Dynasty Rankings, Part IV: Nos. 21-30

Denver Broncos LB Von Miller
Denver Broncos LB Von Miller
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Bust out the leather helmets, book a train across the Great Lakes states, and wonder where your $50 game check is -- the dynasty rankings continue in a list dominated by some of the oldest teams in professional football.

The three teams that show up most frequently on the dynasty table are the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers with five appearances, followed by the New York Giants with four respectively. As these are three of the four oldest franchises still active today, it's not a surprise that they would pop up over and over again; they've all had at least 95 years to put together multiple runs of success. When you're talking about 1920s and 1930s football, especially, the best teams are the ones who were the best run; the ones who could convince superstar college athletes to give this professional football thing a try instead of going into something more likely to succeed -- like joining a rubber factory. Teams that couldn't pull that off faded away, leaving us with only the cream of the 1920s and 1930s still with us today.

Explaining why the fourth 1920s team remaining, the Arizona Cardinals, do not show up on this list even one time is left as an exercise for the reader.

The four 1920s teams built their dynasty counts in different ways. The Packers' five dynasties start in five different decades; they have spread their success out fairly evenly over their entire history, all things considered. That means that more generations of Packers fans can point to one of the great Green Bay teams as their great Green Bay team, even if it also means those eras tend to leave significant lulls in between them. The Bears achieved four of their five dynasties before free substitution and the platoon system came in in 1950. They were the football team in the pre-war era, and have graciously let their rivals in Green Bay catch up over the last 60 years.

The Giants just had Steve Owen doing Steve Oweny things. Without spoilering too much, I can say that today's list finishes off our look at Giants squads, while both the Bears and Packers have multiple teams jockeying for position further up the list.

So, I'm afraid if you're not a fan of one of the classic teams, you're not going to get much of a shoutout in this particular article. Eight of the ten slots this week are filled by a classic team pulling double duty. We've got two Packers squads, two Bears squads, two Giants squads and ... the Denver Broncos?

OK, maybe you don't need to start in the 1920s to have multiple runs of success.

Previous articles in this series
Dynasty points explained
Part I: 51-56
Part II: 41-50
Part III: 31-40

No. 30: 2011-2015 Denver Broncos

Peak Dynasty Points: 16
Average DVOA: 20.9%.
Top-Five DVOA: 20.9%
Championships: 1.
Record: 58-22 (.725)
Head Coaches: John Fox, Gary Kubiak
Key Players: QB Peyton Manning, WR Demaryius Thomas, T Ryan Clady, DE Elvis Dumervil, LB Von Miller, CB Chris Harris
Z-Score: -1.1

Seeing 2011 tacked on to this Broncos era feels very, very weird. Peyton Manning arrived in 2012, and it is his teams that put up 14 of the Broncos' 16 dynasty points from this era. And yet, there's Tim Tebow's 8-8 AFC West winners, hanging out there in front. I suppose it's fitting that the run both begins and ends with terrible quarterback play -- and, for the record, Tebow's -22.8% passing DVOA in 2011 beats out Manning's -25.8% DVOA in 2015. Still, that 2011 Broncos team had an -11.8% DVOA in 2011; it was a fluke divisional title that would in all likelihood not have started anything of note had Manning not come around.

Still, 2011 is an obvious major turning point for the Broncos franchise, even if the year itself wasn't super-great. Out went Josh McDaniels and Brian Xanders, in came John Fox and John Elway. Von Miller arrived with the second pick in the draft, which leads to some really interesting hypotheticals. Miller was obviously in retrospect the correct choice (you could make an argument for J.J. Watt, but you're splitting hairs there), but the new administration was clearly not particularly in love with either Tebow or Kyle Orton, holdovers from previous unsuccessful teams. What if the Panthers hadn't taken Cam Newton with the first overall pick? Or what if Elway's well-documented love of tall quarterbacks had led him to take 6-foot-4 Blaine Gabbert, a top-ten pick in 2011, as the Broncos quarterback of the future? Imagine the Broncos of the early 2010s without Manning or Miller. One shudders to think.

But no, they drafted the right guy, and then one legendary quarterback recruited another. Manning broke Elway's franchise record for quarterback DYAR in 2012, broke that record in 2013, and came darn close to doing it again in 2014. The 2013 Broncos' 33.5% offensive DVOA just misses out on being a top-10 all-time unit when you add in 1950-1984 historical estimates, but their 60.3% passing offense sure does. Just a bit of a whiplash from the Tebow era.

But, of course, the Broncos weren't just an offense. The 2012 and 2013 teams are, by DVOA, the best teams in franchise history. In 2014 the defense really kicked things into gear, which was good because Manning fell off a cliff in his last pro season and had to be carried … by a defense that ends up as the 20th best of all time at -25.8% DVOA thanks to the emergence of the No Fly Zone.

There's no shame in losing Super Bowl XLVIII to the Seahawks, who savvy readers will have noticed have not yet shown up on this countdown. There's a little shame in losing 43-8, but just consider that the modern Broncos paying tribute to the classic Broncos teams of the 1980s. Winning Super Bowl 50 does help bolster their ranking significantly, even if that ended up being the worst of the Manning Broncos teams by a significant margin; I'd take that Super Bowl-losing squad of 2013 over the winners of 2015 any day of the week. Broncos fans can truly state that, with Manning, Miller, and the rest of that defense, they had one of the best teams of all time and the Lombardi Trophy to back it up. They just don't have to go on to admit that those things happened in different years.

No. 29: 1956-1963 New York Giants

Peak Dynasty Points: 18
Average DVOA: 14.0%.
Top-Five DVOA: 18.1%
Championships: 1.
Record: 73-25-4 (.735)
Head Coaches: Jim Lee Howell, Allie Sherman
Key Players: HB Frank Gifford, T Rosey Brown, DE Andy Robustelli, DE Jim Katcavage, LB Sam Huff, S Jimmy Patton
Z-Score: -1.05

Finally, a Giants entry that does not begin with "Steve Owen was really good!" Owen's last NFL championship appearance was in 1946; his best ideas had become commonplace throughout the rest of the league. The Giants finally had to let go of the long-time fan favorite and legend after 1953. Technically, they replaced him with Jim Lee Howell, who was solid enough as a coach, but he wasn't the strategist or tactician that Owen was. He left that to his coordinators, a couple guys you may have heard of -- Vince Lombardi on offense and Tom Landry on defense. Howell mostly let his assistants do much of the actual coaching, while he served more as an administrator and general. Full credit to Howell for dragging Lombardi out of Army and moving Landry from player to coach, but I'm fairly sure I could coach a team if I had two of the best minds in the history of football running things for me. You can find the prototypes of the Cowboys' 4-3 defenses of the 1970s and the Packers' sweeps and pulling guards of the 1960s in the Giants of the 1950s.

It also helped that the Giants were loaded with superstars. Under Howell, they boasted Hall of Famers Sam Huff, Andy Robustelli, Rosey Brown, Emlen Tunnel, Don Maynard, and Frank Gifford. The last one is a big deal -- Gifford, a college star from Los Angeles who did not get along well at all with Owen, found a lot more success with Howell and Lombardi in charge. Lombardi moved Gifford from defensive back to halfback, where he became a perennial Pro Bowler as a receiving/running combo player, regularly appearing near the top of the league in yards from scrimmage. Couple that with Charlie Conerly as a league MVP quarterback, and Huff serving as the anchor point for a 4-3 defense designed to stop the powerful rushing attacks of Jim Brown and the other stars of the day, and you had a championship-caliber team.

This specific breakdown of Giants teams is kind of an odd amalgamation of two eras. The Giants made three title games in four years from 1956 to 1959, beating George Halas' Bears before losing a pair of title games to the Colts, including the legendary Greatest Game Ever Played in 1958. And then you have the Giants who made three straight title games from 1961 to 1963, falling to the Packers twice and the Bears once. But between them, there was a ton of turnover. Lombardi left for the Packers in 1959; Landry left for the Cowboys in 1960. Howell retired in 1960. Conerly got old fast and was replaced late in 1960. Gifford suffered an injury so devastating in 1960 that he had last rites given to him in the locker room; he would miss the next two seasons. That's a lot of turnover.

But Y.A. Tittle came in to play quarterback in 1961, an improvement over Conerly -- he would win multiple MVP awards in New York and was the career leader in every meaningful passing category when he retired after the 1964 season. Del Shofner came in as flanker the same year, and the duo set franchise records that lasted until very, very recently. Allie Sherman came in first as offensive coordinator and then as head coach; not as legendary as Lombardi by any means, but still winner of back-to-back Coach of the Year awards. Because the transition between the two eras was relatively painless, it counts as one consecutive run for the purposes of the dynasty rankings.

To sum these Giants up, they were the best team in the NFL East in a time when the absolute best football was being played in the NFL West. That led to plenty of championship opportunities, but only one title to their name. Still, that has them as the second-best Giants run of all time, only behind…

No. 28: 1925-1930 New York Giants

Peak Dynasty Points: 12
Average DVOA: 20.1%.
Top-Five DVOA: 25.0%
Championships: 1.
Record: 57-21-5 (.717)
Head Coaches: Bob Folwell, Doc Alexander, Earl Potteiger, Roy Andrews, Benny Friedman, Steve Owen
Key Players: TB Benny Friedman, FB Jack McBride, B Jack Hagerty, T Steve Owen, C Joe Wostoupal, C Mickey Murtagh
Z-Score: -0.57

As you know, this offseason the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded for Rob Gronkowski, pairing him with Tom Brady to try to find a return to relevance. This has led to a lot of jokes about the Buccaneers just importing all of the Patriots' old players, giving them a fresh coat of paint, and calling them a brand-new team. And that brings us to the 1920s New York Football Giants.

The NFL had tried to put a team in New York before 1925, to limited success. The New York Giants baseball team had tried, but folded before playing a game. The New York Brickley Giants (sometimes known as the Brooklyn Giants, and sometimes as Brooklyn's Brickley Giants -- brand identity was somewhat spotty in the 1920s!) left the league after just two games. So, when the league turned to Tim Mara to kickstart football in the Big Apple in 1925, it was a real risk of his $500 investment. And indeed, that first year was a struggle -- not on the field, where they went 8-4 (albeit with an SRS-to-DVOA conversion of -0.1%), but in the financial department. It wasn't until a home-and-home series with the famous and popular Chicago Bears that the Giants got into the black. Halas' boys drew over 70,000 fans to the Polo Grounds, more than quadrupling New York's average attendance. You can thank the Bears for professional football succeeding in New York.

The Giants improved in our estimated DVOA in 1926, but 1927 is the season they really were put on the map. They won the league championship that year, going 11-1-1 and allowing just 20 points all season long, including 10 shutouts. Yes, offensive football was worse in the 20s, with teams scoring just 9.1 points per game, and the nature of teams coming and going gave any squad that had a bit of money and stability an advantage, but ten shutouts is still an astronomical number; it would be the equivalent of allowing 62 points in a season in 2019's offensive environment. They key behind this defensive juggernaut? Money! Tackle Cal Hubbard was brought in for the astronomical price of $150 per game; paired with Steve Owen, New York had easily the best defensive line in the league.

