This is usually about the time of the year that I start craving some football. Especially now that free agency has started and we can see some of the teams taking shape. I mean, how crazy are the Buccaneers going to be with Tom Brady at quarterback and Bruce Arians coaching him? How about the Cardinals with Larry Fitzgerald AND DeAndre Hopkins, two of the best receivers in the game? It's going to be an interesting year, but the start of the season is still a long way off.
A true touchdown
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Until then, satiate your thirst for the gridiron with some of the greatest games in NFL history. There have been a ton of great NFL games in its long history, so I've curated a list of five classics and five modern stunners you should watch. Most of these games were tense to the very end, and you can watch them right now thanks to a combination of services provided by the NFL. Just for the record, this is not a ranking. This is just a list of awesome games worth watching that are available online, and I do not claim that games not on this list couldn't be included.
1990 Super Bowl XXV
Some of us might not think of 1990 as an era old enough for a "Classic" game, but if it helps this game is old enough that ABC didn't even air the halftime show. New Kids on the Block performed, but ABC held off to show a special about the Gulf War. Imagine anyone doing that today. This game featured the ball controlling New York Giants in the NFC and the high-flying, no-huddle offense of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC. It became known as "Wide Right" thanks to a last-second missed field goal that would start the Bills on a four-game losing streak in Super Bowls. It's the only Super Bowl where the winner was decided by one point and the first to feature two teams representing the same state (New Jersey is New York, right Giants fans?)
The Bills led the league in scoring this year, but the Giants would end up controlling the ball for more than 40 minutes in this game. It's a classic struggle between two very different teams and one of the closest scoring games of all time.
1986 AFC Championship Game
John Elway's Denver Broncos vs. Bernie Kosar's Cleveland Browns. "The Drive" defined Elway as a clutch performer and remains one of the greatest series of plays in NFL history. Both teams messed up quite a lot in this game. The Browns got off to a strong start before turning the ball over three times in a row. Later the Broncos would end up with a misplay that put the ball on their own two yard line. And then Elway would lead his team on a 98-yard drive that took 15 plays, 5 minutes off the clock, and never saw a fourth down. Until recently, it was the only AFC Championship game to go into overtime mostly thanks to Elway's brilliance.
Watch a game that comes down to the wire. The clutch performance at the end continues to be talked about as one of the best drives in history, and it's worth watching the whole game to truly understand the context.
1981 NFC Championship Game
Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers. A game that made Dwight Clark a household name in San Fran and leaves a bad taste in the mouth of Cowboys fans. The NFL is a completely different landscape without these two teams battling each other in the playoffs, and this game is a classic example of that rivalry. The lead in this game changed hands seven times. It had a little bit of everything - controversial calls, red zone interceptions, clutch kicks, and, of course, Red-Right-Tight - Sprint Right Option. The play that had earlier scored the 49ers a touchdown broke down in execution, and facing a sack, Joe Montana threw the pass far too high. Any other play like that and it just sails out of bounds, but Clark went for it and made history.
A great play on the back of a fantastic game. Watch two of the titans of this era battle it out and witness one of the most clutch moments in NFL history.
1992 AFC Wild Card Game
I mean, if you're going to watch an NFL game, you need one that leaves you stunned. This game featuring the Houston Oilers and the Buffalo Bills is called "The Comeback" and for good reason. To this day, it remains the largest comeback in NFL history, and it has a crazy story. The Bills had already made the Super Bowl during the 1990 and 1991 seasons using a no-huddle offense led by Jim Kelly at quarterback. In the final game of the regular season, the Oilers destroyed the Bills 27-3 when Kelly was injured. Backup QB Frank Reich, now head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, came in and performed horribly. Everyone expected much the same in the Wild Card Round when the two teams faced off again, this time with Reich as the starter against the legendary Warren Moon on the Oilers. And, indeed, the pattern looked to repeat when the Oilers went up 35-3 in the 3rd quarter off an interception returned for a touchdown. But, well, it's called The Comeback for a reason. Watch the game to see how it all unfolds.
One of the most insane third quarters of football you'll ever witness. After going down 35-3, the Bills would score 35 unanswered points before the Oilers could tie the game and send it into overtime. A must watch.
