Dynasty Rankings, Part II: Nos. 41-50

Jim Kelly
Jim Kelly
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Our dynasty countdown continues, as we push boldly into the top 50.

Teams this low on the list generally have one or two highlights, with a few solid enough seasons to pad them out -- a Super Bowl win, or a couple of Super Bowl appearances, but not the sort of sustained success you'd associate with a dominant team. These are the coulda-been dynasties; teams that most fans would put in the "close, but no cigar" bucket. These are teams that got their runs cut short by injury; who were upset by a top-ten dynasty in the making and could never recover; who were just hoping for one field goal attempt to curl just another few inches.

Almost to a one, these teams ended up being bullied by superior teams. They won more than their fair share of games, but couldn't consistently get over the hump because someone else was there to do just that much better. These are the teams that curse the name of Tom Brady, of Troy Aikman, of Joe Montana; the teams with flaws they ultimately could not overcome. It's easy to imagine the what-if scenarios that would lead to any of these teams being among the all-time historical greats; instead, they reside here, in the hall of pretty darn good.

Previous articles in this series:
Dynasty points explained

Part I: 51-56

No. 50: 1999-2003 St. Louis Rams

Peak Dynasty Points: 11
Average DVOA: 13.2%.
Top-Five DVOA: 13.2%
Championships: 1.
Record: 56-24 (.700)
Head Coaches: Dick Vermeil, Mike Martz
Key Players: QB Kurt Warner, RB Marshall Faulk, WR Isaac Bruce, WR Torry Holt, T Orlando Pace, CB Aeneas Williams
Z-Score: -6.04

The Greatest Show on Turf came out of nowhere. The first years of the St. Louis Rams were horrible. They ranked 20th or worse in DVOA from 1995 to 1998, never topping a -9.9% mark, and their offense topped out at 25th in the league. The franchise had not had a winning season since 1989, and the return of Dick Vermeil from the announcing booth wasn't helping much. The Rams were just 9-23 in Vermeil's first two seasons on the sidelines. To add injury to insult, the 1999 preseason saw newly acquired quarterback Trent Green blow out his ACL. Sure, they had traded for Marshall Faulk, but all they had at quarterback was Kurt Warner -- and not the good Curt Warner, the 1980s Seahawks running back, but some former stockboy; an Arena League and NFL Europe vet. They were going to be the worst team in the league, bar none.

Yeah, about that.

The 1999 Rams did not lead the league in offensive DVOA thanks to a soft schedule -- they played the easiest schedule of opposing defenses we've ever recorded -- and adjustments for playing indoors. Still, they scored over 500 points and led the league in basically every counting stat you can think of. And it wasn't a fluke, either -- they became the first team to ever score 500-plus points in three consecutive seasons. Warner picked up two MVPs, with Faulk getting the other one, and they finished one-two in the voting in each season, which is unprecedented. They led the league in overall DVOA in 1999 at 34.0% (41.0% before opponent adjustments -- again, a super-soft schedule), and held off a feisty Tennessee Titans team to win Super Bowl XXXIV. Vermiel retired, but that just left the keys in the hands of the designer of the offense, Mike Martz. An injury to Warner held the Rams to a wild-card berth in 2000, but the 2001 team was, if anything, more potent than the 1999 version, and they reached the Super Bowl once again, only to be shockingly upset by those loveable underdog Patriots.

Those three seasons match up with any other three seasons in the history of the league; the two Super Bowl years are both over 25.0% DVOA and 2000 isn't that far behind. Warner's 1999 and 2001 campaigns have the first- and second-most DYAR in Rams history. Faulk's 1999-2001 seasons rank first, second, and third among Rams running backs, (and first, third, and fifth among all running backs) as he became the second player ever to break the 1,000-yard rushing/1,000-yard receiving barrier. The top six receiving years in franchise history all belong to Isaac Bruce or Torry Holt, albeit with one Bruce season outside this run. While the offense gets the headlines, the defense ranked in the top five in both 1999 and 2001, too. If we were looking at great three-year stretches, the Rams would be much higher.

But we're not just looking at that, and we have to bring the next couple of seasons into the mix. The Rams flopped in 2002, with Warner getting hurt and struggling even when healthy; Marc Bulger was far and away the better quarterback that season, and ended up taking over the starting job for good in 2003. The Rams did have one more double-digit-win season and an NFC West title behind Bulger, but the writing was on the wall by that point. Even that successful 2002 team still had a negative offensive DVOA, and Martz's mad-scientist ways never produced a positive offensive DVOA ever again, either as a head coach or a coordinator. It's almost like finding a Hall of Fame quarterback in the dumpster pile is fantastic for your resume. As for the Rams, they would have just one positive offensive DVOA season between 2002 and Sean McVay's arrival in 2017.

No. 49: 2009-2013 New Orleans Saints

Peak Dynasty Points: 10
Average DVOA: 13.7%.
Top-Five DVOA: 13.7%
Championships: 1.
Record: 55-25 (.688)
Head Coaches: Sean Payton, Joe Vitt, Aaron Kromer
Key Players: QB Drew Brees, TE Jimmy Graham, T Jermon Bushrod, T Carl Nicks, G Jahri Evans, LB Jonathan Vilma
Z-Score: -5.98

For someone who is going to retire with all the passing records, Drew Brees has been rather unlucky. He has never played on an offense with a negative DVOA, he has five of the 30 best quarterback seasons since 1985 per DYAR, and has a strong argument that he was robbed of a spot on not only the All-2010s Team, but possibly also the NFL 100 All-Century Team as well. And yet, thanks to the Saints' well-documented defensive struggles and the fact that his career has overlapped those of both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, it feels like Brees hasn't gotten the level of historic respect that some of his contemporaries have gotten. I'm sure he'll be fine with his Super Bowl ring and his eventual first-ballot Hall of Fame nod, but still.

Brees' four best seasons all fall in this five-year window, which starts with the Saints team that beat the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Brees had at least 1,600 DYAR in each year in this run except 2012 (we'll get back to that). He's one of only three quarterbacks to ever have at least 1,400 DYAR in four out of five seasons, alongside Manning and Brady (and probably Dan Marino when we add 1984 to the database). And Brees' best years were bolstered by the best defenses money could buy -- or, to put it more plainly, the only three years of negative defensive DVOA in New Orleans between 2001 and 2016. The Saints' Super Bowl season is remembered as much for Tracy Porter's key interceptions in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl as it is for Brees' MVP, record-shattering completion percentage, and general all around-awesomeness.

The Saints mostly kept up that level of play throughout their run, too, even if they never again could turn it into a Lombardi Trophy. For only the second time in franchise history, the Saints made three postseasons in a row, only for the NFC West to get in the way -- the 7-9 Seahawks dumped them in 2010; they had to travel on the road to play the 49ers in 2011 despite ranking second in overall DVOA; and they ran headfirst into the 2013 Seahawks, a team which will feature very prominently later in this list. All in all, then, a fairly successful run, even if it only ended up with one title. Nothing negative to speak of here, nope…

… well, except for Bountygate. When we said the Saints had the best defense money could buy, we were being somewhat literal. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams ran a bounty scheme, paying players for injuring opponents. The resulting investigation and scandal resulted in mass suspensions, fines, and draft pick losses for the franchise -- that's the reason the Saints have three head coaches listed here, rather than just the one. 2012 was very much a lost season, as Sean Payton and company served their suspensions, and the Bountygate Saints collapsed, allowing a league-record 7,042 yards. If you wave your hands and pretend that year never happened, the Saints would slide up to 43rd place, and obviously there's a big asterisk on the year. But it did happen, and the Saints suffered for it. A brief defensive rebound kept the Saints competitive in 2013, but they finished 31st, 32nd, and 31st in defensive DVOA from 2014 to 2016. You can't win by offense alone, even if your offense is run by Drew Brees.

