It’s wild-card weekend.
Perhaps the 2015 playoffs will provide games that can be added to lists of the greatest ever. Before the ball is kicked off at 4:35 p.m. Saturday in Houston, let’s take a look at the greatest wild-card games in NFL history up to this point.
Comebacks, lead changes and plays so memorable that they have their own name are common elements throughout this list.
Some teams make multiple appearances on this list. Some for good reasons, some for bad reasons and some for both.
No. 10: Vikings 23, Giants 22 (1997)
Considering the many ways they lose important games, no list of the greatest wild-card playoff games would be complete without a game (or two) involving the Giants.
The Giants led the Vikings 19-3 at halftime, but it was a lead built on four Brad Daluiso field goals. So the Vikings hung around.
Daluiso kicked another one midway through the fourth quarter to increase the Giants’ lead to 22-13. The game seemed over when the Vikings punted with 3:51 left, but the Vikings got the ball back and Randall Cunningham threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Jake Reed with 1:30 left.
The Vikings then recovered an onside kick. Against Giants defenders who were bickering among themselves at that point, Cunningham moved the Vikings into position for Eddie Murray to kick the game-winning, 24-yard field goal with 1o seconds left.
No. 9: Jaguars 31, Steelers 29 (2007)
Josh Scobee broke the Steelers’ hearts in this game, and in a Steelers uniform eight years later he nearly broke their hearts again.
Signed this season to replace an injured Shaun Suisham, Scobee missed two field goals in the Steelers’ season-opening 28-21 loss at New England and he missed two field goals in the final 2:29 of regulation in a 23-20 overtime loss to the Ravens in Week 4. That loss would have come back to haunt the Steelers had the Bills not bailed them out with a win over the Jets on Sunday.
Although the Steelers are in the playoffs, they have to end a three-game wild-card losing streak that began with this game.
The Steelers trailed 28-10 after three quarters but roared back and took a 29-28 lead with 6:28 left. However, a two-point conversion that was nullified by a penalty and two subsequent missed two-point tries would loom large.
The visiting Jaguars faced a fourth-and-2 from the Steelers’ 43 with 1:56 left, but David Garrard scrambled 32 yards to set up Scobee’s game-winning 25-yard field goal with 40 seconds left.
Eight years later, Scobee is looking for work and the Steelers have a chance to bury this bitter wild-card a loss a little bit deeper in the closet.
No. 8: Steelers 36, Browns 33 (2002)
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers are noted for their offense this season, but Comeback Player of the Year Tommy Maddox and the Steelers could put points on the scoreboard in 2002.
The Steelers desperately needed points after falling behind 24-7 in the third quarter of this game at Heinz Field. They still trailed 33-21 when they took the ball at their own 23 with 5:30 left. Aided on the drive by three Browns penalties, the Steelers pulled to within 33-28 when Hines Ward caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Maddox with 3:11 left.
With less than three minutes left and the Steelers down to one timeout, Dennis Northcutt dropped a third-down pass from Kelly Holcomb and the Steelers got the ball back.
Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala ran three yards for the game-winning touchdown with 58 seconds left, and the Browns lost their only playoff game since returning to Cleveland in 1999.
Not until their 34-27 win over the Broncos this season did the Steelers again come back from a 17-point deficit.
As thrilling as this wild-card game was, it wasn’t even the best game that day.
No. 7: Seahawks 21, Cowboys 20 (2006)
Memorable moments tend to move games up on this list.
In this game, that moment came when the Cowboys attempted a 19-yard field goal trailing 21-20 with 1:19 left.
Tony Romo, who had taken over for Drew Bledsoe as the Cowboys starting quarterback that season, was the holder for Martin Gramatica.
But the Cowboys kicker never got his foot on the ball.
Romo muffed the snap and tried to run for a first down. Seahawks defensive back Jordan Babineaux stopped him. The Cowboys got the ball back, but Romo’s Hail Mary from the 50-yard line fell short.
