Sleepless About Seattle: The 12 Worst Survivor Pool Upsets of the Past Seven Seasons
This Sunday at 4:25 p.m., more than 50% of the millions of remaining suicide pool participants will recline comfortably on their couches to watch the 19.5-point favorite Seahawks decimate the lowly, overmatched Jaguars. They will do so confident in this presumed outcome—in Yahoo! Survivor pools, 57.2% of entries are currently locked on the Seahawks; on ESPN, 50.5% have them. As our own Michael Beller wrote, "No game carries a 100% guarantee, but this is as close as it gets."
That said, this is still the NFL, the league of close contests. Often heavy favorites don't cover the spread; sometimes, they even lose—and when they do, they bring large portions of survivor pools down with them. I took a look back at the game with the biggest spread* for each week dating back to the 2006-2007 season and found 20 cases where the stronger team crashed and burned. Using a 13-point spread as our cutoff**, there are 12 instances where teams favored by at least a touchdown-and-two-field-goals were felled. There's a good chance you were eliminated from a pool by at least one of them. I know I was. Let's relive those moments together.
*There's a bit of variance on lines, depending where you look. Ironically, I culled historical spread data from the website FootballLOCKS.com.
**What better dividing line for a story about misfortune?
Bears -13.5 vs. Dolphins (Week 9): The Rexplosion
Result: The Dolphins (1-6 entering) blindsided the then-undefeated Bears (7-0) at Solider Field by a 31-13 margin.
What happened: Turnovers. A lot of them. Bears QB Rex Grossman faced as much , as were the Dolphins in the week leading up to the game owing to their dreadful performance thus far that season. The Fins surged to a 14-3 lead on a Jason Taylor pick-6. Later Taylor would strip-sack Grossman (see the GIF above); in all the Bears QB was responsible for four turnovers. Wideout Justin Gage and punt returner Devin Hester each butterfingered a ball, as well, for a total of six giveaways by the Bears.
Notable stats: Dolphins didn't need (or get) much from QB Joey Harrington thanks to Ronnie Brown's 157 yard rushing performance. Not only did the Bears fail to outscore the Dolphins, but they didn't even outscore the spread—an indignity suffered by four other teams below.
Eagles -13 vs. Titans (Week 11): Down Goes McNabb
Result: The 2-7 Titans thumped the 5-4 Eagles 5-4, 31-13.
What happened: Donovan McNabb went down with a season-ending ACL tear on the second play of the second quarter on a freak play when he ran out of bounds. The Eagles trailed 7-3 when backup Jeff Garcia took over. He ended up completing 26/48 passes, but for only 189 yards. Tennessee's Adam Jones (still Pacman at the time) added a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third to stretch the lead to 24-6.
Notable stats: Titans QB Vince Young completed only 8 of 22 passes for 101 yards, though he added 49 yards rushing. Like 15 of the other biggest-spread upsets, this one occurred on the favorite's home field.
Cowboys -13.5 vs. Lions (Week 17): Cowboys Limp Into Playoffs
Result: The lowly Lions (2-13) decided to show up and beat the playoff-bound Cowboys (9-6) in a 39-31 shootout.
What happened: The Bill Parcells-led Cowboys were coming off a 23-7 home loss to the NFC East Champion Eagles, but had already clinched a Wild Card berth. Lack of focus, motivation? Dallas lost three fumbles (Tony Romo two, Terence Newman one) and the Lions took advantage behind Jon Kitna, who completed 28 of 42 for 306 yards and four scores. The Cowboys' swoon reinvigorated the "is it smart to rest our guys in week 17?" debate, particularly after the 'Boys fell to the Seahawks 20-19 in the following week's NFL Wild Card round, in a game that ended on the infamous Romo botched hold.
Notable note: It's not uncommon for large survivor pools to extend to the end of the regular season, which is by nature dangerous territory. For anyone who had "saved" the mediocre Cowboys to this point, I hope you hedged on the Lions money line.