No. 48: 1960-1962 Houston Oilers

Peak Dynasty Points: 13
Average DVOA: 15.1%.
Top-Five DVOA: 9.1%
Championships: 2.
Record: 31-10-1 (.750)
Head Coaches: Lou Rymkus, Wally Lemm, Pop Ivy
Key Players: QB George Blanda, RB Billy Cannon, WR Charley Hennigan, WR Bill Groman, T Al Jamison, CB Tony Banfield
Z-Score: -5.66

When did the AFL reach parity with the NFL? There have been many attempts to answer this question, but the answer certainly isn't "right off the bat." The AFL couldn't really compete with the NFL for players until 1964, when NBC gave them a national television deal. And if you're a hotshot rookie in 1960, why would you go to whatever the "Boston Patriots" were when you could play for a real football team in the NFL -- a team that people have actually heard of. With that in mind, maybe it feels weird to have the Oilers, who won the first two AFL Championship Games and reached the third, even this high in any sort of team rankings. We should apply some sort of minor-league penalty to them, right?

Well, maybe not. Jason Lisk exhaustively tried to figure out league coefficents for the 1960s in a series of Pro Football Reference posts in 2009 and yes, the NFL was superior to the AFL all the way through -- as many as 13 points better in 1960. But the Oilers reached parity much faster than the rest of the league; Lisk's estimates would have had the Oilers as fifth-best team in the 1961 NFL, and seventh-best in 1962, both years above average for a professional football team. Maybe they wouldn't have stood much of a chance against the Green Bay Packers of their day, but they were more Houston Texans than Houston Roughnecks, to put it in 2020 terms. This is a question that's going to come up again, however, so don't think we've settled it quite yet.

Bud Adams was one of the few AFL owners who was financially stable at the start of the league's existence, and that significantly helped him build a team. His big coup was stealing Billy Cannon, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, from the Rams and making him the first $100,000 professional football player. To get Cannon, Adams more than doubled what the Rams had offered him, and even threw in his own wife's Cadillac to seal the deal -- money talks. Cannon joined an offense led by an NFL veteran in George Blanda (who was tired of being used only as a kicker by George Halas), the best pure passer in the early days of the AFL. The 1961 Oilers put up video game numbers (… electric football numbers?), with Blanda throwing for 3,300 yards and 36 touchdowns. Both Charley Hennigan and Bill Groman had over 1,000 receiving yards, only the second pair of teammates in history to manage that feat. Blanda's touchdown mark would stand until Dan Marino broke it in 1984, and Hennigan's 1,746 receiving yards would stand as the record until Jerry Rice broke it in 1995. I don't care about your level of competition; if your records stand until Marino and Rice come along, you're impressive. That 1961 team has an estimated DVOA of 31.8% and an estimated passing DVOA of 56.3%, which ranks 11th all-time. They were years ahead of their competition. Even when they lost, like in the 1962 AFL Championship Game, they did so in style -- that double-overtime loss to the Dallas Texans was, at the time, the longest football game ever played.

And then, eventually, they weren't ahead of the class anymore. That aforementioned added TV money gave AFL teams not named the Oilers, Texans/Chiefs, and Bills the chance to poach NFL players. The Houston defense collapsed -- their 1966 estimated defensive DVOA of 14.8% is the worst among the original AFL teams. Age finally did come for Blanda's arm, as he led the league in interceptions from 1962 to 1965. And the team just got passed up by more modern and innovative squads. The Oilers' 1961 title remains the last championship in franchise history.

No. 47: 1940-1945 Washington Redskins

Peak Dynasty Points: 15
Average DVOA: 9.0%.
Top-Five DVOA: 12.4%
Championships: 1.
Record: 45-16-2 (.730)
Head Coaches: Ray Flaherty, Dutch Bergman, Dudley DeGroot,
Key Players: QB Sammy Baugh, FB Andy Farkas, WB Wilbur Moore, E Joe Aguirre, T Willie Wilkin, G Dick Farman
Z-Score: -5.65

World War II did a number on the NFL. A significant chunk of the league's able-bodied players left to join the military, and the teams that remained had to make significant adjustments. The Cleveland Rams shuttered for a season. The Steelers merged for one year with the Eagles and for another year with the Cardinals. Future Hall of Famers such as George Halas and Bill Dudley left to join the armed forces. Older players came out of retirement to fill up rosters. Comparing WWII football to its surrounding counterparts is difficult, is what we're saying. But Washington weathered the war the best, making three of the four NFL Championship Games played between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the surrender of Japan.

Washington was led by Slingin' Sammy Baugh, the greatest two-way quarterback to ever play the game. He's the only pre-modern quarterback that the NFL experts picked to make the NFL 100 Team; he was the all-time leader in passing yards when he retired and still squeaks into the top 100 today. But to call Baugh a quarterback isn't quite right -- or at least, it isn't throughout his career. When Baugh entered the league in 1937, he played tailback in an old single wing formation. Baugh led the league in passing yards per game consistently at tailback … by throwing for about 100 yards a go. Baugh was also an excellent punter and safety; in 1943, he led the league in passing (with 133 completions), interceptions (with 11), and punting yards (with 2,295). He still, in fact, has the all-time record for punting average with 51.4 yards per punt in 1940 (helped by plenty of surprise quick-kicks out of the single wing; football was different then). It was this single-wing, jack-of-all trades player that led Washington to championship appearances in 1940, 1942, and 1943, running in and around out of danger, throwing when he needed to. The closest modern equivalent would be a Lamar Jackson or Russell Wilson, though Randall Cunningham might be a closer match.

But in 1944, Washington finally modernizes. They bring in Clark Shaughnessy to introduce the T-formation, which turns Baugh into a full-time, modern quarterback -- really, the first to use the pass as an offensive weapon in and of itself, rather than just an emergency option. Baugh stops playing defense; his yards per game nearly double. In 1945, his first full year in the offense, he completes 70% of his passes in a league that averages a 46% completion rate, and goes on to lead the league in completion percentage for each of the next five years. That's the Baugh that leads Washington to the championship game in 1945. It's fair to say that he takes to the transition well, but he was equally good before and after his position change. He still is tied for the most seasons leading the league in passing yards -- three as a tailback, and three as a quarterback. Keep your Sid Luckmans; Baugh is the NFL's first great passer.

You would think that four championship appearances in six years would have Washington further up on the list. Unfortunately, those championships did not really go their way. They were on the wrong end of the most lopsided score of all-time, the 73-0 drubbing against Chicago in 1940. They lost to Chicago again in 1943, in a game where Baugh injured himself tackling Luckman. Washington did avoid the sweep by spoiling Chicago's perfect season in the 1942 championship, but Halas' boys had their number, even in Halas' absence. Washington also lost the 1945 championship to the Rams in somewhat controversial manner. At that point in history, the goal posts were on the goal line, rather than the back of the end zone like today. Dropping back in his own end zone, Baugh's pass hit the uprights and bounced backward into the end zone itself. Under the rules of the time, that was a safety -- and Washington went on to lose 15-14. After the season, that was made an incomplete pass, because owner George Marshall basically threw a fit -- and you can't blame him. Flip those title game losses, and Washington slides up to 36th.

After the 1945 title game, Washington begins a slow decline. They used their first-round pick in 1946 on Cal Rossi … who was a junior, and ineligible to be drafted at the time. They then used their 1947 first-round pick on Rossi, but it turns out he never wanted to play football in the first place. So, you know, that didn't work out great. 1946 was also the first year that NFL teams started signing African-American players as the league began to desegregate. Marshall, a virulent racist, refused to sign any black players until ordered to do so by the Attorney General in 1962. It turns out, refusing to sign an entire race of people to your team does somewhat limit your ability to attract talent; Washington had just three winning seasons between 1946 and 1968.

No. 46: 1963-1972 Cleveland Browns

Peak Dynasty Points: 17
Average DVOA: 6.6%.
Top-Five DVOA: 14.4%
Championships: 1.
Record: 95-43-2 (.686)
Head Coaches: Blanton Collier, Nick Skorich
Key Players: QB Frank Ryan, RB Leroy Kelly, FB Jim Brown, FB Ernie Green, WR Gary Collins, WR Paul Warfield, T Dick Schafrath, G Gene Hickerson, DT Walter Johnson, LB Jim Houston
Z-Score: -5.51

Reaching the 1960s Browns helps us hit two milestones. They are the first team we reach whose run lasted a full decade -- meaning they are also the worst team to have a run that lasts a full decade. They're also the last time we'll see a team on this list with an average DVOA below 10.0% -- assuming we allow rounding to take care of one exception further on down the line. When they were good, these Browns were very good, but they did mix in four negative estimated-DVOA seasons into their decade-long run. These are the sorts of things that happen after you fire a legend.

