Dynasty Rankings, Part V: Nos. 11-20

Seattle Seahawks DBs Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman
Seattle Seahawks DBs Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Welcome to the penultimate stage of the dynasty rankings -- the teams that almost, but not quite, crack the top 10. They may not be the greatest teams of all time, but you can see them from here.

Once you get to the top 20, there are no more questionable candidates; no more teams who look out of place among their peers. None of these teams are without flaw -- if they were, they'd be in the top 10 -- but they were so incredibly good at what they were good at that no history of the league would be complete without mentioning them. These teams aren't just good; they're load-bearing for the chronicle of the NFL.

And yet, only three of them have multiple titles to their name. For the most part, this is a list of teams that just couldn't quite get past the very best of the best; teams that had the misfortune of playing in an era where an all-time great team was hogging titles for themselves. How many rings would Peyton Manning have if it wasn't for Tom Brady? How many championships would the Minnesota Vikings have brought home if they hadn't been in the most top-heavy decade in NFL history? How long would the Philadelphia Eagles have dominated the NFL if the AAFC hadn't folded?

Tweak one or two events in history, alter the outcome of one or two games, and any of these ten teams could take their place among the ten best to have played the game. Instead, they're stuck just outside the door here; the not-quite best ten teams of all time.

Previous articles in this series
Dynasty points explained
Part I: 51-56
Part II: 41-50
Part III: 31-40
Part IV: 21-30

No. 20: 1949-1952 Los Angeles Rams

Peak Dynasty Points: 12
Average DVOA: 28.8%.
Top-Five DVOA: 23.0%
Championships: 1.
Record: 34-12-2 (.729)
Head Coach: Clark Shaughnessy, Joe Stydahar, Hampton Pool
Key Players: QB Bob Waterfield, QB Norm Van Brocklin, FB Tank Younger, E Elroy Hirsch, E Tom Fears, DE Larry Brink, MG Stan West
Z-Score: 0.68

The list of NFL passing and receiving records is dominated by modern players, as today's teams throw the ball more than ever before, brushing up to 35 attempts per game in recent years. But in and among the Mannings, Breeses, and Bradys of the world, you'll find a couple of standouts from the 1950s who stick out like a sore thumb.

The most points per game in NFL history? The 1950 Rams, with 466 points in 12 games. The most yards gained in a single game? The 1951 Rams, with 722. The most passing yards in a single game? Norm Van Brocklin in that same 1951 game, with 554.

Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch is the only player still in the top 50 in single season receiving yards who played before 1960, and his 17 touchdowns (in 12 games!) in 1951 stood as the record until 1984. Heck, his 124.6 yards per game that season is still the third best of all time. Tom Fears had 18 receptions in a single game for the Rams in 1950, a record which would stand until 2000. Flipping through the record book, it becomes stranger and stranger that a bunch of records from the 1950s could still be standing. They shine like a neon light; how the heck could that happen?

The answer lies with Clark Shaughnessy, the man more responsible for how offensive football looks than possibly anyone else in history. In the 1940s, Shaughnessy had dusted off the T-formation and basically made passing a regular part of the offense. But this was a decade later, first serving as a technical advisor and then as head coach for the Rams, and he had a problem: he had way too much offensive talent to actually use.

He had an existing All-Pro quarterback in Bob Waterfield and had just drafted a future Pro Bowl quarterback in Norm Van Brocklin. He had Crazy Legs Hirsch, who needed to switch from halfback to end to protect his head and give him room in open space to move. He had Tom Fears, another future Hall of Famer, at split end. He had an excellent tight end in Bob Shaw. He had college 100-yard dash champion Bob Boyd. He had a flotilla of halfbacks who could catch, from Glenn Davis to Vitamin Smith to Tommy Kalmanir. He just had to get this talent on the field.

And so the three-end formation was born, with the Rams regularly using three (and sometimes even four or five) wide receivers. This was an era when the standard defensive front was a 5-2 or even a 5-3, so you can imagine the shock when all of a sudden all these tiny speedy guys were running all around the field. There's a reason the 1950 Rams were the first team to have all their games televised; people have always loved crazy offense, and no offense was crazier than the big plays that Crazy Legs could provide. The Rams' offense was so prolific that in 1951, Van Brocklin finished fourth in the league in passing yards, and Waterfield finished fifth. Those 1951 Rams have an estimated offensive DVOA of 35.0%, sixth-highest since 1950. Dudes could throw the ball.

Shaughnessy didn't actually last to coach the 1950s version of these Rams; he was a better innovator than coach, and bringing in new textbooks full of plays every week wasn't something that exactly endeared him to his players. But it was his system and his ideas that led the Rams to three straight NFL title games, finally winning one in 1951. Had they pulled off a three-peat, or at least kept some of their success going throughout the mid-1950s, they'd be challenging the top 10 on this list.

No. 19: 1984-1991 Chicago Bears

Peak Dynasty Points: 15
Average DVOA: 21.1%.
Top-Five DVOA: 27.6%
Championships: 1.
Record: 90-37 (.709)
Head Coach: Mike Ditka
Key Players: RB Neal Anderson, RB Walter Payton, T Jimbo Covert, G Mark Bortz, C Jay Hilgenberg, DE Richard Dent, DT Dan Hampton, DT Steve McMichael, LB Mike Singletary, LB Wilber Marshall, S Dave Duerson
Z-Score: 0.71

Bill Walsh called it "the most singular innovation in defensive football in the last 20 years." The Shufflin' Crew called it "so bad, you know it's good." Whatever you call it, the Bears' 46 defense was like nothing we've ever seen in the Super Bowl era. The 1985 and 1986 defenses rank second and third on the all-time defensive DVOA leaderboards and are two of only seven teams to allow fewer than 200 points in a 16-game season. The one year they were able to roll out an offense even approaching the defense's skill level, they produced arguably the greatest team of all time -- No. 3 on your all-time DVOA leaderboards and No. 1 in Bill Swerski's cholesterol-laden heart, the 1985 Bears.

Buddy Ryan's 46 defense was never going to last forever. With eight men in the box, you can shred it with multiple-receiver formations. Even standard sets can beat it if you have impeccable timing on your passes and receivers who can win in one-on-one coverage; see Dan Marino and the Dolphins giving the 1985 Bears their one loss. But a) that wasn't immediately obvious right off the bat, b) most teams didn't have a Marino to throw at the Bears, and c) 1980s offensive football was mostly out of two-back, two-wide formations anyway. Ryan was going to send pressure at you over and over again, and dare you to respond; most teams simply couldn't. If you can sack Joe Montana seven times in one game, you can beat anyone.

It wouldn't have worked without studs, however. The Bears already had Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton when Mike Ditka arrived in 1982, and his ensuing draft classes brought in Richard Dent, Dave Duerson, Wilber Marshall ,and most of the rest of the 1985 team. In the back half of the 1980s, the Bears defense boasted three Hall of Famers, two more first-team All-Pros, and five more Pro Bowlers. That's basically an entire starting lineup of lauded players; you could have a group that talented run basic vanilla defenses year in and year out and they'd find a way to stand out.

The offenses weren't quite as strong, of course. Walter Payton was still around at the beginning, but he was approaching the end of his career. They added Jimbo Covert and Mike Bortz on the offensive line, so they were sturdy enough there. The problem, as has been the case with every Bears team since the mid-1950s, was at quarterback. Jim McMahon was the Punky QB in question, and he's the real What If? here -- 1985 was the last time he started at least 10 games for the Bears, and was the only time in this run where they had an offensive DVOA over 10.0%. It's no surprise this was the one Super Bowl win this team put up. Give this defense an offense on par with some of their contemporaries, and the team of the 1980s may have been located in Soldier Field.

But no, the Bears weren't the team of the 1980s. They lost six playoff games during this run, and five of them came to teams in the midst of their own dynasty runs -- two to the 49ers, two to the Redskins, and one to the Cowboys. Had they been an AFC team, they might well have made three or four Super Bowls. Instead, they mostly played bridesmaids to the rest of the loaded NFC in the 1980s, except for that one glorious shuffling year.

No. 18: 1947-1949 Philadelphia Eagles

Peak Dynasty Points: 14
Average DVOA: 31.4%.
Top-Five DVOA: 18.9%
Championships: 2.
Record: 28-7-1 (.792)
Head Coach: Greasy Neale
Key Players: HB Steve Van Buren, HB Bosh Pritchard, E Pete Pihos, T Al Wistert, G Bucko Kilroy, C Alex Wojciechowicz
Z-Score: 1.07

You have to put these Eagles teams in historical context. Philadelphia entered the league in 1933, and had zero winning seasons until 1943. It's not like they were getting close and just missing out, either; they had three one-win seasons and four two-win seasons in their history. They were hopeless; and even exchanging the entire roster for that of the Steelers in 1940 (…long story) didn't change their fortunes. No, the Eagles didn't become good until they selected Steve Van Buren in the first round of the 1944 draft.

Van Buren was, to that point, the greatest running back to have ever played in the NFL. He certainly had the statistics to back up that claim -- he led the league in rushing yards per game every year between 1945 and 1949 and was the all-time leader in rushing yards when he retired, sure. He may have been the first back to ever rush for 1,000 yards in a season (there's some conflicting reports as to whether Beattie Feathers' 1934 season really was over 1,000 yards or not), and he certainly was the first player to do it twice. He scored 18 touchdowns in 1945 -- in a 10-game season. Only Jerry Rice, Marshall Faulk, and LaDainian Tomlinson in their very best seasons managed to score at a higher rate than Van Buren did. Paul Zimmerman called him the greatest sloppy-field runner in the history of the game, and sloppy fields were to be expected in the 1940s. Van Buren arrived right at the beginning of the post-war period, where the NFL was still rebuilding its strength after years of able-bodied men having something better to do with their Sundays. So one all-world player was enough to turn a joke of a team into perennial contenders.

One player wasn't enough to reach the championship game, though. Hall of Fame coach Greasy Neale did build a roster around Van Buren. Pete Pihos is either one of the best wide receivers of the early days of the NFL or the first great tight end, depending on how you classify him. Bucko Kilroy and Al Wistert paved lanes for Van Buren and Bosh Pritchard. They sort of lucked their way in to the 1947 title game -- the other four teams in the NFL East that year all had negative SRS -- but they stormed through the league in 1948 and 1949, with SRS-to-DVOA approximations of over 40.0% each season. They won the 1948 title game in a blizzard so bad that Van Buren nearly didn't show up, assuming the game would be cancelled. They won the 1949 championship with Van Buren running for 196 yards in a driving rainstorm. Again, best sloppy-field runner of all time.

It is worth noting, however, that the Eagles likely were not in fact the best professional football team when they won their back-to-back championships, so perhaps their high ranking should come with a bit of an asterisk. The 1950 season began with the defending NFL champion Eagles taking on the defending champions of the now-defunct AAFC, the Cleveland Browns. The Eagles assumed they would easily dominate the survivors of a clearly lesser league. They, uh, did not, getting blown out 35-10, at home. But we'll get to those Browns soon enough. As for the Eagles' run, Neale retired after 1950 and Van Buren suffered a whole smorgasbord of injuries the same season; the Eagles wouldn't win their division again until 1960.

No. 17: 1968-1980 Minnesota Vikings

Peak Dynasty Points: 27
Average DVOA: 9.9%.
Top-Five DVOA: 24.1%
Championships: 0.
Record: 128-58-2 (.686)
Head Coach: Bud Grant
Key Players: QB Fran Tarkenton, RB Chuck Foreman, T Ron Yary, G Ed White, C Mick Tinglehoff, DE Carl Eller, DE Jim Marshall, DT Alan Page, DT Gary Larsen, LB Jeff Siemon, LB Matt Blair, CB Bobby Bryant, S Paul Krause
Z-Score: 1.22

And so we arrive at the last team on our list to never win a championship: the greatest team to never have been the greatest team.

It's easy to group the Purple People Eater Vikings with the K-Gun Bills; after all, both teams went 0-4 in Super Bowls. But both the dynasty rankings and estimated DVOA think that that's an entirely unfair comparison. The Bills were a good team that took advantage of a very weak conference to make four Super Bowls in a very short period of time. The 1970s Vikings had to deal with Tom Landry's Cowboys, among others, to get their shot at the top of the NFC. The Vikings were relevant for significantly longer than the Bills, making more playoff appearances and winning more division titles. The DVOA of their top teams crushes the Bills' best-of-the-best, 24.1% to 16.9%. The Vikings had three seasons with a 20.0% estimated DVOA or greater; the Bills just had one. The Vikings boasted seven future Hall of Famers; the Bills just five. They may have had the same record in Super Bowls, but the Vikings outclass the Bills in quality pretty conclusively.

Yes, I see their 9.9% average estimated DVOA too; I'll get to that in a moment.

"The Purple People Eaters" is just a fantastic nickname for a unit, isn't it? The 1967 addition of Alan Page completed the foursome of Page, Carl Eller, Gary Larson, and Jim Marshall, and that might just be the greatest defensive line to ever be put together. All four of them went to the Pro Bowl in 1969, the only time an entire defensive line has ever all gone together. The Vikings allowed just 133 points that season and just destroyed opposing passers -- 49 sacks, a league-leading 30 interceptions, only eight touchdowns allowed, fewer than ten yards per completion, and on and on and on. Estimated DVOA puts them at a -42.5% pass defense, fifth best since 1950, and a -32.9% overall defense, fourth best. Their 1970 season isn't that far behind at -38.5% and -24.5%, respectively. Add in 1971, and the Vikings join the 1980s Bears as the only two teams to lead the league in defensive DVOA in three consecutive seasons. And it's not like the Vikings were shabby on defense in other years; they averaged a -12.1% mark from 1968 to 1976.

If the Vikings were just a defensive line, they wouldn't reach this rarified air. They had been trying to get Bud Grant to be their head coach ever since the franchise started, but he was too busy winning multiple Grey Cups in Canada to join the Vikings until 1967. Fran Tarkenton is the second-best quarterback of both the 1960s and 1970s. He missed out on Super Bowl IV due to a small case of "being traded to New York for five years," but the mad scrambler was back in Minnesota for the next three Super Bowl appearances. Adding Chuck Foreman in 1973 behind an offensive line that featured Hall of Famers Ron Yary and Mick Tingelhoff gave them a potent rushing attack. The Vikings were a top-10 team year in and year out from 1969 through 1976. They had the misfortune of facing four teams in great runs of their own in the Super Bowls (the Chiefs in IV, the Dolphins in VIII, the Steelers in IX, and the Raiders in XI), but the Vikings would have been credible winners in any of those seasons. In a slightly different world, they're the team of the 1970s.

And Vikings fans can argue they should be even higher on this countdown. I've mostly been describing the Vikings as they were through 1976, the last of their Super Bowl appearances. After that, they became significantly less successful, but not unsuccessful enough for the dynasty counter to actually run out -- they alternated playoff appearances and losing seasons between 1978 and 1982. For most teams, a few lesser seasons tacked on to the beginning or end of their dynasty actually helps them; the tradeoff in lower DVOA is made up for by the extra credit for division titles and whatnot. But estimated DVOA hates the late 1970s Vikings.

From 1968 to 1976, the Vikings had an 18.0% DVOA. From 1977-1980, that plummets to -8.5%. The Vikings made the NFC Championship Game in 1977, but with a point differential of +4; DVOA thinks they were a below-average team that year, and each of the two years after. That's why their average drops all the way down to 9.9%; numbers we haven't seen since the mid-40s on the countdown. If you were to make a special exception for the Vikings and cut their run short after the 1976 Super Bowl loss, they would jump up to 13th on the list. No titles means they can't really get into the top 10, but maybe they should be a little higher than this.

No. 16: 2002-2009 Indianapolis Colts

Peak Dynasty Points: 22
Average DVOA: 19.4%.
Top-Five DVOA: 25.0%
Championships: 1.
Record: 99-29 (.773)
Head Coaches: Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell
Key Players: QB Peyton Manning, RB Edgerrin James, WR Reggie Wayne, WR Marvin Harrison, T Tarik Glenn, C Jeff Saturday, DE Dwight Freeney
Z-Score: 1.50

In many ways, Peyton Manning's Colts are the mirror image of Mike Ditka's Bears teams we saw two entries ago. The Bears were a defensive juggernaut just begging their offense to reach average levels, and won their only Super Bowl in the one year the offense complied. The Colts were the greatest offensive team of the 2000s, but were let down by their defense too often to win more than one title of their own.

Like the Bears, we have some near-record-breaking performances here. With the triplets of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Edgerrin James all in place, Manning shattered records in 2004, both official and advanced. His 58.9% passing DVOA remains the official Football Outsiders record, and his 2,443 DYAR set a record that has only been topped twice -- once by 2007 Tom Brady, and once by 2013 Peyton Manning. If you prefer traditional stats, Manning's 49 touchdown passes and 121.1 quarterback rating also set records at the time, albeit ones that have since been broken.

The Colts' 67.6% passing DVOA in 2004 is the third best we've ever recorded, and their 2006 season cracks the top 10 as well. If you prefer overall offense, the 2004 edition had a DVOA of 31.8% and falls just outside the top 10 since 1985. The Colts finished in the top five in offensive DVOA from 2003 to 2008, a six-year run that remains the best of the 21st century.

And do you know how many times Manning had a solid defense backing him up? Only two Colts teams in this run had a defensive DVOA better than -3.2%. Tony Dungy was brought in to fix the Colts' defense, and the addition of Dwight Freeney helped, but the defense spent far more time in the cellar rather than the penthouse. A -2.4% average defensive DVOA is an improvement over the shambles the Colts defense was in in the decade before Dungy's arrival, but it's hardly worth writing home about. The Colts could put together good runs of defensive play -- see the 2006 postseason and victory in Super Bowl XLI for a key example, led by the rare and elusive thing that was a healthy Bob Sanders -- but they certainly couldn't keep it up year in and year out.

Of course, we can't talk about the Manning Colts without talking about playoff success, or lack thereof. One of the key talking points in the irrational Manning/Brady debates of the 2000s was about the fact that Brady won Super Bowls while Manning went one-and-done in the postseason. Ignoring the fact that that's a team stat and not an individual stat for the moment, many of those wild-card losses came outside this specific timeframe. The Colts still had four one-and-dones from 2002 to 2009, but these Colts actually have a 7-6 postseason record, thanks to wild-card losses to the Dolphins in 2000 and the Jets in 2010 and a divisional loss to the Titans in 1999. Even without the Patriots' Super Bowl titles, these Colts kept a close pace with the Patriots for the dynasty point lead, sitting at 28 to 22 at the end of 2009. Of course, Manning hurt his neck and left the team after the 2011 season, while the Patriots just kept right on going, leaving their erstwhile rivals behind.

No. 15: 1964-1971 Baltimore Colts

Peak Dynasty Points: 19
Average DVOA: 18.6%.
Top-Five DVOA: 27.5%
Championships: 1.
Record: 84-23-5 (.772)
Head Coaches: Don McCafferty, Don Shula
Key Players: QB Johnny Unitas, RB Tom Matte, TE John Mackey, T Bob Vogel, DE Bubba Smith, DT Fred Miller, LB Mike Curtis, CB Bobby Boyd, S Jerry Logan, S Rick Volk
Z-Score: 1.56

Indianapolis can steal the Colts from Baltimore, but they have not yet stolen the title of best Colts team from the Charm City. On the single-season level, that title still belongs to Baltimore's 1968 team, with their 40.9% estimated DVOA beating out 2005 Indianapolis' 32.1%. And even though Peyton Manning's Colts ended up with more dynasty points, the overall quality of Johnny Unitas' Colts ultimately lets them squeak just past the best of the Hoosiers.

Way back down at No. 43, we covered the origins of this team, and the back-to-back championships in 1958 and 1959. But the years between those championships and this run were middling; they never won more than eight games and coach Weeb Ewbank bickered with ownership about strategy. In 1963, he was fired and replaced by the 33-year-old Don Shula, the youngest coach in NFL history at the time. Within a year, the Colts were back in the title game, Shula was Coach of the Year, and the briefly-paused era of dominant Baltimore Colts teams began again.

It's a bit odd that 1968 was the year the Colts produced their best team -- the 12th-best team since 1950 per estimated DVOA. Unitas won two MVPs during the course of this Colts run, but he missed essentially all of the season with an elbow injury; it was his backup, Earl Morrall, who came in and had an MVP season of his own. The Colts of this era featured future Hall of Famers Raymond Berry, Gino Marchetti, Lenny Moore, and Jim Parker -- each of whom last played for the Colts in 1966 or 1967. Hall of Famer Ted Hendricks wouldn't arrive until the following year. With John Mackey as the only future inductee active, you would have thought 1968 would have been a down year for Baltimore.

But no. After years of near-misses -- a loss to the Browns in the 1964 title game, a playoff loss to the Packers in 1965 based on an incorrectly called field goal, missing the playoffs in 1967 despite going a league-best 11-1-2 because of terrible tiebreaker rules -- the 1968 Colts were going to bring a title to Baltimore for the first time in nearly a decade. They went 13-1 and cruised through the playoffs, and all they had to do was win the Super Bowl. Super Bowl III. Against their old coach Ewbank, some hotshot celebrity quarterback named Joe Namath, and the New York Jets. As 18-point favorites, what could possibly go wrong?

Play Super Bowl III 10 times, and the Colts win six or seven of 'em. But you only get one shot, so the Colts are remembered for losing the biggest upset in NFL history, and not for their many actual achievements on the field.

They would finally get their Super Bowl win two years later, beating the Cowboys in Super Bowl V. That game is remembered for being the sloppiest and ugliest Super Bowl in history, and for featuring the worst Super Bowl-winner ever, per estimated DVOA -- the Colts actually clocked in at -3.3% for that one, making them the only champion in league history to be below average by our stats. But hey, the 1970 Colts have a ring and the 1968 Colts don't, so they'll take it.

If you connect the Ewbank Colts to the Shula and McCafferty Colts, the resulting Unitas Dynasty would rank ninth all-time. The 21-19 record from 1960 to 1962 is enough to split the two teams in my book, but your mileage may vary, especially if you happen to be from Baltimore.

No. 14: 1966-1971 Kansas City Chiefs

Peak Dynasty Points: 13
Average DVOA: 24.6%.
Top-Five DVOA: 28.3%
Championships: 1.
Record: 60-20-4 (.738)
Head Coach: Hank Stram
Key Players: QB Len Dawson, RB Mike Garrett, WR Otis Taylor, T Jim Tyrer, G Eric Budde, DE Jerry Mays, DT Buck Buchanan, LB Bobby Bell, LB Willie Lanier, DB Johnny Robinson
Z-Score: 1.60

Until Patrick Mahomes and company lifted the Lombardi Trophy this past season, the last championship in Chiefs history had been won 50 years earlier, when Hank Stram, Len Dawson, and company won Super Bowl IV. They were the last champions of an independent AFL, and their victory helped confirm that yes, the junior circuit could compete with the NFL, and the 1970 merger was going to be fair and balanced.

Or was it? These Chiefs are the fourth of five AFL teams to appear in the countdown, and we do need to tackle the level of competition a little bit here. When the Chargers, Bills, and Oilers appeared earlier, we just treated their results as equivalent to their NFL counterparts. That's not entirely fair for the early 1960s, but it's mostly harmless -- no one's really griping over being ranked 32nd instead of 31st, in the "nice to be nominated" category. But now we're up in the top 15, where each placement is a bit more prestigious.

In addition, the Chiefs are this high solely because of their estimated DVOA. Even with the emergence of Patrick Mahomes, the three best seasons in Chiefs history by this metric are still 1966, 1968, and 1969, all at 36.0% or higher. The 1968 Chiefs end up with the 17th-highest DVOA since 1950, while the 1969 team is the eighth-best Super Bowl champion by that metric. I try not to get into the nitty gritty of the Z-score grades here, but the Chiefs get +2.90 from their DVOA and -1.30 from their dynasty points, championships, and the lot. They're one of eight teams on the countdown who get positive Z-score from both DVOA categories and negative Z-Score from the other four, so we had better be comfortable with counting their AFL performances on par with NFL performances of the era if we're going to call them No. 14. And we shouldn't be -- in 1970, the first post-merger year, the average estimated DVOA for an ex-AFL team was -7.5%, compared to 3.3% for an ex-NFL team. The Chiefs themselves saw their DVOA drop from the 30s down to 13.4% in their first season with NFL opponents on the schedule, going 2-2-1 against them and 5-3-1 against their old AFL brethren. If you want to mentally bump the Chiefs down, you have an argument.

All that being said, the Chiefs have a strong claim to being the best AFL team of all time, and that's worthy of a high spot in the rankings. They won the league title three times, twice in Kansas City. They did win Super Bowl IV, and they kept up with the Lombardi Packers for a half in Super Bowl I. Maybe their DVOAs are inflated by ten points or so due thanks to the AFL's level of quality, but this was a team playing in the era of the common draft, when talented players had no qualms about coming to the AFL. They weren't playing the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The Chiefs were solid on offense, with Len Dawson and company being the first pro team to operate out of the I-formation and regularly use two tight-end sets to matriculate the ball down the field. But the Chiefs were more frequently led by their defense, boating six future Hall of Famers. Stram would mix odd and even fronts, stacking his linebackers behind his defensive linemen in order to frustrate opposing offenses. When you have Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell hiding behind Buck Buchanan and Curley Culp, offenses are going to tear their hair out trying to figure out their protections. The Vikings certainly couldn't in Super Bowl IV, as the Chiefs recorded three sacks, forced three interceptions, recovered two fumbles, and held Minnesota to 67 yards and just two first downs on the ground. The Vikings had never seen anything like the Chiefs defense before, and it showed.

No. 13: 1921-1923 Canton Bulldogs

Peak Dynasty Points: 13
Average DVOA: 34.6%.
Top-Five DVOA: 20.8%
Championships: 2.
Record: 26-2-6 (.853)
Head Coaches: Cap Edwards, Guy Chamberlin
Key Players: FB Doc Elliott, TB Harry Robb, E Bird Carroll, E Guy Chamberlin, T Pete Henry, T Link Lyman, G Duke Osborn
Z-Score: 1.73

When putting together a historical piece like this, you have to make some decisions on how you're going to handle the fledgling early years of the league. The league received some criticism from fans for including old-timey names like Cal Hubbard, Sammy Baugh, Dutch Clark, Mel Hein, et. al. on their NFL 100 team over modern superstars. If you're thinking of overall quality in raw terms, no, it's ridiculous to include them -- a 225-pound center would get killed, perhaps literally, in the modern era. Yet you can't tell the story of the league without those early legends; it's crucial to acknowledge their successes if you're going to be celebrating all 100 years, and their level of dominance, even in a weaker and less competitive league, deserves acknowledgement. Similarly, when we put teams from the 1920s high on this countdown, we're not saying that they could get in a time machine, strap on their leather helmets, and run the single wing around even the worst modern defense. We're saying that they were as dominant, or more, in their time as the best teams of today are in ours; even if the "average" team we're comparing them to back then were just as likely to move or fold the next season as anything else.

With that in mind, allow me to introduce you to the first back-to-back champions in NFL history, the Canton Bulldogs. In 1922 and 1923, they completed back-to-back undefeated seasons, with a 21-0-3 record against all the best teams the early 1920s had to offer; no team has come close to 25 straight games without a loss since. In 1923, they scored 246 points while allowing just 19 in a 12-game season. Prorate that to a 16-game schedule, and you'd have a point differential of +303, which would be second-best all-time. SRS-to-DVOA conversions estimate their DVOA in 1923 to be 42.4%. You'd be right to point out that they didn't have the toughest competition in the world, but they beat everyone, good or bad. They beat George Halas' Bears; they beat Paddy Driscoll's Cardinals; they beat Jim Thorpe's Oorang Indians. They destroyed their competition in a way worthy of celebrating.

The Bulldogs might be even higher if we counted their years in the Ohio League, the closest thing we have to a direct predecessor to the NFL. Those teams featured Jim Thorpe, arguably the greatest athlete of the 20th Century who starred as a pro in football, baseball, and basketball and won multiple Olympic gold medals. The Bulldogs won the Ohio League every year from 1915 to 1919, excluding the 1918 season they sat out because of a global pandemic (welp.) The Ohio League wasn't as well-organized or as competitive as even the early NFL, but they were the highest quality league around, and the Bulldogs dominated.

But Thorpe wasn't around for the NFL titles, having gone off to form his own all-Native American team. Instead, the star player-coach was Guy Chamberlain, the best end of the 1920s and in the running for best two-way player in football history -- we've already talked about how he turned the Frankford Yellow Jackets into perennial contenders, but this was his first, and better, squad. Flanked by Hall of Fame tackles Pete Henry and Link Lyman, it is not a surprise that no team in the league could stand up to them; six of their regular 11 players were All-Pros in 1922, though it helps that the closest thing we had to an All-Pro team back then was picked by the Canton Daily News.

So what stopped the Bulldogs? Well, they didn't play in 1924 -- the team was losing money, so they were bought out, and all their players were moved to a brand-new team called the Cleveland Bulldogs … who then won the 1924 championship. The NFL considers that an entirely separate franchise, however, because in 1925, the rights were sold back to Canton, and both the Canton and Cleveland Bulldogs existed at the same time. The stars were split up, neither team had success, and the NFL kicked Canton out after the 1926 season as they cut down from 22 teams to 12 in an attempt to consolidate the league and kill the lesser, money-losing teams. But if you ever wondered why the Hall of Fame was in Canton instead of New York or Chicago or something, the Bulldogs are most of the reason why.

No. 12: 1926-1931 Green Bay Packers

Peak Dynasty Points: 19
Average DVOA: 21.7%.
Top-Five DVOA: 26.0%
Championships: 3.
Record: 54-14-9 (.760)
Head Coach: Curly Lambeau
Key Players: TB Curly Lambeau, TB Johnny Blood, TB Verne Lewellen, E Lavvie Dilweg, T Cal Hubbard, G Whitey Woodin, G Mike Michalske, C Jug Earp
Z-Score: 2.91

Although the Packers have won more championships than any other team, they didn't enter the league and start dominating right away. In fact, they were rather mediocre. While better than the fly-by-night teams that popped up and folded left and right during the early 1920s, Curly Lambeau's Packers were a pedestrian 29-16-5 from 1921 to 1925, generally finishing mid-table. They were even briefly kicked out of the league in 1921 for secretly using college stars in a game. Lambeau paid his way out of that problem, but imagine if it had stood -- we may have been talking about the long-standing rivalry between the Chicago Bears and the Milwaukee Badgers today.

Even when the Packers started putting together winning seasons from 1926 to 1928, they were still really a one-man show, with Lambeau as the team's primary runner, passer, and kicker. And while Lambeau was a good player, he wasn't a great one; his legendary status comes from founding, coaching, and administering the team more than his on-field exploits. 1929 was his last season as a player, a decision which was probably sped along by the three Hall of Famers the Packers added that year!

Cal Hubbard was the only player from the 1920s to be named to the NFL 100 team; the most feared lineman of his age and the only person to be in both the pro football and pro baseball Halls of Fame. Iron Mike Michalske was the best guard in the NFL and might have been the league's best player in 1929; the seven-time first-team All-Pro only missed nine games in his 11-year career. And then there was Johnny "Blood" McNally, the Vagabond Halfback, who should be mentioned in the same breath as a Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill. He was as famous for insane off-field exploits (crawling along the top of a moving train to avoid a towel fight; climbing down the outside of a hotel to skip curfew; driving his car into the path of the team train he'd missed due to spending the previous night painting the town red … we could go on) as he is was for his speed and agility on the field.

It turns out, adding three Hall of Famers at one time is a pretty good recipe for success. The 1929 Packers allowed just 22 points in 13 games on their way to a 12-0-1 record and the franchise's first championship. They followed that up with league titles each of the next two years, too, becoming one of only two teams to win back-to-back-to-back championships in the NFL. And even that wasn't enough for them -- they would have pulled off the unprecedented four-peat in 1932 if ties had been included in the standings back then. They went undefeated in 29 straight home games, which is still an NFL record. One of the most dominant teams to ever play the game -- and we still have two Packers teams to go on this countdown.

