Here are 11 NFL Wild Card teams who have made it to the Super Bowl… and 7 who have gone on to lift the Lombardi Trophy!
Teams battle hard for the Wild Card positions in the NFL playoffs. As we saw in the final Week of the 2023/2024 regular season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers, these battles are usually the highlights of the last week.
But once a team claims a wild card spot, the work has only started. These days, wild cards go on the road right away against a division champion. And they don’t play a home game at any time in the playoffs.
It makes for a hard road to the Super Bowl… but it does happen! In fact, 11 NFL wild card teams have made the Super Bowl, with seven of them taking home the Lombardi Trophy!
Here they are in chronological order.
1975 Dallas Cowboys – Lost in Super Bowl X
Key Players: QB Roger Staubach, WR Drew Pearson, DL Harvey Martin and Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones.
We’re kicking it off with one of the Wild Card teams that made it to the Super Bowl, but failed to win it.
In 1975, the NFL had three divisions per conference. Each division champion made the playoffs, obviously. But so did one wild card team per conference.
So the Cowboys didn’t have to win an extra game, but they did have to win twice on the road and did so. They upended the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams to qualify for Super Bowl X against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
(The Dallas/Minnesota game was one of the underrated contests in pro football history, with the winning touchdown from Staubach to Drew Pearson leading to the first use of the term ‘Hail Mary’ pass).
The Cowboys’ luck ran out at the Super Bowl in Miami, however, as two Steelers’ fourth-quarter touchdowns allowed the black and gold to win their second consecutive Super Bowl, 21-17.
1980 Oakland Raiders – Won Super Bowl XV
Key Players: QB Jim Plunkett (Super Bowl MVP), OL Art Shell, DL John Matuszak, DB Lester Hayes (Defensive Player of the Year).
By 1980, the NFL was including two wild cards per conference, and they played one another while the six division champions enjoyed a week off.
So when the 1980 Raiders topped the Houston Oilers in the AFC wild card game, their reward was a trip to Cleveland for a game played in 4-degree temperatures.
Oakland survived a 14-12 slugfest before returning (closer to) home in San Diego, outlasting the Chargers in a 34-27 shootout.
Two weeks later, Oakland became the first wild card team to win the Super Bowl when they dispatched the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10, at the New Orleans Superdome.
So if someone asks you who was the first wild card team to win the Super Bowl, then you know what to say. The Oakland Raiders.
1985 New England Patriots – Lost in Super Bowl XX
Key Players: RB Craig James, WRs Stanley Morgan and Irving Fryar, LB Andre Tippett
The Patriots’ Cinderella run went coast-to-coast before stopping suddenly in Super Bowl XX in New Orleans.
New England topped their AFC East rivals, the New York Jets, in the wild card game before travelling cross-country to upend the top-seeded Los Angeles Raiders 27-20 in the divisional round.
Then it was back East. Where the Patriots made it three in a row, crushing another AFC East foe in the Miami Dolphins 31-14 in the AFC Championship Game.
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That was the end of the fairy tale, however. The Chicago Bears crushed the Patriots 46-10 in the Super Bowl.
Maybe it was all the travel, but more likely it was the opponent. The Bears, who finished 18-1 that season, are widely recognized as one of the NFL’s greatest teams ever.
Similarly, if someone asks. The New England Patriots were the first NFL wild card to reach the Super Bowl but not win it.
1992 Buffalo Bills – Lost in Super Bowl XXVII
Key Players: QB Jim Kelly, RB Thurman Thomas, DE Bruce Smith.
The Buffalo Bills famously made four consecutive Super Bowls at the start of the 1990s. And infamously lost all four.
Their toughest journey to the big game came at the end of the 1992 season, after the Miami Dolphins edged the Bills for the AFC East title, forcing Buffalo to host Houston in a wild card game.
That game became one of the most famous in NFL history, as Buffalo rallied from a 35-3 halftime deficit to defeat the Oilers 41-38 in overtime. This was the biggest playoff comeback in NFL history.
Buffalo rode that momentum to Three Rivers Stadium, where they thrashed the Steelers 24-3 before getting revenge on Miami with a 29-10 victory in the AFC Championship.
But like New England seven years earlier, the good times ended at the Super Bowl. This time, the game was at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, but the result was similar as the Cowboys crushed Buffalo 52-17.
1997 Denver Broncos – Won Super Bowl XXXII
Key Players: QB John Elway, RB Terrell Davis (Super Bowl MVP), TE Shannon Sharpe, LB Bill Romanowski.
The 1997 Broncos might be the best wild card team and story of all time. With three Hall of Famers on offense, the team would ultimately win back-to-back Super Bowls.
After narrowly losing the AFC West to Kansas City, the Broncos started the playoffs with a thrashing of the Jaguars. This was payback after the Jags eliminated them the previous season. Then, they traveled to Kansas City to knocking out the Chiefs in a 14-10 nail biter.
They rode the momentum to the next week and outlasted the Steelers, 24-21 in the AFC Championship game.
Super Bowl XXXII saw the Broncos exorcise all kind of demons. Their thrilling 31-24 win over Green Bay was the franchise’s first championship in five tries at the Super Bowl.
It was also the AFC’s first Super Bowl victory in 13 years, ending the NFC dominance led by the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers, and Dallas Cowboys (all of whom won at least two titles in that span.)
The cherry on top? The Broncos made it back-to-back titles the next year, topping the Atlanta Falcons 34-19 in Super Bowl XXXIII.
1999 Tennessee Titans – Lost in Super Bowl XXXIV
Key Players: QB Steve McNair, RB Eddie George, DE Jevon Kearse (Defensive Rookie of the Year).
