Ranking the 6 Best NFL Wild Card Games of All-Time
Wild card weekend represents the beginning of the NFL playoffs. We don’t see the best teams play in this round, but we’ve seen some legendary games.
Some games produce thrilling action with an unlikely outcome, while some feature a big comeback and crazy ending.
Let’s check out the best wild card games of all time.
6. New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks (2010)
The game that immortalized Marshawn Lynch in the Seattle Seahawks franchise.
Seattle made the playoffs in 2010, despite posting a 7-9 record. They had home-field advantage, but no one thought that would matter against the New Orleans Saints. The Saints were the defending Super Bowl champs and came into this matchup as (-10.0) point favorites.
It wasn’t looking like much of a battle, as the Saints jumped out to a 10-0 lead. Seattle cut the deficit to three at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the Seahawks offense broke out. Following a Saints touchdowns, here is what Seattle did on their next four drives.
- 7-yard touchdown
- 29-yard field goal
- 45-yard touchdown
Seattle’s second-quarter outburst gave them a 24-20 lead at halftime.
They kept it up in the third quarter, outscoring the Saints 10-0. However, the Saints wouldn’t go down quietly.
New Orleans scored 10 points in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. They trailed by four but couldn’t score on their next drive. That gave Seattle the ball with four minutes remaining.
Lynch busted through the line, breaking tackles to pick up the first down, but he was far from down. He kept breaking tackles, including a mean stiff-arm to Tracy Porter. Lynch made it to the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown.
On this day nine years ago, a Beast Quake occurred in Seattle. pic.twitter.com/Bfg34Pvjo3— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 8, 2020
The thrilling run gave Seattle an 11-point lead with three and a half minutes remaining. New Orleans added a late touchdown, but they couldn’t recover the onside kick, giving the Seahawks a 41-36 victory.
It was a tough blow for the Saints, who were among the Super Bowl favorites all season. Seattle was still a (+5000) longshot, and they lost in the following round.
That legendary run made this one of the best wild-card games.
5. Green Bay Packers vs. Arizona Cardinals (2009)
The highest-scoring playoff game in NFL history had to find a spot on our list.
Neither the Green Bay Packers nor Arizona Cardinals came into the playoffs with high expectations. Well, at least from the sportsbook’s perspective.
They were the only NFC teams to enter the playoffs with odds over (+1800). The Packers came into the matchup as (-2.5) point favorites.
Arizona came flying out of the gates, taking a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. It was a disaster start for Green Bay, as they had two turnovers and a missed field goal in their first four drives. However, they quickly found their groove.
Green Bay trailed 24-10 at halftime. Despite scoring two touchdowns in the third quarter, they went into the fourth quarter trailing 38-24.
In overtime, they won the coin toss. That had to worry many Cardinals fans. Then, their defense got a stop at the perfect time.
On 3rd and 10, Aaron Rodgers fumbled. The Cardinals returned it 17 yards for the touchdown to give them a 51-45 victory.
It was an all-time performance from Rodgers and Kurt Warner.
|Aaron Rodgers||Kurt Warner|
Warner’s performance, in particular, is one of the best single game performance in playoff history.
Arizona’s Super Bowl odds jumped to (+1200), but they were still among the longshots in the NFC. Their playoff run ended the following week in a 45-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
High-scoring games are always full of action. Add in two legendary quarterbacks, and you have a legendary game.
4. New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers (2002)
A big comeback and crazy finish? That’s the perfect formula for a great wild card game.
The New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers came into the playoffs with identical 10-6 records. New York’s playoff run was a bit of a surprise, as they entered the season with (+4000) odds to win the Super Bowl.
San Francisco opened as (-3.0) point favorites.
They quickly struck on a 76-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens. New York responded at the end of the first quarter with a touchdown pass of their own. From there, they dominated the second quarter.
- 2-yard touchdown pass
- 8-yard touchdown pass
- 24-yard touchdown pass
The 49ers had a touchdown in the middle of the quarter, but they trailed 28-14 at halftime. It only took one half for the game to hit the over on the 41.0-point total.
New York maintained their lead, outscoring the 49ers 10-8 in the third quarter. They took a 16-point lead into the fourth quarter. San Francisco began their comeback with a touchdown on the first play of the quarter. A two-point conversion cut the deficit to eight.
From there, the Giants had a three-and-out and missed field goal. San Francisco added a field goal and had the ball down six points.
The Giants went down the field and had a 40-yard field goal to win. They bobbled the snap and never kicked the ball.
San Francisco’s Super Bowl odds didn’t change with the victory. They lost 31-6 in the Divisional Round.
3. Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers (1998)
We’ve already seen the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers on this list. Why not include their memorable wild card game in 1998?
