Dynasty Rankings: Defining a Dynasty
The New England Patriots have been atop the league for the entire 21st Century. From the scrappy underdogs that took down the Greatest Show on Turf, through the 16-0 juggernauts, up to 28-3 and beyond, there has not been a franchise more aligned with victory than the Patriots. But now, they suddenly seem mortal -- they were taken apart by the Titans in the wild-card round, and now face an uncertain future without their Hall of Fame quarterback under center. The departure of Tom Brady ends the Patriots' dynasty … right?
The Kansas City Chiefs are ascendant, celebrating their first Super Bowl victory since 1969. Andy Reid has turned the Chiefs into a perennial double-digit-win team, Patrick Mahomes has already earned the first of what promises to be many MVPs, and the team is rocketing up towards surefire superstardom. If anything, the team seems poised to just get better and better over the next few years, as their young talent continues to mature and develop. The 2020s will belong to Kansas City, home of the next major NFL dynasty … right?
An NFL dynasty is very difficult to define in real, concrete terms. It's one of those things where you know it if you see it -- it's a subjective label, pinned to teams based on how much they seem like the measuring stick by which the rest of the league compares themselves. Furthermore, the application of the label varies a ton from person to person. Were the Peyton Manning Colts a dynasty, battling out with Tom Brady's Patriots for control if the AFC, or were they just challengers who could never dethrone the king? Were the Steel Curtain Steelers the only dynasty in the 1970s, or were the Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders, and/or Miami Dolphins on their level? Do the 1990s Cowboys count as a dynasty despite their relatively short-lived period of success? For that matter, is the Patriots dynasty a 20-year long uninterrupted reign, or two smaller reigns divided by Brady's ACL tear and the brief period of time when Mark Sanchez was a thing?
With the NFL's 100th season in the books, it seems as good a time as any to try to answer those questions in a systematic way. Plus, hey, more things to argue about in what is turning into a very strange spring and summer are always a good thing!
There have been many attempts to try to define a dynasty before, some of them really quite good. Brad Oremland created a system to evaluate teams in eight-year chunks, which produces a very solid list, even if it can't quite wrap around the entirety of the Bill Walsh 49ers or Bill Belichick Patriots. Over on 538, Neil Paine used their ELO rankings and a two-Super Bowl entry requirement to calculate the dynasties that performed most above average. There are dozens of ways to try to untangle this particular knot.
One of the key things to take into account when trying to grapple with dynasties is the idea that it's not a binary concept. There is no "you must be this successful to wear the crown" line; a point where one win makes you a dynasty on par with the best of the best and one loss makes you an afterthought. Instead, it's a sliding scale, where teams can look more or less like the platonic ideal of dominance. No matter where you draw the line, I think we can all agree that the Belichick Patriots, what with their six Super Bowl rings and their 17 division titles and their stranglehold over the AFC, are more dynasty-esque than the Peyton Manning Colts, who won one Super Bowl, went to another, and shattered offensive records. Those Colts, in turn, are closer to a dynasty than, say, the Joe Flacco Ravens, who won a Super Bowl and had some very solid seasons before descending into mediocrity. And those Ravens are certainly more of a dynasty than the Jim Harbaugh 49ers, who never could bring a title home and ended up collapsing under their own weight. Exactly where you draw the line between dynasty, near-dynasty, and just a run of good results is ultimately a subjective choice, but we can agree on a sort of rough order to put teams in.
So, what we need, then, is a systematic way of assigning values to a team's run of success, with teams building up scores based on how long and how high their regimes can go. And I want to be as value-agnostic as possible in this process; of course, we're going to have to make judgment calls throughout to determine how much a Super Bowl is worth versus an undefeated season and so on and so forth, but I want to give teams as many paths to dynasty points as possible. That means we're not going to have any requirement for titles won to qualify for points. While the best teams are going to win a ton of championships, I do want to give teams like the '70s Vikings and '90s Bills a chance to compete -- after all, aren't four consecutive Super Bowl appearances more impressive than one Super Bowl win and a bunch of missed playoff chances? I also don't want to define a team's run as lasting any set period of time. The '90s Cowboys won three Super Bowls in four years and then burnt out; the '70s Cowboys didn't win as many titles but stayed near the top of the league for much longer. One is going to score higher than the other, but I don't want to artificially benefit anyone by assuming what a great team's path looks like. This means that we'll need a way to define the start and end of a run, as well.
To do this, we'll turn to the godfather of sabermetrics, Bill James. Back in 2012, James wrote a piece to define the (at the time) 37 baseball dynasties, developing an accounting system to give credit for various accomplishments, creating a "dynastic running score" to evaluate runs of seasons, and coming up with a way to determine when that run ends. Perfect! That's exactly what we need. All we need to do is take his rules, cross out the word "baseball" and write in "football", divide things by 10 to go from 162-game seasons to 16-game seasons, and then crunch the numbers. And then we get…
Garbage. That is, unless you consider the '80s Rams a dynasty-level team; after all, they usually finished above .500 and made the playoffs year after year as the second-best team in the West! No, it turns out baseball is different from football, so we'll have to take James' idea as a jumping-off point rather than gospel. This isn't the first time someone's tried to do this, of course; Joe Dimino had his own take on the system the year after James' came out, and the concept of dynasty points are at the heart of Oremland's system, too. Our version will be different, as we'll end up making different decisions about what to include or not include, but good teams will bubble to the top no matter which accounting system you use.
However, here at Football Outsiders, we have our own stats to help us sort the proverbial wheat from the chaff. Dynasty points are a counting stat; they measure the quantity of dynastic goodness a team put up -- how many championships, how many division titles, how many wins and losses. This is all very good and very important, but not all champions are made equal. Both the 1991 Redskins and the 2011 Giants ended their seasons hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, but that 1991 Washington team would have run circles around the 2011 Giants. Washington finished their season with a 56.9% DVOA; the Giants with an 8.5% mark. While those teams had similar outcomes to their seasons, their quality was obviously wildly different, and any list of dynasties should take that into account.
What we are unveiling this month, then, is really twofold. In this article, we're going to be listing every team that has ever racked up at least 10 of our dynasty points -- all the dynasties, near-dynasties, and could've-been dynasties that ever played the game. We'll show which teams had the most quantity of greatness -- the loaded trophy cases, the division title banners, and the boxscores to back up their run of dominance. This is the list of the biggest dynasties the sport has ever seen.
And then, in a series of articles that will be released over the course of this month, we'll look at each one of those dynastic teams, and blend in our DVOA (or estimated DVOA, for teams before 1985), producing a ranking that factors in a team's quality beyond simple wins and losses. Short-lived dynamos will pass long-term compilers, and we'll eventually crown the best run any NFL football team has ever had. That will be the list of the best dynasties the sport has ever seen.
I'm sure this will be entirely uncontroversial and at the end, everyone will nod their heads and agree on everything.
Here are links to the write-ups on all 56 of the dynasties that we ranked:
- No. 1-10 (May 28)
- No. 11-20 (May 26)
- No. 21-30 (May 21)
- No. 31-40 (May 19)
- No. 41-50 (May 14)
- No. 51-56 (May 12)
So, how does a team get these dynasty points, then?
Teams get credit for what they do in a single season. This is strictly based on wins, losses, and titles, not taking into account degree of difficulty or quality of opponent. A team can't score in multiple categories; if they qualify for six points, they don't also qualify for five, four, three, and so on. The highest score counts.
A team earns 6 points if they win a championship while finishing with a winning percentage of .8125 or higher. (Thresholds for win-loss percentages will be explained later.) This is the highest score a team can earn in any one season; the result of stomping through the regular season with little resistance and going on to win the championship at the end of the season. Recent teams to earn six points include the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles, the 2016 New England Patriots, and the 2013 Seattle Seahawks.
A team earns 5 points for any other championship win. Recent teams to earn five points include the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs, the 2018 New England Patriots, and the 2015 Denver Broncos.
A team earns 4 points for losing a championship game while finishing with a .8125 record or higher -- the great seasons that fell short at the end. Recent teams to earn four points include the 2019 San Francisco 49ers, the 2018 Los Angeles Rams, and the 2017 New England Patriots.
There are two different ways to earn 3 points. The first is to lose a championship without hitting that .8125 mark. Recent teams to earn three points that way include the 2016 Atlanta Falcons, 2014 Seattle Seahawks, and 2012 San Francisco 49ers.
The second way to earn 3 points is to win your division with a .8125 record or higher, while still losing before a championship game. In 2019, the Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers, and New Orleans Saints all earned three points this way.
There are two different ways to earn 2 points. The modern way of doing it is to win your division and advance beyond the wild-card round, be it by a first-round bye, by beating your first-round opponent, or by playing before the NFL introduced the wild-card round in 1978. In 2019, the Houston Texans were the only team to score two points this way. In 2018, it was earned by the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, and New Orleans Saints.
The second way to earn 2 points is to finish with a .8125 record or higher without winning your division. This has never happened since the 2002 realignment; can you imagine a 13-3 team somehow not finishing atop a four-team division? It did, however, happen from time to time in previous divisional alignments, so it stays in as mostly a historical way to earn points. The 1999 Titans would have been here, except they went on to go to the Super Bowl and earn more points. Instead, the last team in the NFL to score here was the 1967 Baltimore Colts, who finished 11-1-2 but still finished behind the Rams in the Coastal Division; they didn't even get to go to the playoffs because they lost the old "point differential in head-to-head games" tiebreaker, which was the rule at the time instead of the modern head-to-head record tiebreaker. Teams like the 1968 Kansas City Chiefs and the 1963 Green Bay Packers also fall here.
Any other playoff berth earns you 1 point. It doesn't matter if you lose in the wild-card round or advance as far as the conference championship; if you don't have a great record and don't make the Super Bowl, you end up with one point. In 2019, the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, and Seattle Seahawks all earned one point this way.
You also earn 1 point for finishing with a .643 record or above, even if you fail to make the playoffs -- 11-win teams still get credit nowadays even if they end up short. This is mostly a catchall to save really good teams who get blocked out of the playoff race because of weird tiebreakers or unfair division settings; it will almost certainly become a non-factor now that the NFL is adding two extra playoff teams to the mix. The only two teams to earn one point here in the 16-game era were the 2008 New England Patriots and the 1985 Denver Broncos, both of whom missed the playoffs despite going 11-5. Before playoff expansion, however, this was much more frequent; 13 teams earned the bonus in the '70s alone.
Ending a Dynasty
So that's how you gain points -- but how do you lose them, and when do you stop accumulating them? If things never reset to zero, teams like the Bears would be sitting on hundreds of dynasty points at this point, and figuring out when dynasties begin and when they end would be hopeless.
A dynasty begins in the first year a team earns any dynasty points. That starts their running total, which will continue to climb as they rack up achievements. It ends when their total goes back to zero -- or, rather, when their total goes to zero, their reign retroactively ends the last time they had a qualifying season. A team can be sent back to zero in a couple of ways.
A team loses two dynasty points in any year where they fail to earn any -- there are no "zero-point" years. If they also have a losing record, they lose three points instead. You can't drop below zero, but you can sure wipe out a few years of wild-card exits with one bad season.
You can also go straight back to zero if you have multiple non-qualifying seasons in a row. In the original Bill James model, this required three seasons with no dynasty points, but that is way, way too soft for NFL teams. The average baseball career lasts 5.6 years; the average football career lasts 3.5. A three-year window ends up connecting teams which have little to do with one another; part of what makes a dynasty a dynasty is continuity on the roster and the coaching staff. A baseball career lasts almost exactly 1.5 times as long as a football career, so we can cut that requirement from three seasons to two. That gets us most of the way there.
We do need to make one more tweak, however. One-point seasons can artificially extend a team's reign; it doesn't feel right for a 9-7 wild-card round exit every couple of years to keep an era together. So, for our purposes, two zero-point years count as a reset. Alternatively, a team can replace one (but not both!) of those zero-point years with a year that qualifies for 1 point in only one way -- which, in modern times, means an uneventful playoff berth. At that point, their score resets to zero, and they have to start from scratch yet again.