No. 11: 2012-2016 Seattle Seahawks

Peak Dynasty Points: 13
Average DVOA: 31.2%.
Top-Five DVOA: 31.2%
Championships: 1.
Record: 56-23-1 (.706)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Key Players: QB Russell Wilson, RB Marshawn Lynch, LB Bobby Wagner, CB Richard Sherman, S Earl Thomas, S Kam Chancellor
Z-Score: 3.23

If you didn't include team quality, the Legion of Boom would not rate nearly this high. Remove DVOA from the equation, and the Seahawks would clock in at 43rd. The Super Bowl XLVIII victory was great, and they proved they weren't a one-hit wonder by returning to the Super Bowl the very next season, but a lot of teams have played in multiple championship games. A five-year run of success isn't overly impressive when you're talking about the greatest teams of all time, even adjusting for increased turnover in the salary cap era. A .706 winning percentage is good, but below average among teams on this list. In short, if you're just standings-scouting, the Seahawks are a fun footnote, interchangeable with other short-lived fun teams like the Greatest Show on Turf or that short period of time when the Saints decided to try playing defense. They're certainly not knocking on the door of the top ten, for goodness' sake.

But we are including team quality here -- we're Football Outsiders; we've gotta use DVOA for this sort of thing. And the Seahawks have the greatest DVOA dynasty in our database, four-peating as DVOA champions from 2012 to 2015. We've seen a three-peat before with the early 1990s Cowboys. Estimated DVOA would give a three-peat to the Lombardi Packers. SRS-to-DVOA conversions guess the late 1930s Packers would have had a four-peat way back in the day, and the 1940s Bears might have pulled off five in a row, but those were in eight- and ten-team leagues. That the Seahawks could be the best team in the league for four straight years, in a league with 32 teams, in an era with unprecedented parity and player movement, is downright insane. These are the sorts of teams the Seahawks are hobnobbing with; this is the rarified air in which they find themselves. Maybe one day, the league will see the light and start handing out championships based on spreadsheets rather than Super Bowls, but until they do, we'll just keep singing their praises.

The 2012, 2013, and 2015 Seahawks teams are the tenth, ninth, and eleventh-best teams in DVOA history, all at 38.1% or better. The 2013 Seahawks are the third-best champions in the DVOA era, and only drop to sixth if you include estimated DVOA going back to 1950. And the one missing team in that run, the 2014 Seahawks? They had a 29.0% rushing DVOA, the sixth-best in the DVOA era. Four straight seasons above 30.0% DVOA is an unmatched feat, even going back to 1950 with estimated DVOA. You have never seen a team as good for as long as these Seahawks.

And let me tell you, as a 49ers fan, all those previous paragraphs really hurt.

If it makes Seahawks fans feel any better, Seattle wouldn't crack the top ten even if they had run the ball at the goal line in Super Bowl XLIX; you're not one Malcolm Butler interception away from a higher spot on the list. Instead, it was missing the playoffs in 2017 and stubbornly sticking to a run-first strategy against the Cowboys in 2018 that cut the dynasty short.

As long as they have Russell Wilson under center, the Seahawks could start a new run at any point, but the inability to replicate or replace the trio of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, or Earl Thomas means that Seattle has come down to muddle with the rest of us mortals in recent years. And if you're not shattering DVOA records, you need to win more titles if you want to rank high on a dynasty list. You can make a strong argument that these Seahawks are the most underachieving team we're covering here. These Seahawks have the highest average DVOA of any team on the list who played in the era of free substitution and yet walked away with just one Super Bowl title. And so they end up here, and not in our final article about the ten greatest runs in NFL history.

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.


120 comments, Last at 02 Jun 2020, 9:44pm

1 Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch is…

Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch is the only player still in the top 50 in receiving yards per season who played before 1960,

Mac Speedie, Tom Fears (also on those Rams teams), and Don Hutson?

Interesting analysis of what position the various Rams actually did play.

While some photos indicate they played true 5-man fronts, some images seem to show straight 4-3 (or 4-4), and a few could be 4-3 Under.

2 That got mangled a bit in…

That got mangled a bit in translation, it should say "single-season receiving yards" and has been fixed.

As for the fronts, you're right -- you do see a couple four-man fronts in some photos, from the later era of the Rams run.  In a direct response to what the Rams and Browns of the era were doing, Steve Owen lined his team up in a 6-1-4 "Umbrella" defense, and then flexed his two ends into the wide flat, making them essentially 4-3 outside linebackers.  Voila, you have a 4-3 defense.

A number of teams quickly followed suit, because stopping the Rams or Browns with five or six guys on the line of scrimmage is nearly impossible.  They achieved it in different ways -- the Eagles dropped nose guard Bucko Kilroy back from their 5-2 formation, making him a prototypical middle linebacker, for instance -- but by the 1960s, pretty much everyone was using some variation of a four-man front.


3 I try not to get into the…

I try not to get into the nitty gritty of the Z-score grades here, but the Chiefs get +2.90 from their DVOA and -1.30 from their dynasty points, championships, and the lot...Maybe their DVOAs are inflated by ten points or so due thanks to the AFL's level of quality

Where do they finish if you knock 10 points off their annual DVOA?

9 If you knock a full 10…

If you knock a full 10 points off, they don't hit the top 40.

That doesn't feel right either, of course -- the Chiefs of that era, subjectively, feel a lot better than, say, the late Cowher Steelers or the late '00s Chargers.  And there's something to be said for coming out on top against the teams you are put up against.  AND you would expect the very best teams in a lesser league to hold up better than average when facing tougher competition.

Comparing the AFL to the NFL is a really, really tough thing, with only four games of connectivity in an entire decade!

12 You're going to have a…

You're going to have a similar problem with the AAFC, which I think you solve mostly by ignoring.

This segues into the 49ers-have-one-dynasty discussion, because the 49ers were maybe the second-best team of the AAFC era, but cratered in that first season in the NFL.

Or perhaps Cleveland was just fortunate to end up in the weaker division, with much less travel involved than the NFL's west, which featured already discussed Detroit* and LA dynasties, as well as solid Bears and Packers teams.

* -- Detroit usually has the singular distinction of the being the one team in the Eastern Time Zone to play in the west.

14 Yes, we're using the NFL's…

Yes, we're using the NFL's official patented and promoted strategy of pretending the AFL was on par with the NFL and that the AAFC was an irrelevant minor league.  This is pretty obviously false on BOTH counts, but then, that's what all the words in the articles are for!

34 The Packers sucked in the…

The Packers sucked in the 1950's and usually finished behind the 49ers. Their only winning record that decade was 1959, Lombardi's first year, and even then their record was only 7-5. It may be called Lambeau Field, but Curly Lambeau left the team in a shambles when he sold it in the early 50's. Without a rich owner or a large population to build an audience in the early days of television, they built their team with a lot of high draft picks like Forrest Gregg, Jerry Kramer, Ron Kramer, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Dan Currie, Ray Nitschke, Boyd Dowler and a late round Bart Starr. 

4 The 2000s Colts are seen as…

The 2000s Colts are seen as a disappointment, unfortunately. I don't know how other Colts fans feel, but that's how I feel as well. That on its face seems ridiculous given how much they won and how futile other franchises have been(not just in the 2000s, but for large parts of their history). And yet, I think that's the general feeling mostly due to the fact that they didn't win as much as their main rival. 

5 The Top 10...

All we have left for the final article:

1935-44 Green Bay Packers
1940-43 Chicago Bears
1950-58 Cleveland Browns
1960-67 Green Bay Packers
1966-85 Dallas Cowboys
1967-77 Oakland Raiders
1972-79 Pittsburgh Steelers
1981-98 San Francisco 49ers
1991-96 Dallas Cowboys
2001-19 New England Patriots

Only the 49ers and Patriots have yet to have a team anywhere on the countdown, too.  Buncha late-arrivers.

Get your guesses in here as to the final order.

8 1. 2001-19 New England…

In reply to by Bryan Knowles

1. 2001-19 New England Patriots

2. 1981-98 San Francisco 49ers

(by some margin)


3. 1966-85 Dallas Cowboys

4. 1972-79 Pittsburgh Steelers

5. 1991-96 Dallas Cowboys

6. 1960-67 Green Bay Packers

7. 1935-44 Green Bay Packers

8. 1950-58 Cleveland Browns

9. 1967-77 Oakland Raiders

10. 1940-43 Chicago Bears

68 I assume we'll have some…

In reply to by Bryan Knowles

I assume we'll have some discussion of how to assess the longer dynasties when they can be reasonable be broken up into two.  (San Francisco naturally splits into the Montana years of 1981-1990 and the Young years of 1991-1998, for example.)

79 1. 2001-19 New England…

In reply to by Bryan Knowles

1. 2001-19 New England Patriots

2. 1981-98 San Francisco 49ers

3. 1966-85 Dallas Cowboys

4. 1960-67 Green Bay Packers

5. 1972-79 Pittsburgh Steelers

6. 1940-43 Chicago Bears

7. 1950-58 Cleveland Browns

8. 1935-44 Green Bay Packers

9. 1991-96 Dallas Cowboys

10. 1967-77 Oakland Raiders





6 The 2011 Seahawks will be…

The 2011 Seahawks will be the gold standard for how you can fast track your rebuild. The Seahawks had had a pretty successful decade and were finally old and decrepit. The 2010 playoff win notwithstanding, this was a bad football team about to enter the dark ages. Except...


I don't know how Seahawks fans feel about this run. They vaulted to the zenith of the sport and much like the Colts, have one SB to show for it. That should be enough, but there's ignominy of not having more than 1 to sour the experience. Or maybe I'm just being a pessimist. 

31 I'd say with the rookie cap…

I'd say with the rookie cap and QB salaries, it's going to be harder to have anything longer than 5-6 years dynasties.

(Obviously Belichick has managed it this decade but he's an exception because he rebuilds his team every year and has had an elite QB on team-friendly pay)

33 I think if you have the…

I think if you have the quarterback and the coach it's possible. 

it's been a fun exercise to think about Patrick Mahomes and where he is and where Aaron Rodgers was when he won his super bowl. I think everybody would have thought the Packers would have won another super bowl in the time that had transpired.


The big difference between these two situations is Andy Reid will help offset the inevitable declines and player aging.

I'm not predicting a dynasty mind you, but they have the two most important ingredients to facilitating a dynasty.

82 They've got Harbaugh and…

They've got Harbaugh and Jackson in the same conference so they're another possibility and an interesting rivalry for the 2020s and beyond.

I've always said that it was a shame Carson Palmer got injured in 2005-06 because the games that could have taken place between him and Roethlisberger could have been great for a decade.

90 Rebuilding, always rebuilding

...he's an exception because he rebuilds his team every year...

