The weekend we celebrate the wild-card weekend, perhaps the best round of the NFL Playoffs as eight teams participate in the right to advance to the divisional round.
In the NFC, all four teams have their unique memories of wild-card weekend. We hope you enjoy our look back at one memory for each of the four teams playing this weekend.
New Orleans Saints
After making their fans suffer for their first 20 years in the NFL, the New Orleans Saints finished with a winning record for the first time in 1987.
Behind quarterback Bobby Hebert and an aggressive defense led by Sam Mills, the Saints finished the regular season on a nine-game winning streak and with the second-best record in the NFL at 12-3. However, because they played in the same division as the 13-2 San Francisco 49ers, they qualified for the NFL playoffs as a wild-card.
Their opponents in the wild-card were the 8-7 Minnesota Vikings. The City of New Orleans was gripped with excitement as they hosted their first NFL playoff game. The Saints were dominant in 1987 on both offense and defense. Their offense ranked second in the NFL in points, averaging 28.1 PPG. Their defense was excellent as well, finishing fourth in the NFL in yards allowed (290 per game) and leading the NFL in turnovers forced (48).
Early on, it looked like the Saints would continue the dominance they established in the regular season. Minnesota’s first two plays saw Rickey Jackson sack Vikings quarterback Tommy Kramer and Vaughan Johnson recover a misplayed snap, giving the Saints the ball at the Vikings 10-yard line. The roof at the Superdome was ready to blow off when Herbert connected with Eric Martin on a 10-yard TD pass on the Saints second play from scrimmage.
Sadly, for Saints fans, that was their last happy memory of the game. Minnesota shocked the home crowd by outscoring New Orleans 44-3 the rest of the game. The contest turned when Vikings wide receiver Anthony Carter returned a punt 84 yards to give the Vikings the lead for good. The Saints, who were a plus-20 in turnover differential during the regular season, were a minus-four, turning the ball over six times.
The Saints offense struggled all game, totaling just 149 yards, while their stout run defense allowed 210 yards (allowed only 103 per game in regular season). When all was said and done, the Vikings advanced to play the 49ers in the divisional round with a 44-10 victory.
After reaching the postseason in just their second year of existence, it would be another seven seasons before the Panthers tasted the NFL Playoffs again.
Led by quarterback Jake Delhomme, the Panthers finished the 2003 season with an 11-5 record and champions of the NFC South. They hosted the Dallas Cowboys in the wild-card.
Led by 104 rushing yards and a touchdown by Stephen Davis, along with 135 receiving yards and a touchdown by Steve Smith, the Panthers spanked Dallas, 29-10. The 19-point defeat was the second-worst in Bill Parcells hall of fame career in 19-career playoff games.
The Panthers, just two years removed from a 1-15 season, rode the momentum of that win all the way to the Super Bowl.
The 1991 Atlanta Falcons were a team built on style. Led by Deion Sanders, Andre Rison and head coach Jerry Glanville, the Falcons finished with a 10-6 regular season record. All season long, the Falcons sideline and locker room were filled with celebrities such as M.C. Hammer, Heavyweight Boxing champ Evander Holyfield, country music singer Travis Tritt, and the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.
Atlanta qualified for the postseason for the first time since 1982 and traveled to New Orleans to take on the Saints, a hated division rival.
The hero of the day for Atlanta was Michael Haynes, who recorded six catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 2:41 left in regulation. Haynes ran a short slant pattern, caught a pass in front of Saints cornerback Milton Mack, and then outran the rest of the New Orleans secondary to score on a 61-yard pass play.
Led by an opportunistic defense, which finished seventh in the NFL with 19 interceptions, the Falcons forced three turnovers. Two of the turnovers were interceptions, including the game-clincher with just over a minute remaining by Tim McKyer. While other teams would have fallen down and ran the clock out, the 1991 Falcons style was different. McKyer dangerously lateraled the ball the Sanders, who upon being tackled, lateraled the football even more dangerously to teammate Joe Fishback, who ran the rest of the way for a touchdown. However, officials reversed the call when it was ruled that Sanders had committed a forward lateral.
After all the insanity was over, the Falcons were 27-20 winners.
Despite the hoopla, the “2-legit-to-quit” Falcons season ended the next week to eventual Super Bowl champion Washington in the divisional round.
Los Angeles Rams
This weekend will mark the first time that the Los Angeles Rams had hosted a playoff game since January 1985 when they defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 20-0 at Anaheim Stadium.
Saturday will be the first time that the Los Angeles Rams have hosted a playoff game at the Los Angeles Coliseum since losing to the Cowboys in the 1978 NFC Championship Game, 28-0.
In 1989 the Los Angeles Rams won 11 games and finished second to the defending champion San Francisco 49ers who went 14-2 in the NFC West.
In the wild-card, they faced off against Randall Cunningham and the Philadelphia Eagles at Veterans Stadium.
Behind 281 passing yards and two touchdowns from quarterback Jim Everett, the Rams defeated the Eagles 21-7. Greg Bell ran for 124 yards and a touchdown as well, while on defense Kevin Greene sacked Cunningham twice.
The Rams rode the momentum of that win all the way to the NFC Championship Game, winning the next week at Giants Stadium in overtime. Unfortunately, that was the last postseason win for the Los Angeles Rams as they fell 30-3 to the Niners, who went on to win their second straight Super Bowl.
What new memories will each team create this weekend? Tune in to the NFL wild-card games to find out.