2011: San Francisco 49ers 36, New Orleans Saints 32
The high-powered New Orleans Saints entered this NFC Divisional Playoff as one of the favorites to win Super Bowl XLVI. Instead, the upstart San Francisco 49ers prevailed in one of the most dramatic playoff encounters in recent memory. Alex Smith had a coming-of-age performance in the win. Smith accounting for four touchdowns, including the game-winning strike to Vernon Davis with nine seconds left that capped a wild sprint to the finish to give the 49ers a 36-32 victory.
Jim Prisching/Associated Press
2010: Chicago Bears 35, Seattle Seahawks 24
The Seahawks' Cinderella playoff run of 2010 came to an abrupt halt in Chicago, where the modern-day Monsters of the Midway and the elements helped end Seattle's season. Before the Seahawks could dent the scoreboard, the Bears built a 28-0 lead and ended the competitive phase of the game. The Bears lost the following week to the rival Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
Mike Roemer/Associated Press
2007: Green Bay Packers 42, Seattle Seahawks 20
Brett Favre's final playoff victory as a Packer came with the picturesque backdrop of a snowstorm at Lambeau Field. Favre threw three touchdown passes in a rout of the Seahawks, but could not keep up that level of play the following week, when the Packers were defeated by the Giants in the NFC Championship in overtime after the quarterback threw a costly interception.
Michael Conroy/Associated Press
2005: Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Indianapolis Colts 18
Ben Roethlisberger made a huge play after a fumble by Jerome Bettis at the goal line late in the game. The quarterback tripped up the Colts' Nick Harper near midfield, saving a touchdown. The Colts could only advance to the Steelers' 28-yard line, then kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed the potential game-tying kick. The Steelers went on to become the first sixth-seeded team to win the Super Bowl since the advent of the 12-team playoff field in 1990.
Elise Amendola/Associated Press
2001: New England Patriots 16, Oakland Raiders 13 (OT)
With a massive snowfall as a backdrop, the divisional playoff showdown between the Raiders and the upstart Patriots turned out to be one of the most memorable and controversial playoff games in NFL history. That was when the term "Tuck Rule" was introduced to the common football fan, a moment that set up a tying field goal by Adam Vinatieri, who would also kick the game-winning field goal. That Patriots' win set the stage for one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history.
Charles Krupa/Associated Press
1996: New England Patriots 28, Pittsburgh Steelers 3
Five years before snow provided the backdrop for the "Tuck Rule" game, a thick fog helped add character to a Patriots playoff victory over the defending AFC champion Steelers. Keith Byars and the Patriots went on to Super Bowl XXXI, but were defeated by the Green Bay Packers.
David Zalubowski/Associated Press
1996: Jacksonville Jaguars 30, Denver Broncos 27
The Jaguars -- a year removed from their inaugural expansion season -- pulled off one of the most stunning playoff upsets in NFL history, going into Mile High Stadium and defeating the Broncos, who were the AFC's top playoff seed that season. Jimmy Smith's 16-yard touchdown catch gave Jacksonville the lead for good in this playoff thriller. The Jaguars would lose the next week to the Patriots in the AFC Championship. The Broncos, meanwhile, after exacting a measure of revenge on the Jaguars in a 42-17 wild-card playoff win, went on to win Super Bowl XXXII a year later.
Mark Duncan/Associated Press
1996: Green Bay Packers 35, San Francisco 49ers 14
Unseasonably warm weather and rain left the Packers and 49ers playing on a delightfully muddy field at Lambeau. Edgar Bennett scored two touchdowns in the game as the Packers -- who would go on to win Super Bowl XXXI -- ousted the 49ers from the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Mark Duncan/Associated Press
1995: Indianapolis Colts 10, Kansas City Chiefs 7
On a frigid evening at Arrowhead Stadium, Jim Harbaugh led the Colts to an astonishing upset of the Chiefs -- the No. 1 playoff seed in the AFC. The Colts squeaked into the playoffs as a 9-7 wild-card entry that year, and followed up that good fortune with a remarkable playoff run that got them within a completed Hail Mary pass of making the Super Bowl in an AFC Championship classic against the Steelers.