And that should be where this story ends. Hubbard didn't like the big city and ended up being traded away. The Giants fell to 4-7-2 and a -4.2% estimated DVOA in 1928, and things looked bleak. Mara knew what he needed to get his team back to competitiveness again, however -- tailback Benny Friedman, who led the league in both passing and rushing touchdowns. Unfortunately, he was a member of the Detroit Wolverines, who had finished third in the league. Bringing him to New York wouldn't be easy.

So Mara just bought the Wolverines. Straight-out bought them, and disbanded them. He then cut his own worst players and replaced them with Wolverines stars like Friedman, Joe Wostoupal, Bill Owen, and Tiny Feather. The newly Wolverized Giants went 26-5-1 over the next two years with these outside ringers, with estimated DVOAs over 35.0% and two second-place finishes, pulling themselves across the 10-dynasty point line, all thanks to the power of the pocketbook.

The NFL of the 1920s was like that; not quite a joke, but certainly not a respected league either, where a few talented players drawn to one location by deep pockets could dominate. Amateur football was where it was at; those players played with more intensity and integrity than their professional counterparts, or so it was said. It's worth finishing this capsule by noting that public opinion really started swinging around in 1930, when a team of Notre Dame legends, coached by Knute Rockne with the Four Horsemen in the backfield, came to the Polo Grounds for a charity game. Everyone thought it would be a blowout, and it was -- in favor of the Giants; a 22-0 stomp that led Rockne to call the Giants the greatest football machine he had ever seen. If you had to put one pin in a moment where public opinion began to feel that professional football was a legitimate thing and not a sideshow, that would be it.

No. 27: 1970-1974 Miami Dolphins

Peak Dynasty Points: 18
Average DVOA: 20.1%.
Top-Five DVOA: 20.1%
Championships: 2.
Record: 57-12 (.826)
Head Coach: Don Shula
Key Players: QB Bob Griese, RB Larry Csonka, WR Paul Warfield, G Larry Little, DE Bill Stanfill, S Jake Scott, S Dick Anderson
Z-Score: -0.53

I know they've kept it very quiet, but the 1972 Dolphins are the only team to ever pull off the perfect season. It's not something they like to talk about very much, preferring to stay modest and let their record speak for itself, but it's true!

You don't get any bonus dynasty points for completing a perfect season, and estimated DVOA actually ranks the 1973 squad as the best of the Dolphins teams of the early 1970s. As a matter of fact, the 1972 Dolphins' estimated regular-season DVOA of 34.5%, while very, very good, is actually the worst of any of the four teams to have completed a perfect regular season. To which point I'm sure Larry Csonka will thumb his nose, point to his Super Bowl ring, laugh at the other three teams for losing their respective championship games, and pop open a bottle of champagne.

You can hardly blame Dolphins fans for still loving those early 1970s teams. Before coach Don Shula arrived in 1970, the Dolphins had been sitting on a historical record of 15-39-2. Shula got them to the playoffs in one year, and to contender status in two. The Dolphins were actually docked a first-round pick for tampering when they signed Shula, who was the Baltimore Colts' coach at the time -- they had started negotiating when the AFL and NFL were two separate leagues, and teams stole big names from the other league all the time, but the actual move happened post-merger, and that's a big no-no. Considering the immediate success the Dolphins had with Shula, losing out on Don McCauley in the 1971 draft was probably worth it.

The accepted wisdom is that the 1970s Dolphins won thanks to their power football; with Csonka, Jim Kiick, and Mercury Morris running behind a who's who of offensive lines. That certainly isn't wrong, mind you -- Csonka and Morris became the first teammates to each run for 1,000 yards in the 1972 perfect season, and all three Dolphins Super Bowl teams of this era ranked in the top five in estimated run DVOA. But they also ranked in the top five in passing DVOA in those three seasons, no matter whether it was Griese or Earl Morrall under center. The Dolphins traded a first-round pick to bring Paul Warfield over for a reason; they were certainly a run-heavy team, but they were an efficient passing offense when they had to be, too.

The big difference between the Super Bowl VI loss and the Super Bowl VII and VIII wins was the defense. The so-called "No Name" Defense ended up first in estimated DVOA in 1972 and fourth the year after, sandwiched between a pair of below-average seasons. Shula's offense was basically great throughout the 1970s until Griese suffered a career-ending shoulder injury in 1980; it was the rise and fall of the No Namers that took the Dolphins to the top of the mountain and then down into the three-year hole between this and the late 1970s/early 1980s dynasty we covered back down at No. 44.

Put a top-five defense with a top-five running attack and a top-five passing attack, and you have one of the NFL's best all-time teams. The 1972 Dolphins have the 16th-highest (estimated) DVOA of any NFL champion since 1950. The 1973 Dolphins are even better, up at No. 7 thanks in no small part to a full season from Griese. At least when it comes to championships, the best team of the 1970s wasn't a Steel Curtain special or America's Team in Dallas -- it was Shula's Dolphins.

For the record, had the defense not struggled in the mid-1970s, and you were able to draw a straight dynastic line from Shula arriving in 1970 to the early Dan Marino years, the Dolphins would be knocking on the door of the top ten.

No. 26: 2009-2016 Green Bay Packers

Peak Dynasty Points: 17
Average DVOA: 18.2%.
Top-Five DVOA: 25.8%
Championships: 1.
Record: 87-40-1 (.684)
Head Coaches: Mike McCarthy
Key Players: QB Aaron Rogers, WR Jordy Nelson, WR Randall Cobb, G Josh Sitton, G T.J. Lang, LB Clay Matthews
Z-Score: -0.27

Consider the race to the top joined! The Packers and Bears share the honor of being on this list five times apiece. Part of that, of course, is the fact that they're 100 years old and have had plenty of opportunities to be great. But hell, the Cardinals are older than the NFL itself and have yet to have a single dynasty, so more power to the kings of the NFC North … or NFC Central … or NFL Western, depending on how old you want to get. Place your bets now for which of the two long-time rivals will end up higher on the eventual list.

The Packers are arguably the more interesting of the two, because they're so spread out. While four of the five Bears dynasties can be described as "because George Halas," the Packers have four different generations represented on the list, including this very recent one. The worst Packers dynasty only definitively could be declared dead in 2018, and remnants of it still don the green and gold today.

Moving on from a Hall of Fame quarterback is never easy, and the Packers knew that when they drafted Aaron Rodgers in 2005 while Brett Favre was … well, not in his prime anymore, but still a very productive passer. You can't blame the Packers for looking for a backup; there had been rumors that Favre was going to retire as early as 2002, and Rodgers was a candidate for the top pick; his slide down the draft board was a once-in-a-generation event. Still, bringing in a first-round pick while a franchise legend is still going strong is a ballsy move, and one I can't imagine many teams would care to repeat.

The Aaron Rodgers Packers never quite hit great levels of success; they never hit 30.0% in DVOA, even in their Super Bowl XLV-winning season or their 15-1 season in 2011. They were more of a very, very good team that could always be counted on to be in the mix rather than a dominant favorite. Their eight straight playoff appearances is a franchise record, which is both impressive and misleading for a franchise with this much history (no wild-card games for the Lombardi units!), but they ended up falling in the postseason earlier than you would expect for truly great teams.

They did have one truly incredible offensive season in 2011; that was Aaron Rogers' MVP year, when he had a franchise-record 2,130 DYAR while throwing for 45 touchdowns, and when Jordy Nelson set the franchise record for receiving DYAR. Green Bay's 33.8% offensive DVOA is the sixth-highest we've recorded, and only falls to 10th when you include estimated DVOA. Their 67.6% passing DVOA is second or third; Rodgers was walking on rarified air that year. But that was also the year the defense collapsed, ranking 25th in the league, and the Packers washed out of the playoffs. If you could combine that offense -- with Nelson and a healthy Greg Jennings catching passes and Ryan Grant and James Starks splitting the running workload -- with the Packers defenses of 2009 or 2010, you'd have an argument for the best Packers team of all time. Instead, the closest the Packers offenses and defenses of this era came to synching up was at the very end of 2010, in their wild-card run to a Super Bowl victory.

You can come close to pinpointing the exact moment the Packers' run ended: with Aaron Rodgers breaking his collarbone in 2017. Before the injury, Rodgers averaged a passing DVOA of 22.0%; since the injury, it's down to just 8.3%. That's the difference between a top-five quarterback and perennial MVP candidate, and a good-but-not-great cog. You can blame some of that on a lack of talented skill position players placed around Rodgers, but the Packers weren't exactly loading up on high draft pick receivers before Rodgers' injury. It's just that late-20s Rodgers was able to elevate the Randall Cobbs and James Joneses of the world into quality players; something he may simply no longer be capable of doing.

No. 25: 1946-1950 Chicago Bears

Peak Dynasty Points: 11
Average DVOA: 26.0%.
Top-Five DVOA: 26.0%
Championships: 1.
Record: 44-14-1 (.754)
Head Coach: George Halas
Key Players: QB Sid Luckman, HB George McAfee, E Ed Sprinkle, T Fred Davis, G Ray Bray, C Bulldog Turner,
Z-Score: -0.20

The Bears are often considered the team of the 1940s, winning four championships in the decade. As the dynasty rankings evolved, and different cut-off points were tested, the system went back and forth between having one Bears dynasty last throughout the 1940s or splitting it into two around World War II. In the end, here we are, with the lesser half of the Monsters of the Midway still cracking the top 25.

The argument against splitting the 1940s Bears is on-field continuity; Sid Luckman was only in the merchant marines, and thus got to stay stateside and play quarterback throughout the war. The argument for splitting the 1940s Bears is, well, there was a World War on! George Halas and 45 different Bears joined the military in 1942, and the Bears nearly merged for a season with the Chicago Cardinals. Even Luckman wasn't always there -- his service meant that he couldn't practice with the team, only being allowed to rejoin them on game days. They had co-coaches in Hunk Anderson and Luke Johnsos, struggled to a 9-10-1 record in the mid-1940s, and generally weren't the same quality team until Halas and a significant chunk of those veterans returned. There is no "there was a massive war" adjustment in the rankings, and a few franchises were able to find continuous success even throughout the mid-1940s, so I stand by the decision to split these Bears up. We'll talk about what it would mean to keep them together when we cover the earlier, better half of the 1940s Bears next week.

The 1946 season was when Halas returned, being joined by veterans (in every sense of the word) like Hugh Gallarneau, Ken Kavernaugh, Joe Stydahar, and Hall of Famer Bulldog Turner. It turns out, getting all of your really good players back at one time helps boost a team's results, as they went from a 3-7 record with a -7.9% SRS-to-DVOA estimate to 8-2-1 and 20.8%, respectively. They beat the Giants handily to win the NFL Championship, their fourth of the decade; it looked like a return to power for the Bears.

On paper, the Bears only got better from there over the next couple of years -- their point differential rises from +96 to +122 to +224, and their SRS-to-DVOA conversion has them hit a peak of 46.4% in 1948, which would be one of the top ten teams on record. But time after time, they would fall just short of championship glory. In both 1947 and 1948, they finished one game short of the Chicago Cardinals in the NFL West, losing the last game of each season at home to their crosstown rivals. They changed things up by being a game behind the Rams in 1949, and then they managed to tie with the Rams in 1950, only to lose the one-game divisional playoff. By SRS, the Bears were the best team in the league in 1947 and 1948, and the best team in their division in 1949, but they never got to play for the championship. It's hard to call that unfair, per se -- they did repeatedly lose to the Cardinals and Rams on the field, after all -- but in the modern era, a team like these Bears would be an incredibly dangerous wild-card team. It's exceptionally unlucky that they never had another shot at a title in the late 1950s; eight wins could easily have resulted in a divisional title at this point in history, but the Bears were runners-up with eight, nine, nine, and 10 wins in a span of four years.

No. 24: 1993-1998 Green Bay Packers

Peak Dynasty Points: 15
Average DVOA: 22.6%.
Top-Five DVOA: 24.8%
Championships: 1.
Record: 66-30 (.688)
Head Coach: Mike Holmgren
Key Players: QB Brett Favre, RB Dorsey Levens, WR Antonio Freeman, C Frank Winters, DE Reggie White, S LeRoy Butler
Z-Score: -0.08

Score one point for Brett Favre over his successor; his Packers teams end up with a higher score than the 2010s edition.

It's close, mind you -- a matter of very tiny nits here and there. Rodgers' Packers had a longer run of success, and the better top-five DVOA. Four of Rodgers' teams managed to top a 20.0% DVOA, compared to three of Favre's. Both teams won only one Super Bowl, though Favre's Packers do get a bonus from not only winning Super Bowl XXXI, but also reaching Super Bowl XXXII the next year. But it's average DVOA that puts Favre's Packers over the top. Unlike the 2010s editions, the 1990s Packers did produce an all-time great team.

This was Ron Wolf's baby. Wolf was hired as general manager in late 1991, taking over a franchise which had hit the skids pretty hard since the Lombardi era. You could see the potential in Wolf's first full season as he hired Mike Holmgren from San Francisco and traded for some backup Falcons quarterback named Favre and immediately saw a five-win swing on the field. But 1993 brought with a new tool for Wolf -- free agency.

Free agency as we know it only started in 1993 after years of restrictions and limitations and owner's control. The idea that a superstar like Reggie White would be able to just leave his team without them getting anything in return was unthinkable. The thought that White would choose Green Bay, a team which had just two playoff appearances since 1968, over their fellow finalist 49ers was considered crazy. But Wolf and Holmgren wined him, dined him, and convinced him that Green Bay was the best place for him, both on and off the field. (After White say he would go where God wanted him to go, Holmgren left him a voicemail saying "Reggie, this is God. Come to Green Bay.") A larger check than San Francisco could offer didn't hurt, either.

White's addition opened the floodgates. At the time, Green Bay did not have a reputation as a city where African-American players felt welcome. The addition of White, however, enticed names such as Santana Dotson and Sean Jones to join the team, building a top-ten defense practically overnight. Nowadays, we're used to teams bringing in a bunch of free agents to push themselves into contention, but this was a new idea in the mid-1990s! The Packers were the first free-agency dynasty.

Favre didn't become Brett Favre until 1994; his first couple of Pro Bowl berths were not the most deserved nods in the history of the game. But Favre managed over 1,000 DYAR each year from 1994 to 1997 -- one of only two quarterbacks to pull off that feat for four straight years in the 1990s. While all of Favre's franchise highs in our stats were eventually taken down by Rodgers, that's due in part to the fact that teams throw more than they did 25 years ago; Favre was putting up huge numbers in a relatively run-heavy environment. There's a reason he's the only man to win back-to-back-to-back MVP awards.

And, because Favre's peak coincided with the peak of White and the defense, the 1996 Super Bowl team remains one of the best of all time. Their 41.9% DVOA is the tenth-best since 1950, and the third-best Super Bowl-winner ever. They remain the only team in the salary cap era to both score the most points and allow the fewest in the regular season. They were an astonishingly good team, and one that maybe doesn't get the sort of historical acknowledgement of some other greats because of their relative lack of follow-up success. For most franchises, a team as good as the 1996 Packers would be the best in their history, even if it was an outlier amid some other seasons only very good.

The Packers are not most franchises, of course.

No. 23: 1973-1980 Los Angeles Rams

Peak Dynasty Points: 18
Average DVOA: 19.7%.
Top-Five DVOA: 25.6%
Championships: 0.
Record: 86-31-1 (.733)
Head Coaches: Chuck Knox, Ray Malavasi
Key Players: RB Lawrence McCutcheon, WR Harold Jackson, G Tom Mack, C Rich Saul, DE Jack Youngblood, DT Larry Brooks, LB Isiah Robertson, LB Jack Reynolds
Z-Score: 0.01

Our first team to hit a positive combined Z-Score may not be one you were expecting to see this high. Ten teams without a championship to their name made the 10-point dynasty cutoff, but most of them appeared way down the list. By our numbers, the 1970s Rams are better than the 1990s Bills or the 1980s Broncos or the Killer Bs Dolphins, with Chuck Knox's boys standing tall as the cream of the NFC West of the era.

The Rams won seven straight division titles from 1973 to 1979. They've only won 20 divisional crowns period, so seven in a row is fairly notable. Admittedly, this was not a strong period for the NFC West; the Rams' divisional rivals managed six seasons with positive estimated DVOA in 22 tries. Still, titles are titles.

And it's not like the Rams were excuse-me shrugging their way into the playoffs in a weak division, either. They were in the middle of a run of 15 straight years with positive estimated DVOA, easily the franchise record. And they went 6-8 in the postseason during this run, with their only losses (Dallas four times, Minnesota three times, and Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XIV) coming against other teams in the midst of their own, superior dynastic runs. And they did beat Landry's Cowboys in 1976 and 1979, and they did beat the Purple People Eaters in 1978; this was a very good team that had the misfortune to play when giants roamed the league -- give them a win in one of three straight NFC Championship Games from 1974 to 1976, and history probably regards these Rams much differently.

Growing up, I had sort of assumed that the 1979 Rams Super Bowl appearance was an aberration -- a mediocre team that had gotten lucky. And that's not entirely inaccurate; they had an estimated DVOA of just 0.7%, were terrible on offense, and had just a +14 point differential on the season, third-worst in Super Bowl history.  Backup Vince Ferragamo did just enough to keep the Rams afloat through a series of improbable upsets. That's the image of these Rams that history has saved, but that was easily the worst Rams team of this decade. The 1973 and 1976 Rams each had estimated DVOAs over 30.0%, and the rest of their off years were mostly above 15.0%. This was a good team that just had its worst possible representative on the national stage.

Knox was known as "Ground Chuck" by his detractors for his emphasis on running the ball and sitting on close leads, and you know how conservative you have to be to get that reputation in the 1970s. I think that renown comes more from the parade of quarterbacks he was forced to trot out -- three primary starters in five years in John Hadl, Pat Haden, and James Harris, plus cameos from a baby Ron Jaworski and the decaying knees of Joe Namath. You'd lean on Lawrence McCutcheon plenty too if you were that uncertain about your quarterback situation. Anyway, this was a defensive team first and foremost, ranking in the top 10 in estimated DVOA (and usually in the top five) in all but one of these seasons. Very solid drafting brought in Jack Youngblood, Isiah Robertson, and Hacksaw Reynolds to anchor the team, with a plethora of useful players like Larry Brooks and Dave Elmendorf to pad out the roster. The Rams allowed fewer than 11 points a game in both 1975 and 1977.

Those playoff losses to better teams (plus arguments with owner Carroll Rosembloom, including but not limited to bringing in the crumbling Namath over Harris and Jaworski) led to Knox being fired after the 1977 season. L.A. brought back George Allen to get the team over the hump, but fired him during the preseason, leaving Ray Malavasi to guide the Rams through the rest of this run. Malavasi may have gotten the Rams to the Super Bowl, but it was Knox's teams that were, by a wide margin, the better squads.

No. 22: 1920-1926 Decatur/Chicago Staleys/Bears

Peak Dynasty Points: 21
Average DVOA: 16.6%.
Top-Five DVOA: 20.0%
Championships: 1.
Record: 64-14-14 (.772)
Head Coach: George Halas
Key Players: QB Joey Sternaman, E George Halas, T Ed Healey, T Hugh Blacklock, G Jim McMillen, C George Trafton
Z-Score: 0.10

No team is helped more by our decision to give 1920s runners-up credit for losing non-existent title games than these Bears. They finished second in the league in 1920, 1922, 1923, 1924, and 1926, with one controversial title sprinkled in. Without that bonus, this team wouldn't even crack the top 40. As it is, they stand as the lowest-ranked team with 20 or more dynasty points, thanks in large part to their low top-five DVOA; SRS-to-DVOA estimation saw only the 1920 Decatur Staleys top 20.0% DVOA. They get credit for being the 1920s NFL's perennial bridesmaids more than anything else.

This is in no way to suggest the Bears were not a great team at this point in time. George Halas was a star player before he became entrenched as the Bears' long-time coach, general manager, owner, and icon. The 1920s All-Decade team is filled with Staleys and Bears -- Ed Healey and George Trafton are in the Hall of Fame on the line, while the Sternaman brothers scored points left and right out of the backfield. The Bears also made arguably the most important signing in league history, bringing amateur legend Red Grange in for the unheard-of price of $100,000. The Bears were massive draws; teams would bank on bringing the Bears to town to double, triple, or even quadruple their attendance, getting them into the black and helping them survive to play another year.

The Bears were so in demand that they basically worked themselves into a rut. Their 1925 season saw them play 17 regular-season games in two and a half months; three more games in that window against independent teams; and then nine more games the month after that as they barnstormed around the country, bringing the Bears show to anyone who wanted to see it. It's a shock they didn't all die of exhaustion, and you can perhaps excuse their 9-5-3 record as a side effect of them being dead on their feet.

The Bears might have won a few more titles had the NFL (and before them, the AFPA) had regular, rigorous procedures in place for scheduling and/or playoffs, but the list of 1920s champions is, shall we say, somewhat short of impeccable. The 1920, 1921, and 1925 championships are all in one way or another disputed, and that includes the Staleys twice. The Staleys finished as a runner-up in 1920 with a 10-1-2 record, compared to the Akron Pros' 8-0-3 mark. The Staleys didn't give up a single point in those 10 games, but lost out on the title because A) they scheduled more games than the Pros, and B) ties simply didn't count in the standings, so the Pros could play their last two games simply not to lose, pulling off a pair of thrilling 0-0 ties to earn the title.

