The Debate of Great: The Greatest NFL Teams of All Time
Every NFL season the debate on how good a team is always arises. Whether it be a doormat that is off to a surprising start, or a power house that is cleaning the other team's clocks, everyone has an opinion.
Then, every once in a while a team gets to that 12th or 13th game unbeaten, and everyone asks the question of will this team be the greatest of all time if they run the table?
So far the '72 Dolphins have been the only team to go undefeated at 17-0. The Patriots back in 2007 were undefeated until they got to the Super Bowl and missed greatness by a mere minutes. Last year the Colts were 14-0 until the Curtis Painter incident.
There have been really good teams that have won championships, and great teams that have won titles. Many of the teams on this list have won multiple titles, which makes picking their best team very hard. While there are definetely more than 10 teams that deserve to be on the list, only 10 will make the cut.
I have limited this list to great teams during the Super Bowl era, so no talk about how good the Cleveland Browns were back in the 50's. I have narrowed the list to just the best teams, so no duplicate teams, just the best from each franchise.
So let's shuffle down the list, sing some hail to the Redskins, and rip through this steel curtain of a list that is greatness.
2007 New England Patriots
Record: 16-0 Lost Super Bowl XLII 17-14 to the Giants
This was hands down one of, if not the most prolific offense ever. They averaged over 30 points per game. Wes Welker led the league in catches. Randy Moss set an NFL record for TD catches in a season with 23. Then some guy named Tom Brady threw 50 TD's, an NFL record, on his way to the MVP award.
Defensively they were not bad either. Out of the eight Pro Bowlers, three were from the defensive side. Asante Samuel played a lockdown corner. Vince Wilfork was a load in the middle, and LB MIke Vrabel was a strong leader, as well as an extra tight end on the offensive side of the ball.
Thge Patriots rolled teams for the majority of the year. They were just the fourth team in NFL history to have their division clinched before week 12. Towards the end of the season the offense appeared to slow down, and games did closer, culminating in a week 17 sqeaker over the Giants.
The playoffs that year were not at all like the regular season for the Pats. In the Divisional game versus Jacksonville the game was tied at halftime, until Brady came out and hit Welker and Watson in the third quarter to ensure a 31-20 victory. A week later it was much of the same against the banged up Chargers, where an early fourth quarter TD pass to Wes Welker helped decide a 21-12 victory, and yet another AFC Title.
In the Super Bowl the Giants gameplan and execution was much better than the Pats, as they were able to steal a 17-14 win and stall the Patriots run at a perfect 19-0.
Nevertheless, this team was down right scary. They could score at a moments notice, and they had the killer instinct that a great team needs. If it wasn't for a banged up Brady and a David Tyree catch in the Super Bowl, the Pats would have undoubtedly earned a top spot in the NFL's elite teams. But they didn't, thus I have to put them in as the 10th greatest team in NFL history.
1998 Denver Broncos
Record: 14-2, Won Super Bowl XXXIII 34-19 over the Falcons.
Entering the list at No. 9, this version of the Broncos was even better than the previous year's version that had won the Super Bowl, beating a heavily favored Packers team. This group would start out 13-0 and look unbeatable. Terrell Davis ran for over 2000 yards, making him only the fourth player to do so at the time.
It was pretty much business as usual for Shanahan and his boys as they ripped through the regular season and were headed on a crash course to the Super Bowl to face the 15-1 Vikings, or at least that was what everyone thought.
In the playoffs they destroyed the Dolphins 38-3 in the divisional round to avenge a week 16 loss in Miami. The next week the took care of the Jets 23-10 to set up a Super Bowl matchup with the Cinderella Falcons, who had an improbable comeback earlier in the day to defeat the Vikings.
In the Super Bowl Denver got out to a 17-6 halftime lead, which they took to the fourth quarter. Costly mistakes by the Falcons led to two Broncos touchdowns, increasing the lead to 31-6. They watched Tom Dwight run a kick back, and the Falcons score a garbage touchdown as they won their second straight title 34-19.
