It’s safe to say that Monday morning wasn’t the cheeriest in the state of Minnesota’s history. Locals drudged into work while simultaneously enduring a wind chill that approached -10, a playoff victory by their bitter rivals from Green Bay, and an “aorta-smasher” (in the words of one local announcer) of a playoff loss by their hometown Vikings. Things weren’t much rosier by the Ohio River, where Cincinnatians were recovering from a mind-boggling Wild Card loss of their own—to the hated Steelers, no less.
If misery does indeed love company, Vikings and Bengals fans can take solace in the other’s demise – and daydream of a hypothetical Pac Man Jones-for-Blair Walsh offseason trade – but the support group doesn’t end there. In the moment, their teams’ last minute collapses might have seemed unimaginable and unprecedented, but in reality they were just the latest members of a growing group of teams that have found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of postseason victory.
Since the 2010-11 NFL season (and including this past weekend), there have been 59 playoff games. In 12 of them – over a fifth – the eventual losing team had at least an 84% chance of winning at some point in the fourth quarter or overtime. Statistically speaking, we would’ve expected just 9 teams with such a late advantage to blow the game. Here’s the complete list (apologies for the tragic flashbacks ahead of time; this season’s games highlighted):
It’s incredible how many “once-in-a-generation” collapses have occurred in just the last 5-plus postseasons, a timespan that doesn’t even include the first Giants-Patriots Super Bowl in ’07-08 (aka the Helmet Catch Game) or the Saints-Vikings NFC Title Game in ’09-10 (aka the Brett Favre Being Brett Favre Interception Game…sorry again, Vikings fans). Subjectivity can and should move some of those games around — starting with Sunday’s Vikings game, which most can agree was way more devastating than 12th – but there’s no doubting that every single one of them was an ultimate stomach-puncher for the losers.
Many scribes were undoubtedly penning “most painful loss in history” articles after each of these games, which speaks to three points at once: those writers’ hyperbole, NFL teams’ ability to blow playoff games, and the public’s myopia. Every one of the individuals mentioned on the Goats list may still cause local fans to cringe, but it is hard for us to fathom the entire suite of tear-inducing losses until we view it in one list. Epic playoff collapses are the norm, not the exception.
Seahawks fans are riding high now, but the scene was very different around Puget Sound last February. In fact, fans of six other teams have experienced both sides of the emotional spectrum in the recent past:
The ‘Hawks share the Defibrillator Alert Award with Super Bowl XLIX opponent New England for the most combined comebacks and collapses, while Super Bowl XLVIII opponent Denver edged them out for the largest spread between improbable victory and defeat.
Taken together, these seven Jekyll and Hyde teams beg the question: would you rather have your team be on both sides of playoff mayhem, or neither? Behavioral science tells us that losses are more painful than equally strong gains are pleasurable, but it also tells us that we place unnecessarily strong weights on more recent events. After last year’s miracle win, Patriots fans are more likely to shrug off two previous Super Bowl losses that were, at the time, life-scarring. With three more wins this postseason, Seahawks fans will probably do the same. And Vikings and Bengals fans: there’s always next year.
Martin Kleinbard is a fan of the Yankees, Nets, Islanders, and Raiders. He looks forward to telling his grandkids about the last time the Raiders had a winning record. Martin is also co-founder of The Bandwagn, a newsletter/website that allows non-sports diehards the chance to join the sports conversation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All win probabilities and other statistics come from Pro-Football-Reference.com.