Dynasty Rankings, Part VI: The Top Ten

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Our dynasty rankings conclude, with the top 10 teams of all time.

If you were to pick any of these ten as the best squad ever to play the game, you'd have plenty of evidence to back you up. Multiple championships, decades of success, Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer. The teams of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s are all represented. The greatest multi-year runs in actual DVOA, estimated DVOA, and SRS-to-DVOA conversion are all represented. All of them have legendary coaches; all of them played in legendary games. They boast the greatest quarterbacks of all time; the greatest receivers of all time; the greatest defenses of all time; the greatest front offices of all time. Tweak how the rankings work, and what is counted and what isn't, and I could put five different teams in the No. 1 slot -- and defend each and every one of them, too.

But, in the end, we can only have one winner.

Previous articles in this series
Dynasty points explained
Part I: 51-56
Part II: 41-50
Part III: 31-40
Part IV: 21-30
Part V: 11-21

No. 10: 1991-1996 Dallas Cowboys

Peak Dynasty Points: 21
Average DVOA: 26.6%.
Top-Five DVOA: 29.9%
Championships: 3.
Record: 70-26 (.729)
Head Coaches: Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer
Key Players: QB Troy Aikman, RB Emmitt Smith, WR Michael Irvin, T Erik Williams, G Nate Newton, S Darren Woodson
Z-Score: 4.84

Our top ten kicks off with our first of the traditional "teams of the decade." Yes, that technically means they're the worst of those teams of the decade, but they also have the distinction of being the only one of those teams to wrench that title away from an active reigning champ. The 1950s Browns were done before the Packers started running the 1960s; the Lombardi era was well over before the Steelers dominated the 1970s; and the Steel Curtain parted in time for the 49ers to ascend to the top. But the 49ers were still going strong in the 1990s, and likely would have won two or three more titles had the Cowboys not come along and beaten them in multiple NFC Championship Games. It's one thing to claim a vacant throne. It's another entirely to slay the beast.

You certainly can't accuse Jerry Jones of lacking chutzpah. Within 24 hours of buying the team in 1989, he had fired Tom Landry, the only coach in franchise history. Replacing him was Jimmy Johnson, who had undeniable success at the University of Miami, but bringing in the leader of the so-called "Bad Boys of College Football" turned just a few heads. Jones also disassembled the legendary front office of Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt that had assembled America's Team and had produced 20 years of success before things fizzled out in the late 1980s. He replaced them with, well, himself. Like I said, plenty of chutzpah.

The rebuild was bold, too -- the Cowboys selected UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman with the first overall pick in the 1989 draft, then a few months later gave up their 1990 first-round pick to take another quarterback, Miami's Steve Walsh, in the supplemental draft.Then, to recoup some of those lost draft picks, they traded away their best player, Herschel Walker, getting 12 players and draft picks in return. In what is the most lopsided trade in NFL history, the Cowboys used those picks to draft Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Darren Woodson, Clayton Holmes, and Kevin Smith. It's not like the Cowboys were talentless beforehand, with Michael Irvin, Ken Norton, and Nate Newton being Landry-era holdovers, but the Cowboys do not become perennial Super Bowl contenders without fleecing the Vikings.

As we mentioned last time around, the Cowboys three-peated as DVOA champions from 1992 to 1994, and only fell to second place in 1995. Their best teams don't quite hit the highs of their 1970s teams, but they came darn close, and didn't have to play second fiddle to the Steelers this time around. Beating Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XXX probably exorcised a few 1970s demons, and their back-to-back wins over the Bills were some of the most lopsided excuses for title games we've ever seen. The real title bouts in those years were the three consecutive conference championship games against the 49ers, famously called the "Real Super Bowl" by Sports Illustrated. The Cowboys went 2-1, putting the Team of the 1980s in their rearview mirror.

So, why aren't the Cowboys No. 1? Their biggest flaw is the short length of their run; they tumbled to 6-10 in 1997 and didn't win another playoff game until 2009. The big What If? is what would have happened if friction between Jones and Johnson hadn't caused the latter to resign after the 1993 season. Barry Switzer, I feel it's safe to say, was not the driving force behind the Cowboys' third Super Bowl in four years. At the end of the day, I don't think Johnson's presence alone would have kept the Cowboys train moving. He certainly couldn't have prevented the injuries to Emmitt Smith, Jay Novacek, or Charles Haley, and if you're expecting the coach of The U to step in and stop the narcotics incidents that cost Michael Irvin and Leon Lett time, I have an oil rig to sell you.

I suspect the Cowboys under Johnson would have had a gentler slope down from their glory days, and would probably move up one or two spots had Johnson and Jones been able to get along. In the end, though, the 1990s Cowboys were always destined to burn brightly, and burn quickly.

No. 9: 1935-1944 Green Bay Packers

Peak Dynasty Points: 22
Average DVOA: 23.8%.
Top-Five DVOA: 28.1%
Championships: 3.
Record: 81-25-4 (.755)
Head Coach: Curly Lambeau
Key Players: FB Clarke Hinkle, TB Cecil Isbell, TB Arnie Herber, TB Tony Canadeo, E Don Hutson, E Milt Gantenbein, G Lon Evans, T Ernie Smith
Z-Score: 5.91

Place yourself in the shoes of a defensive halfback in 1935. Your main responsibility is containing the edge, preventing wingbacks and tailbacks from sweeping to the outside. The passing game? Please. Teams throw an average of 13 passes a game, complete less than a third of them, and average less than 60 yards a game. The passing philosophy of the time is "go deep and run around a bit, and maybe we'll get lucky." Desperation, or an act of surprise. Pretty sweet gig, all in all.

And then, here comes Don Hutson out of Alabama to ruin their lives. Hutson was to pass-catching what Babe Ruth was to home run-hitting; he is the genesis of the wide receiver as a concept. Curly Lambeau, coming off of a pair of subpar seasons after the Packers' initial run of success, knew he had to have Hutson. They were already the league's most prolific passers with Arnie Herber throwing as many as 15 passes a game and completing a whopping 36.5% of them, but Lambeau thought Hutson could take them to the next level, altering the Packers' classic Notre Dame Box to allow Hutson to line up out wide rather than at end.

Hutson was the first player in the NFL to run specific passing routes; with cuts, stop-and-goes, and general precision literally unheard of for his time. He also could run a 9.7-second 100-yard dash, and had hands great enough that he once (apocryphally) caught one of the old, fatter NFL footballs, in full stride, around his ankles, one-handed, palm-down. Eat your heart out, OBJ. At that point in the history of the league, defenses didn't really scheme to stop individual players, so it was Hutson against our poor defensive halfback, one-on-one, with the better man winning. Hutson was, more often than not, that better man; he scored a touchdown once every five receptions, on average.

Hutson caught 99 touchdowns over the course of his career; the next-closest player, Johnny Blood, had 37 when Hutson retired. By similar margins, Hutson was the all-time leader in receptions (488 to 190) and receiving yards (7991 to 3309). He's still in the top hundred in career receiving yards, the only player before 1950 to do so. He led the league in all three stats five times, including every year from 1941 to 1944, and led the league in touchdowns eight times -- no one else has done it more than three. He was an outlier in every sense of the word -- in 1942, he caught 74 passes, which was more than the Detroit Lions, New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, or Pittsburgh Steelers managed as a team. It should come as little surprise that he was a two-time league MVP; the only question is why he didn't win it more often.

Hutson was obviously, self-evidently the star, but he had plenty of backup. Arnie Herber and then Cecil Isbell broke passing records throwing to Hutson. Clarke Hinkle was every bit as hard a hitter as Bronko Nagurski, and was a four-time All-Pro. Tony Canadeo was the third rusher to ever hit 1,000 yards in a season. Together, they won three NFL title games, reaching a fourth one in 1938. They were the league's best offense in the late 1930s, and near the top throughout the 1940s even as the T-formation and players such as Sammy Baugh throughout the rest of the league began to catch up to their passing prowess.

So, why aren't the Packers No. 1? Their biggest problem is that they only won their division five times in ten seasons, with the Chicago Bears specifically hamstringing them in four of the five missing seasons. It's hard to be the best team of all time when another team in your own division is beating you out as often as not. Winning a few more NFL West titles, even if they couldn't finish the deal in the championship game, would have bumped the Packers up one or two slots. They're just not quite legendary enough to get higher than that.

No. 8: 1967-1977 Oakland Raiders

Peak Dynasty Points: 26
Average DVOA: 25.1%.
Top-Five DVOA: 33.8%
Championships: 1.
Record: 119-28-7 (.795)
Head Coaches: John Rauch, John Madden
Key Players: QB Daryle Lamonica, QB Ken Stabler, RB Marv Hubbard, WR Fred Biletnikoff, WR Cliff Branch, T Art Shell, G Gene Upshaw, C Jim Otto, LB Dan Conners, LB Phil Villapiano, CB Willie Brown, S George Atkinson, S Jack Tatum
Z-Score: 6.90

Just win, baby.

The peak of the Raiders franchise, the era that spawned the Commitment to Excellence and Pride & Poise and Raider Nation and the Black Hole and all those things you think of when you think of the Rrrrrrraidahs began when Al Davis re-joined the team in 1967 as part-owner and general manager. Before 1967, the Raiders did have the vertical, aggressive passing system we associate with the franchise, but they didn't have the swagger, the attitude, the menace that they established as their identity. Davis was constantly fighting with Pete Rozelle and the NFL, and he consciously built his team to play the antagonist, cultivating and embracing the image of the dirty, violent bad guys. And the league was better for it.

This 11-year run kind of smashes two Raiders teams together, though it's a continuous stretch with enough similarities to make it track easily enough. The first is the AFL version, coached by John Rauch. Davis went and grabbed Daryle Lamonica to replace Tom Flores as quarterback in 1967, and the Raiders leapt from an 8-win team to a 13-win team overnight. That 1967 team was the one that got to Super Bowl II, with Lamonica-to-Fred Biletnikoff providing the offensive firepower, and Willie Brown (who had just been traded to Oakland) helping lead the defense to a -26.0% estimated DVOA, 16th-best all-time. While acknowledging the same AFL-to-NFL issues that make judging teams from the younger league difficult, we still have to point out that the 1967 Raiders had a 44.3% estimated DVOA, which would be the eighth-best total in history, and would have made them favorites over Vince Lombardi's Packers (30.1% estimated DVOA) if we take the numbers at face value. They ended up losing quite badly, and becoming the runners-up would become an ongoing theme -- they lost the AFL Championship Game each of the next two seasons to the eventual Super Bowl champion Jets and Chiefs.

And then you have the 1970s version, with John Madden taking the helm. Rauch had resigned after the 1968 season due to Davis' frequent interference in how his team was run -- and he certainly wasn't the last Raiders coach to feud with the owner. Madden was young and inexperienced, having just been a position coach the year before, but Davis liked him enough to give him a shot to run the team. Madden responded by never having a losing season, winning the division in seven of his ten years, and having the best winning percentage of anyone in NFL history with at least 100 games coached. So yeah, that worked out OK.

Those teams had the Soul Patrol secondary of Brown, Jack Tatum, Gene Atkinson, and Skip Thomas, back in the days where it was legal to clobber receivers early and often. An offensive line featuring Hall of Famers Bob Brown, Jim Otto, Art Shell, and Gene Upshaw is in the running for the best of all time. Biletnikoff was eventually joined by Dave Casper, and Lamonica was eventually replaced by Ken Stabler, Hall of Famers all. With all this talent at their disposal, the Raiders made a habit of … being the villain eventually dispatched by the champ, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Jets, Chiefs, Colts, Dolphins, and Steelers (twice) in six championship games between 1968 and 1975. They finally, finally got to be the ones laughing last in 1976, taking advantage of an injured Steelers team to get to the Super Bowl, and beating the NFC's perennial runner-up Vikings to bring home their first Lombardi trophy.