Yes, in January of 1963, owner Art Modell fired Paul Brown. It was, perhaps, some time in coming -- the Browns hadn't won their division since 1958, after all, and Brown's strict management style and his unusual habit of calling all of the team's plays rubbed many of his players the wrong way, earning him the nickname of Little Caesar. Modell, 38 at the time and closer in age to his star players than his star coach, listened and let the legend go. Blanton Collier, a long-time Brown assistant, stepped in and became much more of a players' coach, letting quarterback Frank Ryan call the plays. It was a vastly different style from what had given Cleveland so much success in the 1950s, which we'll get to later.

More often than not, Ryan's play was "give the ball to Jim Brown and let him be really good." From 1963 to 1966, the Browns' estimated run DVOA was always over 25.0%, with the 1966 team's 32.2% mark being the second-highest in history. In that first year post-Paul Brown, Jim Brown ran for his career high of 1,863 yards, an NFL record at the time. Brown led the league in rushing each of the next two years as well before abruptly retiring to continue his movie career. You don't need advanced stats to know that Brown was insanely good, quite possibly the best to have ever played the game. If firing Paul Brown was what it took to get Jim Brown back atop the league in rushing yards, maybe you can justify that as the right move.

The Browns' terrific offense overcame very porous defenses to make back-to-back title games in 1964 and 1965, the last two NFL Championship Games before the first Super Bowl. They upset Johnny Unitas and the Colts in the first, only to be upset themselves by Vince Lombardi's Packers the next year. To date, that 1964 title is still the Browns' most recent championship.

Jim Brown was amazing, but when he suddenly retired after 1965, Leroy Kelly picked up the workload without skipping much of a beat. By estimated DVOA, the 1966 squad is actually the best of this bunch -- which is a bit ironic, as it's the one of the two seasons the Browns actually missed the postseason in this run. It's also the point where the 1960s Browns go from great to just very good, finishing with negative estimated DVOA in 1967, 1969, 1971, and 1972. That didn't mean they didn't see success -- they made a couple of NFL Championship Games in that span, and won a weak AFC Central in 1971. But as Brown made way for Kelly, and Ryan made way for Bill Nelson, and Collier made way for Nick Skorich, they became more and more a shadow of the team from early in the decade; the same product made with inferior parts. And, without a visionary like Paul Brown to keep the team innovating, they just kept promoting from within, just replacing each generation of player with a slightly inferior substitute.

The winning formula couldn't last forever. 1974 saw the Browns put up only the second losing season in franchise history. They have become a bit better acquainted with losing seasons in the years since, shall we say.

No. 45: 2006-2009 San Diego Chargers

Peak Dynasty Points: 10
Average DVOA: 19.1%.
Top-Five DVOA: 15.3%
Championships: 0.
Record: 46-18 (.719)
Head Coaches: Marty Schottenheimer, Norv Turner
Key Players: QB Philip Rivers, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, TE Antonio Gates, T Marcus McNeill, G Kris Dielman, LB Shawne Merriman
Z-Score: -5.21

Now here's a team that sticks out like a sore thumb. The Chargers are surrounded on this list by multiple-time champions -- or, at least, teams that played for the title on multiple occasions. These Chargers never even made the Super Bowl, much less managed to win one. They are the second-least accomplished team to ever have earned ten dynasty points -- four AFC West titles in an era where divisions had just four teams is not exactly a superb endorsement, even if you're running out teams that went 14-2 and 13-3. Why are they ahead of anyone, much less ten teams, all of whom flaunt much better credentials?

This is the first instance where the DVOA part of the formula really kicks into gear. The Chargers' average DVOA of 19.1% over these four seasons is the highest we've seen yet; by our advanced stats, the Chargers were better from game to game than any of the teams previously listed. Their four seasons all range between 13.5% and 29.5% DVOA; they don't have the one or two off seasons that most of the previous ten teams had. If you just look at the 65 seasons contained by the bottom 11 teams on this countdown, the 2006 Chargers are third-best behind the 1999 Rams (34.0% DVOA) and 1961 Oilers (31.8%). They also have two of the top 20 seasons and four of the top 25. So, rather than think of the Chargers as lacking because they never won their conference, think of them instead as the best team to have never won their conference.

You can blame some of that on Tom Brady and the Patriots, who knocked the Chargers out of the postseason in both 2006 and 2007. The Chargers could never get past New England, putting them in a boat with the rest of the AFC. Interestingly, they did seem to have the number of the other great 2000s team, Peyton Manning and the Colts, going 3-1 against them and beating them in the postseason in consecutive years. The AFC of the 2000s seemed to always have a weird rock-paper-scissors thing going on between the Colts, Patriots, and a third team, and the Chargers were that third club in the last half of the decade.

These were Philip Rivers' first years piloting the Chargers, so just after they decided to give up on Drew Brees. Rivers eventually did mature into a great passer, rising to a high of 1,761 DYAR in 2009, but these were really LdT's teams. LaDainian Tomlinson's 581 DYAR in 2006 -- the year he set the record with 28 rushing touchdowns -- remains the Chargers franchise record, and he nearly beat it the year after. San Diego's 27.2% rushing DVOA in 2006 is the tenth-highest in the DVOA era, and only falls to 15th when you include estimated DVOA from 1950 to 1984. All in all, the Chargers ranked in the top 11 in DVOA in each of these four years, and usually had a top-five offense. If they had a defense to go with it, perhaps they could have made some serious noise. Alas, they really didn't, and sharing a conference with Manning and Brady is not good for your health. And then Tomlinson left, and then the well-known Chargers Curse really stepped into high gear, with San Diego losing games in increasingly ridiculous fashion, and things just sort of spiraled from there until we get to the Los Angeles Chargers, struggling in front of a soccer stadium filled with their opponent's fans. Not so great.

No. 44: 1978-1985 Miami Dolphins

Peak Dynasty Points: 14
Average DVOA: 11.2%.
Top-Five DVOA: 16.9%
Championships: 0.
Record: 85-35-1 (.707)
Head Coach: Don Shula
Key Players: G Ed Newman, G Bob Keuchenberg, C Dwight Stephenson, DE Doug Betters, DE Kim Bokamper, NT Bob Baumhower
Z-Score: -5.20

Not all runs of success fit nice and snugly into a narrative. No one would subjectively call the 1978-1985 Dolphins their favorite dynasty, because there's no such thing as the 1978-1985 Dolphins. While head coach Don Shula does provide a common thread throughout, you're broadly grouping the last of the Bob Griese years with the Killer Bs early-1980s teams, then riding into the very early Dan Marino seasons. If Shula is the captain of the ship, it's the Ship of Theseus, shedding and replacing parts and never stopping sailing. The Dolphins made the playoffs in seven of these eight seasons, winning the AFC East six times and making Super Bowls XVII and XIX. They don't quite measure up to Shula's early 1970s squads, but it's still a heck of a second act, with more consecutive division titles than the Dolphins had ever had before or have ever had since.

The best way to think of this run is probably as the Killer Bs plus friends. Bob Baumhower, Bill Barnett, Lyle Blackwood, Kim Bokamper, Glenn Blackwood, Charles Bowser, Doug Betters, and Bob Brudzinski made up the unlikely-named corps, which was gradually being assembled from about from the late 1970s through 1981. Throughout the 1970s, the Dolphins had been an offense-focused team -- yes, we'll talk loads about the No Name Defense when we get there, but Miami's estimated offensive DVOA was higher than their estimated defensive DVOA from 1970 to 1978. But as Griese aged, and eventually had his career ended by a shoulder injury, those Killer Bs shouldered more and more of the load, peaking in 1982 -- their -48.3% estimated pass defense would be the third-best in history. That was the strategy -- a ball-control offense and terrific defense to take the pressure off of David Woodley and Don Strock. Miami allowed opponents to run for a league-worst 4.4 yards per carry, but gave up only 14 touchdowns all season (yes, in a nine-game strike-shortened season, but that was still tied for fewest in the league). They rode that all the way to an AFC Championship.

