NFL: Top 10 Offenses of All Time
This NFL season has been record breaking for offensive statistics. The New Orleans Saints led by Drew Brees has shattered records, including the passing record set by Dan Marino in 1984 for most passing yards in a season. The New England Patriots, led by Tom Brady, and the Green Bay Packers, led by Aaron Rodgers, have also had exceptional years on the offensive side of the ball.
Many will argue that with the current rules in place by the league, offenses have an extreme advantage over defenses, making it easier for teams to score at will. The NFL, like with most other professional leagues, is cyclical. One generation of players may dominate defensively, while another may dominate offensively.
With all of the great quarterbacks and offensive teams we’ve watched this season, where do they rank all time? Which teams this season, if any, are a top-10 all-time offensive team? I have compiled a list of the top 10 teams I think are the best offensive teams in NFL history. Many will argue that offenses in the 1970s and 1980s faced tougher defenses and stricter rules, but stats are stats and numbers are numbers. The following is my opinion of the top 10 offensive units in NFL history.
10. 1994 San Francisco 49ers
Steve Young led the 49ers to victory in Superbowl XXIX
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The 1994 San Francisco 49ers not only earned the franchise a NFL record fifth Superbowl, but quarterback Steve Young set an NFL record 112.8 QB rating that season. Young completed over 70 percent of his passes, threw for nearly 4,000 yards and tossed 35 touchdown passes. Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, Young’s primary receiver in the 1994 season, caught 112 passes for 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The 49ers finished the regular season with a 13-3 record, but the team mauled through the NFC in the playoffs. Running back Ricky Watters set an NFL record with five touchdowns as the 49ers destroyed the Chicago Bears 44-15 in the divisional matchup. In one of the highest rated non-Superbowl games in NFL history, the 49ers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 38-28 in the NFC Championship, a game many called the “real Superbowl” of the 1994 season. In Superbowl XXIX, the 49ers rolled over the San Diego Chargers 49-26.
In the 1994 season, the 49ers led the NFL with 66 touchdowns and 505 points scored. Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders and Steve Young were named to the NFC Pro Bowl roster. Steve Young, which led the league with 35 touchdown passes, was also the MVP of the league that season.
9. 1990 Buffalo Bills
Jim Kelly revolutionized the NFL with the K-Gun offense
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Quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas were a dynamic duo for several years in Buffalo, with their best offensive season in 1990, leading the team to a 13-3 record. Although the statistics for this team weren’t astounding, the type of offense they implemented surprised defenses in the NFL.
The Bills ran the K-gun offense, catching old school 1980s defenses off guard. Thurman Thomas helped keep defenses on the field, with 1,297 rushing yards, second only to Barry Sanders that season. Jim Kelly was able to stretch the field with dynamic receivers like Andre Reed and James Lofton.
The Bills offense was the best in the NFL that season, scoring 428 points and 48 offensive touchdowns. They defeated the Miami Dolphins 44-34 in the AFC divisional game, and destroyed the Raiders 51-3 in the AFC Championship. In Superbowl XXV, the Bills lost to the New York Giants 20-19 on a missed 47-yard field goal attempt by Scott Norwood. This was the first in three straight Superbowl losses for the Bills, a dynasty that could never win the big game.
8. 1983 Washington Redskins
Joe Theismann and the Redskins couldn't repeat as Superbowl Champions in 1983
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The 1983 Washington Redskins, led by head coach Joe Gibbs and quarterback Joe Theismann, were fresh off a Superbowl winning season and dominated the 1983 season finishing 14-2. The Redskins torched defenses for 541 points, the second highest point total in NFL history. Theismann completed 60 percent of his passes and threw for nearly 3800 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Washington also had a dominant ground attack behind running back John Riggins. Riggins rushed for 1,483 yards that season and broke an NFL record with 24 touchdowns (the record was broken twelve seasons later). Joe Gibbs won Coach of the Year, Joe Theismann was the NFL MVP, and John Riggins won the Bert Bell Award.
The Redskins skated through the divisional round, thumping the L.A. Rams 51-7. In the NFC Championship game, they sneaked past the San Francisco 49ers 24-21, on the way to try and repeat as Superbowl champions. However, in Superbowl XVIII, the L.A. Raiders were too much for the Redskins to handle, beating them 38-9.
