In continuing our countdown to the Super Bowl, we now take a look at the 10 best postseason games in the NFL playoffs, the games that took everybody completely by surprise to feature some of the best football played with the teams who proved their purpose to get to the big game.
One ground rule, I’m not including the Super Bowls, this is specifically looking at the best in the wild card, the divisional round, and the conference championship so let’s get to it:
10. Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys – 2016 NFC Divisional Round
Yeah, I know this just happened but this one is going to be a playoff matchup to remember. The Packers lead this one for a good majority of the game up until the Dallas Cowboys, who were considered the favorites to win, came back starting in the third quarter to the point where it was a 31-31 tie with less than a minute remaining. And then, Aaron Rodgers with that last catch to Jared Cook, once again proving why he should be considered this year’s NFL MVP and easily the best quarterback in the NFL today, to set up the final field goal to win the game, 34-31. Yeah, it sucks that the Cowboys lost that game after all the hard work they put in but that was a big win for the Packers and a NFL postseason classic in the making.
9. San Diego Chargers @ Miami Dolphins – 1981 AFC Divisional Round / San Diego Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals – 1981 AFC Championship
Also known as the Epic In Miami and the Freezer Bowl, both games showed how one team handles both extreme heat and extreme cold because in the Epic In Miami, it was a humid 79 degrees in January and it was an epic battle for both sides, Chargers scored 24 points in the first quarter alone but Miami came back to send the game to overtime with a 38-38 tie before the Chargers ended up winning that game with a field goal, 41-38, and also featuring one of the most iconic NFL images ever.
And then you had the Freezer Bowl in Cincinatti, remember how it was near 80 and humid in Miami, guess how it was in Cincinnati? -9 degrees with a wind chill as low as -59 degrees, you’re expecting a team that just came off of a warm, humid game in Miami to be used to the extreme cold played in this game and expect a win? It was just interesting to see a contrast between the two, you have a Chargers team that wins 41-38 a week before but only scores one touchdown in this game to lost 27-7. If you want to see how extreme weather affects a team in a matter of two weeks, there you go.
8. Green Bay Packers @ Seattle Seahawks – 2014 NFC Championship
Yet another overtime battle between two really solid teams, this is another game where Green Bay lead for a majority of the game, 22-7 with about 5 minutes left in the game…and then, all of a sudden, Seattle just woke up and came back starting with a fake field goal for a touchdown and then, a successful on side kick, and finally, a touchdown to Marshawn Lynch and a two point conversion to making it a 22-22 tie and send it to overtime. And within the first drive by Seattle, who won the toss, Wilson threw it into the endzone to Jermaine Kearse to Seattle to its’ second straight Super Bowl, 28-26. Not the first time the Packers lost a postseason game in overtime…and more of those times will be coming up a little later on.
7. New England Patriots @ Indianapolis Colts – 2006 AFC Championship
The Brady vs. Manning matchups had become a tradition of the 2000s and 2010s NFL postseason and from the beginning, Tom Brady and the Patriots would always come out on top. It wouldn’t be until the 2006 AFC Championship game when the tide began to change. Patriots lead for the first half, 21- 6, but then in the second half, Manning led the Colts to a massive comeback, almost mimicking a lot of the same plays the Patriots did in the first half to finally buck the trend of always losing to the Patriots and going to their first Super Bowl with the score of 38-34.
6. Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers – 2010 AFC Divisional Round
Two years prior, the Ravens couldn’t do much to stop the Steelers from making it to the Super Bowl that year but in 2010, the Ravens came in to Heinz Field starting off strong with a 21 – 7 lead going into halftime. But, as you could expect from the Steelers with homefield advantage, they came back big time in the second half and just decimated the Ravens, having them only score 3 points while the Steelers rolled back with 24 unanswered points to win 31-24 and host the second AFC Championship game at Heinz Field under Ben Roethlisberger as quarterback and Mike Tomlin as coach.
5. Dallas Cowboys @ San Francisco 49ers – 1981 NFC Championship AND Oakland Raiders @ Pittsburgh Steelers – 1972 AFC Divisional
I put both of these games together because they both started dynasties for both the 49ers and Steelers with these unique plays.
The Steelers, who at that point had never won a playoff game, were down 7 to 6 in a defensive bout and then the play that has now become known as the Immaculate Reception took place not only sealing a 13-6 win for the Steelers but started a dynasty that led them to four Super Bowl in the 1970s.