The Staleys were on the other end of a championship controversy the next year. The Buffalo All-Americans finished their schedule at 9-0-2, including a win over the Staleys in November. They then scheduled one more game against the Staleys which they viewed as an exhibition game, allowing a few of their star players to go play for a different team. Halas and the Staleys, however, thought the game counted -- with no set end of the season, how could you have postseason exhibitions? The Staleys won the rematch, bringing them to 8-1. That was still behind the All-Americans' 9-1-2 record, so the Staleys quickly scheduled two more games, trying to win them both and take first place overall. But they didn't quite succeed, instead tying the Chicago Cardinals, so they brought their own record to 9-1-2, so the AFPA had to come up with some sort of tiebreaker to determine the champion. The Staleys and All-Americans had split their two games, so what they decided was that the rematch should count more than the first matchup, and thus the Staleys were the champions.

Yeah, the 1920s NFL was kind of the Wild West, wasn't it?

No. 21: 1996-2000 Denver Broncos

Peak Dynasty Points: 14
Average DVOA: 22.7%.
Top-Five DVOA: 22.7%
Championships: 2.
Record: 56-24 (.700)
Head Coach: Mike Shanahan
Key Players: QB John Elway, RB Terrell Davis, WR Rod Smith, WR Ed McCaffrey, C Tom Nalen, LB Bill Romanowski
Z-Score: 0.27

The Peyton Manning-led Broncos may have put up the highest DVOA (estimated or otherwise) in franchise history, but not the best offensive performance Denver has ever seen. That one's for John.

The Dan Reeves Broncos could never bring home a title, and the Wade Phillips interregnum ended up as a step back for the franchise. So in 1995, Mike Shanahan came in as head coach, bringing with him his zone blocking scheme and a sixth-round running back named Terrell Davis. As good as Elway could be in the 1980s, he rarely had support from a running game; he had to put most of the Broncos offense on his shoulders. The Broncos only hit double-digit rushing DVOA twice between 1985 and 1994, and that meant they were quite frequently in the upper teens in offensive DVOA as a whole -- solid, and when Elway had some of his best seasons, enough to get them to the Super Bowl in a weak AFC, but not much more than that. That changed when Shanahan and Davis came to town: the Broncos ranked in the top ten in rushing DVOA every year from 1995 to 2000. In 1998, they hit a 31.4% DVOA, the third-best mark we've ever recorded.

The late 1990s also saw Elway's best years; his top five seasons in terms of DYAR all came between 1993 and 1998. It's not that he only began to be a good quarterback in his mid-30s; it's that he was finally getting offensive help for the first time. Shanahan didn't sign Rod Smith as an undrafted free agent, but he gave Smith his first playing time in 1995. He signed Ed McCaffrey from his previous stop in San Francisco. He promoted Tom Nalen to the starting lineup. The only big piece of the offensive puzzle you can't directly connect to Shanahan is Shannon Sharpe, but six of Sharpe's seven best seasons came under Shanahan. It turns out, when you surround an all-time great quarterback with offensive weapons, he puts up bigger numbers.

I suspect that beating the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII is more fondly remembered by the Broncos fan base -- it was their first title; it was against a great team in and of itself; it was a close, exciting game; it featured Elway's spinning helicopter dive. But the 1998 season, which culminated in crushing the Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII, was the better squad. We mentioned the third-best ever rushing DVOA already, with Davis rushing for over 2,000 yards in his last healthy season, but the passing offense hit a 52.5% DVOA -- not quite the franchise record, as Manning and company were able to top it in 2013, but damn close. Put it all together, and you have a 34.5% offense DVOA, making the 1998 Broncos the fourth-best offense of the DVOA era as things currently stand.

The Broncos don't crack the top 20 for two reasons. First of all, Elway retired and Davis was hurt after 1998, and while the Brian Griese/Any Running Back Off the Street Broncos offense still had some residual success, it wasn't the same. Secondly, the defenses of these teams don't hold a candle to, say, the No Fly Zone. The 1998 Broncos would rank as Denver's best team ever if their defense was even just average, but they ranked 20th out of 28 teams that season. Still, with an offense like that, it's hard to whine too much about a few minor imperfections.

The Rankings So Far

The following graphic shows the rankings of all teams that have been revealed so far. Click the image to open it in a larger size in a new window.


94 comments, Last at 30 May 2020, 4:38pm

#1 by BroncFan07 // May 21, 2020 - 12:10pm

Always thought the 2012 Broncos team was the best of the lot for that stretch. 2013 team was great but had so many guys injured by the Super Bowl. 2012 seemed like the biggest missed opportunity. Darn you, Tony Carter. 

Points: 0

#13 by JimZipCode // May 21, 2020 - 6:17pm

In reply to by BroncFan07

Stole a SB that clearly was Denver's to lose.  Which thrilled me at the time; but I was also pleased when Manning limped back a few years later and got his second.

I'll always wonder how significantly Manning was effected by the weather in the Mile High Miracle game. 


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#17 by theslothook // May 21, 2020 - 8:24pm

I have a very vivid memory of that playoff game. I thought Manning played well overall. The first interception was a missed DPI penalty. Sure the second killer int was a bad throw, but that happens.  I thought the Ravens defense played very well for most of the game, requiring the Broncos offense to have to fight to move the ball/score points. It wasn't a great defense that year, but somehow pulled it together at the end.

There have been playoff games Manning has lost that I thought he played well in. I thought his loss against the Jets in 2010, the 2007 chargers loss, and 2012 loss to the Ravens were all such games. On the other hand, I suppose it evened out in the end with that 2015 season, where he was either mediocre/bad or downright terrible in all three of those playoff games that he won.

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#53 by JimZipCode // May 24, 2020 - 3:01am

It wasn't a great defense that year, but somehow pulled it together at the end.

Ray said during the run that, due to injuries, the postseason was the first time that year that he & Ed Reed & Terrell Suggs all played at the same time. So, conceivably their defensive ceiling was higher than their performance on the year showed.

Corey Graham was outstanding in the secondary, that postseason.

Still the worst defense any "good" Ravens team has ever had, until Lamar Jackson showed up.

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#54 by JimZipCode // May 24, 2020 - 3:11am

Makes sense your memory of that game is "vivid".  One of the most exciting playoff games in NFL history, I think.  Up there with the Chargers-Dolphins game from 1981, which I watched at my dad's house.  Really remarkable.

That whole championship run was such a gift.  Most Ravens fans think the 2011 squad was better (lost at New England: Lee Evans PD'd in end zone and Billy Cundiff's miss).  Ed Reed lost another step and Ray tore his bicep, and Harbaugh fired the OC, and it was CLEARLY Manning's year anyway.  I had practiced my stuff upper lip all week, and just wanted the Ravens to put up a creditable showing in Denver.  And then That Game happened. Still pretty amazing.

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#16 by Grendel13G // May 21, 2020 - 7:13pm

In reply to by BroncFan07

I agree about the 2012 team. It was the most balanced of all the Broncos teams during that run.

Thank goodness for the Broncos' (totally unexpected) 2015 Super Bowl win, otherwise I'd probably still have Joe Flacco and Raheem Morris voodoo dolls.

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#2 by theslothook // May 21, 2020 - 12:59pm

The 2013 Broncos were ranked 15th in defense that year. I assume you meant 2014.

The Seahawks rise from the rubble is more extreme, but the Broncos ran their own version of it in 2011, which really was a team recovering from the disaster that was Josh McDaniels. The parallels become ever more pronounced when you compare the 2010 Seahawks( a terrible football team that went 7-9 and somehow won a playoff game) with the 2011 Broncos(a terrible football team that went 8-8 and somehow won a playoff game).

I remember in hindsight really questioning why Manning chose Denver. If you zoom out at that time, the only things they had going for them were a pair of bookend pass rushers. DT, Decker, and others were big question marks and the whole offense looked awful even with Kyle Orton. FO's almanac had a pretty tepid prediction for the first year Manning led Broncos. 


I will maintain. If Manning had retired in 2011, the Patriots probably get to the superbowl both years the Broncos made it and we may be living in a world where they have 7(or even possibly 8) SB trophies to their name. The day Manning became a bad qb opened a giant window for the Pats.




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#3 by Aaron Schatz // May 21, 2020 - 1:30pm

You are correct about the 2013 Broncos defense! I'll change that.

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#5 by Bryan Knowles // May 21, 2020 - 1:38pm

Good catch, and it's been fixed.

And, to be fair, the day Manning became a bad quarterback...the Broncos still won the Super Bowl, because football is weird like that.

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#56 by thok // May 24, 2020 - 9:06am

It wasn't that hard to see Demaryius Thomas breaking out; he only started playing after Tebow took over, but had a pretty good stretch from week 12 onwards (including the playoffs).

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#58 by nat // May 24, 2020 - 11:50am

The Broncos got to the second round of the playoffs with a QB that almost everyone in the league had figured out was not just a bad starter, but in fact was not good enough to be a backup or a backup to a backup... at best a gimmick.  So the general feeling was that his surrounding players were quite promising. It was hard to say more than “promising”, because we had only seen them with an essentially non-QB playing QB, and earlier with a QB who had lost his job to that non-QB. The defense, although statistically average, was looking to be on an upwards trend. All in all, a nice set up for a new QB to step into.

Basically, the Broncos were a borderline playoff team, and did it with no QB. It was perfect for Manning. Even mediocre play would have made him a hero. As it turned out, he had a few great seasons left in him.

Another point in Denver’s favor was a question of physics: the lower air resistance increases the range at which a QB (or kicker) can be accurate. In particular, it helps a Denver QB, since only he gets to practice a lot with the lower air resistance. While I doubt this was a major factor, it’s certain Manning took climate into consideration. Thinking people assumed he would go for some location that would give his aging body an extra advantage. Most likely an indoor team. But Denver’s thin air was always a possibility.

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#59 by theslothook // May 24, 2020 - 12:17pm

They were 1-4 w Kyle Orton, a non gimmick QB. The offense was still bad and in fact, the wide receivers was still sub par with Kyle Orton, a fact highlighted by FO Almanac.  A borderline playoff team seem strange to say even if you lay all of the broncos problems at the feet of Tim Tebow.  They got to the playoffs in the first place in large part because of an easy schedule, a terrible division, and some wins in close games. I am not sure how anyone can arrive at the word "promising" for the offense. 

As for the defense trending up:

2008:  30th

2009 7th 

2010. 30th

2011 18th.  

I'll be curious if anyone else can see a discernible trend in there. If anything, the 2011 performance looks  a lot like regression to the mean and is probably suggestive of a decline the following year(which is exactly what FO's almanac predicted). 

The altitude argument also seems strange since any advantages would have to be balanced against the poor weather late in the year. If he was so concerned about stacking the environment in his favor, like you said, he should have chosen a dome team or California team that would afford him pretty good conditions all year round. If he cared so much about stacking the environment in his favor, then surely defense and coaching would important too. In fact, there was a team that checked all three boxes and was interested in him. He didn't choose them.


I am not here to argue that Manning is solely responsible for the Broncos success. I am trying to highlight what was known at the time and as I said above, the Broncos had a pair of book end pass rushers and a lot of question marks. 