So, why aren't the Raiders No. 1? They didn't just win baby enough. The 1970s are a rough time for dynasties -- by this list, there were an average of 5.7 dynasties active at any given time, peaking as high as seven in 1970 and 1971. The AFC alone had the Raiders facing off with the Steelers (No. 6), Chiefs (No. 14), Colts (No. 15), Dolphins (No. 27), and Browns (No. 46). There's only room for one champion in any season, and far too often, it wasn't the Raiders. They never led the league in estimated DVOA throughout the 1970s, and lost conference championship games seven times. Reaching nine AFL/AFC championship games in 11 seasons is crazy-good considering the level of competition they faced, which is why they rank as high as they do -- they are the highest-ranking team with just one championship to their name. Flip some of those results, make more Super Bowls, and the Raiders could have been in the top five

No. 7: 1950-1958 Cleveland Browns

Peak Dynasty Points: 29
Average DVOA: 23.6%.
Top-Five DVOA: 32.9%
Championships: 3.
Record: 81-25-2 (.759)
Head Coach: Paul Brown
Key Players: QB Otto Graham, FB Jim Brown, HB Dub Jones, E Dante Lavelli, T Lou Groza, T Mike McCormack, C Frank Gatski, DE Len Ford, MG Bill Willis
Z-Score: 8.56

September 16, 1950, is one of the most important days in the history of professional football. The two-time defending NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles were opening the season at home, and they were going to show some scrub expansion team, dragged over from a piddling minor league where they called themselves "champions," just what real football was supposed to look like. One 35-10 drubbing later, the Eagles were dragging their tails between their legs, Giants coach Steve Owen was rushing home to invent an entirely new kind of defense, and the Cleveland Browns had given notice that they were the true defending champions of professional football.

Paul Brown's Browns were already four-time defending champions the year they entered the NFL -- champions of the All-American Football Conference, a league which the NFL does not consider part of its history, despite absorbing three teams from it after it folded in 1949. An undefeated season in 1948? Doesn't count. The fact that one of the main reasons the AAFC was folded was that the Browns were too good, making the games uncompetitive and killing attendance? Meh. As far as the NFL is concerned, the Browns were born in 1950, fully mature. A well-oiled offensive machine, led by Otto Graham under center, the incredible running back combo of Marion Motley and Dub Jones, Dante "Gluefingers" Lavelli out wide, and Lou Groza clearing the way at tackle? Just magically popped into existence, fully formed and with great chemistry. Alright, sure. Be that way.

The Browns pop up all over our greatest team of all-time DVOA charts. Their biggest accomplishment is their passing offense in 1953, which hits an estimated DVOA of 75.0%, the greatest in NFL history. Brown's modified T-formation split both Lavelli and Pete Brewster wide, which spread out the defensive line and let Motley run through massive gaps. As for the passing attack? Brown's offense was innovative in developing timing routes, routes down the sideline to Lavelli and Brewster, blocking specifically to create a pocket to work out of -- stuff that's baked into every modern offense to this day.

Otto Graham, league MVP, led the league with 2,700 passing yards and an incredible 64.7% completion rate (at 10.6 yards per attempt, which also led the league -- no dinking and dunking here). Only three other passers even topped 50% completion in 1953! Graham is the only quarterback in NFL history to complete more than 60% of his passes while averaging over 10 yards per pass attempt, and he did it twice -- once in 1953, once in the AAFC in 1947. New defenses had to be created to stop him -- Steve Owen took his 6-1-4 "umbrella" defense, dropped two of his defensive linemen into the wide flat zones to give them some mobility, and created the 4-3 as a direct response to what the Browns were doing. Way back in the wee early days of Football Outsiders, writing for ESPN's Page 2, our own Aaron Schatz listed Graham's 1953 season as the second-best of all time, behind the then-still-happening 2004 Peyton Manning year. Our methodology has changed since then, and there have been a few challengers to the top of the throne, but Graham's numbers jump out no matter how you look at it.

That 1953 offense ends up as the third-best since 1950, with an estimated DVOA of 40.2%, and the team overall ranks 16th all-time with a 39.2% estimated DVOA (their defense was below average, but it just didn't matter with that offense going off). They came close to that mark multiple times in this run, as they were nearly as good in the NFL as they were in the AAFC. They made the NFL Championship Game in each of their first six seasons in the NFL, winning three, and then made the championship game again in 1957 after a one-year, Graham-retirement-induced lull. No team has ever played in six straight championships before or since, and again -- that's not including the four championship wins in a row in the AAFC. The Browns, as we all know, are synonymous with championship football.

So, why aren't the Browns No. 1? Because the AAFC wasn't on par with the NFL. Five of its eight teams folded outright with the league, the Baltimore Colts lasted one year in the NFL before folding, and the San Francisco 49ers, perennial-second best in the league, struggled significantly up top. We don't give credit to the Canton Bulldogs for their Ohio League wins; we don't count the 1990s Toronto Argonauts three Grey Cup titles; the New Yorker Lions do not get credit for dominating the Eurobowl. This is a list of NFL dynasties, and the first four years of the Browns' existence were spent dominating non-NFL quality talent.

… but, then again, we do give full credit to the NFL teams in the 1920s, and the AAFC was certainly more competitive than that. So, just to see, I punched in the Browns' four AAFC titles and ran their SRS-to-DVOA conversions, and they jumped all the way up … to second-best, all-time. So, if you can defend the honor of the Chicago Rockets or Buffalo Bisons, you can argue the Browns up to next to the very tippy-top of this list. Or, at the very least, you can give them partial credit and argue that they should hit the top five.

No. 6: 1972-1979 Pittsburgh Steelers

Peak Dynasty Points: 29
Average DVOA: 27.4%.
Top-Five DVOA: 33.4%
Championships: 4.
Record: 88-27-1 (.763)
Head Coach: Chuck Noll
Key Players: QB Terry Bradshaw, RB Franco Harris, WR Lynn Swann, C Mike Webster, DE L.C. Greenwood, DE Dwight White, DT Joe Greene, LB Jack Ham, LB Jack Lambert, LB Andy Russell, CB Mel Blount, S Mike Wagner
Z-Score: 8.60

Well, here's one that won't cause any controversy. The Pittsburgh Steelers not only fail to make the top five, but they also end up without the highest score from the 1970s.

Now, don't get us wrong -- everything you've heard, seen, and remember about the Steel Curtain defense is true, at least by estimated DVOA. No individual Steelers defense quite makes the top five all-time, but three different defenses from 1973 to 1976 all make the top 11. No one else -- not the Legion of Boom, not the 1980s Bears, not the Purple People Eaters -- can put so many squads near the top of the table. So, while the Steelers don't end up with the best individual defense ever, you can make a strong argument that they had the best defensive era ever. And it's close enough that it's not inconceivable that if we ever get play-by-play from the 1970s, one of those Steelers squads could end up taking the throne in official DVOA.

It's astonishing in retrospect that the Steelers got so good so quickly, because the Steelers were not a good franchise before the 1970s -- poorly managed, poorly coached, and just plain poor. They had a grand total of seven winning seasons between 1933 and 1971. Despite playing in one of the hot-beds of football talent, they didn't really bother doing much scouting or drafting of young players -- there were drafts in the 1960s where they don't bother making a pick until round eight. When they did hit on young players, they didn't realize it -- they famously cut Johnny Unitas and traded away Len Dawson. It didn't help that they were near-broke, too, often drafting players based not on their potential, but on the odds they could actually complete the signing at a budget price. If they hadn't agreed to move to the AFC after the two leagues merged -- and picked up a nice $3 million check in the process -- they might have kept looking for budget picks forever, letting wealthier, better-run teams scoop up the top talent.

But no, now they had money. Money that let them hire Chuck Noll, and to actually use those draft picks. In 1969, they draft Joe Greene. In 1970, Terry Bradshaw and Mel Blount. In 1971, Jack Ham. In 1972, Franco Harris. In 1974, Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, and Mike Webster -- all Hall of Famers. Take notes, Cleveland: all it takes to turn the league's laughingstock into the Team of the Decade is the best run of drafting in NFL history. It's so simple when every pick you make turns to gold.

1976 is when all that talent meshed together. It was the best individual campaign of any of those great defenses, as they allowed just 28 points over the last nine games of the season. It was the point where the offense finally got their act together, too -- the Steelers had a negative estimated DVOA on offense in four out of five years between 1970 and 1974, but were a top-ten offense over the course of the rest of the decade, because adding Swann and Stallworth gave Bradshaw a wee bit of an upgrade over Ron Shanklin and Frank Lewis. The 1976 Steelers rank as the ninth-best team since 1950 with an estimated DVOA of 42.7%, and likely would have won the Steelers' fifth Super Bowl of the decade had 1,000-yard rushers Harris and Rocky Bleier been healthy and available in the AFC Championship Game. As it is, four Super Bowl titles in six seasons is a feat that has never been matched.

So, why aren't the Steelers No. 1? There are a couple minor flaws in their resume. Their Top-Five DVOA is lower than any of the teams above them because their offense wasn't anything particularly special. They "only" lasted eight seasons, eventually running out of steam as they clung on to veterans a little too long. But their big problem is their record outside of the four Super Bowl years. Teams get a bonus in the rankings for seasons with three or more dynasty points -- high-quality seasons, in other words. Those are Super Bowl seasons, or division-winning seasons at 12-2/13-3 or better. Well, outside of the Super Bowl years, the Steelers don't have any of those. Four of the five teams above them made championship games more often than Pittsburgh did, and all of them had at least as many quality seasons as Pittsburgh. It's a nit, we admit, but we're talking about the top six teams in NFL history; you have to pick nits to separate them.

No. 5: 1940-1943 Chicago Bears

Peak Dynasty Points: 21
Average DVOA: 42.7%.
Top-Five DVOA: 34.1%
Championships: 3.
Record: 37-5-1 (.872)
Head Coaches: George Halas, Luke Johnsos, Hunk Anderson
Key Players: QB Sid Luckman, HB Harry Clarke, HB George McAfee, E George Wilson, T Lee Artoe, T Joe Stydahar, G Danny Fortmann, C Bulldog Turner
Z-Score: 10.02

Allow me to introduce you to the greatest football team of all time.

50.0% DVOA is rarified air. Only three teams have ever hit it -- the 1991 Redskins, 2007 Patriots, and 1985 Bears. No team's estimated DVOA from 1950 to 1984 quite hits that mark; it may be a tad conservative, but the closest a team comes is the 1962 Packers at 47.9%. I knew coming in that there would likely be a couple additions to the 50.0% club when doing SRS-to-DVOA conversions pre-1950; the "average" team before 1933 is basically "a team which didn't fold," so your baseline is a little screwy. So one of the three teams to join the club, the 1920 Akron Pros and their 54.7% DVOA, should be taken with massive grains of historical salt.

But by the pre-war 1940s, the league had settled down somewhat. No teams were added or removed between 1937 and 1942, so while there wasn't exactly league parity, there was at least a consistent baseline against which to measure. So when I tell you that the 1941 Bears had an estimated DVOA of 54.5%, and the 1942 Bears set a new all-time record at 57.4%, know that that's not a historical artifact or a mirage. While we'll never have 1940s play-by-play to run actual DVOA for these teams, there has never, ever been a team more dominant on a game-by-game level than George Halas' 1940s Bears.