This proved to be John Elway's last game, as he retired at season's end. Davis would play three more injury plagues seasons, and retired during the 2002 preseason.
By far this was the best that Denver has ever seen. They ran the ball well, played solid defense, and created turnovers.
1976 Oakland Raiders
Record:13-1, won Super Bowl XI 32-14 over the Vikings
Next up on the list may be a little of a shocker to some, the 1976 Oakland Raiders. This was the best of John Madden's teams in the Bay area, improving on an 11-3 record from the year before, and dethroning the defending champs, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Offensively they were led by Kenny Stabler, who led the league in passing efficiency. He also had a plethora of weapons in wideouts Cliff Branch and Fred Belitnikofff, as well as tight end Dave Casper. But where this team flourished was on the defensive side of the ball.
They were often considered to be ultra violent on the field, but the aggressive style worked. One of the bad boys of the defense was safety George Atkinson, who was always looking to put people in the hospital. He developed a reputation for his hard hitting by knocking Lynn Swann out of the previous year's title game with a sever concussion.
The Raiders didn't exactly destroy everyone on their schedule, but played well enough to go 13-1 with the one loss coming in New England. Heading into the playoffs it appeared that the Raiders and Steelers were going to meet again in the title game. But, it was easier said than done.
In the divisional round they got their revenge game against the Patriots. Down 21-17 late in the game it had appeared the Pats had gotten the upset, when a controversial pass interference was called, allowing the Raiders to eventually go in for the deciding score. The next week they steam rolled a Steelers team that was without both Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. Many people felt that they were fortunate to even get to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XI saw the Raiders prove that they were in fact a great team. After a few opening game miscues, the Raiders settled down and jumped to a 16-0 half time lead on the strength of a Stabler to Casper TD and a one yard score by Pete Banaszak. The Vikings would never catch up as the Raiders would win the game 32-14.
The most memorable play during this Super Bowl would have been the 75 yard pick six by corner Willie Brown. This is and always will be a great clip from NFL films highlighting one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history.
They were mean. They were tough. A lot of people didn't like them, but that is what made this team great. Sometimes it isn't how bad you beat a team on the scoreboard, but how bad you beat them physically, and in their prime I would put the '76 Raiders against any team on this list.
Madden and his team of bullies Raid into the countdown at No. 8.
1999 St. Louis Rams
Record: 13-3, won Super Bowl XXXIV 23-16 over the Titans
After Trent Green was injured during the 1999 preseason many experts predicted the Rams to finish at the bottom of the league once again. Head coach Dick Vermiel had decided that rather than go out and get a veteran quarterback to replace Green, he would promote then backup Kurt Warner, a former Arena League star.
"We will rally around Kurt Warner, and we will play good football," a teary eyed Vermiel said. No one knew what was in store for Warner and the Rams in '99.
Offensively they set all sorts of records. Warner would throw for over 4300 yards and 41 TD's as the team would go 13-3 and earn the nickname, "The Greatest Show on Turf."
Warner also had some of the best weapons a guy could ever have in dual threat running back Marshall Faulk, and wideouts Isaac Bruse, rookie Torry Holt, and Az -Zahir Hakim. Defensively the Rams may have been an underrated bunch, even though they had the league's top rush defense and was tied with Jacksonville for the lead in sacks.
So after breezing through the regular season and earning home field they were ready for their divisional playoof foe in the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings actually rolled out to a 17-14 lead behind a solid performance by the Vikings defense. But then Warner and the Rams got going scoring 35 in the second half to win the game 49-37, setting up a title game matchup with a defensive monster from Tampa.
In the title game defense reigned supreme as the Bucs held a 6-5 lead late in the fourth quarter. Warner had one last rally left in his right arm and led the Rams down the field for a TD with less than five minutes to take the lead back. The Rams would win the game 11-6 and advance to their first Super Bowl in 20 years.
Super Bowl XXXIV is still on of the best in recent memories. Warner threw for over 300 yards as the Rams jumped out to a 16-0 lead. But the Titans were not giving up, as they stormed back to tie it at 16 apiece with just over two minutes left in the game.