That’s spot on. People who say Belichick hasn’t really proven his worth because he’s never had to rebuild a team completely miss how Belichick manages the Patriots roster. Brady’s team-friendly pay was a minor part of that. More important was to be willing to part ways with good players who wanted to cash in, or who demanded a role he wasn’t going to give them.

On the hiring side was good evaluation of free agents. The reputation for winning helped recruitment, too. Not every signing worked. The drafting was hit and miss, too. The net result was, in effect, three or four dynastic periods with no tanking for draft picks between them.

More teams should try rebuilding every year. Maybe they will...

96 Brady’s team-friendly pay…

Brady’s team-friendly pay was a minor part of that.

Agree to disagree.

Baltimore is probably the next-best team at managing the never-rebuild ethos, and even they struggled when paying full-market rate for a QB. Not having to do so is a huge advantage.

That said, even NE has paid the price a bit. Brady came due only after his obvious replacement left for greener pastures, and perhaps the monkey's paw has closed its last finger.

103 Definitely. When your most…

Definitely. When your most important player gives you essentially an additional 5-10% of cap money because he doesn't demand top market money when he clearly deserved it, that is a huge advantage. The only other modern QB who has tried a similar team-friendly contract was Colin Kaepernick, and we all saw how he got screwed by that strategy. 

107 I'll argue the opposite side…

I'll argue the opposite side here and say that Brady's contract had some value, but much less than you would think. This PFF article from last year uses some of their in-house/proprietary stats, but makes a lot of good points that I think would be applicable to any type of way you would approach the question:


I think the biggest thing to keep in mind is that, while Brady's cap hit might have saved NE an average of 5-10% per season compared to the 2 or 3 highest QB cap hits, virtually no QB stays in the top 3 or even the top 5 throughout the length of his entire contract because new deals are done every season. If you look at, say, Brady's cap hits compared to Aaron Rodgers' cap hits from 2013-19 (after Rodgers' first mega-deal), Brady was only really saving the Patriots an average of like 2-3% a year. Brady had a higher number twice. It's nice to have an extra $4-5 million to spend, but it's just not a big deal. I think most teams end up leaving more than that on the table every season anyway.

111 literally look at the Super…

literally look at the Super Bowl contestants since the latest CBA came into effect in 2011- it's 60% Brady or guys on rookie contracts.  Obviously when one guy accounts for 25% of that you have to be careful drawing too many definitive conclusions, but it'd be just as wrong ignoring the possible impact (almost every year lately there's been a qb on a rookie contract, Brady, or both, in the Super Bowl)

116 Rookie contracts are…

Rookie contracts are definitely a huge advantage - in today's dollars, upwards of $25 million a season. Again, Brady saved the Patriots only a few million per season on average. There's a significant difference between those two situations.

47 Not all Seahawks fans will…

Not all Seahawks fans will feel the same way, but it's not like Seattle has a strong sports identity to begin with. So when something like the Legion of Boom comes along, it feels awesome. So many great players, so many unforgettable plays, so many incredible comebacks, it feels like a sports movie made just for you. And leading up to the Superbowl against Manning, everything was about how Seattle wasn't going to be able to handle the greatest offensive in NFL history. So that was satisfying.

The next year was great too, and certainly would have been better if we won again, but it was already a miracle that we got there (sorry Packers fans). Then we go toe-to-toe with the greatest NFL dynasty (spoilers) of all time and almost pull it off. But it was also an absolute miracle we were in position to do so, as Kearse made a 1-in-a-1000 catch. The thing that really sticks with me from that game as the real missed opportunity was the third-down completion Brady made (that really started their comeback) where Bennett was inches away from getting him from the blind side. But because he's Brady, he stepped forward in the pocket (without even looking in Bennett's direction) and calmly completed the pass.

So, that second Superbowl really felt like a bonus and did not feel heart-breaking to me. I just had to console myself with living in one of the most beautiful areas in the world, surrounded by mountains, forests, and ocean. My wife, on the other hand, couldn't even talk about the game for months.

The Legion of Boom era is the best thing to ever happen in Seattle sports history, so there isn't really much of an "if only" feeling for me. If Wilson gets another Superbowl win before he retires, that would be awesome, but I'm too aware of how easy it would be for the Seahawks to be the Bills, the Vikings, or the pre-Superbowl Eagles. Grumbling about getting beat by one of best teams on an incredible play by Butler would seem really ungrateful to me.

54 This is basically how I feel…

This is basically how I feel too. When I think "What ifs?" I think about Kaepernick completing the pass to Crabtree and Seattle not getting to that Super Bowl at all, let alone winning it. Can you imagine the choker/"can't win the big one" label Russell Wilson and the Seahawks would be dealing with now? Getting that one championship so early in the run meant they were playing with house money for several years. 

85 Getting to the second Super…

Getting to the second Super Bowl was a miracle, but even before Kearse in the NFC championship. Brandon Bostick is a name seared into my memory as the man who completely whiffed on the onside kick when he had Jordy behind him ready to recover the kick. Had that not happened, the game would've never even gotten to overtime.

I'm glad you're at peace with your early Super Bowl win. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled we got a win in 2010, but four of the five playoff losses from 2011-2015 have been so painful. Whether it's going 15-1 and then getting blown out by a 9-7 team, our defense getting shredded by the zone-read, or overtime losses to Seattle and Arizona.

91 Yeah, I can see being a…

Yeah, I can see being a Packers fan be a lot more painful from that era. Seattle only has one "tragic" loss and that was tempered by the feeling of being lucky to be there at all. Plus, from a sports point of view, the Packers completely define Green Bay and have more than my entire life. And Rodgers feels like he should have been able to beat out Manning and Brady in the greatest QB ever argument based on pure talent, but he will never be able to do that with only one Superbowl win.

61 As a Seahawk fan from day one

I can say it was wonderful.  After decades of drought, it was like finding Lake Washington.

I've really loved this series and I wonder if next off season maybe Brian would entertain us with a coaching ranking done in a similar vein?  Coaches judged per team.  So Shula with the Colts is different than Shula with the Dolphins, for example.  Which coaches had the greatest runs?

7 Are you putting your thumb…

Are you putting your thumb on the scales?

And do you know how many times Manning had a solid defense backing him up? Only two Colts teams in this run had a defensive DVOA better than -3.2%. 

-3.2% is such a weird cutoff point, I had to assume you were selecting the end point to bias the analysis. Sure enough, the Colts had a defensive DVOA of -3.2% in 2003, and -3.1% in 2008. Bad boy! 

If you use the natural 0.0% DVOA cutoff, the Colts were better than that 6 of 8 (ed: corrected from 9) seasons. If you prefer to use DVOA rankings, the Colts were in the top half of defenses 6 of 8 (ed: corrected from 9) seasons. If you want to count extremes only, they were top 10 twice and bottom 10 once in that run, and nearer to the top than the bottom in those cases.

While the Colts were definitely an offense-first team during that run, both in their roster and their results, the idea that they had a consistently bad defense to overcome is simply a myth. If you consider that they played more than half their games in the offense-friendly indoors, those defenses  come out looking quite acceptable.

10 I could have said "top 10…

I could have said "top 10 twice", sure, but top 10 is a relative measure, while giving a DVOA mark is a more precise statement.  

The original line was "double-digit negative DVOA", but that would have implied that the Colts had some, say, -8% or -7% seasons, and no, they didn't.  I suppose I could have said "only two teams had a defensive DVOA better than -5%", but I wanted to be more precise.

24 That’s called end point…

That’s called end point selection. And it’s a mark of a story-driven analysis. It’s suitable for pointing out oddities, but not for actually evaluating data.

By the same technique, the Colts were only once worse than 3.1% defensive DVOA during that run, marking an amazingly consistent period of competent defensive play. 

Top ten or double digit would have at least pretended not to be driven by the desire to spin a certain story. Ditto 0% or top half.

Ah well. Carry on.

26 Follow up: To use the…

Follow up:

To use the Patriots as a counter example (because everyone “knows” the Patriots relied on defense in the early century), they also had two defenses below average (by 0.0% DVOA or ranking) in the 2002-9 period. Unlike the Colts who did it twice, they only managed to have one top 5 defense. They also had a defense (9.2%, 27th) worse than anything Manning had to deal with.

Ergo: End point selection is bogus. And the “Manning had to overcome bad defenses” thing is a myth.

94 I also largely agree with…

I also largely agree with this. The colts defensively weren't a nuclear wasteland the way the Saints were through a chunk of Brees' career.

They were however a high floor low ceiling kind of team and that is partly attributed to the defense, which played entirely to the strength of their offense. 

The narrative that they've lost all those playoff games because of the defense is not really correct. They did well against NE in 2003 and 2004, especially when you factor in the offensive meltdowns. Against Pitt they weren't that great but they certainly held up in 2006(save for title game).

If anything, it was the offense that failed in most of those playoff losses. Manning himself was bad in 2003 and 2005. 



13 Seahawks

What’s crazy is how close the Seahawks were to losing back to back Nfc title games at home (the bowman and Kaep game and then the onside kick vs packers). And of course they only won a playoff game in 15 thanks to a missed 20 yard field goal. 

15 Even if you take out the two…

In reply to by Jetspete

Even if you take out the two Super Bowl appearances, however, the Seahawks cling on to a top-20 slot.   That's the nice part about using DVOA as part of the formula; it helps somewhat smooth over the randomness of one-game playoffs.

But yeah, how THAT team managed to win only one title sort of baffles the mind.

16 It complicates Pete Carrol…

It complicates Pete Carrol the coach somewhat. I believe he raises the floor of his defenses(I don't think last year's defense was any good, but he got them to 18th somehow). 

But in the same breath, the offensive designs are so weird; essentially playing a hide the qb strategy. That makes sense when you have rookie year Russel Wilson or 2013 Seahawks defense. But obviously, neither of those things are true anymore. 

17 Part of that is what you get…

Part of that is what you get with a Schottenheimer -- all generations of Schottys like running the ball.

But it was as true of Bevell, too. That guy tried running as often as he threw in Detroit. Partially I think this is because Patricia is an idiot, and partially because a scorpion cannot be taught not to sting.

23 I am required to gripe about…

I am required to gripe about Schottenheimer the Younger as a Jets fan, but foolish play design aside, his offenses were better in New York than the ones that came afterward, other than 2015.  Some of that is the decay of the offensive line, but Mark Sanchez was not a better prospect than Geno Smith, yet both the 2010 and 2011 Jets achieved positive passing offense DVOA, something Gang Green has not achieved but once with the mirage of Fitzmagic in 2015.

30 My biggest issue with…

My biggest issue with schottenheimer and Carrol and even Rex Ryan ( it's not a coincidence that schottenheimer landed with both of these coaches), is that they are  wedded to the Jeff Fisher school of offense. It's the run first run always style of offense ripped out of the play books from the 1970s.


To be fair one can run a fun dynamic and modern run style offense a la Greg Roman or Kyle shanahan, it just can't be the static variety. 

62 And yet

Carroll has made the playoffs 8 of 10 years and it would be 9 of 10 if not for Blair Walsh.  His offenses have always ranked fairly high in DVOA, being top 10 6 of 8 years and No 1 once, top 5 5 times.

So while many complain about it, one can't argue it works and it works really, really well.

65 Ya' gotta give Carroll a…

In reply to by Pen

Ya' gotta give Carroll a full demerit for missing the playoff due to a Blair Walsh chokejob, since a worse Blair Walsh chokejob gifted Carroll a playoff win. Actually, give Carroll 1.5 demerits, since he signed Walsh after Walsh chokejobbed a gift playoff win to him. 

66 Its a bit like the criticism…

In reply to by Pen

Its a bit like the criticism of Andy Reid. It sounds unseemly given the results but there is still an unsettling feeling that he could be doing even better with some basic things.

Pete Carrol is similarly risk averse to a fault imo. His conservative playcalling early in games given who his qb is is baffling to say the least.


Idk if he thinks the world of his running game, thinks RW sucks, or some combination, but I doubt RW would be shoehorned into this kind of offense if he were on any of the other 31 teams. People have been salivating at the thought of RW with Andy Reid. 

92 I'm fully in the camp of…

In reply to by Pen

I'm fully in the camp of wanting to turn Russell Wilson loose, but I also can't ignore the actual data. To say that Seattle's offense is being run poorly (which is what the argument often is) is to say that it would be the best offense in the league if only Carroll wasn't crippling it. I am open to that argument, because Russell Wilson is the best current QB in the NFL. :-) But it seems like a bit of hubris to say that as an amateur observer, I know the one simple, obvious, trick that will greatly improve one of the better offenses in the NFL (and that an incredibly successful coach like Carroll is blind to this obvious thing he should do). It is perhaps more likely that improving an NFL offense is a little bit harder than it seems from the outside...

18 Curse of the Saints

Two of the head coaches for today's dynasties went on to coach the Saints, and promptly face-planted. Hank Stram had them in 1976 and 1977, and went 7-21.  Mike Ditka lasted three seasons, from 1997-99, and went 15-33.

19 Which is why I am always…

Which is why I am always skeptical of labeling a coach as good or great. You really need to succeed for a long stretch across several rebuilds before you get the stamp you deserve.


21 Some of that is just that…

Some of that is just that New Orleans is where coaches go to die.

Even otherwise good coaches -- Stram and Ditka, but also Nolan and Bum Phillips. And Jim Mora, who was at least talking about Playoff?!, but got no farther. It's not until Brees and Payton that anything successful really appears, and you could argue even that combination underperformed.

And the NFL banned the coaching staff for a year for how they got that title, so even that is tainted. (They also enjoyed going through Minnesota and Indianapolis on the way, much like the Cubs broke their curse against the similarly-powerful Indians' curse.)

27 There are also so few…

There are also so few coaches whoa have had tenures that could be considered "great" in more than one stop, that disqualifying some of those guys you mention would make for a pretty short list of great coaches.

Although there's struggling in another job, and then there's Ditka's tenure in New Orleans. Even for the Saints that was bad.

28 Not only was Ditka's winning…

Not only was Ditka's winning percentage in New Orleans better than Hank Stram's, but the Saints put up 7-9 and 8-8 seasons (the best records in their history up to that point!) right after firing Stram. 

36 Whew, Stram's tenure was…

Whew, Stram's tenure was worse than I realized. Shout out to Ditka though for coaching the second-worst Saints team of all time by SRS in 1999 - worse than all of them except for 1975. And it's the details, like the Ricky Williams trade and starting two QBs named Billy Joe, that make that 99 team so special. They also made the playoffs the next season! Albeit with a ton of roster turnover.

29 True which is why it takes a…

True which is why it takes a couple cycles of rebuilds to see the coaching value. 


There's a lot of selection bias at work here. A good coach probably needs to have a good quarterback to start his career so as to buy him enough cache to weather the low points of the rebuild or provide him enough credibility to land a good job if he were to get fired. 

32 Or, like Bud Grant, the team…

Or, like Bud Grant, the team remains competitive after all the talent's gone, with lousy ownership and general managing creating a bad environment, then, once he leaves, the team completely collapses, then he comes back for a year, and they are competitive again, and then when he leaves again, with his choice for successor getting the job this time, the team competes very well this time.

40 Interesting hypothesis:…

Interesting hypothesis:

short-list --
Don Shula (two teams, multiple eras)
George Halas (multiple eras)
Paul Brown
Mike Holmgren
Andy Reid
Bill Parcells
Tom Coughlin
Bill Cowher
Tony Dungy
Weeb Ewbank

and amusingly:
Chuck Knox
Marty Schottenheimer

Steve Owen is a severe edge case
Also Dick Vermeil

not making the list:
Bill Belichick (one long dynasty)
Tom Landry (see above)
Bud Grant (see above)
Joe Gibbs (see above)
John Madden (see above)
Vince Lombardi (see above)
Bill Walsh (see above)
Dan Reeves (just misses, with high peaks at NY and Atlanta)



44 Some other names to add…

Some other names to add. John Fox, Marvin Lewis, Tom Coughlin, and Jeff Fisher.  I am kind of surprised people don't have a better view of John Fox. 

Also, both he and Reid kind of contradict my early comment that early success should save you through a painful rebuild. John Fox was axed just as the Panthers had hit rock bottom. As an aside, if I were to rank the worst qbs I've seen start half a season, Jimmy Clausen is squarely in the conversation. 

89 It's actually the Ravens,…

It's actually the Ravens, and if not for Marchibroda, Belichick would have been the least-accomplished coach out of the last six.

(Billick and Harbaugh have rings; Carson and Schotty the Elder got to the AFC Championship Game)

49 I dispute your placement of…

I dispute your placement of Joe Gibbs, being that he had to rebuild his offense every few years. In his first stint with Washington, he made the playoffs with 3 different leading passers and 3 different leading rushers, had another year where he went 10-6 but missed the playoffs with a 4th leading rusher, and also won a Super Bowl with a starting QB and starting RB who were not any of those guys. (And, as is well-known, won 3 SBs with 3 different starting QBs, which has not been done by any other coach in history, and also 3 different starting RBs to boot.)

50 Also, in his 2nd stint, he…

Also, in his 2nd stint, he made the playoffs twice in 4 years. No other Washington coach has had 2 playoff appearances since Gibbs's first stint.

Washington coaches who made 2 playoff appearances after George Allen:

Joe Gibbs

Joe Gibbs again

That's it.

In fact, in the entire history of the Washington franchise going back to 1932, the only coaches to make multiple playoff appearances are Ray Flaherty, Allen, Gibbs, and Gibbs 2.0.

51 Not to play Turd in the…

Not to play Turd in the punch bowl, but part his exclusivity is the fact that the Owner of the skins has done his absolute best to make sure the job is so toxic that no one can survive for more than a few years. 

52 True, but Gibbs 2.0's tenure…

True, but Gibbs 2.0's tenure was actually shorter than Norv Turner or Jay Gruden and equal in length to Mike Shanahan. It's not like Gibbs 2.0 had more chances than anyone else to make the playoffs. He made the playoffs in 50% of his seasons! No other Snyder coach came remotely close to that.

Gibbs 2.0 is also one of only 2 coaches under Snyder to advance to the Divisional round (Norv is the other). That's 2 out of 7.

20 Seahawks Thoughts

The 2012 Seahawks probably should have at least made the NFC Championship game, and quite easily could have won the Super Bowl that year too: had the Legion of Boom not totally failed to stop Matt Ryan and Co. with 30 seconds left in their Divisional Round game, they'd have had their chance. Not sure what impact that would make, but man that team had some crushing playoff losses.

Maybe winning SB 49 wouldn't have changed their ranking on this list, but I think it would fundamentally change the way they're remembered: they'd have one of the most dominant SB wins in history, over an all-time great offense, and then beating the greatest dynasty ever in one of the most dramatic Super Bowls ever. Setting aside how that moment might have sabotaged the team in other ways, it certainly is a disappointing last image of that team on the biggest stage.

Bryan, I think you make the hugely important point that achieving what the Seahawks did in this era is truly remarkable. Unfortunately (?), keeping that kind of talent together is flat impossible in the modern NFL, even when you mostly uncover gems late in the draft or in UDFA. The other point I'd make is that from the time the Seahawks started to ascend until now, the NFC West has been almost comically competitive, with only maybe 2016 being a down year in the division.

25 I have to disagree with the…

I have to disagree with the belief that the '68 Colts would have won that Super Bowl 6 or 7 times out of 10.  DVOA overrates them due to the AFL and NFL only playing one game against each other (which the AFL won), and also due to the Cowboys blowing it in the playoffs (mainly Don Meredith having a meltdown).  The Colts played a zone defense that none of the NFL teams were using to facing, while it was used often in the AFL.  According to wikipedia, one of the Jets players told the team they needed to stop watching film, because they would get overconfident.  Also, the Colts relied on blitzing (red-dogging in their terminology), which is a terrible idea against a quarterback with super-quick release; ask the '85 Bears how blitzing Marino worked out for them.  Finally, Weeb Ewbank knew that Colts team inside and out, to the point that the Jets knew the Colts audible and play calls.  Ask the 2002 Raiders how that works; they were only 3 points behind the 2002 Buccaneers in DVOA but got destroyed in the Super Bowl because Gruden knew everything about their offense.

35 The Vikings, until the Wilfs…

The Vikings, until the Wilfs bought the team in 2006, had terrible ownership, and Vikings fans were fortunate to experience as much success as they did, first by getting lucky with drafting Tarkenton, who they stupidly allowed to become alienated within 7 years, then they got lucky to hire Jim Finks as GM (and they drove him out in 7 years, too). They got lucky when Finks finally got Grant hired, and they only missed on getting Grant earlier because they were so damn cheap with him, while willing to waste money on the obviously temprementally unsuited Van Brocklin.

After Finks left, Grant and two good scouts kept the whole thing together in the face of crappy owners for another 14 years, with those two scouts getting the baton passed to the underrated Denny Green. Eventually the original owners sold to the hideous Red McCombs, who sold just in time to the Wilfs. It took the Wilfs a little while to get acclimated, and  I hate publicly funded stadiums, even if it is "only"1/3 the total cost, but Wilf ownership, Spielman as GM, and Zimmer as coach is the best trio Vikings fans have ever had. The Wilfs, however, have not been nearly as lucky as the original owners.

39 I worry for Zimmer's future…

I worry for Zimmer's future. The Vikings are in this weird partial rebuild partial contention zone. Cousins on the roster forestalls a total collapse, but the defense suddenly aging means the recent drafts are going to have to really bear fruit for them to go into contention. Otherwise they risk appearing like a perennial disappointment.

37 Tark was a great QB. But he…

Tark was a great QB. But he was not the second-best QB in the 1960's. I'd put both Unitas and Starr ahead of him, and I'd probably put Sonny Jurgensen and John Brodie ahead of him in that decade also. I'm not educated enough about the AFL to know if Dawson, Namath, etc also rank up there. Tark didn't really come into his own until the latter half of the 1960's and was sublime in the 1970's. 

41 Tarkenton was already…

Tarkenton was already dragging poorly coached expansion rosters to winning records by 1964, and he kept poorly coached bad Giant rosters competitive from 67-70. I will not knock Starr, because Starr was great, but if you are highly confident that Starr could have done as well with the Vikings and Giants as Tarkenton did, or that Lombardi would not have had as much success with Tarkenton as he did with Starr, I disagree. I see no basis for saying Jurgenson or Brodie were better than Tarkenton in any decade.




67 1960-63 is 40% of the 60's…

1960-63 is 40% of the 60's. You can't ignore four years of far better performance and the rest as close to equal (Starr was All-Pro in 66). At the end of the 60's, the argument was who was the better QB in the 60s - Unitas or Starr. Tarkenton was great and people are finally recognizing how underappreciated he was. But he wasn't better than Starr during the 60's except possibly the last couple years, and that was only because Starr was injured in 68 and 69. Starr still led the NFL in completion percentage and passer rating both years. If Football Outsiders existed back in the 60's, there'd have been an irrational Unitas/Starr debate just like FO once had the Irrational Brady/Manning debate. 

73 "Performance" in the NFL is…

"Performance" in the NFL is a team achievement, always. To say confidently that Starr was better than Tarkenton in the 1960s is to completely discount people named Lombardi, Kramer, Gregg, Ringo, Hornung, Taylor, Davis, Nitschke, Robinson, Jordan, Adderly, Wood, and a bunch of guys who were really good (Thurston,Gillingham, Dowler, Dale, Mcgee, etc.) even if not HoFers. Mind you, I am not stating confidently that Tarkenton was better than Starr. I just think it completely misses the nature of the game to look at individual performance and not adjust for coaching and surrounding talent.

106 The 1960's were 1960-69, not 1965-69

I agree with all that. Starr had a huge advantage in those years. Starr had his rough early years in the late 50's. But Starr was Brady before Brady was Brady. He was helped by the team in the early 60's (though not as much as Brady in those early Pats SB wins) but carried the offense by the mid-60's as players around him aged; unfortunately, Lombardi wasn't as adept at finding new stars like Belichick. Starr was at his best in the playoffs. He still has the best NFL playoff passer rating, better than Brady, Manning, Rodgers, Brees, Warner, Montana, or Young. He was at his best when the stakes were highest. That includes games in crap weather like the Ice Bowl where he was 14-24-0 with 2 TDs for a 111 rating. Passer rating isn't everything, but it can't be ignored either. 

I do wonder what his legacy would be had he retired with Lombardi after SB II. He had planned to retire then like Elway did after 1997, but stayed on as a favor to new coach Phil Bengtson. But I not only think Starr was better in the 1960's, but I maintain he was a better QB than Tarkenton when comparing careers. And Starr being the winning QB in two Super Bowls and five NFL Championships vs Tark being the losing QB in three Super Bowls when he didn't have a good game in any of them is part of that equation. I still believe both are among the best ever. I just disagree with you on which was better. IMO, Starr is the most disrespected HoF QB given his accomplishments. People still try to take away the credit he deserves, like you and the article's author are doing here. 

You can argue Unitas was better in the 60's despite the championships. I'm not sure I'd disagree with that because it's a valid argument. But I don't believe any other QB besides Unitas has an argument over being better than Starr in the 60's. 

112 Ahh, let the irrational…

Ahh, let the irrational Starr/Tarkenton thread begin!

I was born 75 years ago in Milwaukee and naturally was raised a huge Packer fan.  I thought Starr was the greatest QB of all time and the best "field general" in football.  And there's some truth to that.  He was the coolest QB under center I have ever seen.  There's the famous line: "He was as cool as the other side of the pillow" (you have to be really old and pre-AC to get that).

But now I'm a Seahawks fan and the Wilson/Tarkenton comparison is obvious.  If Wilson will come close to the greatness of Tark, I will be a truly blessed football fan.

114 When you are winning…

When you are winning championships, while replacing Fuzzy Thurston with Gale Gillingham, Jim Ringo with Bill Curry and then Ken Bowman, picking up a Donny Anderson, among other moves, you're pretty good at reloading while on top. People forget how brief Lombardi's career was, before cancer was diagnosed.

I really try to avoid these debates about which great qb was better, simply because the confidence people invest in their beliefs is so far out of proportion to real knowledge. It all just becomes a confirmation bias festival, and then, when people start using playoff w-l records, or even less illuminative, championship game w-l records, to gain insight as to the qualities of very long careers, in a game with 44 starters, not including sp. teams, a game where coaching has the most critical role, relative to other sports, I just don't think that provides much information. Put it this way; Starr would not be any less great if Don Chandler had been bad at field goal kicks in the 2nd half and OT in the 65 Divisional game, if Dave Robinson had not made a great play at the end of the '66 playoff game against the Cowboys, or if Bowman and Kramer had slipped at the end of Ice Bowl.


98 Paul Zimmerman was once asked

to name the greatest quarterbacking performance he had ever seen.   He responded with Tarkenton, with the Giants, playing a vastly superior Cowboys team, with no talent around him but just bleeding first downs all over the field.   And they still lost.

43 Don't know enough about…

Don't know enough about Dawson, but Namath shouldn't be in the conversation.  He certainly deserves to be in the Hall, and he terrified those who played against him because of his arm and the inability to sack him, but Namath threw too many foolish interceptions even in 1968, when he toned it down a little after defensive coordinator Walt Michaels had a talk with him on the plane after a loss to the Bills due to Namath's 5 interceptions.  Those Bills won the first pick in the draft, beating out another all-time terrible team, the '68 Eagles, for the right to draft O.J. Simpson.  Tarkenton was a lot more efficient than Namath.

80 Tarkenton in the 60s

I'm also curious about the argument that Tarkenton was the 2nd best QB in the 60s. It looks like he and Jurgensen had the same number of Pro Bowls, but Jurgensen was the best QB in the league 2 or 3 times in the decade, while Tarkenton didn't do that well until the 70s.

87 Jurgenson had 3 years in the…

Jurgenson had 3 years in the 60s when his AY/A was 7 or higher. Tarkenton had 5. Their int rates are pretty similar. Tarkenton in all but one year had about 250 more yards rushing per season. If we had the play by play to give us DYAR, I'm pretty confident Tarkenton's would be significantly higher.

53 Definitely the Vikings!

What team deserves the mantle of best franchise to never win a championship more than the Vikings? As a fan for almost 50 years, the heartbreaks are too many to recall.

97 So lets actually quantify…

So lets actually quantify this. For the Superbowl era, we can calculate the number of "Heartbreak Points" each team has. This is done by taking the number of Superbowl Losses, adding half the number conference championship losses, then dividing by one plus the number of Superbowl victories.

HBP = (SBL+CCL/2)/(1+SBV)

Ties are broken by least number of Superbowl victories, then most Superbowl losses.

The Vikings are the clear winners here, with the Bills a strong second. No other teams come close to the championship futility of these two teams. And that's not even counting the heart-breaking way in which so many of those Viking losses have come, or all the heart-breaking losses earlier in the playoffs, or the span of many decades over which the losses occurred. It's almost enough to make me feel bad about the Seahawks small part in those tragic losses (almost...).

The Eagles would be #3 on this list if not for Nick Foles, and the Rams would be up there as well if not for another QB who came out of nowhere to win a Superbowl. The Raiders are surprisingly high on the list at #10, but they've lost NINE conference championship games (along with two Superbowls). The Seahawks are about average at #18, which feels about right. The Patriots might feel a little high at #20 until you remember that they have lost five Superbowls in addition to winning five. The saddest team on this list is the Lions at #28. They lost a championship game once. That's it. Nothing else of note has ever happened to them in the Superbowl era. It's not heart-breaking, it's just sad. And then at #32 is the Giants. Most years, they don't bother with those messy "playoffs". But then every once in a while they rampage through them, break some other teams' hearts, then slink back to their lair for a well-deserved nap.

Heartbreak Points

 #1 Vikings (7.00 Points)

 #2 Bills (5.00 Points)

 #3 Panthers (3.00 Points)

 #4 Falcons (3.00 Points)

 #5 Chargers (2.50 Points)

 #6 Browns (2.50 Points)

 #7 Rams (2.50 Points)

 #8 Bengals (2.00 Points)

 #9 Eagles (2.00 Points)

 #10 Raiders (1.63 Points)

 #11 Cardinals (1.50 Points)

 #12 Titans (1.50 Points)

 #13 Oilers/Texans (1.50 Points)

 #14 Jaguars (1.50 Points)

 #15 Broncos (1.50 Points)

 #16 Dolphins (1.33 Points)

 #17 Colts (1.33 Points)

 #18 Seahawks (1.25 Points)

 #19 Bears (1.25 Points)

 #20 Patriots (1.17 Points)

 #21 Cowboys (1.17 Points)

 #22 49ers (1.08 Points)

 #23 Jets (1.00 Points)

 #24 Steelers (0.86 Points)

 #25 Chiefs (0.75 Points)

 #26 Packers (0.70 Points)

 #27 Redskins (0.63 Points)

 #28 Lions (0.50 Points)

 #29 Buccaneers (0.50 Points)

 #30 Ravens (0.50 Points)

 #31 Saints (0.25 Points)

 #32 Giants (0.20 Points)

99 To make matters worse

They also have a technically correct NFL championship, the cheapest in league history.  The only other NFL team to win a championship and not a superbowl when there was one after that, the 1968 Colts, and they would win a superbowl with mostly the same squad next season.  (And the two main missing pieces feom that season would win one in Miami two years after that).

The Bills won AFL championships without having a superbowl loss following them.   So the Vikimgs 1969 NFL championship (and I have seen pics of the rings) is literally the least valued in the history of the NFL.


100 It's interesting that the…

It's interesting that the 1968 Colts explicitly did NOT give out rings for their NFL championship.  They still celebrated it a little, and gave out really fancy watches, but they made a point of not giving out championship rings because, well, they weren't the champions.

It's probably a little easier to do that when your franchise already had won titles, and a little easier to not hype it up in retrospect when you won a Super Bowl a few years later, and embarrassing to celebrate a title after losing as 18-point favorites.

102 I'll see you the 1925…

I'll see you the 1925 Cardinals and raise you the 1921 Staleys, who won their title by tricking the Buffalo All-Americans into thinking a regular game was an exhibition game, scrambling to schedule extra games to pad their standings, and then inventing a terrible tiebreaker when that didn't work.



104 This is an awesome list! …

This is an awesome list! 

