Ranking the 50 Best Teams Never to Win a Super Bowl

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IFebruary 3, 2012

Ranking the 50 Best Teams Never to Win a Super Bowl

0 of 50

    Either the Patriots or Giants are leaving Indianapolis Monday morning without the Lombardi Trophy. 

    And the team that comes up on the short end of Super Bowl XLVI will forever be remembered as a team that failed to win it all.

    Throughout the history of the Super Bowl era there have been some awesome single-season teams that also came up short in the only goal that matters: a championship.

    Some lost on Super Sunday, some failed in the conference championship and some even failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs. 

    Inside are the 50 greatest single seasons that failed to win a title...well, with a few caveats.

    To keep this list from becoming boring and absurdly repetitive, there are these three qualifications:

    1) Teams that won a Super Bowl the previous season OR the following season are exempt: No 1998 Green Bay Packers or 1971 Miami Dolphins

    2) No consecutive teams: If the 1987 Broncos make it, the 1986 Broncos don’t.

    3) Dynastic or pseudo-dynastic teams like the 1990s Bills, 1970s Vikings or 2000s Eagles only get one entry.

No. 50: 1995 Detroit Lions

1 of 50

    Record: 10-6, NFC Wild Card

    Head Coach: Wayne Fontes

    Postseason Loss: 58-37 at Philadelphia Eagles, Wild Card

    Early in Barry Sanders' career, people often wondered how awesome the Lions would be if they put together a semblance of a passing game: Super Bowl contenders, perhaps?

    Well, in 1995 with the emergence of Scott Mitchell, they finally had one.

    Mitchell hooked up with Brett Perriman (108 catches, 1,488 yards), Johnnie Morton and Herman Moore (NFL record-setting 123 catches) to produce 27 points per game in 1995. And they far exceeded that number in their playoff game with Philadelphia.

    Too bad, the defense allowed their old teammate Rodney Peete and his Ricky Watters-led offense 31 points in the first half. 

    And it certainly could have been worse: Philly led 51-7 in the third quarter when Ray Rhodes and Jon Gruden called the dogs off. 

No. 49: 2003 Kansas City Chiefs

2 of 50

    Record: 13-3, AFC West champion

    Head Coach: Dick Vermeil

    Postseason Loss: 38-31 home to Indianapolis Colts, AFC divisional

    Another great offense that couldn't score enough to make up for their terrible defense.

    Setting an NFL record with 27 rushing touchdowns, Priest Holmes was incredible in 2003, and into December so, too, was the entire Chiefs team. At 11-1 and in line for the AFC's top seed, they slowed down late in the year, fell to the second seed and were bounced in their only playoff game during a shootout with Peyton Manning.

    Not even the electric punt/kick return skills of Dante Hall could keep the Chiefs from losing a third straight home playoff game. 

No. 48: 1983 Seattle Seahawks

3 of 50

    Record: 9-7, AFC Wild Card

    Head Coach: Chuck Knox

    Postseason Loss: 30-14 at Los Angeles Raiders, AFC Championship

    Although the next year's team won their division and posted a 12-4 record, this scrappy Seattle club won back-to-back playoff games to reach the doorstep of the Super Bowl.

    (A neat fact: They beat rookie John Elway and the Denver Broncos in the Wild Card Round then beat rookie Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins in the divisional.)

    With Curt Warner (not Kurt Warner) setting a franchise record with 1,449 yards rushing, and Hall of Famer Steve Largent putting up another steady/remarkable season, the Seahawks owned one of the NFL's best offenses.

    It wasn't enough, however, against Marcus Allen and the Raiders.  

No. 47: 2003 Green Bay Packers

4 of 50

    Record: 10-6, NFC North champion

    Head Coach: Mike Sherman

    Postseason Loss: 20-17 (OT) at Philadelphia Eagles, NFC divisional

    Oh, 4th-and-26. 

    Maybe this wasn't one of the best Packer teams of the Brett Favre era, but on offense it was the most balanced. 

    With Ahman Green rushing for a franchise-record 1,883 yards, Favre finally had perfect harmony on offense. And although Reggie White had long since retired, that very opportunistic defense wasn't bad either—until the waning seconds of their trip to Lincoln Financial Field. 

    It was 4th-and-26 and they allow Donovan McNabb to hit Freddie Mitchell? Awful. 

No. 46: 1985 New England Patriots

5 of 50

    Record: 11-5, AFC Wild Card

    Head Coach: Raymond Berry

    Postseason Loss: 46-10 to Chicago Bears, Super Bowl XX

    Yes, the effort they put up in the Super Bowl was an embarrassment and arguably the worst offensive display in the history of the championship game.

    But this team won three straight road playoff games to get to New Orleans, beating the conference's previous two champions (the Raiders and Dolphins) in successive weeks. 

    Still, Steve Grogan and Tony Eason were no match for the 46 defense. 

No. 45: 2009 New York Jets

6 of 50

    Record: 9-7, AFC Wild Card

    Head Coach: Rex Ryan

    Postseason Loss: 30-17 at Indianapolis Colts, AFC Championship

    I'll take the Rex Ryan Jets 1.0 over 2.0. 

