NFL: The Biggest Shocks in the History of the Playoffs

The offense still sells tickets, but defense wins the close games

That’s important because close games are in abundance in today’s National Football League. Six times since the beginning of last season, an NFL week has seen at least two-thirds of its games decided by eight points or less. Last week,10 of 15 games fell into that edge-of-your-couch category.

As the league enters Week 7, every team has now played at least one game separated by five points or less. DAK PRESCOTT and the Cowboys joined that club Monday night.

“This is what the NFL is about,” Prescott said after Dallas’ 20-17 win. “We’ve got to get used to this. We’ve got to stay confident in this, understand that these close games, one-score, field-goal games, touchdown games, we’ve got to believe in ourselves, finishing it on our terms with the ball in our hands and thankful for our defense right there getting us that ball.”

That defense delivered a critical sack from MICAH PARSONS and a game-sealing interception by STEPHON GILMORE on consecutive plays in the final two minutes.

Timely defensive performances figure to be the difference in the late-season standings as playoff dreams either become realities or remain dreams.

Dreaming confidently is CLEVELAND (3-2), only half a game behind the lead in the AFC North thanks to a two-point triumph over previously undefeated SAN FRANCISCO. This season, the Browns have allowed only 1,002 yards, the third-fewest by a team in its first five games of a season since the 1970 merger. Only the 1971 BALTIMORE COLTS (836) and 1970 MINNESOTA VIKINGS (945) allowed fewer.

Eight points or less have decided all six of Minnesota’s games this season. When the Vikings host the 49ers this week on Monday Night Football (8:15 PM ET, ESPN/ABC), could San Francisco’s defense be the difference? The 49ers lead the NFL in fewest points allowed per game (14.5) and opponent passer rating (67.2). No question, they’ll need that defense in a tough road test against the Vikings, whose offense is second in the NFL with 14 touchdown passes and ranks third with 263.7 passing yards per game.

JACKSONVILLE (4-2) also has a tough road test this week, at NEW ORLEANS (3-3) on Thursday Night Football (8:15 PM ET, Prime Video). Led by their opportunistic defense, the Jaguars lead the NFL with 15 takeaways. And if Jacksonville can win this week, the team will improve to three games above .500 for the first time since Dec. 31, 2017, when the Jaguars finished 10-6 before advancing to the AFC Championship Game.

The NEW YORK JETS (3-3), playing without their injured starting cornerbacks, had four takeaways in last week’s six-point win over previously undefeated Philadelphia. The Jets are suddenly just two games out of first in the AFC East thanks to a stingy defense that has stymied some of the league’s best quarterbacks.

But how you finish matters more than how you start, and as close games become as common as RAHEEM MOSTERTtouchdowns, look for defenses to stand out when margins are tight.

The Starting 11 entering Week 7

  1. FIRST-PLACE DOLPHINS, EAGLES LINC UP IN PRIMETIME SUNDAY: For the first time in six years, every NFL team has at least one loss this early in a season, entering Week 7. The field is wide open. That’s why both MIAMI (5-1) and PHILADELPHIA (5-1) need a win to preserve their respective division leads when they meet at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, NBC).
      • Philadelphia looks for its sixth straight win at home, including the postseason.
      • Miami quarterback TUA TAGOVAILOA leads the NFL in both passing yards (1,876) and passer rating (114.1). He also enters Week 7 tied for the league lead with 14 touchdown passes. This week, he’ll face a secondary that includes the only two NFL players with at least 100 passes defensed since 2016 – Eagles cornerbacks JAMES BRADBERRY (103) and DARIUS SLAY (102).
      • The Dolphins’ potent ground attack – led by RAHEEM MOSTERT’s NFL-leading nine rushing touchdowns – ranks first in the league with 181.8 rushing yards per game. Philadelphia’s rushing defense ranks second in the NFL, allowing only 65.8 yards per game.
      • Each defense ranks among the NFL’s top five in sacks (Miami is tied for third with 21 while Philadelphia ranks fifth with 20). The Eagles’ HAASON REDDICK had a season-high 2.5 sacks last week.