An example might come in handy here. I'm a 49ers fan, so there's obviously nothing in the world I enjoy more than marking the suffering of my franchise is a numerically consistent manner. Let's take their 21st-century history, and work out their various eras -- which, conveniently, showcase the three different ways a team can fail to hit 10 dynasty points.
The 49ers were a 12-4 wild-card team in 2001, which earned them one point. The next year, they won the NFC West at 10-6, which earned them two more, bringing their total to three. But in 2003, they slipped to 7-9 -- that's a losing record, costing them three points and bringing them back down to zero. So that 2001-2002 Jeff Garcia/Terrell Owens 49ers squad scores three dynasty points, and doesn't qualify for our main table.
The 49ers don't score any more points until Jim Harbaugh comes around in 2011, where they go 13-3 and win the NFC West -- that's three points right there. 2012 goes even better, as they go 11-4-1 but get to the Super Bowl … and lose. That's three more points, for a running total of six. In 2013, they go 12-4 but finish second behind the Seahawks in the NFC West, giving them one more point, for a running total of seven. In 2014, they peter out to an 8-8 record, which does not qualify for dynasty points and costs them two, bringing their running total back down to five and counting as their first strike. And then in 2015, Jim Tomsula's squad finishes 5-11, which is their second strike, thus ending the run. So, that means the Jim Harbaugh era goes from 2011-2013 (the last year they earned points), and finishes with a dynasty score of seven points, their high-water mark in the era. They also do not qualify for our main table.
With a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl loss in 2019, Kyle Shanahan's 49ers (2019-2019) are sitting on four points of their own. That era isn't over yet, and we don't know when it will be. If the 49ers do not earn any dynasty points over the next two years, then their run will retroactively end in 2019. But we won't know that for sure until the 2021 season is over; a bad year in 2020 would not be enough in and of itself to end the current 49ers era. You can only really pinpoint the end of a team's run in retrospect.
That's enough methodology. You're here for the big table with all the teams in it, I'm sure.
In the NFL's first 100 seasons, 56 different teams earned dynasty scores of at least 10 points. The following table lists them all. It includes the number of seasons each era lasted, their high point in dynasty points, and their win-loss record. Then you have their championships, including conference and divisional titles for modern teams. Finally, you have their DVOAs -- both the average across the entire run of the era, as well as the average of their top five seasons. We remember great teams by their high points, after all, so that last column gives a better look at which teams shined the brightest. Teams with runs of less than five seasons have 0.0% seasons added as needed to penalize their top-five DVOA.
You may also notice that DVOA only goes back to 1985, and yet about two-thirds of the teams on the list predate that. To fill in these gaps, we go to two sources. A few years ago, Andreas Shepard produced estimated DVOA for all seasons from 1950 to 1988. This has a correlation of about 0.95 with actual DVOA, so that's good enough as an estimate for team quality back through the era of free substitution. Before that, we don't even have enough data to run Shepard's estimations, so we instead use Pro Football Reference's Simple Rating System -- a rating that takes into account average point differential and strength of schedule, both of which we have going all the way back to the beginning. In recent years, it has about a 0.90 correlation with DVOA, so we can use that as a rough guess of team strength in the earliest days of the league. When you start talking about "average performance" in a league where teams fold, merge, and form at the drop of a hat, you're getting into murky waters anyway; this is about as good as an approximation as we are going to get.
|NFL Teams With 10+ Dynasty Points, 1920-2019|
|2001-2019||New England Patriots||19||59||232||72||0||0.763||6||9||17||24.6%||39.3%|
|1981-1998||San Francisco 49ers||18||47||207||72||1||0.741||5||5||13||26.8%||37.1%|
|1960-1967||Green Bay Packers||8||30||82||24||4||0.764||5||5||6||30.8%||37.6%|
|1935-1944||Green Bay Packers||10||22||81||25||4||0.755||3||3||5||23.8%||28.1%|
|1926-1931||Green Bay Packers||6||19||54||14||9||0.760||3||3||3||21.7%||26.0%|
|1973-1980||Los Angeles Rams||8||18||86||31||1||0.733||0||1||7||19.7%||25.6%|
|1956-1963||New York Giants||8||18||73||25||4||0.735||1||1||6||14.0%||18.1%|
|2009-2016||Green Bay Packers||8||17||87||40||1||0.684||1||1||5||18.2%||25.8%|
|1993-1998||Green Bay Packers||6||15||66||30||0||0.688||1||2||3||22.6%||24.8%|
|1960-1965||San Diego Chargers||6||15||54||26||4||0.667||1||1||5||16.7%||20.5%|
|1938-1946||New York Giants||9||14||60||28||8||0.667||1||1||6||10.2%||17.7%|
|1966-1971||Kansas City Chiefs||6||13||60||20||4||0.738||1||2||3||24.6%||28.3%|
|1980-1985||Los Angeles Raiders||6||13||61||28||0||0.685||2||2||3||4.7%||10.2%|
|1949-1952||Los Angeles Rams||4||12||34||12||2||0.729||1||1||3||28.8%||23.0%|
|1925-1930||New York Giants||6||12||57||21||5||0.717||1||1||1||20.1%||25.0%|
|2015-2019||Kansas City Chiefs||5||11||57||23||0||0.713||1||1||4||22.6%||22.6%|
|1999-2003||St. Louis Rams||5||11||56||24||0||0.700||1||2||3||13.2%||13.2%|
|1933-1935||New York Giants||3||11||28||11||0||0.718||1||1||3||15.9%||9.5%|
|1990-1997||Kansas City Chiefs||8||10||86||42||0||0.672||0||0||3||18.5%||23.7%|
|2006-2009||San Diego Chargers||4||10||46||18||0||0.719||0||0||4||19.1%||15.3%|
|2009-2013||New Orleans Saints||5||10||55||25||0||0.688||1||1||2||13.7%||13.7%|
|1924-1928||Frankford Yellow Jackets||6||10||55||22||8||0.694||1||1||1||9.2%||9.2%|
For one system stretching across multiple eras, season formats and levels of professionalism, that's not half-bad. You can quibble some over the tail end of some of the decade-plus levels of success, and there will be people who feel the ten teams on the table without any championships don't belong in a discussion of the best teams of all time. In general, however, you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a better list of the top runs in NFL history.