The Bears had been tinkering with the T-formation throughout their history, and especially since the passing rules were liberated in 1933, but they didn't try to implement it full-time until they got a quarterback who they thought could run the system. Halas and advisor Clark Shaugnessy found their man in Sid Luckman, who reportedly was so overwhelmed by the complex offense when they introduced it to him that he broke down in tears. Within two years, however, Luckman had mastered the intricate system, with its men in motion and its counter plays, its complicated blocking schemes and its advanced passing routes. By the time of the 1940 championship, the Bears had perfected their version of the T, and went on to wallop the Redskins 73-0 in the title game. That's not only the biggest win in NFL history; it's the biggest margin of victory in any of the big four professional sports. They scored so often that Halas was asked to stop kicking extra points, because they were running out of footballs.

From that point on, the Bears couldn't be stopped. With Bulldog Turner, Joe Stydahar, and Danny Fortmann paving the way on the line on both sides of the ball; Bill Osmanski and George McAfee running; Ken Kavanaugh catching passes -- all members of the 1940s All-Decade team -- the Bears' average margin of victory over the next two seasons was 24.6. They lost two games: one to the Packers in 1941, which they avenged in a one-game divisional playoff, and one to the Redskins in a shocking upset in the 1942 championship game. The 1942 Bears scored 376 points and allowed just 84. They led the league in everything -- their 5.8 yards per play dwarfed second-place Green Bay's 5.0; they were tops with 10.2 yards per pass attempt and 4.0 yards per rushing attempt; they allowed just 3.0 yards per play, and just 1.8 yards per rush; they had 33 interceptions, ten Pro Bowlers … you name it, the Bears led in it. Had Halas not left in November to rejoin the Navy, I believe the Bears would have beaten the Redskins and completed the undefeated season. They were playing modern football while everyone else was futzing with the single wing and the Notre Dame box; the last stragglers finally joined the Bears' T-formation revolution in 1953.

Oh, and even without Halas, they got revenge on Washington in 1943 for their third title in four years. And that was despite Luckman not being able to practice with the team, due to his job with the U.S. Merchant Marines -- he was stationed stateside and allowed to play on gamedays from 1943 to 1945, but had more important things to do with his weekdays.

So, why aren't the Bears No. 1? Well, a little thing called World War II hit the team hard. Halas went back to the Navy, and half of the 1942 team entered the military as well. That kind of thing sort of halts a team's momentum, which is why this Bears run only lasts for four seasons. It simply is not long enough to crack the top four. But the Bears of the last half of the decade also qualified for the list, down at No. 25, when Halas and a bunch of the starters came back. If you give the Bears a pass for World War II and consider it one continuous run, then the Bears vault up to third on the list -- still not quite long enough to grab a top spot, but darn close. In terms of sheer talent, this may have been the best collection ever; in 1984, Paul Zimmerman said that only the Vince Lombardi Packers could come close to matching them. Who am I to argue with Dr. Z?

No. 4: 1966-1985 Dallas Cowboys

Peak Dynasty Points: 40
Average DVOA: 20.6%.
Top-Five DVOA: 34.4%
Championships: 2.
Record: 208-79-2 (.723)
Head Coach: Tom Landry
Key Players: QB Roger Staubach, RB Calvin Hill, RB Tony Dorsett, WR Drew Pearson, WR Tony Hill, T Rayfield Wright, T Pat Donovan, G John Niland, G Herbert Scott, DE George Andrie, DE Too Tall Jones, DE Harvey Martin, DT Bob Lilly , DT Randy White, LB Chuck Howley, LB Lee Roy Jordan, LB Bob Breunig, CB Mel Renfro, CB Everson Walls, S Cornell Green, S Cliff Harris, S Charlie Waters

Z-Score: 11.81

The longest-reigning dynasty on our list, Tom Landry's Cowboys won 13 division titles in 20 years, a stretch of time that started with battles against the Packers in the 1960s, and went through fights with the 49ers and the West Coast offense in the 1980s. In those two decades, the Cowboys never had a losing season, a record which stands to this day. That's why they end up ranking above the Steelers as the best team from the 1970s -- while Pittsburgh won more championships, Dallas was a contender for over twice as long. Unless the Patriots can pull a Brady-less winning season out of their hat in 2020, the Cowboys' sustained run of winning seasons may forever remain untouched.

Summing up two decades of success in a way that won't make my editors murder me anymore than they already were planning to is exceptionally difficult. Do you talk about building to the early 1960s success, with Don Meredith throwing to Bob Hayes, the fastest man in the world? Mel Renfro, Bob Lilly, and Chuck Howley roaming the field? Do you talk about Roger Staubach, the greatest quarterback of the 1970s? The Doomsday Defense with Cliff Harris, Harvey Martin, Too Tall Jones, Herb Adderley, and Randy White? The 105 games won in the 1970s, leading the league? Tom Landry's development and evolution of the 4-3 defense? The glitz and glamor of the cheerleaders, the Thanksgiving Day tradition? Any and all of those could be the subject of multiple essays.

Instead, just take a look at that laundry list of key players. I generated those for modern teams by looking at players with multiple Pro Bowl appearances and at least 50 AV, and that doesn't cut the Cowboys' list down at all. Part of the reason for the long list is two decades of success, of course, but you have to give extensive credit to the Cowboys' front office. Landry, general manager Tex Schramm, and chief scout Gil Brandt ran the smoothest, most modern office in the league; there may have never been a better franchise at knowing when to move on from veterans and being able to find good, young players to plug in. Landry's defensive innovations and his perfection of the 4-3 in the run-heavy 1970s are the stuff of legend. Schramm and Brandt are the fathers of modern scouting; the first to use computers to analytically evaluate and sort through prospects, willing to dive down into small colleges (Cliff Harris, Drew Peason), check out non-football athletes (sprinter Bob Hayes, small forward Conrell Green), and take chances on players whose NFL prospects were in doubt (Roger Staubach and his Navy commitments; Herschel Walker and his USFL contract).

The three of them made transitioning from player to player and season to season as smooth as any other team in NFL history, and as a result, the Cowboys were always in contention. Only ten teams in NFL history have put together ten consecutive winning seasons; only five have hit 15 straight years. The Cowboys managed 20. Although they only managed to win Super Bowls VI and XII, they had an average estimated DVOA of 24.4% in the 1970s, best in the league by more than four percentage points. The team of the 1970s in every way but titles.

So, why aren't the Cowboys No. 1? Well, it turns out titles are important. We can argue all we want about advanced stats and team quality and the long length of the run, but only managing to win twice is a major blow to their legacy. They played a bunch of these other top teams, and couldn't get past them -- they were upset by the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V, couldn't beat the Steelers in multiple Super Bowls, lost twice to Lombardi's Packers in the NFL Championship Game, got knocked down by the Vikings and Redskins and 49ers in multiple conference title games. They lost the Ice Bowl. They lost The Catch. To put them above these teams, you have to argue that the breadth of being very, very good for very, very long is more important than winning championships. That'll get you past a lot of teams, but the three teams above the Cowboys all came home with at least five championships. This is far as they can go.

No. 3: 1960-1967 Green Bay Packers

Peak Dynasty Points: 30
Average DVOA: 30.8%.
Top-Five DVOA: 37.6%
Championships: 5.
Record: 82-24-4 (.764)
Head Coach: Vince Lombardi
Key Players: QB Bart Starr, HB Paul Hornung, FB Jim Taylor, WR Boyd Dowler, T Forrest Gregg, G Jerry Kramer, C Jim Ringo, DE Willie Davis, DT Henry Jordan, LB Bill Forester, LB Ray Nitschke, CB Herb Adderley, S Willie Wood
Z-Score: 12.41

The frozen tundra of Lambeau Field…

If the premise of this article was slightly different -- if we were looking at the best teams over any given ten-year period -- then Vince Lombardi's Packers would take their place at the very top of this list. No one -- not the 1950s Browns, not the 1970s Cowboys, not the 1990s 49ers, not the 2010s Patriots -- has ever been as concentratedly good as the team from Titletown.

Judging a team by the number of Hall of Famers they have isn't always the best metric -- voters have their own idiosyncrasies, and the aura of being on a great team can boost borderline players across the line. That being said, the 1961 Green Bay Packers boast thirteen Hall of Famers -- Lombardi, Willie Davis, Forrest Gregg, Paul Hornung, Henry Jordan, Ray Nitschke, Jim Ringo, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Emlen Tunnell, Willie Wood, Jerry Kramer, and Herb Adderley. The 1953 Browns, 1971 Cowboys, and 1974-1981 Steelers all had ten apiece, but no team has collected more talent in one place at one time than the Green Bay Packers.

Perhaps Hall of Famers aren't your metric of choice. You're on Football Outsiders; you're here for DVOA. Alright. Going back to 1950 with estimated DVOA, the 1961 Packers were the sixth-best team of all time, at 46.0%. And then the 1962 Packers were fourth-best of all time, at 47.9%. That's the best two-year run of any team ever, and it's not like they got much worse after that. And, to top it off, we should point out that estimated DVOA can sometimes be a bit more conservative than actual DVOA. If we replaced actual DVOA from 1985-2019 with the same estimations we use for 1950-1984, then these two Packers teams would end up third and first, all-time. We'll never get back to the 1960s to see what their actual DVOA would have been, but if you want to proclaim the 1962 Packers as the best team to ever play, you have plenty of grounds to do so.

The Packers were one of the worst-run franchises in the league in the 1950s, winning just 20 games from 1953 to 1958. The talent was certainly there -- eight of those Hall of Famers were already on the team in 1958, as they stumbled to a 1-10-1 record. Lombardi didn't blow up the team when he took over from Ray McLean; he didn't have to. Don't get me wrong; the terrible 1950s Packers weren't secretly a superstar team, waiting for a coach. Lombardi still cut a third of the roster, traded away stars like Billy Howton, and brought in veterans to help him run the team his way. But the Packers didn't become great because of a free-agent haul, or a stellar draft class, or a sudden rules change. They became great because Vince Lombardi squeezed every drop of potential from every one of his players.

Green Bay is remembered for the Packers Sweep and "running to daylight," with Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston pulling and paving a way for Hornung; a simple play, drilled over and over again until it was run to near perfection. But don't think that the Packers were just a 4-yards-and-a-cloud of dust team; Lombardi was one of the first coaches to implement automatic reads and pre-snap adjustments in the passing game, and while Bart Starr never compiled the most amazing totals, he was arguably the best of his era at reading defenses and calling plays, back when your quarterback was as much a coach on the field as he was a passer. It is not in the least surprising that the Packers were the second, and as of now, last team to win three consecutive championships; who was going to stop them?

So, why aren't the Packers No. 1? Because when Lombardi left after 1967, they almost immediately crumbled into dust. All of those Hall of Famers got old and left the team at roughly the same time, and Lombardi's replacements were not even in the same universe when it came to coaching or acquiring talent. The 1960s Packers do not have a legacy of success; they have a history of success, one that wasn't continued either in Green Bay or with essentially any of the Lombardi disciples that went out into the league after him. That concentrated dash of perfection vaults them over nearly everyone. Nearly.

