NFL Super Bowl Era Team Power Rankings

I recently decided to answer the question that blazes on my mind every year at Super Bowl time: Who are the best NFL teams in the Super Bowl era? Leading up to the playoffs the sports pontiffs rank the NFL’s 32 teams week by week by giving them a power ranking. I’ve created a power ranking for every team based upon playoff performance from 1967 to the present.

As I was researching for my data I discovered that ESPN has done its own comprehensive NFL team power ranking covering the period from 1970 through 2007. The ESPN report is complex, examining multiple factors to generate its power ranking. My NFL power ranking system is simple-it focuses upon only two factors:

1. Making the playoffs

2. Performing in the playoffs

NFL PLAYOFFS

The current NFL playoff format is virtually the same format in place when the NFL and AFL merged. Eight teams qualified for the playoffs after the ’70 season-3 division winners and 1 wildcard team per conference. There are now 12 teams that qualify for the playoffs-4 division winners and 2 wildcard teams per conference.

What we know as the Super Bowl was first called the AFL-NFL Championship. When the leagues formally merged before the start of the 1970 season, the AFL-NFL Championship was renamed as the Super Bowl.

THE POWER RANKING SYSTEM

Each team is ranked based upon the number of points accumulated for these accomplishments:

· Reaching the playoffs via the wild card -1 point

· Reaching the playoffs as a division winner-3 points

· Wildcard round playoff victories-3 points

· Divisional round playoff victories-5 points

· Conference Championship victories-10 points

· Super Bowl victories-20 points

(16 teams reached the playoffs in the strike shortened 1982 season, for which each team received 1 point. Teams received 3 points for victory in the first round of the playoffs, which was essentially a wildcard round.)

FULL DISCLOSURE

Before I discuss the power rankings in detail I want you to know which teams I like and which teams I like to hate so you can blame my bias if you don’t like how your team is ranked!

My friends:

· Buccaneers - I’m not moving anytime soon, so I’m stuck with them.

· Patriots

· Packers- I love that fan ownership arrangement.

· Bills- I know, they’re still eating Snickers bars.

· 49ers

· Eagles - My wife is from the Philadelphia area.

My ‘enemies’:

· Cowboys-Seems they decided God could watch ‘His team’ without the hole in the roof.

· Dolphins- Us Bills fans love it when the fish get squished.

· Raiders- These bad boys need to be spanked on a regular basis.

· Steelers- I used to like this team, but success has gone to their heads.

The Bills are still eating Snickers Bars....

TEAM RANKINGS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE 2016 SEASON. Asterisks indicate a tie. (See the poll below).

TEAM
POINTS
RANK
Steelers
360
1
Cowboys
349
2
49ers
309
3
Patriots
288
4
Packers
243
5
Broncos
242
6
Raiders
236
7
Giants
204
8
Colts
193
9
Dolphins
190
10
Redskins
188
11
Vikings
171
12
Rams
147
13
Seahawks
124
14
Ravens
116
15
Eagles
109
16
Bears
106
17
Bills
105
18
Chiefs
96
19
Jets
91
20
Titans (Oilers)
83
21
Chargers
78
22
Buccaneers
70
23
Saints*
69
24
Panthers*
69
24
Bengals
66
25
Browns
60
26
Falcons
56
27
Cardinals
47
28
Jaguars
29
29
Lions
22
30
Texans
15
31

TEAM RANKINGS AT THE BEGINING OF THE 2015 SEASON. (See the poll below).

TEAM
POINTS
RANK
Steelers
356
1
Cowboys
349
2
49ers
309
3
Patriots
280
4
Packers
239
5
Raiders
236
6
Broncos
210
7
Giants
204
8
Colts
193
9
Dolphins
190
10
Redskins
185
11
Vikings
168
12
Rams
147
13
Seahawks
120
14
Ravens
116
15
Eagles
109
16
Bears
106
17
Bills
105
18
Chiefs
92
19
Jets
91
20
Titans (Oilers)
83
21
Chargers
78
22
Buccaneers
70
23
Saints
69
24
Bengals
63
25
Browns
60
26
Falcons
56
27
Panthers
51
28
Cardinals
39
29
Jaguars
29
30
Lions
22
31
Texans
12
32

Vote on the power rankings

Does my power ranking system rate the teams appropriately?

  • Yes
  • Pretty darn close
  • Somewhat
  • No
See results without voting

FIRST FACTOR IN THE POWER RANKINGS: MAKING THE PLAYOFFS


Making the playoffs consistently has a considerable effect on a team’s power ranking. These teams have made the playoffs at least 20 times:

Cowboys-31

Steelers-29

Vikings-28

49ers-24

Dolphins-22

Patriots-22

Broncos-22

Packers-22

Raiders-21

All of the top 5 teams in the power rankings have made the playoffs more than 20 times.

The Vikings are the one team to have made the playoffs more than 20 times without winning a Super Bowl. They’re 3rd in the number of playoff appearances, but number 12 in the power rankings. Teams that have reached the playoffs consistently and have made the most of their playoff appearances by winning the Super Bowl fare best in the power rankings.

SECOND FACTOR IN THE POWER RANKINGS: WINNING THE SUPER BOWL

SUPER SUCCESS

Not surprisingly, the top three teams have at least 5 Super Bowl wins each. As a group they’ve won 16 of the 50 Super Bowls, owning nearly a third of all Super Bowls.

Here is a brief history of the top 3 teams in my power rankings:

Steelers- The Steelers draft picks under Coach Chuck Noll made possible the team’s domination of the 70’s. The most important among those selections were L C Greenwood, ‘Mean’ Joe Greene, Ernie Holmes and Dwight White. These were the Steelers’ defensive front four, the famed ‘SteeI Curtain’, and there’s not been a front four like them since.

