Yardbarker NFL writers Michael Tunison and Chris Mueller address some of the hottest issues in the league. This week's topic: Who has the edge in the AFC Championship Game?
Tunison: Having dispatched No. 3 seed and defending AFC champ New England and No. 1 seed Baltimore on the road, the Titans are enjoying the kind of momentum that suggests they're going to upset the Chiefs in Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game. All the narrative hooks are there: sixth-seeded Tennessee spectacularly ending the recent drought of wild-card teams making the Super Bowl by beating the top three seeds in the conference and Titans QB Ryan Tannehill returning to South Florida to flout his status as a dismissed washout with the Dolphins.
Jordan blames Saints' loss to Vikings on refs: 'It's a joke'
The New Orleans Saints were ousted from the playoffs in the wild-card round Sunday.The New Orleans Saints were ousted from the playoffs in the wild-card round Sunday when Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins won it in overtime with a controversial touchdown.
NFL playoff schedule
And why not? What's one more road win at this point, no less against a Chiefs franchise that is known for choking in these situations, with a head coach in Andy Reid who has always let the big one elude him?
One big reason why not is that the third-seeded Chiefs showed remarkable resilience in their divisional-round win against the Texans. Much lesser teams would have folded facing the early 24-0 deficit that Kansas City did. The Chiefs' offense found a way to start clicking and then went into overdrive, churning out 51 points in three quarters. Tennessee's defense is better than Houston's, so I wouldn't try to repeat that feat on consecutive weekends. But the Chiefs should feel confident that they won't go into panic mode if things don't go their way immediately out of the gate.
Opinion: Lamar Jackson is embarrassing the NFL's scouting process like few before him
Lamar Jackson's NFL heroics shouldn't be too surprising because he did similar things at Louisville. Yet four QBs were selected ahead of him in 2018.And he did that to make a point.
The Titans won the regular-season meeting between these teams, a 35-32 shootout in Tennessee capped by a Tannehill winning touchdown pass in the final 30 seconds. Despite that loss, the Chiefs can feel encouraged that the rematch of a close result is in Arrowhead this time around and that Patrick Mahomes had a stellar outing against Tennessee (36-for-50 for 446 yards and three touchdowns) in what was his first game returning from a back injury, when he was still not quite at full strength.
If Mahomes can have similar success, it will force the Titans to go away from Derrick Henry, who was a problem for the Chiefs' poor run defense in Week 10 (188 yards, 23 carries) and will be Sunday. Mahomes could force Tannehill into something more than Trent Dilfer mode -- you remember the caretaker QB of the 2000 Ravens, right?
No sixth seed has played in a conference title game since the 2010 Packers, who defeated the Bears to win the NFC and went on to beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl. It's a hard, hard road. Historical note: Four other sixth seeds besides Green Bay have played in the conference championship game: the 2005 Steelers, who went on to win Super Bowl, and 2008 Ravens, 2008 Eagles and 2010 Jets, all of whom lost in the conference title game.
Mueller: I love this matchup for the Titans, and while the comparisons to Giants-49ers games in the 1980s feel a little lazy (running game, defense vs. Joe Montana-led aerial attack), that makes them no less true. Tennessee wants to hold onto the ball, dominate physically, and do enough defensively to occasionally stop Mahomes, or at least hold the Chiefs to field goals. I think the Titans can do that, and I think they’re going to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. It isn’t just Henry’s brilliance, either.
Tennessee’s defense is much better than Houston’s; the Texans are putrid on that side of the ball, ranking 25th in net yards per pass attempt allowed and 27th in yards per carry allowed. (Tennessee is 19th and seventh, respectively.) The Titans should be able to make the Chiefs one-dimensional. Now Mahomes and that passing attack are a pretty great dimension, but they’re not the completely unstoppable juggernaut they appeared to be against Houston.
Which NFL stars will carry their teams to Super Bowl?
From Patrick Mahomes and Derrick Henry to Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo, there will be plenty of star power on the field Sunday.The San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans have combined for just one Super Bowl win since the 2000 season (by the Packers in the 2010 campaign). But while the teams might be short on recent experience at the game's biggest stage, there's plenty of star power among them.
Trailing 24-0 and then outscoring the opposition 51-7 the rest of the way is a completely aberrant way to win. It won’t work against the Titans. A steady dose of Henry -- who has rushed for at least 182 yards in his past three games -- would kill clock and Kansas City’s spirit. What’s more, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel won't panic, throw away the lead, and butcher every conceivable scenario if his team grabs a big early lead. That’s the other, less-discussed story of the Chiefs’ win over Houston.
Texans head coach Bill O’Brien delivered it to them on a silver platter. His fake punt, while gutsy, was greedy in the moment, and if he really wanted to go for the first down in that setting, he should have put the ball in Deshaun Watson's hands. That came on the heels of a field goal attempt on fourth and short deep in K.C. territory that, while successful, came under fire for being too conservative.
O’Brien isn’t a good coach, and he proved it against the Chiefs. His team got a big lead, then he coached desperate and scared, and his team reflected that. Vrabel, on the other hand, seems like a man relishing Tennessee’s moment, and he's pushing all the right buttons to help it along.
If the Titans weren’t cowed by going on the road to face the defending champions, or the No. 1 seed -- a team with an offense very different but equally as dynamic as Kansas City’s -- why would this game make them jittery? Oh, and the Pats and Ravens boasted the league’s best and fourth-best defenses in terms of yards allowed. New England was tops in scoring defense, and Baltimore was third. Kansas City might be seventh in points allowed, but it was just 17th in yards allowed.
LSU, Iowa, Penn State tied for most former players in Super Bowl LIV between 49ers and Chiefs
Recently crowned college football national champion LSU is tied with two Big Ten schools with the most former players in Super Bowl LIV.Safety Tyrann Mathieu is one of four from the recently crowned college football national champions who will represent the Chiefs -- cornerback Morris Claiborne, and running backs Spencer Ware and Darrel Williams are the others. The lone LSU product on the 49ers is linebacker Kwon Alexander.
Mark my words: The Titans will move the ball, and move it well.
Tunison: No doubt that Kansas City can't afford to fall behind 24-0 to Tennessee, and I don't believe that's liable to happen. In the divisional round, you can write off that kind of first quarter as bye- week rustiness. Tannehill has had a fine season, but he hasn't been called on to do much in the postseason.
It's paramount for the Chiefs to get a lead early, so the best way to press the issue is to load up against the run early and force Tennessee's quarterback, who has thrown for a combined 160 yards in two postseason wins, to produce. Including a Week 17 win over Houston, Tannehill hasn't thrown more than 20 passes in a game in a month.
You might argue that K.C. aiming to put the ball in the hands of highest-rated quarterback in the league sounds foolish, yet the Titans were just 1-2 this season in games in which Tannehill attempted more than 30 passes. Selling out against the run is a risk, and possibly leaves the Chiefs open to screens, so they'll have to be disciplined. But Kansas CIty simply can't allow Henry to dictate the pace.
Tennessee is certainly up to the moment, but I have to imagine the Chiefs focusing on this game for the last year will have them ready to storm to an early lead.
Vrabel's coolness will be an asset, but it's one thing to bully a Patriots team that was aware of its wavering state and a Baltimore team that fell in love with the out-of-nowhere nature of this season's success. The Chiefs have had a full year to fixate on clearing this next hurdle. Kansas City may very well come up short again, but I can't see the Titans dominating the Chiefs as they did the Patriots and Ravens.
Dotson, Azubuike lift No. 3 Kansas over Tennessee 74-68
No. 3 Kansas beat Tennessee 74-68 Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Azubuike was the lone big man for the Jayhawks (16-3) after Silvio De Sousa was suspended 12 games and David McCormack banned five for their roles in a brawl Tuesday against Kansas State.BOX SCORE: NO. 3 KANSAS 74, TENNESSEE 68RELATED: 'Negative cloud' over JayhawksAfter Azubuike went to the bench with two fouls early, Yves Pons hit consecutive 3-pointers to put the Volunteers (12-7) on a 14-2 run for a 20-13 lead. Kansas answered when Azubuike checked back in, stringing together a 12-0 run en route to a 37-30 lead at halftime.
Mueller: I’m glad you brought up Tannehill. He and Henry were force multipliers for each other. The Titans’ record isn’t good when Tannehill has to fill the air with footballs, but the reason that he was so good all season was because he was accurate enough (70.3 % completion percentage) to keep defenses honest and can run (185 yards rushing, 4 TDs) to extend and make plays.
Tannehill led the NFL in yards per attempt (9.6), a yard better than second-place Matthew Stafford of the Lions, and nearly a yard and a half better than Mahomes. It’s easy to put up big numbers without attempting many passes when you’re always completing them.
Kansas City’s pass defense is a strength, and safety Tyrann Mathieu is a wild card, but I get the sense that Tannehill is going to be a major factor in this game, and a positive one. Nothing he did during the regular season seemed fluky. He was third in the league in intended air yards, per NFL Next Gen Stats, behind Stafford and Jameis Winston of the Bucs. The Titans weren’t a catch-and-run outfit; Tannehill was taking chunks of yardage, and often.
The New England game was always going to be a slugfest, and the matchup with Baltimore was always going to be a physical battle, where an early lead could result in a game of keep-away. Kansas City is a different animal, and while Vrabel & Co. would doubtless love to grab an early lead and sit on it, my expectation is that the Titans must score a lot to win. Their quarterback, who, like his team is playing with house money, will rise to the occasion.
Related slideshow: 30 best NFL playoff games of all time (Provided by Yardbarker)
This first-rounder featured seismic momentum swings and a controversial ending. Winners of four straight, the Giants countered Terrell Owens' 76-yard touchdown by scoring 31 of the next 38 points. But the Jeff Garcia-led 49ers answered by scoring the next 25 points — two touchdowns to Owens, whose three-TD day matched Amani Toomer's three-TD half. A Giants final-minute drive created a manageable field goal try for a then-young Matt Bryant. Said attempt gave way to a botched snap and an uncalled pass interference penalty on a punter's lob to an eligible-receiver guard. A wild scene.
Despite Tom Landry giving Roger Staubach the reins midway through the Cowboys' 1971 Super Bowl title season, a preseason injury in '72 led to the legend riding the bench all year. But when the 49ers led by 15 entering the fourth quarter of the rivals' divisional-round meeting, Landry called on Staubach. After a 20-yard Staubach-to-Billy Parks TD strike with 1:20 left, kicker Toni Fritsch's unorthodox onside kick gave Dallas a game-winning shot. They capitalized via Ron Sellers' 10-yard TD catch. Even though the Cowboys lost to the Redskins the following week, this was one of Staubach's finest hours.
The Ice Bowl's prequel produced more points and a far friendlier climate. A statistically superior Packers team to their 1967 edition received typically clutch work from Bart Starr, who threw four touchdown passes against the Cowboys at the Cotton Bowl. But Don Meredith's 68-yard toss to Frank Clarke pulled Dallas to within seven points in the fourth quarter, and the future "Monday Night Football" analyst marched the Cowboys to the Packers' goal line in the final seconds. But Hall of Fame linebacker Dave Robinson forced a Meredith interception to prevent overtime and send the Packers to Super Bowl I.
27. 1977 AFC divisional playoff: Raiders 37, Colts 31, 2OT
One of the storied moments in the history of the tight end position propelled the Raiders to their 10th AFL or AFC championship game in 11 years. Dave Casper caught three touchdown passes in Oakland's win at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, but his only non-TD catch — a 42-yarder on the Raiders' game-tying fourth-quarter drive — immortalized this as the "Ghost to the Post" game. It featured eight lead changes, with Ken Stabler's 345 yards besting reigning MVP Bert Jones. "The Snake" found Casper for a 10-yard touchdown in the second overtime to send the Raiders to the AFC title game.
26. 1986 AFC championship game: Broncos 23, Browns 20, OT
The beginning of John Elway's ascent into his position as an all-time great involved a 98-yard drive and some clutch work by a then-drop-prone rookie wide receiver. Mark Jackson's only two catches came on a third-and-18 to keep Denver's drive going and then on Elway's rocket to tie the game with 37 seconds left. Coming off a double-overtime comeback win over the Jets, the top-seeded Browns went up 20-13 on Brian Brennan's 48-yard TD catch. After Jackson's answer, the Broncos advanced to Super Bowl XXI on a still-debated field goal from barefooted kicker Rich Karlis.
The NFL's first true championship game still holds the distinction of having the most lead changes in a title contest. The league split into two divisions in 1933, and the Bears and Giants faced off in the first of their six championship encounters. Despite offensive football being in its infancy, this matchup produced 618 yards of offense and six lead changes. Two came on second-half Bill Karr TDs, the first on a jump pass from Bronco Nagurski and the second at the end of a fourth-quarter lateral sequence. George Halas' Bears won four of their six championship meetings with the Giants from 1933-63.
24. 2012 AFC divisional playoff: Ravens 38, Broncos 35, 2OT
The No. 1-seeded Broncos allowed future Bronco Joe Flacco to complete a 70-yard bomb to Jacoby Jones that sent this game to overtime. Flacco's heave came with 30 seconds left and the Ravens out of timeouts, and it obscured one of the great return days in NFL history. Ex-LSU sprinter Trindon Holliday took a punt and kickoff back for touchdowns, and Peyton Manning threw three TD passes on a bitter-cold day in the NFL's fourth-longest game. Rahim Moore's gaffe (and Justin Tucker's double-overtime game-winner) likely deprived the Broncos of a Super Bowl trip and instead catalyzed a Ravens Super Bowl climb.
The most vulnerable of the 49ers' four 1980s Super Bowl teams, the 1988 edition prevailed in an oft-replayed finish. The 49ers (10-6) held the 12-4 Bengals' No. 1 offense to nine points but surrendered a 93-yard Stanford Jennings kick-return TD in the third quarter. During Super Bowl's premier wide receiver night, Jerry Rice turned 14 of his 215 yards into a game-tying score. After Jim Breech's field goal broke a 13-all tie, Joe Montana broke the Bengals with one of the great drives in NFL history. The 49ers' 11-play, 92-yard march ended with a John Taylor touchdown, dashing the Bengals' best title shot.
Stefon Diggs' Minneapolis Miracle walk-off sprint overshadowed a back-and-forth classic. Using their sixth starting quarterback in their past six playoff seasons, the No. 2-seeded Vikings ran out to a 17-0 halftime lead but saw their top-tier defense fail to derail Drew Brees. The future Hall of Famer threw three second-half touchdown passes in a six-score fourth quarter. The Vikings then went up 23-21 with 1:29 left, and the Saints countered with an apparent game-winning field goal over a minute later. Somehow, the Case Keenum-to-Diggs sequence was only the second-most brutal Saints loss of the 2010s.
The first Super Bowl in Oilers/Titans history involved two 16-point runs, the second of which pulled the AFC champions to a late-fourth-quarter tie. Tennessee, however, could not stop 1999 MVP Kurt Warner on a then-record 414-yard night. His final pass, a 73-yard Isaac Bruce touchdown, broke the tie. The Titans' final drive cemented this game's classic status. Steve McNair guided the AFC champs to the Rams' 6-yard line, finishing off that stretch with one of the Super Bowl's great individual efforts. But Rams linebacker Mike Jones' all-time tackle on Kevin Dyson a play later denied the Titans on the game's final play.
Shifting to happier Titans times...this first-round escape propelled them to Super Bowl XXXIV. In what turned out to be the final game of the Bruce Smith-Thurman Thomas-Andre Reed era, the Bills made the controversial decision to bench Doug Flutie for the less-proven Rob Johnson. The latter did not play particularly poorly, leading two go-ahead fourth-quarter drives. The second involved a shoeless completion to Peerless Price, setting up a Steve Christie field goal with 25 seconds left. Kevin Dyson was a backup option on Tennessee's Music City Miracle play, but his name lives on because of the result.
19. 1971 AFC divisional playoff: Dolphins 27, Chiefs 24, 2OT
At 82 minutes, 40 seconds, this is the longest game in NFL history. Kansas City received a monumental all-purpose-yard effort from Ed Podolak, who was not a key player on the Chiefs' Super Bowl IV team. Podolak amassed a playoff-record 350 yards. It wasn't enough. A sixth-year franchise, the Dolphins rallied to send the game to overtime via Bob Griese's 5-yard pass to Marv Fleming. Hall of Fame Chiefs kicker Jan Stenerud missed a 31-yard field goal, leading to overtime, then had an OT try blocked. Garo Yepremian fared better, making the game-winner. It took the Chiefs two decades to return to the divisional round.
18. 2018 AFC championship game: Patriots 37, Chiefs 31, OT
This time, Chiefs home playoff misery shifted east to Arrowhead Stadium. Bill Belichick and Brian Flores' defense shut out Patrick Mahomes in the first half, but the MVP's second-half showing was almost a baton-pass moment. The Patriots minimized Tyreek Hill but could not stop the rest of the Chiefs' machine-gun attack in a 24-point K.C. fourth stanza. However, the Pats converted 13 third downs. While two controversial fourth-quarter plays went against the Chiefs before Dee Ford committed one of the costliest penalties in NFL annals, their vulnerable secondary could not stop Tom Brady in regulation or OT.
17. 2015 NFC divisional playoff: Cardinals 26, Packers 20, OT
This game would be well off this elite tier had the Cardinals simply stopped a fourth-and-20 Packers sequence. But Rodgers' two subsequent Hail Mary heaves to undrafted wideout Jeff Janis etch this game into postseason lore. A ricochet TD from Carson Palmer to Michael Floyd gave the Cardinals a late lead, but Arizona's defense could not prevent Rodgers from two historic conversions without Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb available. However, Playoff Larry Fitzgerald's legend grew with his 80 overtime yards, making 2015 the third straight season the Packers were eliminated in OT without Rodgers touching the ball.
A Rams offense featuring the MVPs from 1999-2001 (Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk) struggled to get going against Bill Belichick's defense. New England limited St. Louis' No. 1 offense to three points before the fourth quarter, with Ty Law's pick-six putting the 14-point favorites on notice. But Warner piloted two final-period TD drives, the latter ending with the first of Ricky Proehl's "scored too soon against the Patriots" Super Bowl TDs. Tom Brady threw for just 92 yards before the Pats' final drive, but the first-year starter set up the first of Adam Vinatieri's two Super Bowl game-winners.
Possessing the ball for over 40 minutes, the Giants did just enough to ground the 1990 Bills' high-flying K-Gun offense. However, Thurman Thomas still totaled 190 scrimmage yards and gave Buffalo a 19-17 lead via a 31-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run. This game also featured a Bruce Smith safety and Mark Ingram's five-broken-tackle third-down conversion during the Giants' near-nine-minute third-quarter TD drive. After Matt Bahr's go-ahead field goal, the Bills could not move into sufficient field goal range for Scott Norwood. His 47-yard miss is the lasting image from Buffalo's early-1990s near dynasty.
The NFL's recent unveiling of its 100 Greatest Games list placed this 64th. Too low. Because in the fourth quarter's final four minutes, a 23-17 game morphed into an all-action classic. Drew Brees (462 yards) and Alex Smith traded long scoring plays, with Jimmy Graham's 66-yarder giving New Orleans a 32-29 edge. Graham and Vernon Davis combined for a tight end duel for the ages — 12 catches, 283 yards, four TDs between them — but the elder pass-catcher won the day. Davis' third-down score with nine seconds left sent the 49ers to the NFC championship game. January has not gone well for the 2010s Saints.
13. 1987 AFC championship game: Broncos 38, Browns 33
This game's unique ending has obscured the high-octane contest. John Elway and Bernie Kosar each threw three touchdown passes, and Earnest Byner was the best player on the field for most of the day. His 183 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns helped Cleveland erase a 28-10 Denver lead, but after the Browns tied it at 31 in the fourth quarter, Elway drove the Broncos 77 yards in three plays. Sammy Winder's catch-and-run provided the decisive points. Jeremiah Castille's strip of a sure Byner TD gave the game its "The Fumble" identity, however, and the Browns haven't come this close to a Super Bowl since.
12. 2006 AFC championship game: Colts 38, Patriots 34
After losing the first of his four AFC title game matchups with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning won the final three. The Colts' comeback from an 18-point first-half deficit made the second meeting the most memorable. While the game between the AFC's Nos. 3-4 seeds features a confusing box score with three lineman touchdowns, Manning's 349-yard day led was enough to turn the tide against the Patriots. Indianapolis navigated a Reggie Wayne near-fumble on its game-winning drive, and after Joseph Addai's TD, a Marlin Jackson interception sealed the Colts' trip to Super Bowl XLI.
Thanks to Larry Fitzgerald's record seven playoff touchdown receptions, the 2008 Cardinals transformed from 9-7 into a postseason menace. This game progressed slowly, but James Harrison's 100-yard all-or-nothing INT return provided a massive swing for the Steelers. However, Pittsburgh was no match for Fitz in the fourth quarter. The second of the future Hall of Famer's two scores completed a Cardinals 13-point comeback. But MVP Santonio Holmes carried the Steelers to victory, recording 73 yards and the game-winning touchdown on the ensuing drive. Another 300-plus-yard Kurt Warner Super Bowl effort went for naught.
10. 1992 AFC wild-card game: Bills 41, Oilers 38, OT
Not only did the Bills not have Jim Kelly in this game, but they also lost Thurman Thomas midway through. Frank Reich nevertheless led the greatest comeback in league history — a 32-point rally over an Oilers team that beat Buffalo a week before. Warren Moon threw four first-half TD passes, but Jack Pardee's Run and Shoot attack cooled after amassing the seemingly bulletproof 35-3 lead. Reich found Andre Reed three times in the second half to give the Bills a 38-35 lead. While Moon helped the Oilers salvage OT, his extra-period INT to Nate Odomes set up Steve Christie's game-winning field goal to start another Bills Super Bowl run.
This Falcons unraveling remains stupefying. Kyle Shanahan's offense still moved the ball mid-collapse, twice into field goal range, but could not score any points after the floodgates opened. The signature game for Tom Brady's GOAT case featured the Patriots icon throwing a pick-six in falling behind 28-3 and atoning for it with a masterful fourth quarter. The Falcons twice backed themselves out of field goal range, via penalty, and the Pats did not let them off the hook. Brady threw for 466 yards against a shell-shocked defense and guided the overtime walk-off drive that James White punctuated with his third touchdown.
8. 1974 AFC divisional playoff: Raiders 28, Dolphins 26
Known for the conclusion of the Dolphins' dynasty and Clarence Davis' storied touchdown catch, the "Sea of Hands" game also featured two acrobatic touchdown receptions from Fred Biletnikoff and Cliff Branch. Ken Stabler threw four touchdown passes and needed all four to stave off the three-time reigning AFC champions. Dolphins rookie running back Benny Malone's go-ahead score gave the visitors a 26-21 lead, but Stabler drove the Raiders into the red zone. His final-minute, 8-yard lob to Davis, a running back who caught four passes that season, remains one of the NFL's signature plays.
This subplot-filled game deserves more attention. The Browns' first NFL season ended with them facing Cleveland's former team for the title. The Rams possessed an otherworldly offense that averaged 37 points per game. In a matchup featuring numerous Hall of Famers, the Rams, quarterbacked by ex-Cleveland Rams QB Bob Waterfield, countered the first three of Otto Graham's four TD passes to take a 28-20 lead at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. But Graham mounted two scoring drives, converting a fourth-and-19 on the Browns' final possession to set up Lou Groza's 16-yard field goal. Graham and Waterfield combined for 610 passing yards.
6. 1958 NFL championship game: Colts 23, Giants 17, OT
Although Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry were masterful in "The Greatest Game Ever Played," the contest itself did not match the legendary duo's work. The Colts and Giants combined for six lost fumbles at Yankee Stadium that day, but the game brought momentous swings. The Giants erased a 14-3 deficit via Charlie Conerly's 15-yard pass to Frank Gifford, but Unitas directed a game-tying drive that left players confused when a field goal knotted the score at regulation's end. The first sudden-death playoff game ended after the Colts, who did not win the OT coin toss, marched 79 yards to set up Alan Ameche's 1-yard TD.
Like the 1958 title game, 1981's NFC decider was a turnover mess. The 49ers and Cowboys combined for nine, the hosts committing six. Still, San Francisco's defense helped set up its offense for a rather notable NFL moment. The drive itself was not as surgical as Joe Montana's Super Bowl XXIII sojourn, with the 49ers running frequently against the Cowboys' dime defense. Obviously, it ended with the most famous reception in NFC history — "The Catch," courtesy of Dwight Clark — but 49ers cornerback Eric Wright narrowly preventing Drew Pearson from a stunning response adds appeal to this classic.
A fantastic Super Bowl before the Seahawks' infamous goal-line decision, this game played out as essentially a battle for team of the 2010s. Tom Brady threw touchdown passes to four targets, but his two interceptions helped the Seahawks establish a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead. Seattle's injury-plagued secondary, however, could not hold up. Julian Edelman's TD gave the Pats the final lead. A slight what-if before the massive Marshawn Lynch what-if: Does Jermaine Kearse score if he gets up immediately after his circus catch? That became key, because Malcolm Butler's interception changed the course of these franchises.
Still the coldest game in NFL history, temperature-wise (minus-13 degrees), The Ice Bowl doubles as the defining day for the Packers dynasty. The game involved two long touchdown passes — the second a Dan Reeves-to-Lance Rentzel 50-yard halfback pass — and the Cowboys reeling off 17 straight points to take a fourth-quarter lead. Bart Starr's iconic drive included one of the boldest decisions in NFL history. Vince Lombardi called for a third-down quarterback sneak without a timeout and 16 seconds remaining. Starr prevented an end-game catastrophe by plunging into the end zone to send the Packers to Super Bowl II.
This century's defining game lands here despite its low score. The 2007 championship's stakes — the Giants denying the Patriots open-and-shut "greatest team ever" status — and final moments elevate this defensive battle's standing. Tom Brady's methodical 80-yard drive that ended with an easy Randy Moss TD gave the Pats a glimpse at 19-0. But Eli Manning's 83-yard answer combining seminal standard football sequences with David Tyree raising the big-stage degree-of-difficulty bar to a stunning place makes this Super Bowl one of the league's most important nights. So much happened in these final moments that Plaxico Burress' clincher is an afterthought — a sign this game was pretty good.
1. 1981 AFC divisional playoff: Chargers 41, Dolphins 38, OT
A true stunner. Dan Fouts and Dolphins backup Don Strock combined to pass for 836 yards and seven touchdowns. The Chargers blew a 24-0 lead and needed a late strip, a fluky Fouts-to-James Brooks final-minute touchdown and a Kellen Winslow blocked field goal to send this second-round game to overtime. The game also included Miami's half-ending hook-and-ladder — a Duriel Harris-to-Tony Nathan flip — and Winslow playing through injury en route to a then-playoff-record 13-catch night. Rolf Benirschke's 29-yard field goal sent the Chargers to Cincinnati, where they lost in the coldest wind-chill game ever. Nevertheless, the "Epic in Miami" was Air Coryell's pinnacle.
Cowboys' Smith has not heard back from McCarthy .
Colin Cowherd talks Tom Brady and the Patriots
Tennessee Titans vs Kansas City Chiefs AFC Championship Preview
Tennessee Titans vs Kansas City Chiefs AFC Championship Preview Subscribe to NFL: http://j.mp/1L0bVBu Check out our other channels: NFL Vault ...
AFC Championship Preview: Titans vs. Chiefs | Chris Simms Unbuttoned | NBC Sports
Mike Florio and Chris Simms give their keys and predictions for the AFC Championship Game between the Titans and Chiefs in Kansas City. #NBCSports ...