No. 2: 1981-1998 San Francisco 49ers

Peak Dynasty Points: 47
Average DVOA: 26.8%.
Top-Five DVOA: 37.1%
Championships: 5.
Record: 207-72-1 (.741)
Head Coaches: Bill Walsh, George Seifert, Steve Mariucci
Key Players: QB Steve Young, QB Joe Montana, RB Roger Craig, WR Dwight Clark, WR Jerry Rice, WR John Taylor, TE Brent Jones, T Harris Barton, G Randy Cross, G Guy McIntyre, C Jesse Sapolu, C Fred Quillan, NT Michael Carter, DT Dana Stubblefield, LB Charles Haley, LB Ken Norton, CB Eric Wright, CB Dwight Hicks, S Ronnie Lott, S Merton Hanks
Z-Score: 17.40

Paul Brown did not want Bill Walsh to become a head coach in the NFL. Walsh, an offensive assistant with Browns' Bengals from 1968 to 1975, had enough success that teams were interested in bringing him in for interviews, but Brown repeatedly gave him terrible reviews when he was asked about it, and passed Walsh over for Bill Johnson in 1976. Without that, maybe the Ohio Valley Offense blooms in Cincinnati with Ken Anderson, or the Great Lakes Offense takes off in Green Bay with Lynn Dickey, or maybe the … well, it would still have been the West Coast Offense with the Rams and Pat Haden.

Would the WCO have worked without the 1978 passing game rules changes? Obviously, the fact that defensive backs could no longer clobber receivers all willy-nilly opened up plenty of room for short, precise passing, and allowing offensive linemen to extend their arms and use open hands allowed for better pass protection. But Walsh's offense made Ken Anderson the computer's favorite quarterback of the 1970s, with efficiency numbers jumping off the screen. Walsh made Virgil Carter into the league leader in completion percentage. There has never been a more creative and detail-oriented playcaller in the history of the NFL, and if the 1978 rules changes had never come into play, then he would have gone back to what he learned with Al Davis and Sid Gillman and mastered that style of football.

It is hard for me to objectively talk about the 49ers, because this is the team I grew up with, and the team I still compare everyone to to this day. I'm unimpressed by barking, scowling coaches; give me the genius psychologist, scripting plays and designing new formations practically every week. I still believe Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback of all time, and Steve Young had even better numbers. Jerry Rice is the receiver to whom all others are compared. Part of the reason I enjoy watching Christian McCaffrey so much today is his receiving chops, and well, Roger Craig was the first running back in history to pull off the 1,000-yard rushing/1,000-yard receiving combo. Call them a finesse team and take a shot from Ronnie Lott, or Ken Norton, or Charles Haley, or watch Merton Hanks chicken-necking his way into the end zone yet again. Every writer, every analyst is colored by the teams they watched when they were growing up, and these were my guys.

The most impressive thing about these 49ers isn't the five Super Bowls -- though yes, they would not be this high without the five Super Bowls. It's the continuity. Every other team on this countdown has at least a few key personnel in common the entire time -- a legendary head coach, an all-world quarterback, a two-way superstar. But the 49ers are a dynasty in the classical sense -- a succession of rulers, keeping the reign going long after the founders have left. So Walsh begat George Seifert who begat Steve Mariucci. Montana gave way to Young. Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon became Jerry Rice and John Taylor became Rice and Terrell Owens. The team never skipped a beat.

And even outside the franchise, the 49ers dynasty created vassal states and dependencies. The Walsh coaching tree is all over the dynasty rankings. Coaches with a short path back to Walsh -- either working for him, or one of his direct assistants -- include Tony Dungy (No. 16 Colts), Mike Shanahan (No. 21 Broncos), Mike Holmgren (No. 25 Packers and No. 56 Seahawks), Mike McCarthy (No. 26 Packers), John Fox and Gary Kubiak (both No. 30 Broncos), Andy Reid (No. 33 Chiefs, No. 36 Eagles) and John Harbaugh (No. 40 Ravens), not to mention the countless of other coaches inspired by Walsh's seminal Finding the Winning Edge -- Bill Belichick has called it one of the two most influential books of his career. The 49ers colonized the NFL.

So, why aren't the 49ers No. 1? Because whoever created this system is a moron who wouldn't know greatness if it bit him on the chin…

So, why aren't the 49ers No. 1? Their stellar 5-0 record in Super Bowls sort of hides the fact that they only made five Super Bowls. Yes, I know, "only," but we're talking about the top two dynasties of all time here. Eric Wright interfered with Art Monk in the 1983 NFC Championship Game (well, no he didn't, but that's what the history books say). Roger Craig fumbled against the Giants in 1990. The Triplet Cowboys took two of three title games in the early 1990s. Brett Favre took the 49ers down in in 1997. This was an era where the NFC was, for the most part, significantly better than the AFC -- of those teams that beat San Francisco, only the Packers didn't go on to win the Super Bowl. The 49ers would have been favored in the Super Bowl each time. Flip a couple of those San Francisco's way, and they're probably still on top of this list. But if wishes were horses…

No. 1: 2001-2019 New England Patriots

Peak Dynasty Points: 59
Average DVOA: 24.6%.
Top-Five DVOA: 39.3%
Championships: 6.
Record: 232-72 (.763)
Head Coaches: Bill Belichick
Key Players: QB Tom Brady, WR Wes Welker, TE Rob Gronkowski, T Matt Light, G Logan Mankins, DE Richard Seymour, DT Vince Wilfork, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Dont'a Hightower, S Devin McCourty
Z-Score: 20.45

If it's over (and we won't know for sure until we see a couple seasons of Jarrett Stidham turning into a pumpkin -- horror movie icons tend to pop back up even if you've seen the body) then it's worth mourning. Over the past two decades, we got to watch the greatest dynasty to ever play the game.

This is not supposed to be a thing in the modern era. Since modern free agency began in 1993 and the salary cap was put into place in 1994, ultra-long-term dynasties were supposed to be a thing of the past. Good players become too expensive and move on. Tough decisions force great teams to rely on untested rookies. Parity is the name of the game. Fourteen teams on this table started in 1994 or later; only four of them had a run longer than five years. And none, of course, approach the two decades of success that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have brought to New England.

Just as the Cowboys' or 49ers' entry was impressive due to the long list of long-term contributors they had listed as key players, the Patriots entry is impressive due to its short list. The Patriots are probably the best team we've ever seen at rotating through players without missing a beat: knowing which veterans to pay and which to let go, and finding bargains in the draft, in free agency and in trades to keep the machine rolling. That's comparatively easy to do when your sixth-round quarterback flyer ends up being arguably the greatest to ever play his position, and your retread coach is a defensive genius on the Mount Rushmore of all-time playcallers, but still. And I wouldn't count out the Patriots bouncing back sooner rather than later, if and when they sort out their post-Brady quarterback situation.

But, assuming it's over, the Patriots end with the highest top-five DVOA on the table, counting their 2004, 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2019 teams. They have the most dynasty points at 59. They have the most championships, with six Super Bowl rings on their fingers. They have the most quality seasons, with 10 -- all nine Super Bowl appearances, plus the 2010 14-2 squad. They are, without a doubt, the greatest dynasty of all time.


To cut-off a dynasty, a team needs two consecutive seasons with one or fewer dynasty point, and at least one of those years to be a zero-point season. That second caveat is huge at the top of the list. If you took it out, and just counted one-point years as strikes, than the Patriots dynasty gets split in twain. The 2008 Brady-less year and the 2009 wild-card loss to the Ravens both earn a single, solitary point.  That would count as their two strikes, and we'd instead have the 2000s Patriots and the 2010s Patriots as two separate entries on the table.

The 2001-2007 version -- starting with the loveable underdog Patriots upsetting the Rams machine, and ending with the loveable underdog Giants killing the perfect season -- would rank tenth all time, sandwiched between Don Hutson's Packers and the Triplet Cowboys. The 2010-2019 version, which cuts out any of those early building years and has Brady in full force, would rank fifth, right after Halas' Bears and right before Brown's, uh, Browns.

So, are the Patriots the single greatest dynasty to ever play the game, or just two of the ten best, with the same head coach and same quarterback? I tend to side with the former, but that's one you guys can have out in the comments; I wouldn't want to excessively ramble.

The Final Rankings

The following graphic shows the rankings of all teams. Click the image to open it in a larger size in a new window. You can also find a sortable table with the actual numbers (not z-scores) in the original article that explained the dynasty rankings.


108 comments, Last at 10 Jun 2020, 2:18pm

#1 by theslothook // May 28, 2020 - 11:56am

There is a stark difference between the Patriots and the other dynasties mentioned above - They don't throw a laundry list of hall of famers at you. Sure, in retrospect they will have people who will get in because dynasties get rewarded, but which hall of famers drove the engine for this long running dynasty?

Moss wasn't there that long. Ty Law wasn't there that long either. Revis was there for one season. Harrison was kind of/sort apart of two titles, but not really that long either. Ditto for Seymore. Bruschi, Vrable, and Ty Warren all belong in the hall of good. Same with Asante Samuel and he wasn't there that long either. None of the smurf receivers or tight ends pre 07 are worth mentioning(I think Branch might be the most overrated receiver in his time. Seattle really threw a first rounder for him?) The only one that seems reasonable(and probably will get in) is Vince Wilfork.

So for the first half of their run, it seems the obvious hall of famers are two(BB, Brady), one probable(Wilfork), and then maybe Welker.

How about in the second part: McCourty will probably get in. Gronk will get in. Welker maybe? I don't see Hightower as a hall of famer(he strikes me as the kind of guy BB trades before he gets super expensive). Gilmore wasn't there long enough. Certainly no dlinemen deserves to get in.

The second half produced three obvious hall of famers(BB, Brady, Gronk), one probable(McCourty) and then maybe Hightower?

Count it up and you get 3 sure fire hall of famers, 3 probables, and 1 or 2 borderline.

That seems pretty good but its not really that impressive. I think Baltimore may end up with more sure fire hall of famers in that same period of time. Ditto for Pittsburgh or Indianapolis(maybe) and Seattle. Certainly pails in comparison to the names these other dynasties produced; where you are naming players who easily make the nfl top 100 teams. Only 3 would make the all 100 teams. The run really is about BB and Brady and who deserves the lions share of the credit pie.

I have maintained, Brady maybe the GOAT, but even if he is, he's only marginally better than Peyton Manning, or peak Aaron Rodgers, or Vintage Brees. He alone does not make a double dynasty. Stick him on another team and I think he produces a similar career arch to the other all time qbs. But pair him with BB, and you get this. 

We will soon see how BB handles the post Brady world. The Pats are capped out and weak on talent. If the Afc East wasn't the perpetual doormat its been recently, I might pick them to miss the playoffs altogether. But provided BB is motivated, I don't think the Pats go away completely. He may not win another SB(Brady's value isn't easily replaceable), but I expect a Spurs like dignified run in the next few years. 




I forgot Viniteri and gostkowski has a chance

Points: 0

#3 by Will Allen // May 28, 2020 - 12:01pm

If Seymour doesn't get in, it's only because the morons who select HoFers don't know how to evaluate players at Seymour's position within such a scheme.

Points: 0

#6 by Led // May 28, 2020 - 12:29pm

You can't ignore Moss.  He scored 50 TDs in 52 games!  A healthy, motivated Moss is one of the biggest non-QB difference makers on offense in league history.     

EDIT:  I'd add that without Moss in 08, the team likely loses the single dynasty point and you'd have to split NE into separate dynasties according to this methodology.  (I also think the Pats would've lost the division in 2009 without Moss, but that's arguable.)    

Points: 0

#31 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 28, 2020 - 2:20pm

I can't even squint and see the case for Gostkowski.

Points: 0

#35 by Bryan Knowles // May 28, 2020 - 2:33pm

Gostkowksi can get in after my long-simmering Justice for Garo campaign goes through.

Points: 0

#48 by theslothook // May 28, 2020 - 4:15pm

I think you're mixing up gronkowski with gostkowski

Points: 0

#9 by Bright Blue Shorts // May 28, 2020 - 1:02pm

Vinatieri 99% probability of getting in for those 3 FGs in Tuck Game and the first two SB wins.  Ten years with Pats, another 13 with the Colts.

Without looking it up, if he comes back this season doesn't he equal George Blanda's age record (48).  Morten Andersen only reached 46(?) but didn't file retirement papers for a couple of seasons in the hope he'd get it.

Points: 0

#27 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 28, 2020 - 2:15pm

NE is in a lot of ways like the Landry Cowboys, but with a few of those extra rings.

For the entirely of their era, the AFC was represented by Tom Brady (#1), Peyton Manning  (#16, #30 -- and I'm curious to see where that personal dynasty would rank), Ben Roethlisberger (#42), or a Baltimore Ravens pu-pu platter (unlisted). They did also face the Chargers (#46).

It seems weird in retrospect that over like 20 years those only played those guys in 8 playoff games, considering it seems those teams made the playoffs every year. Although maybe it's one of those weird things where the non-dynasty Giants were Montana's nemesis. Baltimore maybe fills that role.

I'm curious how many opposing dynasty games the Landry Cowboys or WCO 49ers have. A rough glance says the 49ers have around 14, and Montana did vastly better in those games than Young did.

The 70s were comparatively more chockablock with dynasties, though.

Points: 0

#105 by mrh // Jun 02, 2020 - 10:34pm

For the entirely of their era, the AFC was represented by Tom Brady (#1), Peyton Manning  (#16, #30 -- and I'm curious to see where that personal dynasty would rank), Ben Roethlisberger (#42), or a Baltimore Ravens pu-pu platter (unlisted). They did also face the Chargers (#46).

You left out the #33 Chiefs.  As a diehard KC fan, I'm obligated to argue that the last Brady-BB Super Bowl was most likely the result of a coin flip in OT.

Points: 0

#40 by Chuckc // May 28, 2020 - 3:03pm

I don't understand how you have McCourty as a probable hall of famer. It's so odd, I'm not even sure which one you mean.

Points: 0

#43 by theslothook // May 28, 2020 - 3:15pm

Because stars on dynasties make it. And he was on the team  the entire time. 

Points: 0

#73 by mehllageman56 // May 28, 2020 - 11:30pm

While I believe Devin McCourty should make the Hall, I doubt he will.  He only has 26 interceptions, and spent most of his career on a defense Tom Brady dragged to the playoffs, unlike last year.  Usually McCourty was the one on the back end saving the defense's butt, and Belichick knew this so he kept him around.  But those defenses were never top of the league besides the Revis year, until the last year and a half (they really turned it around near the end of 2018).  

Points: 0

#83 by dryheat // May 29, 2020 - 8:32am

Yeah, I love the guy, but he maxes out at, what, the 4th or 5th best safety in the NFL during his career?  I have a high bar for enshrinement, but that doesn't cut it for me (same essential argument I always use against Eli).

Frankly, I don't know if anybody, other than Brady, Belichick, Moss, Vinatieri, Gronk and Law who played a significant role in the Patriots dynasty(ies) (not counting Revis or Gilmore) end up there.  And if Law weren't already in, I wouldn't bet on him making it.  I think Rodney Harrison is worthy, but seem to be in the minority.  Seymour has a shot, and is borderline worthy, but that seems to be a long process for him to move up in the vote-getting category.  The linebackers have all been very good but not consistently great.  Ditto Welker.  Logan Mankins was a fairly decorated player, but interior linemen really have to be outstanding to get in.  I guess Wilfork has the best chance. 

Six players is probably adequate representation, I would think.

Points: 0

#90 by theslothook // May 29, 2020 - 11:33am

Dragged is a bit extreme. The defenses were usually average or slightly above average most years except 2014(as you pointed out) and 2013(where everyone got injured). 


I personally would not vote for McCourty, but voters tend to reward players who have careers spanning the length of the dynasty(something that may hurt Harrison and Seymore). 

Points: 0

#91 by takeleavebelieve // May 29, 2020 - 11:44am

The biggest issue for McCourty is that there just aren’t many safeties in the Hall of Fame to begin with. He’s had a very good career, but he doesn’t clear the bar set by recent inductees Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. Even among his contemporaries, I can’t convincingly argue him as being a better player than Earl Thomas, Eric Weddle, or Harrison Smith. 

Points: 0

#2 by Will Allen // May 28, 2020 - 11:58am

I'll add my subjective qualifier. When 2 of your 5 championship playoff runs had zero games where an opponent mounted a credible threat to beat you, and another only had one such credible threat, and that was posed by a top 10 dynasty, you were a better dynasty than one that had 6 championship playoff runs, but not a single one that had no very, very, close games where the winner would have been with the reversal of a random event. Degree of domination matters.

This is no knock on Belichik or Patriots. It simply isn't possible to stockpile talent in the salary cap/free agent era, in the way a great coach and an owner willing to spend could do it prior to the cap and free agency. I don't think Eddie DeBartolo belongs in the HoF, but there is no doubt he was willing to sign big checks.

Points: 0

#4 by theslothook // May 28, 2020 - 12:07pm

I think the Landry run is more impressive. They may not have dominated any one decade, but they lasted sooooo long. I guess I am more impressed by sustained excellence than just individual titles. 

Points: 0

#36 by andrew // May 28, 2020 - 2:44pm

Would you then consider the Spurs 1989-2018 to be the greatest NBA dynasty of all time?   I'm kind of assuming it has ended though the season stop preserved their winning/playoffs string.   They had one losing season in that stretch, the year that got them Duncan. 

Points: 0

#71 by t.d. // May 28, 2020 - 11:07pm

The NBA had eight teams for a lot of that run, and only two rounds of playoffs;  what the Spurs have done is significantly more impressive in my opinion

Points: 0

#82 by Will Allen // May 29, 2020 - 8:03am

Maybe, but the NBA, due to the inherent nature of a game with only 10 players competing at a time is such a top heavy league that adding teams may not affect the chance of winning a championship as much as it does in other sports. How often does an NBA have a surprise champion or even a surprise Finals participant?

Points: 0

#85 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 29, 2020 - 10:45am

It happens some, but other than strike years, the Pistons represent something like two of the three least-likely champions.

Now, mind you, some of those Celtics teams were impossibly loaded. One team had 8 HOFers on a 10-man roster. That's like the 60s Packers having 45 HOFers on roster.

Points: 0

#92 by dryheat // May 29, 2020 - 11:51am

I think you have the cause and effect reversed in this case.  If those Celtics won two or three titles that decade instead of nine, they wouldn't have 8 HOFers.

I guess the 60s Celtics are the 70s Steelers.

Points: 0

#94 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 29, 2020 - 1:36pm

I absolutely agree there is a ton of winner-sauce in those Celtics HOFers. I tend to think of the 60s Packers rather than the 70s Steelers, but the principle is the same.

But they were loaded in a Canton Bulldogs sort of way, in being the first franchise in the NBA that took the pursuit of winning seriously in terms of salary, scouting, drafting, and coaching. They actually did have better players than everyone else had, even if the Hall makes them appear better than they were.

(No way should a team with 8 HOFers go 50-32)

Points: 0

#66 by t.d. // May 28, 2020 - 10:29pm

through four different primary starting quarterbacks, as well, all of whom reached at least an NFC championship game

Points: 0

#49 by Scott P. // May 28, 2020 - 5:09pm

Degree of domination is already accounted for in the rankings, in the DVOA scores.

Points: 0

#51 by Will Allen // May 28, 2020 - 5:19pm

Yeah, I know, guess I'd weight playoff domination to a greater degree. Winning a championship, when a couple plays could have changed that, is less impressive to me than winning 3 straight playoff games that were essentially over by halftime.

Points: 0

#52 by Bryan Knowles // May 28, 2020 - 5:21pm

What you want, then, is to include playoff games in DVOA -- which I would, for the purposes of this series at least, agree with!


Sadly, we don't have that pre-1985, so it's not quite an apples-to-apples comparison.

Points: 0

#54 by Will Allen // May 28, 2020 - 5:27pm

Maybe playoff point differential, or, better yet, median playoff point differential, in championship seasons could add some value.


Points: 0

#106 by SkelligMichael // Jun 05, 2020 - 10:45pm

I know this is kind of a tangent from your main point (the 49ers did have more dominant runs in the playoffs) but I have to point out the Patriots did have one dominant run - 2004.

The only "close" game was the Super Bowl where they beat the Eagles by 3, but in reality that game was locked up early in the 4th when the Pats went up by 10 and the Eagles were milking the clock on their next drive. That game was never in jeopardy, and the 2004 Pats dominated their first two games of the playoffs that year.

Points: 0

#5 by techvet // May 28, 2020 - 12:22pm

I need to go back and read this more carefully, savoring it like wine.   

If Landry doesn't come up against Lombardi, are we talking about the Landry Trophy instead of the Lombardi Trophy? 

Points: 0

#7 by Bucs_Rule // May 28, 2020 - 12:35pm

This has been a great series. Could next year you do the opposite? The worst teams of all time. Era could be multiple losing years in a row and the era ends if a team has 2 non-losing seasons in a row or makes a conference championship game. Determining the absolute worst team is more difficult. One way could be to add up the total DVOA over the entire stretch of futility and the most negative is the worst.

Points: 0

#12 by Bright Blue Shorts // May 28, 2020 - 1:08pm

My alternative suggestion would be a ranking of great coaches.

Points: 0

#28 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 28, 2020 - 2:15pm

The difficulty with it is that it's hard to be really good for long, but it's easy to be really bad for long.

Points: 0

#10 by Bright Blue Shorts // May 28, 2020 - 1:03pm

I don't fully intuit the "end of dynasty" rules.

What do the Pats have to do in 2020 if they're to keep it going?

Points: 0

#14 by Bryan Knowles // May 28, 2020 - 1:17pm

We won't be able to say, conclusively, that the Patriots dynasty is over until after the 2021 season.  To fail out, they'll need two strikes.  Any zero-point season counts as a strike, of course -- that would be missing the playoffs with a 10-6 record or worse.  A "weak" one-point season can also count as one of their two strikes -- that's either a wildcard team that fails to reach the Super Bowl, or a 10-6 or worse division winner that gets upset in the first round.

So, to definitively extend their run, they'll need to either reach the Super Bowl, win the AFC East at 13-3 or better, win the AFC East at any record and get to at least the divisional round, or make the playoffs with an 11-5 record or better.


Points: 0

#21 by Bright Blue Shorts // May 28, 2020 - 1:45pm

Thanks Bryan - it's been a good enjoyable series of articles.

Anything further planned this summer?

Points: 0

#32 by Bryan Knowles // May 28, 2020 - 2:21pm

No more historical pieces this summer -- we're knee-deep in preparing for Football Outsiders Almanac 2020!


I tell yeah, it's a bit of a jarring leap going from the Sid Luckman Bears to the Mitchell Trubisky Bears.

Points: 0

#64 by Will Allen // May 28, 2020 - 7:49pm

Luckman couldn't carry Trubisky's clipboard!!

Of course, Sid's dead, so this is expected.

Points: 0

#50 by travesty // May 28, 2020 - 5:10pm

Why have do you have both conditions "win the AFC East at 13-3 or better" and "make the playoffs with an 11-5 record or better" when the former is entirely contained in the latter?  Are the two records supposed to be reversed?

Points: 0

#53 by Bryan Knowles // May 28, 2020 - 5:26pm

It's actually a minor brain fart on my part, there.  This is what I'm like without an editor; massive props to Vince and Aaron for whipping this whole thing into shape!


