Fans always debate who the best NFL teams are of all-time. Is it the Super Bowl shuffle ’85 Bears? How about Montana’s ’89 49ers? Or the dominate ’78 Steelers? But what about the perfect ’72 Dolphins? Fans will debate for hours, but always forget teams that didn’t win the Super Bowl. Although non-Super Bowl winners shouldn’t be considered for the best team ever, certainly they deserve some recognition.
Here’s a list of the best NFL teams that fell just a little short:
10. 1983 Washington Redskins
Coming off a Super Bowl win in the '82 strike shortened season, the 1983 Redskins looked poised to win back-to-back Super Bowls. After losing the first game of the season against the Dallas Cowboys, the Redskins won 16 of their next 17 games including NFC playoff games. This Joe Gibbs led team finished the regular season 14-2 which is still tied for the franchise record. Washington’s offense lead the NFL that year with an average of 33.8 points scored per game. Quarterback Joe Theismann made his only All-Pro team that year and hall of fame running back John Riggins rushed for 1,347 yards and 24 touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Redskins, they ran into a very tough Los Angeles Raiders team in the Super Bowl who they had already beaten that season. The second time around, the Raiders killed the ‘Skins 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII.
9. 1998 Minnesota Vikings
Even though this team didn’t make the Super Bowl, they still deserve to be on this list. Minnesota and Denver both started 7-0 that season. Denver actually won their first 13 games, but then lost two of their last three while Minnesota ended the season at 15-1. Coach Dennis Green and offensive coordinator Brian Billick assembled one of the greatest offenses with quarterback Randall Cunningham, running back Robert Smith and future hall of fame receivers Chris Carter and Randy Moss. The offense scored a record 556 points. All-Pro defensive end John Randle led the Vikings ferocious defense. But at the Metrodome in the NFC Championship, the Atlanta Falcons upset the Super Bowl hopeful Vikings in overtime 30-27. Then, the near perfect Broncos whooped the Falcons 34-19 in Super Bowl XXIII. Fans will always remember that Super Bowl not for what it was, but for what it could have been.
8. 2009 Indianapolis Colts
Much like 1998, the 2009 NFL season saw a team from each conference go undefeated deep into the season with Indianapolis 14-0 and New Orleans 13-0. In addition to QB Peyton Manning, Indianapolis had WRs Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, TE Dallas Clark and RB Joseph Addai. It looked as if the Colts would finish the regular season undefeated, but then mysteriously removed their starters in the second half from a game against the Jets. The Colts would lose that game and the next, but still finished with a team record 14 wins. Ironically, the Colts met the Jets again in the AFC title game where Indianapolis simply outmatched New York and won 31-17. The NFL got its dream Super Bowl of Colts vs. Saints for Super Bowl XLIV, but it was Manning who threw the crucial interception to clinch a Saints victory. Indianapolis has not won 14 games since that loss.
7. 1997 Green Bay Packers
Many fans forget that Green Bay came within one game of becoming only the second NFL team to repeat as back-to-back Super Bowl Champions twice (maybe something they will get this season). Green Bay won 13 games that year and 13 games the previous Super Bowl year. Gun slinging quarterback Brett Favre was in his prime throwing to wide receivers Robert Brooks and Antonio Freeman. To help complement Favre’s 3,867 passing yards and 35 touchdowns, running back Dorsey Levens ran for 1,435 yards and seven touchdowns. Also, the defense featured All-Pro safety LeRoy Butler and 13-time Pro Bowl hall of famer Reggie White. The Packers entered Super Bowl XXII as eleven point favorites against John Elway’s Denver Broncos. The game went back and forth, but eventually saw Denver defeated Green Bay 31-24. Instead of the Packers repeat, the Broncos repeated the following year.
6. 1969 Minnesota Vikings
Poor Vikings; they are one of two franchises to go to four Super Bowls and lose them all and their 15-1 ’98 team couldn’t even make the Super Bowl. The average fan probably doesn’t know much about the 1969 Vikings, I mean the Metrodome didn’t even exist yet. Yes, the Vikings at one point played their games outside in the snow and freezing cold. It was one of the biggest home field advantages at the time. Of all of Bud Grant’s teams (Vikings head coach), this one was probably his best. Minnesota finished 12-2 that year and ranked first in points per game with 27.1 and first in points allowed per game with an astonishing 9.5. Quarterback Joe Kapp and hall of fame defensive lineman Alan Page led their respective units. This was the last season before the NFL-AFL merger and Minnesota ran into a very innovative Hank Stram Chiefs offense in Super Bowl IV. Kansas City defeated Minnesota handedly 24-7.