And then in 1983 they draft Dan Marino and everything flips 100% in the other direction. We're really looking forward to finishing the 1984 DVOA, because Marino's sophomore season may well come out as the most valuable in NFL history -- then-records of 5,084 passing yards and 48 touchdowns that would last until the passing boom of the 21st century. The 1984 Dolphins have an estimated offensive DVOA of 33.5%, and an estimated passing DVOA of 57.6% -- 12th- and 10th-best of all time, respectively. They rode that all the way to an AFC Championship, as well. They had the misfortune to run into Joe Gibbs' Redskins and Bill Walsh's 49ers in those two Super Bowls -- beaten by better dynasties. No shame there, and Marino would have plenty more chances to win a ring, right?

Well, maybe not so much. The Dolphins only provided Marino with an above-average defense four times over the rest of his career, and didn't have one reach double-digit negative DVOA until 1998, when Marino was 37 years old and had finally begun to fall off. The Dolphins ranked in the top 10 in offensive DVOA from 1983 to 1997, and only got one Super Bowl appearance out of it. Don't blame it on Marino.

No. 43: 1958-1959 Baltimore Colts

Peak Dynasty Points: 10
Average DVOA: 22.1%.
Top-Five DVOA: 8.8%
Championships: 2.
Record: 18-6 (.750)
Head Coach: Weeb Ewbank
Key Players: QB Johnny Unitas, HB Lenny Moore, E Raymond Berry, T Jim Parker, DE Gino Marchetti, DT Gene Lipscomb
Z-Score: -5.03

I know what you're thinking -- how can a "dynasty" last just two seasons? It's certainly the question all my editors asked when they saw the list; these Colts are the only team to hit 10 dynasty points with just a two-year run. The system was set up to be agnostic about how long a team needed to be successful to be a dynasty, but two years does seem ridiculous. Back-to-back championships are always going to be worth at least 10 points, but you would think any team good enough to win back-to-back titles would also have some success in the years around it. Not these Colts. They were 7-5 in 1957, won back-to-back titles in 1958 and 1958, and then followed that up with 6-6 and 8-6 seasons in 1960 and 1961. Maybe in the modern era, that would have been good enough to win a weak division or earn a wild-card playoff spot, but not at this point in the history of the league. Heck, even if they had had six playoff teams in the NFL in those days, the Colts would only have scraped together one wild-card appearance in 1957. This really is a two-and-done team, stifled at the beginning by youth and inexperience, and at the end by injuries.

Ah, but this is probably the most important of any team we've listed to this point. The Colts beat the Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship Game, which is commonly known as the Greatest Game Ever Played -- it was voted the greatest game in NFL history as part of the 100th season spectacular. The game itself was exciting enough -- 12 future Hall of Famers on the field, a dramatic back-and-forth contest, Raymond Berry catching 12 passes for 178 yards, the first overtime game in NFL history, Johnny Unitas marching down the field in the two-minute drill, Alan Ameche plunging over the goal line, et cetera. But more importantly, the game was nationally televised on NBC, with more than 45 million people watching. This wasn't the first nationally televised NFL game, but before this, the rights were owned by the DuMont Network, which had only 18 affiliates, compared to NBC's 100-plus. This was the first really great game that the entire country got to see; it helped whet the nation's appetite for televised football. This led to ABC buying up the rights to broadcast games for the fledgling AFL, which led to the NFL finally getting all of its own regular-season games televised, and the massive expansion which took us from 12 professional football teams at the end of the 1950s to 28 by the beginning of the 1970s. Does that happen without the Colts-Giants title game? Not at that speed, at any rate.

By comparison, the 1959 Championship Game where the Colts beat the Giants again is nearly an afterthought. The Colts' estimated DVOA dropped from 32.6% to 11.6% in a sign of things to come -- it dropped again in 1960, 1961, and 1962. 1960 saw Ameche, Berry, and Lenny Moore all suffer injuries, and Unitas' then-record 47-straight games with a touchdown snapped. Weeb Ewbank could never really pull those Colts out of their mediocrity, and he was fired after the 1962 season.

Many historians group this two-year run with the late 1960s as just the Johnny Unitas era, which is fair. But that 21-19 record for three years splits these two titles off from the 1960s success. Add in the difference between Ewbank's more laid-back style of coaching and the more popular Don Shula, and I think it's fair to consider them two separate runs.

No. 42: 2001-2005 Pittsburgh Steelers

Peak Dynasty Points: 10
Average DVOA: 17.5%.
Top-Five DVOA: 17.5%
Championships: 1.
Record: 55-24-1 (.694)
Head Coach: Bill Cowher
Key Players: WR Hines Ward, G Alan Faneca, C Jeff Hartings, NT Casey Hampton, LB Joey Porter, LB Jason Gildon
Z-Score: -3.54

Did you know that Jerome Bettis is from Detroit? And that, coincidentally, that's where Super Bowl XL was held, where Bill Cowher and his Steelers finally won that long-elusive fifth Super Bowl title? I feel like that little piece of trivia was surprisingly underreported at the time; you would have thought someone in the media would have noticed. Huh.

This is the run of Cowher's Steelers career that got him into the Hall of Fame; he doesn't get the ugly yellow jacket without the gaudy championship ring to match. His Steelers had finished their time at Three Rivers Stadium with three straight playoff misses, and we were creeping close to something the Steelers never, ever do -- change coaches. The next five years, however, saw Cowher's team pair a terrific defense with very solid quarterback seasons from a former gimmick player (Kordell Stewart), the reigning XFL MVP (Tommy Maddox), and a rookie thrust into action before the team was ready (Ben Roethlisberger). The resulting Super Bowl win, the first ever as a sixth seed, is a fantastic part of Steelers lore, and it's really too bad Cowher didn't retire immediately afterwards rather than coach his way through one final 8-8 season.

There's very little continuity throughout this run, to be honest -- only eight starters on the 2001 team were still starting in 2005. And the 2002-2003 Tommy Maddox years were kind of fun, but a clear dip in overall quality -- Cowher's Steelers finished in the top 10 in DVOA under both Stewart and Roethlisberger, but couldn't crack double-digit DVOA in either 2002 or 2003. It's the AFC North title in 2002 that pastes the two together; winning the brand-new division in a year when none of their opponents had a DVOA of greater than 1.6%, and winning 10.5 games despite only having 8.2 estimated wins. That's why the Cowher teams of this era rank below his 1990s teams, despite the Super Bowl title -- but we'll compare those squads a little more when they come knocking.

No. 41: 1988-1995 Buffalo Bills

Peak Dynasty Points: 18
Average DVOA: 11.9%.
Top-Five DVOA: 16.9%
Championships: 0.
Record: 87-41 (.640)
Head Coach: Marv Levy
Key Players: QB Jim Kelly, RB Thurman Thomas, WR Andre Reed, G Jim Richter, C Kent Hull, DE Bruce Smith, LB Cornelius Bennett, LB Darryl Talley, CB Nate Odomes
Z-Score: -3.41

No team in the NFL benefitted more from the USFL's 1986 demise than the Buffalo Bills. General manager Bill Polian and head coach Marv Levy both came from the Chicago Blitz. Jim Kelly came from the Houston Gamblers. That's three of the eight USFL alumni in the Hall of Fame right there, and that's before we mention names like Kent Hull (New Jersey Generals), Ray Bentley (Oakland Invaders), or Scott Norwood (Birmingham Stallions). And, just like the USFL was the runner-up to the NFL in four consecutive (planned) seasons, the Bills ended up as the runners-up to the NFC in four consecutive (Super Bowl) seasons.