But overtime was not to be had on this day, as Warner hit Bruce for a 73 yard score on the first play of the ensuing drive to give the Rams the 23-16 lead. After Steve McNair escaped several sacks to drive the Titans into the red zone, the Titans were faced with one final play. On the slant play to Kevin Dyson linebacker Mike Jones came up with the tackle to keep Dyson one yard short of sending the Super Bowl to its first ever overtime.
This Rams team will go down as one of the best ever for their ability to put up big numbers on a weekly basis. Kurt Warner was electric, the defense solid, and of course they were on the Marshall plan.
At lucky No. 7, from the Gateway City the Rams 1999 squad steam rolls into the countdown.
1991 Washington Redskins
Record: 14-2, won Super Bowl XXVI 37-24 over the Bills.
I can still hear "Hail to the Redskins" in my mind every time I think about this team. Probably because every time I changed the channel they were scoring points.
They defeated their opponents by more than 260 points combined, or an average, or more than 16 a game. They played a brutally tough schedule, playing their divisional rivals in addition to the Bears, Oilers, and Falcons.
Offensively they lit it up. League MVP Mark Rypien had the best year of his career, throwing for 3500 yards and 28 touchdowns. The skins had two 1000 yard receivers in Gary Clark and Art Monk, plus a running back combo of Byner and Ervins that ran for over 1700 yards and eight scores. They were quite simply unstoppable.
Defensively they were solid as well. They were led by corner Darrell Green with five picks, linebacker Wilber Marshall and end Charles Mann who combined for over 190 tackles, 17 sacks, and five picks. You were not gonna put up a lot of points on this unit.
They were 11-0 heading into week 13 against the Cowboys. During that game the Redskins fell a little flat, losing to an up and coming Cowboys team 24-21. They would lose only once more, a week 17 game to the Eagles that was relatively meaningless.
The post season saw much of the same beatdowns, as they hammered the "Too Legit to Quit" Falcons 24-7, and followed it up with a 30 point drubbing of the Lions in the title game. Neither of these games were even close.
Super Bowl XXVI saw the Skins take on the Bills in a game that had the look of a potential shootout. After a scoreless first quarter the Hogs got rolling and they rattled off 24 straight before Buffalo even showed up. Buffalo would cut it to 24-10 on a Thurman Thomas TD run in the third quarter, but Washington responded by scoring the next 13 points to put it at 37-10. The final was 37-24 after two garbage scores, but this one was also not very close. All Hail to the Redskins indeed.
This was one of those teams you wonder about when you look back. If only they had beaten the Cowboys in week 13...Nevertheless they still were by far the most impressive team that I have ever seen in Washington. They had it all, defense, a running game, an aerial attack, and Chip Lohmiller. Yes, Chip Lohmiller, I loved that guy.
Hailing in the No. 6 spot, the Redskins from 1991.
1966 Green Bay Packers
Record: 12-2, won Super Bowl I over the Chiefs 35-10.
One of many great teams that Vince Lombardi coached, this was the team that would win the inaugural Super Bowl. They had a great QB in Bart Starr, a defense that only allowed 163 points in 14 games, and a solid running game with Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, and Elijah Pitts.
Back in these days the Packers of the NFL were the best there was, winning three of the last 5 titles coming into 1966. The '66 season saw the Packers continue their dominance, once again setting up a title game appearance.
The title game was the first of two back to back matchups with the Cowboys. The '66 version was played at the Cotton Bowl and saw the Packers jump to a quick 14-0 lead. But Don Meredith and the Cowboys attack had cut it to 21-20 in the second half. That's when Starr hit Boyd Dowler and Max McGee on touchdown passes that would provide the winning margin in a 34-27 win to give the Pack their fourth title in six years. Now it was on to this new thing called the Super Bowl.
The first ever Super Bowl between the AFL and NFL champions was expected to be a wash, and for the most part people were right. The Chiefs kept it close early, but the Packers, behins a hungover Max McGee routed the Chiefs 35-10. Starr was the game's MVP passing for over 250 yards and two scores. This was the first of two Super Bowl wins in a row, as the Packer defeated the Raiders the next year 33-14 in Super Bowl II.
