Ranking the greatest games in NFL playoff history


On the Monday after what was arguably the NFL's best weekend of playoff football, Prince Akeem from the classic movie "Coming to America" speaks for all of us.

"Did you happen to catch the professional football contest on television last night?" asks Prince Akeem, played by Eddie Murphy. "Oh, it was most exhilarating."

Exhilarating is the perfect word to describe what it was like watching four postseason games decided on the final play. The weekend was capped with an epic, last-minute, back-and-forth, overtime affair between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills that has entered the discussion for greatest football game of all time.

Let's continue that discussion. 

Here's a ranking of the NFL's best games, all of which were most exhilarating.

5. Super Bowl XLIX: New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24

Everyone knew Marshawn Lynch was getting the ball, and then everyone was stunned when he didn't.

The Patriots erased a 10-point deficit in the fourth after Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes, the second of which was a 3-yard strike to Julian Edelman with 2:02 remaining that put the Pats in front 28-24.

The Seahawks marched down field, reaching the red zone when Russell Wilson found Jermaine Kearse for a 33-yard gain to get to the New England 5-yard line. Lynch ran for four yards on first-and-goal, bringing the ball to the 1 and putting the Seahawks mere feet away from back-to-back Super Bowl victories. With the world expecting the ball to go back to Lynch, Pete Carroll elected to throw and Wilson was intercepted in the end zone by Malcolm Butler.

4. 1981 AFC Divisional Round: San Diego Chargers 41, Miami Dolphins 38 (OT)

Long recognized as the NFL's greatest non-Super Bowl playoff game, this game was so epic that it's known simply as the "Epic in Miami."

What became the highest-scoring playoff game at the time included a shootout between the Chargers' Dan Fouts, who threw for 433 yards and three touchdowns, and Miami's Don Strock, who had 403 yards and four touchdowns.

The Dolphins erased a 24-0 deficit and ultimately took a 38-31 lead. The Chargers evened the score when Fouts' overthrown pass intended for Kellen Winslow was caught by running back James Brooks with 58 seconds remaining. Winslow's heroics came shortly after when he blocked the Dolphins' 43-yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation. The Chargers' Rolf Benirschke missed a 26-yard field goal wide left in overtime before getting a second opportunity on the team's next possession and making a game-winning 29-yarder.

Winslow finished with 13 receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown. The lasting image from the classic game is of a battered and exhausted Winslow being helped off the field by two teammates.

3. Super Bowl XLII: New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14

The only NFL team to complete a perfect season was the 1972 Dolphins, who pop champagne each season when the league's final unbeaten team suffers its first loss. 

Their annual champagne toast was in serious jeopardy when the 16-0 Patriots were 2:42 away from winning the Super Bowl after Tom Brady found Randy Moss for a 6-yard touchdown that gave New England a 14-10 lead. But then Eli Manning escaped the grasp of the Patriots, David Tyree made a magical reception that became known as the "Helmet Catch" and Plaxico Burress caught a 13-yard touchdown with 39 seconds remaining. The Giants won their first Super Bowl since 1990, the Patriots were denied a perfect season and the Dolphins popped some champagne.     

2. 1981 NFC Championship Game: San Francisco 49ers 28, Dallas Cowboys 27

This game is like a celebrity who goes only by a nickname: "The Catch."

Nothing more must be said to identify it. With the 49ers trailing 27-21, Joe Montana orchestrated an 89-yard drive that was capped with a 6-yard touchdown pass on third down to a leaping and fully-extended Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone for what became the NFL's most well-known catch.

Eric Wright then made a potential game-saving tackle after a 31-yard catch by the Cowboys' Drew Pearson and Lawrence Pillers sealed the win by sacking Danny White to force a fumble that was recovered by the 49ers. 

1. 2021 Divisional Round: Kansas City Chiefs 42, Buffalo Bills 36 (OT)

It’s based on the fact that the game was unlike anything seen before — and unlikely to be seen again (even with these teams projected to be entrenched atop the AFC standings for the next decade).  

The numbers seem to defy reality. 

Three go-ahead touchdowns scored in the final two minutes of regulation for the first time in NFL history. 

A total of 188 passing yards thrown by Patrick Mahomes after the two-minute warning.

Gabriel Davis made NFL history with four touchdown receptions in a postseason game, two of which came in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. 

The race to 400 passing yards in the league's newest quarterback rivalry between the 26-year-old Mahomes, who finished with 378 yards, and the 25-year-old Josh Allen, who had 329.

Thirteen seconds for the Chiefs to set up and convert a game-tying field goal. 

All of that combined to set the stage for Mahomes to find Travis Kelce for an 8-yard touchdown in overtime, sending the Chiefs to a fourth consecutive AFC Championship Game and ending the greatest playoff game in NFL history.    

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