The question becomes how many dynasty points are needed to turn a team into a full-fledged dynasty. If you're a big-tent guy and think all 56 teams qualify, you're talking about an average of four dynasties active at any one given time. That does seem like a lot; if you go into a season with four teams atop the Super Bowl odds, you'd most likely be talking about a league without a dominant force, not one with four dominant forces. Teams like the '90s Chiefs or '00s Seahawks were good, regular playoff contenders, and deserve to be honored and respected. But I don't think many people were holding Matt Hasselbeck or Steve Bono up as the standard by which all other teams must be measured.
If you're a small-tent guy, you might draw the dynasty line at 25 points, which limits things to a very prestigious club indeed. Yes, the Purple People Eater Vikings slip in without a title to their name, and you somehow get four teams in the '70s squeezing their way into the list (the '70s were a very unbalanced time in the NFL), but all in all, it's a club of the elites of the elites. Keeping the line there means there's an average of about one dynasty active at any given time, and everyone else is struggling to catch up to them.
As I said above, I don't view dynasties as a binary yes/no thing; it's more of a gradual trend from sure-fire, no-doubt dynasty down to more questionable candidates as you slide down the list. If I had to draw a line somewhere, I might go down to 19, sliding the line right between the early '70s Dolphins and the 0-4 Super Bowl Bills. I think that's the point where you start going from teams that dominated the top of the league to more conference- or division-specific dominance, or teams that couldn't keep their quality up over extended periods of time. Drawing the line there gives you an average of just over one and a half dynasties in action at any given point in time, which feels just about right -- the Cowboys/Steelers battles in the '70s, the 49ers/Cowboys clashes in the early '90s, or the Colts/Patriots battles in the '00s are all examples of multiple great teams crashing into one another, and it's alright to say that both of them are dynasties, even if one ended up outshining the other when all was said and done.
So we have our list of dynasties and near-dynasties. But we promised not just a list of teams from most to least dynasty-like; we said we were going to use DVOA to rank them by quality as well. We'll do that, as well as a deeper dive into the ins and outs of the greatest teams, over the next couple of weeks, covering each and every team listed here, why they end up where they do, and what could have happened to boost them up the rankings.
Alright, let's explain some of the choices we made up there, and what exactly does and does not count.
First of all, what counts as a championship? Obviously, the Super Bowl counts, as does the NFL Championship between 1932 and 1965. Those are the easy ones. The AFL Championship is a tougher nut to crack. To say the 1960 AFL was on par with the NFL is just not true; it was basically a league full of expansion teams. To give the Oilers as much credit for winning the AFL Championship that year as the Eagles get for winning the NFL Championship doesn't really reflect the true level of accomplishment there. However, the AFL improved quickly, taking advantage of an under-utilized talent pool (read: signing players out of historical black colleges and universities) and competing with the NFL for draft picks thanks to owners with deeper pockets than their NFL counterparts. The end result is that the AFL did reach parity, or something approaching it, by the time of the 1970 merger. The problem is figuring out when that happened, and how to appropriately weight the AFL title games up until that point. This is a hard problem, and we're going to solve it by not worrying about it. We are going to treat the AFL Championship on par with the NFL Championship. If you want to subjectively bump down the '60s Oilers, Chargers, or Bills as a result, you have an argument to do so -- and we'll point that out when we dive into each individual team.
We are not, however, counting the AAFC Championship from the 1940s -- we're looking at NFL dynasties, not professional football dynasties, and the AAFC never got on par with the quality of the NFL at the time. The AAFC title goes alongside the USFL and WFL titles as minor leagues we're not going to concern ourselves with. This affects the Cleveland Browns of that era, who were the dominant team in the AAFC and then turned right around and became the dominant team in the NFL; you can subjectively bump them up a few notches if you'd like. It also affects the San Francisco 49ers, who were the clear second-best team in the AAFC, and then turned right around and … didn't do much of note in the NFL for seven years. They're slightly less hard done by, there.
We're also crediting the NFL champion from 1920 to 1931 as the winner of a championship game, even though none actually occurred -- they're the champs, playoff game or no playoff game. Slightly more controversially, we're crediting the runners-up from 1920 to 1931 as the loser of a fictitious championship game. We want to give out those three- and four-point scores to teams from the '20s, and we're not going to let the unorganized manner of the league at the time stop us! This mostly affects the Chicago Bears (five-time runners-up from 1920 to 1926), so you can mentally bump them down a notch if you don't think that's a fair judgment.
Finally, the reasoning for the .8125 and .643 are simple. The former is a 13-3 record in a 16-game season; the latter a 9-5 record in a 14-game season. Since the 1970 NFL merger, these roughly define the cutoff points for the top 5% and top 25% of teams. Those are solid cutoffs for differentiating between above-average teams, good teams, and great teams, and to award extra points to put them above other teams with the same level of postseason success. When we move to a 17-game season, those marks will stay the same, requiring a 14-3 or 11-6 record to be earned.
No system is perfect, and this one is no exception. Trying to fit 100 years of history into one system is a difficult task. Comparing the semi-pro, unorganized league of the 1920s to today's billion-dollar industry isn't comparing apples to oranges; it's comparing apples to a slab of bacon. I did experiment with different weights for different eras, but any improvements there were minor at best, and the relative simplicity of one system for all seasons won out in the end.
Because so many of the metrics for success are based on playoff runs and division titles, it is slightly easier to earn points today than it was at the beginning of the league. Today, the NFL boasts eight divisions, but the NFL didn't bother dividing their teams up at all until they split into Eastern and Western Divisions in 1933. It wasn't until 1967 that the NFL split into four divisions and introduced an extra round of the playoffs, and you can see that effect in the table above.
