There are few things as memorable in sports as the best NFL playoff performances of all time.
The stakes are so high in the playoffs that the best NFL postseason performances always stand out in the memory of fans. Usually, it’s for all of the right reasons, although occasionally one of the top NFL playoff performances goes against your favorite team.
Of course, that doesn’t make the best NFL playoff performance any less memorable. The only hard part is trying to pick out the greatest postseason performances. With so many to choose from, which stand out from the pack?
Best NFL Playoff performances ranked
We wanted to take a close look at NFL playoff history and pick out the greatest performances ever.
That means finding the players who not only carried their team but rose above expectations to deliver one of the greatest playoff performances ever seen. It wasn’t easy, but we narrowed down our list to the 10 best NFL playoff performances of all time.
10. T.Y. Hilton, 2013 AFC Wild Card Game
Most people give Andrew Luck most of the credit for the Colts overcoming a 38-10 deficit to beat the Chiefs 45-44. But Luck also threw three interceptions in this game, which is why T.Y. Hilton’s performance was the most impressive.
He finished the game with 13 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns. More importantly, Hilton did most of the work on the 64-yard touchdown that finally gave the Colts a 45-44 lead in the closing minutes to complete the epic comeback.
9. Matt Ryan, 2016 NFC Championship Game
Apparently y’all forgot how cold 2016 Matt Ryan was. pic.twitter.com/rgwxewnQdh
— 🦝yin (@BulioBurner) February 2, 2020
Ryan even ran for a touchdown as well, which lets you know just how good he was that day. Behind the league MVP, the Falcons won 44-21 and continued to play well during the first half of the Super Bowl. However, we all know how that game ended.
8. Cam Newton, 2015 NFC Championship Game
Up until the Super Bowl, there was no stopping Cam Newton during his MVP season in 2015.
Remember that the Panthers went 15-1 during the regular season with Newton playing like an unstoppable force. He managed to save his best for the NFC Championship Game with 335 passing yards and 47 rushing yards.
He also had two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns in a 49-15 blowout of the Cardinals before a historically good Denver defense got the best of him and the Panthers in the Super Bowl.
7. Kurt Warner, 2009 Wild Card Game
This game was utterly insane with Kurt Warner stealing the show in what ended up being his swan song. At age 38, Warner was able to out-duel Aaron Rodgers and do some serious damage against a Green Bay defense that rated no. 2 in scoring defense that year.
He completed 29 of his 33 passes for 379 and five touchdown passes. He was amazingly efficient against a top-flight defense. After 60 minutes, the Cardinals and Packers were tied at 45 thanks to the ageless Warner matching Rodgers and then some.
The Cardinals eventually won the game 51-45 on a fumble return in overtime. Unfortunately, Warner got hurt in Arizona’s loss the following week, meaning this was the last full game of Warner’s career, not to mention one of his best.
6. Frank Reich, 1992 Wild Card Game
This was surely one of the most unexpected playoff performances from a most unlikely candidate. But when Frank Reich was pressed into duty when Jim Kelly was injured during the final week of the regular season, he answered the call.
@BuffaloBills QB Frank Reich threw four second-half touchdowns as the Bills rallied from a 32-point deficit to beat the Houston Oilers in the first round of the 1992 AFC playoffs 👀 @BuiltInBuffalo_ @BuffSportsHstry @BfloFanatics @DonBurt_sports @banter_bills #NFL pic.twitter.com/KZSt6U3kyb
— Let’s Talk NFL 🏈 (@TalkFootball34) July 22, 2021
Technically, Reich waited until the Bills were trailing 35-3 to get going. But he threw for 289 yards and four touchdowns while leading the Bills to one of the greatest comeback wins in any team sport, much less an NFL playoff game.
5. Eddie Podolak, 1971 Wild Card Game
We had to go way back in time to find Eddie Podolak’s performance, which was amazing despite the fact that he played for the losing team. The running back had 85 rushing yards and a touchdown on 17 carries while also catching eight passes for 110 yards and another touchdown.
Podolak also made an impact on special teams, amassing 154 return yards on three kickoffs. Most notably, his 78-yard return late in regulation set of a field goal attempt that could have won the game if Jan Stenerud hadn’t missed from 32 yards out.
Unfortunately, Podolak’s efforts weren’t enough, as he and the Chiefs lost in double-overtime. However, his 349 all-purpose yards is still a single-game playoff record.
4. Kurt Warner, 1999 Divisional Game
While he would eventually lead the Rams to the Super Bowl, Kurt Warner’s playoff debut in the Divisional Round against the Vikings might be the best playoff performance of his career.
Warner was the master of spreading the ball around, connecting on 27 of his 33 passes to 10 different receivers. He ended the game with 391 passing yards and five touchdowns to five different receivers. The Rams needed him to be that good because the game ended up being a 49-37 shootout with the Rams moving on and eventually winning the Super Bowl.
3. John Riggins, 1982 Divisional Round
Who said 33-year-old running backs are too old to make an impact or be a workhorse back? That certainly wasn’t true in the early 1980s when Riggins owned the Vikings during a playoff game.
Washington won the game 21-7 thanks to 185 rushing yards on 37 carries from John Riggins.
— David Menassé (@Frekiwolf) January 8, 2021
The Vikings had no answer for Riggins and Washington didn’t need to do much else but keep giving him the ball. Ultimately, Washington would win the Super Bowl that season with Riggins rushing for over 100 yards in all four playoff games.
2. Aaron Rodgers, 2010 Divisional Round
As we’ve come to expect, Aaron Rodgers was close to perfect in this game. He completed 31 of his 36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdown passes.
Rodgers was so in the zone that day that he even ran for a touchdown.
In addition to his three passing touchdowns, Rodgers led the Packers to four drives of 80 yards or more, which is tough to do in any game, much less during the playoffs. It was arguably the finest game Rodgers has ever played, helping the Packers beat the Falcons 48-21 on their way to winning the Super Bowl that season.
1. Kellen Winslow, 1981 Divisional Round
This was arguably the best playoff game outside of the Super Bowl ever played, in part because Kellen Winslow had one of the best NFL playoff performances ever seen.
For starters, Winslow was playing hurt, but that didn’t stop him from hauling in 13 catches for 166 yards.
Kellen Winslow runs over a West Virginia defender.
Miami vs WVU 2003 pic.twitter.com/CSI9QWDtgO
— Cane Clips (@cane_clips) May 23, 2021
He also blocked a field goal when the game was tied at 38 in the fourth quarter, helping to push the game to overtime, where the Chargers won it 41-38.
When the game was over, Winslow was so hurt and exhausted that he had to be carried off the field by his San Diego teammates. But if there was ever someone who deserved to be carried off after a game, it was Winslow.