13-3 AFC East title is worth at least three points, which is not a strike
An AFC East title that gets to the divisional round is worth at least two points, which is not a strike.
An 11-5 playoff team is worth at least one point.  A one-point season is a strike IF it earns that one point in only one way -- but at 11-5 in the postseason, you hit both the "make the playoffs" and "have a .643 winning percentage" goals, so it does NOT count as a strike.

So yeah, the 11-5 playoff team goal covers up the 13-3 AFC East title goal -- worth less points, but if all we care about is it not being a strike, they're identical.

Points: 0

#11 by Bright Blue Shorts // May 28, 2020 - 1:06pm

My two random facts for this list ...

1) 70s Steelers - you mention they drafted four HoFers in '74.   This year sees Donnie Shell inducted who was undrafted and they signed afterwards.

2) Cowboys 1989 draft - they selected guard Steve Wisniewski and traded him to the Raiders for three picks. One was Moose Johnson, the other two never heard of.   If they keep Wiz, who was on the All-Decade team of the 1990s and should be in the HoF, that Great Wall of Dallas looks even better.

Points: 0

#13 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 28, 2020 - 1:16pm

Was Hutson a split end or a flanker? It's hard to tell from the videos whether he's outside an eligible guy or covering him up.

Points: 0

#15 by Bryan Knowles // May 28, 2020 - 1:21pm

He was primarily a split end -- the first split end, actually.  Hutson's debut in 1935 was the first time at the NFL level at least that an offense had run something like that; Johnny Blood flanked out wide to the right, the right end on the line like a modern tight end, and Hutson split out wide to the left.

Points: 0

#16 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 28, 2020 - 1:21pm

… but, then again, we do give full credit to the NFL teams in the 1920s, and the AAFC was certainly more competitive than that.

In terms of actually being competitive, or in terms of player quality?

Points: 0

#19 by Bryan Knowles // May 28, 2020 - 1:35pm

Yes and yes. 

The worst team in the AAFC's final season had future Hall of Famer YA Tittle at quarterback.  Crazy Legs Hirsch was on the terrible 1948 Chicago Rockets.  Even the worst AAFC teams had quality players on them, unlike some of the fly-by-night teams in the 1920s.  

And while the Browns were a cut above the rest of the league, there were talented teams below them who would have at least not looked out of place in the NFL of their era -- the San Francisco 49ers are the obvious second example, becoming a 7-to-9 win team (in a 12 game season) after a year of transitional pains to the new league, but someone like the New York Yankees and the Buffalo Bills (not that one) could have at least avoided the very bottom of the table on the senior circuit.  They were competitive among each other, and would have been at least somewhat of a challenge to the NFL.

Points: 0

#24 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 28, 2020 - 1:50pm

Bad APFA teams had HOFers, too. Joe Guyon played for Cleveland and Washington. Paddy Driscoll played for the most sad-sack franchise in NFL history. Jim Thorpe was on a mid-table team in 1921. Canton and Chicago dominated the new NFL. The Bulldogs didn't lose a game until the tail end of their third season in the NFL. And the APFA wasn't completely dominated by one team like the AAFC was -- the Bulldogs didn't win either title in the APFA.

Points: 0

#17 by Bryan Knowles // May 28, 2020 - 1:27pm

I kind of both love and hate that there's not a CLEAR answer for top dynasty of all time -- that a slight tweak in the methodology here or there can produce different results.  The Patriots, in particular, fluctuated back and forth between being one dynasty and two depending on where and how to declare a dynasty dead.  Ultimately, I figured it was best to keep them together because they were all Belichick/Brady teams, but they hang together by the thinnest of threads, and making the decision to split them is entirely justifiable.

As I see it, there are five teams that can make an argument that, with only a minor tweak, they should be number one:

1. Belichick's Patriots, because, well, they are number one.
2. The 80s and 90s 49ers, if you split the Patriots into two
3. Lombardi's Packers, if you look at concentrated, decade-long success
4. The 1940s Bears, if you look at concentrated success AND give them a pass for World War II
5. The 1950s Browns, if you split the Patriots into two AND give them full credit for their AAFC titles.

One of those teams is your greatest dynasty, in my book, at least.  And all of them can at least back up their case with strong, evidence-based arguments.

Points: 0

#29 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 28, 2020 - 2:16pm

Remind me where the Voltron of Shula teams ends up.

Points: 0

#30 by theslothook // May 28, 2020 - 2:18pm

I like to think of a dynasty as a core of players, although that starts to make things fuzzy because cores can change within a decade. 

I see the 1980s niners and 90s niners as two different periods, just as I see the early Patriots and and the later Patriots as two different dynasties.


In the former case, we are not only talking about a different core but a different coach and quarterback. 


In the latter case, yes belichick and Brady remained the same, but the styles of both dynasties were so different

Points: 0

#41 by nat // May 28, 2020 - 3:04pm

In politics and history, a dynasty is something sustained across generations. That’s kind of the reverse of what you say.

For the Manning Colts, their dynasty is pretty much one generation: Manning-Wayne-Clark-Harrison. Edgerrin James was there for half the dynastic period, too. Manning, Wayne, James, and Harrison are all good enough to be in the HoF, although they won’t all make it. Clark was a good enough receiver that FO for a while grouped him with WRs to avoid breaking their TE stats. It was an amazing cast of characters, a roster “generation” for the ages.

I can see what you mean about the Patriots. Unlike the Colts, the dynastic Patriots had 2-4 distinct roster generations, although with some overlap because of the continuous rebuilding philosophy. I won’t try to list them here. But I think you know what I mean.

It’s a matter of definitions. You say two Patriots dynasties. I’d say one dynasty that spanned many roster generations. 

It’s quite a contrast.

Points: 0

#45 by Bright Blue Shorts // May 28, 2020 - 3:21pm

Yep - a dynasty is an uninterrupted reign by one family or group.

When I first watched football in the mid 80s, a dynasty was simple a team that won back-to-back championships. 

There hadn't been one since the 78-79 Steelers. The 83-84 Redskins came close and in 1988 when they won SB XXII they were being crowned Team of the 1980s!  But then the 49ers almost threepeated and the crown went to them instead.

Points: 0

#56 by theslothook // May 28, 2020 - 5:48pm

I mean, I guess when  I was coming up, NFL dynasties seemed to be defined differently. The 49ers "Dynasty" was recognized as the 80s while it was the Cowboys who had a dynasty in the 90s.

It seemed, dynasty was defined as which team either dominated the decade or won at least 3 titles(which I think was a way to include the Cowboys as the winners of the decade).

I might be more sympathetic to say the Patriots having 1 long dynasty if it had revolved around the same scheme/ system, and core of players. Say if Moss and Welker had powered the Pats through the 2000s and lasted just long enough to pass the baton to Edleman and Gronk. But that never happened. As Nat mentioned above, the Pats went through multiple iterations as a team, never really married to one core or style that they nurtured from birth to death. And that is smart. The early decade Seahawks kind of told me how long a shelf life a team's core can last once age, decline, and price start to creep in. Even with so much star power, that core basically ran from 2012 to 2016. 5 years is a lot and probably the limit before you have to do some kind of rebuild on the fly.  

Points: 0

#93 by Scott P. // May 29, 2020 - 12:28pm

The 49ers dynasty certainly lasted well into the 90s (I was there too). The 49ers were frequently picked as Super Bowl candidates, even in the early 90s. Chris Berman would pick the 9ers to make it almost every year.


As for the short life-span of the 'traditional' dynasty, I well remember Pats fans saying that Belichick had to go 'all-in' for one last Super Bowl run in 2005, and that the loss to the Broncos that year meant that he had blown it and the window of Patriots success was closing prematurely.

Points: 0

#18 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 28, 2020 - 1:28pm

No. 5: 1940-1943 Chicago Bears

Re: WWII -- you would have to do an analysis of what every other team lost to the war, too. Was it an advantage that there was a naval training base in north Chicago and guys stationed there could get to Bears games?

Points: 0

#20 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 28, 2020 - 1:36pm

of those teams that beat San Francisco, only the Packers didn't go on to win the Super Bowl.

*cough* Vikings *cough*

Points: 0

#22 by Bryan Knowles // May 28, 2020 - 1:47pm

The sentence is talking about NFC Championship games, and the Vikings sure didn't beat the 49ers in an NFC Championship game.

Points: 0

#23 by beauc // May 28, 2020 - 1:50pm

Brett Favre took the 49ers down in in 1997.

The Packers beat the Niners in the playoffs in 1995, a huge upset at the time. That, to me, is when their dynasty was over. But since they made the NFCCG in '97, I can understand having their dynasty go until that year.

Points: 0

#26 by Bryan Knowles // May 28, 2020 - 2:08pm

I still see Adam Walker fumbling when I close my eyes. 

Back when I was at Bleacher Report, I wrote a listicle of the most painful losses in 49ers history; I don't know why I only put that one as an honorable mention.  Probably due to the shock and awe of it being over early.


Points: 0

#57 by beauc // May 28, 2020 - 5:52pm

That game was a blur for me too, and I'm a GB native! Never expected us to win much less basically own the Niners the whole game. Especially after GB got their doors blown off by Dallas in the playoffs the two years before. The fumble return TD sure did feel like a monumental play - a passing of the NFC torch

Points: 0

#63 by Will Allen // May 28, 2020 - 7:44pm

Always said that Craig lost fumble against the Giants in January '91 was perhaps the most momentous random outcome from a single play, in terms of coaching reputations. If Craig doesn't fumble, or gets the ball back, Seifert likely never gets fired by DeBartolo, retires with probably at least 3 SB wins, and likely the highest win percentage in NFL history. Parcells, absent the 2nd SB victory is (very wrongly) not held in nearly as high esteem. Seifert gets in the HoF very quickly, with some touting him as the GOAT, and Parcells may not be there.

A single fumble recovery. Makes you very strongly question any narrative we build around the outcomes of close playoff games.

Points: 0

#69 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 28, 2020 - 10:46pm

Makes you very strongly question any narrative we build around the outcomes of close playoff games.

As a Vikings fan, you're hardly unbiased on this front.

Points: 0

#72 by Will Allen // May 28, 2020 - 11:28pm

Don't worry, I've seen them get blown out in the playoffs plenty of times!

Points: 0

#25 by Bryan Knowles // May 28, 2020 - 2:05pm

There's been some question as to how the rankings shake out if you split both the Patriots AND the 49ers.  A couple notes on that.

Firstly, the 49ers don't have as obvious a splitting point as the Patriots do.  The Patriots have a pair of 1-point seasons in 2008 and 2009; if they win one fewer game with Matt Casel or lose the second game against the Jets in the 2009 season and thus lose the AFC East to them, they would be split.  It's a real issue, and editing and tweaking the formula had the Patriots flopping between having one dynasty and two over and over again. 

The 49ers, conversely, have one zero-point season in 1991, the year after Montana gets hurt in the NFC Championship -- that's the equivalent of the Cassel season.  But in 1992, they go 14-2 and reach the NFC title game again; much better than the Patriots' 10-6-and-wildcard exit season in 2009.  There is no version of this system which EVER split up the Montana/Young years; they're just too closely connected.

But, whatever, we can make an executive decision and split them up, anyway, for comparison's sake.  With that in mind, the greatest dynasty ever becomes...the '66-'85 Cowboys, who vault over the Packers into first place.  Why?  Well, all of a sudden, their 20-year stretch without a losing season becomes even more baffling; the closest team to their 20-year-long reign would be the Vikings' 13-year stretch in the 1970s.  And now, their 40 dynasty points are the most in NFL history.  That causes their Z-scores for those categories to shoot way up; it's based on standard deviation from the dynasty average, and they are leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else in this new scenario.  If the 49ers and Patriots can't match the Cowboys' length of success, no one can.

