For most football fans, it’s easy to remember the best NFL playoff games. That’s because there’s nothing like a good NFL playoff game.
The stakes are always high and the drive to get to the Super Bowl is obvious from every player on the field. But in a way, that makes it even more difficult to pick out the greatest NFL postseason games ever played, not including the Super Bowl.
Best NFL Playoff games ranked
How exactly is one supposed to rank the best NFL playoff games? Do they have to include one of the best NFL playoff performances? Do they include a great comeback or a surprising result?
There are so many factors to consider, which is what makes this topic such a great debate. In the end, we mostly just used our gut instincts when coming up with a list of the best NFL playoff games in league history.
10. Vikings 29, Saints 24 (2017 Divisional Round)
This game had to make our list because of the Minneapolis Miracle, a 61-yard touchdown catch by Stefon Diggs on a play in which the New Orleans defense failed to knock down the ball or get a decent hit on Diggs.
But the rest of this game was memorable too.
Vikings fans will always have the memory of the Minneapolis Miracle 🙌pic.twitter.com/y7dfCDPyc2
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 17, 2020
The fatalistic Vikings led 17-0 at halftime, only to fall behind 21-20 late. There were also four lead changes in the final 3:01 of the game, including the touchdown catch by Diggs that will be remembered in Minnesota forever.
9. Rams 26, Saints 23 (2018 NFC Championship Game)
Oh, the controversy! That’s exactly what makes this game stand out as one of the best NFL playoff games ever played.
The Saints felt cheated after the Rams got away with an obvious pass interference penalty late in the game.
With the penalty, New Orleans would have had first and goal. Instead, the Saints had to settle for a field goal with enough time left on the clock for the Rams to get the equalizing field goal. The football Gods continued to be cruel to the Saints with Drew Brees throwing an interception in overtime, setting up a 57-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein to send the Rams to the Super Bowl.
8. Colts 38, Patriots 34 (2006 AFC Championship Game)
Manning’s pick-six in the second quarter seemed to give the Patriots a comfortable 21-3 lead. But Manning was better in the second half, finishing the game with 349 passing yards, not to mention a rushing touchdown.
Of course, Brady didn’t make it easy and always had an answer for the Colts, who didn’t lead until they survived a near-fumble by Reggie Wayne and got a touchdown from Joseph Addai on their final drive. Brady then threw an interception in the final minute to secure the win and a trip to the Super Bowl for Manning and the Colts.
7. Broncos 23, Browns 20 (1986 AFC Championship Game)
This was the first of three memorable AFC Championship Game meetings between the Broncos and Browns in a four-year span.
The Broncos won all three of them, but only this one included “The Drive,” which helped to launch John Elway’s reputation for late-game magic.
— NFL Throwback (@nflthrowback) May 17, 2019
Neither team could create much separation, although the Browns were in good shape, up 20-13 late with the Broncos pinned at their own two-yard line. But that’s when Elway led a 15-play drive that went 98 yards for the game-tying touchdown to Mark Jackson with just 37 seconds left.
The Browns punted to begin the overtime period, enabling Elway to lead a 60-yard drive for the game-winning field goal.
6. Patriots 37, Chiefs 31 (2018 AFC Championship Game)
The 1986 AFC Championship Game was the first AFC title game to go to overtime until this instant classic between the Patriots and Chiefs.
New England led 17-7 after three quarters, setting up a fourth quarter that was beyond wild. MVP Patrick Mahomes threw two touchdown passes to put the Chiefs ahead, but Tom Brady and the Pats always had an answer.
There would be four lead changes in the fourth quarter, which ended with a game-tying field goal from Kansas City’s Harrison Bunker.
But the Patriots won the coin toss in overtime and Mahomes never touched the ball again. Brady’s Patriots went 75 yards on 13 plays, ending the game on the first possession of overtime with a Rex Burkhead touchdown, forcing the Chiefs to wait another year to win the Super Bowl.