The highlight came in the wild card game, where the Titans successfully pulled off the Music City Miracle to beat Buffalo, 22-16. A lateral pass from Frank Wycheck to Kevin Dyson triggered arguably the most famous kick return in playoff history for the winning score.
Then the Titans simply outplayed the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars, surviving a late Colts comeback in the divisional round and outscoring the Jaguars 23-0 in the second half of the AFC Championship to advance to the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
But the “game of inches” that benefitted Tennessee against Buffalo would bite them in Super Bowl XXXIV against the St. Louis Rams. Dyson of all people was tackled one yard short of the tying touchdown as time expired. The Rams – barely – had their first championship by a score of 23-16.
2000 Baltimore Ravens – Won Super Bowl XXXV
Key Players: LB Ray Lewis (Super Bowl MVP), RB Jamal Lewis, OL Jonathan Ogden, TE Shannon Sharpe.
In a word – domination. The Ravens allowed only 23 total points and a single opposing offensive touchdown in crushing all challengers on the way to their first Super Bowl win.
The Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans, and Oakland Raiders never stood a chance as the Ravens won the three playoff games by an average of 16 points per game.
In the Super Bowl, the New York Giants’ offense couldn’t do a thing against one of the NFL’s greatest defenses. Their only points came on a kick return touchdown – as Baltimore claimed its first title, 34-7.
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The defensive numbers were gaudy, but perhaps this one is most impressive. Through the four playoff games, the Ravens’ defense and special teams put up more points on their own touchdowns (24) than their four postseason opponents combined (23).
2005 Pittsburgh Steelers – Won Super Bowl XL
Key Players: QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Jerome Bettis, WR Hines Ward (Super Bowl MVP).
Here we go. Another wild card team that went on to win the Super Bowl.
The workmanlike Steelers took out the Cincinnati Bengals, who’d topped them in the AFC North division during the regular season – before eliminating Peyton Manning and the Super Bowl favorite Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round.
The AFC Championship game was a mismatch against the Denver Broncos, with the Steelers winning 34-17 to advance to Super Bowl XL.
Playing the game in Detroit meant franchise running back Jerome “The Bus” Bettis would have a chance to close his storied career with a Super Bowl win in his hometown. The Steelers’ defense made sure Bettis’ dream came true, putting the brakes on Seattle Seahawks MVP running back Shaun Alexander and propelling Pittsburgh to its fifth Super Bowl by a final of 21-10.
2007 New York Giants – Won Super Bowl XLII
Key Players: QB Eli Manning (Super Bowl MVP), RB Brandon Jacobs, WR Plaxico Burress, DE Michael Strahan.
Before the Giants could win one of the most famous Super Bowls ever played, they had to travel to Tampa Bay and Dallas to dispatch the Buccaneers and Cowboys. They did so behind a relentless defensive pass rush and a balanced offense.
Just a year after the retirement of star running back Tiki Barber, Brandon Jacobs emerged as a bell cow for the Giants in the early rounds. The team won low-scoring struggles before prevailing over the Packers in the NFC Championship, 23-20 in overtime. The game, played in -20 degree wind chills, was Brett Favre’s final contest with the Cheeseheads.
Of course, it all led to Super Bowl XLII, where New York met the 18-0 Patriots. The Patriots were seeking to become the NFL’s first undefeated team in 35 years.
But the Giants confounded Tom Brady just as they had Favre and Tony Romo, generating five QB sacks and setting the stage for Eli Manning and David Tyree to connect on ‘The Helmet Catch’ – possibly the single best-known play in Super Bowl history.
A couple plays later, Plaxico Burress caught the winning touchdown pass, and the Giants prevented new England from making history.
2010 Green Bay Packers – Won Super Bowl XLV
Key Players: QB Aaron Rodgers (Super Bowl MVP), WR Jordy Nelson, DBs Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams.
When the Packers became the third wild card team in six years to win a Super Bowl, there was some discussion that the extra game was beneficial to teams as opposed to a bye week.
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The theory was that the bye disturbed a team’s momentum while the wild card game allows a team to build that needed morale and cohesion.
But more likely, Green Bay was just underrated. Future Hall of Famer Rodgers came into his own, while Woodson and Williams shut down prolific passing attacks for the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons early in the playoffs, before Chicago QB Jay Cutler left the NFC title game with an injury.
In the Super Bowl, Green Bay encountered the Steelers – who’d won it all as wild cards just five years earlier. But Rodgers threw for 304 yards and three scores, while the Packers forced two Ben Roethlisberger interceptions in a 31-25 victory.
2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Won Super Bowl LV
Who was the most recent NFL wild card team to win the Super Bowl? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It took 10 years for another wild card to make the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady’s 20-year run in New England ended after the 2019 season, with the quarterback landing in Tampa Bay and immediately taking the Bucs to his usual perch atop the NFL.
The Bucs went to Washington for a first-round win before Brady outdueled fellow future Hall of Famers Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in the divisional round and NFC Championship.
In the Super Bowl, he added Patrick Mahomes to his list of victims. Brady connected with old New England buddy Rob Gronkowski for two touchdown passes, as the Buccaneers dominated in a 31-9 victory that ended the Chiefs’ quest for back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
Wild Cards with a Chance at Super Bowl 58
Here are the current Super Bowl 58 odds at FanDuel Sportsbook. Highlighted are the wild card teams that could still make it to the big game at State Farm Stadium.
|TO WIN SUPER BOWL LVIII
|WANT TO BET?
|San Francisco 49ers
|Kansas City Chiefs
|Los Angeles Rams
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers
|Green Bay Packers