The average era on that table that started in 1967 or later lasted 7.5 seasons and scored 17.8 dynasty points; teams whose run started before 1967 averaged 6.2 seasons and 17.0 dynasty points. In a different environment, some of those Packers, Bears, and Giants gaps in the '30s and '40s could have been bridged by winning a weak division or pulling off a divisional round playoff upset. Those opportunities didn't exist then, and so you do get some of those choppier dynasties in ye olden days. These extra opportunities probably helped some of the more modern teams scrape onto the bottom of the table with ten-point reigns, as well -- since the 1990 expansion of the playoffs, the average team on the table has a 6.5-year reign and 15.7 dynasty points. Some of that may be from smaller divisions or more playoff slots. Some of it, however, may be due to the salary cap and free agency -- the Legion of Boom would have likely stuck together for a decade in the '70s, rather than leaving to find better deals elsewhere. Part of the fun in doing an exercise like this is seeing different trends throughout the years, and at least a decent chunk of the differences you can find scrolling through the table chronologically comes from how different franchises were set up at various points over the previous 100 years.
57 comments, Last at 21 Feb 2023, 5:54pm
#1 by Sixknots // May 12, 2020 - 1:37pm
Well, of course, the Packers top everyone in accumulations with 103 dynasty points and 13 championships. But then, they should since their first dynasty started in 1926. The Canton Bulldogs and Frankford Yellow Jackets are no longer playing.
#2 by Bryan Knowles // May 12, 2020 - 1:50pm
And this is exactly why the counter goes back to zero if there's a couple years without success; it is, of course, silly to consider Curly Lambeau and Aaron Rodgers part of the same thing ;)
But yes, if dynasty points never, ever reset, the Packers would actually have 128 dynasty points. Other mini runs like the 2001-2004 Mike Sherman team (five points!) add on a couple extra points here and there, and you wouldn't have occasional slips and losses of dynasty points from, say, the 1964 8-5-1 Lombardi team.
The Bears, for the record would have...126.
#3 by Boots Day // May 12, 2020 - 3:16pm
I was surprised that Don Shula's first great Dolphins team had its dynasty run end after just five year. Looking back at the criteria, I feel like I must be missing something. You have 1974 as the last year of their run, but in 1975, they went 10-4 (but missed the playoffs), which would seem to be enough to earn them one dynasty point for having a record better than .643. They dropped to 6-8 in 1976, then rebounded to 10-4 again in 1977, which seems like it should have extended the run.
What am I missing?
#7 by Bryan Knowles // May 12, 2020 - 4:10pm
This is an excellent question, and the '70s Dolphins do run up right on the edge of how dynasties continue/end, so they're a great example to show off. For a lot of teams, the beginning and end is very clear; the mid-'70s Dolphins kind of tread water right on the borderline, so it's not as immediately clear. We go into more detail when those teams come up in the rankings, but I can walk through it some here.
The Dolphins' 10-4 season in 1975 IS worth one dynasty point; you are correct. But it's a weak one-point season -- it only qualifies for one dynasty point because of it's record, and not because of a playoff berth. That means it's the first strike against the Dolphins towards their dynasty ending:
"One-point seasons can artificially extend a team's reign; it doesn't feel right for a 9-7 wild-card round exit every couple of years to keep an era together. So, for our purposes, two zero-point years count as a reset. Alternatively, a team can replace one (but not both!) of those zero-point years with a year that qualifies for 1 point in only one way -- At that point, their score resets to zero, and they have to start from scratch yet again."
Had the 1976 season gone better -- another 10-4 year, an AFC East title, something along those lines -- then the system would treat the '75 year as a blip -- some minor struggles caused by Csonka, Kiick and Warfield joining the World Football League, that they rebounded from admirably the next season. But no, in 1976, they had the first losing season in Shula's career. That's strike two, and so the dynasty ends. And we retroactively pin the end of the dynasty to their last non-strike season -- 1974.
If you include those last one-point-but-still-a-strike-seasons, like the Dolphins '75, you occasionally could get weird blips where there is NO gap between a team's dynasties. Imagine flipping the Dolphins' 1975 and 1976 seasons -- so they have the losing record in '75, and then the 10-4 season in '76 that still ends the dynasty. If we included that one-point strike season in the run, we'd say the Dolphins' first dynasty ran from 1970-1976. But then they start a new one ~the very next season~. That's a little iffy! So those final one-point bursts don't get included in the run itself (see also the Peyton Manning Colts missing out on 2010)
So, you might say, why have one-point strike seasons count at all? Why not just make things easier and only count zero-point seasons as strikes? The answer is that that ends up connecting runs which really don't go together at all. It means that the Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck Colts are one thing, for example, which feels like padding. I'd rather acknowledge that one-point seasons at the END of a run are last gasps and not part of the run proper rather than use them to connect distinct eras of a team.
With any team like this that has an argument as to why their run should be longer than listed -- the '70s Dolphins, the '40s Bears, the '90s-'00s Steelers, etc -- we make sure to point that out in their writeup, and talk about where they would rank if we made an exception and linked other seasons together, so have no fear -- we'll talk about Shula's teams plenty.
Oh, and if we linked them together, I'd have to spend so much more time talking about the perfect season, and less about the Killer Bs, and nobody wants that.
#10 by Boots Day // May 12, 2020 - 4:29pm
Thank you for the detailed response. I really appreciate it. The 1975 Dolphins at 10-4 actually finished tied atop the AFC East with the Colts. I don't know what tiebreakers were in use at that point, but whatever they were, they are the only thing from keeping the Dolphin dynasty from extending for more than a decade.
This series looks like it will be a lot of fun. I very much enjoy your work!
#11 by Bryan Knowles // May 12, 2020 - 4:49pm
The '75 AFC East saw the Dolphins and Colts tie at 10-4. The tiebreaker there was just head to head -- the Colts swept the Dolphins, including with a fourth-quarter comeback in the penultimate week of the season. First time Shula had been swept by a team since joining the Dolphins!
