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The Lowest Seeds To Win The Title — NFL, NBA, MLB And NHL

August 22, 2023

Two eighth-seeded South Florida teams have captivated the sports world this spring with improbable runs to their respective conference finals — and beyond. The Heat missed the opportunity to sweep the Celtics on Tuesday, but they are still favorites (-270) to ultimately punch their ticket to the NBA Finals.

Meanwhile, the Panthers swept the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night to claim the Eastern Conference and the Prince of Wales Trophy while advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.

Those are undoubtedly big upsets considering their odds when the postseason kicked off, but are they historic? Let’s see how they compare throughout history.

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NBA

The 1998-99 New York Knicks were the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed after finishing 27-23 in a strike-shortened regular season. The Eastern Conference finals were won in particularly nail-biting fashion, as the Knicks outpaced Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers by a combined 19 points in their four victories.

The fairytale ended when the Knicks ran into the beginning of the Spurs early-2000s dynasty and were swept by the dynamic duo of Tim Duncan and David Robinson.

The 1994-95 Houston Rockets managed to win the NBA Finals as the sixth seed. The NBA has always been a star-powered league, and Houston’s run is fun to look back on with matchups that featured Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler going up against the likes of Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal.

But if the Heat can pull off a Finals win this year, they’ll become the lowest seed to win the NBA title.

NHL

While still rare, there’s a bit more precedent for eight seeds to have success in the NHL. The 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings hoisted the Stanley Cup after reaching the postseason on the final day of the regular season and grabbing the lowest seed in the Western Conference.

The Kings didn’t only win, they dominated. They finished the postseason with a +27-goal differential, powered by a stingy defensive unit and goaltender Jonathan Quick. To put things in perspective, Los Angeles played 20 postseason contests and surrendered 30 goals.

The 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers nearly accomplished the feat before the Kings, succumbing to the Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup Final in seven games. The highlight of their run came during the conference semifinals and conference finals, when they won seven consecutive games by a combined score of 28-14.

MLB

The MLB postseason has expanded significantly in recent years, so there’s still a chance we’ll see a sixth seed win the World Series — the 2022 Philadelphia Phillies had the chance to do that just last year. But the only team in the expanded playoff era to win the wild card game as the lower seed and end up winning the World Series was the 2014 San Francisco Giants.

Riding the arm of Madison Bumgarner, the Giants beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the WC game and rolled all the way to a World Series title, beating the Kansas City Royals in seven games. Bumgarner was named World Series MVP.

Though they weren’t the lowest seed, special consideration should be given to the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, which finished the season just 83-78 but still managed to win the World Series — the team with the worst record to do so.

NFL

Like the MLB, the NFL postseason format has expanded slightly in recent years, but at this point, only two sixth seeds (and no seventh seeds) have ever won the Super Bowl.

The first team to do so was the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, which helped Jerome Bettis conclude his career in storybook fashion. It almost wasn’t to be, as Bettis fumbled at the goal line in the final moments of the AFC Divisional Round against the Colts and Ben Roethlisberger was forced to make a touchdown-saving tackle which ended up preserving a Steelers victory.

There were a few signature plays in Super Bowl XL, during which the Steelers beat the Seahawks 21-10. Hines Ward won the MVP award after catching a 43-yard pass from fellow WR — and fellow former college QB — Antwaan Randle El on a trick play. That came after Willie Parker ripped off a 75-yard rushing touchdown immediately after halftime to put Pittsburgh up 14-3.

In an ironic twist, the 2010 Green Bay Packers became the second sixth-seeded Super Bowl winner by taking down the Steelers. Like the 2005 Steelers, Aaron Rodgers and the Pack managed to win three consecutive games on the road, highlighted by a 48-21 dismantling of the Falcons in the NFC Divisional Round and a win over the rival Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game. They beat the Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV — which was a much closer game than some remember due to a second-half Steeler comeback.

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