Unpopular Opinions  

 

Unpopular Opinions: Ranking sweetest NFL victories since 2010

Print

Listen, I don't try to live my life as a contrarian. That's not true -- I kind of do. I spend a lot of time in public houses and taverns, and I have a two-hour commute that allows me to hear a lot of the sports world's most popular opinions. Sometimes, I think it's best to take a look at the other side.

In this space, I articulate positions that are the opposite of what most people think -- unpopular opinions, if you will -- and explain why, well, my unpopular opinions are right and everyone else is wrong. Today, I'll tell you which five wins of this decade rank the highest on the sweetness scale.

The Chicago Bears are your NFC North champions, so decreed by the football gods, as if George S. Halas himself had reached his hand down to make it so. Although nothing delivered the message as emphatically as the backside of Khalil Mack. The Bears didn't just win the division on Sunday to end a seven-season playoff drought -- they did it against their hated rivals, the Green Bay Packers. It's a rivalry my colleague Andrew Siciliano called "the greatest in football" on "TNF First Look" last week (so I didn't have to). And the sight of Aaron Rodgers being sacked repeatedly and ultimately vanquished from playoff contention conjured up images from my favorite Christmas movie of all time -- "Die Hard" -- of Hans Gruber finally falling from the top of Nakatomi Plaza.

So, welcome to the playoffs, pals. And while I could spend another 900 words talking about what that Bears win meant to me, my family and really the greater good of football, I'm focusing this week on five of the sweetest victories since 2010. It would be easy to cite a bunch of marquee postseason games here, but that's not what this is. We're talking about games where intangible things were on the line, like revenge.

Here are my rankings, starting with a game played on a mid-November evening eight years ago.

5) Nov. 15, 2010: Michael Vick leads Eagles past Redskins

This was supposed to be a Donovan McNabb revenge game, or at least the sequel. McNabb signed a five-year, $78 million contract extension with Washington (with $40 million guaranteed) just hours before kickoff. This despite being benched a few weeks earlier. McNabb also said the Eagles had made a mistake by trading him to Washington before the season and talked a mean game after a previous win over the team with which he had spent the first 11 seasons of his NFL career. Tensions were high as the "Monday Night Football" cameras rolled. The two longtime NFC East rivals got into a pregame battle royal, because LaRon Landry was running his mouth to DeSean Jackson.

And then Michael Vick hit Jackson on an 88-yard bomb on the first play from scrimmage, and that was that. The Eagles cruised in a 59-28 laugher. Vick finished with 333 passing yards and four touchdown passes. He also rushed for 80 yards and a pair of scores. (And I don't mind telling you, I started Vick on my fantasy team that night.) McNabb, meanwhile, completed less than 55 percent of his passes and was picked off three times. He was traded to Minnesota ahead of the 2011 season, which proved to be his last in the NFL.

4) Jan. 8, 2012: Tim Tebow over the Steelers

Tebow remains one of the most polarizing players in sports today. The only thing is, the sport is now minor league baseball. Wait, that story is still a thing, right? (Yep.) At any rate, back in the 2011 season, Tebow sparked a groundswell of enthusiasm as the Broncos' quarterback. More like a Tebow Tsunami, actually. Despite the, uh, unconventional ways he was winning at the position (he went 7-4 as a, shall we say, run-oriented QB who racked up 660 rushing yards while throwing for 123.5 yards per game and generating a 72.9 passer rating), Tebow was beloved by (most) Broncos fans. But the media and even NFL players themselves had taken shots. Hell, I myself might have even penned an article or whatnot. The Broncos sort of limped into the playoffs with three consecutive losses, but despite being 8-8, played host to the 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers on Wild Card Weekend as the champions of the AFC West. Everybody expected the Steelers to roll through little Timmy on the way to a rematch with the Ravens. Even when the game went into overtime, few expected the Broncos to emerge victorious. And then Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas on a strike (to be fair, it really was a strike) on the first play from scrimmage and Thomas took it all the way home for the walk-off win.

I mean, the pandemonium in Denver was wild. Even front-office honcho John Elway, who had kind of watched over Tebow like the mean principal in every teen movie, couldn't contain himself in the aftermath. It was pretty great.

3) Oct. 2, 2016: Drew Brees over the Chargers

Man, the Chargers made such a good pair of decisions when they selected running back LaDainian Tomlinson (who is in the Hall of Fame) fifth overall and Brees (who will be) 32nd overall in the 2001 NFL Draft. Unfortunately for the Bolts, however, Brees' career started slowly (59.4 percent completion rate, 5,613 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, 31 interceptions and a 73.7 passer rating in his first three seasons), and the team ended up panic-picking quarterback Eli Manning in 2004 and trading him for Philip Rivers on the same day. Of course, Brees started to become, well, Brees, throwing for 51 touchdowns and compiling a 96.1 passer rating in the next two seasons. An apparent power struggle ensued between then-coach Marty Schottenheimer (who seemed to favor Brees) and then-general manager A.J. Smith (who seemed to like the rookie he landed in 2004). Things boiled to the top when Brees injured his labrum at the end of the 2005 season (with Marty choosing to stick with Brees over Rivers in a meaningless Week 17 contest), and the Chargers allowed Brees to hit free agency, with the QB ending up in New Orleans. While Rivers developed into a great player, Brees took his career to another level, reeling off 5,000-yard seasons and winning the Saints' first Super Bowl.

By the time of this 2016 clash, the Chargers and Saints had met twice previously, but this was Brees' first trip back to San Diego since the unpleasantness. And boy, did Brees deliver, rallying the Saints for a pair of scores in the final five minutes to cap a wild 35-34 victory. Brees said all of the right things in the moments after the game, but there is no doubt he enjoyed some sweet revenge.

2) Sept, 28, 2014: Steve Smith crushes his former team

I'm not 100 percent sure, but I don't think Smith agreed with the Panthers' decision to move on from him after the 2013 season. I mean, Smith did say that, if he ever faced his former team, it would be time to "put your goggles on, 'cause there's going to be blood and guts everywhere." Before you dismiss that as descriptive hyperbole from the charismatic future Hall of Famer, realize he was actually kind of underselling it. Because Smith, who ended up signing with the Ravens, went for 139 yards and a pair of touchdowns (including a 61-yard bomb) in his first game against his former team in 2014.

"That film was a coaching session. They're going to be coaching it. I'm 35 years old, and I ran around them boys like they were school-yard kids," Smith said afterward.

So, yes, I'm guessing he enjoyed that.

1) 2016: The Patriots over the world, post-Deflategate

In "Ocean's 11," heist bank-roller Reuben describes the tenaciousness of target Terry Benedict as such: "At the end of this, he'd BETTER not know you're involved, not know your names or think you're dead because he'll kill ya, and then he'll go to work on ya." And that's what the Patriots' 2016 season kind of felt like. Brady served his four-game suspension for Deflategate (don't get me started) and then returned in Week 5 to throw for 406 yards and three touchdowns. He would lose one more game the entire season. The Colts (who helped kick off the Deflategate saga) and Ravens (who denied doing so) didn't even make the playoffs that year, so Brady destroyed the Texans and Steelers instead. And then he rallied his team for the most improbable comeback in Super Bowl history. All the while, I was standing in the tunnel at NRG Stadium during Super Bowl LI and asking myself why I was rooting for the Patriots this whole time. Brady got his ultimate victory -- and looking back, it's kind of like what happened in the "Karate Kid," but only if Johnny had actually been able to sweep the leg.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @AdamRank.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop