The 5 Best NFL Divisional Round Games Since 2000

Walker Harrison@WalkWearsCrocsContributor IIIJanuary 14, 2014

The 5 Best NFL Divisional Round Games Since 2000

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    The divisional round of the NFL playoffs is one of the best weekends of the entire sports year. Over the course of two days, the eight remaining teams match up with a bid in the conference championship games on the line. Many eventual Super Bowl champions have rode the momentum from dramatic wins in this round all the way to the title.

    With that in mind, let's review the best divisional playoff games from this millennium.

5. 2004: Philadelphia Eagles 20, Green Bay Packers 17

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    All that the Packers needed to do to extend their magical 2003 season was stop Donovan McNabb and the Eagles on 4th-and-26 late in the fourth quarter.

    Enter Freddie Mitchell. Despite being a disappointment for much of his career, FredEx's twisting grab to pick up the necessary yardage on that down will forever be held dear by Philadelphia sports fans.

    The catch allowed the Eagles to retain possession. Several plays later, David Akers booted a 37-yard field goal to tie the score at 17 and send the game into overtime. A Brett Favre interception in the extra period doomed the Packers, setting up the Eagles for another Akers field goal and the comeback victory.

    The Eagles would be ousted by the Carolina Panthers in the next round, but this divisional showdown remains one of the most entertaining of the modern era.

4. 2006: Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Indianapolis Colts 18

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    In one of the biggest upsets in postseason history, the Steelers went into Indianapolis and squeaked out a victory over the Colts, who had secured the top seed in the AFC with a 14-2 regular season record.

    It didn't come easy though. Despite getting out to a 21-3 lead, the Steelers barely finished off the Colts in a wild conclusion to the game. Peyton Manning rallied his squad to within three points, benefitting from a mistakenly overturned interception by Troy Polamalu

    The Steelers seemed ready to ice the game at the Colts goal-line with about a minute left until the normally sure-handed Jerome Bettis coughed up the football. The ensuing return by the Colts was miraculously stopped by a diving Ben Roethlisberger.

    Big Ben's unlikely tackle was the difference: the Colts took over, but kicker Mike Vanderjagt's game-tying attempt sailed wide right, and the Steelers were a step closer to their fifth Super Bowl title.

3. 2013: Baltimore Ravens 38, Denver Broncos 35

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    It looked as if Peyton Manning's playoff misery was over. His new team, the Broncos, were up by a touchdown with less than a minute remaining. If the Denver defense could keep the Ravens out of the end zone for a few dozen seconds, the victory was theirs.

    Yet somehow, Ravens speedster Jacoby Jones got behind the Denver secondary, and caught a high-arcing pass from strong-armed Joe Flacco, quieting the Denver crowd.

    In the first overtime, Manning threw a fateful pick near midfield, allowing the Ravens to take over in field goal position. In the second extra period, an extreme playoff rarity, Baltimore capitalized on the turnover by converting a 47-yard field goal. The Ravens would go on to win the Super Bowl, while Manning was again denied his second ring.

2. 2012: San Francisco 49ers 36, New Orleans Saints 32

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    In a game that would signify the changing of the guard in the NFC, the Saints, recent Super Bowl Champs, took on the emerging San Francisco 49ers. Many pundits figured the playoff-tested Saints would trump the 49ers, but San Francisco held a 23-17 edge with just five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

    And what a five minutes they would turn out to be, as four touchdowns would be scored in the game's final act. Two long touchdowns out of the hand of Drew Brees were sandwiched around a 28-yard touchdown scamper by 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, putting San Francisco down 32-29 with less than two minutes to go.

    Smith led his team down the field and, with just 14 seconds remaining, found Vernon Davis in the endzone for the game's decisive score. Davis streaked toward the sideline after his touchdown, tears falling down his cheek in a moment reminiscent of Terrell Owens' similarly dramatic playoff score.

1. 2002: New England Patriots 16, Oakland Raiders 13

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    In one of the most defining moments in NFL history, the Patriots were the controversial beneficiary of a rare call on their way to a signature victory that would kickstart their dynasty. 

    Down 13-10 to the defending champion Raiders on their snowy home turf, the Patriots' season seemed over when Oakland defensive back Charles Woodson forced a fumble on New England quarterback Tom Brady. But the call was reversed to an incomplete pass, as the referees cited a rule that stated that a lost football by a passer attempting to tuck the ball into his body was not a fumble.

    The Patriots retained possession, and moments later kicker Adam Vinatieri nailed an improbable 45-yard field goal through the wind and snow to force overtime. In overtime, Vinatieri connected on another, shorter field goal to give New England the victory.

    The game would come to be known as the "Tuck Rule Game," and one integral to New England's sustained success over the years. More than a decade later, the rule would be abolished by the NFL.