When I started this project, there were two teams that I couldn't wait to find in the data -- the Purple People Eater Vikings and the K-Gun Bills. To lose four Super Bowls is crushing to a fanbase and deadly to a team's reputation -- the joke in the mid 1990s was that Bills stood for "Boy, I Love Losing Superbowls." (The acronym doesn't quite work, but that's never stopped cruel playground mockery before.) You wonder if these teams would have better reputations had they actually lost a few more conference championship games along the way.

But that's crazy talk. 30 teams in the league every year have to look up at even a Super Bowl loser, and there's little shame in losing to the 1990s Triplet Cowboys, who will appear later on this list, or the 1991 Washington Redskins, who have the highest DVOA of all time. Even the 1990 Giants, who started this whole Super Bowl losing streak, were the best team in the league that year by DVOA and coached by not one but two future Hall of Famers in Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. There's no shame in losing to any one of these teams…

… unless you do it by pushing a game-winning field goal wide right, Scott Norwood, how could you…


One of the metrics used to rank these teams is "quality seasons" -- basically, checking how many of a team's seasons scored three or more dynasty points, in order to give more credit to teams that consistently went deep in the postseason than to teams that just grinded out wild-card berth after wild-card berth. All four Super Bowl seasons count for the Bills, which ties the high score to this point; if you've got more than that, you're generally quite a ways higher up the list. Obviously, it sucks to lose all four shots at the crown, but most teams don't get four shots at the crown. With 18 dynasty points, the Bills are the first team we've covered who fall above where I would personally draw the line between "dynasty" and "near-dynasty"; they definitely count in my book.

… which of course means they are, then, the worst dynasty of the bunch. The main problem is that the Bills were good -- very good, even -- but very rarely great. Their 16.9% top-five DVOA is the worst of any team with at least 18 dynasty points, and their 11.9% average DVOA is second-worst, with an asterisk for the one team lower. They only had one year over 20.0% in total DVOA, and only once ranked in the top five teams in the league during this run.

Their offense did occasionally rise to the status of greatness, especially after they shifted to the no-huddle offense in 1990. The Bills weren't the first team to bring the full-time no-huddle to the NFL -- that would actually be the Bengals who knocked them out of the 1988 AFC Championship Game -- but they were the ones that turned it into their entire offensive identity. With Kelly calling the plays, and studs like Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, James Lofton, and Don Beebe running past gassed defenders, it took the rest of the league about half a decade to figure out how to keep up with the Bills offensively.

No, the problem was on defense, where the Bills maxed out at a -6.8% DVOA. Yes, I get that calling any defense led by someone as great as Bruce Smith a "problem" is ridiculous, but these defenses were usually closer to 10th, 11th, or 12th in the league, rather than challenging the very top of the tables. In most eras, a team with a great offense and a good defense would make a Super Bowl or two, and be remembered fondly by their teams fans and not really thought of much by outsiders -- much like many of the teams below the Bills on this list.

Instead, the Bills benefited from playing in a significantly weaker conference. In these eight seasons, only 13 of the 40 possible top-five DVOA ranks went to AFC teams. There is a reason why Sports Illustrated famously called the 49ers-Cowboys NFC Championship Games the real Super Bowl -- the NFC is where you went to see the best teams in football. The Bills were still very good, but they won the AFC so frequently because of a lack of competition, meaning they got to play sacrificial lamb on the biggest stage of them all.

In the alternate universe where the Bills pull off the Four-Peat, they rise all the way to 21st in our rankings -- the rings count for quite a bit. If you just fix Scott Norwood's wayward kick, that bumps them up to 35th.

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.


65 comments, Last at 26 Jun 2020, 6:01am

#1 by pm // May 14, 2020 - 12:45pm

The Chargers got screwed because they had 2 amazing bookend seasons that were not included in these rankings. The Chargers were spectacular in 2005 and 2010 but they missed the playoffs because of bad luck. If you include 2005, you have to include their 12-4 2004 season too.


2004: 17.2 DVOA, 9th, 12-4 record

2005: 23.3 DVOA, 6th, 9-7 record

2010: 15.4 DVOA, 9th, 9-7 record


In 2010 they had the 4th ranked offense and 7th ranked defense. They were held down by a historically bad 32nd ranked special teams.

Points: 0

#21 by Dave0 // May 14, 2020 - 5:52pm

Starting in 2004, this was such a good team over the rest of the decade.  I don't think we'll see a better Chargers squad than that 2006 team if we live to be 100.  They were so deep all over... their eighth linebacker would have been an impact player somewhere else.

If anyone got screwed here, it was Chargers fans, watching them win nothing of lasting consequence over this period.

Points: 0

#22 by PantsB // May 14, 2020 - 6:31pm

Hard to describe a 9-7 season as spectacular.  They also got the benefit of winning their division at 8-8.  

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#2 by mehllageman56 // May 14, 2020 - 1:01pm

Sorry, I don't think the best Saints team from that era would have beaten the 1999 Rams.  Those teams had better defenses, even before the run.  Even the Super Bowl Saints team had a mediocre Defensive DVOA at -0.4%, and relied on turnovers a lot.  I wouldn't be putting that run over the Rams one.

Points: 0

#4 by Bryan Knowles // May 14, 2020 - 1:15pm

And I'd agree -- but we're talking about the entire run, not best-on-best.

Here are all those Rams and Saints teams, ranked by their DVOA:

1999 Rams: 34.0%
2001 Rams: 25.9%
2011 Saints: 23.8%
2009 Saints: 21.3%
2013 Saints: 19.3%
2000 Rams: 11.2%
2010 Saints: 9.2%
2003 Rams: 1.3%
2012 Saints: -5.2%
2002 Rams: -6.5%

If we were ranking best individual teams here, yeah, both the Super Bowl Rams squads are better than anything the Saints managed in their best seasons.  But the Saints were able to play at a higher level overall in their five-year run.

But it's dang close -- just 0.07 points between them, so if you weighted "best possible season" a little higher, or used Top-Three DVOA instead of Top-Five DVOA, you could easily justify putting the Rams over the Saints.  In competitions that close, the exact methodology matters!

As it is, the Rams gain 0.11 points on the Saints for having one extra dynasty point (thanks, second Super Bowl appearance!), and 0.08 points for the extra NFC West title mixed in -- the Saints only won their division twice in their run, although it was admittedly a stronger division than the early 2000s NFC West.  But the Saints gain 0.25 points back from a better average DVOA over the course of their run -- the Rams came, they were amazing, and they faded back almost as quickly.

Points: 0

#55 by Will Allen // May 18, 2020 - 12:51pm

It's not often you see a Super Bowl champion get randomness to significantly break their way in both the conference championship and Super Bowl, but it may be the case for the 2009 Saints. Either of those games might easily be losses if the oddly shaped ball bounces a little differently. Then, again the Rams Super Bowl victory and Conference Championship in '99 were also very close games where randomness played a huge role.

This goes back to the dynastys of the pre free agency, pre cap era being more dominant teams.

Points: 0

#3 by Bright Blue Shorts // May 14, 2020 - 1:12pm

Bryan - want to say that your writing has been really good in this series.

There's a lot of interesting info about the teams and, more importantly to me, there's less quoting of the stats.   I know stats provide accuracy but too many hinder readability and that's something all the writers on this site should think about in their articles.

Nice work mate.  I've got a lot of reading to catch up on.

Points: 0

#5 by Bryan Knowles // May 14, 2020 - 1:16pm

Sometimes, the stats can be a story in and of themselves.  But sometimes, you just want to talk about how Sammy Baugh was incredible and not get bogged down in his exact yard per attempt numbers.  It's all about a balance.

Thank you -- and everyone, honestly -- for all the great feedback I've gotten to this point.  I'm glad you're all enjoying the ride so far!

Points: 0

#6 by mehllageman56 // May 14, 2020 - 1:21pm

Have to say I am loving this series as well, even though as a  fan I have nothing about my favorite team in it except the outside six.  You are doing a great job with the writing of it to keep this Jets fan interested.

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#12 by BlueStarDude // May 14, 2020 - 3:24pm

I just want to agree. This is some of the best writing since Tanier was here. High praise indeed.

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#62 by Theo // May 19, 2020 - 12:54pm


A really good read, many things I didnt know and brubgs back great memories. 