Now we need a "sadness" list to go along with it, to see who *cough Cardinals cough* joins the Lions at the top of the "nothing much of note has happened to them during the Super Bowl era".

108 Thanks for putting the list…

Thanks for putting the list together. Some playoff losses should be weighted higher if you lose on the last play or a blown call. Vikings have more than their share of those - three NFC championship games lost on the last play and the Hail Mary play with no call on obvious pass interference. And that doesn't count the Blair Walsh shank.

110 After 6 decades of…

After 6 decades of elimination game Viking fan agonistes,  none should consider any elimination prior to the conference championship anything more than a flesh wound, and I say that as someone who was about 150 ft. away from where Drew Pearson pushed off to create the  term Hail Mary Pass. So I usually go for the humor. My favorite was actually the 2003 week 17 last play playoff elimination in Phoenix, where a call that was hardly ever used, and no longer exists, the push out completion, awarded the Cards a td, and kept the Vikings out of the tournament. I laughed out loud at that one.

55 Browns-Eagles backstory

You didn't mention the best part of the 1950 Eagles-Browns meeting! The Browns threw the ball with great success in the first game, and to prove it wasn't a fluke in a run-dominated league, they attempted zero passes in their second meeting of the season. Cleveland still won despite having exactly one first down (per PFR). Great way to shove it in the face of the "superior" NFL.

58 It's a great story, though…

It's a great story, though not entirely accurate -- the Browns did attempt one pass, that was called back due to penalty.

It was also played in freezing cold, rainy conditions, that helped lead to the Eagles throwing two interceptions and fumbling twice; the Browns played it safe.

But yeah, after the first loss, Eagles coach Greasy Neale said, after that first loss, that Paul Brown would make a better basketball coach because all he does is put the ball in the air.

So I suppose you could say he was right, as Brown certainly dunked on him in round two.

69 I'm resigned to the fact…

I'm resigned to the fact that the 1966-1985 Cowboys will finish third, behind the 49ers and the Pats (even though they have the *slightly* longest run of the three, pending the Pats' upcoming season).  You could make a pretty convincing argument that they (like Shula's contemporary teams in Baltimore/Miami) slightly underperformed in the postseason.  It's still really impressive to me, given that they cycled through at least four, arguably five, starting quarterbacks over that stretch (and when they had a HoF-level quarterback, they basically matched Brady-Belichick's 'Super Bowl every other season' record). It's crazy, but the Jimmy/Jerry Cowboys less than a decade later actually wound up with more titles.  Also crazy- Pats were basically a sad-sack franchise for a good two-thirds of their existence, and yet are up to something like third in all-time winning percentage (albeit, the Steelers are also dragged down by their first 30-40 years, and the Cowboys are still number one- even in their lousy last 20-plus years, they're a little more than 20 games over .500, which is great for a 'down' period)

70 Here's the rankings for…

Here's the rankings for regular season all time winning %

Dallas Cowboys57.3%

Chicago Bears56.4%

Green Bay Packers56.4%

New England Patriots56.1%

Miami Dolphins55.6%

Minnesota Vikings54.6%

Baltimore Ravens54.5%

San Francisco 49ers53.9%

New York Giants53.6%

Denver Broncos53.4%

Pittsburgh Steelers52.9%

Indianapolis Colts52.9%

Kansas City Chiefs52.8%

Oakland Raiders52.4%

Cleveland Browns51.1%

Seattle Seahawks51%

Washington Redskins50.4%

Los Angeles Rams50.3%

Carolina Panthers49.6%

Philadelphia Eagles49%

Tennessee Titans48.2%

Buffalo Bills46.6%

Detroit Lions46%

Cincinnati Bengals45.6%

New Orleans Saints45.4%

New York Jets45%

Houston Texans44.5%

Jacksonville Jaguars44.3%

Atlanta Falcons44.2%

Arizona Cardinals42.6%

Los Angeles Chargers40.3%

Tampa Bay Buccaneers38.5%


Freakin' Bucs, Jets, & Saints have won Super Bowls. 

81 Believe it's wrong -  site I…

Believe it's wrong -  site I looked at had the Chargers at 452 wins, 453 losses, 11 ties which is about as close to 50% as you can get.

Don't think it's a stat based solely on their LA years as they've got 3 out of 4 winning seasons there.

71 also, I'm in the Manning…

also, I'm in the Manning camp, but he only lost twice, head-to-head, to Brady;  not sure he winds up with that many more titles in another era (bigger obstacle is that so little of his career came with top-shelf coaching).  He just always seemed unlucky, between the 2004 game in Gillette in a snowstorm, the 2013 Super Bowl in an outdoor, cold, windy stadium, the first interception in the 2012 game against the Ravens coming on an obvious, uncalled interference that maybe gets called if Ray Lewis isn't involved, and his head coach being understandably distracted towards the end of the 2005 season-  2005 and 2012 are the glaring "he had the best team and didn't win the title" seasons, but on the other hand he got a little lucky with the draw in both of his championship seasons;  the lack of great coaching aside from the Dungy years, and the nine(!!!) one-and-done playoff appearances were bound to leave his playoff record a little disappointing

72 I'd also speculate that the…

I'd also speculate that the difference between the Bears of the '80s and the other teams with multiple titles is that the Bears are the only team that broke through without an all-time great coach (that was Jim Finks's team, and he quit when Ditka was hired- he'd previously built the Purple People Eaters and would go on to build the Dome Patrol Saints;  not sure whether he's in the Hall of Fame, but he ought to be).  Also, McMahon was pretty damned good, and his 25-game winning streak from 1984-1987 is probably still the all-time record as a starting qb

76 The shame is that starting…

The shame is that starting Flutie really lent itself to a creative running attack, which Ditka might have enjoyed, if somebody had been able to convince him to try it. Shanahan would have used Flutie well, if he'd ever had him as a starter.

105 What he did in the CFL…

What he did in the CFL suggests he would have had good years in the NFL, too, if given the chance.  The talent differential between the leagues was starting to widen in the 90s, but hadn't reached the current levels (pre-TV revenues, salaries were pretty much a wash between the leagues … earlier in this series Bryan dinged the Bills for losing to a CFL team, but that's silly because in the 60s CFL team payrolls likely exceeded those in the AFL, and I expect Toronto's and Montreal's routinely ranked with the top NFL teams).

Anyway, back to my point, Flutie's relative dominance of the CFL in the 90s suggest he would likely have been at least a serviceable starter in the NFL.  To have been more than serviceable would likely have required a coach willing to build an offense around what he did well, though.  In 2020, his skill set would have been easier to work in than was the case in 1990. 

117 Meant to post the day this…

Meant to post the day this was released to hear alternative views.

It always amazes me that Van Brocklin's single game passing record of 554yds still stands 70 years on.

I can remember in the 1980s a 500yd game was a rarity with Marino and Simms posting them and then Warren Moon in the early 90s.

But given the explosion in passing offense and failed completions, I'd have expected it to go in the past decade or so.

That said, with touchbacks moving up to the 25 yds, that's 30-40 potential yds lost per game. Also shorter overtime doesn't help.

But why hasn't it gone?

118 One of the reasons is teams…

One of the reasons is teams not holding as much of a grudge, as it were.  In Van Brocklin's game, the Rams beat the New York Yanks 54-14 -- if a team today kept throwing the ball up and down the field up 40 points, they'd be pilloried in the press, especially taking on a team as putrid as the Yanks were.  The Yanks had an estimated DVOA of -32.4%; an estimated pass defense DVOA of 25.7% that season.  That puts them in the bottom 100 all-time; it'd be like the Chiefs running up the score on the Lions or something.  At some point, you gotta stop; they're already dead, and your superstar will be on the sideline sipping gatorade.  The record for passing yards in a first half was Peyton Manning with 361 in the 2004 playoffs against the Broncos; he finished the day with "only" 458. attempting only six passes as the Colts mostly ran the ball out in the second half as the defense played soft against Jake Plummer and company the rest of the way; a 35-3 halftime lead means you don't need to take many chances.

Another reason for Van Brocklin's success in particular was that that Rams offense was a real paradigm shift, and teams didn't have the horses to slow 'em down.  The '51 Rams estimated passing DVOA was 50.0%, in part because how do you defend three receivers at one time?  It's scientifically impossible!

When you get a lopsided mismatch in an era with less run-up-the-score decorum, you get big results.  The two biggest passing days of all-time are pre-1970 -- Van Brocklin against the Yanks in '51; Joe Capp and a pair of backups against the Colts in '69.  Heck, an old Sammy Baugh game against the Yanks (I can not stress enough how bad the Yanks were, even if THAT Yanks team was technically a different team, owned by the same guy, and folded as a tax-writeoff....long story) is still in the top 15, and Sid Luckman and the T-Formation just got knocked out of the top 20 in 2017.  You don't get opportunities like that anymore.

That being said, it's going to happen.  41 of the top 100 (team) passing days of all time took place in the 2010s; four of them happened last year alone:

*Jared Goff going for 517 against the Buccaneers in a 40-55 loss
*Jameis Winston (and Ryan Griffin) going for 474 against the Colts in a 38-35 win
*Jameis Winston (again!) going for 458 against the Lions in a 38-17 win
*Matt Schaub (!) going for 460 against the Seahawks (!!) in a 20-27 loss

The top 11 passing days of the 2010s all had EITHER 400+ yards from the opposing team OR finished as a one-score game -- it has to be somewhat tight to justify continuing to pour on passing.  They also featured no more than two turnovers, to prevent short fields which kills your passing numbers.

If I had to peg the game in the 2020 season most likely to break the record, look for December 20th, when the Chiefs and Saints go head to head.  That looks like it will be a close game; it's in the Superdome so weather won't be a factor; the passing defenses aren't bad but neither are a New England/San Francisco juggernaught, Mahomes has three 440+ yard passing days in the last two seasons; Brees has been slowing down some but still has the most 400+ yard passing games in NFL history...

I'm not calling my shot or anything here, but that looks like it has all the elements needed for the record to fall.

119 You've just condemned us to…

You've just condemned us to a 13-10 snoozefest !!


Little more thought on my part says you probably need some kind of quick-score ability. As Mahomes has and why Roethlisberger has two 500+ yd games.  The dink&dunk offense accumulate a lot of yards but at the expense of time off the clock and therefore possessions.  I don't know if that's backed up in the stats.

We've got two games of Brees and Brady this year. Not sure how Brady will go in Arians offense but he certainly likes to throw the ball down the field which is why three of those games you mention involve the Bucs.  I'll half-heartedly make my prediction for someone in one of those two games getting there.

120 Probably past time anyone…

Probably past time anyone will read this, but I always like to point out the Chiefs' defensive run to the SB IV title:  They allowed 6, 7, 7 points to teams averaging 25, 27, and 27 points per game.  It's one of the most dominant defensive playoff runs of all time.