At the time, there was only one wildcard slot, and that went to the 11-3 Cincinnati Bengals. If they had had a modern 12-team playoff with current-day playoff rules, the Dolphins would have been the #6 seed, and would have had a chance to get revenge against the Colts in a wildcard game. Might have been favored, too, though perhaps not on the road -- they had an 18.6% estimated DVOA to Baltimore's 17.8%.
#29 by dfinberg // May 13, 2020 - 12:39pm
I think I get it, and there are words that roughly mean what you want them to, but it doesn't flow well.
How about: A dynasty ends in three ways. First, the running total drops to 0. A wild card followed by missing the playoffs isn't the start to a dynastic run, even if the team goes on to better things after. Second, 2 years in a row of zero points. Even the strongest dynasty ends ends after an uninspiring stretch. Third, two consecutive years scoring a total of one point, unless the year getting a point would have qualified for both ways to get 1 point. If you're stretching out a dynasty with low tier season, it should at least be a decent low tier season.
You could also try bumping up all the points by 1, and making the "double 1" scenario worth 2. It wouldn't likely have any big changes but does make it cleaner to describe a dynasty ending.
#34 by Bright Blue Shorts // May 14, 2020 - 9:22am
Yeah the definitions need some work.
I lost it near the beginning with "A team earns 5 points for any other championship win." ...
Is that just Super Bowl and AFL/NFL Champions before then ... or is Buffalo being AFC Champions for four years in a row netting them 20pts?
(Not complaining - good project - just need a little more clarity)
#36 by Joseph // May 14, 2020 - 9:39am
Read them a little clearer--5 points=SB/NFL championship with LESS THAN an .8125 winning percentage--in other words, they won the championship, but they didn't dominate.
Those 4-SB-losses-in-a-row Bills only got 18 total dynasty points--3 each for losing the SB, plus some others.
#4 by DisplacedPackerFan // May 12, 2020 - 3:26pm
So that's the average of the top 5 seasons during the dynasty period, not the highest 5 year rolling average of seasons during the dynasty? Meaning the patriots during their 19 years could have that be the average of (randomly throwing out numbers) 2004, 2006, 2012, 2016, 2019. None of those years being connected.
I'm just trying to make sure I read it right as there is a difference in what that tells you. I wouldn't mind seeing the peak rolling average (though for what I'm thinking about 3 years rolling is probably better than 5, especially for the sub 8 year runs), and just the plain peak (the highest season). Though maybe that gets touched in the other detail articles.
#6 by Bryan Knowles // May 12, 2020 - 3:53pm
That is correct -- Top Five DVOA is the DVOA of the top five seasons in the run, not necessarily consecutive years. We remember teams from their peaks, and we wanted to give credit to teams that peaked the highest for the dynasty rankings pieces.
For many teams, Top 5 DVOA and Peak Rolling Average ends up being the same -- 40% of teams in the rankings only have five or fewer seasons in the run, and I believe more than half of them have their five best years in a row -- I'll dig that up later this afternoon to triple check.
There are also plenty of teams with a one-year gap, so basically one off year that breaks up their best seasons. For example, the Aaron Rodgers' Packers best seasons by DVOA were 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014 -- 2013 was the year Rodgers broke his collarbone, and the Packers struggled some in his absence. I don't think many fans hold that one injured year against the Packers' run, so doing a peak rolling average somewhat inaccurately represents how good those Packers were at their very best.
You are right, though, that in some of the VERY long runs, the "Top 5 DVOA" does end up becoming somewhat spread out. For the Patriots, it's 2004, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2019 -- and we talk some in the Patriots entry about whether or not they should ~really~ be one run or two; they are very borderline. For the 49ers, it's 1984, 1987, 1989, 1992 and 1995. That's ~mostly~ an artifact of those teams just being so very, very good for so very, very long, so I'm willing to accept that they somewhat go past the borders of the system -- outliers are hard to catch in the data!
For the record, the best Rolling 5-year DVOA for the Patriots would be 2003-2007 (30.1%); it'd be 1985-1989 for the 49ers (32.1%).
#8 by DisplacedPackerFan // May 12, 2020 - 4:13pm
I don't think the top 5 average is a bad way to go at all for what you are doing. I was just wanting to make sure I was looking at things right. I like data, so seeing the peak rolling be that a 3, 4, or 5 year rolling is interesting. I'm very happy you included the pats and 9ers because those were two I was wondering about. Really any of the 10+ year runs it interests me. Thanks for list all those out. It was neat to see.
It's also why I'm interested in the absolute peak year in the dynasty too. All those tell me slightly different things. Knowing the Pats best 5 year rolling average, overall average, top 5 average, and single best year of DVOA just adds a bit more to the picture. I wouldn't want all of those used in the z-score calculations for the overall ranking you are revealing. I think your choice of average and top 5 is a good way to double count quality. The other stuff is just a bit more flavor. Not all of it is needed as I've read the next article and the details in there cover things.
Fun stuff so far, looking forward to the rest of the detail articles and the final overall rankings.
#9 by Bryan Knowles // May 12, 2020 - 4:21pm
Oh, absolutley -- you can measure this stuff in so many different ways; each giving you slightly different information. It's really quite interesting. I considered, at one point, having each team come with a complete table with all it's DVOAs and dynasty points and everything for each season, but that just was massive and unwieldy; all the 1985-2019 DVOA can be seen in the DVOA Database, and 1950-1984 estimated DVOA got slapped up on Football Perspective a few years back. You'll just have to trust me for 1920-1949 SRS conversions ;)
The one other really long team you might be interested in is the 1966-1985 Cowboys and their twenty consecutive winning seasons. Their top five seasons, all by estimated DVOA, were 1968 (highest), 1971, 1973, 1977 and 1978 -- so mostly compacted in half of the 20-year run. Their best five-year rolling average was 1973-1977, at 26.5% -- significantly lower than the 49ers or Patriots, though still obviously very good. And that raises the question as to where they'll rank in the final rankings -- third in dynasty points is a very strong opening point, but there's ten or so teams behind them with various levels of bones to pick.