    That version ran the ball much more efficiently and the defense was a bit more ferocious: No one could throw the ball on Darrelle Revis. 

    They didn't have the big names of a LaDainian Tomlinson or Santonio Holmes and Mark Sanchez threw eight more picks than touchdowns, but the way they played with their backs against the wall was incredible. 

No. 44: 1987 Minnesota Vikings

7 of 50

    Record: 8-7, NFC Wild Card

    Head Coach: Jerry Burns

    Postseason Loss: 17-10 at Washington Redskins, NFC Championship

    Few people talk about it, but this Vikings team pulled off one of the greatest playoff upsets of all time. Burns' team went into Candlestick Park and thumped the clear-cut Super Bowl favorite 49ers in a game not nearly as close as the 36-24 final score.

    This coming off an 44-10 pounding of the best Saints team in history and arguably the most ferocious pass rush linebacking corps ever. 

    And they hardly backed down in the NFC Championship against Washington. The game was tied at 10 in the fourth quarter before Doug Williams hit Gary Clark for the game-winning score. 

No. 43: 2011 Baltimore Ravens

8 of 50

    Record: 12-4, AFC North champion

    Head Coach: John Harbaugh

    Postseason Loss: 23-20 at New England Patriots, AFC Championship

    Of all the post-2000 Ravens teams, this year's was probably the most balanced. 

    Maybe Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were far more banged up and a few steps slower than they had been in 2004 or 2006, but Haloti Ngata, Jarret Johnson and Terrell Suggs—and even rookie Jimmy Smith—picked up the slack.

    But what separated this group from others was the tremendous balance on offense. Ray Rice was a beast and the emergence of Torrey Smith beside Anquan Boldin gave Joe Flacco a much-needed pair of weapons. 

No. 42: 1990 Los Angeles Raiders

9 of 50

    Record: 12-4, AFC West champion

    Head Coach: Art Shell

    Postseason Loss: 51-3 at Buffalo Bills, AFC Championship

    It's absurd and wrong to say that, had Bo Jackson been able to play, the Raiders would have went into Rich Stadium and beaten the Bills, especially since they were defeated by 48 points and the game was over by the end of the second period.

    It is worth pointing out, however, that had it not been for a few special teams gaffes during a regular-season showdown with the Bills, that conference championship game would have been played in the LA Coliseum. 

    Nevertheless, with a trio of Heisman Trophy winners (Bo, Marcus Allen and Tim Brown) that Raiders team could score.

    And the defense had some excellent personnel too, including Howie Long and Greg Townsend. 

No. 41: 1994 San Diego Chargers

10 of 50

    Record: 11-5, AFC West champion

    Head Coach: Bobby Ross

    Postseason Loss: 49-26 to San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowl XXIX

    This Charger team was certainly not the best in franchise history, but it was the only one to actually reach the Super Bowl so they have to be mentioned. 

    At this point in the history of the Super Bowl, it was clear that the AFC was far inferior to the NFC, but San Diego had a fine defense led by Junior Seau.

    And although there were no future Hall of Famers on the other side of the ball, Natrone Means made Stan Humphries a lot better. 

No. 40: 1998 New York Jets

11 of 50

    Record: 12-4, AFC East champion

    Head Coach: Bill Parcells 

    Postseason Loss: 23-10 at Denver Broncos, AFC Championship

    The magic of Bill Parcells.

    This Jets team was a disaster just two seasons earlier, posting an 1-15 record.

    But Parcells made wholesale changes, found a gem in Wayne Chrebet, resurrected Vinny Testaverde's career and somehow inspired Keyshawn Johnson.

    And with Curtis Martin at his best, they came close to a Super Bowl berth (30 years after the Super Bowl III miracle), leading the defending champion Broncos in Denver 10-0 in the third quarter. 

No. 39: 1966 San Diego Chargers

12 of 50

    Record: 7-6-1, 3rd AFL West

    Head Coach: Sid Gillman

    Postseason Loss: N/A

    Hear me out on this one.

    This club is the only entry on the list that failed to make the postseason. But remember that in 1966 only two AFL teams did and the Chargers came in third in their division behind Kansas City and Oakland.

    But this team had Bambi (Lance Alworth), Ron Mix and the terribly underrated Paul Lowe at running back.

    That is not enough to necessarily say "they should have won the Super Bowl." 

    But they did defeat the Raiders in Oakland, beat the Eastern division champion Bills once, tied with them another time and both games with Kansas City were close. 

No. 38: 1993 Houston Oilers

13 of 50

    Record: 12-4, AFC Central champion

    Head Coach: Jack Pardee

    Postseason Loss: 27-21 to Kansas City Chiefs, AFC divisional

    After the playoff choke job in Denver in 1991, then the historic collapse the next January in Buffalo, it became clear that the Oilers weren't going to get anywhere without improving their defense. 

    Enter new defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan in the 1993 offseason. 

    And he did his job. The Oilers won their final 11 regular season games largely because Ryan improved the defense to the fourth best in the NFL. 

    Couple that with Warren Moon and the Run-n-Shoot and the Oilers were a Super Bowl favorite in 1993. But Joe Montana's Chiefs went into the Astrodome and shocked the Oilers in the second half, ending perhaps Houston's best Super Bowl shot ever. 

No. 37: 1972 Washington Redskins

14 of 50

    Record: 11-3, NFC East champion

    Head Coach: George Allen

    Postseason Loss: 14-7 to Miami Dolphins, Super Bowl VII

    Imagine what it takes to be favored in a Super Bowl against a team that is undefeated. Well, impossibly that was the case heading into Super Bowl VII: The 11-3 Redskins were one-point favorites over the undefeated Dolphins.

    And in many ways, they validated Vegas, holding the Dolphins to just 14 points. 

    If Billy Kilmer, NFL MVP Larry Brown, and that Redskins offense had mustered any points against the Dolphins no-name defense they might have pulled off a 2007 Giants-like upset and there would be no annual champagne cork popping by Don Shula, Mercury Morris and the rest of that team. 

No. 36: 1999 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

15 of 50

    Record: 11-5, NFC Central champion

    Head Coach: Tony Dungy

    Postseason Loss: 11-6 at St. Louis Rams, NFC Championship

    Another team that might have hoisted up the Lombardi Trophy had they put together just an ounce more offense. 

    Six times that year the defense didn't allow the opponent a single touchdown. And think about what this Bucs team did in the NFC title game: They held "The Greatest Show on Turf" to 11 points, and only a field goal through the game's first three-and-a-half quarters. 

    And although the offense was (at best) anemic, they still had two fine running backs in Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn. Too bad Shaun King and Trent Dilfer were under center. 

No. 35: 2000 Oakland Raiders

16 of 50

    Record: 12-4, AFC West champion

    Head Coach: Jon Gruden

    Postseason Loss: 16-3 to Baltimore Ravens, AFC Championship

    The Raiders teams that Jon Gruden built never won a Super Bowl and this edition didn't get as far as Bill Callahan's two years later (or only lose in the playoffs via the Tuck Rule, like the 2001 team), but it was the best of the bunch.

    Charles Woodson was outstanding, Rich Gannon started to come into his own and most importantly they had balance on offense with Tyrone Wheatley. 

    Unfortunately, they ran into the greatest defense of its generation and no one bothered trying to tackle Shannon Sharpe on that pass over the middle in the second quarter of the AFC title game.

No. 34: 2006 San Diego Chargers

17 of 50

    Record: 14-2, AFC West champion

    Head Coach: Marty Schottenheimer

    Postseason Loss: 21-14 to New England Patriots, AFC divisional

    In terms of pure talent this probably was the best team in franchise history, even if it failed to get as far as their 1994 or 1980 teams. 

    LaDainian Tomlinson was in his prime, as was Antonio Gates, and Philip Rivers had a brilliant first season replacing Drew Brees.

    More importantly, the defense (Shawne Merriman, Shaun Phillips) was outstanding at pressuring the opposing passer. And they had the game against New England in the bag until that fourth-quarter disaster (Marlon McCree: meet Troy Brown) that ultimately cost Marty Schottenheimer his job. 

No. 33: 2005 Seattle Seahawks

18 of 50

    Record: 13-3, NFC West champion

    Head Coach: Mike Holmgren

    Postseason Loss: 21-10 to Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowl XL

    Although I can't agree with those fans who think that the referees cost this team a Lombardi Trophy against Pittsburgh, this was still a fine club.

    Shaun Alexander dominated the NFC that season, winning the league MVP and helping guide the Seahawks to the greatest season in franchise history. And although he didn't have much help (Jerramy Stevens, Bobby Engram, Joe Jurevicius is the best they could do?) Matt Hasselbeck had a phenomenal season.

    Still, the reason why Mike Holmgren's team made it to Detroit was an underrated defense.  In two playoff wins, they allowed only two offensive touchdowns, each a meaningless fourth-quarter score when they were already ahead.

No. 32: 1974 Los Angeles Rams

19 of 50

    Record: 10-4, NFC West champion

    Head Coach: Chuck Knox

    Postseason Loss: 14-10 at Minnesota Vikings, NFC Championship

    People often forget just how good these 1970s Rams teams were, especially given the dominance of the Cowboys and Vikings.

    The Fearsome Foursome had long since disbanded, but Merlin Olsen was still around, earning a 13th trip to the Pro Bowl. And as good as the Steel Curtain, the Purple People Eaters or Dallas' Doomsday Defense was in that era, this Rams team allowed the fewest points, just 181, during the 1974 season. 

    And had it not been for that phantom illegal motion penalty against Rams guard Tom Mack at the Vikings 1-yard line, LA might have been the Steelers Super Bowl IX opponent. 

No. 31: 2009 Indianapolis Colts

20 of 50

    Record: 14-2 AFC South champion

    Head Coach: Jim Caldwell

    Postseason Loss: 31-17 to New Orleans Saints, Super Bowl XLIV

    It's pretty simple: If Peyton Manning throws that pass a tad more outside, away from Tracy Porter, the Colts very well might have won a second Super Bowl in four seasons.

    As it happens, late in the fourth quarter, Manning slightly misfired (or Porter just made a brilliant read) and the Saints took a 14-point lead, all but clinching the win.

    That Colts team started the season 14-0 and ran into the problematic rest-or-play-for-an-undefeated-season issue, but rebounded to reach Miami and controlled the game until the post-halftime onside kick changed everything. 

No. 30: 1988 Chicago Bears

21 of 50

    Record: 12-4, NFC Central champion

    Head Coach: Mike Ditka

    Postseason Loss: 28-3 to San Francisco 49ers, NFC Championship

    Everyone knows how great the '85 Bears defense was, but three years later—even without Buddy Ryan as defensive coordinator—Chicago was almost impossible to score on.

    Mike Singletary, Steve McMichael, Richard Dent and the rest allowed only one point per game more than they had during their Super Bowl XX championship season.

    And although they had to piece together after the retirement of Walter Payton and the injuries to Jim McMahon, Ditka's team survived the Fog Bowl and advanced to the NFC title game. 

    Unfortunately, they ran into Joe Montana and the 49ers and were pounded despite the alleged advantage of the frigid, so-called "Bear Weather." 

No. 29: 1980 Philadelphia Eagles

22 of 50

    Record: 12-4, NFC East champion

    Head Coach: Dick Vermeil

    Postseason Loss: 27-10 to Oakland Raiders, Super Bowl XV

    Unless you're an Eagles fan, watch Monday Night Football or just love Harold Carmichael, you probably don't know much about the first Philadelphia team to reach the Super Bowl.

    But with Carmichael, Ron Jaworski and Wilbert Montgomery, Dick Vermeil put together a pretty capable offense.

    And with a defense that led the NFL in points (surrendering less than 14 per game) the Eagles topped two NFC playoff stalwarts, Dallas and Minnesota, to advance to play the Wild Card Raiders. 

    Three Jaws picks, however, each to Rod Martin, ruined the Eagles hopes of a Super Bowl title, something they are still waiting for. 

No. 28: 1998 San Francisco 49ers

23 of 50

    Record: 12-4, NFC Wild Card

    Head Coach: Steve Mariucci

    Postseason Loss: 20-18 at Atlanta Falcons, NFC divisional

    This team may have barely survived a home game against the Packers (The Catch II) and lost the following week in Atlanta, but in terms of pure offense it was one of the greatest ever. 

    Statistically, Steve Young had the best season of his career, aided by the unlikely duo of Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens, and they finally found the right replacement for free-agent loss Ricky Watters: Garrison Hearst, who set a new franchise record with 1,570 yards. 

    So it's little wonder that once Hearst went down (with that gruesome ankle injury) in first quarter of the playoff against Atlanta, they struggled to keep pace with the Dirty Birds.

    This is a case where that one injury changed the entire outcome of a game and season. 

No. 27: 1998 Atlanta Falcons

24 of 50

    Record: 14-2, NFC West champion

    Head Coach: Dan Reeves

    Postseason Loss: 34-19 to Denver Broncos, Super Bowl XXXII

    Piggy-backing on the previous slide, there is validity to the argument that Falcons wouldn't have topped San Francisco had Garrison Hearst's ankle not exploded on his lone carry of the day. 

    That injury required Steve Young to force throws, three of which were picked off, giving the Falcons the lead they clung to in the second half. 

    Having said that, for this Atlanta team to go into Minnesota the following week and shock the Vikings was a remarkable feat as was playing a fairly tight three quarters (17-6 through 45 minutes) with the defending champion Broncos in the Super Bowl. 

No. 26: 2008 Arizona Cardinals

25 of 50

    Record: 9-7, NFC West champion

    Head Coach: Ken Wisenhunt

    Postseason Loss: 27-23 to Pittsburgh Steelers, Super Bowl XLIII

    This isn't an easy one to justify being so high: the Cardinals were just 9-7, only got to play the NFC title game at home because the two top seeds choked and because they played in a terrible division. And that late-season 47-7 loss in New England was a total embarrassment.

    But there was something about that team in the postseason that clicked and not just for one or two weeks.

    They beat Atlanta, then crushed the Panthers on the road, came back to topple the Eagles and fought back from a potentially crippling 17-7 halftime deficit to take a late fourth-quarter lead in the Super Bowl against Pittsburgh. 

    And because there is a case to be made that during this postseason Larry Fitzgerald played the best football a wide receiver ever has that team was great just on his performance alone. 

No. 25: 1996 New England Patriots

26 of 50

    Record: 11-5, AFC East champion

    Head Coach: Bill Parcells

    Postseason Loss: 35-21 to Green Bay Packers, Super Bowl XXXI

    Bill Parcells' Pats obviously don't compare to Bill Belichick's, but that shouldn't diminish what the Tuna achieved in 1996. 

    At that time, Drew Bledsoe and Curtis Martin were as good as any QB-RB combination in the NFL and with Ty Law, Willie McGinist and Tedy Bruschi, coming into their own, the defense was fantastic, not allowing a touchdown in their two playoff wins. 

    More importantly, that team played the heavily favored Packers extremely close that evening in the Superdome: Curtis Martin's touchdown pulled them within six points late in the third period. 

    If the kick coverage had been a little better (i.e. Desmond Howard) or Max Lane could have blocked Reggie White, the Pats might have pulled off an enormous upset five years before Tom Brady and Bill Belichick did. 

No. 24: 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars

27 of 50

    Record: 14-2, AFC Central champion

    Head Coach: Tom Coughlin

    Postseason Loss: 33-14 to Tennessee Titans, AFC Championship

    Here's an interesting entry.

    This Jaguars team with rookie Fred Taylor, the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense and Mark Brunell passing to the Jimmy Smith/Keenan McCardell duo, only lost three games all year, including the postseason. Unfortunately, all three losses came to the Titans: twice in the regular season and again at home in the AFC Championship Game. 

    That should say enough. Tennessee might just have been a terrible matchup for the Jaguars, who perhaps would have defeated Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf. 

No. 23: 2003 Carolina Panthers

28 of 50

    Record: 11-5, NFC South champion

    Head Coach: John Fox

    Postseason Loss: 32-29 to New England Patriots, Super Bowl XXXVIII

    This might seem like too high of a place for that Panthers team: they didn't have a Hall of Fame quarterback, running back or any superstars on defense other than phenom Julius Peppers. 

    But after wasting a 5-0 start with a 3-5 midseason swoon, they suddenly refound they swagger, winning the division, clobbering Dallas then beating St. Louis in that epic double-overtime game. 

    They continued to roll with that beatdown over Philadelphia in the NFC title game then matching the mighty Patriots point-for-point in the Super Bowl. 

No. 22: 1985 Los Angeles Rams

29 of 50

    Record: 11-5, NFC West champion

    Head Coach: John Robinson

    Postseason Loss: 24-0 at Chicago Bears, NFC Championship

    The Rams of the mid-to-late 1980s suffered from bad luck more than anything. They just happened to play in an era where the 49ers, Redskins, Bears and Giants put together teams as good as any in NFL history. 

    They had Eric Dickerson—easily the era's best running back—the underrated Henry Ellard and one of the NFL's best defenses, fourth best in points per game.

    Besides, how are you supposed to beat Chicago's 46 defense in Soldier Field with career CFLer Dieter Brock at quarterback?

No. 21: 1987 Denver Broncos

30 of 50

    Record: 10-4-1, AFC West champion

    Head Coach: Dan Reeves

    Postseason Loss: 42-10 to Washington Redskins, Super Bowl XXII

    I realize that this Broncos team might be considered a pseudo-dynasty because they won three AFC Championships in four years, but let's be honest: If you take away John Elway this was probably an 8-8 team at best.

    Denver's defense was decent with Karl Mecklenberg, Greg Kragen and a pretty solid secondary with Dennis Smith and Mike Harden, but they weren't much of a match against Doug Williams (or Phil Simms and Joe Montana, for that matter). 

    Fortunately for Reeves, he did have Elway, who won the league MVP that season despite an average running game and Vance Johnson leading the team with 42 catches for 684 yards. 

No. 20: 1992 New Orleans Saints

31 of 50

    Record: 12-4, NFC Wild Card

    Head Coach: Jim Mora

    Postseason Loss: 36-20 to Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Wild Card

    As with the previous entry, there are several different valid choices for the Saints of this era: That 1987 team was excellent.

    But I'll take the 1992 version and here's why: Thanks to the awesome Dome Patrol pass rush of Pat Swilling, Rickey Jackson, Vaughan Dunbar and Sam Mills, they lost only four regular season games, by a combined 13 points. 

    And in the playoffs they certainly seemed ready to record a franchise-first playoff win: At halftime they led Philly 20-7 in the third quarter. Then another playoff debacle, allowing Randall Cunningham and the Eagles—who also had a pretty good defense—to comeback and win. 

No. 19: 1976 Minnesota Vikings

32 of 50

    Record: 11-2-1, NFC Central champion

    Head Coach: Bud Grant

    Postseason Loss: 32-14 loss to Oakland Raiders, Super Bowl XI

    Another pseudo-dynasty entry here. 

    Which was the best Vikings team of the 1970s? Hard to say, but this is my choice.

    They only lost two regular-season games and by a total of five points. (The 12.6 points per game they surrendered was only second best in the NFL because the Steel Curtain Steelers had that ridiculous run of shutouts in 1976).

    And although the Purple People Eaters defense was their centerpiece of that club, Fran Tarkenton had one of his most productive seasons in 1976 while Chuck Foreman set a franchise record with 1,155 yards rushing. Plus they had Ahmad Rashad!

No. 18: 1988 Cincinnati Bengals

33 of 50

    Record: 12-4, AFC Central champion

    Head Coach: Sam Wyche

    Postseason Loss: 20-16 to San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowl XXIII

    On the surface, these Bengals might be ranked too highly: In a way, I've rated that team the best in franchise history.

    After all, one of the main reasons why that Super Bowl against San Francisco was so close was because the 49ers offense didn't get in sync until the fourth quarter.

    But on the other hand, if a few things don't go against the Bengals (Stanley Wilson's pregame drug problem, Tim Krumrie's nasty broken leg, Lewis Billups dropped interception) they might have pulled off the enormous upset. 

    Boomer Esiason and the Icky Woods-James Brooks duo gave Cincy the NFL's top scoring offense and in their three playoff games, the defense allowed an average of less than 15 points. 

No. 17: 1986 Cleveland Browns

34 of 50

    Record: 12-4, AFC Central champion

    Head Coach: Marty Schottenheimer

    Postseason Loss: 23-20 (OT) to Denver Broncos, AFC Championship

    This Browns team was clearly the best of the 1980s era, far superior to the Brian Sipe's Kardiac Kids, or the later editions that went out to Denver and were beaten in the AFC Title Game.

    Bernie Kosar was at his peak throwing to Webster Slaughter, Reggie Langhorne, Brian Brennan and Ozzie Newsome. And with Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner the running game was very good.

    And there were some real stars on defense in Clay Matthews, Frank Minnifield and Hanford Dixon. Too bad that in a prevent defense, none of them could stop John Elway during The Drive. 

No. 16: 1984 Miami Dolphins

35 of 50

    Record: 14-2, AFC East champion

    Head Coach: Don Shula

    Postseason Loss: 38-16 to San Francisco 49ers, Super Bowl XIX

    Dan Marino's Dolphins were slightly more talented and certainly performed better in the Super Bowl than John Elway's Broncos so that's why this squad cracked the Top 20. 

    Remember, that Dolphins team reached and nearly won the Super Bowl just two years earlier without a great quarterback. 

    Still, the Dolphins with Marino and the Marks brothers (Clayton and Duper) were historic and even though they failed in Super Bowl XIX, they were perhaps the most explosive passing team of the 20th century. 

No. 15: 2004 Philadelphia Eagles

36 of 50

    Record: 13-3, NFC East champion

    Head Coach: Andy Reid

    Postseason Loss: 24-21 to New England Patriots, Super Bowl XXXIX

    After the three consecutive NFC title game losses, everyone said the Eagles had to make a move to get over the hump. And they did, acquiring Terrell Owens.

    The addition of T.O. made Donovan McNabb a much better passer, made the receivers around him much better, made the offense in general far more explosive and ultimately put Philly in the Super Bowl. Well, that and the fact that the Eagles defense allowed the second-fewest points per game in the NFC.

    They too came up short in Jacksonville against the Patriots, but from top to bottom, that Eagles team was clearly the best of its era.....although not the best in the Super Bowl era. 

No. 14: 1979 Houston Oilers

37 of 50

    Record: 11-5, AFC Wild Card

    Head Coach: Bum Phillips

    Postseason Loss: 27-13 at Pittsburgh Steelers, AFC Championship

    Too bad that the Oilers of the late 1970s played in the same division as the dynastic Steelers. Not only did they miss out on a division title, but they ran into the Steel Curtain in back-to-back AFC title games.

    Even with Earl Campbell, fresh out of the University of Texas, carving up opponents they couldn't escape Three Rivers Stadium with a playoff victory. 

    But Bum Phillips team came close in 1979. After beating the Orange Crush in the Wild Card, then Air Coryell in the divisional round, they pulled within seven early in the third quarter and seemingly tied the game with a touchdown pass from Dan Pastorini to Mike Renfro.

    Of course a dubious no-catch call in the end zone famously nullified the score and Houston went on to lose, ruining the Oilers closest brush with Super Bowl.

No. 13: 1999 Tennessee Titans

38 of 50

    Record: 13-3, AFC Wild Card

    Head Coach: Jeff Fisher

    Postseason Loss: 23-16 to St. Louis Rams, Super Bowl XXXIV

    Speaking of controversial calls....the 1999 Tennessee Titans, formerly the Houston Oilers.

    But this club had a lot more going for them than simply the Home Run Throwback/Music City Miracle.

    Steve McNair was lights out at that time, as was Eddie George, and the emergence of rookie Jevon Kearse gave them a player that transformed a so-so pass rush into a scary one.

    Not only did they defeat a great Jaguars team three times that season (once by 27 points), but they ruined young Peyton Manning's playoff debut in the RCA Dome, and held the Greatest Show on Turf in check for most of Super Bowl XXXIV. 

    One slower step by linebacker Mike Jones and the Titans might have won the world title, or at least given us the first ever Super Bowl overtime. 

No. 12: 1989 Philadelphia Eagles

39 of 50

    Record: 11-5, NFC Wild Card

    Head Coach: Buddy Ryan

    Postseason Loss: 21-7 to Los Angeles Rams, NFC Wild Card

    It takes special circumstances for a team to make it this high on this list without at least reaching their conference title game let alone the Super Bowl.

    But an exception has to be made for this particular Eagles team, which didn't even win a playoff game. 

    Randall Cunningham was just such a dynamic player and so great at times that the Eagles were a threat to score at any time, from any place on the field. And the versatile group of pass catchers—Fred Barnett, Keith Byars and Cris Carter—was a big reason as well.

    But when you talk about that Philly team, it was all about the defense: Reggie White, Jerome Browne and Clyde Simmons made up arguably the greatest defensive line of its era, Seth Joyner was a fine linebacker and Eric Allen may have been the best cover corner in the game. 

    How they failed to defeat the Rams at home is a mystery. 

No. 11: 1995 Pittsburgh Steelers

40 of 50

    Record: 11-5, AFC Central champion

    Head Coach: Bill Cowher

    Postseason Loss: 27-17 to Dallas Cowboys, Super Bowl XXX

    This was certainly not the best Steelers team ever: In fact, of all eight that have reached the Super Bowl, this was probably the least talented. But it was certainly the scrappiest, and maybe the deepest.

    Instead of Ben Roethlisberger or Terry Bradshaw they had Neil O'Donnell. Instead of Franco Harris or Jerome Bettis they had Erric Peegram and Bam Morris. Instead of Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Hines Ward or Santonio Holmes, they had Andre Hastings, Yancey Thigpen and Ernie Mills. 

    But they did have a defense that made resembled the Steel Curtain of the 1970s and today. Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd were fantastic bookend linebackers and Chad Brown and Levon Kirkland owned the middle of the field. Even the loss of Rod Woodson couldn't keep this team from reaching Tempe. 

    And despite falling behind by 13, they hung on, cut the lead to just three points late in the fourth quarter (thanks to Bill Cowher's epic onside kick call) before Neil O'Donnell's pass sailed into the arms of Larry Brown, ending their upset bid. 

No. 10: 1974 Oakland Raiders

41 of 50

    Record: 12-2, AFC West champion

    Head Coach: John Madden

    Postseason Loss: 24-13 to Pittsburgh Steelers, AFC Championship

    This Raiders team might actually have been better than the one that won Super Bowl XI two years later.

    Not only were their two losses by a combined four points, but they led the NFL in scoring, and didn't have a cupcake like the expansion Buccaneers on their schedule.

    Furthermore, they officially ended the Dolphins dynasty by defeating Miami in the "Sea of Hands" game, perhaps the greatest single game in NFL history. 

    But the main reason why they are so high on this list, despite not even reaching the Super Bowl? The offensive balance: third in the NFL in rushing yards, first in the NFL in touchdown passes. 

No. 9: 2009 Minnesota Vikings

42 of 50

    Record: 12-4, NFC North champion

    Head Coach: Brad Childress

    Postseason Loss: 31-28 (OT) at New Orleans Saints, NFC Championship

    It ended on a sour note—Brett Favre's interception in the Superdome—but that Vikings team was special.

    Favre was the star and made a handful of fine plays, on his way to posting career highs in rating and completion percentage, but because they had Adrian Peterson as well, that offense was incredible. So too was that front four, Jared Allen, Ray Edwards, Kevin Williams and Pat Williams.

    And even though they lost the game, it's worth pointing out that they kept the Saints great offense largely in check, allowing just 257 total yards. Had it not been for the horrific five-to-one turnover margin, they would have been playing in Super Bowl XLIV.

No. 8: 1980 San Diego Chargers

43 of 50

    Record: 11-5, AFC West champion

    Head Coach: Don Coryell

    Postseason Loss: 34-27 to Oakland Raiders, AFC Championship

    The 1980 Chargers didn't have nearly the same type of balance as the 2009 Vikings, 1974 Raiders or many of the teams on this list. But with three pass catchers (Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson) each recording over 70 catches and 1,000 yards that didn't matter. At least not until the AFC Championship Game.

    Today we talk about how much the NFL has changed that Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees are putting up amazing statistics through the air, but given the era, Air Coryell put up relatively more mind-boggling numbers 31 years ago. 

    If they could have just squeezed a little bit more out of that shaky defense (or not turned the ball over three times) against Oakland, they would have been playing Philadelphia in Super Bowl XV. 

No. 7: 1992 San Francisco 49ers

44 of 50

    Record: 14-2, NFC West champion

    Head Coach: George Seifert

    Postseason Loss: 30-20 to Dallas Cowboys, NFC Championship

    From 1992 to 1995 there was little question as to who the two best teams teams in the NFL were: It was either Dallas then San Francisco or San Francisco then Dallas. And that trend began in 1992. There's a reason why, in 1995 Sports Illustrated called the NFC Championship Game "the real Super Bowl."

    With Steve Young emerging as an MVP, Jerry Rice being Jerry Rice and Ricky Watters becoming a feature back, the 49ers offense was every bit as explosive as it had been during the latter parts of the 1980s. And since the defense allowed less than 15 points per game, few teams in NFL history sported that type of balance. 

    The only thing that truly separated this 49er team from the Super Bowl champion Cowboys (and in some ways the dominant 49er teams of the past) was a lack of ball security. They turned the ball over eight times in two playoff games and that ultimately cost them a shot at the Super Bowl. 

No. 6: 2001 St. Louis Rams

45 of 50

    Record: 14-2, NFC West champion

    Head Coach: Mike Martz

    Postseason Loss: 20-17 to New England Patriots, Super Bowl XXXVI

    The Greatest Show on Turf Part Duex.

    Some believe that Mike Martz' play-calling—a failure to utilize Marshall Faulk enough—was as much the reason the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI as Tom Brady, Bill Belichick or Adam Vinatieri. That's a debate for another slideshow.