Rick Bowmer/Associated Press
1993: Kansas City Chiefs 28, Houston Oilers 20
What promised to finally be the Oilers' chance to reach the Super Bowl came to a bitter end at the hands of the Chiefs, who won behind three touchdown passes by Joe Montana and a strong defensive effort that led to nine sacks of Houston QB Warren Moon and forced three turnovers. The Oilers, who had earned home-field advantage in those AFC playoffs, never returned to the postseason, leaving behind a number of painful playoff disappointments in Houston when the franchise moved to Tennessee in 1997.
National Football League
1992: San Francisco 49ers 20, Washington Redskins 13
A remarkable run for the Redskins -- which included three wins in four Super Bowl appearances over 11 seasons -- came to an end with a muddy playoff defeat at the hands of the 49ers. Steve Young threw two touchdown passes as San Francisco beat the defending Super Bowl champions. Young would lose two consecutive NFC Championships to the Dallas Cowboys before finally "getting the monkey off his back" with a run to victory in Super Bowl XXIX.
National Football League
1991: Denver Broncos 26, Houston Oilers 24
John Elway's late-game playoff magic led to David Treadwell's winning field goal with 16 seconds remaining, delivering yet another devastating postseason blow to the Oilers. The Broncos were defeated in the AFC Championship by the Bills, who a year later would deliver the ultimate playoff setback for the Oilers, who gave up a 32-point lead in the greatest comeback in NFL history.
Tim Clary/Associated Press
1989: Los Angeles Rams 19, New York Giants 13 (OT)
Willie "Flipper" Anderson famously kept running through the end zone and into the tunnel after catching a walk-off 30-yard touchdown from Jim Everett in overtime against the Giants. The Rams were on the wrong end of a 30-3 beatdown at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl-champion 49ers a week later in the NFC Championship. The Giants, on the other hand, recovered nicely from the 1989 playoff setback to win Super Bowl XXV a year later.
Mark Duncan/Associated Press
1989: Cleveland Browns 34, Buffalo Bills 30
Immediately after a Thurman Thomas touchdown reception from Jim Kelly pulled the Bills to within 24-21 of the Browns, Eric Metcalf raced to a game-breaking 90-yard touchdown on a kickoff return. The Browns lost the next week in the AFC Championship Game to (you guessed it) the Broncos. That defeat -- the third by the Browns at the hands of the Broncos in the title game -- did not earn a fancy nickname like "The Drive" or "The Fumble." For the Bills -- who would embark on a remarkable four-year Super Bowl run the next season -- the setback in Cleveland was the team's last appearance in the AFC playoffs until the 1995 postseason.
1988: Chicago Bears 20, Philadelphia Eagles 12
In one of the most surreal scenes at a football game, a heavy fog engulfed Soldier Field on an unseasonably warm winter day in the Windy City. "The Fog Bowl" became one of the most memorable games in NFL playoff history, not because of the action on the field, but because nobody could see it. The Bears won, we think. A week later, when the Bears hosted the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, the weather was decidedly more frigid and the outcome much less appealing for fans of the Monsters of the Midway.
Mark Elias/Associated Press
1987: Washington Redskins 21, Chicago Bears 17
Walter Payton's final NFL game ended in defeat against the eventual Super Bowl-champion Redskins. Payton retired as the NFL's all-time leading rusher, having been a part of the Bears' Super Bowl XX-winning team, but the running back famously did not score in the game, instead William "the Refrigerator" Perry got a garbage-time TD against the New England Patriots.
Eric Risberg/Associated Press
1987: Minnesota Vikings 36, San Francisco 49ers 24
The wild-card Vikings pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NFL playoff history, defeating the 49ers -- owners of the NFC's best record that season -- behind the heroic performance of receiver Anthony Carter. Carter had 10 catches for 227 yards, breaking an NFL postseason record. A week later, it was the Redskins, not the Vikings, that earned a trip to Super Bowl XXII.