Points: 0

#61 by Mountain Time … // May 24, 2020 - 2:02pm

Sure, Orton only went 1-4, but he was still SIGNIFICANTLY better than Tebow (-5% DVOA vs -22%). Playing Tebow at all was a mistake for the Broncos

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#63 by theslothook // May 24, 2020 - 2:42pm

Sure but they still weren't good w Orton. A -5.0 passing offense would have ranked 24th in 2011, far from promising. 

Seriously, I don't know where this view that Denver was the perfect team for Manning is coming from(actually that's a lie. I do know where its coming from, or rather why its being brought up, but that's not worth hashing here). A team that was garbage the year before and then followed it up with an inflated record is not a team that anyone thinks is setup for success. That's usually(though not in this case) the kind of talk that gets made entirely with the benefit of hindsight. 


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#80 by nat // May 26, 2020 - 7:23am

Wow, look at the straw men. Will we see ad hominem next? (We see a parenthetical hint of it.)

Nobody said “perfect”. But the almost universal opinion was that Denver’s only glaring weakness was a historically bad QB with a bad backup. And the in-season trends made the defense look set to continue improving... although defensive trends are hard to extrapolate.

Manning obviously thought Denver was his best fit. If not for supporting cast (and maybe other factors like cap situation, division, stadium, etc), why do you think he chose them? Was he just a cynic looking to get paid? I think he was looking for a team that badly needed a QB and had most of the other things they needed to contend. (I think I know why some people would not want to accept that... but denying it makes Manning look really money-driven and greedy.)

On the other side, Denver had come to realize their QB situation was horrible. They were willing to risk a lot of money on Manning’s health and age because they believed a big step up at QB was the main factor keeping them from serious contention for the championship.

As it turned out, improving at QB did help them get to the Super Bowl... after two years. Ironically, they finally got the Ringz when Manning was no longer a good QB. In a sense, both Manning and the Broncos were wrong: Bad QB play wasn’t what was stopping them from a championship.

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#81 by Eddo // May 26, 2020 - 8:17am

It's not a strawman argument.  Your first post in this thread includes "It was perfect for Manning."

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#89 by nat // May 26, 2020 - 4:08pm

I also said: 

All in all, a nice set up for a new QB to step into.

If you want to nitpick that perfect in this context didn’t mean what I said a few sentences earlier, knock yourself out.

It was a playoff team that advanced in the playoffs, whose one desperate need was at QB. Since such teams are hard to find, Denver was “perfect” in the sense that their needs exactly matched what Manning had to offer. And they were starting from a high enough point that if adding Manning in place of Tebow was as much of a difference as replacing Brady with Cassel (>50% DVOA and 5 wins In the other direction) had been a few years before, a first round bye and a trip to the Super Bowl looked very much in reach. Since Tebow was so very much worse than Cassel, a similar boost was likely, assuming only that Manning was healthy.

Points: 0

#90 by theslothook // May 26, 2020 - 4:33pm

I didn't nitpick anything. They were your own words. 

Second, none of the facts really line up with your narrative. As was mentioned above, with Kyle Orton, they had a -5 % pass DVOA, which would have ranked 24th in the league in 2011. Fast forward today, that would be a worse pass dvoa than the Daniel Jones led New York Giants. Is that an offense that is one qb away from lighting the world on fire? Should Tom Brady have considered them a great offense to go to?

As I said above, nothing in the actual present suggested the Broncos were a great team needing a qb. A defensive dvoa of ranked 18th and a passing offense that would have ranked 24th with Kyle Orton doesn't resemble a title contender that is a QB away. Turns out the Broncos had more talent that what appeared, but that's again with the benefit of hindsight. 

Also, its not ad hominem. When one is arguing with narratives instead of facts, you're left trying to disprove the writer's motivations. Normally I try not to, but anyone who has followed these threads long enough will know exactly what your base motivations are. 


Points: 0

#4 by Bryan Knowles // May 21, 2020 - 1:37pm

The last 20 teams, to be covered next week, are:

* 1921-23 Canton Bulldogs
* 1926-31 Green Bay Packers
* 1935-44 Green Bay Packers
* 1940-43 Chicago Bears
* 1947-49 Philadelphia Eagles
* 1949-52 Los Angeles Rams
* 1950-58 Cleveland Browns
* 1960-67 Green Bay Packers
* 1964-71 Baltimore Colts
* 1966-71 Kansas City Chiefs
* 1966-85 Dallas Cowboys
* 1967-77 Oakland Raiders
* 1968-80 Minnesota Vikings
* 1972-79 Pittsburgh Steelers
* 1981-98 San Francisco 49ers
* 1984-91 Chicago Bears
* 1991-96 Dallas Cowboys
* 2001-19 New England Patriots
* 2002-09 Indianapolis Colts
* 2012-16 Seattle Seahawks

Any guesses who makes the top 10, and who comes up just short?

Points: 0

#7 by Bright Blue Shorts // May 21, 2020 - 2:17pm

I assume the top 3 (in no particular order) will be:

-2001-19 Pats

- 66-85 Cowboys

- 81-98 49ers.


After that (4-6):

- 70s Steelers

- 60s Packers

- 50s Browns for championships


Then (7-9)

30s / 40s Packers for longevity (not sure how many championships)

70s Raiders and Viking made lots of Championship game appearances.


10th one hard to call ...I'll plump uncertainly for 91-96 Cowboys

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#14 by JimZipCode // May 21, 2020 - 6:27pm

  1. 21st C Patriots
  2. Bill Walsh Niners 81-98
  3. Tom Landry Cowboys 66-85
  4. Vince Lombardi Packers 60-67
  5. Steel Curtain 72-79
  6. WW2 Bears 1940-43
  7. Paul Brown's heyday 1950-58
  8. John Madden's Raiders (+2 John Rauch years) 1967-77
  9. WW2-era Packers 1935-44
  10. Jimmy Johnson's Cowboys 1991-96


Points: 0

#24 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 22, 2020 - 9:30am

I'm guessing the Bulldogs are in the bottom 20, given how short their run was and their two titles, which severely limits their dynasty points and their 5th year was brutal.

SRS really likes that 1920 team, too, but they played five independents and lost or tied two of those. Their VOA looks nice, but I suspect their DVOA is brutal.

Points: 0

#6 by mehllageman56 // May 21, 2020 - 1:46pm

I remember the '98 Broncos as a buzzsaw, embarrassing a Dallas team that still had Aikman, Emmit and Deon, and then not caring so much at the end of the regular season.  Once the Dolphins hit the field in Denver, the Broncos who had started 13-0 came back and turned Marino into a pumpkin.  As a Jets fan, I remember the 10-0 3rd quarter lead that evaporated as soon as the receivers lined up the wrong way and Elway just let them stay there.  I was massively surprised the Jets had a lead in that game, and impressed that they had given the Broncos a game at least.  I figured next year was Vinny's year.   Man was I wrong.

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#12 by Will Allen // May 21, 2020 - 3:47pm

If Parcells had figured out a way to keep that magic trick going in the 2nd half, that have been the biggest conference championship game upset ever.

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#25 by RevBackjoy // May 22, 2020 - 1:27pm

Here were their DVOAs that year: Broncos - 32.6%, Jets - 28.3%. In the original 1998 DVOA write-up, from 2005, the Jets were actually ahead 34.5% to 30.3%. By SRS, an admittedly superficial measure, Jets are well ahead, 11.2 to 8.9.

Denver was certainly the favorite, but it wouldn't have been that big of an upset had the Jets held on.

Points: 0

#15 by Grendel13G // May 21, 2020 - 7:10pm

The '98 Broncos *were* a buzzsaw. It was the most well-balanced offense I've ever seen. It didn't have the pinball passing numbers of the current era, but it was unstoppable in its efficiency.

Fun fact #1: The '98 Broncos are remembered as Elway's team, but backup Bubby Brister had to start 4 games because of injuries to Elway. When asked to comment about the offense's success even without Elway, Shannon Sharpe said something like, "Our offense is like a well-tuned Ferrari -- it doesn't matter who's driving."

Fun fact #2: Despite a historically-great offensive DVOA, the '98 Broncos didn't score the most points in the league that year, or finish with the best regular-season record. The 14-2 Broncos' 501 points trailed the 15-1 Vikings' 556 points, fueled by the insane Cunningham-to-Moss/Carter passing game. The Vikings were upset in the NFC championship game by the Falcons (the Gary Anderson game), leading to a snoozer of a Super Bowl. The hypothetical Broncos-Vikings matchup is one of the most exciting Super Bowls never played.

While we're talking about historically-great counterfactuals, it's too bad the '98 Broncos mailed in the last three games of the season after starting 13-0 and clinching the #1 seed in the AFC. Their DVOA could have been even higher, and a 19-0 season was a very realistic possibility. (A less generous interpretation is that they mailed in the last two games of the season after playing poorly and losing their 14th game, but either way, there was some undisputed mailing going on.)

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#21 by Will Allen // May 22, 2020 - 7:26am

Most Vikings fans just assume that their favorites would have beaten the Broncos, if they hadn't screwed it up against the Falcons. I'm pretty confident the Broncos would have won, probably by 7 or more. The Vikings were not a very physical bunch on defense, and I think the Broncos would have had the ball all day. Randall Cunningham's MVP that year was pure fiction, authored by Moss, and just like the Patriots in '07, the pyrotechnics were getting more and more dampened as the season progressed into December and January.

It was the '09 Vikings that was the heartbreaking lost opportunity. They just had a clearly better roster than either the Saints or Colts. Not as well coached, of course.



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#22 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 22, 2020 - 9:22am

They weren't tailing off that badly. They put up 41 and 50 against playoff teams in their prior four games.

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#27 by RevBackjoy // May 22, 2020 - 1:44pm

His MVP was pure fiction- he didn't win it! Terrell Davis did.

Scores on their last 6 games, leading up to the Falcons game: 46, 48, 38, 50, 26, 41. If 41.5 PPG is "damp", I don't wanna be dry!

If this 60-yard throw of Cunningham could have gone, say, 61 yards... I would have had a much happier 7th birthday: 

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#34 by Will Allen // May 22, 2020 - 5:02pm

Ah, that's right, he won the 1998 NFL Bert Bell Player of the Year award. Like I said, that was Moss's.

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#83 by coremill // May 26, 2020 - 11:14am

It was a great play, but Madden's commentary of "that's why you bring in a 14-year veteran like Eugene Robinson" is absolutely hilarious in hindsight, given what happened two weeks later.

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#31 by Grendel13G // May 22, 2020 - 4:20pm

As a Broncos fan, I was terrified of the '98 Vikings, because the Broncos' defense was merely OK, and they didn't have any corners that could have even stayed in the same zip code as Moss. I was rooting for the Falcons in the NFC championship game, and cheered for their victory almost as if it were the Broncos' Super Bowl victory. Because, effectively, it was.

Looking back, though, the world was deprived of one hell of a Super Bowl. I think '98 Broncos-Vikings would have looked something like the '17 Eagles-Pats Super Bowl barnburner.

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#37 by theslothook // May 22, 2020 - 7:07pm

I've been wondering which loss felt more inexplicable, the 06 Chargers loss to NE or the 09 loss to the Saints.