This game included three lead changes. The Cowboys led 20-13 in the fourth quarter, but Cowboys receiver Terry Glenn fumbled in the end zone for a safety, and the Seahawks took the free kick and went ahead on Matt Hasselbeck’s 37-yard touchdown pass to Jerramy Stevens with 4:31 left.
Bill Parcells never coached a game after that, but Romo’s career was just beginning.
Seattle’s 12th Man also was still developing. On this night, according to ESPN.com, Seahawks fans who would eventually be known for their decibel levels made their noise by clapping Shrek gloves.
No. 6: Cardinals 51, Packers 45, OT (2009)
This was the highest-scoring playoff game of all-time. It also was Aaron Rodgers’ first playoff game.
Rodgers threw for 423 yards with four touchdowns and an interception, but Kurt Warner threw five touchdown passes with no interceptions.
Rodgers led the Packers back from a 31-10 deficit to tie the game early in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals regained the lead and the Packers answered with less than two minutes left. Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers missed a 34-yard field goal at the end of regulation.
The Packers had the ball to start overtime, but they wouldn’t have it for long. Michael Adams sacked Rodgers and Karlos Dansby picked up the ball and returned it 17 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
The Cardinals were eliminated by the eventual Super Bowl-champion Saints the following week. They’ll host a playoff game for the first time since this game in the divisional round on Jan. 16.
No. 5: Colts 45, Chiefs 44 (2013)
Big comebacks register high on this list, and the Colts mounted the second-biggest playoff comeback of all-time in this one.
They already were down 31-10 at halftime, then seemed dead and buried when Andrew Luck’s first pass of the second half was intercepted. Alex Smith threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game to make it 38-10 less than two minutes into the third quarter.
The host Colts responded with Donald Brown’s 10-yard touchdown run. Then Robert Mathis sacked Smith and forced a fumble, and the comeback was on.
Down 41-31 with 10:45 left in the game, Luck prevented what could have been a rally killer when he recovered Brown’s fumble and took it in five yards for a touchdown to narrow the deficit to 41-38.
The Chiefs added another field goal, but the math wasn’t on their side against the high-powered Colts. With 4:29 left, Luck threw the game-winning, 64-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton.
Dwayne Bowe caught a pass that could have put the Chiefs in field-goal range with two minutes left, but he was out of bounds.
This game would rank higher on the list, but it wasn’t eventful enough in the final minutes and seconds.
The Colts were eliminated by the Patriots the following week, then again in the 2014 AFC championship game. They’ll have to wait at least another year for another shot at the Patriots.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, have an opportunity Saturday not only to exorcise the demons of this collapse but also to win their first playoff game since 1993.
No. 4: 49ers 30, Packers 27 (1998)
The wild-card round seemed to be a little early for these NFC heavyweights to clash.
The visiting Packers were going for their third straight Super Bowl appearance and the 49ers, who had won the Super Bowl four years earlier, were making their seventh straight playoff appearance.
This game also matched Brett Favre and Steve Young, and it essentially came down to which of these decorated quarterbacks would have the ball last.
The fourth of five lead changes came when Favre threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman with two minutes left to give the Packers a 27-23 lead.
Then it was Young’s turn. He drove the 49ers 76 yards and threw a 25-yard TD pass to Terrell Owens with three seconds left.
Owens’ game-winning grab in heavy traffic came to be known as The Catch II, but that name doesn’t universally resonate as much as the moniker attached to the next game on the list.
No. 3: Titans 22, Bills 16 (1999)
There. Are. No. Flags. On. The. Field.
Every one of those words seemed like its own sentence when Mike Keith called Kevin Dyson’s 75-yard kickoff return touchdown after Dyson took a cross-field lateral from Frank Wycheck.
It gave the Titans a 22-16 lead over the visiting Bills with three seconds left and came to be known as the “Music City Miracle.”
This game might have had a shot to make this list even without the Music City Miracle. There were three lead changes in the last two minutes.