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
1981: San Diego Chargers 41, Miami Dolphins 38 (OT)
One of the most iconic NFL images ever came after the conclusion of the "Epic in Miami," with a dehydrated and exhausted Kellen Winslow being carried off the field not long after Rolf Benirschke's 29-yard field goal mercifully ended the marathon game. Winslow's gutsy performance -- 13 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown, plus a blocked field goal that forced overtime -- helped the "Air Coryell" Chargers advance to the AFC Championship Game, where they lost one of the coldest games in NFL history.
1980: Oakland Raiders 14, Cleveland Browns 12
This playoff spectacle at cold Cleveland Municipal Stadium had a memorable, yet painful, finish for Browns fans, known simply for the play that was called, "Red Right 88." The play ended in disaster for the Browns, who, rather than settle for a field goal, took a shot at the end zone, where Raiders safety Mike Davis picked off Browns QB Brian Sipe on a pass intended for Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome with 49 seconds remaining. The Raiders went on to become the first wild-card team to win the Super Bowl, doing so in dominating fashion against the Eagles in Super Bowl XV.
William A. Smith/Associated Press
1977: Oakland Raiders 37, Baltimore Colts 31
Coach John Madden and quarterback Ken Stabler might have been the headliners for a Raiders team defending its Super Bowl XI title the year before, but tight end Dave Casper provided the highlights in the famous "Ghost to the Post" playoff game at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. After the play that gave the game its name -- a deep pass from Stabler to set up the tying field goal -- Casper ended one of the most epic playoff clashes ever with the winning TD in overtime. A week later, the Raiders' season came to a crashing halt against the division-rival Broncos.
1975: Dallas Cowboys 17, Minnesota Vikings 14
In what was the first play in NFL history to be dubbed a "Hail Mary" pass, Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson connected on a 50-yard desperation game-winning score against the Vikings with just 24 seconds left at Metropolitan Stadium. The Cowboys rode the momentum of that shocking win to throttle the Los Angeles Rams 37-7 in the NFC Championship. The ride ended in defeat for Dallas, with Pittsburgh claiming its second consecutive title in Super Bowl X.
Harry Cabluck/Associated Press
1972: Pittsburgh Steelers 13, Oakland Raiders 7
It's only the most amazing and controversial play, in NFL history: The "Immaculate Reception." Trailing the Raiders 7-6 with 22 seconds left, the Steelers faced a fourth-and-10 from their own 40. Terry Bradshaw's pass, intended for Frenchy Fuqua, was knocked away in a collision with the Raiders' Jack Tatum, and Franco Harris was in the right place to retrieve the flailing football and run for the winning score. Much has been written on the play in the decades since; much has centered on the Tatum-Fuqua collision, which, for the sake of space, we'll just mention had to do with a double offensive touch, which was illegal at the time. The Steelers won and became the second-to-last victim on the 1972 Dolphins' march to 17-0 history in the AFC Championship Game.
1971: Miami Dolphins 27, Kansas City Chiefs 24 (2OT)
Marv Fleming's fourth-quarter touchdown reception tied the game at 24-24, then neither team would score until midway through the second overtime, when Garo Yepremian's 37-yard field goal try was true. At 82 minutes and 40 seconds, the Dolphins-Chiefs playoff game is the longest in NFL history. The game kick-started a dynasty. While the Dolphins would lose Super Bowl VI that season, they'd go on to win two consecutive Super Bowls after that, including the epic run to 17-0 in 1972.
More Photo Essays:
- Week 15 Fantasy waiver wire
- Mind-blowing stats for Week 14 of the 2013 season
- Hall of Fame cases for. . .
- Week 14 Fantasy waiver wire
- Mind-blowing stats for Week 13 of the 2013 season
- Mind-blowing stats for Thanksgiving
- Week 13 Fantasy waiver wire
- Mind-blowing stats for Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady
- Mind-blowing stats for Week 12 of the 2013 season