7. 2004 Indianapolis Colts
Peyton Manning couldn't get past Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the 2004 Divisional Round
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Peyton Manning had one of his best seasons in 2004, leading the Colts to a 12-4 record behind 4,557 passing yards. Manning also set an NFL record with a QB rating of 121.1 and broke Dan Marino’s touchdown record set in 1984 with 49 touchdown passes.
Manning’s favorite targets in the 2004 season, Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, combined for 2,323 yards and 27 touchdowns. Running back Edgerrin James earned a spot on the Pro Bowl roster, averaging 4.6 yards per rush, rushing for 1,548 yards and nine touchdowns. The Colts led the NFL with 522 points scored, and scored more points in the first half of their games (277 points) than seven other teams managed to score in the entire 2004 campaign.
The Colts won the AFC South and climbed past the Denver Broncos in the Wild Card round, beating them 49-24. However, Manning and the Colts failed to get the monkey off their backs named Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The New England Patriots dismantled the Colts 20-3 in the divisional round.
6. 1981 San Diego Chargers
Dan Fouts had a record breaking season in 1981
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Dan Fouts and the San Diego Chargers averaged 30 points a game in the 1981 season, leading to a 10-6 record. Fouts had 609 pass attempts, completing 360 passes for 4,802 yards, all NFL records at the time. The Chargers also set a record for total yards on offense, gaining 6,744 yards that season.
Fouts had plenty of help on offense. Running back Chuck Muncie rushed for 1,144 yards and 19 touchdowns. All-Pro tight end Kellen Winslow had 1,290 yards on 89 catches. Wide receiver Charlie Joiner had 70 catches for 1,188 yards and receiver Wes Chandler had 52 catches for 857 yards.
The Chargers won the AFC West and traveled to Miami to play the Dolphins in the divisional playoff round. In a game known as the “Epic in Miami,” Fouts and the Chargers squeaked past Miami with a 41-38 victory in overtime. San Diego then traveled to Cincinnati to battle the Bengals in a game known as the “Freezer Bowl.” The porous San Diego defense finally caught up to them, and the Bengals destroyed Fouts and the Chargers 27-7.
5. 1984 Miami Dolphins
The San Francisco 49ers defense was to much for Marino to handle in Superbowl XIX
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Second year quarterback Dan Marino led an explosive Miami Dolphins offense in 1984 to a 14-2 record and AFC East title. Marino shattered NFL records with 5,084 passing yards and 48 touchdowns. Behind a legendary offensive line, Marino and the Dolphins averaged 32 points a game.
Marino had the help of two excellent receivers, Mark Clayton and Mark “Super” Duper. Each totaled over 1,300 yards receiving that season. Clayton had 73 receptions in 1984, with an NFL record 18 leading to touchdowns. Duper had 71 receptions with eight touchdowns, and Tony Nathan grabbed 61 passes coming out of the backfield. Marino was sacked only 14 times in the regular season and postseason leading up to the Superbowl.
In the AFC divisional game, the Dolphins avenged their playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the 1983 season with a 31-10 beat down. Miami then hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship, winning 45-28 and heading into Superbowl XIX with momentum. However, like many other dynamic offenses in the 1980s, Miami lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the Superbowl 38-16.
4. 1998 Minnesota Vikings
Randy Moss set the NFL on fire in his rookie season
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Randall Cunningham led a high powered Minnesota Vikings offense to a 15-1 record and NFC Central title in the 1998 campaign. The Vikings offense averaged 35 points per game and scored 556 points, breaking the NFL record for points scored in a season. Cunningham had his best season as an NFL quarterback, completing 61 percent of his pass attempts, throwing 34 touchdowns while throwing only 10 interceptions.
Cunningham had a dynamic duo at wide receiver with veteran Cris Carter and an unknown rookie from Marshall, Randy Moss. Moss had 69 receptions for 1,313 yards and17 touchdowns. Twenty of his receptions went for over 20 yards, and 14 catches were for over forty yards. Running back Robert Smith compounded problems for NFL defenses, averaging 4.8 yards per rush and rushing for 1,187 yards.
The Vikings hosted the Arizona Cardinals in the divisional playoff game, defeating the Cardinals 41-21. They hosted the 14-2 Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship, one of the most hyped games of the 1998 season. In what many fans in Minnesota consider the most disappointing loss in franchise history, the Falcons defeated the Vikings in overtime 30-27.
3. 2007 New England Patriots
Tom Brady and the Patriots shattered NFL records in 2007 with a 16-0 season
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Tom Brady and Randy Moss torched defenses in the 2007 season, leading the New England Patriots to the first undefeated regular season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins, finishing 16-0. The Patriots scored an NFL record 589 points, destroying the old record by 33 points. After the Spygate scandal in Week 1, where the Patriots were penalized for filming opposing teams’ defensive signals, the Patriots sought to “blow out and kill teams.” Midseason scores of 52-7 and 56-10 earned Brady and the Patriots the respect of the league.
The offseason acquisitions of wide receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker made the Patriots the most explosive offense in the NFL. Tom Brady completed 68.9 percent of his passes for 4,806 yards and an NFL record 50 touchdowns. Wes Welker had his breakout season, leading the NFL with 112 catches and 1,175 receiving yards. Randy Moss had an NFL record 23 touchdowns and 1,493 receiving yards.
New England won the AFC East and hosted the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round. After defeating the Jaguars 31-21, the Patriots hosted Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. Tom Brady led the Patriots to a 21-12 win, and New England was headed to Superbowl XLII to face Eli Manning and the New York Giants. In one of the biggest upsets in NFL history, the Giants ended New England’s quest at a perfect season, defeating them 17-14.
2. 1999 St. Louis Rams
Kurt Warner led the "Greatest Show on Turf" to a victory in Superbowl XXXIV
Quarterback Kurt Warner led a St. Louis Rams offense dubbed “The Greatest Show on Turf” to a 13-3 record in the 1999 campaign. The Rams averaged 32 points per game, with Warner passing for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns. Warner also was the NFL MVP for the 1999 season.
Warner had plenty of weapons on offense at receiver with veteran Isaac Bruce and rookie Tory Holt. St. Louis also acquired running back Marshall Faulk in the offseason. Faulk rushed for 1,381 yards and seven touchdowns, with nine rushes for over 20 yards and 65 rushes for first downs. Holt had 53 receptions for 788 yards and six touchdowns. Speedy receiver Az-Zahir Hakim had his breakout season in the NFL, averaging 18.8 yards per catch, 677 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Rams hosted the high-powered Minnesota Vikings in the NFC divisional round, winning the game 49-37. The following week in the NFC Championship, the Rams defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a defensive struggle 11-6. Kurt Warner and the “Greatest Show on Turf” ended the 1999 season defeating the Tennessee Titans in Superbowl XXXIV 23-16.
1. 2011 New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees with his offensive line after breaking Dan Marino's passing record
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Drew Brees led the most explosive offense in the NFL to a 13-3 record this season and an NFC South title. Brees broke Dan Marino’s passing record, throwing for 5,476 yards and forty-six touchdowns. Brees also set NFL records for most completions in a season with 468, most 300-plus yard passing games in a season with 13, most 350-plus yard passing games with four, and a 71.2 percent completion percentage.
Brees has plenty of weapons on offense at multiple positions. Tight end Jimmy Graham ended the season with 99 catches for 1,310 yards, breaking Kellen Winslow’s record for yards receiving by a tight end. All-purpose back Darren Sproles averaged 168.5 all-purpose yards per game, finishing the season with 2,696 all-purpose yards, breaking the record set by Derrick Mason in 2000. Lead receiver Marques Colston caught 84 passes for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints are 10.5 point favorites in the NFC Wild Card Game this Saturday against the Detroit Lions. The Saints defeated the Lions in Week 13 in New Orleans 31-17. Many experts are predicting a rematch between the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship. Time will tell if this explosive offense will suffer the fate of previous teams on this list with early playoff or Superbowl losses, or if they can capture another Superbowl title as Kurt Warner and the 1999 St. Louis Rams did.