Ranking the 20 NFL Teams to Reach the Super Bowl During This Decade
As we approach the end of the decade, there have been some memorable teams and plays from Super Bowls that will go down in NFL history.
The New England Patriots winning three titles in four years. The Pittsburgh Steelers winning Super Bowl XL as a No. 6 seed. David Tyree's helmet grab to defeat the previously undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
While there have been just 10 teams crowned champions during the 2000s, this decade has seen 20 teams represented in the Super Bowl that displayed remarkable seasons.
As a tribute to those 20 teams to reach the Super Bowl this decade, here is a ranking of each team—from worst to best—taking numerous factors into consideration.
These rankings are based off more than just whether or not a team won the Super Bowl. If that were the case, this list would be too easy to predict.
No. 20: Carolina Panthers—Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2004
After an 11-5 season, the Carolina Panthers were one of the last teams expected to reach Super Bowl XXXVIII. After two straight road upsets over the St. Louis Rams and Philadelphia Eagles in the playoffs, many gave the Panthers no chance against the New England Patriots.
However, the Panthers gave the Patriots a run for their money before Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired in the 32-29 loss.
The Panthers jumped off to a 5-0 start before losing five of their next eight games. While Carolina seemed to rely more on their defense, (allowing just 19 points per game), the dynamic duo at wide receiver—Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad—had the Panthers offense finish 15th in scoring (20.3 points per game).
No. 19: New York Giants—Super Bowl XXXV, 2001
The New York Giants' trip to Super Bowl XXXV was one they'd like to forget after they were embarrassed 34-7 by the defense of the Baltimore Ravens. Giants quarterback Kerry Collins finished 15-of-39 for 112 yards and four interceptions, including one that was returned by the Ravens defense for a touchdown.
While the outcome of the Super Bowl was disappointing, the Giants have to be satisfied with their road to Tampa Bay. New York finished the season 12-4, earning the top seed in the NFC and cruised their way through the playoffs.
The Giants won their final five regular season games to clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs. After defeating their division rival Philadelphia Eagles 20-10, they manhandled the Minnesota Vikings 41-0 in the NFC Championship game.
No. 18: Tennessee Titans—Super Bowl XXXIV, 2000
The Tennessee Titans will always be remembered as the team who fell one yard short of tying Super Bowl XXXIV when wide receiver Kevin Dyson was tackled just shy of the end zone as time expired.
While the Titans finished 13-3 on their way to the Super Bowl, it was their journey that makes them such a memorable team. In the opening round of the playoffs, they pulled off the "Music City Miracle" when Titans tight end Frank Wycheck lateraled the ball across the field to Dyson, who ran down the sideline for the game-winning touchdown against the Buffalo Bills.
The Titans finished the regular season ranked seventh averaging 24.5 points per game while their defense allowed 20.2 points per game (15th). What's even more impressive is seven of their 13 wins in the regular season came by seven points or less—including a three-point win against the Rams in Week Eight.
Unfortunately, they lost by seven to the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV.
No. 17: Arizona Cardinals—Super Bowl XLIII, 2009
Despite losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII, the Arizona Cardinals displayed one of the most impressive playoff runs for a team expected to be eliminated after the first round.
After jumping out to a 7-3 start and in complete control of the NFC West, the Cardinals went on to lose four of their next six games. While they displayed one of the best wide receiving duos in football behind Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin (along with a resurrected Kurt Warner), Arizona seemed to be set for an early exit in an opening round of the playoffs against the Atlanta Falcons.
Each round, they continued to shock the world and make a magical run toward their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. They handed Carolina its first home loss of the season in the Divisional Round before clinching the NFC Championship at the University of Phoenix Stadium against the Philadelphia Eagles.
While the Cardinals had the NFL's second-ranked offense averaging 26.7 points per game, their defense almost allowed as many points. They finished the regular season allowing their opponents to score 26.6 points per game (28th).
No. 16: New York Giants—Super Bowl XLII, 2008
The New York Giants 17-14 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII may go down as one of the craziest finishes in NFL history. David Tyree's catch on the Giants' final drive is arguably one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history, as New York went on to defeat New England—who was previously undefeated entering the game.
While the Giants finished the regular season 10-6 with the 14th ranked scoring offense (23.3 points per game) and the 17th ranked scoring defense (21.9 points per game), they played well enough when it mattered most.
Before the Super Bowl, the Giants won three straight road games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, and Green Bay Packers. Their final three games—including the win over the Patriots—were won by a combined 10 points.
He may have struggled at times during the regular season, throwing 20 interceptions, but Eli Manning went on to help the Giants pull off one of the greatest upsets in NFL history by defeating the 18-0 Patriots.
No. 15: Oakland Raiders—Super Bowl XXXVII, 2003
The story of the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII is similar to the one of the New York Giants a few years before. They were embarrassed by one of the most dominant defenses of all time once they reached the Super Bowl.
Despite their 48-21 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in which quarterback Rich Gannon threw a record five interceptions (with three returned for touchdowns), the Raiders had maintained one of the top offenses in football during the regular season.
Not only did Oakland display the sixth ranked scoring defense by allowing just 19.0 points per game during the regular season, but it displayed one of the top offenses as well.
Behind Gannon's 4,689 yards, the Raiders ranked second in scoring with 28.1 points per game while containing a handful of weapons on offense with Charlies Garner (1,903 total yards, 11 touchdowns), Jerry Rice (1,211 yards, seven touchdowns), Tim Brown (930 yards, two touchdowns), and Jerry Porter (688 yards, nine touchdowns).
After beginning the season 4-0, the Raiders went on to lose their next four games before wining seven of their last eight in the regular season. While the Super Bowl appearance was one they would like to pretend never happened, their success in the regular season was memorable.
No. 14: Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Super Bowl XXXVII, 2003
When the Tampa Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII, many compared their team to the Baltimore Ravens from a few years ago—a dominant defense with enough offense to win games.
While Brad Johnson threw for 3,049 yards and 22 touchdowns in the 13 games he started, the Buccaneers never had a dominant running game—relying mostly on fullback Mike Alstott for goal line situations.
While their offense averaged 21.6 points per game (18th), the Bucs defense was the best in the NFL, allowing just 12.2 points per game. Tampa Bay's defense was so dominant, they forced Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon to throw for a record five interceptions—including three returned for touchdowns—in Super Bowl XXXVII.
The Buccaneers finished 12-4 on the season and reached the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. What's ironic about their appearance is many expected the Philadelphia Eagles to represent the NFC considering Tampa Bay had never won a playoff game on the road.
No. 13: Indianapolis Colts—Super Bowl XLI, 2007
For most of the decade, the Indianapolis Colts have dominated the AFC South behind their strong leader in Peyton Manning. However, the one team—and man—that seemed to stand in their way of a Super Bowl was Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
In 2007, the Colts and Patriots squared off in the AFC Championship game for the change to face the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. After being down 21-6 at halftime, Indianapolis battled back to defeat New England 38-34 in one of the most intense playoff games of this decade.
With weapons such as wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne to throw to, Manning helped the Colts offense average 26.7 points per game during the regular season. Unfortunately, their defense was nowhere nearly as dominant, allowing opposing teams to average 22.5 points per game.
The Colts started the season 9-0 but were later written off after struggling towards the end of the season and finishing 12-4. Lucky for them, they returned to their dominant form once the postseason rolled around and helped Manning get the monkey off his back by winning his first career Super Bowl.
No. 12: Baltimore Ravens—Super Bowl XXXV, 2001
The Baltimore Ravens displayed arguably the best defense in NFL history en route to their 34-7 Super Bowl XXXV win over the New York Giants. The defense forced five turnovers—including an interception returned for a touchdown by cornerback Duane Starks.
After a three-game losing streak to drop their record to 5-4 in the regular season, the Ravens went on to win their next 11 games on their way to being crowned Super Bowl Champions for the first time in franchise history.
Their defense, led by linebacker Ray Lewis, set an NFL record by giving up 165 points all season and allowing 10.6 points per game.
While their offense was nowhere nearly as dominant as the defense, the Ravens scored just enough to win games, averaging 20.8 points per game (14th). With quarterback Trent Dilfer taking over in the middle of the season, he led the team to an 11-1 record (including playoffs) with the help of rookie running back Jamal Lewis.
No. 11: Chicago Bears—Super Bowl XLI, 2007
The Chicago Bears had little trouble winning the NFC North on their way to Super Bowl XLI, beating out the Green Bay Packers by five games with a 13-3 record.
While they lost to the Indianapolis Colts 29-17, the Bears displayed one of the best regular seasons in the history of their franchise. While the defense finished third in points allowed (15.9), it was the offense that surprised the rest of the league as they finished second in the NFL and averaged 26.7 points per game.
After an impressive 27-24 Divisional round win in overtime against the defending NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks, the Bears used their high-powered defense to defeat the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship game 39-14.
While the Bears jumped out to an early lead after Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, Chicago ended up being no match for Peyton Manning and company.
No. 10: Seattle Seahawks—Super Bowl XL, 2006
The Seattle Seahawks had little trouble winning the NFC West as they finished 13-3 and were the only team in their division to finish above .500 on their way to Super Bowl XL. Despite their 21-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Seahawks still had one of the best teams from this decade during the regular season.
Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw for 3,459 yards and 24 touchdowns while running back Shaun Alexander took home MVP honors by rushing for 1,880 yards. He also found his way into the end zone 27 times on the ground and once through the air.
The Seahawks' offense and defense both finished in the top 10 in the points category, scoring 28.2 points per game and allowing opposing teams to score just 16.9 points per game.
No. 9: Pittsburgh Steelers—Super Bowl XL, 2006
After winning their final four regular season games to make the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Steelers became the first No. 6 seed to win the Super Bowl after their 21-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks.
After finishing 15-1 the previous season and losing to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger promised running back Jerome Bettis he would get them to the Super Bowl the following season. A Super Bowl win in his home city of Detroit was the perfect way for Bettis to end his career as a Steeler.
On the way to their fifth Super Bowl, the Steelers finished 11-5 while displaying an offense ranked ninth in points per game (24.3) and third in points allowed (16.1). Who would have thought a team that barely found their way into the playoffs would end up winning the Super Bowl?
No. 8: New England Patriots—Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002
Super Bowl XXXVI was the official start of the dynasty for the New England Patriots as they went on to win their first of three Super Bowls in a four-year span. Despite losing to the St. Louis Rams in Week 10 of the regular season, the Patriots overcame all odds as huge underdogs to win 20-17.
After an 0-2 start in the second season under head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots went on to win their final six regular season games to finish 11-5. They ranked sixth in both points scored per game (23.2) and points allowed (17.0) under second-year quarterback Tom Brady, who finished 11-3 as a starter after replacing the injured Drew Bledsoe.
Many to this day still question whether or not New England deserved to play in the Super Bowl due to the famous and questionable "tuck rule" by quarterback Tom Brady in the divisional round against the Oakland Raiders.
However, NFL fans just need to accept there is nothing that can be done about it now and this was a start of a true dynasty.
No. 7: Philadelphia Eagles—Super Bowl XXXIX, 2005
The Philadelphia Eagles are arguably one of the best NFC teams of this decade with their five NFC East titles and eight playoff appearances. However, no season was more memorable than the year they reached Super Bowl XXXIX against the New England Patriots.
Despite losing 24-21, the Eagles finished the regular season 13-3 and finally reached the Super Bowl after three-straight losses in the NFC Championship game—including two at home. Donovan McNabb arguably displayed the best season of his career, throwing for 3,979 yards and 31 touchdowns.
With Jim Johnson leading a defense allowing just 16.2 points per game, the Eagles offense averaged 24.1 points per game and received a major upgrade at wide receiver with the acquisition of Terrell Owens—who finished with 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns in the regular season.
Despite their 13-3 finish, the argument can be made this team could have finished the regular season 15-1 considering they clinched home-field advantage early enough to rest their starters against the St. Louis Rams and Cincinnati Bengals the final two weeks.
No. 6: Pittsburgh Steelers—Super Bowl XLIII, 2009
There's an old saying about how defense wins championships. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, this saying could not be more accurate after becoming the first team in NFL history to win six Super Bowls after a 27-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals in 2009.
The Steelers had one of the top defenses in football on their way to a 12-4 season and finished first allowing opposing teams to score 13.9 points per game. In 11 of their 16 games during the regular season, the defense held their opponents to less than 20 points.
While the defense flourished, the Steelers offense averaged just 21.7 points per game—20th in the NFL. The offensive line struggled to protect quarterback Ben Roesthlisberger, who was sacked 46 times during the regular season.
However, the offense still had enough weapons behind Roethlisberger, as Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward provided the Steelers defense with enough points to support their strong performance each week.