We'll have to wait and see where they finally rank, and by we, I do of course mean you -- I've already written all this stuff :P
#18 by BlueStarDude // May 12, 2020 - 5:19pm
Thanks for the article and comments. Checking out the table, I was also curious about five-year period vs best five years overall. And of course was especially curious about those 60s to 80s Cowboys, so really glad to read the above comment.
Only general comment—“Dynasty” to me implies a minimum amount of sustained excellence, so even within the inclusive/sliding scale you've laid out, seeing teams with runs of three or four seasons seems odd. Still, can't really argue with your erring on the side of allowing this.
#31 by SeaRhino // May 13, 2020 - 10:37pm
Yeah, I love this method for calculating dynasties, but I think the qualification of just 10 dynasty points is not enough. Dynasty implies both a decent length of time and a decent amount of success, so I would keep the 10 dynasty point minimum, but add a restriction of a minimum five year run, along with a minimum of more than a single championship.
This would make the list have only thirteen teams (the "major" dynasties): NWE (2001-2018), DEN (1996-2000), SFO (1981-1998), DAL (1991-1996), WAS (1982-1987), RAI (1980-1985), DAL (1966-1985), PIT (1972-1979), MIA (1970-1974), GRN (1960-1967), CLE (1950-1958), GRN (1935-1944), GRN (1926-1931).
Then I would have a second tier of the eight single-championship dynasties (the "minor" dynasties): SEA (2012-2016), DEN (2011-2015), IND (2002-2009), STL (1999-2003), GRN (1993-1998), RAI (1667-1977), KAN (1966-1971), BAL (1964-1971).
Finally, I would have a third tier of the three runs which did not win a championship, but got there three or more times (the "honorary" dynasties): BUF (1988-1995), DEN (1983-1991), MIN (1968-1980).
I would be comfortable with any of those teams being called dynasties, but I just can't see calling anything less than a five year run a "dynasty". The very word implies a longevity that a short peak (no matter how high) doesn't really fit.
#32 by DisplacedPackerFan // May 14, 2020 - 2:05am
You missed the 09-16 GRN in the single championship tier (won the 2010 season super bowl) so that is 8 years and 1 championship, meets your grouping requirements..
Though this isn't the real dynasty list, this is just the dynasty points list. The dynasty rankings are being revealed in the other articles and use more factors, which I think will end up addressing your concerns in another fashion.
#42 by SeaRhino // May 15, 2020 - 2:51am
Ah, I see I forgot to mention the other part of my criteria: you have to have at least gotten to two championship games, even if you only won one of them. That's a little bit arbitrary, but I just can't call something a dynasty if they did not at least have a shot at two championships.
#43 by SeaRhino // May 15, 2020 - 3:03am
Also, since I'm here, I think that NWE (2001-2018), SFO (1981-1998), and DAL (1966-1985) have to be considered the top three dynasties (in that order). What's interesting about that take is that there is almost an unbroken string of "mega" dynasties spanning the entire Superbowl era, barring 1999 and 2000. And since each "mega" dynasty was better than the previous one, we are obviously about to see Mahomes win 7 more Superbowls over the next 20 years, right?
#47 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 15, 2020 - 3:09pm
I'm kind of curious about that. I think the Packers regarded it that way, and that their games against Dallas were for the real title.
I'm not sure I've really read contemporary accounts, and how the Super Bowl was held up compared to the NFL Championship Game.
#49 by Bryan Knowles // May 16, 2020 - 12:55am
Apparently, and this goes against my image of the man entirely, Lombardi was so nervous before the first Super Bowl that he was shaking in the locker room before the game -- Frank Gifford, who broadcast it, said that Lombardi held on to his arm for support, he was so nervous. The Packers were under a LOT of pressure from the rest of the NFL to show that they were the superior league. Bart Starr has said that Lombardi wanted to win Super Bowl I very, very badly, treating it like a personal mission.
At the same time, Lombardi said before the game that losing wouldn't mean the end of the world, and said after that the Chiefs, while a good team, didn't match up to the best the NFL had to offer, like the Cowboys they had just beaten in the NFL Championship. They were a "good football team, with fine character", but "NFL football is tougher".
So, make up you own minds there!
#50 by justanothersteve // May 16, 2020 - 7:46pm
You can get a better idea of the Packers mentality by reading Instant Replay from Jerry Kramer. It chronicles the last Lombardi year in 1967. On Jan 4, 1968 (the Ice Bowl was Dec 31), Kramer writes, "We didn't see anything funny about the Raiders — the previous year, before the Super Bowl, we actually laughed out loud at some of the antics of the Kansas City Chiefs — but the Jets did have a few linemen who were kind of humorous to watch." They definitely respected the Raiders more than the Chiefs the previous year. Lombardi is quoted saying, "Our prestige and the prestige of the National Football League is at stake. You damn well better not let that Mickey Mouse league beat you. It'd be a disgrace, a complete utter disgrace." Lombardi also called Oakland a helluva good football team, so Lombardi contradicting himself was pretty normal. My general impression was they expected to win as long as they took it seriously and were more worried about looking bad than losing. I don't think Lombardi ever thought the AFL was as good as the NFL back then; it was more a matter of not wanting to be embarrassed, especially if his team treated it as an exhibition.
I was all of 11 and living in Green Bay at the time and this was also my impression as a kid. My friends and family thought the big games were the NFL championships against Dallas. The Super Bowl didn't mean anything other than a big paycheck for the winner in an exhibition game; several of the Packers had already spent the money they expected to get after the game which was their main motivation. I don't remember anyone taking it seriously until after Minnesota lost to the Chiefs in SB IV. We all thought the Jets victory was a fluke. But we all thought the Vikings were the next great NFL team and the Chiefs win is what got us to take the AFL seriously.
#15 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 12, 2020 - 5:10pm
For the Patriots, it's 2004, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2019 -- and we talk some in the Patriots entry about whether or not they should ~really~ be one run or two; they are very borderline.