That 1999 Rams season was the first season I ever saw. The next decade felt like a roller coaster ride. 

Points: 0

#7 by Bryan Knowles // May 14, 2020 - 1:23pm

This piece was written before Don Shula's passing, so I figured I'd say a few extra words about him here.

Shula's greatest ability was his flexibility.  He wasn't a massive innovator like some of the other coaches touted as the best of all time; he didn't win a zillion titles or produce an astounding coaching tree (though he can count Chuck Noll to his credit).  His win total is, in part, a factor of coming in at age 33 and coaching until he was 65; he's "only' seventh in winning percentage among coaches with 100+ games coached.

But how many coaches in NFL history could have won games in so many different ways?  We see coaches today struggle with adapting to a new offensive environment even three or four years after their prime; Shula was successful in four different decades with wildly different teams.  To go from killer defenses and ground-control smashing to Dan Marino's record-shattering offensive production?  Amazing.  His adaptability and willingness to change and evolve with the times made him an all-time great. 

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#8 by Bryan Knowles // May 14, 2020 - 1:25pm

Also -- everyone needs to watch the video included with the Dolphins, if just for the Killer Bs theme song.

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#9 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 14, 2020 - 2:14pm

Tony Dungy.

Tony Dungy, in conference championship games, has both won 38-34 against the league's 2nd best scoring defense and lost 6-11 to the league's best scoring offense on two teams built in mirror images of each other.

To get there he rode Peyton Manning and an offense built around stars, paired with 1.5 competent defenders, but he also got there with three HOF defenders and two guys in the Hall of Very Good, paired with an offense featuring Trent Dilfer, Shaun King, and Eric Zeier, who gave 280 touches to a fullback!

That's some versatility!

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#25 by GwillyGecko // May 14, 2020 - 7:17pm

Mike Alstott was a RB listed as a FB to get him in the Pro Bowl every year

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#37 by Mountain Time … // May 15, 2020 - 7:14am

In the contemporary Madden games he was listed as an RB, I remember I always traded for either him or Greg Jones to move to FB where they were more useful

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#56 by Will Allen // May 18, 2020 - 1:03pm

Mike Alstott may be the most overrated multiple pro bowler ever. No speed with which to hit a big play, combined with a high fumble rate. Yeah, sure, that'll win games (not). I think his career was built on Chris Berman's microphone effects during ESPN highlights.

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#33 by anotheroldguy // May 14, 2020 - 11:36pm

Your comment reminded me of a quote from Bum Phillips, here's one citation: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/john-mcclain/article/Don-Shula-Bum-Phillips-Oilers-Dolphins-15246844.php

“He can take his’n and beat your’n and take your’n and beat his’n.”

Flexibility indeed.


Points: 0

#10 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 14, 2020 - 2:18pm

For someone who is going to retire with all the passing records, Drew Brees has been rather unlucky. He has never played on an offense with a negative DVOA, he has five of the 30 best quarterback seasons since 1985 per DYAR

That's the argument that cuts both ways, right? Was Brees unfortunate in that he never had a good defense? Or was he fortunate/success inflated due to playing for a team who spent most of their cap on offense, so he always had a good offensive line and good receivers? Until his last years in Denver, Manning had this dilemma, too.

It's not like Brees was Luck or Stafford, and we wonder what might have been had they ever experienced a competent organization.

Points: 0

#11 by Bryan Knowles // May 14, 2020 - 2:40pm

You're not entirely wrong, but there are degrees.

In Manning's 13 years in Indianapolis, he was saddled with six defenses that ranked outside the top 20 in DVOA, none of which ranked below #29.  His average defensive DVOA in Indy was 2.4%.  In addition, four of those six defenses were in Manning's first four years, so before he really entered his prime.

In Brees' 14 years in New Orleans, he has been saddled with eight defenses that ranked outside the top 20 in DVOA, including five that ranked 30th or lower.  His averaged defensive DVOA in New Orleans is 5.5%.  In addition, four of those five 30th-or-worst seasons happened between 2012-2016, in Brees' mid-30s; maybe not QUITE the prime of his career, but close to it.

Even with more of their money going on the offensive side of the ball -- and I don't think it's quite as extreme as you think it was -- you'd expect an average defense to come around from time to time just by the laws of averages, if nothing else; some rookie deals working out and providing brief windows of organizational competence.

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#23 by dank067 // May 14, 2020 - 6:44pm

I think this is best illustrated by comparing how the Colts were able to win at least 12 games in 7 consecutive seasons from '03 to '09, while the Saints zigged and zagged out of the playoff picture from '06-'17. Indy had just enough defensive stability to keep them in an elevated position. Now that the Saints have some actual continuity and stability on defense themselves, they've won their division as many times in the last 3 years as they did in the first 11 years of the Brees era.

The AFC in the '00s was brutal, too. Again, 12-14 wins for the Colts every year from '03 to '09, but they only earned a first-round bye three times. And they won the Super Bowl in one of the seasons they didn't get it. Of course, the Saints were unlucky too in that their very good '11 and '19 teams didn't get a first round bye.

Points: 0

#24 by Bryan Knowles // May 14, 2020 - 7:15pm

And I think you can credit some of that Colts defensive consistency to Dungy -- yeah, the Colts were an offensive team, and spent their resources there, but Dungy was able to coach and scheme his defenses into an adequate group, if not more than that.  Only one of those six sub-rank 20 defenses came with Dungy as a coach -- and ironically, that was the Super Bowl year, with Bob Sanders coming back to spark a postseason resurgence for the D.

Points: 0

#45 by theslothook // May 16, 2020 - 2:27pm

Remember the Colts defense was a function of their offense in more ways than just the resources spent.Their whole setup was about their offense getting a lead and so all of their concentration was playing a safe cover 2 zone backed by their edge rushers. That strategy allows them to ignore run defense or talent in the secondary. 


Put this kind of defense on most other franchises and it will look a lot worse than it ultimately did. You kind of saw that happen when Manning was injured and the entire team collapsed into dust.


History will remember the Colts franchise as one that devoted its resources almost entirely to skill positions and pass rushers. That can only work if you have a great QB and even then, it's the low variance low ceiling play. 


Points: 0

#50 by Bright Blue Shorts // May 18, 2020 - 5:25am

"History will remember the Colts franchise as one that devoted its resources almost entirely to skill positions and pass rushers. That can only work if you have a great QB and even then, it's the low variance low ceiling play."


Of course Bill Polian was the GM for the Colts and was building on what he'd done in Buffalo with Jim Kelly / Bruce Smith.  And both teams are probably better remembered for their lack of postseason success more than their regular season dominance.

Points: 0

#53 by theslothook // May 18, 2020 - 12:25pm

I didn't follow the nfl back in the Bills days, but yeah, the results seem align with the strategy. Its unfortunate that the Colts decade long run won't be remembered better. If they win the SB in 09, I think it significantly changes the narrative. I suppose its similar to Seattle in that sense. 

Points: 0

#39 by David // May 15, 2020 - 8:23am

Strongly agree with the sentiment - my preferred example for this is the early 90s Philadelphia defense (particularly after reading 'Bringing the Heat').  This was a team where the defensive personnel got very upset that the offense couldn't keep up, but the draft capital spent on the defense didn't leave anything to improve the offense.

It's not that the defense wasn't good - it was - but that this isn't as impressive (to me) as a slightly worse defense on a much better team - implying that the second defense maybe wasn't so reliant on the expenditure of limited resources


Points: 0

#46 by BJR // May 16, 2020 - 2:48pm

The 2000 Ravens are probably the best corollary to the Brees Saints. Incredible sustained defensive performance, dragged down by consistently shitty offence. interested to see if/where they will feature. 

Points: 0

#47 by theslothook // May 16, 2020 - 5:15pm

Its interesting to see the legacy divergence between Brian Billick and Sean Payton. Both had to deal with massive dichotomies between offense and defense, and yet I think because Billick is an offensive guy, he gets no credit whatsoever. 

