Ranking the Best NFL Christmas Games Since 2000

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2021

Ranking the Best NFL Christmas Games Since 2000

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    The 2021 NFL season features a rarity as the league puts on multiple Christmas Day games for only the sixth time in history.

    In fact, Christmas Day has included a grand total of 20 regular-season games and two postseason contests. However, as you can probably imagine, the NFL has capitalized on its ever-growing popularity and increased its volume since 2000. Fifteen of those regular-season matchups have happened during this millennium.

    And these are truly special games, too. Although the holiday fell on a Sunday in 2005, 2011 and 2016, the NFL played a heavy majority of its schedule on Saturday each of those years.

    Heading into 2021's doubleheader, we're reliving the good cheer of the best recent Christmas Day matchups.

6. Jets 13, Dolphins 10 (2006)

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    J. Pat Carter/Associated Press

    Late in the 2006 season, the New York Jets found themselves in a jammed wild-card race. Four teamsincluding the Jetsentered the penultimate week of the regular season with an 8-6 record, and three others followed closely behind at 7-7.

    New York traveled to the Miami Dolphins for this rain-soaked Monday night showdown, and points were at a premium.

    Mike Nugent broke a scoreless tie in the third quarter, hitting a 22-yard field goal to put the Jets in front. Miami answered with Randy McMichael's touchdown catch, but New York regained the lead on Jerricho Cotchery's touchdown grab. Miami kicker Olindo Mare then buried a game-tying 25-yard field goal with 2:13 to play.

    And then, Jets running back Leon Washington made the decisive play. He turned a screen pass into a 64-yard reception, setting up Nugent's 30-yard field goal in the waning seconds.

    New York won 13-10 and ultimately reached the playoffs. Dolphins coach Nick Saban left for Alabama after the season.

5. Saints 52, Vikings 33 (2020)

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    Brett Duke/Associated Press

    If you're an NFL history buff or fantasy football degenerate like me, you remember this as The Alvin Kamara Game.

    Kamara spearheaded a stellar 52-33 victory for the New Orleans Saints, who clinched their fourth straight NFC South title in this dismantling of the Minnesota Vikings. He scampered for 155 yards and tied an NFL record with six rushing touchdowns.

    The best part, by far, was Kamara ignoring NFL uniform rules with Christmas-themed cleatsred on his right foot, green on his left.

    "If they fine me, whatever it is, I'll just match it and donate to charity," Kamara told reporters. "You know, the Grinch always tries to steal Christmas."

    The NFL indeed fined him $5,000.

4. Ravens 30, Vikings 23 (2005)

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    Nick Wass/Getty Images

    Minnesota had to have it. Similar to New York one season later, the Vikings arrived in Week 16 with an 8-6 record and needing to navigate a four-way deadlock in the wild-card race.

    Unlike the Jets, however, Minnesota left without a victory.

    Instead, the 5-9 Baltimore Ravens used a fourth-quarter surge to defeat the Vikings. Kyle Boller tossed three touchdowns, connecting with Derrick Mason for a 24-20 advantage early in the fourth quarter. Matt Stover's two field goals (three total) ultimately iced the 30-23 win.

    The loss eliminated Minnesota from playoff contention, and the Vikings fired Mike Tice immediately after the season.

3. Chiefs 31, Raiders 30 (2004)

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Relative to the postseason picture, this AFC West matchup meant nothing. Both the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders had already been eliminated from playoff contention.

    But, man, was it fun.

    The offenses ruled the opening half, scoring three touchdowns apiece for a 21-all halftime score at Arrowhead Stadium. Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalezwho finished with 11 receptions for 124 yardsreeled in both of his touchdowns before the break.

    In the second half, special teams made the difference. Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski booted three field goals, including a go-ahead 46-yarder with 1:07 to play. But on the ensuing kickoff, Dante Hall ripped off a 49-yard return to set up Lawrence Tynes' heroics.

    Tynes drilled a 38-yarder, handing the Chiefs an exciting 31-30 triumph in the rivalry game.

2. Cardinals 27, Cowboys 26 (2010)

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Through 20 minutes, this inconsequential matchup looked like a blowout. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitnawho replaced an injured Tony Romo earlier in the seasonthrew two pick-sixes, and the Arizona Cardinals zoomed out to a 21-3 lead.

    Kitna tossed a touchdown but exited with a hip injury, creating a battle of third-string quarterbacks.

    Stephen McGee led a pair of scoring drives in the third quarter, narrowing the Cowboys' deficit to 21-20. After the Cardinals edged ahead to a 24-20 lead, McGee capped a 73-yard drive with a 37-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin. But a missed extra point from David Buehler ruined the Cowboys' day.

    Cardinals' third-stringer John Skelton hit Larry Fitzgerald for a clutch conversion on 4th-and-15, and a 19-yard throw to Max Komar put Arizona in position for a winner.

    After an illegal formation penaltyone that didn't require a 10-second runoff, which would've ended the gameJay Feely narrowly cleared the crossbar with a 48-yard kick for Arizona's 27-26 win.

1. Steelers 31, Ravens 27 (2016)

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    Fred Vuich/Associated Press

    Christmas Day games are a nice treat. Meaningful Christmas Day games, however, are an excellent gift.

    When the 8-6 Ravens squared off with the 9-5 Pittsburgh Steelers, the AFC North was at stake. Whereas the Steelers could seal the division with a win, the Ravensif they could steal a road victorywould own the tiebreaker on rival Pittsburgh.

    Early on, it was a defensive battle. Pittsburgh held a 7-6 halftime lead before Baltimore left the third quarter up 17-10 and added a field goal to begin the closing frame.

    And then, the offenses exploded.

    Le'Veon Bell scored two touchdowns to give the Steelers a 24-20 advantage, but Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk put Baltimore back in front 27-24 with 1:18 to play.

    Pittsburgh earned the 31-27 victory on Antonio Brown's memorable goal-line extension. Had he not scored, the final nine seconds may have ticked away before the Steelerswho didn't have any timeouts leftcould manage another snap. But a review confirmed the touchdown, and Pittsburgh won the AFC North.