The 49ers had the same thing happen in 1981, down 27 to 21, quarterback Joe Montana launched a play that would become known as The Catch, 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark made a leaping grab at the back of the end zone to score the winning touchdown with 51 seconds left in the game. The win sent the 49ers to their first Super Bowl and snapped their three-game playoff losing streak to the Cowboys and starting the dynasty for the 49ers in the 80s that got them 4 Super Bowls in the process.
4. Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals – 2009 NFC Wild Card Game
This high scoring shootout set the NFL postseason record for most points (96), touchdowns (13) and first downs (62), while ranking third in total yards (1,024). But in the end, it was a defensive play that made the key difference when Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby returned a fumble 17 yards for a touchdown in overtime. This was only the second overtime game in NFL postseason history ever to be won by a defensive touchdown. The first one had been won by the Packers (vs. Seahawks in 2003).
For such an epic matchup between two really good NFC teams, 96 total points, 13 touchdowns, and 62 first downs, it’s hard to believe that the one play that sealed up was a fumble for a touchdown in overtime, such a classic game with the most heartbreaking of endings for the Packers and that’s not all, folks…
3. Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals – 2015 NFC Divisional Round
Yep, these two teams met again, this time in the divisional round. Both teams had their best seasons up to this point and unlike the last game, there weren’t as many points scored but when there was, oh boy, they delivered them in spectacular fashion. By the end of the game, when it seemed like all hope was lost and there was no way that the Packers could come back, Aaron Rodgers does what he does so well, throws a hail mary down from 41 yards and it’s caught by Jeff Janis. And this was just over a month after Rodgers did the same thing in Detroit and it sent the game into overtime with a score of 20-20 so naturally, the Packers will win right?
Well, as it turned out, the Cardinals won the coin toss and made sure the Packers never got the ball back, Carson Palmer threw it to Larry Fitzgerald for 75 yards on that play and Palmer flipped it to Fitz again to score the game winning touchdown, 26-20.
2. Denver Broncos @ Cleveland Browns – 1986 AFC Championship / Cleveland Browns @ Denver Broncos – 1987 AFC Championship
Also known as both The Drive & The Fumble, that’s right, it’s another tie.
The 86 game is best remembered for The Drive in Cleveland and Denver sports lore when the Broncos drove 98 yards in 15 plays to tie the game with 37 seconds left in regulation and Denver kicker Rich Karlis kicked the game-winning 33-yard field goal 5:38 into overtime.
In that game, Cleveland pretty much had the win set up, the Broncos had 5 minutes to get that ball down the field and sure enough with just these little passes from John Elway to different receivers, the drive kept going and going and going until finally, a touchdown throw to Mark Jackson tied the game at 20-20 and then the final field goal in overtime made it 23-20, which actually if you look back now, that field goal shouldn’t have counted because the ball went over the upright but back then, there was no instant replay for the refs to change it so Denver wins that one and goes to the Super Bowl that year.
The next year, there was The Fumble when Browns running back Earnest Byner fumbled at the Broncos’ 2-yard line with 1:05 left.
I mean, honestly, maybe Cleveland just is never suppose to win a Super Bowl because my god, how you manage to fumble the bowl at the 2 yard line in a game that would take you to the Super Bowl is awe-inspring. That ending alone makes that game all the worth watching for just how Cleveland managed to screw that one up.
and the #1 best NFL postseason game is…
Houston Oilers @ Buffalo Bills – 1992 AFC Wild Card Game
Best known as the greatest comeback in NFL history, this is the perfect example of what you expect to see for a postseason matchup. Buffalo, who had been one of the premiere teams in the AFC in the early 90s, hosted the game and just got destroyed by Houston in the first half, the score at halftime was 28 to 3, at that point, the game was over. The game was more over halfway through the third when Bills quarterback Frank Reich threw an pick six touchdown to Houston to make it 35-3, now it’s really over, right? But then, 1:47 into the third quarter, Buffalo scored a touchdown to make it 35-10 and then they did an onside kick afterward that succeeded, scored another touchdown making it 35-17. Houston just depleted in that second half as Buffalo would score two more touchdowns and a field goal to make it 38-35, Houston would kick a field goal to make it 38-38 and send it to overtime. Three plays into overtime, Houston gets intercepted by Buffalo, they take it down the field and Buffalo kicked the field goal to win the game 41-38.
A game that seemed like it was over right from the start and then for the Bills to just come back the way they did, this is one of those great NFL games you have to see to believe because it’s amazing how they were able to pull this off, that makes the Oilers @ Bills, the best postseason game of all time.
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