NFL Top 10 Regular Season Games of All Time

What the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers did on the night of Jan. 9, 2012 – and maybe more important to history, what they didn’t do – will be a game and a moment that will be talked about forever. It immediately goes into the pantheon of legendary NFL moments that entire seasons are remembered for.

The NFL is first and foremost about postseason memories, whether the Super Bowl or the early rounds where entire fandoms live and die on every play. But the regular season can manufacture the same drama, intensity, and history, and these are the 10 greatest regular-season games ever played.

No. 10: New York Jets 44, Baltimore Colts 34, Sept. 24, 1972

The 1986 Jets-Dolphins game would later become the high-scoring standard, but this game will always be remembered as the last hurrah shootout between two of the greatest legends ever to lace up high-top shoes, or perhaps pantyhose. It was the best of Johnny Unitas vs. the best of Joe Namath, one final time.

Yes, they had met in Super Bowl III, and we can guarantee you that is the more famous Jets-Colts game. But this epic shootout was really the last great game for both Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Unitas would retire soon after and Namath’s knees would reduce the legend to barely-functional status over his final five seasons.

But Sept. 24, 1972, was Turn Back the Clock Day, as Unitas threw for 376 yards and two touchdowns and Namath put on his greatest passing performance, throwing for 496 yards and six touchdowns.

No. 9: San Francisco 49ers 38, New Orleans Saints 35 (OT), Dec. 7, 1980

The 1981 NFC Championship Game, with Dwight Clark’s “Catch” is widely viewed as the game that established Joe Montana as a legend in the making, but Montana’s real breakout game was from the previous season. Early in his collaboration with head coach Bill Walsh, Montana led the 49ers to the greatest regular-season comeback in NFL history, erasing a 28-point halftime deficit against the lowly Saints.

This came not long after Montana’s final game with Notre Dame, the famous “Chicken Soup” Cotton Bowl, when a flu-ridden Montana rallied the Fighting Irish from a 34-12 deficit. Now he had done it at the pro level, and a year later, the 49ers were Super Bowl champions.

No. 8: Oakland Raiders 43, New York Jets 32, Nov. 17, 1968

Don’t adjust that dial! This game is on the list not so much for what happened on the field in Oakland, but rather in the control room at NBC headquarters in New York. This was the infamous “Heidi Game,” when NBC cut away from the final 90 seconds of the Jets-Raiders game at exactly 7 p.m. ET, to broadcast the children’s movie, “Heidi.”

The Jets led 32-29 when TVs across the country switched over (except on the West Coast), which meant basically no one saw the Raiders score two touchdowns to pull off a miracle comeback. The NBC switchboard was blown out with angry calls and NBC issued an apology the next night on the Nightly News.

And that, boys and girls, is the reason why those late-afternoon NFL games are kept on the air until the bitter end. Sorry, “60 Minutes,” you’ll just have to wait.

No. 7: New York Jets 51, Miami Dolphins 45 (OT), Sept. 21, 1986

Prior to 2018, this was considered the greatest shootout in regular-season history. Everyone remembers the great Dan Marino with the Dolphins, but on this day, it was the Jets’ Ken O’Brien, taken three picks ahead of Marino in the famous quarterback-loaded 1983 NFL Draft, who emerged victorious. For one day, anyway, the Jets could be happy with the choice.

O’Brien completed 29 of 43 passes for 479 yards and four touchdowns, all to Wesley Walker, including the overtime winner. Walker had six catches for 194 yards, one of three receivers in the game to top 150 yards.

Marino did the usual Marino things, completing 30 of 50 passes for 448 and six touchdowns. The incredible receiving tandem known as the “Marks Brothers,” Mark Clayton and Mark Duper, combined for 15 catches, 328 yards, and three touchdowns. The combined 884 net passing yards set a record that stood for 15 years.

No. 6: Dallas Cowboys 35, Washington Football Team 34, Dec. 16, 1979

They called him “Captain Comeback,” and this turned out to be the last hurrah for the great Roger Staubach, in what turned out to be the final regular-season game of his brilliant career, and his last victory in a Cowboys uniform. And that he did it against hated rival Washington to clinch yet another NFC East title made this comeback all the sweeter.

This was actually a double-comeback for Staubach, as the Cowboys rallied from a 17-0 deficit to take a 21-17 lead, only to fall behind again, 34-21, with 3:49 left. No problem for the greatest two-minute drill quarterback of his, or perhaps any, generation. Staubach needed just three passes and 80 seconds to produce the first touchdown that made it 34-28, then after a brilliant tackle by veteran Larry Cole stopped John Riggins to force a punt, Dallas took over on their own 25-yard line with 1:46 left.