Eagles -14.5 at Raiders (Week 6): Sure, You Guys Can Win
Result: The 3-1 Eagles were favored by 14.5. They lost to 1-4 Oakland 13-9.
What happened: "I'm embarrassed by the way we came out here and played," McNabb said after the game. "We're a much better football team." The Raiders brought plenty of pressure on zone blitzes, racking up six sacks. The Eagles ran only four running plays in the second half, and the Raiders did just enough to hold on 'til the end.
Notable stats: Oakland TE Zach Miller took a JaMarcus Russell(!) pass 86 yards to the house for the only touchdown of the afternoon. The Raiders had lost each of their previous three games by 20 points or more, most recently a 44-7 whooping by the Giants, after which New York linebacker Antonio Pierce said it felt like they were playing a scrimmage.
Steelers -15 vs. Raiders (Week 13): Bruce Gradkowski Blows Up In 4th Quarter
Result: The Raiders (3-8) stunned the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers (6-5) 27-24 on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Gradkowski to Louis Murphy with nine seconds remaining.
What happened: The stars aligned. Troy Polamalu was sidelined with a knee injury and Roethlisberger had sat out the previous game with concussion. The Steelers nevertheless took a 10-6 lead into the fourth quarter when the Brucenado struck Heinz Field: The lead changed five times in the last frame as Gradsowski tossed three touchdowns in nine minutes, culminating with the Murphy score (video above).
Notable stats: Raiders QBs (including JaMarcus Russell and Charlie Frye) had thrown five total touchdowns through their previous 11 games that season. At the same time, the Steelers were waving red flags along with Terrible Towels—Pittsburgh had lost its three preceding games.
Broncos -14 vs. Raiders (Week 15): Michael Bush and McFadden Tear Up Mile High
Result: Two weeks prior, Oakland had upset the Steelers (above). The Raiders followed that up by getting smoked at home by the Redskins, 34-13. Then they came to Denver and shocked the 8-5 Broncos 20-19 thanks to a JaMarcus Russell(!) 10-yard touchdown pass to Chaz Schiliens with 35 seconds left in the game.
What happened: Russell came through late, but the story of the game was Oakland's dominant ground attack. Michael Bush ran for 133 yards and McFadden added another 74. Starting Raiders QB Charlie Frye started the game and scrambled once for 27 yards of his own, but he was forced out of the game after getting drilled by Broncos linebacker Andra Davis.
Notable stats: All three Raiders QBs suited up and played: When Russell got knocked out for a play during the game-winning drive, J.P. Losman took one snap—an incomplete pass to Louis Murphy.
Chargers -13 vs. Raiders (Week 13): The Run, Abandoned
Result: If only Oakland could be a 13-point+ dog on the road every week. The Raiders (5-6) defeated the Chargers (6-5) to the tune of 28-13.
What happened: Bush and McFadden once again dominated on the ground for a combined 192 yards. Oakland took a 21-3 lead into the half and didn't look back. Contrasting starkly with the Raiders' ground attack, the Chargers handed off just seven times in the entire game, all to Mike Tolbert, who picked up a total of 17 yards. Only one of those carries came in the second half, and yielded five yards.
Notable stats: The Raiders possessed the ball for 38:39. Chargers QB Phillip Rivers went 23/39 and put up 280 yards for San Diego, which had won four in a row coming into the game.
Eagles -14 vs. Vikings (Week 16): No Day Like Tuesday
Result: Oh, hey again, Eagles. The Vikings (5-9) triumphed 24-14 over the birds (10-4) after a sleepy first half in Philadelphia.
What happened: A blizzard in Philadelphia led to the first NFL game on a Tuesday since 1946. Vikings QB Brett Favre had been knocked out with a concussion the previous week in a "home" game that was actually held at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium due to the collapse of the Metrodome's roof. That meant Vikings back-up Joe Webb got the start. He received some help from the defense when cornerback Antoine Winfield sacked Michael Vick, forced a fumble, and took it 45 yards to the bank, tying the game 7-7. Webb was effective (17/26 for 195 yards) and Adrian Peterson carried 22 times for 118 yards, ultimately sealing it with a late touchdown in a decisive victory that locked the Eagles into the NFC's No. 3 seed.
Notable quote: "We don't deserve it after that performance," Eagles coach Andy Reid said after the game. "Every phase was terrible. We didn't coach well enough. We didn't play well enough. I'm disappointed in myself. It's embarrassing."
Saints -13.5 at Rams (Week 8): Rams Get Off The Shneid
Result: The Saints (5-2) marched into St. Louis and were outlasted 31-21 by the 0-6 Rams.
What happened: The determined Rams raced to a 17-0 halftime lead on the back of Steven Jackson, who tallied 69 yards and 2 TDs before the break. After St. Louis extended the lead to 24-0 in the third, the Saints pulled within 10—but the Rams iced it when Brees passed to the wrong team, resulting in a 27-yard pick-6 by Rams safety Darian Stewart.
Notable stats: Neither Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, nor Darren Sproles could break the Rams defense, combining for only 57 yards.
Eagles -13 vs. Cardinals (Week 10): The Larry Fitzgerald Show
Result: Once again the snakebitten Eagles fell at home, this time 21-17 to the Cardinals. Both squads held 3-5 records entering.
What happened: Did Philly really deserve to be a 13-point favorite? Well, if the betting public says so. The Eagles got off to a promising start with an Asante Samuel pick-6 in the second quarter, but then Cards QB John Skelton, starting for injured Kevin Kolb, found Fitzgerald for a 10 yard touchdown to tie it 7-7. In the fourth quarter he connected yet again with Fitzgerald, who had 7 receptions for 146 on the day. That knotted the score at 14. Skelton's third passing TD was a game-winning 5-yard completion to Early Doucet with 1:53 left on the clock.
Notable stats: The Eagles benched wideout DeSean Jackson for missing a team meeting that week. Eagles QB Michael VIck completed 16 of 34 passes for only 128 yards and two picks against a Cards passing defense that had allowed an average of 231 that year. We know the Sports Guy, for one, wasn't happy with the effort.
Patriots -13.5 vs. Cardinals (Week 2): Sh*t Happens
Result: In the survivor pool apocalypse of 2012, the undefeated 1-0 Cardinals stunned the 1-0 Patriots.
Here's what happened:
There you have it.
New England had a chance to tie it after scoring a touchdown with a little over 2 minutes remaining, but Tom Brady couldn't connect with TE Rob Gronkowski on the two-point conversion. That left them down 20-18. In a final surge, the Patriots had a 30-yard Danny Woodhead touchdown run nullified by a Gronk holding penalty. Then, with 5 seconds remaining, poor Stephen Gotskowski shanked a 42 yard field goal attempt that would have won the game. Ouch.
Notable stats: ProFootballWeekly noted that it was the first time the Patriots lost a home opener since 2001.
49ers -13.5 vs. Rams (Week 10): A Tie Is a Loss
Result: The 6-2 49ers and the 3-5 Rams played a full 75 minutes to a 24-24 tie (the first NFL tie in four years), which is as good as a loss in most survivor pools.
What happened: The 49ers trailed the Rams 14-7 in the second quarter when Niners QB Colin Kaepernick entered the game for Alex Smith, who left with a concussion (the rest, as they say …). There was a lot of yellow fabric on the field in a game that produced 20 penalties (13 for the Rams, 7 on the Niners). Both teams eventually had a field goal attempt in overtime, and both kickers missed—most surprisingly, David Akers pushed one wide left from 41 yards out.
Notable quote: "It feels weird," Niners safety Donte Whitner said. "We're about wins around here."