If the Shoe Fits: the NFL’s Greatest Cinderella Stories (Hub)

In the course of NFL history, there have been very few true Cinderella teams. While Cinderella generally only applies to college basketball, some recent NFL teams have defied the odds to produce stellar playoff runs or unforgettable championship triumphs.

Especially in the salary cap area, the likelihood of a Cinderella team experiencing success in the NFL is rather slim. Very few teams have a large talent gap. In NFL history, there are very few gigantic mismatches over the course of a playoff run. In general, the higher seeds advance without much in the way of upsets. While upsets occur occasionally, the team completing the “upset“ is generally a very talented team in their own right.

While upsets are generally more common in other sports, the NFL has had its fair share of Cinderella runs in the playoffs. Over the course of the wildcard era, a handful of teams have tracked through three road games before winning the Super Bowl, representing the epitome of a Cinderella run at least in terms of NFL history. Despite this run, some wildcard teams are created more equal than others as some five and six seeded teams are better than the team they play in the first round of the playoffs.

Cinderella teams, as with other sports, have a general theme. Many teams carry a strong defense and a variety of playmakers on offense. Often times, the Cinderella team has a star on both sides of the ball, whether it be at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, or in the defensive backfield. With the star power involved, other players on the team can get into a rhythm and be effective as the stars produce loads of plays. Cinderella teams are often accompanied by a narrative surrounding either soon to be retired players or injured players who are not available. Bill Simmons, of ESPN and Grantland fame, coined the term “Patrick Ewing theory” to epitomize the abilities of teams after they lose their star player. This theory especially applies in the case of the 2017 Eagles and to a lesser extent the 2012 Baltimore Ravens.

While many teams on the list will be the Super Bowl champion in their year, a handful of teams were heavily bet against in their years, such as the 2010 Seahawks or 2011 Broncos. While those teams did not achieve the level of playoff success that other teams on the list had, they shocked the world for one round similar to the variety of 14-seed upsets in March Madness. Those teams never reach the second weekend of the tournament, but for one night they are the kings of the sport.

The following teams put on a show for the ages and far exceeded the expectations set out for them at the beginning of the playoffs.


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