The one thing we know to be true about the NFL, the one the prevailing axiom that we’re constantly reminded of, is that on any given Sunday, anything can happen. And it does. And that’s why the league is so unpredictable, sometimes frustratingly so, yet so entertaining and full of hope.
It’s one of the few everlasting truths in a league that prides itself on parity and quick turnarounds, and every season it’s evident, including this one. It leads to an offseason of ‘what ifs’ and ‘what the’s’, as every once in a while the best will fail to show up, the worst will step up, and the incomprehensible will happen.
Now, when reflecting on some of the stranger outcomes from the season, often upsets make sense. Rarely do we get a winless team, and virtually never do we get an undefeated one. We're also not talking about underdogs beating division rivals, because teams that play each other twice a season, year in and year out, tend to play each other closely. We are also not addressing Thursday Night games, which continue to confound analysts and fans because they’re not necessarily blow outs or sloppy, but they are just hardly representative; it’s asking a lot for teams to play hard five days later.
Instead, we are looking at games that boggle the mind, that when played ten times, the favourite should win at least nine. Games where the loser will look back with regret, knowing a loss altered a season for the worst and that they were much better and simply gave one away. Games where it still doesn’t make sense how one team prevailed and even though they did, you still feel good betting against them.
Here they are: the ten most inexplicable games from the 2014 season – with one key divisional match.
10 Jacksonville Jaguars 25, New York Giants 24 - Week 13
The Giants aren’t really a bad team, they’re just average and looked poor in the first half of the year, like last season. But they lost to Arizona, Seattle, Detroit, Dallas twice, and Indy – that’s six games against playoff teams (and two more losses against a decent Philly club). Having dropped six straight, they were in line to get back into the win column against the 1-10 Jaguars. Sure they were on the road, but it’s not like the Jaguars boast a powerful 12th man. The Giants tried to lose this game so many times – and finally did. Putting up a 21-0 lead in the second quarter, they promptly gave up three TDs in the second half, including a fumble return for a TD. But the Jaguars didn’t want to win either, and a pair of failed (and poorly chosen) two-point conversions had them down 24-22 late. Rookie Blake Bortles marched down late to set up the game-winning field goal. It was the third straight week the G-men lost by less than a touchdown before finally winning three straight.
9 Cincinnati Bengals 37 , Carolina Panthers 37 - Week 6
This game was weird in a lot of ways, the first of which was that it ended in a tie (which we know is a cop-out, but it was still an inexplicable game). It was only the third tie game since 2008, the fifth since 1997, and the seventh since 1989; so they are rare. What’s more, Mike Nugent missed an easy field goal with time expiring in OT to avoid the draw. But wait, the Bengals were leading in overtime and couldn’t hold onto the lead after kicking a field goal on their first possession. There were more aberrations. After rushing for 42 yards in the first four games, Newton broke out for 107. Andy Dalton threw for a season-high 323 yards. Granted they played five quarters, but it would be the most points Cincy scored in a game all year, and the second highest for the Panthers. And yet, neither team could pull out a win.
8 New Orleans Saints 44, Green Bay Packers 23 - Week 8
Keeping with the bizarre NFC South, before the Saints lost five straight at home, and before the Packers would win the NFC North with a 12-4 record, New Orleans would somehow crush Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay 44-23. The Packers won four straight coming in and would win their next five; the Saints would not win again in New Orleans on their way to a 7-9 record. Despite throwing for 418 yards, Rodgers threw two picks, the Packers ran Eddie Lacy just 13 times, and the Saints surged in the second half with three unanswered TDs to break a 16-16 tie. The other Packers losses at Seattle to open the year, at Detroit, and even at Buffalo make sense (all great defenses), but against one of the worst secondaries, somehow Green Bad collapsed.
7 Kansas City Chiefs 41, New England Patriots 14 – Week 4
Yes, Rob Gronkowski was still hurting, and yes the Patriots offensive line was still trying to figure things out, but to get lambasted like they did on primetime, losing at Kansas City 44-14, is still stunning. This was such a bad loss, with the Pats D giving up 199 yards to Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, as well as three TDS to Alex Smith, that there were some that called for Tom Brady’s benching. What makes this more confounding is that the Patriots would follow this up with a 43-17 rout of Cincy, the first of seven straight victories, scoring at least 27 points in each of those games, on their way to a number one seed in the AFC. The Chiefs would not make the playoffs.