To have a top 10 list without the Packers is not right. This was by far the best team there was back in the 60's, and who could argue that with five NFL titles and two Super Bowl wins. When you look at the roster of players they had back then, all you have to do is count the Hall of Famers. Plus they had the great Vince Lombardi as coach, and I don't think a Patriots assistant was a hot commodity at this time.
It's not hard to see why they are the number five team on this list, power sweeping around the end at No. 5, the Packers of '66.
1978 Pittsburgh Steelers
Record: 14-2, won Super Bowl XIII 35-31 over the Cowboys.
A lot of people will argue that the 1979 version of the Steelers was the best ever. I will politely disagree. I feel that this group is the best to demonstrate the dominance of the Steel Curtain. Sure, the offensive numbers in '79 were better, but in my opinion they were a more dominant team in '78.
These guys were loaded all over the defensive side of the ball. Up front you had guys like Mean Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood. At linebacker guys like Jack Ham and Jack Lambert scared opposing quarterbacks to death, and if that wasn't bad enough, you had to deal with the skill corners in Mel Blount, Ron Johnson, and saftey Tony Dungy.
Offensively Terry Bradshaw had one of his best years, throwing for nearly 3000 yards and 28 scores. Lynn Swann and John Stallworth were his go to receivers, while Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier pushed the pile on the ground. Up front they were led by Hall of Famer Mike Webster at center.
The Steelers breezed through the regular season going 14-2, dropping only games against Houston and the Rams, both of which were nationally televised. As a whole their average margin of victory was more than 10 points per game.
They held home field advantage when the playoffs started in late 1978. They opened with Denver, the team that had bounced them the year prior. Steeler Nation would get their revenge in a 33-10 whitewashing at Three Rivers Stadium. Up next the Steelers got a shot at Houston for a third time. They had gotten their revenge late in 1978 with a 13-3 win in the Astrodome. This game would not be so close as the Steelers destroyed the Oilers 34-5 in a game where they forced nine turnovers.
Super Bowl XIII would not be as big of a wash. In this game Bradshaw would throw for over 300 yards and four scores as he went on to win MVP honors. However many feel that Bradshaw turnovers were also the Steelers hell, as it kept the Cowboys in it until the end.
But this game will be remembered by Cowboys fans as the game where a dropped pass was much more critical. Late in the third quarter with Dallas down 21-14, Roger Staubach found Jackie Smith wide open in the end zone for what would have been a game tying catch. Instead, Smith dropped the pass, the Cowboys settled for three, and the Cowboys could never recover.
The final was 35-31 as the 'Boys made it close at the end, but the Steelers had won a third title and would earn a fourth the following year.
It is no secret that the Steelers are one of the best franchises in NFL history. This, the 1978 team, is the one I feel was the best. Many may say 1979 was better, and yes it was offensively, but overall, this was the year they dominated from beginning to end.
Tackling the fourth spot, the 1978 version of the Steelers, the Iron City's finest.
1989 San Francisco 49ers
Record: 14-2, won Super Bowl XXIV 55-10 over the Broncos.
The '89 version of the 49ers were stacked on both sides of the ball. Montana had an MVP season, while Rice had 17 TD's, Roger Craig had 1500 all purpose yards, and the defense ranked third in the league.
The 49ers rolled through the regular season, going 14-2, with its only defeats coming aginst the Rams and Packers. One of the more memorable moments came on a Monday Night comeback win over the Rams. Down 27-3 in the second half, the 49ers stormed back to capture a three point win, and avenge an earlier season loss in their home opener.
The playoffs provided even less cometition as the Niners outscored their opponents 126-26. In the divisional round they jumped to a 27-3 halftime lead over the Vikings as Montana threw four TD;s in the first half. They went on to win 41-13. The next week they got the Rams again in the championship game. The Rams jumped to a 3-0 lead, but that would be the only lead and only points they would score as Joe Montana threw for two scores and Mike Cofer added three fild goals in a 30-3 blowout win.
