With a new decade upon us, it is time to look back and think about how the 10 Super Bowl champions of the last decade stack up against each other. What was more important, defense or offense, or a solid balance of both? Did a team need to have a star player under center to make it higher on the list?
In this decade, the NFL had it's dynasty, the New England Patriots, but had many other great teams come along hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy and call themselves champions. The Steelers also did it more than once.
In ten years, we saw great defense (2000 Ravens), unbelievable offense (2009 Saints) and unforgettable plays (David Tyree). But what makes one team better than the other? Are the 2004 Patriots better than the 2000 Ravens?
Of course Boston residents may rank their Pats teams 1-2-3 and New Yorkers may rank the 2007 Giants 1 or 2, but this is merely based on the season they had from beginning to end. You'll see a few of the teams on this list that were not seen as title contenders at the beginning of the season, but ended up on top in the end.
Also at the end of the top 10, there is a quick list of the three teams of this past decade that should have, could have and would have won a championship had it not been the teams mentioned first.
If your team happens to be on the latter, than I apologize for opening up old wounds, but you'll see two of the teams did get you a championship not long after.
So where does each team rank? Did Brees beat out Peyton? Did Ray Lewis overtake Strahan and did Big Ben beat Brady? (or at least one of his teams).
After an 0-2 start where they gave up 80 points to Dallas and Green Bay, the Giants turned things around, and reeled off 6 straight wins to get to 6-2. The Giants had a bumpy second half of the season, including another loss to division rival Dallas, squeaked into the playoffs and from their, pulled off possibly the most unlikely Super Bowl run this decade. Behind the steady, flawless play of much maligned QB Eli Manning, and a relentless pass rush, the Giants got revenge on Dallas, Green Bay and New England, teams who had beaten them in the regular season, and some level of revenge on Tiki Barber by beating his twins team, Tampa Bay, in the first round.
But despite the great run, they were so close to losing most of the playoff games. They weren't dominant. They made enough plays to win each game, and had perhaps the greatest catch in Super Bowl history to help pave the way for one of the greatest upset in Super Bowl history.
Coming off a 15-1 season and a trip to the AFC Championship game in 2004, the Steelers had high expectations. Their quarterback now had a full year under his belt and could learn from his mistakes, and veteran running back Jerome Bettis returned for one last try at a championship. Things began smoothly with a 7-2 record, but an early season injury to Ben Roethlisberger caught up to them and they lost 3 straight games mid season and needed to win their final four games just to get into the playoffs as a 6 seed. But they prevailed and in the post season, defeated the top 3 AFC teams on the road to get to Super Bowl XL where they defeated the top NFC team, Seattle Seahawks.
But the Steelers don't slot very high on the list because they weren't a great team. They struggled a few times during the regular season, were a low seed and like the 2001 Patriots, needed some luck to get them to a championship; Who knows how the Bengals perform with Carson Palmer and not Jon Kitna? What happens if Big Ben doesn't tackle Nick Harper? And what if the officials didn't make horrendous calls?
Over his 6 year tenure as head coach, Tony Dungy transformed the Bucs from an abysmal franchise to a defensive powerhouse with the likes of DT Warren Sapp, LB Derrick Brooks, and S John Lynch. But the offense was lacking and after another playoff disappointment, the Bucs fired Dungy and traded several high draft picks for Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, an offensive minded, feisty leader who let Monte Kiffin and the defense work its magic. Gruden helped QB Brad Johnson manage his west coast offense and the pieces were put together to win a championship.
However, the Bucs do not crack the top 5 because the offense, although consistent, was very pedestrian and didn't make them a dominant team. Their Super Bowl opponent, the Raiders, were an offensive juggernaut in 2002 and the Bucs merely had to keep it at bay (get it?) and make plays on defense to get a win, which they did. But should the Raiders play better offensively in the big game, the Bucs may not be here because their offense could not have won a shootout. It certainly would have struggled against the next team...
Perhaps the greatest defense in NFL history, let alone the decade, the 2000 Ravens dominated the competition on defense allowing only 165 total points - 43 points than the '85 Bears. Ray Lewis was entering his prime and continued his MVP play in the post season, leading the Ravens to a dominating performance of the New York Giants and allowing 23 points during their playoff run.
However, the reason they rank in the middle of the pack, an inconsistent offense that saw a quarterback change, Trent Dilfer for Tony Banks, and a 5 game stretch without a touchdown. Dilfer became the first - and still only - quarterback to be released by a team the year after winning a Super Bowl.
The New England Patriots began the 2001 season with little fanfare, they were coming off a 5-11 season in 2000 under first year head coach Bill Belichick, and in the second game of the season, they lost their franchise quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, to a serious injury against the New York Jets. But so began the legend of Tom Brady. The second year quarterback out of Michigan led the Patriots the rest of the season and throughout a magical playoff run, upsetting the heavily favored GSOT St. Louis Rams.
