By Mike Beacom
The Broncos (plus-9) don't stand a chance this weekend — not against a Steelers defense ranked No. 1 in yards and points allowed. Same goes for Detroit, an 11-point underdog to a New Orleans team many believe will eventually knock off Green Bay in the NFC.
Neither team has a prayer in the wild-card round ... or so that's what everyone is saying.
If recent history has taught us anything, however, it's that the same rules that apply to the regular season ("on any given Sunday...") hold up in the postseason. Over the past decade, home teams have won just 55 percent (22-of-40) of wild-card games. And in the last four years, home teams have actually lost more than they have won. No team is safe.
Here is a look at some of the more shocking wild-card games from the past 10 years.
Saints at Seahawks (2010 season)
Pete Carroll took no offense when people called his 7-9 club the worst team ever to gain entrance to the playoffs. After all, in some ways it was true. However, when Seattle welcomed the defending Super Bowl champion Saints to town on Jan. 8, records instantly became irrelevant. Matt Hasselbeck threw for four touchdowns in the 41-36 upset, but it was Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard score that will live on in highlight reels forever. The run put New Orleans away for good, and signified the Seahawks' determination to prove they belonged in the postseason. Said Carroll of the win, "It came out of an attitude and it came out of a faith in one another."
Colts at Chargers (2008)
Indianapolis was cheated out of a first-round bye because its 12-4 record wasn't good enough to win the AFC South (Tennessee was 13-3). No matter. With NFL MVP Peyton Manning behind center, the Colts were considered a lock to breeze past the 8-8 Chargers (add the fact that LaDainian Tomlinson was dealing with a nagging groin injury). Same as the Saints-Seahawks contest, however, funny things can happen when a "better" team is forced to play on the home turf of its under-matched foe. The AFC West champion Chargers rode the back of Darren Sproles (150 yards from scrimmage) to a 23-17 overtime win.
Vikings at Packers (2004)
The Packers were heavily favored in this contest because they had beaten Minnesota twice in the regular season — both games by a score of 34-31 — and because the 8-8 Vikings had won just two of their last 22 games outside of domes. But Minnesota got off to a hot start, scoring 17 unanswered points in the game's first nine minutes. Randy Moss' 34-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter proved to be the clincher; afterward, Moss pretended to moon the Lambeau crowd. "Just having a little fun with the boys a little bit," he told reporters. For Packers fans, there was nothing fun about the 31-17 loss.
Colts at N.Y. Jets (2002)
In mid-October, the Jets didn't have the makings of a playoff-caliber team. They had lost four straight — three by 25 or more points. New York's strong finish helped Herm Edwards' club sneak into January action to face a Colts team that had won six of its last eight games on the strength of Manning's arm. But Manning struggled against New York — 14-of-31 passing with two interceptions. The 41-0 Jets victory was the most lopsided shutout in the postseason in more than a half century.
Falcons at Packers (2002)
All Atlanta heard in the week leading up to its Jan. 4 meeting with Green Bay was that the Packers had never lost a playoff game at Lambeau, and that Brett Favre had won 35 straight home games in which the temperature was 34 degrees or less. "That's what we were talking about all week, the winning streak in the playoffs. It had to come to an end," QB Michael Vick said after his Falcons beat up on the Packers, 27-7. Vick played masterfully in the lightly-falling snow, passing for 117 yards and rushing for 64 more. Injuries to key Packer weapons Ahman Green, Terry Glenn and Donald Driver didn't help Green Bay's cause, but it's doubtful any supporting cast could have helped Favre out-perform Vick on this night.
Mike Beacom is a pro and college football writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online sources. He is also the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Football (Alpha, 2010). Follow him on twitter @mbeac