Jaguars Are NFL’s Most Improbable Final Four Team Since 2001
Blake Bortles is one win away from playing in the Super Bowl. Let that sink in for a second. Well, we did … and then we immediately thought: When was the last time something this crazy happened?
Before Sunday, the biggest preseason long shot since 2001 to play in the Conference Championship games had 80-1 Super Bowl odds. The Jags started the season at 100-1.
Here’s a closer look at the six most improbable teams to play on Championship Sunday since 2001.
1. 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars (100-1)
Why The Longshot? Last year’s Jaguars went 3-13 straight-up, becoming the second team since the 1970 merger to reach Championship Sunday the season after winning three games or less, joining the 2006 Saints (Elias Sports Bureau). The Saints were just 50-to-1 to win it all after their three-win campaign.
The Journey: Through six games, the Jaguars were just 3-3 SU, including two home losses and most people holding futures were chopping wood for the fireplace. Jacksonville then won seven of eight, finished with 10-plus wins and made the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
T-2. 2016 Atlanta Falcons (80-1)
Why The Longshot? Falcons ended the 2015 season 8-8 SU, but it sure didn’t start that way. Atlanta won their first 5 games of the year before finishing 3-8 down the stretch, including 1-4 at home.
The Journey: In Dan Quinn’s second season in Atlanta, the Falcons won 11 games and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Atlanta flew by Seattle and Green Bay by more than two touchdowns in both games before making their first Super Bowl since 1998.
How It Ended: 28-3.
T-2. 2008 Baltimore Ravens (80-1)
Why The Longshot? The 2007 Ravens went 5-11 SU and flip-flopped QBs all season between Steve McNair, Kyle Boller and Troy Smith. Baltimore lost nine of their last 10 to end the year.
The Journey: Under new coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens won 11 games and cruised in the Wild-Card round against Miami. Baltimore beat the Titans 13-10 on the road in the Round 2 behind a game-winning field goal from Matt Stover after Joe Flacco orchestrated a nine-play drive to win the game.
How It Ended: Ravens lost in the Conference Championship to the Steelers 23-14 after Flacco threw a pick-six to Troy Polamalu down two with under five minutes left in the game that sent Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl.
T-4. 2015 Carolina Panthers (60-1)
Why The Longshot? The 2014 Panthers lost in the Divisional round of the playoffs after winning the NFC South with a 7-8-1 SU record and beating the Cardinals in the Wild Card. Carolina was 30-1 to win the Super Bowl all summer leading into 2015 … and then Kelvin Benjamin went down.
The Journey: With no top WR, everybody counted Cam and the Panthers out in 2015. Carolina sure proved them wrong, winning 15 games, the most in franchise history.
How It Ended: Behind a strip-sack by Von Miller in the first quarter, the Broncos defense sacked Cam Newton six times in the Super Bowl and helped cash the 9-to-1 Denver future ticket, instead of the Kelvin Benjamin-redemption ticket every Carolina fan dreamed about.
T-4. 2003 Carolina Panthers (60-1)
Why The Longshot? Twelve years earlier, the Panthers were in the same spot. In John Fox’s first season in Carolina (2002), the Panthers went 7-9 after starting the season 3-0 and winning just one game the season prior in 2001. Fox mainly used QB Rodney Peete during the 2002 season; he finished the year 7-7 SU.
The Journey: In Week 1 of 2003, the Panthers were at home against the Jaguars, facing a 14-0 deficit at the end of the first half. Fox decided to pull starter Rodney Peete and throw in Jake Delhomme, who had started two games in his career prior. Delhomme beat Jacksonville behind a game-winning touchdown pass to Ricky Prohl. He and the Panthers made the playoffs and won 10-plus games for the second time in franchise history.
How It Ended: On the foot of Vinatieri…
T-4. 2001 New England (60-1)
Why The Longshot? The 1999 New England Patriots missed the playoffs for the first time in three seasons under Pete Carroll and following the season finale, fired him before moving into the offseason. In 2000, they hired some guy name Bill Belichick, who won just 5 games that season with Drew Bledsoe before drafting a QB in the sixth-round from Michigan in the 2000 NFL Draft.
The Journey: From Mo Lewis to “The Tuck Rule,” the Patriots finished the season 9-0 SU and 7-1-1 ATS enroute to their third Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
How It Ended: On the foot of Vinatieri…
Photo via Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports