It’s not often that the NFL is able to host games on Christmas Day, but when the league does, it tends to be one of the best gifts a football fan could ask for.
By the time 2020 wraps up, the NFL will have hosted a total of 22 Christmas Day games in the league’s history. So, it’s somehow both easier and more difficult when trying to nail down the six best games to ever take place on the holiday.
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Less games require less research to find the diamonds in the rough, with a few standing out among the rest as the best of the bunch. But, each game has its own special story and historic moments, turning the debate into a tough path to navigate.
Since we’re not ones to back down from a challenge, and to help ring in the holiday season in the only way we know how, it’s time to find out which of those 20-plus games goes down as the best of the best in the NFL’s Christmas Day history.
6. New York Jets vs. Miami Dolphins, 2006
Many football fans have memories from their childhoods when it comes to the sport on holidays, especially if they grew up in the Northeast.
Playing backyard football in a variety of weather conditions is a staple in New England and states like New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, so fans of the Patriots, Jets, Giants, Steelers and Eagles know all about games in snow, rain and everything in between.
So, when the Jets and Dolphins collided on Christmas Day in the midst of a weather hodgepodge in 2006, viewers at home caught a glimpse at a nostalgic and entertaining example of what the sport is all about.
There wasn’t any scoring in the first half due to the nasty weather, but touchdowns for each team in the fourth quarter once things cleared up made up for that. To top it off, a 30-yard field goal with 10 seconds to go in the fourth quarter gave the Jets a key divisional victory, and the perfect Christmas gift in the process.
5. Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers, 2005
The NFC North is generally a prominent feature on Thanksgiving Day, so it’s always a fun treat when fans get to double-dip on holidays in both November and December.
After the Lions battled the Falcons on Thanksgiving Day a month prior, fellow divisional rivals squared off in a defensive slobber knocker in 2005.
The Packers were looking to even up their season series with the Bears after a loss earlier in the year, while the Bears were hoping to win the NFC North in a promising year.
In the end, the Bears defense came up clutch as usual, recording four interceptions en route to an NFC North title and a first-round bye in the postseason.
Unfortunately for the Bears, they would go on to lose to the Panthers in that Divisional Round game a few weeks later. But, at least fans in Chicago can look back fondly on that Christmas Day in 2005.
4. Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders, 2004
Chiefs fans may be spoiled when it comes to gifts these days as a result of the team’s Super Bowl LIV win in 2020. But, sometimes, the best gifts come in smaller packages, especially on Christmas Day in 2004.
On that day, the Chiefs took on an AFC West rival in the then-Oakland Raiders, and it looked like things were falling apart more and more for Kansas City as the game progressed.
Kicker Lawrence Tynes missed two field goal attempts early on, which proved to be vital in what turned out to be a one-possession game. On the flip side, special teams wound up being crucial, as Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski hit two field goals in the last four minutes to give Oakland a 30-28 lead with 1:03 to go.
Luckily for Tynes, the third time’s the charm, as he drilled a 38-yard field goal with 22 seconds left to seal a Christmas Day victory for the Chiefs.
Neither team went on to the playoffs that year, but Kansas City’s fans got one last gift to enjoy to end on a make.
3. Arizona Cardinals vs. Dallas Cowboys, 2010
A battle between two 5-10 teams never looks like it will be great on paper in the days leading up to the game. Fortunately for football fans, the opposite turned out to be true on Christmas Day in 2010.
The out-of-contention Cardinals and Cowboys decided that they weren’t willing to pack it up and go home on that holiday, instead putting on a classic Christmas Day contest.
Arizona took not one, but two interceptions to the house to keep things interesting and get them out to a 21-3 lead. But, the Cowboys wouldn’t go down without a fight, scratching and clawing their way back to take the lead with 1:41 to go in regulation on a 37-yard touchdown from Stephen McGee to Miles Austin.
A missed extra point killed the comeback, however, paving the way for a 48-yard game-winning field goal for the Cardinals with five seconds left to move to 6-10 on the year.
The game didn’t have any serious consequences, but it was quite the gift to top off the first Christmas Day of the decade.
2. Miami Dolphins vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 1971
Back when the NFL first had games on Christmas Day, things worked out that the league could host not one, but two playoff games on the holiday. While the inaugural Christmas Day game between the Cowboys and Vikings wasn’t too thrilling, the second goes down as one of the best holiday battles in league history.
Chiefs running back Ed Podolak put up 350 all-purpose yards and almost put the entire team on his back, but unfortunately for the one-time Super Bowl champion, running wasn’t going to be enough to win this marathon.
The game lasted 82 minutes and 40 seconds and spanned two overtimes, and goes down as the longest game in league history (without an interruption, for those that factor in the Dolphins-Chiefs game from 2018 that lasted seven hours and eight minutes.)
In the end, Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian nailed a 37-yard field goal to seal the deal for Miami, advancing to the AFC Championship game in the process.
It was a battle for the ages, but comes up just short when trying to evaluate the greatest game in Christmas Day history.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens, 2016
Two star-studded teams, a divisional title on the line, and a game-winning touchdown with nine seconds left. What more could you ask Santa Claus for when writing out your wish list for Christmas Day?
The Steelers found themselves down 20-10 with 14:18 to go in the fourth quarter, and Pittsburgh’s AFC North title hopes looked like they were dwindling before everyone’s eyes.
Just a few minutes later, however, Le’Veon Bell punched in a seven-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to just three points with 11:41 to go. Four and a half minutes after that, Ben Roethlisberger found Bell for another seven-yard touchdown, topping off a six-play, 90-yard drive that gave the Steelers a four-point lead.
The Ravens would go on to take the lead on a 10-yard touchdown run from Kyle Juszczyk with 1:18 to go, setting the stage for one of the most dramatic plays in league history.
With the clock winding down, Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown inside the 10-yard line, and Brown stretched as far as he could en route to a four-yard touchdown with less than 10 seconds to go in regulation. A Chris Boswell extra point made it a 31-27 game, rounding out a 21-point fourth quarter for the AFC North champion Steelers.
The Steelers almost pulled off a miraculous run to the Super Bowl, losing in the AFC Championship game less than a month later. But, many fans in Pittsburgh remember that season more for a closely-contested win against a heated rival on Christmas Day.