NFL: DEC 25 Vikings at Saints
Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL doesn't have a storied history on Christmas Day, as the league has typically avoided playing games on the holiday unless it falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or Monday. The league actually avoided playing on the holiday for 18 years after having a pair of Christmas Day games in 1971, not playing another Christmas game until 1989. (The Christmas Day games in 1971 were playoff games.)

The NFL has made playing on the Christmas a sporadic event once a scheduled game on the holiday entered the fold. The league initially pushed the regular season back a week in 1989, meaning the regular season would coincide on Christmas for the first time. For the first time in NFL history, a bye week was added to the schedule in 1990 -- ensuring Christmas would fall during the regular season.

When the NFL did play games on Christmas, they were typically late-afternoon events. There have just been five doubleheaders since regular-season Christmas Day games were added -- with all those doubleheaders taking place on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday, as the late game typically coincided with the "Sunday Night Football" or "Monday Night Football" package. 

In 2020, the NFL returned to Christmas with a rare Friday game -- just the 11th game on that day since the merger in 1970 and second on Christmas. The league has played just 19 games on Christmas Day, which leaves a rather interesting history on the holiday. New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara added to that history with his 155-yard, six-touchdown performance on Christmas last year.

This season, the NFL will have two games on Christmas -- starting with the Cleveland Browns vs. the Green Bay Packers followed by the Indianapolis Colts at the Arizona Cardinals. Let's take a look at the best performances and the all-time statistical leaders on Christmas (regular season games only).  

NFL passing yards leaders on Christmas

  1. Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) -- 505*
  2. Boomer Esiason (Bengals) -- 367
  3. Dave Krieg (Seahawks/Cardinals) -- 363*
  4. Trent Green (Chiefs) -- 358
  5. Troy Aikman (Cowboys) -- 350

*Played more than one game on Christmas

NFL passing TD leaders on Christmas

  1. Aaron Rodgers (Packers) -- 5
  2. Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) -- 5*
  3. Boomer Esiason (Bengals) -- 3
  4. Kyle Boller (Ravens) --3

*Played more than one game on Christmas

NFL rushing yards leaders on Christmas

  1. Le'Veon Bell (Steelers) -- 191*
  2. Olandis Gary (Broncos) -- 185
  3. Alvin Kamara (Saints) -- 155
  4. Chris Johnson (Titans) -- 142
  5. Brian Westbrook (Eagles) -- 122

*Played more than one game on Christmas

NFL receiving yards leaders on Christmas

  1. Derrick Mason (Ravens/Titans) -- 263*
  2. Kevin Williams (Cowboys) -- 203
  3. Larry Centers (Cardinals) -- 172
  4. Travis Kelce (Chiefs) -- 160
  5. Tony Gonzalez (Chiefs) -- 124

*Played more than one game on Christmas

Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell actually played consecutive years on Christmas in 2016 and 2017, which is how they ended up on the holiday leaderboard. (It's rare for players to get one game on Christmas, yet alone two.) Derrick Mason was fortunate enough to play in three Christmas games -- 2000 and 2004 with the Tennessee Titans, and 2015 with the Baltimore Ravens. 

The Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans have played four Christmas Day games, the most in the NFL (regular season). The Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings are second on the list with three. The Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Chargers, and New York Jets have never lost a game on Christmas. (Eagles and Steelers have played twice on the holiday.)

The best performance for quarterbacks on Christmas belongs to Aaron Rodgers, who completed 21 of 29 passes for 283 yards and five touchdowns in a 35-21 victory over the Chicago Bears in 2011. No quarterback has ever thrown for more passing touchdowns in a single game on Christmas. 

Olandis Gary had the best rushing performance on Christmas, recording 29 carries for 185 yards and two touchdowns in Denver's 17-7 win over the Detroit Lions -- until Kamara's standout performance in 2020. Kamara tied the NFL record with six rushing touchdowns in the Saints' 52-33 win over the Vikings, matching the record for rushing touchdowns in a game (1929). Kamara finished with 22 carries for 155 yards and six touchdowns, breaking Bernie Parmalee's record for rushing touchdowns on Christmas (three in 1994). 

Kevin Williams had nine catches for 203 yards and two touchdowns for the Cowboys in their 37-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in 1995. Cardinals fullback Larry Centers had a Christmas Day record 12 receptions for 172 yards in the loss. The performance by Williams was his only 100-yard receiving game in his NFL career. Travis Kelce had 11 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown in the Kansas City Chiefs' 33-10 win over the Broncos on Christmas in 2016. 

The NFL is set to have games on Christmas for the next three years, as the holiday falls on a Sunday (2022) and Monday (2023).