entered this game off the back of five straight defeats. Not many of their fans held out much hope of beating the Broncos. However, they pulled off one of the upsets of the last decade with a complete display. It’s bizarre how a terrible team can suddenly snap into gear. Usually, this isn’t sustainable but it’s always entertaining when it happens.
McAdoo handed play-calling duties over to Mike Sullivan for this game. Everything the offensive coordinator attempted came off perfectly. Eli Manning found Evan Engram an impressive five times. Meanwhile, the Giants’ pass rush ran rampant against the Broncos’ ragged defense (via Sports Illustrated). It was one of those games that give an entire group of supporters false hope. The Giants couldn’t keep it up.
There were questions about Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa before this game. Jacoby Brissett played a previous two games because of the Hawaiian’s injury woes. Furthermore, Tagovailoa had consistency issues. However, he came in and helped Miami stun the Ravens. The Dolphins put severe pressure on Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and sacked him four times (via CNN).
According to Las Vegas, this was one of the upsets of the decade. But the Dolphins outplayed the Ravens on the day and ran out 22-10. Jackson struggled to find his targets and couldn’t build any rhythm. Tagovailoa sealed his return with a touchdown that killed the game off as a contest. This ignited Miami’s season and proved that they were making progress. Tagovailoa kept his team in the playoff hunt.
3. Washington Football Team vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2021)
Tampa was reigning Super Bowl champions in 2021. They expected to make it back to the postseason with relative ease. Needless to say, the Bucs didn’t expect much resistance from Washington. The Football Team came into this game on a four-game skid. Their season was fading away before their eyes. It started badly after Ryan Fitzpatrick’s injury. This put backup QB Taylor Heinicke in the firing line (via USA Today Sports).
But he contrived to help Washington pull off one of the shocks of the decade. Tom Brady threw interceptions on back-to-back drives in the first quarter as Washington came out hot. They never allowed the Bucs to settle and duly won the contest. Unfortunately, they lost their defensive star Chase Young to injury. But at least they earned a rare win against a genuinely elite contender.
There was no reason to believe that the Jaguars stood a chance against the Bills in this game. Urban Meyer’s short tenure in charge of Jacksonville was a turgid mess. He took a college football approach to the pro game and it was a disaster. Meanwhile, the Bills were bonafide AFC contenders. However, the Jaguars defied a 14.5 spread to upset the odds (via Tipico Sportsbook).
This game was a living nightmare for Bills QB Josh Allen. The Jaguars intercepted twice, sacked him four times, and forced a key fumble. Meanwhile, Jags outside linebacker Josh Allen had an amazing game. No, that isn’t a typo. The pair had the same name but vastly different fortunes. In the end, the Jaguars won 9-6 in one of the biggest upsets of the last decade. It was the sixth-biggest since 1990.
1. New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons (2016)
The Patriots came into Super Bowl LI as favorites but still managed to achieve one of the upsets of the last decade. Atlanta dominated the first three-quarters of the game and took a 28-3 lead. It appeared as though New England blew their hopes of winning. Las Vegas oddsmakers gave the Falcons a 99.8% chance of victory at the end of the third quarter. But major drama ensued.
Dan Quinn’s shellshocked squad imploded and conceded 25 unanswered points. This sent the game to overtime and of course, the Patriots won. It was sensational for neutral fans to watch because of the intensity and the drama. Meanwhile, Tom Brady was stellar as he earned the MVP award (via Bleacher Report). Many quarterbacks win this prize but he deserved it for his efforts. Atlanta went into a downward spiral after this harrowing loss.