But maybe you split THEM up, too -- they had a zero-point year in 1974, going 8-6, the year before the Dirty Dozen came in; that roughly divides them into Craig Morton and Roger Staubach eras.  I mean, while we're splitting on minor points anyway, right?  And it makes essentially as much sense to split the Cowboys after one meh year as it does to split the 49ers for the same.

So the final top 10 if you split the 49ers Patriots AND Cowboys into two groups:

1. 1960-67 Packers (14.9 Z-Score)
2. 1981-90 49ers (13.0)
3. 2010-19 Patriots (11.8)
4. 1950-58 Browns (10.9)
5. 1940-43 Bears (10.5)
6. 1972-79 Steelers (8.8)
7. 1967-77 Raiders (8.8)
8. 1935-44 Packers (7.6)
9. 2001-07 Patriots (6.4)
10. 1991-96 Cowboys (5.6)
11. 1966-73 Cowboys (5.0)
12. 1992-98 49ers (4.4)
16. 1975-1985 Cowboys (2.5)


Points: 0

#55 by Raiderfan // May 28, 2020 - 5:47pm

You forgot to include the multipliers that reflect the degree of difficulty in creating and sustaining a dynasty in the salary cap era, and the free agent era. Toss those in and NWE is so far ahead of everyone else that  it isn't funny.

Points: 0

#58 by theslothook // May 28, 2020 - 5:54pm

On the other hand, QB has such an outsized influence on today's game that it might kind of even out. Non hardcore fans ask me all the time, are qbs overrated or underrated. I answer with both for different reasons.

When it comes to winning a sb, they are overrated because once you get into the playoffs, randomness and team quality start to trump even sizeable qb mismatches.

But where they are underrated is looking at things in an intertemporal fashion. The goal should be to make the playoffs every year and hope its your year. QBs mitigate the variance because they provide a higher floor for your season. As passing games continue to rule the day, a good qb will ensure that you won't sink much lower than 7-9 even if everything else is going badly. And most of all, they last so damn long. Maybe Brees and Brady are the exceptions, but 14 + years of high level excellence is an eternity football wise. 

So while the Pats lost in free agency, they gained with the extensive influence Brady afforded them. It also drastically simplifies roster construction. You don't need to overpay a left tackle or wide receiver to help your struggling qb. 

Points: 0

#33 by theslothook // May 28, 2020 - 2:21pm

Bryan I'm curious why you have Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback of all time. Certainly not an outlandish point of view?

Points: 0

#34 by Bryan Knowles // May 28, 2020 - 2:32pm

I could point out his stats: Montana has the best career ANY/A+ ever for anyone with more than 4200 passing attempts; better than Manning, better than Brady, better than Marino or Rodgers or Brees or anyone else you want to claim. 

I could point out his iconic moments: the Catch; the drive against Cincinnati in the Super Bowl. 

I could point out his tenacity: scraping himself off the turf to beat the Eagles in '89 in one of the greatest games I've ever seen; bouncing back after six turnovers to beat the Cowboys in '81, gritting his way back into the lineup after injury after injury.

I could point out the legendary coolness and grace under pressure (is that John Candy?).  I could point how the greatest defensive minds of his era dreaded facing him more than any other quarterback in the league.  I could point out how he put up great numbers before adding Jerry Rice, and then took things into a new stratosphere then.  The perfect Super Bowl resume, both in terms of wins and actual play in those games.    There are plenty of sound statistical, anecdotal, and circumstantial arguments in Montana's favor.

But, ultimately -- he was the quarterback of my team when I was a kid.  And no one else can beat that stat.

Points: 0

#42 by Bryan Knowles // May 28, 2020 - 3:04pm

The "Best A/NYA+ Index" award is a pretty fun ladder to walk down; it hits most of the biggest names you'd think of when looking for best QB ever -- or, at least since 1969 when the index starts, and once you get out of the goofiness of single-digit pass attempts


The ladder:

1+ attempts: Josh Miller, 1319 (1-for-1 for an 81 yard touchdown is a pretty nice career line!)
2+: Arthur Marshall, 1011 (2-for-2 for 111 yards and two touchdowns!)
3+: Danny Amendola, 582 (3-for-3 for 83 yards and two touchdowns)
4+: Mohamed Sanu, 485
9+: LaDainian Tomlinson, 307
13+: Andy Johnson, 288
14+: Antwaan Randle El (221)
28+: Ed Rubbert, 184 (King of the Scabs!)
50+: Patrick Mahomes, 132 (first REAL quarterback on the list)
1100+: Steve Young, 123
4150+: Joe Montana, 121
5392+: Peyton Manning, 120
9381+: Tom Brady, 117
9989+: Drew Brees, 116
10162+: Brett Favre, 108 (also, uh, the only quarterback with at least 10,162 pass attempts, until Brees throws 8 passes next season)

Points: 0

#37 by andrew // May 28, 2020 - 2:53pm

In the perfect place at the perfect time.   

Everything seemed to click like clockwork when it came together.   Yeah, he got blown out by the Giants 49-3 in one playoff.   Yeah Doleman chased him off the field in another.    But the team came back stronger each time until it became unstoppable.   It never seemed like he was working that hard when it was ckicking, it seemed like a Rice or Taylor were always just where he needed them to be, but of course all that was the result of getting Walsh's system down just right.

My estimation of his ability went up for being able to do what he did in KC, outside the system.   I'll be interested to see how Brady compares this year...

Points: 0

#46 by serutan // May 28, 2020 - 3:50pm

That was the question about Montana that was constantly debated from 1981 - 1988.

The debate ended at 0:38 of SB 23.

Points: 0

#38 by Bryan Knowles // May 28, 2020 - 2:54pm

The Patriots and Chiefs have the two active dynasties, but other active teams DO have dynasty points!

The Eagles and Saints both are sitting at 8 dynasty points.  The Eagles' wildcard loss this year counts as their first potential strike; the Saints' does not because 13-3 is better than 9-7.  If either team can win their division and get past the wildcard round, they'll join the List of 56.

The Ravens and 49ers are both sitting at 4 dynasty points -- the Ravens have a two-year one going, with one point for their Wild Card loss in 2018 adding to their three points for last season, while the 49ers are all "great Super Bowl loss".  If either team can put up a 13-3+ Super Bowl win this season, they'll hit the big 10 dynasty point marker.

The Texans, Packers and Rams all sit on 3 dynasty points.  For the Texans, that's approaching their franchise high.  For the Rams, that's them bleeding off residual points from their Super Bowl appearance.  For the Packers...wake them when they have 30 points.

The Seahawks sit on 2 dynasty points after a couple of minor playoff runs the last two years.

The Bills, Titans, Cowboys and Vikings sit on 1 dynasty point each.  The Cowboys are bleeding off points from their every-other-year playoff bonanza, while the Bills, Titans and Vikings boast playoff streaks of one.

Everyone else has zero.

Points: 0

#39 by Bryan Knowles // May 28, 2020 - 2:57pm

And yes, the fact that the Eagles' Super Bowl win is still part of a potential dynasty run, that means the last Super Bowl champion who is not part of a dynasty, for sure, is the 2011 Giants.

Points: 0

#97 by mansteel // May 30, 2020 - 2:33pm

...who are a mere one win (in 2010) from connecting that SB win to the 2007 SB win and hence being on the list.

Points: 0

#70 by DisplacedPackerFan // May 28, 2020 - 10:58pm

The Jordan Love pick returns the giant ship to Aaron Rodgers shoulder and pushes him back to pre broken clavicle form. Davante Adams sets single season reception and yardage reconds and CFL import Reggie Begelton is the real deal joining Adams in the 100+ / 1500+ club. The defense remains average so the time only wins 14 games. The season ends with an epic back and forth battle over the Chiefs to bring the trophy back to titletown.

While the 2021 season isn't quite as good the Packers pull off back to back super bowl wins for the franchise, something they hadn't done since SB I and SB II. 

Rodgers then makes life easy for the head office. He decides to pull an Elway and retire as a Packer after back to back SB wins. 

Jordan Love turns out to be a HoF level player and the team has sustained success with 2 more SB wins and 1 loss over the next 15 years without a losing record. They don't end up as the best dynasty of all time, but 18 years with 4 titles and another appearance is pretty good.

Yep it's so easy to see. Might as well not even bother with playing the games. No fantasy indulgences at all in any of that.

Points: 0

#59 by KaosTheory // May 28, 2020 - 6:11pm

Fun fact: The 76 Steelers hold the record for best postmerger Pythagenport win percentage in history at .890. What was their actual win percentage?


.714. Three of their four losses were by a combined eight points, and the other was by 11. They were the best team of 1976, not the one-loss Raiders.


EDIT: Also, the 42 Bears were 11-0! Remind you of any other team?

Points: 0

#60 by Pen // May 28, 2020 - 6:38pm

that the Cowboys dynasty played the Steelers dynasty in two Super Bowls and PIttsburgh won both.

I can't see rating them higher than the Steelers.  It was 20 years of almost good enough and only 2 Super Bowl wins to show for it.

Points: 0

#61 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 28, 2020 - 7:26pm

The Steelers were the best team of the 70s.

the Cowboys were the best team of 65-85.

Points: 0

#62 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 28, 2020 - 7:28pm

This is where I point out that both of the top-2 got there via cheating for which they were officially sanctioned by the league.

Points: 0

#80 by Bright Blue Shorts // May 29, 2020 - 3:04am

It's more down to era they played in than whether they cheated or not.

Many teams have been sanctioned in the past 25 years : 

- The 97-98 Broncos lost picks for cheating the cap, 

- four teams (incl. Washington/Dallas) got sanctioned in 2010 for loading contracts for the uncapped year.

-  Believe the Colts got done for piping in crowd noise (or was that just a rumour?).  

- The Saints have Bountygate and lost their coach

- The Browns or Falcons had their GM texting or something.

I'm sure someone who cares about this stuff could come up with a list.


Meanwhile back in the 70s-80s ... name a team that got sanctioned for anything?   I can't.  But I also can't believe they were all playing clean. Geez, Al Davis essentially challenged his team to break the rules.

Points: 0

#84 by darthgoofy // May 29, 2020 - 9:43am

IIRC, the Colts were charged with piping noise, but were never sanctioned because of it. The RCA Dome was just that bad at acoustics...

Points: 0

#65 by Dales // May 28, 2020 - 10:26pm

It may be arbitrary to say a team had to hit both criteria in two years, but then the two years part is pretty arbitrary, too. 

Points: 0

#67 by t.d. // May 28, 2020 - 10:32pm

not too knock Hutson, but he retired before the league integrated and all of his best seasons came during WWII, when the best competition was otherwise busy

Points: 0

#75 by Bryan Knowles // May 29, 2020 - 12:20am

Integration I'll give you; that does color everyone's numbers from this era.  My counterargument would be that, like Babe Ruth, Hutson's numbers were so far and away better than any of his rivals under the same conditions as to be above reproach in that respect.

As for his best numbers being during World War II, his first MVP season was in 1941, predating the war.  He also led the league in at least one of receptions, yards or touchdowns in every year of his career both before and after World War II -- so while yes, a chunk of his performance did come up against a weakened league, it's not like he was nothing before that happened.  A significant chunk of his late-career rise in numbers can also be attributed to teams passing more in the '40s than they did in the '30s, too!  Teams passed 15 times a game when Hutson entered the league; that had already risen to 20 before Pearl Harbor.


But, to your point about the relative weakness in the league, and from the "I couldn't fit this in anywhere" files, I present a clip from a newspaper arguing that there will be no football in 1943.