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#52 by Bowl Game Anomaly // May 18, 2020 - 12:06pm

Sean Payton: 13 years at .630 win% (21st all time), 8 playoff appearances, .615 playoff%.

Brian Billick: 9 years at .556 win% (58th all time), 4 playoff appearances (4!), .444 playoff%.

That may have something to do with it.

Points: 0

#13 by BigRichie // May 14, 2020 - 3:28pm

Electric football numbers were actually typically 0-0 rather than high scoring. The players would just keep running in circles. Made it an interesting challenge to see if you could finagle one of them to run straight enough for long enough to get to the end zone.

Points: 0

#16 by Bryan Knowles // May 14, 2020 - 3:34pm

I actually have an old electric football set somewhere in storage; I should bust it out to simulate some of these games.

Or my favorite Christmas gift this year -- a 1970 copy of the NFL Strategy board game, complete with almost-working dials and gears.


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#42 by Pen // May 15, 2020 - 12:43pm

The guy who did the stats back in the '70's produced some remarkably well crafted teams that produced realistic results.

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#54 by Will Allen // May 18, 2020 - 12:39pm

That NFL strategy game was awesome; very realistic outcome probabilities for offensive vs. defensive playcalls.

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#40 by BlueStarDude // May 15, 2020 - 10:18am

When I was a kid we had up to I think an 8-team league at one point, this was in the early to mid 80s. The circle thing was an issue, but it was far from every player. I'm sure we had at least a TD or two each game, plus a couple of FGs. Though we used dice to determine the result of passes, FGc, and XPs. 

Points: 0

#14 by dmb // May 14, 2020 - 3:28pm

Just want to echo the sentiments that others have expressed here: this series is sublime. The idea, the underlying analysis, and most of all, the writing are all terrific. Thanks!

Points: 0

#15 by Charzander // May 14, 2020 - 3:33pm

"[Baugh's] the only pre-modern quarterback that the NFL experts picked to make the NFL 100 Team..."

Not to be pedantic, but wasn't Otto Graham chosen as well?

Points: 0

#17 by Bryan Knowles // May 14, 2020 - 3:41pm

He was!  This is a difference of what you count as "modern" football. 

I'm using the 1950s as the cutoff -- 1950 is the year that free substitution was made a permanent thing, so you would have different players on offense and defense.  They experimented with it some during World War II, but in 1950, they decided to run with it.   So Baugh had to play defense for a significant portion of his career, while Graham did not -- the AAFC had free substitution right from the very start.

You could also use the 1970 merger as the beginning of modern football -- that's a pretty obvious connecting point.  Or 1933, when passing was legalized anywhere behind the line of scrimmage, an NFL championship game was setup, and the league was split into divisions.  Or 1978, when the passing rules were opened up.  Or 2004, when the illegal contact rules were reemphasized.   All depends on your point of view, really.

For me, the idea that a quarterback could concentrate on just being a quarterback, rather than tackling dudes and punting and everything, is a pretty good cutoff point there.  But imagine if the Patriots had lost an AFC Championship because Tom Brady separated his shoulder sacking Peyton Manning?   Old-timey football is both fun and weird.

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#18 by Boots Day // May 14, 2020 - 4:01pm

Great stuff! But I have one nitpick to make:

The Eagles merged for one year with the Steelers and for another year with the Cardinals.

It was the Steelers who merged with two different teams, creating the Steagles and then the unforgettable Car-Pitts, who went 0-10 in 1944.


Points: 0

#19 by Bryan Knowles // May 14, 2020 - 4:10pm

Right you are -- I must have changed streams midsentence there.  Thanks for catching it!

Speaking of merged 1940s teams, it wasn't necessarily going to be the Steagles.  There was a competing possibility of a merger in 1943 -- the Bears and Cardinals requested to merge as well!  It would be hard to imagine two more competitively unbalanced teams ever merging; the 1942 Cardinals were 3-8 and had already lost their two best players to the war effort, while the 1942 Bears...well, I'll save my gushing over them until we hit them on the countdown.  A 30-minute trip between Wrigley and Comiskey makes a lot more sense on paper than covering all of Pennsylvania!

Points: 0

#20 by young curmudgeon // May 14, 2020 - 4:20pm

The Ship of Theseus reference in the Dolphins section might be the most delightful single thing ever published in a Football Outsiders article. Clever, erudite, perfectly appropriate...Brilliant!  (Full disclosure, I did minor in philosophy.)

Points: 0

#26 by math_geek // May 14, 2020 - 7:21pm

How are there so many different z-score's for championships won? Seems like every team has 1, 2, or 0.

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#27 by Bryan Knowles // May 14, 2020 - 7:38pm

To help differentiate teams, teams also get a few points for conference/divisional titles, slightly prorated for league size at the time.  So these Saints, for example, actually get put into the formula as 1.12 championships -- 1 point for the Super Bowl win, 0.1 points for the NFC title, and 0.02 points for two NFC South titles in a four-team division. 

The original idea was to give teams that consistently made Super Bowls and championships games a boost, even if they didn't end up winning anything -- but it ended up being almost entirely inconsequential; there are five cases where a team swapped with the team immediatley ahead of them, but nothing more than that.  It was the deciding factor that gave these Dolphins a leg up on the Chargers, which seems fair enough -- two Super Bowl losses seems more noteworthy than zero Super Bowl appearances -- but for the most part, it's a nonfactor.

It was so inconsequential, in fact that, uh, I appear to have forgotten to mention it in Tuesday's article where I explained how things were calculated.  Eep.

Points: 0

#43 by math_geek // May 15, 2020 - 1:04pm

It's all good - this series is amazing fun and you should be proud.  

The Ravens homer in me is cranky that winning the division counts for something in both dynasty points and quality wins, but playoff wins don't.  The Joe Flacco / Ray Lewis / Ed Reed mini-dynasty struggled to win a tough division with the Steelers and Bengals both good, but they won a playoff game every year and made the AFC championship 3 times in those 5 years.  Maybe DVOA will help them float a little longer :-D

Points: 0

#44 by Bryan Knowles // May 15, 2020 - 1:20pm

Yeah, divisions where multiple teams are trading the title every year make it hard for anyone to stand out as a dynasty -- which seems fair, because if you can't conquer your own little subgroup, how can you conquer the world?

Your intuition that DVOA is the Ravens' best calling card is correct, but you'll have to wait and see just how high it floats them ;)

Points: 0

#28 by D // May 14, 2020 - 8:01pm

Fun article, but I have two small quibles:


An injury to Warner held the Rams to a wild-card berth in 2000

Green basically replicated Warner's production in 2000 when Warner was injured.  The regression the team experienced was a result of the terrible defense (27th by DVOA, last by points allowed).


Keep your Sid Luckmans; Baugh is the NFL's first great passer.

Baugh was the better player, but Luckman was the superior passer. Baugh had the better completion and int %'s, but Luckman's adjusted y/a is over a yard higher than Baugh's.

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#30 by Bryan Knowles // May 14, 2020 - 8:11pm

Oh, the irrational Sid Luckman versus Sammy Baugh posts of 1940s Football Outsiders, which was of course a bunch of people in newsie caps on the local street corner.


While Luckman does have the advantage on Baugh in AY/A, 6.6 to 5.4, it should be noted that Luckman had the benefit of playing in the T Formation for his entire career -- not that he was a system quarterback, per se, but it's worth remembering that he was placed in a system that became clearly dominant throughout the 40s, and eventually wiped out the Single Wing and the A Formation and the Notre Dame Box and everything else.  If you just count Baugh's numbers after Washington switched to the T, his AY/A jumps from 5.4 to 6.1.  He doesn't quite hit Luckman, but that explains a significant chunk of the difference between the two of them.  And, as you say, Baugh had the better completion percentage and interception percentage and yards per game, AND played for a team with less talent around him. 

You can keep your Luckmans; I'm on team Baugh.

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#41 by Bowl Game Anomaly // May 15, 2020 - 12:07pm

Baugh also had a lot more attempts per game and yards per game. Luckman may have been more efficient (despite having a lower completion% and higher int%, he has a slightly higher passer rating), but Baugh had a lot more volume. It's kind of a Unitas vs Starr comparison.