6 St. Louis Rams 22, Denver Broncos 7 - Week 11
The high-flying offense of the Broncos was completely stymied in their trip to St. Louis, scoring seven points against a team that previously allowed 17 to Tampa, 34 to Minnesota, and 34 to Kansas City. Just the week before they let up 31 points to Carson Palmer/Drew Stanton and the Cardinals. So of course the team that hadn’t scored fewer than 20 points in a game, the team that was averaging 35 points the last six weeks, would have just one touchdown and lose to Shaun Hill and Tre Mason (who first played in Week 6), two players who weren’t the first or second on the depth chart to start the season. I suppose we can talk about Manning being hurt, or Jeff Fischer being a great coach, but this game wasn’t close and the Broncos looked awfully losing.
5 Miami Dolphins 37, San Diego Chargers 0 - Week 9
Yes, the Dolphins were at home, but no one would have predicted such a dominatpassyin performance by Miami against a decent 5-3 Chargers team. The Dolphins had won two straight, but that was against Jacksonville and Chicago, while San Diego had been beat up by Kansas City and Denver after winning five straight. The Chargers would finish the year fourth in passing yards allowed, but gave up 288 and 3 TDs to Ryan Tannehill. Rivers had his worst game of the year; one of two games he would not throw a TD and one of two games he threw three picks. San Diego would miss the playoffs by just one victory, and maybe they weren’t going to win across the country, but not showing up for an important game is absurd.
4 Dallas Cowboys 17, Washington Redskins 20 - Week 8
As mentioned above, divisional opponents tend to play each other closely, so it’s not always that big of a surprise when the underdog wins, but this one is special. Monday night in Big D, and the surging Cowboys are hosting the anemic Washington football team with their third string quarterback starting whose career record was 6-15. Washington came in with two wins on the year (home victories over Tennessee and Jacksonville), while Dallas had won six straight, including a victory at Seattle. Tony Romo didn’t throw a pick, Murray ran for 141 yards, and when Romo got knocked out, Brandon Weeden led a game-tying fourth quarter touchdown drive. So the Cowboys lost in overtime, and with it they missed a chance at the first seed in the NFC, home field advantage, and maybe to still be in the playoffs now.
3 Oakland Raiders 24, San Francisco 49ers 13 - Week 14
Bay Area rivals did battle in Week 14 with the Raiders starring at a top draft pick and the 49ers in need of a win to keep pace in the competitive NFC West. It’s not like it was that much of a road game, and with all the motivation on the side of the Niners to play well, they let rookie David Carr lead Oakland with three TDs to a 24-13 victory that was never really close. It was a week after the Raiders got destroyed by St. Louis 52-0, and two week after they squeaked out their only win so far on a strange Thursday Night home game against Kansas City. While the Niners offense wasn’t dominating, the defense had been playing well, but two picks by Colin Kaepernick, five sacks allowed, and an abandonment of an effective running game doomed San Fran, effectively knocking them out of the playoffs.
2 Tennessee Titans 26, Kansas City Chiefs 10 – Week 1
The Chiefs were one win out of the playoffs, and well, here it is. Half of the victories the Titans had this year came Week 1 en route to a 2-14 record. Jake Locker (remember him?) led the Titans to a 26-10 victory with a pair of first half TD passes. Shonn Greene was the best rusher of the day, running for 71 yards on 15 carries while Jamaal Charles, for reasons unknown, only carried the ball seven times for 19 yards; and that’s after carrying the ball on the first three offensive plays for the Chiefs. Kansas City would regain their composure; injuries and general ineffectiveness would devastate the Titans the rest of the year. This one hurt the Chiefs.
1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 24 – Week 4
On their way to the first pick in the 2015 draft, the Buccaneers went on a Week Four tangent where they would win on the road against the future AFC North champions at the inhospitabale Heinz Field. Putting up 37 points the week prior at Carolina, the 2-1 Steelers seemed in line to convincingly beat an 0-3 Bucs team that gave up 56 points the week before to Atlanta (albeit on Thursday night). Well, the Bucs went up 10-0 early, and came back late, scoring a tying touchdown in the third before Mike Glennon threw a pass to Vincent Jackson with seven seconds left to stun Pittsburgh at home. Doug Martin would score one of his two TDs on the season here, it was one of Glennon’s six starts, and Le’Veon Bell only had 63 yards. That’s the NFL for you.