  1. NUMBER OF THE WEEK – 5: The number of 100-yard receiving games produced this season by STEFON DIGGS of the BUFFALO BILLS (4-2). In fact, Diggs not only leads the league in that category, he also enters this week at NEW ENGLAND (1-5) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS) with four consecutive 100-yard games, the longest streak in franchise history.
  2. GEORGE KITTLE, TIGHT END UNIVERSITY: That’s how San Francisco’s playmaker introduced himself on NBC’s starting lineups earlier this month. His school, Iowa, has more than earned that reputation. On Monday Night Football, two of the school’s most productive tight ends – Kittle and the Vikings’ T.J. HOCKENSON – meet at U.S. Bank Stadium (8:15 PM ET, ESPN/ABC). Hockenson ranks tied for first among tight ends this season in receptions (36) and third in receiving yards (304). Kittle has at least two touchdown catches in three of his past four primetime games.
      • Another Iowa product, Detroit’s SAM LAPORTA, has registered the fourth-most receptions (29) by a rookie over his first six career games in NFL history.
  1. SPOTLIGHT – INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP: JUSTIN HERBERT has 15,422 career passing yards since entering the league in 2020. In that time, only PATRICK MAHOMES (16,422) has more passing yards. Those quarterbacks meet again on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS) when the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (5-1) host the LOS ANGELES CHARGERS(2-3).
      • Both Herbert and Mahomes have completed passes to 14 different targets this season.
      • The Chargers have gone 3-2 in Kansas City since 2018. That’s the best record (minimum three games) by a visiting team at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in that span.
      • Kansas City defensive tackle CHRIS JONES is one of four players to record at least one sack in eight-or-more consecutive games on multiple occasions since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic. The only other players to do that are SIMON FLETCHER, ROBERT MATHIS and Pro Football Hall of Famer REGGIE WHITE.


  1. SPOTLIGHT – TEAM MATCHUP: The PITTSBURGH STEELERS (3-2) are recharged after a Week 6 bye, entering their game at the LOS ANGELES RAMS (3-3) on Sunday (4:05 PM ET, FOX). The Steelers have won each of their last six games after bye weeks. And since naming MIKE TOMLIN as head coach in 2007, the Steelers own a share of the NFL’s best record (12-4, .750) in games after bye weeks, tied with Baltimore and Indianapolis (also 12-4, .750).
  1. STREAK SPEAK: San Francisco running back CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY has recorded a scrimmage touchdown in 15 consecutive games, including the postseason, tied with three Pro Football Hall of Famers – LENNY MOORE (1963-64), JOHN RIGGINS (1982-83) and O.J. SIMPSON (1974-75) – for the longest such streak in NFL history.
  2. DID YOU KNOW?: The NFL schedule-makers chose quality over quantity for Week 7. This marks one of two weeks on the 2023 schedule in which six teams have byes (this week, those teams are CAROLINA, CINCINNATI, DALLAS, HOUSTON, the NEW YORK JETS and TENNESSEE). Six teams are also scheduled for byes in Week 13. Next week, the league has a full slate of 16 games.
  1. UNDER-THE-RADAR STORYLINE: The JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (4-2) have won three straight and nine of their last 11 regular-season games, dating to last season. Over the equivalent of a full season, they’re 11-6 over their last 17. This week, on the road against NEW ORLEANS (3-3) on Thursday Night Football (8:15 PM ET, Prime Video), quarterback TREVOR LAWRENCE will need to overcome a nemesis: The Caesars Superdome. At Clemson from 2018-20, Lawrence was 38-2 in his career as a starting quarterback. His only two losses were in New Orleans, to Ohio State and JUSTIN FIELDS in the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 2020 season, and to LSU and JOE BURROW in the College Football Playoff National Championship at the end of 2019.
  2. TREND TIME: SAQUON BARKLEY and the NEW YORK GIANTS (1-5) host the WASHINGTON COMMANDERS (3-3) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). The Giants are 3-0-1 against Washington when Barkley rushes for a touchdown. Meanwhile, Washington quarterback SAM HOWELL set career highs with three touchdown passes and a 119.7 passer rating last week. In three career road starts, Howell has six touchdown passes, no interceptions and 108.1 passer rating.
  1. NEXT GEN STAT OF THE WEEK: The NEW YORK JETS were quite literally “jet-setters” after recording the highest average speed by a team in Week 6: 10.47 MPH. As a team, the Jets covered a total distance of 29,931.1 yards, second behind San Francisco (30,774.6 yards) last week. According to Next Gen Stats, Jets wide receiver IRVIN CHARLES had the team’s fastest speed in Week 6 (20.74 MPH) when he covered a punt and made a key special-teams tackle, holding the Eagles to zero yards on the return.
  1. AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST: DETROIT (5-1) travels to BALTIMORE (4-2) in another matchup of first-place teams on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX). Since Week 9 of the 2022 season, only San Francisco (14-1) and Kansas City (14-2) have better records than the Lions (13-3). In that span, only the 49ers (458) have scored more points than the Lions (448). Baltimore, meanwhile, is tied with Buffalo for the NFL lead this season with 24 sacks. What’s more, the Lions and Ravens are two of the seven NFL teams who have held a lead at some point in each of their first six games this season.
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