Al Del Greco kicked a 36-yard field goal to give the Titans a 15-13 lead with 1:53 left and Steve Christie responded with a 41-yard field goal to make it 16-15 with 16 seconds left.
There was another time when a Christie field goal would hold up in a historic wild-card game. Not this time.
The Bills haven’t been to the playoffs since.
Some, including Adam Schefter of ESPN, still believe that Wycheck’s lateral went forward and was therefore illegal.
A dash of controversy is a nice addition to the recipe that makes this the third-best wild-card game of all-time.
No. 2: 49ers 39, Giants 38 (2002)
The Steelers’ comeback from a 17-point deficit against the Browns earlier in the day was merely the opening act.
The 49ers erased a 24-point deficit and ousted the visiting Giants in a game that made long-snapper Trey Junkin infamous.
Down 38-14 with less than five minutes left in the third quarter, the 49ers got back into the game with a Jeff Garcia pass to Terrell Owens and a Garcia touchdown run, both followed by two-point conversions. Jeff Chandler kicked a field goal to pull the 49ers to within 38-33 with 7:49 left.
Giants kicker Matt Bryant missed a field goal with three minutes left because of a bad snap by Junkin, who came out of retirement days earlier. The 41-year-old might have been able to get away with that one, but his 19-year NFL career became known only for one play that transpired shortly thereafter.
The 49ers took a 39-38 lead on Garcia’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Tai Streets with just over a minute left, but Kerry Collins moved the Giants within range for a 40-yard field goal attempt with six seconds left.
What followed was perhaps the most teeth-gnashing moment in a Giants history that’s been full of them. Junkin uncorked another bad snap. Holder Matt Allen could have spiked the ball and attempted another field goal since it was only third down, but instead he desperately heaved the ball to Rich Seubert.
Seubert’s jersey was yanked on the play and a flag was thrown, but the call was for an ineligible receiver downfield (even though Seubert was eligible) and the game was over.
The NFL apologized to the Giants the next day, but it didn’t lift the stain from Junkin’s resumé or heal the scars of Giants fans.
No. 1: Bills 41, Oilers 38, OT (1992)
Everyone remembers this game.
The Bills’ comeback from a 35-3 deficit is the largest in playoff history.
Most people remember that it was backup quarterback Frank Reich who led the comeback. Jim Kelly sat out the game with an injury.
Not everyone will remember that the Bills also were without NFL Defensive Player of the Year Cornelius Bennett and that running back Thurman Thomas was injured early in the third quarter.
The Oilers led 28-3 at halftime. There might have been some wild hopes for a Bills comeback. After all, Reich led Maryland from 31 points down to beat Miami in college. But Bubba McDowell seemingly put those silly dreams to rest when he returned an interception 58 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter.
At that point, Oilers beat writers were booking trips to Pittsburgh and Bills fans were leaving Rich Stadium.
Then backup running back Kenneth Davis ran for a 1-yard touchdown.
Then the Bills recovered an onside kick and Don Beebe caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from Reich to make it 35-17.
Then Andre Reed caught two touchdown passes and the Bills pulled to within 35-31 before the third quarter was even over.
Bills fans climbed fences to get back into the stadium. Eventually, they were allowed back into the stadium through normal entries.
Reed’s third touchdown catch gave the Bills a 38-35 lead with just over three minutes left. They didn’t need anywhere near an entire half to overcome their 32-point deficit, and it was the Oilers who had to mount a little rally to get the game into overtime. Al Del Greco’s 26-yard field goal forced the extra session.
The Oilers had the ball, but Nate Odomes intercepted Warren Moon in Oilers territory and Steve Christie kicked a 32-yard field goal to win it.
The Oilers were making their sixth of seven straight playoff appearances, but they never reached the conference championship game in any of them and some believe this epic collapse eventually led to their move from Houston to Tennessee five years later.
Buffalo had its own anguish. This victory came in the midst of the Bills’ four straight Super Bowl losses, but at least they’re still in Buffalo.