And Staubach did it again, culminating the game-winning drive with a short touchdown pass to Tony Hill for the win and the final comeback for The Captain.

No. 5: New York Jets 40, Miami Dolphins 37 (OT), Oct. 23, 2000

All the games remaining on the list are either Monday or Sunday night contests, and these are all certainly worthy of prime time, any time. A lot of folks didn’t see how this game turned out, as the Dolphins entered the fourth quarter with a 30-7 lead.

What they missed was the second-greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL history, as the Jets scored 23 unanswered points to tie the score, then fell behind again before arguably the most famous touchdown ever scored by an offensive lineman, as Vinny Testaverde forced overtime with a touchdown pass to tackle-eligible Jumbo Elliott, who famously bobbled the ball on his way to the ground but held on, then looked on in amazement at the appropriately-named Jumbotron to see the replay of his amazing catch.

No. 4: Kansas City Chiefs 31, Denver Broncos 28, Oct. 17, 1994

We had Legend vs. Legend at No. 10, but this was the best of them all, as Joe Montana, now playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, took on John Elway in Mile High Stadium. Montana had beaten Elway badly in Super Bowl 24, but now they duo staged an epic Monday Night duel.

It appeared Elway was going to finally exact a measure of revenge against Montana, scoring on a four-yard run with 89 seconds left to give the Broncos a 28-24 lead. But as we should have learned by now, no matter what uniform Montana is wearing, if you leave him time, he’s going to find a way to win. And he did it one more time in his Hall of Fame career, hitting Willie Davis for a five-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left for the game-winner.

No. 3: Los Angeles Rams 54, Kansas City Chiefs 51: Nov. 19, 2018

This was one of the rarest of times where a game was so highly-anticipated, and yet it still managed to blow away all expectations. What went down at the ancient Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was the third-highest scoring game in NFL history, the highest-scoring Monday Night game ever played, and the first time in NFL history both teams scored 50 points.

Patrick Mahomes threw for 478 yards and had six touchdown passes for the second time in his mega-breakout season, while Jared Goff threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns, even more remarkable because the Rams had just placed Cooper Kupp on injured reserve before the game.

The two teams would be linked in one other way this season: Both lost to the New England Patriots in the postseason, with Kansas City losing the AFC Championship Game at home and the Rams managing just three points in the Super Bowl.

No. 2: Miami Dolphins 38, Chicago Bears 24, Dec. 2, 1985

The 1972 Dolphins are still the only team to complete an undefeated season, going 17-0. The New England Patriots are the only team to run an undefeated regular season in the 16-game era in 2007. But the case for the best team to not go undefeated probably begins with the 1985 Chicago Bears.

Led by its suffocating “46” defense, the play of quarterback Jim McMahon and the running of all-time legend Walter Payton, the Bears were 12-0 heading to the Orange Bowl to face the Dolphins, who were the favorites to win the AFC behind Dan Marino and were determined to keep the ’72 Dolphins’ legacy intact.

And Marino delivered as the Dolphins raced to a 31-10 lead in the first half, then held on to secure the win and hand the Bears what proved to be their only loss en route to an 18-1 season and victory in Super Bowl XX.

No. 1: Las Vegas Raiders 35, Los Angeles Chargers 32 (OT), Jan. 9, 2022


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The greatest regular-season game is also the most recent. But why wait to put this classic at the top of the list? This was set up for greatness all week leading up to the first Sunday night game in a Week 18 in NFL history. Was it a one-game playoff between the Raiders and Chargers, or would the teams collude to tie, allowing both the clinch a playoff spot?

The drama just kept building as the Chargers frantically erased a 15-point deficit in the final five minutes to force overtime, converting fourth down after fourth down until finally scoring the game-tying touchdown with no time left in regulation.

Then in overtime, after the teams traded field goals and the clock reached the two-minute warning, it appeared, much to the horror and dismay of Pittsburgh Steelers fans everywhere, that the Raiders were going to kill the clock and create the tie that had been speculated about all week.

But no! The Chargers called what might go down as the most ill-advised timeout in NFL history with 39 seconds left, as the Raiders prepared to call a play from the Chargers’ 40-yard line. Were the Raiders going to let the clock run out before the timeout? We’ll never know. What did happen was Josh Jacobs ran 11 yards to the 29, the Raiders called timeout with two seconds left and kicked the game-winning field goal to send the Chargers packing and the football world buzzing about a remarkable finish to an unprecedented 18th Sunday in the NFL.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference