The 50 Best Teams in NFL History

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IMay 31, 2012

The 50 Best Teams in NFL History

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    There's almost nothing more difficult or more controversial than comparing one era to another. No matter what sport—baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, boxing—you'll have some fans that say "the best" from 1960 was 100 times better than "the best" from 2012.

    Who can say for certain whether or not Sandy Koufax was better than Greg Maddux. Or if Shaquille O'Neal was better than Wilt Chamberlain. Or if Tiger Woods was better than Jack Nicklaus.

    But that's half the fun of sports: We cherish the games' histories and use them as a measuring stick for greatness.

    So, too, does this list.

    Sure, if there was a way to transport the 1966 Packers to the present day, they'd probably be thumped by the very worst team in the NFL. Heck, given the improvements in speed, size and strength, who knows if Jimmy Johnson's Cowboys dynasty would even have a shot against a bottom feeder of today's NFL. 

    So instead of trying to determine whether or not one team could time-travel and defeat (or lose to) another, I offer another criteria: dominance. 

    Which teams were the most dominant of the particular season in which they played?

    NOTE: To avoid redundancy, there's a rule here for which teams qualify. Five years must pass before a team is allowed a "repeat" entry on this list. So, while the 2007 Giants and the 2011 Giants won Super Bowls, only one is eligible for this list.

50. 1991 Detroit Lions

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    Regular Season Record: 12-4

    Playoffs: 41-10 loss to Redskins, NFC Championship Game

    I just mentioned that the criteria for this list is dominance. But, as a team, that 1991 Lions club really wasn't "dominant" in the truest sense of the word. They didn't have much of a defense and their quarterback play (the fabled Erik Kramer-Rodney Peete duo) was average at best.

    But this Lions team—which won a franchise record 12 games and pushed farther into the postseason than any Detroit team in the last 55 years—and the presence of Barry Sanders does earn them a spot on this list.

    Sanders averaged more than 100 yards per game that year and they blew past the young Cowboys—just a year away from starting their dynasty—in the divisional round.

    So despite being manhandled by the eventual Super Bowl champion Redskins, overall this Lions team was exceptional, even if they were carried by a player standing no taller than 5'8".

49. 2003 Carolina Panthers

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    Regular Season Record: 11-5

    Championship Game: 32-29 loss to Patriots, Super Bowl XXXVIII

    Not every team that makes it to the Super Bowl is "dominant." Some just get hot at the right time. 

    That's probably the best way to describe this Panthers team, which won two straight road playoff games then pushed a great Patriots team to the very brink in the Super Bowl.

    Nevertheless, that club did have two exceptional players in Julius Peppers and Steve Smith, a surprisingly clutch quarterback in Jack Delhomme, and a very productive running duo of Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster. 

    And if John Kasay doesn't shank that kickoff out of bounds at the end of the game, this club might have pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history. 

48. 2005 Seattle Seahawks

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    Regular Season Record: 13-3

    Championship Game: 21-10 loss to Steelers, Super Bowl XL

    Not unlike the Lions team previously mentioned, this Seahawks club was carried by a great running back, league MVP Shaun Alexander. 

    But they also had one of the best guard-tackle tandems (Steve Hutchinson-Walter Jones) in the modern era and an opportunistic defense. And although he wasn't a superstar, Matt Hasselbeck ran Mike Holmgren's offense very efficiently.

    So all in all that Seahawks team (clearly the best in franchise history) was an exceptional group. 

    Don't forget, in addition to earning the conference's top seed then keeping pace with the Steelers throughout most of Super Bowl XL, they led the NFL in points scored during the 2005 season and finished in the top 10 of several defensive categories. 

47. 1980 San Diego Chargers

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    Regular Season Record: 11-5

    Championship Game: 34-27 loss to Raiders, AFC Championship Game

    Throwing the ball was really the only thing that separated this Chargers team from being a pretty mediocre bunch, but because Air Coryell was so dominant and so effective, they earn a spot on the list.

    Thanks in part to Dan Fouts, John Jefferson, Kellen Winslow and Charlie Joiner (each a 1,000-yard receiver) lit up the AFC West, enabling San Diego to reach the AFC Conference title game for the first time in franchise history.

    Ultimately, against that outstanding Raiders secondary, they fell short when it came to a Super Bowl berth, but in one specific facet of the game (i.e. throwing the ball) they were far and away the league's best and one of the best ever.

    That's worth at least a comparatively low place in the pantheon of all-time great teams. 

46. 1988 Cincinnati Bengals

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    Regular Season Record: 12-4

    Championship Game: 20-16 loss to 49ers, Super Bowl XXIII

    League MVP Boomer Esiason was the centerpiece of this club, and they also had a great running game with Ickey Woods and James Brooks, as well as arguably the greatest offensive tackle (Anthony Munoz) in NFL history, but defense is what brought the Bengals to the doorstep of greatness. 

    Despite posting pedestrian overall numbers (16th in points allowed, 15th in yards allowed), that defense turned in two incredible back-to-back playoff games.

    In the AFC Championship they suffocated the soon-to-be-awesome Bills offense led by Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas. Then in the Super Bowl they held Joe Montana's 49ers to just six points through the first three quarters. 

    They may have squandered their lead by way of Montana's famous Super Bowl winning drive, but that offense (first in points scored in 1988), coupled with a clutch defense, produced a pretty fantastic team. 

45. 1998 Atlanta Falcons

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    Regular Season Record: 14-2

    Championship Game: 34-19 loss to Broncos, Super Bowl XXXIII

    They may have been best remembered for the upset of the Vikings (and thus spoiling a potentially epic Super Bowl between Minnesota and Denver), but this Falcons team was outstanding in 1998.

    Even if it was only for one year, Jamal Anderson was a truly elite runner, Chris Chandler made plays in the clutch, and their defense was one of the most underrated in the NFL. They allowed the fourth fewest points in the NFL that year and completely manhandled Steve Young's 49ers in the playoffs then shut down a historic Vikings offense in crunch time to pull off that Metrodome upset. 

    Still, the pounding they received in the Super Bowl really ended their season on a sour note. 

44. 2004 Philadelphia Eagles

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    Regular Season Record: 13-3

    Championship Game: 24-21 loss to Patriots, Super Bowl XXXIX

    Try, try, and try again may have been this team's motto after a series of NFC Championship Game losses, but resiliency wasn't the 2004 Eagles' only strong suit.

    Donovan McNabb flourished once Terrell Owens came to town and gave him a true No. 1 pass catcher. And with the NFC's best defense (second in points allowed) they were finally prepared to cross over into the Super Bowl promised land.

    Sure they too failed to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, but they came extremely close to upsetting the Pats. Maybe if they had put a bit more urgency into that fourth quarter they would have. 

43. 2008 Arizona Cardinals

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    Regular Season Record: 9-7

    Championship Game: 27-23 loss to Steelers, Super Bowl XLIII

    Heading into that year's postseason, no one would have called this Cardinals team a "great team." Even though they won the NFC West, few would have called them a good team. Ken Wisenhunt's club was 9-7 and were just absolutely crushed by the Tom Brady-less Patriots late in the season. 

    But like so many near-Super Bowl champions they just got hot at the right time, defeating the Falcons at home, then pounding the Panthers on the road, before winning a shootout against the Eagles. 

    And since they hung with the Steelers through 60 minutes (had it not been for James Harrison's epic touchdown or Santonio Holmes' incredible grab they probably would have won) their relatively mediocre regular season is inconsequential to their four-game playoff run. 

42. 1963 Chicago Bears

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    Regular Season Record: 11-1-2

    Championship Game: 14-10 win over Giants, NFL Championship Game

    The first pre-Super Bowl entry on this list, Papa Bear Halas' last championship team wasn't loaded with stars—remember, Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus were still in college in 1963—although they did have a young tight end named Mike Ditka, who was quickly emerging as one of the better pass catchers in the game. 

    But in addition to losing just one game all year, the Bears featured the NFL's best defense (tops in yards and points surrendered) and beat the rival and defending NFL champion Packers twice. 

    And if that wasn't enough, they made league MVP Y.A. Tittle look old and just plain bad (forcing five interceptions) in the NFL Championship game against the Giants. 

41. 1984 Miami Dolphins

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    Regular Season Record: 14-2

    Championship Game: 38-16 loss to 49ers, Super Bowl XIX

    Truth be told, this club probably belongs much higher on the list.

    They won their first 11 games.

    They had the greatest passing offense in NFL history (up to that point).

    They had a very good defense.

    And they had reached a Super Bowl.

    But because they were destroyed by the 49ers in Standford Stadium it's hard to say they were either dominant or better than each of the teams that follow.

    Still, 32 points per game without any semblance of a running game? That's amazing. 

40. 1973 Minnesota Vikings

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    Regular Season Record: 12-2

    Championship Game: 24-7 loss to Dolphins, Super Bowl VIII

    Of the three Vikings teams that reached then lost Super Bowls in the 1970s, the 1973 version had to be the best.

    Obviously the play of their defensive line, specifically the incomparable Alan Page, was key to their 12 wins and Super Bowl run, but with Fran Tarkenton and a solid running game, they were one of the most balanced teams in the NFL. That's how Bud Grant's team won its first nine games that year then blasted the Cowboys 27-10 on the road in the NFC Championship Game. 

    But, as was the case in 1974 and 1976, they were just unfortunate to run into a dynastic team. The Dolphins and Larry Csonka were just too much to handle that day in Houston. 

39. 1998 Minnesota Vikings

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    Regular Season Record: 15-1

    Championship Game: 30-27 loss to Falcons, NFC Championship Game

    I'm well aware of the problems with putting the loser of the 1998 NFC Championship Game (these Vikings) ahead of the winner of the 1998 NFC Championship Game (the 1998 Falcons). 

    But this Vikings club was so loaded with talent and cruised through the NFC with such ease that it's really hard to say they weren't superior to Atlanta. Randall Cunningham was reborn as a superstar, Robert Smith (running behind Hall of Famer Randall McDaniel) had his finest season carrying the ball, and the duo of Cris Carter and rookie Randy Moss instantly became one of the best in NFL history. And since they also had John Randle that defense could dominate at times.

    Sure, the Falcons won that day (albeit only because Gary Anderson missed an easy field goal) but you'd have to think this scenario fit that old cliche that "if these two teams played 10 games" the Vikings would win nine times.

    Atlanta just won that 10th time.

38. 1968 New York Jets

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    Regular Season Record: 11-3

    Championship Game: 16-7 win over Colts, Super Bowl III

    The first Super Bowl winner on this list, this Jets team may have had Broadway Joe, Don Maynard and a few bit players, but were they one of the greatest of all time? No.

    So, since several other teams (the 1970 Colts, for example) are left off the list by my "five-year rule" this Jets team is, sad to say, probably the worst ever to win a Super Bowl.

    Still, they did win a Super Bowl and did so by upsetting a truly remarkable Colts team that featured two MVP quarterbacks, who they limited to just one score. 

37. 1991 Washington Redskins

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    Regular Season Record: 14-2

    Championship Game: 37-24 win over Bills, Super Bowl XXVI

    This entry features a very tough choice.

    The Redskins won Super Bowls in 1987 and 1991 so, per my rule, only one is allowed a spot on the list.

    The1987 edition blew out the Broncos in that year's Super Bowl, but the 1991 club ranked first in points scored and second in points allowed, so that pushes them ahead. And since the '91 club faced a much more balanced and talented club in the Super Bowl (the Bills), that clinches their spot above their 1987 counterpart. 

    Nevertheless, because both the 49ers and Giants were teams in transition that year, I wouldn't say the Redskins Super Bowl run was quite as impressive as the remaining entries on this list.

    Of course, Joe Gibbs' last Super Bowl roster was a great, great team, but not one of the greatest ever to come through the NFL. 

36. 1942 Washington Redskins

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    Regular Season Record: 10-1

    Championship Game: 10-6 win over Chicago Bears, NFL Championship Game

    Here's the earliest entry on the list. 

    It may have been an entirely different era where lineman weighed as much as wide receivers do today, but this Redskins team dominated its league as well as any of that era.

    Everyone knows how great Sammy Baugh was, and he was deservedly so the star of that club, as a quarterback, defensive back and punter. (Yes, he was so good at punting that it's almost become an urban myth.)

    But considering how exceptional their overall defense was (in their final six games they allowed a total of 19 points) and the way in which they suffocated Sid Luckman and the rival Bears in the NFL Championship Game, this remains the greatest pre-merger Redskins team in history. 

35. 2006 Indianapolis Colts

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    Regular Season Record: 12-4

    Championship Game: 29-17 win over Bears, Super Bowl XLI

    After years of coming up short, Peyton Manning finally delivered the Colts to the Super Bowl in 2006 and ultimately delivered Indianapolis their first-ever NFL title. 

    And while it would be easy to cite the stats and records that both Manning and that offense put up, or the fact that Bob Sanders and that defense played fantastic in the playoffs (they held the Chiefs and Ravens to just 14 total points in two playoff game), or the fact that they toppled the Bears in the Super Bowl rather handily, their greatest accomplishment came two weeks before that 29-17 victory in Miami.

    At home, the Colts trailed their great nemesis, the Patriots, 21-3 in the second quarter. But they came back to defeat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, proving that they were ready to become champions. 

34. 2010 Green Bay Packers

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    Regular Season Record: 10-6

    Championship Game: 31-25 win over Steelers, Super Bowl XLV

    Here's yet another of those complicated teams. 

    Was that Packers team of 2010 one of the "greatest of all time," or did they just get hot at the right time? Remember, at one point in the season, prior to their showdown with the Giants in Week 16, they weren't even in line for a playoff spot. Of course, they went on to win that week, the next, and all four of their playoff games to claim another Lombardi Trophy.

    So while they certainly had their struggles at times in 2010, the fact that they won three road playoff games and upset a great Steelers team pushes them higher up this list. 

    Couple that with Aaron Rodgers' brilliance and two phenomenal defenders in Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews and they were one of the better teams in the modern era.

    Still...

33. 2011 New York Giants

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    Regular Season Record: 9-7

    Championship Game: 21-17 win over Patriots, Super Bowl XLVI

    ....I would have to put the Super Bowl winner from the next season one spot ahead of Rodgers' Packers. And here's why.

    Since we can pretty much forget the regular season when comparing these two teams (both only reached the playoffs by the smallest of margins), you have to compare their postseason performances.

    Although the Packers had to play all three NFC playoff games on the road, while the Giants got to host their Wild Card Game, all three clubs Green Bay faced were flawed. The Eagles struggled late in the year, the Falcons defense was mediocre at best, and the Bears lost Jay Cutler in the NFC Championship Game. 

    Meanwhile, after dispatching the Falcons, the Giant went up to Green Bay and thumped a historic Packer offense then went out to San Francisco and outlasted a 49ers team that had everything going in their favor. 

    And if you want to compare their Super Bowl victories, the combination of Eli Manning's uber-clutch play with the defense's bottling up of Tom Brady's great offense was (ever so slightly) more impressive than the Packers triumph over Pittsburgh a year earlier.

    Still, there's little separating the 2010 Packers and 2011 Giants in terms of overall greatness.

32. 1960 Philadelphia Eagles

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    Regular Season Record: 10-2

    Championship Game: 17-13 win over Packers, NFL Championship Game

    Sad as it is for their passionate fans, there's little argument to which was the best team in Eagles franchise history: The one from more than half a century ago takes that honor.

    With one Hall of Famer (Norm Van Brocklin) throwing passes to another (Tommy McDonald), the Eagles became one of the NFL's highest scoring teams and at one point won nine straight games. Oh, and they also had the legendary Chuck Bednarik anchoring both the defense and the offensive line.

    Given the presence of those three alone, it's no wonder that in the NFL Title Game, the Eagles were able to topple Vince Lombardi's young Green Bay Packers and delay that dynasty's birth by one season. 

31. 1963 San Diego Chargers

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    Regular Season Record: 11-3

    Championship Game: 51-10 win over Patriots, AFL Championship Game

    Similar to Eagles fans, it has to be a bit disheartening to know that the greatest team in franchise history played in the early 1960s. (On a side note, while the 1994 edition was the only Chargers team to reach a Super Bowl, given their awful showing in the Super Bowl, I'm not prepared to say they were one of the 50 greatest teams in NFL history.)

    On the other hand, in the only other championship game the franchise has ever appeared, the 1963 AFL championship, the Chargers were the one blowing out the competition. 

    Sid Gillman's fabled vertical passing game (anchored by Lance Alwroth) was the centerpiece of the franchise, but in that title game against the Patriots, it was the running of Keith Lincoln and Paul Lowe that hammered Boston in the title game. Although Hall of Fame tackle Ron Mix had something to do with that as well. 

30. 1969 Kansas City Chiefs

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    Regular Season Record: 11-3

    Championship Game: 23-7 win over Vikings, Super Bowl IV

    Do you see a pattern here?

    Now it's time for Chiefs fans to hear some bad news: Like the Eagles and Chargers, the greatest Chiefs team to date appeared in the 1960s.

    Not only did this club pull off a major Super Bowl upset by trouncing the 12-point favorite Vikings, but it was loaded with Hall of Famers: Len Dawson, Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, Willie Lanier, Emmitt Thomas, and even kicker Jan Stenerud. 

    That alone would probably be enough for a reasonably high spot on this list, but the way in which they reached the Super Bowl pushes them past many of the teams already mentioned.

    After going to Shea Stadium and upsetting the Super Bowl champion Jets (they picked off Joe Namath three times, allowed him only 14 completions on 40 attempts, and didn't allow his team a touchdown) Hank Stram's club went to Oakland and dominated a powerful Raiders club. 

29. 1940 Chicago Bears

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    Regular Season Record: 8-3

    Championship Game: 73-0 win over Redskins, NFL Championship Game

    No, that's not a typo. That was actually the score of the Bears-Redskins NFL Championship Game in 1940. 

    I probably could stop right there in terms of trumpeting George Halas' team's greatness, but in case that's not enough proof here is one more tidbit to prove this team's excellence.

    There were six Hall of Famers on that club: Sid Luckman, Dan Fortmann, George McAfee, George Musso, Joe Stydahar and Bulldog Turner. 

28. 1957 Detroit Lions

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    Regular Season Record: 8-4

    Championship Game: 59-14 win over Browns, NFL Championship Game

    Rather than point out to Lions fans that their greatest team wasn't even in the 1960s, but rather the 1950s, I'll just focus on the positives: This was a remarkable team.

    The regular season numbers weren't very impressive: In addition to the good, not great overall record, they weren't even top-five in terms of points on offense or defense. (Given how few teams there were in the NFL in the 1950s, you'd figure that "great" teams would at least finish inside the top five.)

    But late in the regular season, something just clicked. They defeated an excellent Browns team then went to Soldier Field and hammered the Bears to earn a playoff spot. And after falling behind by 20 points in the third quarter, the Lions offense—which featured Tobin Rote, filling in for Bobby Layne, and Hall of Famer John Henry Johnson—stormed back to defeat a powerhouse 49ers team at Kezar Stadium.

    As if that weren't enough, in the NFL title game, they blasted a Browns team led by a rookie named Jim Brown.  

27. 2009 New Orleans Saints

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    Regular Season Record: 13-3

    Championship Game: 31-17 win over Colts, Super Bowl XLIV

    Ahh, some reasonably good news for New Orleans fans, who sorely need it in the wake of "Bounty Gate" and Drew Brees' contract status: The greatest Saints team in franchise history appeared just three seasons ago. 

    Obviously, the 2009 Saints had an incredible offense: in addition to Drew Brees' passing brilliance, that running game was vastly underrated—they ranked sixth in total rushing yards. 

    But their defense was also overshadowed by that offense's blistering pace. They clobbered the Cardinals' fine passing attack of Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald, forced five turnovers of a great Vikings offense (Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson) in the conference title game, then handcuffed Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl and forced him into the game-clinching turnover by way of Tracy Porter's late fourth quarter pick-six. 

26. 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Regular Season Record: 12-4

    Championship Game: 27-23 win over Cardinals, Super Bowl XLIII

    Although it was really just two plays (James Harrison's 100-yard touchdown and Santonio Holmes miracle grab in the endzone) that proved the difference in Pittsburgh's win over Arizona, that 2008 Steeler team should be considered the best to come through the NFL in the last five years.

    And here's why.

    We all know how dominant their defense was with superstars in Harrison and Troy Polamalu as well as very, very good defenders in Casey Hampton, LaMarr Woodley, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark.

    But their offense also more than carried its weight.

    At times that season, especially in the Super Bowl, Ben Roethlisberger looked like an elite quarterback—of course, having two Super Bowl MVP wide receivers in Holmes and Hines Ward helped. But the Steelers' running game and offensive line were both below average in 2008, due to injuries and age.

    So Roethlisberger's ability to lead the Steelers to 15 victories (including three that season against the great Ravens defense) was quite an achievement. 

25. 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Regular Season Record: 12-4

    Championship Game: 48-21 win over Raiders, Super Bowl XXXVII

    A good chunk of the entries on this list have featured statements praising a team's great balance: The 2009 Saints team had a very good defense in addition to their explosive offense, the same for the 2006 Colts, or the 1998 Vikings. 

    Well, for this entry (along with one that will soon follow) I'd be lying if I used the word "balance": The 2002 Buccaneers offense was, at best, mediocre. 

    So the fact that I have them on the upper-half of this list should point out just how great their defense was: Despite all their scoring woes, they were still a Super Bowl champion and one of the greatest teams of its era.

    They allowed just 12 points per game in the regular season, stifled a high-scoring 49ers team (fresh off their incredible comeback against the Giants) in the Divisional round, did the same the next week to Donovan McNabb's Eagles at a frigid Veterans Stadium, then absolutely embarrassed the Raiders in the Super Bowl. 

    The fact that their offense contributed comparatively very little does nothing to diminish this team's greatness. 

24. 1956 New York Giants

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    Regular Season Record: 8-3-1

    Championship Game: 47-7 win over Bears, NFL Championship Game

    Although they might be better remembered for losing "The Greatest Game Ever Played" two years later, the Giants teams of the late 1950s, early 1960s were powerhouses. And the 1956 edition was the best.

    They didn't have a Hall of Fame quarterback (Charlie Conerly was very good, however) but they did have Hall of Famers strewn throughout the roster: halfback Frank Gifford, offensive tackle Rosey Brown, defensive end Andy Robustelli, middle linebacker Sam Huff and defensive back Emlen Tunnell. The identity of their two top assistants, Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry, also had something to do with their plethora of superstars. 

    Despite a pretty rocky late-season stretch (failing to win three of four games) they won the NFL's Eastern division and destroyed George Halas' Bears in the Championship Game, paving the way for Lombardi and Landry to eventually pick up and start their own dynasties a few years later. 

23. 1990 Buffalo Bills

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    Regular Season Record: 13-3

    Championship Game: 20-19 loss to Giants, Super Bowl XXV

    This entry goes hand-in-hand with the next one, so maybe it's better to consider this slide 22B rather than 23. 

    Perhaps the most evenly matched Super Bowl of all time took place on January 27, 1991, in Tampa Stadium.

    The 1990 Bills and 1990 Giants really couldn't have been any different: The Bills relied on a quick-strike, no-huddle offense and a bend-but-don't break defense. The Giants employed a grind-it-out, slow and methodical offense and a suffocating defense. 

    Despite those enormous contrasts, they played the closest (and arguably the best) Super Bowl of all time. The game was decided by one point, there were no turnovers, four lead changes, and it came down to literally the last second. If it were possible to have played this game 100 times, the Giants win 50 times, the Bills win 50 times. 

    But because that Bills team—which featured Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, James Lofton, Bruce Smith, and a handful of perennial All Pros—lost this narrowest of Super Bowls, they have take a backseat to the victor, even if it's by a single spot. 

22. 1990 New York Giants

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    Regular Season Record: 13-3

    Championship Game: 20-19 win over Bills, Super Bowl XXV

    The Giants may not have had nearly as many Hall of Famers on their roster (only Lawrence Taylor is enshrined in Canton) as the Bills did, but championships don't require Hall of Famers—or even superstars.

    And other than Taylor, the Giants really didn't have any superstars.

    Jeff Hostetler was incredible during that playoff run, but he was largely a career journeyman, O.J. Anderson was at the tail end of his career, as was Mark Bavaro. 

    But that defense did have an incredible front-seven that featured Carl Banks, Pepper Johnson, Leonard Marshall and Erik Howard in addition to L.T.

    Still, despite the previously mentioned glaring differences in style and talent, the difference between these two clubs in terms of greatness is almost impossible to parse out. 

21. 2000 Baltimore Ravens

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    Regular Season Record: 12-4

    Championship Game: 34-7 win over Giants, Super Bowl XXXV

    Earlier, I mentioned that the 2002 Bucs were something of an anomaly in terms of "great" teams. There was very little balance, as the defense carried them to victory time and time again.

    Well, this Ravens team was even more one-sided. 

    The offense wasn't exactly putrid or devoid of any talent. They did have a great rookie back in Jamal Lewis, as well as Shannon Sharpe, and one of the game's best offensive lineman in Jonathan Ogden. But, with Tony Banks at the helm, they failed to score a single offensive touchdown for an entire month. 

    Swapping out for Trent Dilfer helped, but they were still marginal at best.

    Fortunately, they had perhaps the greatest single-season defense in NFL history. 

    Led by Ray Lewis, the Ravens allowed just over 10 points per game in 2000 then in the postseason allowed a grand total of one (yes, one) offensive touchdown in four playoff games. 

    In this modern era of offensive explosion, it's hard to imagine another team coming along and doing anything close to that again. As a result, this Ravens team—no matter how lopsided—remains the second greatest of the 21st century. 

20. 1954 Cleveland Browns

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    Regular Season Record: 9-3

    Championship Game: 56-10 win over Lions, NFL Championship Game

    When people think about the early Browns teams (those prior to the arrival of Jim Brown), it's Otto Graham who gets all the love. And deservedly so. He was a great player who did nothing but win and take his team to championship games: 10 in 10 seasons.

    But Paul Brown's early-to-mid-1950s teams were stacked with talent at places other than quarterback.

    Dante Lavelli had the best hands of any receiver in the game, defensive end Len Ford was a perennial pro bowler, as was offensive tackle Lou "The Toe" Groza. 

    Given those stars' performances, as well as strong contributions from their role players (one of whom was an undersized guard named Chuck Noll), and it's little wonder that the Browns were annual winners of the NFL's Eastern division. 

    It's also little wonder that, when faced with a rematch against Detroit—who toppled Cleveland 14-10 the week before—the Browns destroyed the defending champion Lions, the league's most athletic team. 

19. 1983 Los Angeles Raiders

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    Regular Season Record: 12-4

    Championship Game: 38-9 win over Redskins, Super Bowl XVIII

    One incredible performance doesn't make a team dominant or truly "great."

    So what the Raiders did to the favored and defending champion Redskins in Super Bowl XVII—while as impressive as any upset we've ever seen in the Super Bowl—doesn't mean they were better than the next 18 teams.

    Still, that Raiders offense was exceptional all season long—not just Marcus Allen, but also tight end Todd Christensen and Cliff Branch, who Jim Plunkett relied so heavily on.

    But it was the Raiders' defense that really made this team great. The mid-season addition of Mike Haynes only made Howie Long, Greg Townsend, Ted Hendricks, Rod Martin and Lester Hayes—already pro bowl players—even better. 

    For the Raiders to so thoroughly overwhelm that incredible, record-setting Redskins offense (allowing just nine points) remains one of the greatest and most underrated feats in Super Bowl history. 

18. 1996 Green Bay Packers

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    Regular Season Record: 13-3

    Championship Game: 35-21 win over Patriots, Super Bowl XXXI

    When you have the game's best quarterback, the game's best pass rusher, and the game's best kick/punt returner, you probably should win a Super Bowl.

    That's the way to look at the Packers of 1996.

    Brett Favre was at his peak, and while age was starting to creep up on Reggie White, he still routinely embarrassed opposing offenses: case in point, Max Lane in Super Bowl XXXI. Add in Desmond Howard's ridiculous string of playoff runbacks and Mike Holmgren's Packers had three different players who could beat opponents three entirely different ways.

    And while Favre, White and Howard became the poster boys for that team, players like LeRoy Butler, George Koonce, Antonio Freeman and Frank Winters were unsung heroes.

    That's how the Pack managed to finish the 1996 regular season first in points scored and first in points allowed, then defeat three very good playoff opponents by a minimum of two touchdowns each game. 

17. 1968 Baltimore Colts

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    Regular Season Record: 13-1

    Championship Game: 16-7 loss to Jets, Super Bowl III

    As is the case with a few of these entries, there are a few examples of "unfairness." How could the 1998 Vikings be "better" than the 1998 Falcons if they lost to Atlanta in that year's conference championship?

    Well here's an even more complicated example.

    If the 1968 Colts had been able to win Super Bowl III—a game in which they were 18-point favorites—they would have been (and might still be) considered the greatest team in history. That's how talented they were and how easily they dispatch opponents; not only did they have the NFL's second highest scoring offense, but the defense recorded four shutouts and held opponents to 10 points or less 11 times that season. 

    Nevertheless, they did fall in Super Bowl III, and to a Jets team that wasn't necessarily an all-time dynamo. 

    And while that rubs some of the luster off the 1968 Colts, it doesn't cancel out that fine season. Although most of those old Colts would probably disagree. 

16. 1984 San Francisco 49ers

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    Regular Season Record: 15-1

    Championship Game: 38-16 win over Dolphins, Super Bowl XIX

    Here's were we start to get into the nitty gritty.

    Many people actually believe that this 49ers team was the greatest of their long dynasty. After all, they only lost one game all season, they allowed just 10 points in their first two playoff games, and they completely neutralized Dan Marino's historic passing game in the Super Bowl. 

    Oh, and they had Joe Montana.

    But because that offense still didn't have that explosive element to it (i.e. Jerry Rice or even John Taylor) they can't quite compare to a few of the later editions. 

15. 1999 St. Louis Rams

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    Regular Season Record: 13-3

    Championship Game: 23-16 win over Titans, Super Bowl XXXIV

    Clearly this is another case of one side of the ball overshadowing the other, much like the 2000 Ravens or 2002 Buccaneers.

    Together Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt put together one of the most explosive offenses anyone has ever seen. Of course, all that was made possible by an offensive line anchored by the era's best offensive lineman, Orlando Pace.

    That's how the Rams shattered the record books (scoring just under 33 points per game) and won the NFC West as well as the conference's top seed just a year after a dismal 4-12 record. 

    The Greatest Show On Turf did the lion's share of the heavy lifting, but that Rams defense made the plays necessary to complete perhaps the most improbable Super Bowl run in NFL history.

    Just look at the NFC Championship Game, where they limited the Bucs to just six points, or the tackle Mike Jones made to preserve the Super Bowl win over Tennessee. 

14. 1964 Cleveland Browns

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    Regular Season Record: 10-3-1

    Championship Game: 27-0 win over Colts, NFL Championship Game

    The last Browns team to compete in an NFL Championship Game, the 1964 Browns no longer had the two key figures from the previous decades dynasty but they somehow actually improved upon the standard set by head coach Paul Brown and quarterback Otto Graham. 

    Why? Well, Jim Brown was the main reason, but not the only one.

    Quarterback Frank Ryan enjoyed a pro bowl season in 1964, thanks in part to the hands of Hall of Famer Paul Warfield.

    Still, the reason why Cleveland won that year's championship game was defense.

    In the NFL Title Game, they forced four turnovers including two picks of the great Johnny Unitas, who had the worst postseason performance of his career that day in late December 1964. Any team equipped with that running game and a defense capable of shutting out the NFL's premier passing game is one of the all-time greats. 

13. 1985 Chicago Bears

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    Regular Season Record: 15-1

    Championship Game: 46-10 win over Patriots, Super Bowl XX

    Earlier in this slideshow you read about the 2002 Bucs and the 2000 Ravens, two clubs with historic defenses that had to drag mediocre offenses with them to the Super Bowl title. 

    Well, since the 1985 Bears defense was every bit as dominant as those two clubs (if not more so) and they had one of the greatest running backs in history, no one in their right mind could say this was an unbalanced, lopsided team.

    Buddy Ryan's 46 defense allowed just over 12 points per game in the regular season, then recorded consecutive playoff shutouts before [sarcasm alert] opening the floodgates in the Super Bowl and allowing 10 whole points to the Patriots. 

    But as good as that defense was, it didn't completely overshadow the other side of the ball. Jim McMahon was the very definition of a playmaker and Walter Payton (even if he didn't score a touchdown in the Super Bowl) was still one of the game's premier runners. 

    The only thing keeping this team from joining those inside the top 10 was the passing game's lack of consistency. But with that defense and that running game, did they really even need to throw the ball?

12. 1982 Washington Redskins

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    Regular Season Record: 8-1

    Championship Game: 27-17 win over Dolphins, Super Bowl XVII

    The strike that shortened the 1982 season probably leads many people to overlook this team in terms of true greatness.

    But because they had the league's top offensive line, a workhorse running back who carried the ball with historic efficiency (John Riggins averaged 34 carries and 150 yards per game in four postseason contests), and the NFL's top scoring defense in 1982, they should never be overlooked.

    They didn't blow out their Super Bowl opponent (in fact, they trailed an unheralded Dolphins team early in the fourth quarter), so they don't have that ridiculous blowout on their resume, but since their only loss all year was to a great Dallas team—who they later beat in the NFC Championship Game—they belong in the top dozen. 

11. 1958 Baltimore Colts

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    Regular Season Record: 9-3

    Championship Game: 23-17 win over Giants, NFL Championship Game

    If the measuring stick for great teams is Hall of Famers, when it comes to the 1958 Colts: CHECK!

    Johnny Unitas at quarterback. Lenny Moore at halfback, Raymond Berry, Jim Parker at guard, and Art Donovan and Gino Marchetti on the defensive line. 

    If the measuring stick for great teams is a signature, epic victory over a favored opponent in a hostile environment: CHECK!

    The Colts NFL Championship Game win over the Giants at Yankee Stadium remains the most important in history. 

    And if the measuring stick for great teams is perfect balance—offensive and defensive balance, running game and passing game balance—when it comes to the 1958 Colts: CHECK!

    This club was first in points scored, second in points allowed, second in rushing yards gained, sixth in passing yards.

    Still, what clinches the Colts place high on this list is the way they played in crunch time. After falling behind in the fourth quarter, Unitas engineered his famous two-minute drill, to tie the game up and force overtime, where the defense promptly forced a three-and-out, enabling Unitas to drive the Colts 80 yards for the championship-winning score. 

10. 1998 Denver Broncos

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    Regular Season Record: 14-2

    Championship Game: 34-19 win over Falcons, Super Bowl XXXIII

    I purposefully left off the three Broncos teams of the 1980s that reached Super Bowls only to put up embarrassing efforts. The reason: They had John Elway and not much else.

    So for years, fans and the media wondered how good Elway's Broncos could be if they surrounded him with exceptional talent. They all found out starting in the mid-to-late 1990s.

    Terrell Davis, Rod Smith and Shannon Sharpe gave Elway the offensive pieces he desperately needed, and on the other side of the ball the additions of Neil Smith, Bill Romanowski and John Mobley helped Denver's defense become as consistent as any in the NFL. 

    Together that unit made a run at an undefeated season in 1998 (not losing their first game until Week 15) then cruising in the postseason, winning their three playoff games by an average of three touchdowns. 

9. 1972 Miami Dolphins

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    Regular Season Record: 14-0

    Championship Game: 14-7 win over Redskins, Super Bowl VII

    This entry may have you scratching your head (or posting enraged comments at the bottom), but at least hear me out.

    Yes, the 1972 Dolphins remain the only undefeated, untied, Super Bowl champion ever. And they were an outstanding team.

    But just how dominant were they? Their three playoff victories were by six points, four points, and seven points, respectively....although Garo Yepremian complicates things a bit on that Super Bowl score. 

    They were great at just about every facet of the game, but not historic at any one facet. Unless, of course, you count overall record. 

8. 1976 Oakland Raiders

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    Regular Season Record: 13-1

    Championship Game: 32-14 win over Vikings, Super Bowl XI

    The Raiders have such a rich tradition—well, maybe they once did, and they're trying to find it again—that you'd think it was hard to select the all-time greatest team. But it really is not.

    As great as the 1983 team was and as impressive as the 1980 club's playoff run was, John Madden's Super Bowl winner was tops.

    They had perhaps the finest collective offensive line in history (led by Hall of Famers Gene Upshaw and Art Shell), the greatest punter (Ray Guy) in history, a suffocating defense that featured arguably the greatest cornerback in history (Willie Brown), and a very solid running game. 

    Still, it was the offensive skill players who set them apart.

    Ken Stabler was exceptionally clutch and so skilled in the pocket. And why wouldn't he be when he had a elite trio of pass catchers: Dave Casper, Fred Biletnikoff, and Cliff Branch. 

    This team lost just one game all season then stomped two perennial Super Bowl participants (Pittsburgh and Minnesota) on their way to delivering Al Davis his first Lombardi Trophy. 

7. 1977 Dallas Cowboys

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    Regular Season Record: 12-2

    Championship Game: 27-10 win over Broncos, Super Bowl XII

    It does seem like this list has gone on a while without a Cowboys team, hasn't it?

    Beginning in the late 1960s Dallas routinely competed for the NFL/Super Bowl championship, and they even achieved that goal in 1971, but it wasn't until 1977 that the Cowboys became one of the all-time greatest clubs.

    Dallas was already a great team in the mid-1970s: They had the incomparable Roger Staubach, a solid receiver in Drew Pearson, and several great defenders, including Cliff Harris, Charlie Waters, Harvey Martin and Randy White, who was a seamless replacement for the great Bob Lilly. 

    But in 1977, when they added the best running back in the draft, Pitt's Tony Dorsett, Dallas became virtually unstoppable. Case in point: an eight-game winning streak to start the season and a seven-game winning streak (which included three playoff blowouts) to close out the season. 

6. 2007 New England Patriots

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    Regular Season Record: 16-0

    Championship Game: 17-14 loss to Giants, Super Bowl XLII

    Alright, here we go: probably the most controversial entry on this list...which is saying something considering I have the '72 Dolphins three spots back.

    Yes, the Pats didn't win Super Bowl XLII. Not only that, but I've chosen this Patriots club over the three others that did win Super Bowls in 2001, 2003 and 2004.

    But look at the offensive numbers New England put up in 2007—they are mind-boggling. For that single season, the Tom Brady-to-Randy Moss connection was more prolific than any in history, and that includes Joe Montana/Jerry Rice, Steve Young/Jerry Rice, Peyton Manning/Marvin Harrison, etc.

    Throw in the fantastic season that Wes Welker had (112 catches, 1,175 yards) and it was arguably the greatest passing attack ever. 