Both teams came into the season as Super Bowl favorites, but neither performed as well as they hoped. Green Bay went into the playoffs with (+3000) odds, while the 49ers were (+1500).
In the first half, the teams went back and forth. A late first-half touchdown gave Green Bay a 17-10 lead at halftime. It was a bit of an ugly first half, as there were three turnovers and a missed field goal.
The 49ers scored 10 points in the third quarter to take their first lead. That set the stage for a wild fourth quarter.
Each team began the quarter with long field goal drives. Brett Favre gave the Packers a four-point lead on a 15-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman with two minutes remaining.
That gave San Francisco plenty of time to score the game-winning touchdown. Steve Young methodically led them down the field.
With under 10 seconds remaining, Young fired a pass over the middle into the arms of Terrell Owens. The 25-yard touchdown catch gave the 49ers the lead and the win.
Everyone remembers the moment as “The Catch II.” Joe Montana’s touchdown pass to Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC Championship Game is “The Catch.”
San Francisco’s victory didn’t instill confidence in the sportsbooks. Their Super Bowl odds remained at (+1500). They went into the Divisional Round as (+3.5) point underdogs. The 49ers lost 20-18 to the Atlanta Falcons.
It wasn’t a Super Bowl matchup like everyone thought in the preseason, but the Packers and 49ers produced a thrilling matchup in the wild card round.
2. Buffalo Bills vs. Tennessee Titans (1999)
We’ve been talking about exciting finishes, but I’m not sure anything tops this game.
Neither the Buffalo Bills nor Tennessee Titans came into the season as Super Bowl favorites. A 13-3 season gave the Titans (+1500) odds to win the Super Bowl, while the Bills were a longshot at (+3500).
Tennessee was a (-5.0) point favorite.
It was a defensive battle early on, as the first seven drives featured five punts, a fumble, and a missed field goal. The Titans struck first with a fumble that rolled through the end zone for a safety. They added 10 more points to take a 12-0 lead at halftime.
The defenses continued to stand tall in the third quarter. A few minutes into the fourth quarter, Buffalo took their first lead on a one-yard touchdown run by Smith.
Tennessee reclaimed the lead on a field goal with 1:53 remaining, but Buffalo kicked a 41-yard field goal with 20 seconds left. Everyone thought that was it and Buffalo was onto the Divisional Round. But we still had a kickoff.
On the kickoff, Frank Wycheck lateraled the ball to Kevin Dyson, who returned it 75 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
That play changed the AFC playoffs. Tennessee upset the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars on their way to the Super Bowl.
Tennessee nearly pulled off another upset, but they came up one-yard short in the Super Bowl. Still, we can’t forget about the legendary ending in the wild card round.
1. Houston Oilers vs. Buffalo Bills (1992)
Seven years before the Music City Miracle, the then Houston Oilers and Buffalo Bills met up in the wild card round.
Both teams came into the season with lofty expectations. Buffalo was one of the preseason co-favorites to win the Super Bowl, while Houston wasn’t far behind at (+800). Their odds dropped a bit going into the postseason.
Buffalo came in as a slight (-2.0) home favorite. Early on, it looked like the Oilers would cover and then some.
Houston absolutely dominated the first half. They held a 28-3 behind a big performance from Warren Moon.
- 220 yards
- 4 touchdowns
Buffalo’s hopes of a comeback quickly decreased when they threw a pick-six on the first drive of the second half. I can’t tell you the exact odds, but I can only imagine how big of a longshot the Bills were at this point.
Houston kicked a last-second field goal to send the game into overtime.
Moon threw an interception in overtime, setting up the Bills in field goal range. Steve Christie kicked the game-winning 32-yard field goal to cap off the greatest comeback in NFL history. This game also went down as one of the best overtime games in NFL history.
Buffalo’s odds jumped from (+1500) to (+1000). Following an upset victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo became the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. They did just that with a 29-10 win in the AFC Championship Game.
The Bills run ended with a tough 52-17 loss in the Super Bowl. Even with the loss, Buffalo can say they pulled off one of the most amazing comebacks in sports history.
Other Great NFL Wild Card Games
- Kansas City Chiefs vs. Indianapolis Colts (2013)
- Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers (2003)
In 2013, the Indianapolis Colts staged a 21-point third-quarter comeback to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 45-44. The Colts outscored them 35-13 in the second half.
The Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers played in a back-and-forth wild card game that went into overtime. Matt Hasselbeck famously said, “we want the ball and we’re gonna score.” A few plays later, Hasselbeck threw the game-ending pick-six.
Wild card matchups are the first opportunity to see which teams have what it takes to make a deep playoff run. We’ve seen a few thrilling games, but only twice has the victor gone on to make a deep run. That big game can take a lot out of you.
The top NFL betting sites allow you to bet on the wild card game or look ahead to the Super Bowl.