But "magical" sometimes means lucky. And the 2001 Pats were just that. True, their defense and offense played well enough to win games, but in the playoffs they encountered some luck: the Tuck Rule, Bledsoe as a back up in the AFC Championship game, and the foot of Adam Vinatieri. Sure, teams need some luck to win a championship, but their was nothing dominant about this team and could have lost any one of the games they played in.
The 1990 Giants, '97 Denver Broncos, 2005 Steelers and 2006 Colts all have one thing in common besides championship rings, they were all teams that made amends for previous post season failures. The '89 Giants were a great team that was upset and won the next year, the '96 Broncos were a top team that should have won but didn't, and the Steelers were a 15-1 team in 2004 that became only the second such team to not win a Super Bowl, but won the next year. And finally the 2006 Colts were a team that followed an '05 team that many people predicted to win it all.
The one thing the Colts couldn't do much of during the regular season was stop the run and when the playoffs started many experts predicted that to be their downfall. But a funny thing happened, the pourous run defense clogged up its holes and with an already great offensive attack, the Colts exorcised it's demons, finally upset the Patriots for once, and went on their way to its first - and still only - Super Bowl championship.
Armed with the best defense in the league and a solid offense, the 2008 Steelers were a much more consistent team than it's 2005 championship club. Led by DPOY James Harrison and Pro Bowl QB Ben Roethlisberger showed it was the best team from the start to finish and perhaps was the most complete club of the decade.
Still it did have it's weaknesses, it did need a last minute touchdown pass and circus (albeit questionable) catch to come from behind and come-from-behind attempt by the Arizona Cardinals. But, I guess when a defense plays as hard as they did in 2008, it's surprising they showed some exhaustion at the end of the year.
Following a disappointing 2002 season, the Patriots sured up their secondary, releasing veteran safety Lawyer Milloy and replacing him with San Diego castoff Rodney Harrison who immediately gave the Pats defense an attitude. After beginning the season 2-2, New England rolled off 12 straight wins to become the top team in the AFC and the best team in the league after their Super Bowl victory over the Panthers.
Besides the appearance of Janet Jackson's nipple, the most surprising aspect of Super Bowl XXXVIII was that the upstart Carolina Panthers actually made a game of it and kept it tied until the final two minutes when you-know-who led the team down the field for a last second field goal by the other-you-know-who.
It was odd to write this title as know one expected the 'Aints to win a championship in their lifetime. But it happened this past season and concluded the work of the second best Super Bowl team in this decade. Odd to think about it, but they 2009 Saints were an utterly dominant team from the start, starting off 13-0 before losing three straight to enter the playoffs. Drew Brees had an MVP-type season and was surrounded by a seemingly endless line of weapons. But this had been the case for the last few years. But the biggest difference maker was the defense. With new D-Coordinator Gregg Williams calling an aggressive attack, and veteran safety Darren Sharper solidifying the secondary which gave up big plays the year before, the stars aligned for the Saints and they trampled their way to a Super Bowl victory and beat a Colt team that would likely be in this position should they have won.
When writing the above title for this slide, I basically copy and pasted the text from the 2003 team because it is essentially the same except for some little details. And that sums up the 2004 Patriots. The third championship team for Bill and Tom was almost a replica of the second championship team. But the 2004 Pats were great from the get-go. They started the season 6-0, setting the record for consecutive regular season wins (18) until a week 8 loss in Pittsburgh, whom they eventually crushed in the AFC Championship game. They would go on to face an Eagle team that had long been waiting to win a championship and make them wait even longer with a 24-21 victory.
But this team did something that no other team in the decade did: win consecutive championships, and be crowned a dynasty. Only the greatest teams repeat as champions and the Patriots did that and did it rather easily. They are the team of the decade and this specific team made them such.
The NFL Network produces a terrific series called "Missing Rings," which chronicles a team that should have won the Super Bowl during a particular season, but somewhere along the line let it get away. Here are three teams from this past decade that should get consideration for the next few episodes.
The Steelers managed to win 15 games with a rookie quarterback and managed to defeat that seasons Super Bowl representatives, the Eagles and Patriots, along the way. But a blow out loss at the hands of the Patriots in the AFC Championship subdued any Super Bowl aspirations. But hey, they made up for it in 2005, but Steeler nation wonders what could have been. A dynasty?
The Colts outscored opponents 439-247 during the regular season and things looked great for Peyton Mannings team. They finally had balance on both sides of the ball, and with the Patriots looking human for the first time since 2002, it seemed to be the Colts time to strike. But alas, the Steelers shocked them in their first game and raised questions about Mannings ability to win the big game for another year. And that would ultimately be it as they made up for the loss with a championship in 2006.
The '84 49ers, the '85 Bears and the '07 Patriots all finished the year 18-1. The only difference is the Patriots loss came last. And unlike the previous two teams mentioned, they still haven't redeemed themselves.