Eli Manning Giants Patriots
Eli Manning scrambles away from the New England Patriots in the fourth quarter during the greatest Super Bowl of all-time on Feb. 3, 2008 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Getty Images

With the greatest quarterback ever going up against a historic offense, the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons could make Super Bowl LI one of the most exciting yet. That won’t be an easy task, however, given the great games that have taken place over the last 51 years.

Super Bowl 50 between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers was a disappointment, but that was a rarity, considering how competitive recent Super Bowls have been. While many of the early Super Bowls were blowouts, eight of the 12 Super Bowls prior to last year’s contest were decided by one score.

What exactly makes a great Super Bowl? Close games that feature iconic plays, great finishes and great teams stand out among the rest.

Here’s a look at the 10 best Super Bowls in NFL history:

10) Super Bowl XXXVI (2002): New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17

It was the game that birthed the current Patriots dynasty. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick won their first title as the greatest quarterback-head coach tandem in league history. New England entered the game as a 14-point underdog, but they shocked St. Louis and took a 14-point lead into the fourth quarter. After the “Greatest Show on Turf” scored touchdowns with 9:31 and 1:30 remaining, Brady gave NFL fans a glimpse of what they would see for years to come. With broadcaster John Madden now famously suggesting the Patriots should play for overtime, Brady led New England down the field, allowing Adam Vinatieri to kick a 48-yard field goal as time expired.

9) Super Bowl Bowl XXXIV (2000): St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16

St. Louis looked to be on their way to an easy victory as they led 16-0 in the third quarter, but Tennessee fought back to create one of the most exciting Super Bowls. After the Titans tied the game before the two-minute warning, Isaac Bruce caught a 73-yard touchdown pass in one of the longest offensive plays in Super Bowl history. Even as Kurt Warner set a record with 414 passing yards, Tennessee came just one yard shy of forcing overtime as Rams’ linebacker Mike Jones tackled Titans’ receiver Kevin Dyson as time expired. St. Louis completed one of the most improbable Super Bowl runs ever, considering they began the season with 300-1 odds to win the title.

8) Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004): New England Patriots 32, Carolina Panthers 29

The game might be most remembered for Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at halftime, but the football that followed was more than any fan could have asked for. In one of the most exciting fourth quarters ever, the Patriots and Panthers combined for six scores, including three in the final three minutes. Adam Vinatieri clinched the victory for New England with a field goal with four seconds left after the Patriots recorded the third-most total yards of offense in Super Bowl history.

7) Super Bowl XLIII (2009): Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23

As far as pure entertainment goes, the 2009 Super Bowl takes a backseat to few, if any, and it only isn’t higher on the list because it featured two mostly forgettable teams. The Cardinals nearly came back from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter, only to lose on the greatest touchdown catch in Super Bowl history by Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left. Kurt Warner’s 377 passing yards were the second-most ever, and Holmes finished the game with 131 receiving yards. The game also featured arguably the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history as Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown to end the first half.

6) Super Bowl III (1969): New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7

The game itself might not rank among the most exciting in Super Bowl history, but the circumstances surrounding the contest make it difficult to put it any lower on the list. Joe Namath’s seemingly outlandish guarantee proved to be true as the Jets pulled off the greatest upset in NFL history, winning as 18-point underdogs. Quarterback Earl Morrall was intercepted three times, and Baltimore didn’t score until he was later replaced by Johnny Unitas. New York’s victory proved that the AFL could play with the NFL a year before the merger.

5) Super Bowl XXIII (1989): San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16

Having beaten the Bengals seven years prior in the Super Bowl, the 49ers won the rematch in what was an even more exciting contest. The game featured all-time great performances by Jerry Rice, who totaled a Super Bowl record 215 receiving yards, and Joe Montana, who threw for 357 yards and no interceptions. Cincinnati looked to be on their way to their first Super Bowl victory when a Jim Breech field goal broke a 13-13 tie, but Montana led San Francisco 92 yards down the field in the most memorable drive in Super Bowl history.

4) Super Bowl XIII (1979) Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31

The Steelers and Cowboys of the 1970s were two of the greatest teams in NFL history, and their rivalry came to a head in the 1979 Super Bowl. The two teams totaled nine Super Bowl appearances and six championships over the span of a decade, facing off twice in the NFL title game. The teams were never separated by more than one score in the first three quarters, but a dropped pass in the end zone by Cowboys’ wide receiver Jackie Smith became the most infamous drop in Super Bowl history. The Steelers went on to take an 18-point fourth-quarter lead, though Dallas scored two touchdowns in a failed comeback attempt.

3) Super Bowl XXV (1991) New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19

In the eyes of many, no Super Bowl will ever top the game between the Giants and Bills. At the height of the Gulf War, the two teams provided Americans a much-needed distraction, playing the closest game in Super Bowl history. The only Super Bowl to be decided by one point and the first one ever to feature no turnovers, the contest was decided by the most infamous field goal attempt of all time. Scott Norwood’s 47-yard field goal attempt went wide right as time expired, marking the first of four straight Super Bowl losses for Buffalo.

2) Super Bowl XLIX (2015): New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24

Featuring the smallest point spread in Super Bowl history, the game was as competitive as the betting line indicated it would be. As entertaining as any Super Bowl ever, the contest included both great offensive and defensive plays. With six ties and lead changes, it’s the only Super Bowl in which a team won after trailing by double-digits in the fourth quarter. It was an all-time matchup featuring New England’s dynasty against a Seahawks team that was defending its championship. Malcolm Butler’s interception of Russell Wilson in the end zone with 20 seconds remaining will forever be remembered, and it was the game that solidified Tom Brady as the best quarterback of all time.

1) Super Bowl XLII (2008): New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14

The 42nd Super Bowl was supposed to be a one-sided affair and a coronation of the best team ever assembled. Instead, it became the No. 1 Super Bowl of all time. The contest checks all the boxes needed for a game to be a classic. It was close throughout with five different lead changes, and neither team ever led by more than four points. David Tyree’s “helmet catch” still stands as maybe the most iconic NFL play ever, and the Giants registered the game’s final score with just 35 seconds remaining. Combine that with the fact that the Patriots were 12-point favorites and fell just short of completing a perfect 19-0 season, and you have the greatest game of all time.