No. 5: St. Louis Rams—Super Bowl XXXVI, 2002
After winning their first Super Bowl in franchise history two years prior, the St. Louis Rams were looking to earn the dynasty label by earning their second Lombardi Trophy in three seasons. Unfortunately, even being a 14 point favorite couldn't help St. Louis overcome Tom Brady and the New England Patriots as they were upset 20-17.
Despite the loss, the Rams had a season to remember as they finished 14-2, losing both games by single digits. Kurt Warner picked up his second MVP award of his career, throwing for 4,830 yards and 36 touchdowns. Marshall Faulk finished with over 2,000 combined yards and 21 touchdowns. With these types of numbers, it was no surprise St. Louis finished with the No. 1 ranked scoring offense for the third straight season (31.4).
As they did two years ago, the Rams were ranked in the top 10 in points allowed per game—allowing 17.1 and ranking seventh in the league. This was a major improvement from the previous season, as they ranked last in the NFL by allowing 29.4 points a game.
No. 4: New England Patriots—Super Bowl XXXVIII, 2004
With their second Super Bowl appearance in three years, the New England Patriots were looking to become the first team this decade to become a dynasty. With their 32-29 win over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, the Patriots earned the right to be labeled as one of the most dominant teams of the decade.
After beginning the season 2-2, the Patriots went on to win their next 12 regular season games to finish 14-2. They displayed one of the best defenses behind Pro Bowlers Rodney Harrison, Ty Law, Willie McGinest, and Richard Seymour, allowing their opponents to score 14.9 points per game.
While they averaged 21.8 points per game on offense, the Patriots deserve credit for their lack of a dominant offensive player at running back and wide receiver. New England was able to find success on offense because quarterback Tom Brady made the players around him better.
With players like Deion Branch, Troy Brown, and David Givens for Brady to throw to, the Patriots provided enough offense behind a stellar defense to officially become a dynasty.
No. 3: New England Patriots—Super Bowl XXXIX, 2005
The New England Patriots were back to defend their title in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Philadelphia Eagles from the previous season and their third in four years. The only difference this year was an improved running game thanks to the signing of Corey Dillon in the offseason.
For the second straight season, the Patriots displayed one of the best defenses in football, allowing their opponents to score 16.2 points per game. The signing of Dillon also established a strong ground game to take the pressure off of Tom Brady and help New England finish fourth in the NFL by scoring 27.3 points per game.
Not only did the Patriots display a dominating performance in the postseason, but they finished 14-2 for the second-straight season. Their Week Seven loss to the St. Louis Rams ended an 18-game winning streak in the regular season that carried over from the previous year.
With three Super Bowl victories over a four-year span, it's no debate the Patriots were one of the best teams of not only the decade, but all time.
No. 2: St. Louis Rams—Super Bowl XXXIV, 2000
The story behind the St. Louis Rams first Super Bowl victory may be one of the greatest stories told in the NFL.
After finishing 4-12 the previous season, Rams quarterback Kurt Warner replaced Trent Green after he was injured in the preseason. Warner went on to record one of the greatest seasons for a quarterback, leading the Rams to a 13-3 record while throwing for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns.
The Rams went on to hold off the Tennessee Titans 23-16 in Super Bowl XXXIV behind the league's No. 1 ranked offense (32.9 points per game) consisting of Marshall Faulk, Issac Bruce, Az-Zahir Hakim, and Torry Holt.
Along with their high-powered offense that earned the nickname, "The Greatest Show on Turf," the Rams defense finished fourth in the NFL by allowing 15.1 points per game.
No. 1: New England Patriots—Super Bowl XLII, 2008
Despite losing to the New York Giants 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII, the New England Patriots displayed the best team during the regular season this decade, finishing 16-0 and giving the 1972 Miami Dolphins a scare as the only team to go an entire season undefeated.
With the addition of wide receivers Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte Stallworth, Tom Brady went on to throw for a record 50 touchdowns during the regular season.
The Patriots offense ranked first in the NFL by scoring 36.8 points per game while New England defeated their opponents by an average of 19.7 points. New England also ranked in the top 10 as far as points allowed, holding its opponents to 17.1 points per game.
While it's disappointing to go 18-0 before losing the most important game of the season in the Super Bowl, the Patriots will still be remembered for displaying one of the most dynamic offenses in NFL history. Not to mention they became only the second team to finish 16-0 in the regular season.