    But what's not debatable is how great this Rams team was. Faulk was the league's most versatile running back, Kurt Warner won a second MVP in three seasons and Torry Holt had two more years of experience, becoming one of the game's best wide receivers. 

    The defense also pulled its weight that season: Leonard Little and Grant Wistrom were excellent pass-rushers, London Fletcher was a tackling machine and the secondary was excellent with Aeneas Williams and Dre' Bly. No wonder John Madden thought the Patriots should have played for overtime. 

No. 5: 1966 Dallas Cowboys

46 of 50

    Record: 10-4, NFL Eastern champion

    Head Coach: Tom Landry

    Postseason Loss: 34-27 to Green Bay Packers, NFL title game

    This is the Dallas team that first earned the unenviable nickname "Next Year's Champion."

    Of all the early Cowboys teams that came close to a Super Bowl title—the losers in the Ice Bowl, the team that Cleveland pounded in the 1969 playoffs, the edition that gave away Super Bowl V with late turnovers—this was the best.

    Part of the reason why was the quarterback: Don Meredith > Craig Morton. 

    But this Cowboys team also had Bullet Bob Hayes (64 catches, 1,232 yards, 13 touchdowns) at his absolute peak and two very strong running backs in Dan Reeves and Don Perkins.

    And this early incarnation of the Doomsday Defense was far younger and just as talented: Bob Lily, Chuck Howley, Ralph Neely, George Andrie, Lee Roy Jordan, Cornell Green and Mel Renfro were each All-Pros. 

No. 4: 1998 Minnesota Vikings

47 of 50

    Record: 15-1, NFC Central champion

    Head Coach: Dennis Green

    Postseason Loss: 30-27 (OT) to Atlanta Falcons, NFC Championship

    Unfortunately for Minnesota fans, this is the fourth different Vikings team to make this list. That's fitting since this was by far the most heartbreaking team in franchise history, perhaps in NFL history.

    That offense was incredible, scoring more points than any team ever. Randall Cunningham was reborn, Robert Smith ran with great consistency and Randy Moss and Cris Carter were probably the greatest pair of wide receivers in history. 

    Couple that with a pretty good defense (John Randle had led the NFL in sacks the previous season) with a kicker who literally didn't miss and they were Super Bowl bound, headed for a dream matchup against John Elway's Broncos.

    You know the rest, of course. Gary Anderson missed the game-sealing field goal, Atlanta came back to defeat them and Minnesota still hasn't recovered. 

No. 3: 1968 Baltimore Colts

48 of 50

    Record: 13-1, NFL Coastal champion

    Head Coach: Don Shula

    Postseason Loss: 16-7 to New York Jets, Super Bowl III

    This team had not one, but two MVP quarterbacks (Johnny Unitas and Earl Morrall), the era's greatest tight end (John Mackey) as well as the NFL's best defense. Chuck Noll's unit recorded four shutouts that year, allowed one or fewer touchdowns in 12 of their 17 games, and surrendered just 10.4 points per game. 

    So there was little wonder as to why they were 18-point favorites against the puny New York Jets.

    And, as the saying goes, "that's why they play the games."

    Baltimore's offense could do nothing right (some blame for that is probably due to the team band in the end zone) and the defense gave up just enough to Joe Namath's offense to fall into a hole that even Unitas couldn't dig them out of. 

No. 2: 1990 Buffalo Bills

49 of 50

    Record: 13-3, AFC East champion

    Head Coach: Marv Levy

    Postseason Loss: 20-19 to New York Giants, Super Bowl XXV

    Only one Bills team made this list and, not surprisingly, it's the team that came literally inches from a Super Bowl championship.

    Although the three teams that followed also reached the Super Bowl, this was the only one that put up a real fight and was also the most balanced....and healthiest.

    With Andre Reed and James Lofton as the prime targets, Jim Kelly ran the K-Gun to perfection while Thurman Thomas emerged as perhaps the NFL's most valuable player. And with NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bruce Smith playing in front of a trio of great linebackers (Shane Conlan, Darryl Talley, Cornelius Bennett) the Bills defense was outstanding. 

    There was no better case of balance then their 51-3 blowout of the Raiders in the AFC title game.

    Scott Norwood's narrow miss of a very difficult field goal is the lone reason why this team is here and not on a list of greatest Super Bowl winners. 

No. 1: 2007 New England Patriots

50 of 50

    Record: 16-0, AFC East champion

    Head Coach: Bill Belichick

    Postseason Loss: 17-14 to New York Giants, Super Bowl XLII

    This should be a no-brainer.

    That Patriots team set an NFL record for most points scored, Tom Brady rewrote the record books, they had a dynamic pair of receivers with Randy Moss and Wes Welker and the defense was ranked fourth in the NFL in points allowed. 

    (That defensive ranking may be hard to believe today since the Pats defense has struggled so much in recent years, but they did have Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison and Asante Samuel.)

    But the Giants pass rush harassed Brady to the point where he never got in sync and because they couldn't really run the ball with much efficiency (that team's lone weakness) the offense fell woefully short of their weekly average. 

    Will we see a repeat of those same facts this Sunday? To be continued.....


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.