5. Colts 45, Chiefs 44 (2013 Wild Card Game)
For a while, this game looked like a one-sided blowout. Early in the third quarter, the Chiefs led 38-10 and looked likely to cruise to an easy win.
But Andrew Luck and the Colts refused to lay down in front of their home crowd.
Luck canceled out his three interceptions by throwing for 443 yards and four touchdown passes.
"I have no idea what our odds to win were. It had to be less than one percent, I'd assume."@PatMcAfeeShow takes you through his emotions during the @Colts 28-point comeback in 2013 AFC Wild Card game 👀
📺: NFL 100 GREATEST GAMES | Now on NFL Network pic.twitter.com/9T4mdEFRbX
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) September 28, 2019
Meanwhile, the Chiefs managed just three points in the game’s final 38 minutes. A 64-yard pass from Luck to T.Y. Hilton with less than five minutes left tied the game and the PAT gave Indy a 45-44 lead. The Colts were able to buckle down defensively late to secure one of the great comeback wins in playoff history.
4. Raiders 28, Dolphins 26 (1974 Divisional Round)
This game is best remembered as the end of Miami’s dynasty after the Dolphins won back-to-back Super Bowls and played in three straight with an undefeated season sandwiched in the middle.
The game went back and forth for four quarters with the Raiders always having an answer. Ken Stabler threw four touchdown passes, including a pair of unforgettable catches by Cliff Branch and Fred Biletnikoff.
Then there was the “Sea of Hands” catch by Clarence Davis catch in the final minute to put the Raiders ahead. It was only the fourth pass that Davis caught all year and he did so between three Miami defenders, ending Miami’s dynasty in dramatic fashion.
3. Bills 41, Oilers 38 (1992 Wild Card Game)
Naturally, the greatest comeback in NFL playoff history is also one of the greatest NFL postseason games ever played.
A pick-six early in the third quarter gave the Oilers what looked like an insurmountable 35-3 lead over the Bills, especially with backup quarterback Frank Reich in the game.
But Reich rallied the Bills with four touchdown passes while Buffalo scored 35 unanswered points. The Oilers were finally able to respond with a field goal to tie the game at 38 and force overtime. But after such a great comeback, Reich and the Bills wouldn’t be denied, getting a field goal from Steve Christie in overtime to complete the greatest comeback win in NFL playoff history.
2. 49ers 28, Cowboys 27 (1981 NFC Championship Game)
While this is one of the best NFL playoff games ever, it’s mostly known for ending with “The Catch” by San Francisco’s Dwight Clark.
But the rest of the game leading up to Clark’s catch wasn’t bad either with Joe Montana throwing two touchdown passes before hitting Clark for the iconic reception.
#SportsHistory #TopSportsMoments Down 6 in the 1981 NFC Championship, QB Joe Montana led the 49ers down the field & with 58 sec. left in the game, SF was facing a 3rd down on the Cowboys 6yd line. Montana found WR Dwight Clark who made a leaping catch for the 28-27 lead! pic.twitter.com/LJAAwaC1Fj
— Renee Washington (@ReneePwash) December 24, 2019
Also, some fans forget that the Cowboys had time to get a game-winning field goal after Clark’s touchdown.
However, San Francisco’s Eric Wright made a game-saving tackle on Drew Pearson one play before the Cowboys fumbled the ball, ending the game and sending the 49ers to the Super Bowl, which they won as well.
1. Chargers 41, Dolphins 38 (1981 Divisional Round)
Anyone who was around to see the Epic in Miami knows that it was unforgettable. It started off as a blowout with the Chargers taking a 24-0 lead in the first quarter. But the Dolphins didn’t back down, getting it to 24-17 by halftime and then taking a 38-31 lead in the fourth quarter. However, the Chargers got a blocked field goal from Kellen Winslow, who also caught 13 passes despite playing hurt, to help overcome blowing such a big lead. With less than a minute left in the game, San Diego quarterback Dan Fouts thought he was throwing to Winslow but his rushed pass flew over Winslow’s head and right to James Brooks for the game-tying touchdown. The Chargers would eventually get a field goal in overtime to win the game.