5. 2001 St. Louis Rams
The Greatest Show on Turf remains one of the best nicknames ever in NFL history which described St. Louis’ offense in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV in 1999 and won more regular season games in 2001. Hall of fame running back Marshall Faulk ran for 1,382 yards and receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt both had over 1,100 receiving yards. Quarterback Kurt Warner threw for a franchise record 4,830 yards and 36 touchdowns. All four of these players could quite possibly be in the hall of fame one day. All-Pro cornerback Aeneas Williams led a not too shabby defensive unit as well. St. Louis seemed to be a lock to win the Super Bowl after New England beat Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship. However, young quarterback Tom Brady and a great Patriots defense prevail 20-17 with an Adam Vinatieri field goal to win it in the closing seconds.
4. 1990 Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills join Minnesota as the only other franchise to lose four Super Bowls. To make it even worse for the Bills, their four happened in four straight seasons. 1990, however, was the one Super Bowl that they could have won. Quarterback Jim Kelly threw 24 touchdowns and Thurman Thomas rushed for 1,297 yards and eleven touchdowns. Both players have been enshrined in the NFL hall of fame. The Bills also had seven-time Pro Bowler Andre Reed at wide receiver who has his own argument for Canton, Ohio. Of course, who can forget all-time sacks leader defensive end Bruce Smith. Buffalo won 13 games that season and scored 95 points in its two AFC playoff games. But in the Super Bowl, Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick had a great game plan and because of a missed 47 yard field goal by Scott Norwood, the Giants won 20-19. Don’t mutter the words wide right in upstate New York.
3. 1978 Dallas Cowboys
The 1978 Cowboys are another team who made a Super Bowl appearance the year after they won the Super Bowl in 1977. Dallas had nine Pro bowlers that season, four on offense and five on defense. The Cowboys also scored the most points in the league and let up the 3rd
fewest. Quarterback Roger Staubach, half back Tony Dorsett and defensive lineman Randy White were all inducted into the NFL hall of fame. Dallas finished 12-4 and shutout the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship game 28-0. Now only one game away from a repeat, the Cowboys would play the Steelers again in Super Bowl XIII. Pittsburgh posted a 14-2 record, the number one ranked defense, fifth ranked offense and nine hall of famers on their roster. Super Bowl XIII was one of the best played Super Bowls, but Pittsburgh won 35-31.
2. 2007 New England Patriots
The most prolific offense of all-time that broke the ’98 Vikings NFL record for points scored. New England scored 589 points, averaging 36.8 a game that year. Quarterback Tom Brady passed for 4,806 yards and set a NFL record with 50 touchdowns. Future hall of fame receiver Randy Moss had his best season with 1,493 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns, an NFL record. Other receiver Wes Welker had 112 catches and 1,175 receiving yards. Brady’s offensive line feature three Pro Bowlers and the defense had two more. Furthermore, the ’07 Patriots are the only other team in the Super Bowl era besides the ’72 Dolphins to go undefeated. New England had a perfect 18-0 record going into Super Bowl XLII against the New York Giants. The Patriots were favored to defeat the Giants by 12, but New York’s pass rush proved to be too much for Brady, and New York stunned New England 17-14.
1. 1968 Baltimore Colts
The best team to never win the Super Bowl: 1968 Baltimore Colts. Directed by coaching legend Don Shula, Baltimore won 13 games and lost only one to the Cleveland Browns. Baltimore replayed Cleveland in the NFL Championship and won soundly 34-0. The Colts gave up the fewest points in the league and scored the second most that season. Perhaps the best quarterback of all-time, Johnny Unitas didn’t even play that season. Backup Earl Morrall started every game and won the league MVP. Baltimore also had perhaps the best tight end all-time in John Mackey. Morrall, Mackey and two defensive players, corner Bobby Boyd and linebacker Mike Curtis made the All-Pro team. After destroying the Browns in the NFL title game, Baltimore went into Super Bowl III as 18 point favorites against the New York Jets. Even Unitas entering the game in the second half couldn’t save the Colts defeat and Joe Namath’s guarantee was complete. The Jets pulled the greatest upset of all-time 16-7.
Obviously, some fans will disagree with numbers one and two on this list. For me, even though New England won every game but the Super Bowl, they had peaked at some point in December. Baltimore was going into the Super Bowl coming off their best victory of the season. That made the difference for me.
Notice something most of these teams have in common? Most of them featured top of the line offenses, but not top defenses. Could the 2011 Green Bay Packers join this list?