    And it's easy to forget now since the Pats defense has been much-maligned over the past few seasons, but the 2007 team (that had Junior Seau, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Asante Samuel, and Tedy Bruschi to go along with Vince Wilfork) was one of the NFL's best. They ranked fourth in points and yards surrendered.

    They just ran into a team that was essentially built to beat New England: that Giants front four was just the perfect antidote to Brady's magic. 

5. 1994 San Francisco 49ers

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    Regular Season Record: 13-3

    Championship Game: 49-26 win over Chargers, Super Bowl XXIX

    Of the five Super Bowl winning clubs the 49ers put together this was much different than the four that preceded it. And not just because it was Steve Young, not Joe Montana, under center.

    No, this team was jam packed with free agent veterans pieced together for one specific purpose: defeat Dallas. That's why they signed Deion Sanders, Ken Norton, Gary Plummer, Bart Oates and Rickey Jackson. 

    They achieved that goal, and in one of the NFL's most anticlimactic championship games they trounced the helpless Chargers. 

    But what exactly makes them "better" than the '77 Cowboys or the '84 49ers or the '72 Dolphins? Well, in addition to having the NFL's top scoring offense, sixth-ranked scoring defense, and averaging a margin of victory of 21 in three postseason games, they had Jerry Rice catching passes from Steve Young.  

    That's (almost) as good as it gets.

4. 1992 Dallas Cowboys

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    Regular Season Record: 13-3

    Championship Game: 52-17 win over Bills, Super Bowl XXVII

    They may not have had the NFL's best record that season, but the '92 Cowboys were awesome. Of their three losses, two came by four points or less. And while I can point out how great The Triplets (Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin) were and how dominating that offensive line was, let's instead, look at what was on the other side of the ball. 

    An excellent secondary, an awesome linebacker in Ken Norton and the game's best defensive line—Russell Maryland, Tony Tolbert, Jim Jeffcoat, Tony Casillas and Charles Haley—dominated opposing offensive lines. 

    That's what happened in Super Bowl XXVII, a game that would have been the most lopsided Super Bowl in history had it not been for Leon Lett's gaffe.

    For them to embarrass the two-time AFC Champion Bills proves just how dominant they were.

3. 1961 Green Bay Packers

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    Regular Season Record: 11-3

    Championship Game: 37-0 win over Giants, NFL Championship 

    Lombardi's teams were so consistent and so consistently dominant that choosing "the best" of his five NFL championship clubs is almost impossible. 

    But since the first of Lombardi's Packers teams to win a title did so by such a crushing margin (a 37-0 shutout of the perennial contending Giants) they get the nod here. 

    And if that's not enough of a reason (or the fact that Green Bay's offense scored the most points of any team in the league that year, and allowed the second fewest points of any team in the league that year) than this should be. 

    The only Packer championship team to have a healthy Paul Hornung in the backfield along with Hall of Famers Jim Taylor and Bart Starr was the 1961 edition. Hornung—who missed parts of 1962 with injury and wasn't quite the same player following his suspension in 1965 and 1966—was so versatile that they had arguably the greatest backfield (i.e. QB and RB) of any in NFL team history.

    Add that fact to a pair of great lineman (Forrest Gregg, Jerry Kramer) and a defense stacked with Hall of Famers (Ray Nitschke, Willie Wood, Willie Davis, Henry Jordan, Herb Adderley) and you have the greatest pre-merger team of all time. 

2. 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Regular Season Record: 14-2

    Championship Game: 35-31 win over Cowboys, Super Bowl XIII

    The 1978 Steelers? Everywhere you looked there was a Hall of Famer.

    Under center: Terry Bradshaw. In the backfield: Franco Harris. Catching passes: Two of them, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. On the offensive line: Mike Webster. Defensive line: Mean Joe Greene. Linebackers: Two of them, as well, Jack Lambert and Jack Ham. In the secondary: Mel Blount.

    As for their regular season opponents, the two games they lost were by a combined 10 points. In the playoffs, they thrashed both the Oilers and Broncos, then bested the defending champion Cowboys in arguably the most thrilling Super Bowl of the 20th century. 

    But—and believe, me, this is splitting hairs here—since they didn't annihilate their championship game opponent (and the next entry did) they have to take home the silver medal here instead of the gold. 

1. 1989 San Francisco 49ers

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    Regular Season Record: 14-2

    Championship Game: 55-10 win over Broncos, Super Bowl XXIV

    In 1989, Joe Montana had the finest season—from start to finish—any quarterback ever had. He set a new regular season record for quarterback rating (112.4) then actually got better in the postseason. In three playoff games that year, he threw 11 touchdowns and completed almost 80 percent of his throws. 

    The way Joe Cool (and, of course, Jerry Rice) was playing that year, it almost didn't matter what the other offensive and defensive starters were doing: The 49ers were going to be Super Bowl champions regardless. 

    But because there were so many other outstanding players on that team playing at such a high level, they became the greatest single-season team in NFL history. 

    Aside from Montana, Rice, John Taylor and the rest of that passing attack, the running game (led by Roger Craig, Tom Rathman) was extremely efficient. And on the other side of the ball, where Ronnie Lott continued to dominate despite missing several games due to injury, they were nearly as overpowering.

    Charles Haley, Pierce Holt and Kevin Fagan provided a fierce pass rush, while Matt Millen, Mike Walter and Keena Turner contributed a ton. 

    Still, as stated in the previous slide, when we start to split hairs about which of these elite championship teams was the very best, the top spot on this list needs to go to a team that absolutely blew the doors off their championship game opponent. And since the 49ers crushed Denver by a record 45 points, they deserve to be considered the greatest of the greats.