It's hard to historically rank anything in the moment. We want some time and space to see how something ages before putting it in context.
Yet, we all know that the Buffalo Bills-Kansas City Chiefs playoff game on Sunday night was special.
You can watch a lot more football and not see drama like that again. There was an NFL postseason record 25 points scored in the final two minutes, shattering the old record of 17 according to ESPN Stats and Info. And then we had an overtime. The Chiefs moved on to the AFC championship game with the 42-36 win, the Bills were heartbroken and all football fans knew they'd just seen one of the greatest games ever.
But how high can we rank Bills-Chiefs in NFL history? Is it one of the five best of all time? It's tough to say how we'll remember it years from now or where it will rank. But let's try anyway.
Chiefs' win over Bills was fantastic
First let's go through some of the credentials of the game and what makes it an all-time classic.
Quarterbacks: It's arguable no quarterback ever played better in a playoff loss than Buffalo's Josh Allen on Sunday night. Tom Brady and his 505 yards against the Eagles in Super Bowl LII is likely the main contender in that unfortunate category. Allen had 329 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and led the Bills with 68 rushing yards. On a 17-play drive that gave the Bills the lead inside of the two-minute warning in regulation, Allen picked up five third- or fourth-down conversions. After the Chiefs scored with 1:02 left, Allen hit four completions including a go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds left. He never saw the ball again.
Patrick Mahomes might not need a legacy game at this point, but he got another one. Mahomes trailed twice in the final two minutes and somehow the Chiefs won. He's as big of a superstar as we have seen at quarterback and Sunday night was further validation of his greatness.
Late drama: When we talk about some of the great games in NFL history, whether it's the "Ice Bowl" or "The Catch," it usually includes one defining scoring drive. Bills-Chiefs had five. Buffalo's 17-play drive to take a lead inside of two minutes to go in regulation was filled with tense moments. Then Tyreek Hill went on a breathtaking run after catching a crossing route for a 64-yard score. Allen answered by hitting Gabriel Davis for Davis' fourth touchdown (Davis set an NFL record with four receiving touchdowns, checking the great game box for "unlikely hero has the game of his life"). Mahomes then somehow drove the Chiefs 44 yards in 13 seconds for a game-tying field goal, then 75 yards for a walk-off touchdown to Travis Kelce. No other greatest game contender had that kind of back-and-forth in the final two minutes, much less overtime.
The stakes: Narrative matters when it comes to greatest games lists. Super Bowl III was not a good game on its own, but it is considered a classic because of the AFL's Jets upsetting the Colts following Joe Namath's guarantee. Other great games like the "Ice Bowl" or "The Catch" feature an established team fighting against an upstart. The Bills trying to knock off the Chiefs and maybe get the franchise's first Super Bowl victory at the end of the season, against Mahomes and his nearly immaculate start to his career, was compelling. Much like the Falcons' eternal angst at letting 28-3 get away against the Patriots, Sunday night's game mattered a little more because the pain for the Bills and their anguished fans. We'll see how the Chiefs' story turns out, but the legend of the win over the Bills will rise if they win another Super Bowl this postseason.
The greatest games in NFL history
We'll see how this game ages. It could be a game like the 2018 AFC championship between the Chiefs and Patriots, which featured four lead changes in the fourth quarter and an overtime win by the Patriots, but hasn't gotten its due as an all-time great game for some reason. But right now I'd have Chiefs-Bills in my top five.
For the NFL's 100th season, the league did a list of its top 100 games of all time. I disagree with that list slightly, but many of the top ones will appear on any all-time greatest games list. Here's how I'd rank them:
1. Super Bowl XLIX: I'm fine being the lone one shouting that this was the greatest game ever. It featured two champions in the Seahawks and Patriots, and the Malcolm Butler play and sequence we'll talk about forever.
2. Epic in Miami: The Chargers' double-overtime win over the Dolphins at the end of the 1981 season had a ridiculous comeback, an indelible highlight play (the Dolphins' hook-and-ladder), a legendary individual performance by Kellen Winslow and just about anything else you'd want in a football game.
3. Greatest Game Ever Played: The 1958 NFL championship game between the Colts and Giants has a special place in history because it was the moment the league truly started to arrive. The game itself wasn't the best you'll see (seven turnovers) but the great players, drama and its place in growing the sport gives it a spot on any top-five list.
4. Ice Bowl: The weather conditions for the 1967 NFL championship game between the Packers and Cowboys, and the story of Vince Lombardi's Packers driving the field at the end of their dynasty will outlive us all.
5. Bills-Chiefs: All this one might need is a nickname.
It's impossible for everyone to agree on a list of the greatest games ever. Someone might prefer the 28-3 Patriots win over the Falcons or the Bills' wild-card comeback on the Houston Oilers after they trailed 35-3 to some on the list (I don't rate either of those games high because for two-plus quarters they were not entertaining). Others could place Super Bowl III or "The Catch" in the top five for historical significance alone. Maybe some great Super Bowls (Giants over Patriots in XLII, Steelers over Cardinals in XLIII, Eagles over Patriots in LII, Giants over Bills in XXV) will rank higher to some because the significance was higher than a divisional-round game.
Wherever Sunday night's game ranks, or will rank in the upcoming years, it's hard to deny it was an unbelievable night of football.