Super Bowl XXIV was one of the worst in history. Joe Montana threw for nearly 300 yards and 5 TD's and the Broncos turned the ball over four times in a 55-10 beatdown. This game was never close, and still to this day you have to say that this was one of the most dominant victory in Super Bowl history.
There were many 49ers teams that could have gotten into this countdown, but this was the one I felt was the most dominant, with the '94 version very close. To have the talent of Rice, Craig, Montana, Taylor, and Rathman on offense, and have Lott, Haley, Romanowski, and Millen on defense says it all. Stacked!
At No. 3, coincidentally the same amount of points the Rams put up in the NFC Title game, the '89 49ers flex their muscle as a dominant power in NFL history.
1985 Chicago Bears
Record: 15-1, won Super Bowl XX over the Patriots 46-10.
The Monsters of the Midway, Da Bears come in as the second best team ever in NFL history. A lot of people may debate whether they should be No. 1 or not, but all I can say is that they had their chance on a Monday Night in Miami and dropped the ball.
When you think of this team, you think of Buddy Ryan and the 46 defense. Guys like Richard Dent, MIke Singletary, Wilber Marshall, the Fridge, Steve McMIchael, Dave Duerson, and Leslie Frazier were absolute monsters in their own right. They only gave up an average of 12 points per game, and considering there were three games where they gave up a total of 90 yards (Bucs, Dolphins, Vikings) that stat is pretty much meaningless.
On offense Jim McMahon managed the game, which is about all you can say about his '85 season. The great Walter Payton ran for over 1500 yards and scored nine time to pace the offense that did enough to win games.
The regular season saw the Bears roll through opponents leading them to a 12-0 start. Between weeks 7-12 they gave up a total of just 29 points. They were simply dominant and nobody could stop them...or so we thought.
Then came Monday Night December 2, when they went into Miami. With the 1972 Dolphins team looking on, Dan Marino picked apart the vaunted Bears defense in a 38-24 victory. Many Bears fans will look to the injury of Jim McMahon as a big factor, others will just look at it as Marino and the Dolphins had a better gameplan.
After the loss the Bears would go on to finish the regular season with three victories and earn home field advantage. The city of Chicago was afire as many felt it was their year to win it all, no questions asked.
The playoffs for the Bears was as lopsided as you can get. They started by beating the Giants 21-0 in the divisional round. The Giants totalled just 181 yards and were sacked six times. The next week the Bears shutout the Rams 24-0 in a game where the Rams barely got over 100 total yards and turned the ball over three times. At this point in time, this was the most dominant playoff performance in the modern era.
Super Bowl XX saw much of the same as the Bears destroyed the Patriots 46-10. The Pats turned the ball over six times and mustered a total of just 123 yards, while the Bears offense again took advantage of their terrifying defense. The Monsters of the Midway ended the scoring with a safety of quarterback Steve Grogan and shuffled their way to their first Super Bowl title.
Da Bears and Da defense of '85 was one of, if not the best ever. NO other team in NFL history has gone through the playoffs and not given up a point. The defense single handedly ran roughshot on the entire league in 1985. We will never see a defense this dominant ever again, and I apologize in advance to Ravens fans.
Shuffling and terrorizing their way to the No. 2 spot, the Monsters of the Midway, the Chicago Bears.
1972 Miami Dolphins
Record: 14-0, won Super Bowl VII 14-7 over the Redskins.
They are the only team to go wire to wire and end their season undefeated with a Super Bowl win. Some people may feel they aren't as great as other teams that may have already appeared on this list. All you can say, is that they went unbeaten and none of the others did.
The '71 Dolphins went to their first Super Bowl and fell on their face 24-3 in a loss to the Cowboys. Nobody could even think they would see the '72 version play at the level they did, especially with the loss of quarterback Bob Griese in the fifth game.