What does Miami become if you don't split it into two separate Shula runs?
#14 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 12, 2020 - 5:09pm
It's interesting how many more competing NFC dynasties the 1981-1998 49ers had to fight off (Dallas, twice! Peak Washington! Chicago! Favre Green Bay!) compared to the Patriots, who basically only had the Manning Horse-Teams in the AFC.
#17 by Bryan Knowles // May 12, 2020 - 5:16pm
To be fair, you have minor runs from the Chargers and Ravens, as well as the late-Cowher Steelers and now the Mahomes Chiefs; I'd agree the 49ers' had stiffer competition, but it's not an '80s "look upon my conference and despair" situation.
And, of course, you have to ask just how much of that apparent lack of competition is the Patriots themselves throttling their potential opponents. Only one team from a conference can get those 4, 5 or 6 point seasons in any given year; only one Super Bowl team after all. The 49ers let Washington through in 1983; they failed to stop the Cowboys multiple times in the '90s...
#21 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 12, 2020 - 6:50pm
That’s the thing, though, right? The 49ers dealt with multiple 20+ dynasties, at the same time! Being a great team doesn’t prevent multiple really good rivals.
NE had Peyton Manning. A couple of also rans crop up in the 50s, but nothing high or nothing sustained.
The NFC in the 80s was like the AFC in the 70s, on steroids.
#22 by Bryan Knowles // May 12, 2020 - 7:18pm
The Parcells Giants come very, very close, hitting 8 points from 1984-1986 AND 1989-1990. The problem is the '87-'88 run, where they went a pedestrian 16-15. Honestly, they may have been killed by the scab games in 1987 -- the Giants started that year 0-5, including three losses in the replacement player games. Still, even going 6-6 against real teams stops them in their tracks there. And then in 1988, they did manage to go 10-6, but were swept by the Eagles and kept out of the postseason.
Improve either year, and you have a run that makes the list.
#25 by apk3000 // May 13, 2020 - 7:49am
Being in the same division as the Gibbs era doesn't help either. Even before the numbers, you kind of expect that's a bit of "there can only be one" between the two along the Eagles' "if we can't win, we're taking you down with us".
#24 by Ming the Merciless // May 13, 2020 - 12:38am
the Dynastic Threshold should be set at 15 points, since that includes the 90s Packers and excludes the 90s Broncos.
no, I’m not still bitter about that Super Bowl. not at all.
(this is a fantastic piece, btw)
#26 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // May 13, 2020 - 9:43am
Pfff. All these complementary comments won't do, won't do at all. There's a template around here I need to use. Gimme a sec.
This list is stupid. All these non-Dallas teams are clearly ranked WAY too high becuase there's nothing in your list about the value of owners or cheerleaders. Jerry Jones is worth a couple of Dynasty points all on his own, and the 70s Dallas cheerladers are a worth a GAZILLION. That's a true dynasty, right there! Oh, and Tom Landry's hat! Tom Landry's hat is worth 5 Dynasty points all on it's own.
Hopefully I got enough chat-acceptable spelling in there for my letter to be accepted for printing by your editor.
#35 by Bright Blue Shorts // May 14, 2020 - 9:32am
Off the top of my head ... top six look about right. The top 3 are the 3 teams with the longest streaks of winning seasons - that's going to set you up for success.
I'm sure Belichick has his eye on breaking 49ers run of 17 straight double-digit winning seasons this season and then breaking Landry's streak of 20 consecutive winning seasons in 2021.He needs to invoke his inner-Jeff-Fisher ... "I'm not going 7-9 or 8-8 this year".
#39 by justanothersteve // May 14, 2020 - 4:43pm
It's probably just me but I have a problem with any team having a dynasty without a championship. I also think dynasties should last a minimum of five years. Anything less than five years is just a blip, although a very good blip. Anything without a championship means you didn't dominate everyone at least once during that stretch. The 70's Vikings, early 90's Bills, and Marino-led Dolphins were great teams with some iconic players; I just don't think those teams are dynasties to most fans. If baseball can have tougher HoF qualifications (both real and silly) than football, it's OK for football to have more stringent requirements than baseball for dynasties.
#40 by andrew // May 14, 2020 - 10:49pm
How is the 1982 season handled? do those #7 and #8 playoff seed teams (uh...Lions, Bucs, Jets and Browns) count as a playoff teams?
What about 1987? are you counting the scab games or only the real games in winning percentages?
#41 by Bryan Knowles // May 15, 2020 - 12:00am
1982: All playoff teams count as playoff teams, so the Lions, Bucs, Jets and Browns all got one point each -- they didn't advance past the wildcard round, so nothing more than that. We'll treat the new 7th seeds from 2020 on in the same way.
Don't have a plan yet for if they extend things beyond eight teams per conference; that's a bridge that'll be crossed when we come to it.
1987: We're including the scab games in the dynasty point calculations, but DVOA does NOT include the scab games for the dynasty rankings. I think the playoff composition is actually the same whether you include the replacement games or not, actually, so it ends up not being a huge deal for inclusion on the table. And DVOA helps make sure the '87 49ers, Redskins, Broncos and Bears get proper credit for their actual skill that year, and not their skill in scouting and signing emergency replacements.
#54 by Bryan Knowles // May 25, 2020 - 3:11pm
Very, very close -- they ended up with a peak of nine points. Win any of those 3 championship games, and they're in. Heck, win one more game in 1986, and they're in; they lost 17-14 to the 0-6 Packers in Week 7. Flip that result, they're 13-3, and earn 3 dynasty points that season instead of 2.
#56 by Nat-B // Jan 04, 2022 - 3:14am
If the Pats beat the Dolphins next Sunday, they would end their season with both a record above .643 and a playoff berth. So regardless of what happens this postseason, the Patriots would still qualify for 1 dynasty point both ways, guaranteeing that the Belichick dynasty won't reset to zero despite the zero-point (or rather, negative-three-point) year last season.
The evil empire lives on!