Both games featured a bunch of goofy fumbles by the eventual loser. 06 Chargers were the best team by far that year, so I guess their  loss is worse.

Points: 0

#42 by Will Allen // May 23, 2020 - 8:05am

As a connoisseur of elimination game defeats for 50 years now, from last week of the regular season through the Super Bowl, I can offer a taxonomy. Yes, the quality of the team defeated is a primary element for serving up the bitter dish, but to really bring it home, the game has to be at the Conference Championship or latter. So a lesser roster getting blown out at one the last two weekends misses something, as does the better roster getting goofily edged out in the division round. Now, when the superior roster gets weirdly upset at the Conference championship or latter, then you really have a potential masterpiece of bitterness.

To be fair, I've only experienced blowouts or solid thumpings by better teams in the Super Bowl. Those are just run of the mill boring games, and except when I was a really little kid, I kind of saw those coming. Can't believe the idiot adults around me had me overlooking that when two historically great rosters meet, ya' 'oughta go with the one qbed by Len Dawson over the one qbed by Joe Kapp.

But I've really obtained an education in all manner of crappy defeats in the the earlier stages of elimination games. Nope, the worst are at the Conference Championship, with a better roster, and like in '09, the team you root for dominates both lines of scrimmage, your team's qb outplays the other team's, but your team fumbles a bit more, with worse fumble luck, and your dbs drop really easy ints. That one left a callous that actually allows me to enjoy the game more, since I never really expect an ultimately satisfying outcome, and can just better appreciate the process of getting to the season's last defeat. So I'm glad it happened, damnit! Don't try to convince me otherwise! I'll fight you!!!! AARRRRGHHH!

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#75 by t.d. // May 25, 2020 - 9:20pm

crazy thing- Marino and Elway were drafted in the same conference in the same year, played their entire careers in the same conference, and only faced each other three times (twice in 1998, once in '85)

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#8 by Bright Blue Shorts // May 21, 2020 - 2:21pm

"They did have one truly incredible offensive season in 2011"  [Packers]


Lockout year through training camp.

The good QBs ripped it up. Brady and Welker were out to a fast start on pace for something like 6,000yds after 4 games.

Think it was five QBs over 5,000yds - which hasn't been bettered.


Same deal as 1987 when Jerry Rice ripped up the single season receiving TD record and Reggie White almost broke the sack record in only 12 games.  Great players excel against lesser unprepared mortals.

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#9 by theslothook // May 21, 2020 - 2:37pm

This sort of stuff always fascinates me. A lack of preparedness hurts the defense much more than the offense. that's what the numbers bear out but trying to understand the mechanism is harder than you think. I've heard a lot of people claim that offensive lines are horrible today because of shorter practice time. 


if that's the case then shouldn't the offensive lines have been horrible to start the year in 2011?

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#10 by Bright Blue Shorts // May 21, 2020 - 2:54pm

For sure. It used to be said that defense usually dominates in the first few weeks of a season as offenses don't have their timing etc, etc.

My guess is that Brady / Rodgers are that good at reading defenses and exploiting matchups, that it was the defenses who hadn't gelled at that point.

But it's one of those things that would be great to analyse as to whether it's true.


Edit: it was only three of them ... Brees (smashing the yardage record), Brady (his most yds in a season) and Stafford.  But Eli threw for 4,933 which was 900 more than each of the previous two years where he scraped to 4,000yds and never broke 4,500 again.

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#11 by Will Allen // May 21, 2020 - 3:34pm

Merlin Olson was part of that Rams dynasty through '76, and was a great player throughout. The Viking were their playoff kryptonite until after Tarkenton was gone, and the rest of the Vikings dynasty very old. I was a kid scalping tickets back then, and would usually get in about 10 minutes after kickoff. Knox was a terrific coach, but Grant&Tarkenton would just get the better of him. Blocking kicks (Grant would really get personally involved in special teams prep) and Tarkenton calling the perfect audible when he read the rare Rams defensive stunt.

Actually, the worst Rams playoff defeat came in L.A., divisional round, '78. The Vikings too old, Tarkenton hurt, the Rams substantially favored.Turns out it rains, hard, in California, all day and night, natural grass, without todays turf technology. The field is a pool of water, Grant sees that after 10 minutes passing, and really all offense, will become impossible. Vikings win the toss, throw on nearly every down on the first possession, as the field is flooded with the tarps off. They get a td, and then play turtle ball for 3 hours, and win 7-3. Knox looked like he was going to hang himself in the post game interview. I felt bad for him. Vikings got destroyed in Dallas the next week, beginning their run of 6 consecutive losses in NFCCG appearances.


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#18 by Mike Y // May 21, 2020 - 8:42pm

You know what I would like to see?  Anti-dynasty rankings, or rankings of sustained ineptitude.  How do the 2000-2010 Lions rank?  Or 2003-2019 Browns?  Or pick a Cardinals era.  Can you do those?

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#19 by clark // May 21, 2020 - 11:53pm

I assume the 1933-1971 Steelers would be #1.

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#26 by RevBackjoy // May 22, 2020 - 1:33pm

2008-2009 Lions and Rams, with their combined 5-59 record (with one of the 5 wins coming against each other!), were one of the all-time great terrible twosomes.

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#28 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 22, 2020 - 3:17pm

The Rams lose that matchup on the basis of their H2H win.

(They also had better other wins -- 2008 Skins and Cowboys > 2009 Skins and Browns)

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#29 by Bryan Knowles // May 22, 2020 - 3:49pm

Maybe we'll tackle this next offseason ;)

Don't sleep on the 1946-70 Redskins, either, missing the playoffs for 25 years.  Basically until George Marshall died, and good riddance.

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#30 by wardh2o // May 22, 2020 - 3:59pm

I've wondered about how much of Manning's decline in 2015 was physical vs a change in offensive system. Prior to 2015 Manning was operating in shotgun and no-huddle much of the time taking advantage of his great ability in pre-snap reads. When Kubiak came in, he shifted the offense to more under center, play-action, and bootleg type plays. I think that style may work well for getting the most out of mediocre quarterbacks (Matt Schuab, Joe Flacco, Brock Ossweiler types) or quarterbacks that are more gifted physically than mentally, but not a good fit for Manning. Frankly, I thought Manning's arm talent seemed pretty poor during his entire Broncos tenure but he was still extremely effective until Kubiak came back to Denver.

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#32 by Grendel13G // May 22, 2020 - 4:44pm

The change to the offensive system certainly didn't help matters, but Manning started struggling physically in the second half of the 2014 season, and fell right off a cliff in 2015. It's telling that when he was contemplating returning after the season, no team (including the Broncos) wanted him. I don't think any offensive system would have helped the 2015 Animated Corpse of Peyton Manning perform even like an average quarterback, except maybe playing 11-on-10.

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#36 by theslothook // May 22, 2020 - 7:04pm

In reply to by Grendel13G

It was a combination, but yes, the mortality began toward the end of 2014. He gutted out some tough wins early but his body could not handle a full seasons grind. 


Kubiak's scheme was also a problem because the offensive line was a disaster. Ben Muth pretty much confirmed this during the year.


The Broncos won the SB in part because Antonio Brown missed the divisional match and NE lost to Mia in week 17( something they make a habit of )

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#38 by Duff Soviet Union // May 22, 2020 - 10:04pm

In reply to by Grendel13G

Yeah, Manning was clearly declining late in 2014. The funny thing is, sometimes these late season declines by old players are harbingers of doom and sometimes they're....not. Like I'm sure Brady and Brees have had a couple of late season wobbles that ultimately didn't mean anything.

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#39 by theslothook // May 22, 2020 - 10:36pm

I would say 2019 late season Brady was starting to look like late season 2014 Manning. Now, Tom Brady is going to about as talented an offense as it gets. I am on record of saying he will do well for a chunk of the 2020 season and start to tail off / fall apart by the end. 

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#40 by D // May 22, 2020 - 11:30pm

If I recall correctly, Brees had a slight decline in late 2017 and then played at MVP level for most of 2018 before declining sharply in December.  Brees was excellent in 2019, but missed 5 games with injuries.  Almost makes you wonder if the time off may have kept him sharper late in the year.

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#46 by theslothook // May 23, 2020 - 5:57pm

I feel like saying the Seahawks were the obvious superior team is resulting from hindsight. The Broncos were favored heading into the SB. DVOA may have liked Seattle better, but it was the first and second ranked teams going against one another. 

I mentioned this last SB as an instructive example. The Chiefs had one terrifying unit and were otherwise outclassed by the 49ers in all other facets, including the biggest on paper mismatch between the 49ers run offense and the Chiefs run defense. Nonetheless, Vegas favored the Chiefs.


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#47 by Bryan Knowles // May 23, 2020 - 6:41pm

Super Bowl XLVIII is a great example of the oddsmakers knowing better than the public, as well as the perception of offense against defense.  The line opened with the Seahawks as a favorite, but betters quickly hit Denver again and again, and the line was moved to Denver -2.5 by kickoff.  Why bet on a bunch of faceless defenders when you can bet on Peyton Manning?

I do think that if you play that game 99 more times, the score's probably closer than the eventual 43-8 blowout, mind you; it was pretty much the worst-case scenario for Denver and the best-case for Seattle.  Denver probably wins somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 of those matchups.

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#48 by Grendel13G // May 23, 2020 - 7:36pm

I agree with the Broncos winning about 40 out of 100. I thought the Seahawks were rightly favored to begin with, and even a pick 'em was justifiable, but favoring the Broncos was nuts. They just had so many injuries to quality players (e.g., Von Miller) that they weren't even the same team anymore. And the Seahawks were a darn good team.

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#51 by Bryan Knowles // May 23, 2020 - 9:45pm

Again, savvy, eagle-eyed readers will note that that Seahawks team hasn't shown up on the rankings just yet...

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#60 by theslothook // May 24, 2020 - 12:22pm

See I still think that's coming on the heels of hindsight. An initial minus two and a half for the Seahawks does not imply a 60-40 split in terms of win probability. 


This known QB vs faceless defense argument seems plausible, but then compare the next year. The Seahawks were initially under dogs and then became favorites, basically the reverse of what happened the year before. You could argue they were no longer faceless, but then now they were facing the heralded QB and a much more heralded coach.


I still think people saw the matchup on paper as more of a draw than decidedly one sided.

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#76 by t.d. // May 25, 2020 - 9:35pm

an outdoor, cold weather Super Bowl with wind was a terrible combination for late-stage Manning;  I think Seattle was a much stronger team, even in a best-case scenario, but both the Broncos and the Pats were just decimated by injuries by season's end (Clady, Von Miller, and a bunch more starters were out by the end of the season)

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#35 by Hang50 // May 22, 2020 - 5:47pm

Bill Simpson, a Rams cornerback from 1974-78 who was named to some all-conference teams, moved in down the street from us sometime in late 70s. (How the salary structures have changed since then!) He'd occasionally play pickup hoops with us neighborhood kids, which made him nearly a hero in my eyes. I think he purchased and ran a flower shop immediately following his NFL days.