1958 NFL Championship Game
It's called "The Greatest Game Every Played." How could it not be on this list? Unfortunately, the game is also so old there isn't a great way to watch it in its entirety. You can definitely see highlights and replays from different points of the game, and this YouTube channel put together an amazing video that features the full game's play-by-play announcement with replay footage, animations, and anything else that could be pieced together. It was the first NFL playoff game to go into overtime, and this game is regularly given the credit for the NFL's rapid growth in popularity. Fumbles and slip-ups would plague the start of the game, but the Baltimore Colts would still lead 14-3 at the half. The Giants would then manage to tie it up before the end of regulation. Overtime was such a new concept, the players didn't even know what was going to happen with a tie.
The Greatest Game Ever Played
A game so old the New York Giants actually played in New York. Raymond Berry would have 12 receptions in this game, a record that stood for 55 years.
2006 AFC Championship Game
The 1992 AFC Wild Card game was the largest comeback in NFL playoff history, but this game was the largest in a conference title game. The Colts were down 21-3 at one point to the New England Patriots, a team that had their number pretty regularly in both the regular season and postseason. Only a stunning set of circumstances and amazing play by Peyton Manning would put the Colts in the lead and on track for the first Super Bowl of Peyton Manning's illustrious career.
Manning vs. Brady
There's a lot of history between the Manning-led Colts and the Brady-led Patriots of the mid-2000s. In the playoffs, the Patriots always seemed to have the Colts' number, and this game just seemed like another major loss for the Colts. But it didn't end that way.
Super Bowl XLIX
Unfortunately any list of modern games is going to include a lot of Patriots. I'm sorry for that if you're not a fan of them, but they have just been too dominant a force for too long. This game is a great example of why. The Patriots and Seahawks were both #1 in their respective conferences and both teams overcame huge deficits in the playoffs to make it to the Super Bowl (the Pats went down by 14 points to the Baltimore Ravens twice in the Divisional Round, and the Seahawks led one of the largest comebacks ever in an NFC Championship Game to beat the Packers in overtime). The Patriots would go down by 14 again in the Super Bowl, and no team had ever come back from that much down in the second half to win before (they would do it again a couple years later in Super Bowl LI).
Securing a Legacy
Despite having a winning team for most of the 2000s, it had been 10 years since the Patriots had won the Super Bowl up until this game. And they overcame a lot to get to this point.
Super Bowl XLII
The great thing about sports - there can only be one winner. Every NFL season features 31 losers, and it doesn't matter what you did or how you got there if you can't bring home that trophy. Patriots fans know this one best as the "18-1" season. The New England Patriots went undefeated in the regular season and tried to do something only one other team has accomplished - go undefeated the entire way. The New York Giants had something to say about that, however, and pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in Super Bowl history as the first NFC wild card team to win it all.
The Patriots may have had one of the best runs in the history of the NFL, but it will be forever scarred by this moment. The moment they reached for the stars and came too close to the sun.
2012 AFC Divisional Round
If you're not a Baltimore Ravens or Denver Broncos fan, you may have missed this game. And if you did, that's a shame. You really should watch it. Before the season started the Broncos had secured one of the most sought after free agents in recent memory - quarterback Peyton Manning. It was a gamble because he had been hurt in a big way, but after a slow start the Broncos went on an 11-game win streak and roared into the playoffs. The Ravens on the other hand delt with injuries and inconsistencies all season and were led by Joe Flacco. The game probably shouldn't have been as close as it was, but the result was a ton of offense, two special teams touchdowns, and a play that would go on to be called the Mile High Miracle (a 70-yard touchdown to Jacoby Jones).
Mile High Miracle
A shootout of epic porportions that would lead to double overtime, a very rare occurance in the NFL. The Ravens would go on to stun the Manning-led Broncos, who had dominated the end of the regular season.
Super Bowl XLIII
I remember this game very clearly. I was in the U.S. Navy at the time and stationed in a place where this game played live at around 2 a.m. It was worth staying up for. This was an amazing year for the Arizona Cardinals. It was, after all, the first Super Bowl appearance for the franchise. And they did it on the back of Kurt Warner, who only emerged as the starting quarterback after injuries to the starter, Matt Leinart. The Steelers, on the other hand, were a powerhouse at this time. They had just won the Super Bowl a couple years ago and had been dominant, thanks to the QB play of Big Ben Roethlisberger, ever since.
The Recession Bowl
Arizona's first chance at a championship since 1947. The Steelers' chance to set a record for six Super Bowl championships. Larry Fitzgerald with a 64-yard touchdown. Santonio Holmes' toe-tapping catch for the win. Amazing game.
Tell Us Your Favorites
This list isn't perfect. How could a list limited to just 10 great games possibly cover all the amazing plays and daring feats of NFL teams? What are your favorite games both classics and modern? Let's watch all the best the NFL has to offer while we wait for the season to start!