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#48 by Goeagles581 // May 17, 2020 - 6:53pm

I will go to my grave thinking Trent Green was as good as Warner and that the reason one of them is in the Hall of Fame and the other isn’t is because Green was unlucky and got hurt. 

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#29 by D // May 14, 2020 - 8:10pm

Interesting about the abrupt change in Z-score between the Colts and Steelers.  The z-scores had been changing steadily and then boom.  Not sure if it really means anything, still interesting (at least to me).

Points: 0

#31 by Bryan Knowles // May 14, 2020 - 8:16pm

It IS a huge jump.  It's not quite the biggest we've seen so far, but the only bigger one was between the last-place Seahawks, who are clearly an outlier boosted by playing in a joke of a division.

There are a few other jumps that are larger than this one going forward, but they're all up in the top ten or fifteen; you'd expect the scores to sort of spread out as they enter double-digits.

I don't have an explanation as to why there's such a gap between the Steelers and Colts; there's no obvious reason why no one would slide into the -4.0s.  Just a weird statistical quirk.

Points: 0

#32 by dmb // May 14, 2020 - 10:53pm

Small request: can you update Tuesday's article describing your methodology to include a link to this article? When spreading the word about this, it's nice to be able to send a single link. Thanks!

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#34 by Bryan Knowles // May 14, 2020 - 11:37pm

Link is updated!

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#35 by mumoo13 // May 15, 2020 - 2:06am

When you say that Faulk's 1999-2001 seasons are "first, third, and fifth among all running backs", which numbers are you using? It looks like 1998 Terrell Davis has a higher rushing DYAR and DVOA than any Faulk seasons.

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#36 by Bryan Knowles // May 15, 2020 - 2:50am

We're using combined DYAR -- rushing and receiving.  If you just look at rushing DYAR alone, yes, Terrell Davis' 602 DYAR in 1998 is tops -- in fact, he has the first and third-best seasons ever, with Stephen Davis sliding in right between them.

But a huge part of Faulk's skillset, and overall value, includes his receiving abilities; he is arguably the best combination receiver/rusher in NFL history.  The top 10 seasons since 1985 in combined DYAR are:


1. 2000 Marshall Faulk (846)
2. 2002 Priest Holmes (760)
3. 1999 Marshall Faulk (757)
4. 2003 Priest Holmes (719)
5. 2001 Marshall Faulk (707)
6. 2019 Christian McCaffrey (707)
T7. 1998 Terrell Davis (647)
T7. 1998 Marshall Faulk (647)
9. 2002 Charlie Garner (617)
10. 2005 Larry Johnson (603)

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#38 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 15, 2020 - 8:16am

Man, those early 2000s Chiefs...

If we ever get there, the 50s and 60s Browns will be fascinating, too. Who was more valuable, Jim Brown or Bobby Mitchell?

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#49 by mumoo13 // May 18, 2020 - 1:50am

Thanks for explaining! I'm curious if I've understood the stats correctly and what your thoughts are about the meaningfulness of combined DYAR.

In 1995, for example, it looks like Larry Centers had the second highest combined DYAR of all RBs. While he was probably undervalued at the time, it seems like a stretch to say he had the second best RB season that year.

I'm guessing a big part of this is that many RBs are more effecting rushing than receiving so the receiving replacement value is lower, which inflates receiving DYAR for RBs.

Clearly it doesn't make sense to ignore receiving DYAR, but it seems that weighting rushing and receiving DYAR evenly inflates the receiving value. Put another way, Faulk should get credit for his rushing and receiving production, but should he also get extra credit for the fact that some RBs provide very little receiving value?

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#51 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 18, 2020 - 8:23am

I suspect, if you called Centers a tight-end (There were a few guys who did this job in 1995, and they might be called a tight end, a FB, or in some cases a RB), he'd still look pretty good in 1995.

1000 yards at an 84% catch rate does pretty well regardless of assumed position.

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#57 by takeleavebelieve // May 18, 2020 - 9:55pm

Receiving DYAR is scaled to position, so I think Centers‘ DYAR in particular is an 90s era-specific quirk.

- In general, the importance of an efficient receiving back was underrated.

- Run-blocking schemes of that era were focused on putting bodies in front of a feature tailback and were less interested in deception. 

- Offenses descended from Gibbs and Cornell scheme didn’t really use a fullback, and gave their TEs more receiving responsibilities.

- More “gimmicky” offenses like the Run’n’Shoot or the K-Gun didn’t use fullbacks at all. 

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#59 by Will Allen // May 19, 2020 - 7:21am

One of the interesting differences between Coryell and Gibbs is that Gibbs did not throw to the tight end nearly as much. A couple years Warren and Didier combined for receptions in the 50s, whereas Winslow would catch 80+ passes himself several years, and the next tight end would catch 20+. Of course, if Gibbs had Winslow, I'm sure he would have used him.

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#60 by Bowl Game Anomaly // May 19, 2020 - 10:18am

And in fact, when Gibbs had Chris Cooley, he did use him. Cooley had years with 71, 66, and 57 receptions under Gibbs.

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#58 by Bryan Knowles // May 19, 2020 - 3:27am

You're certainly correct in that receiving (and rushing) DYAR is calibrated by position, so X DYAR from a WR isn't equal to X DYAR from a RB.  For running backs with a disproportionate chunk of their value from receiving, rather than rushing, that might lead to them being overrated when you look at combined DYAR, yes.

In most cases, this ends up not mattering too much; there's about one guy a year who qualifies for the rushing tables with more receiving yards than rushing yards (in 2019, that one guy was Austin Ekeler; in 2018 it was TJ Yeldon; in 2017 it was both Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara which made up for the fact that no one did it in 2016, etc).  Occasionally, you get a repeat offender like Centers or a season like Terry Kirby's 1993 (119 rushing attempts for 390 yards; 75 receptions for 874 yards!), but for the most part, it isn't a huge issue when it comes to ranking players.   If you were, for example, to arbitrarily give half-credit for receiving DYAR, the top 10 would look very similar:

1. 2000 Marshall Faulk
2. 2002 Priest Holmes
3. 1998 Terrell Davis (up from 7th)
4. 2003 Priest Homes
5. 1999 Marshall Faulk (down from 3rd)
6. 2005 Larry Johnson (up from 10th)
7. 2001 Marshall Faulk (down from 5th)
8. 2006 LaDainian Tomlinson (up from 12th)
9. 1997 Terrell Davis (up from 29th)
10. 1999 Stephen Davis (up from 34th)
17. 2019 Christian McCaffrey (down from 6th)
26. 1998 Marshall Faulk (down from 7th)
30. 2002 Charlie Garner (down from 9th)

And finally, yes, it'd be a bit silly to say Larry Centers was the second-best running back in 1995.  He actually had the THIRD most combined DYAR at 318, under Emmitt Smith (504) and Ironhead Heyward (362)  ;)

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#61 by mumoo13 // May 19, 2020 - 12:22pm

Haha, you got me, I am shocked to see that Heyward actually provided value in the passing game.

More importantly, the rest of your response makes sense. Thanks for the detailed answer!

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#65 by RobotBoy // Jun 26, 2020 - 6:01am

Faulk was terrifying but the Pats really bamboozled the Rams in the first 2 1/2 quarters of that superbowl by blanketing him. The play calling took a long time (too long) to adjust.

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#63 by JimZipCode // May 20, 2020 - 5:50pm

I really, really, really appreciate you including the "D" when you abbreviated LaDainian Tomlinson's name.  "LT" is, was, and always shall be Lawrence Taylor.

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#64 by BenjaminSchell // May 23, 2020 - 7:17am

I guess Steelers get cut off in 2006 because of a down year when Ben was injured and Maddox was atrocious in relief, but if we could do it subjectively I would group the Steelers seasons 2004-2011 as one run (essentially the Big Ben / peak Polamalu years) for dynasty consideration and not combine the 2001 team with the 2005 team. 

That run had 2 SB wins, 1 SB loss, 88-40 record (0.6875) despite playing in the same conference as the Brady Patriots and the Manning Colts

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