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#41 by BigRichie // May 23, 2020 - 1:40am

"Nearly"?!?!? Some 5 years before that my next-door neighbor's visiting younger brother twice played 1-on-1 hoops with me on my driveway hoop even though he was @ 10 years older than me, and that was enough for me to lift him up to hero status.

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#43 by MarkV // May 23, 2020 - 10:32am

I maintain that the 2012-2015 broncos were over of the unluckiest dynasties, in that their best years were truly amazing, objectively special, but the Seahawks were also am amazing special dynasty, and better.

I did a subjective analysis of extremely high variance plays in the 2013 Superbowl back at the time, which argued the broncos got slaughtered by brutal luck in that game.  That the game actually played was a 31-21 Seahawks win without ridiculous luck turning it into a massacre. This isn't to say the broncos should have won, a 10 point defeat is pretty big, but just to show how special the Seahawks were.

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#44 by Mountain Time … // May 23, 2020 - 11:37am

I only remember one play from the 2013 super bowl: the snap going over Manning's head. That was a perfect harbinger of the doom to come.

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#45 by pm // May 23, 2020 - 3:33pm

The Broncos-Seahawks game the next season in week 2 of 2014 was more indicative of those two teams level of talent. The Seahawks were clearly a better team. They dominated the Broncos offense until the final 5 minutes of the game. But, both teams were closer than the superbowl score showed. The Seahawks had all the luck in the superbowl go their direction: Safety, tipped INT's, INT return for TDs, Kickoff return for TD, 2 recovered fumbles, 4th down stops. The biggest difference between both squads was that Seattle could run the ball while the Broncos run game got stuffed in both games.

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#49 by Grendel13G // May 23, 2020 - 8:34pm

I definitely agree that the Broncos were unlucky in 2012 (Joe Flacco bomb) and 2013 (injuries and Super Bowl mishaps), though the listless 2014 playoff exit to the Colts (15 failed completions!) was more sad than anything. It looked like the universe had conspired to make the genuinely excellent Manning Broncos miss their window.

Then 2015 happened. Despite a shoddily-animated corpse at QB (-326 DYAR, -25.4% DVOA, ranked 36/37 in the league) and a cover-your-eyes awful offensive line (featuring the walking X of shame, Michael Schofield, and to quote Ben Muth, some "dog-ass ugly looking plays"), the Broncos fell into the #1 seed in the AFC thanks to a week 17 loss by the Patriots to the Dolphins.

Then in the playoffs they got to play the Steelers without Antonio Brown, played an outstanding defensive game to squeak by the superior Patriots in Denver (a result which would not have been possible in New England), and somehow Jedi mind-tricked the superior Panthers into not running Cam Newton around like they did on their one almost-effortless TD drive, and won the Super Bowl despite going 1-for-14 on 3rd down (not a typo, and their only success was on their opening-drive FG).

Which is to say, I think the absurdity of the 2015 Super Bowl win makes up for all the bad luck in prior seasons, and IMO is a free pass for the Broncos to suck without any angst from their fans for 5-10 years.

Though how amazing is it that the Broncos reached the Super Bowl two years apart with a historically-great offense followed by a historically-great defense? That's a pretty notable achievement all on its own.

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#50 by Will Allen // May 23, 2020 - 9:34pm

Wade outcoached Shula the lesser so badly in the 2015 Super Bowl that it was almost embarrassing. I, too, simply could not believe that the Panthers did not have at least 10 more designed runs for Newton. It was literally the only way they could check the Broncos far superior matchups.

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#52 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 23, 2020 - 10:21pm

played an outstanding defensive game to squeak by the superior Patriots in Denver

Matchups make games, and the 2015 Pats struggled with the 2015 Broncos. Remember, they lost to Osweiler, too.

In a game they were up 14 in the 4th, getting the ball back.

and somehow Jedi mind-tricked the superior Panthers into not running Cam Newton around like they did on their one almost-effortless TD drive

Wade had adjusted to those by the middle of the 2nd quarter. Newton started off with like 4 rushes for 44 yards, and went 2 for 1 after that. But if you go college rules and put his sack yards on rushing, he was 10 for -19, with two fumbles lost. Also -- Denver was giving up yards early, but they were teeing off on him every time he ran. There were two 15 yard UCs on his first four rushes. Denver was going let Newton run so long as they got to murder him at the end of it.

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#55 by Grendel13G // May 24, 2020 - 3:27am

I don't remember Wade Phillips adjusting to the Newton runs as much as I remember the Panthers not even trying to run him until their 2nd-quarter TD drive (which worked like gangbusters). That's what I expected the Panthers' entire offensive gameplan to look like, but for whatever reason they didn't try it before then, and went away from it afterwards.

Pro Football Reference (https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201602070den.htm) confirms that there were zero Newton runs before the 2nd-quarter TD drive -- I just remember a bunch of airmailed passes from a clearly jittery/overexcited Newton. Also, despite nearly all of his runs being successful, he only ran once outside of the 2nd quarter:

  • 2Q 15:00 2nd-and-11: 11 yards
  • 2Q 13:55 1st-and-15: 12 yards
  • 2Q 6:55 2nd-and-10: 14 yards (+15 yards defensive penalty, not involving Newton)
  • 2Q 1:55 1st-and-10: 3 yards
  • 2Q 0:18 3rd-and-2: 6 yards
  • 3Q 11:46 1st-and-10: -1 yards

The Panthers might have gone away from the Newton runs because of defensive adjustments, but that's a level of total abandonment that just seems inexplicable. It wasn't just Newton running, but the rollouts and the threat of Newton running, that worked so well on the TD drive.

I also don't think it was because he was getting murdered -- if anything, he was getting murdered on dropback pass plays (seven sacks, including two devastating sack-fumbles leading directly to the only TDs the Broncos scored). There weren't any penalties that I can see on Newton hits. (Though there were a lot of 15-yard defensive penalties elsewhere; as much as the Broncos defense completely and totally carried this game, they sure did have a lot of dumb penalties.)

Jedi mind tricks, I tell you.

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#57 by Will Allen // May 24, 2020 - 11:00am

Shula was just incomprehensible throughout that game, but the worst may have been early. A seven step drop to your own goal line, on 3rd and long, with Mike Remmers singled up on Von Miller!!?? With a close game in the 1st half!!?? I shouted "For crissakes!!" at the t.v, when Newton didn't stop at 3 or 5, and I saw Remmers had no help. Literally could not believe it, and it is the best example I can think of showing how NFL coaching is, for the most part, so terribly afficted with nepotism. There are a lot more Mike Shulas than Wade Phillips.

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#68 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 24, 2020 - 6:12pm

The irony being that Wade got in because his dad was Bum.

\he stayed in because he’s a great DC

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#77 by t.d. // May 25, 2020 - 9:41pm

Dolphins pulled the great defense, then great offense trick in '82 and '84, though they didn't win either time

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#64 by nat // May 24, 2020 - 4:26pm

That the game actually played was a 31-21 Seahawks win without ridiculous luck turning it into a massacre.

For a team with a game VOA of -101% to lose by only 10 points would be the height of luck. Your subjective analysis was probably broken in some way. I’m guessing you just asked yourself something like “If I take out the ten worst plays, how would they have done?” Given how football actually works, you can make that kind of analysis tell you almost anything.

Not, it seems, that Denver could have won that game. Almost anything reasonable.

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#62 by theslothook // May 24, 2020 - 2:08pm

I don't know how packer fans feel, but by the 2010 playoffs, that Packers team was one of the most talented super strong teams I can remember. After Aaron Rodgers pummeled the falcons, his coronation as the QB king was established. The defense was brimming with talented players like Matthews, Cullen Jenkins, Truman Williams, Charles Woodson and Nick Collins.


I didn't follow the league back in 1996 but I'd be curious to see if Packers fans think that team was better than the best versions of the 2010 team.

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#65 by dank067 // May 24, 2020 - 4:33pm

I guess the best possible version of the 2010 team would have combined the 2011 offense with the 2010 defense, and that would have been a special team. They did have that Super Bowl run, but never quite lined everything up together for a full season (although it felt like they might have through much of 2011, before you had to admit the defense wasn't going to fix itself).

I was only a kid so a lot of my sense of the '96 team is based on feelings/endless re-watches of the season highlight video, but I still think I have to go with them. They were so dominant - great offense, defense and special teams. They slowed down a little bit in the middle of that season, in part because their two starting WRs and starting TE were all out at the same time, but once they got healthier they just resumed blowing teams out. They faced second quarter deficits in 2/3 postseason games and still ended up winning them all by multiple touchdowns.

One other thing that Bryan mentions in the write-up is that the '96 team was really solidified through free agency. Especially on defense, their starting lineup was full of really good veteran players who may not have been at their peak on that team, but were still in their prime starting years. When I look back at the Packers teams circa 2009-14 or so, there are a lot of guys who were really promising or who had really high 1-2 season peaks, but some guys couldn't sustain their performance, others got hurt, etc. Part of why it all never came together at once for them.

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#66 by theslothook // May 24, 2020 - 4:45pm

As a follow up, I am curious about Brett Favre's legacy as a player. Slouches don't win three straight MVPs and while he lasted long enough to see 2010, the bulk of his career was in the 90s which was a different game from the 2000s which was also a different game from the 2010s.


Aaron Rodgers' numbers certainly appear way more efficient than Favre's. And having followed Favre mostly in the 2000s, he objectively was a step down from peak Aaron Rodgers(who really has very few rivals). But then I remember, Favre's best days were not in the 2000s and how much of the statistical efficiency is coming from the era itself. Subjectively, it feels like Favre's legacy has taken a tumble since I started following the league, where Favre was initially getting plenty of GOAT talk. 

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#67 by dank067 // May 24, 2020 - 5:45pm

It's hard for me to have a good objective take on Favre, but do think his decision-making was a real flaw that probably keeps him out of the GOAT conversation. Maybe the most talented passer of all time, but especially in his middle and later years he was just careless sometimes. The INTs weren't just a function of his aggressiveness, he had a tendency to press at times and of course he threw some absolutely back breaking INTs in big games. That last thing is probably what hurts his legacy the most, since he still played 13 more seasons after his last MVP/Super Bowl apperance. At his best though he was a ton of fun to watch and to root for.

I will say that although the raw total of interceptions looks insane by today's standards, if you look at his PFR page you can see that his INT% adjusted for era was actually better than average more often than not. But then of course there are also a few years where he was pretty significantly worse than average, and most of them are actually after his MVP seasons rather than his early 20s.

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#69 by Bryan Knowles // May 24, 2020 - 8:30pm

It is interesting to note that Favre doesn't have any of the top 25 seasons in the 1990s by DVOA.  Steve Young has six, Troy Aikman has three, John Elway has two, Favre has bupkiss.  He does have one of the top 10 by DYAR, but only one -- Young has #1, #2 and #5 (including both rushing and passing DYAR).

Favre IS third in ANY/A for the decade among passers with at least 2000 attempts at 5.97, behind Young (7.31) and Marino (6.24).  If you drop that threshhold to 1000, then you also have Montana (6.35), Brad Johnson (6.15) and Steve DeBerg (5.98) sliding in front of him.