DEC 11 (New York) - After a session of listening to some of the NFL's "smart guys", who can see the handwriting on the wall, you were left with the idea today that that gridron's top professional loop probably will close up for the duration. The chief reasons for suspension of the circuit - as now appears likely - are (1) the fact that playing material next fall is going to be a lot scarcer than it was in '42 - which was bad enough, the coaches tell you - (2) the fact that the loop's moguls don't need a crystal ball to figure out fans aren't going to force anyone to hand out the S.R.O. sign next fall, what with a lot of players gone to war, plus the extra difficulties of transportation. Even the boss-man of the highly-successful Chicago Bears, George Halas - who is now teaching the navy's V-5 fellows at Oklahoma - has been heard to tell pals that pro ball, at best, would be operating under trying conditions next season. This is not to say that the circuit's ten club owners are going to announced any decision to suspend at their important meeting in Washington Monday, even though Danny Reeves, the Cleveland club owner, has indicated he'd be all for that. At this moment, the magnates are split up about 50-50 over playing next season..
SOME HAVE OBJECTION: Some of the anti-suspension drumbeaters want to operate just to avoid any possible competition from "wildcat promoters". One or two others, with considerable investments, don't want to leave their money idle. One has $225,000 tied up in his club, and didn't do too well at the gate this season. Another has "sunk" $100,000 into his team. However, there's considerably more than an outside chance that the loop's championship playoff in Washington Sunday, between the Bears and the revenge-seeking Redskins, may be the last game for the duration. According to a couple of men close to the league, the magnates probably all will see the light next spring. And one fine day when the buds are popping and the hunting season is over, they'll admit "c'est la guerre" and wrap it up until the war ends.
Spoilers: No.

Points: 0

#86 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 29, 2020 - 10:51am

"Sports journalism" has always been the nadir of even a form that's tawdry even under the best of circumstances.

NFL integration is weird. Fritz Pollard was one of the early NFL's best players.

Question about passing trends -- why did they dive in the mid-60s? I know that ended after the 1977 rule changes re: holding and DPI, but why did the reversal ever happen? Was it just due to the success of the Packer Sweep?

Points: 0

#102 by dank067 // May 31, 2020 - 1:04pm

I've been wondering too lately about why passing fell off. I'm sure there are several answers, but one thing I only learned recently was that bump and run coverage wasn't widely used or taught until at least the 1960s. If that's something that wasn't really implemented or perfected until around that period of time, you can see how it would have helped prompt the rule changes.

Points: 0

#98 by mansteel // May 30, 2020 - 2:40pm

Maybe the most interesting part of the above article is the revelation that lil "Danny Reeves" was an NFL owner a couple of decades before his playing career.

Points: 0

#68 by BigRichie // May 28, 2020 - 10:34pm

The 'Skins actually gave the 'Niners a decent whuppin' in this game. Just Mosely whiffed on 3 totally makeable field goal attempts before finally making the final fourth one. Frisco's 4th quarter comeback was a great one, but performance wise it really should've been over by that time.

Points: 0

#74 by mehllageman56 // May 28, 2020 - 11:48pm

One nit pick, or perhaps just a comment, and then a question.  Banning the head slap was also important for Walsh's system, because any offensive lineman who decided to cut Mean Joe Greene and didn't injure him would end up with a concussion after the next play.  Perhaps that's why the Bengals couldn't get past the Steelers even though the Bengals had the better quarterback.


Now, the stupid question: my Madden 13 Jets team has now won the Super Bowl ten years in a row, and were only a wild card once, the last year with a 13-3 record (we lost to the Tim Tebow Bills. Yeah.). That 13-3 record was their worst.  Do the Patriots still have more dynasty points?  Must I keep playing this stupid thing?

Points: 0

#76 by Bryan Knowles // May 29, 2020 - 12:47am

Pure dynasty points?  Yes; 10 Super Bowls in a row with 13+ wins would be worth 60 dynasty points, so you would be ONE ahead of the Patriots.  Great googly moogly.

But would they be ahead of the Patriots in the rankings?  That depends on what your team's DVOA would be!

I did run some tests to see how long it would take a team, starting from scratch, to catch the Patriots atop the leaderboards.  The problem is that DVOA is uncapped.  Theoretically, a team could put up a 10000000% DVOA next season while shattering every record known to man.  It seems...somewhat unlikely, but we can dream.

A team that won back-to-back Super Bowls while putting up a 150.0% DVOA in each season, would catch the Patriots in the minimum two years it takes to reach 10 dynasty points and qualify for the main tables.  Or, more precisely, an average of 145.4%.  Let's try to put that into perspective.  The best performance last season was the Ravens' 45-6 pasting of the Rams, which saw them put up an 131.9% DVOA -- not quite good enough.   As of a few DVOA revisions ago, there was one game that was exactly a 145.4% DVOA -- Pittsburgh's 43-0 shellacking of Cleveland in Week 1 of 1999, in the Browns' return to the league.   So that level of DVOA is conceivable, even if doing that week-in, week-out for two years is...nigh impossible.  Not fully impossible, though!  So Your Favorite Team might be just two years away from sitting atop this list!  Now, a two-year dynasty topping the list would feel wrong to me, too, but if someone was beating everyone by 40+ points every game, I don't think it would be wrong to call them the best dynasty of all time.

The best single-season DVOAs of all time hit about 50.0%.  If someone could pull that off, just rattling off '85 Bears seasons over and over again, it would take them six straight seasons of 13-3+ Super Bowl wins to pass the Patriots.  There's only been six seasons above 50.0% DVOA all-time, including estimated and SRS conversion seasons, so this isn't exactly feasible, either, but it's more likely than those 150% DVOA games!

The best long-term sustained DVOAs hover around 30%; that's what the Lombardi Packers and Legion of Boom Seahawks were able to do.  The fastest a team could catch the Patriots, rattling off those 13-3 Super Bowls while maintaining that 30.0% DVOA average would be about 10 seasons, assuming some higher DVOAs mixed in to pump that Top-5 DVOA up closer to 40%.  They could even afford to lose one (and only one) of those Super Bowls; now that's what we call a cushion!


In short, to catch a two-decade long run will take some time.

Points: 0

#77 by mehllageman56 // May 29, 2020 - 1:09am

Thanks for the response.  It was kind of a joke question.  i'm pretty sure their DVOA is above the Patriots, since Kody Arias has reached 70 tds the last three years, and Justice Caine hit 34 sacks the last 4 years.  I'm glad my job started again, it was starting to get boring.  Of course, I ran up the score on rookie level everytime I played the Pats and Steelers, so it's definitely not aboveboard, but maybe I'll keep going as long as Belichick keeps going... just to be safe.

Points: 0

#78 by mehllageman56 // May 29, 2020 - 1:13am

Now that I think about it, I should start another career with the Vikings, for Will who posts here.  How many Super Bowls would satisfy you Will Allen?  4? 10? 20?.   Not sure I have the time for that.  Anyway, thanks for the response and the articles Bryan.

Points: 0

#81 by Will Allen // May 29, 2020 - 7:55am

Just one will do, as long as the Super Bowl is won by a single point when The Ponderous One throws a td pass to Laquon Treadwell, with Blair Walsh kicking the extra point.

Points: 0

#89 by mehllageman56 // May 29, 2020 - 11:18am

Got it, I'll start their season next week.  We'll see if I can pull it off to your specifications.

Points: 0

#87 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 29, 2020 - 10:55am

Theoretically, a team could put up a 10000000% DVOA next season while shattering every record known to man.  It seems...somewhat unlikely, but we can dream.


I mean, the hypothetical 1991 Raiders could do it.


Points: 0

#79 by Yu Narukami // May 29, 2020 - 2:49am

I love the guy, he even has a good chance to become the next d-coordinator for the team, but was he a key player in the dinasty?

He played just for 8 years, 2 of them ending in IR (and missing the Seahawks SB), retiring at 29 due to the many injuries. I see that he has the right combination of accolades (2 PB +1 AP which is a lot for a Belichick defense) and years spent in the team but I personally would throw in Ty Law (or Tedy Bruschi) from the old gen, Edelman from the next gen.


Points: 0

#88 by Aaron Brooks G… // May 29, 2020 - 10:58am

Mayo strikes me as a poor-man's Jevon Kearse, and Kearse is perceived as a disappointment.

Points: 0

#95 by mumoo13 // May 29, 2020 - 3:40pm

When you talk about "the injuries to Emmitt Smith, Jay Novacek, or Charles Haley", it's obvious to me what you're referring to for Novacek and Haley, but not for Smith. Is there a specific injury you're thinking of for Smith, or is it just the accumulation of multiple injuries over the years that slowly degraded his performance?

Points: 0

#96 by t.d. // May 29, 2020 - 11:31pm

not OP, but in the '96 season, Emmitt, as he often had done to that point, leapt over the line and landed head first in a MNF game against the Bears, only this time he landed wrong;  it obviously scared him (he never leapt over the line head first again), and he was never quite the same back after that point again (although obviously he played almost another decade with plenty of B/B+ production)

Points: 0

#104 by mumoo13 // Jun 01, 2020 - 3:32pm

Very interesting - I remember that happening, but never really connected it with a decline in performance. But given that it was the first game of the season (and what we know now about head injuries), it definitely lines up with the drop-off. Thanks for the insight!

Points: 0

#99 by Spanosian Magn… // May 30, 2020 - 11:12pm

This whole series has been fantastic, thank you for all your hard work and excellent writing!

One thing - and it's not a complaint, really, I'm just kind of amazed - you somehow managed to talk about the Browns dynasty without mentioning their best player! Marion Motley was a fine player and deserving Hall of Famer, but Jim Brown is on the shortlist for Single Best Football Player ever.

Points: 0

#100 by t.d. // May 31, 2020 - 12:51am

he was only barely there for the dynasty years, pretty crazy them adding a GOAT at his position in the middle of their dynasty years (though I guess the 49ers and Pats did, too, with Rice and Gronk)

Points: 0

#103 by Bryan Knowles // May 31, 2020 - 2:28pm

I covered Brown more when I talked about the 1963-1972 Browns earlier on in the series; he was only there for the last two years of the better Browns squad.

Points: 0

#107 by Ballofthefootfan // Jun 08, 2020 - 10:45pm

Bryan Knowles hit it right on the head. There's only ONE question in this Greatest Dynasty of All Time debate: Are Tom Brady and the Pat's better than Joe Montana and the Niners?

Theres tons of metrics and intangibles where the Niners are clearly the more dominant team, but with his 20 years as the Patriots starter Brady certainly has longevity over Montana, who only started 10 seasons for the 49ers before being traded away to the Kansas City Chiefs. What if Joe had the four NFC Championship appearances Steve Young had with the 49ers in the 90's? (with Young only winning one of course). "Mr Perfect" in the Superbowl (4 games NO interceptions, a feat Brady only accomplished ONCE) might have won ALL FOUR, and Brady with his 6 rings would still be looking up at 8-0 Joe

Points: 0

#108 by ChrisS // Jun 10, 2020 - 2:18pm

As to the semantics regarding "Dynasties", I always considerd each sport season equivalent to a human generation. Before this article my thought was that dynasties ended when the majority of the teams top players left the team, then it became a different "ruling" family in the same location. This series does make me reconsider my personal definition and my vague belief that the 70's Steelers were the greatest NFL dynasty of my life. Overall a great read, one of the best ever on this Dynasty of a web site.

Points: 0

Save 10%
& Support Bryan
Support Football Outsiders' independent media and Bryan Knowles. Use promo code KNOWLES to save 10% on any FO+ membership and give half the cost of your membership to tip Bryan.