Veteran QB Eral Morrall would be asked to lead the team for the remainder of the year until Griese was healthy anough to come back. Luckily for the aging Morrall he had a solid dual threat running game in Mercury Morris and Larry Csonka, who both ran for 1000 yards. He also had the best defense in the NFL, nicknamed the No-name defense, they were some of the lesser known, lower profile guys you'll see on a defense so solid.
The Dolphins had several close games down the stretch, including a 24-23 squeaker over Buffalo in week 6, and a 28-24 win over the Jets in week 10. Nevertheless they went 14-0 and were poised for another run to the Super Bowl.
On Christmas Eve of 1972, the playoffs got under way with the Dolphins hosting the Browns. Cleveland miscues left them wondering what could have been in their 20-14 loss. A punt block in the opening period led directly to the first score, and four other turnovers doomed the Browns even though they outgained the Dolphins in yardage. Earl Morrall once again started and was mainly ineffective.
The following week a young version of the Steel Curtain came to town and pushed the Dolphins to the brink. Bob Griese would return to action, and like Morrall the week before was ineffective. An early Dolphin miscue led to the Steelers taking a quick 7-0 lead. In the second quarter Eral Morrall entered the game and found Larry Csonka for the tying score at 7-7 at the half. In the second half Jim Kiick ran for two scores, and the defense tightened, forcing several turnovers as they were one win from immortality after a 21-17 win.
Super Bowl VII was a one sided affair, with the Dolphins defense picking Billy Kilmer three times and Larry Csonka running for 100+yards in the 14-7 victory. The score, which was close in the box score, was actually not that at all. Late in the fourth quarter the Dolphins were lining up for a field goal to make the 17-0 Dolphins lead 17-0. Garo Yepremian was lined up for a 42 yard field goal when it was blocked by the Redskins. Rather than fall on it he attempted to try and pass it but the ball slipped out of his hands, bounced around a little and into the hands of corner Mike Bass. The play, one of the NFL's biggest blunders was the only dark spot on an otherwise beautiful day in Los Angeles.
Many teams have come close, but no one has done it. That alone gives the '72 Dolphins the right to claim the top spot. Everyone can argue about whether they were great or not, and sure, maybe the stats weren't gawdy, but the only stat that matters when it is all said and done is "W's" and "L's".
At the top spot in our countdown of great NFL teams, the '72 Dolphins popping the cork on the champagne bottle and celebrating yet another victory.
The Rest of the Best
At this point you are either shaking your head and saying, "what?" Or you are saying to yourself, "hey he left out this team!" That's why I add several best of the rests on this slide. You can have an argument for any of these teams making the list, as they were all great during the season in which they won it all.
The 1992 Cowboys were 13-3 with an NFL's greatest games victory over the Niners in the NFC Title game, and a Super Bowl beating of the Bills. Aikman, Emmitt, Irvin, and Jimmy's hair. You can make an argument for them to be on the list.
The 1998 Minnesota Vikings went 15-1 before losing to the Falcons in the conference title game. They had a dominant offense and were solid on defense. If only Gary Anderson could have kicked that day.
The 1996 Packers was the team that returned the title to Titletown. Favre had a great year, along with Dorsey Levens and Reggie White. Desmond Howard proved to be very special indeed as the Super Bowl MVP in their 35-21 win over the Patriots.
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens were perhaps the biggest threat to the '85 Bears as far as great defenses go. Led by Ray Lewis, they shut down many a powerful offenses throughout the season in route to a Super Bowl XXXV win over the Giants, and they did so all with Trent Dilfer at quarterback.
The 1986 New York Giants were just a great as many of the teams on the list. They hammered opponents on their way to a 14-2 record and a win in Super Bowl XXI. They were solid on defense with guys like L.T. and others, while Phil Simms did a solid job at quarterback. This is perhaps my No. 11 team.
When it comes down to the debate on great there are many schools of thought. I am sure that many people will feel the Dolphins aren't number one. Some will say that teams like the '86 Giants, '92 Cowboys, and 2000 Ravens are better than other teams on the list. Again like Dennis Miller used to say, "that's just my opinion, I could be wrong."
So what do you think about the list? Who would you have as your top five?
As always feel free to comment below and start your own debate on great.