It's not all about numbers with Favre, of course, but the numbers do help.

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#70 by dank067 // May 24, 2020 - 9:12pm

I have always thought it was interesting that Favre's DVOA/DYAR numbers weren't *that* high in his MVP seasons. Like you allude to, those seasons still look pretty great in other stats like NY/A, ANY/A, etc., including the era-adjusted versions. But man, the numbers that Steve Young put up in that era were nuts.

One thing I enjoyed seeing looking at stats today was that, through 6 games in 1996, Favre was on pace for a 53 TD/8 INT season. In 1996. Obviously the numbers would have regressed to some extent regardless, but I wonder what he could have done that year if they didn't lose Robert Brooks and/or go through that later stretch where Freeman and Chmura were both out on top of that.

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#71 by theslothook // May 25, 2020 - 1:19am

I think it was Mike Tanier who mentioned, in a forced devil's advocate role, Young go to play with probably the best tandem of receivers in NFL history. I have watched a few games of Young's through youtube. He really does remind me of Rodgers in so many ways. 

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#73 by Bryan Knowles // May 25, 2020 - 1:42pm

The other thing to note about Young's accumulated stats (as opposed to his yearly stats) is that he basically was all peak.   Because of his odd career path -- starting in the USFL, sitting behind Montana for years -- he only had one season as an NFL starter before age 30.  He had a negative passing DVOA in that one season, plus in backup action in 1985 and 1988.   He also basically had no gradual aging down from his top stats.  His 1999 season started with the worst game of his career (9-for-26 for 96 yards with two interceptions and a fumble), and then he suffered a career-ending concussion two weeks later against Arizona.

As such, the vast majority of Young's numbers are prime, experienced, savvy Young, rather than "learning the NFL game" Young or "hanging on as his body crumbled" Young.  So when you look at his CAREER rates against other all-time greats, it's perhaps not surprising that he comes out on top.

That's not to say that Young isn't ONE of those all-time greats, mind you, what with five qualified seasons above a 30.0% passing DVOA and whatnot.  Just always something to remember when evaluating his career.

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#74 by Bryan Knowles // May 25, 2020 - 1:47pm

Oh, heck with it, why not.


Weighted average career DVOA -- basically just multiplying each year's passing DVOA by the number of attempts and dividing by career attempts.

Steve Young: 23.6%
Joe Montana (1985-1994): 22.7%

We don't have Montana's stellar 1984 in the database yet, nor his good seasons from 1981-1983 (...or his average season from 1980, or his meh season as a backup in 1979).  He'd have to average in the ballpark of 25.0% DVOA over those last few seasons to pass Young.

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#84 by coremill // May 26, 2020 - 11:42am

Not sure this is actually true.  Many QBs don't have their best years after turning 30 (Favre, Manning, Marino being examples).  Even if Young missed out on some early-career development pain seasons, he also missed most of what might have been his best years from 87-90.  His stats (albeit in limited action) in 1987 and 1989 were even better than Montana's.  If Montana had retired after 1986 due to his back injuries, we might be talking about Young as as an obvious top-5 all-time QB, with 4-5 MVPs.  He also played until he was 38, so it's not look he retired in the middle of his prime.  

Also worth noting when comparing Young to other QBs is that Young was by far the best running QB of any of the top historical QBs.

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#85 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 26, 2020 - 12:02pm

Also worth noting when comparing Young to other QBs is that Young was by far the best running QB of any of the top historical QBs.

Depends, I suppose.

You have passing TBs from the Before Times (Dutch Clark, Tony Canadeo) who we can ignore as not being real QBs.

Tobin Rote, perhaps, doesn't make the cut (although he led more teams to titles than Young did).

But Staubach, Anderson, and Tarkenton were all good running QBs, too.

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#86 by coremill // May 26, 2020 - 12:24pm

Of QBs with >1000 passing attempts, Young is the only HOF QB with > 25 yards/game (25.1).  Staubach is second at 17.3.  Young is also second all-time in QB rushing TDs behind only Cam Newton.  It's not really that close.

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#91 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 27, 2020 - 9:42am

The statement was "best," not "most prolific." Even then that, HOF is an arbitrary cutoff. Hall of Very Good guys like McNair and McNabb had similar rushing profiles (and also did not have the sudden career-ending injury that cut off their rate-depressing tails like Young did).

Young also spent his entire public career on a legendarily-talented offense, so defenses couldn't key on stopping his running like they could for most QBs.

But is he really a different guy than Staubach, who also missed most of his early career, only played on good teams, and rushed pretty frequently for a high yards per attempt?

(Young also was sacked +290 times for +1700 yards compared to Staubach. If you go college-style and treat those as runs, he's a terrible rusher)

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#87 by theslothook // May 26, 2020 - 12:27pm

I have asked so many 49er fans who lived through that era about who the better qb was, Joe or Steve. The general patterns I saw were - if you were a kid during the Montana years and an adult during the Young years - you grudgingly went with Young but then felt like a traitor and then deferred back to Montana. If you were an adult during the Montana years - it was not a discussion worth having according to them.


I am pretty contrarian and pretty anti Ringz in general, so my suspicion is that Young might have indeed been the better player but there's a collective media zeitgeist that's made that talk sound like voodoo. 


Incidentally, I started watching football in the 2000s. Believe it or not, the GOAT discussion wasn't so clear cut as there were a legion of people who felt Elway had entered that conversation with his 2 sbs. As for who was the clear best qb of the 90s; again the impression I kept receiving was that it was Favre(probably because of his 3 MVPs). 


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#72 by Will Allen // May 25, 2020 - 8:30am

Favre was the most coaching dependent great qb I've ever seen, and not in the sense that he had to have a good coach to be great; he just needed one who was willing to hold him accountable. Whether it be a great coach like Holmgren (who really did make Favre's career, along with one of the greatest coaching staffs ever assembled), a little above average coach like McCarthy, or a thoroughly mediocre one like Childress, coaching Favre hard paid huge dividends. The other coaches he had, Sherman being the prime example, who let Superstar Favre coast on his hype and reputation, did not get nearly the same production from him.

It really is interesting, in general, however, to reflect on the fact that of all the HOF qbs who had most of their careers after 1960, only two, Tarkenton and Juergenson, did not play for a generally recognized great or good coach within the qb's first 10 years in the league, and Juergenson's kind of a weird case, for a HOFer, because, it took him so many years to become a starter.Sonny wasn't benefitting from being a backup on a team run by Tom Landry.

Coaching has so much more impact in football, compared to other team sports (maybe hockey as the comparable), that it nearly is a different profession. I'll say it again; if you don't factor Tarkenton being 32 years old before he played for a competent coach, you're missing out on key context for insightful qb evaluations. What Tarkenton accomplished in his first 11 years, the first 6 with a bad coach, and the next 5  with worse ones, really has no parallel, and he gets significantly underrated as a result. You parachute Favre, Bradshaw, Staubach, Young, hell, Brady, maybe just about any HOF qb into a similar circumstance, where they don't get joined to a competent coach until their 12th year, we see them very, very, differently, perhaps not even putting them in the HOF. You think Staubach's there if the Saints start in '65 instead of '67, and Roger gets out of the Navy to go play for that circus, until 1977? It's something to consider. 


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#79 by dank067 // May 25, 2020 - 10:33pm

Absolutely great points about the significance of coaching, I totally agree. I can't find a single online source that summarizes his best quotes, but Bill Walsh described the role of coaches and art of coaching in a way that has clicked with me more than anything else to understand how important that is to successful teams.

Might also be worth mentioning in a discussion like this that coaching isn't a constant over tenures/eras either. Continuing with Favre, he dropped off quite a bit in 1998-99, which coincided with a kind of checked-out Holmgren in '98 who then left Ray Rhodes to oversee the final disintegration of that coaching staff. After that I think Sherman initially helped revitalize Favre (not unlike McCarthy later), but that situation stagnated greatly by the end of his tenure. Favre was also dealing with nagging injuries and a then-unpublicized second stint in rehab, so of course things are never that simple.

I can only watch NFL films and read about him, but I wonder about a couple of other things that might contribute to Tarkenton being underrated beyond the obvious "if he had won a championship." First is that his style of play might have been better appreciated in either an earlier or later era, as opposed to the ground-and-pound '70s. Or it may have been better appreciated if the higher-profile part of his career had been in the more passing-friendly '60s. Second - was he not well liked in NFL circles during his career? I read "Badasses" recently about Madden's Raiders and I got the impression that other players didn't like Tarkenton because of his outspokenness in the media. But that might have just been the Raiders trying to put a chip on their shoulder before the Super Bowl.

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#82 by Will Allen // May 26, 2020 - 10:45am

I have no idea whether Tarkenton was well liked by his peers; he certainly seemed to have decent relationships with his teammates. There is no doubt that if Tarkenton had been fortunate enough to be joined to a fully competent organization earlier, the perception of him would have been different. Coach Norm Van Brocklin had so stupidly poisoned the atmosphere in Minnesota that trading Tarkenton was really the only option, from what I've read, and the Giants made the best offer, two firsts and two seconds, which Jim Finks turned into good value, including HoFer lt Ron Yary, and near HoFer rg Ed White. 4 days after Tarkenton was traded, Bud Grant was hired.  If the Vikings had been able to keep Tarkenton, hire Grant, draft Yary and White, and played the '67-'71 seasons, with a great qb, great coach, with the best years (after '71, the defense that went to 3 more Super Bowls was still really, really, good, but didn't crush opponents nearly as thoroughly) of a historically great defense? I'm pretty confident that they would have won at least one Super Bowl, possibly two, and their dynasty would have climbed into the top 5, maybe top 3. As it was, the best years of their defense, '69-'71, were joined to really crappy qb play, '70-'71 especially. Kapp had some good leadership qualities from '67-'69, by all reports, but when you see him on film, he just doesn't throw the ball very well. It was just a stunted offense until Tarkenton came back, and by then the defense wasn't nearly as dominating, primarily because the HoF and near HoF d-linemen were older.

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#88 by Will Allen // May 26, 2020 - 2:13pm

Oh, and if you have a choice between a 22 year old HoF qb, and a 45 year old HoF coach, choose the coach every time.

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#78 by t.d. // May 25, 2020 - 9:48pm

Favre's like Jerry Rice, in that he lasted so long post-peak,that people forget that young Favre had a different gear that was at a higher level than the still-very-good post-prime player (I still probably take peak Moss over peak Jerry Rice, but it's close)

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#93 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 27, 2020 - 9:44am

If I need one catch, I want Moss.

If I need one game, I want Rice.

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#94 by BroncosGuyAgain // May 30, 2020 - 4:38pm

Only just stumbled upon this series.  Reading it quickly, and not terribly critically, and finding it seemingly well researched and interesting.

As to my favorite team, I agree with just about everything.  One quibble: for the key players of the late 90s Broncos, you manage to leave out 3 Hall of Fame players, while including the mostly regrettable Bill Romanowski.

Thanks, and I'll keep reading.


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