Thanks to the Steel Curtain the Steelers won their first Super Bowl in ’75. After ’75 the Steelers offense came to life, augmenting their formidable defense. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw, receiver Lynn Swan and running back Franco Harris were among the offensive standouts as the Steelers continued their run by winning 3 more Super Bowls in ’77, ’79 and ’80. The Steelers set a record by winning 4 Super Bowls in 6 years.

By ’84 most of the players responsible for the team’s success in the 70’s had retired. In the last 7 years under Chuck Noll the Steelers made the playoffs only once, in ’89. When Chuck Noll retired after the ’91 season he wore 4 Super Bowl rings, the most of any head coach in the NFL.

Taking his place was Bill Cowher, a defensive coordinator for the Chiefs. Cowher’s approach to coaching brought instant rewards as the Steelers reached the playoffs the next six years, though suffering a defeat to the Cowboys in the ’96 Super Bowl.

The Steelers didn’t reach the playoffs from ’98-’00, but began rebuilding. Payoff came with a Super Bowl victory in ’06. Their 4th ranked defense featuring linebackers Joey Porter, James Farrior and Larry Foote along with defensive standouts Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu was key to their victory. The offense was led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing to Heath Miller and Hines Ward, but its main strength was a strong running attack with Willie Parker and Jerome ‘Bus’ Bettis.

Cower resigned after the ’06 season, but the Steelers continued winning under new head coach Mike Tomlin. Riding on the strength of its top ranked defense, the Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl in ’09. No other team has won 6 Super Bowls.

Cowboys- During the stoic Coach Tom Landry’s tenure the Cowboys reached the Super Bowl 5 times, winning twice during the 70’s. Good draft picks in the late 60’s and early 70’s took them to their first Super Bowl win in ’72. Key players for the offense were quarter back Roger Staubach, running back Calvin Hill and tight end Mike Ditka. Defensive standouts included defensive backs Cliff ‘Captain Crash’ Harris and Herb Adderly.

The Cowboys retooled on offense after ’72 with running back Tony Dorsett and receiver Drew Pearson joining Staubach. The ‘Doomsday Defense’ emerged with linemen Randy White, Harvey Martin and Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones joining the defensive lineup. In ’78 the Cowboys won their second Super Bowl.

When Jerry Jones bought the team in ’89 the Cowboys were in a downhill slide. He made an immediate change by replacing Landry with University of Miami coach Jimmy Johnson. It was Johnson’s idea to boost the team by trading running back Hershel Walker to the highest bidder.

The Viking’s made the best offer: 5 veteran players and 8 draft picks. They got Walker and the Cowboys got draft picks that would help propel them to the top of the NFL in the early ‘90s. With wise use of these picks they landed players such as running back Emmitt Smith, safety Darren Woodson, receiver Alvin Harper and defensive lineman Russell Maryland. Quarterback Troy Aikman had already been acquired with their first round pick in the ’89 draft.

The talented Cowboys were in the NFL’s top 5 both on offense and defense each season before winning the Super Bowls of ’93, '94 and ’96. They tied the Steelers' record by winning 3 Super Bowls in 4 years, giving them a total of 5 Super Bowl victories.

49ers-Edward Debartolo Jr. bought the 49ers in ’77 while the team was suffering from years of poor trades and mediocre draft picks. He put his hopes for the revival of the team in Stanford’s coach Bill Walsh, who had a reputation for selecting talent. Walsh was also a student of a ball control offense called the West Coast Offense, which emphasizes a short passing game.

From ’79 through ‘81 Walsh stockpiled talent on both sides of the ball, though 4 of the 5 starting offensive linemen playing when he was hired remained as starters. In these 3 years Walsh laid the foundation for 4 of the team’s 5 Super Bowl victories.

In his 3rd year as head coach Walsh’s version of the West Coast Offense combined with the league’s 2nd ranked defense to win the ’82 Super Bowl. Standout players for the offense this year were quarter back Joe Montana, receivers Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon, and running back/tight end Earl Cooper. Veteran defensive back Dwight Hicks worked the defensive backfield with rookies Eric Wright, Carlton Williamson and the hard hitting Ronnie Lott.

Over the next couple of years there were a few notable changes to the team’s roster. The 49ers added 2 running backs in ’83; Wendell Tyler was acquired in a trade with the Rams, and Roger Craig was drafted with their first round pick. Offensive lineman Guy McIntyre was drafted in ’84. He would first gain notoriety for serving as a full back in Walsh’s ‘Elephant Formation’ that he sometimes used in short yardage goal line situations.

The 49ers took the ’85 Super Bowl behind the strength of the league’s 2nd ranked offense and 1st ranked defense. Though the defense didn’t get much media coverage, all four starting defensive backs were chosen for the ’85 Pro Bowl.

The offense received a big boost over the next few years. In ’85 the 49ers drafted receiver Jerry Rice, who would become the league’s all-time leading receiver. They also drafted receiver John Taylor in ’86, who along with Rice became a prime target for Montana. One of their most important acquisitions of the late '80s was future starting quarter back Steve Young, who the 49ers received in a trade from the Bucs in ’87.

This infusion of new talent helped the 49ers win back to back Super Bowl victories in ’89-’90. Walsh retired after the ’89 victory, leaving the team in the hands of his protégé George Seifert.

Seifert’s 49ers made a run at a ‘three peat’ for the Super Bowl the following year, but were defeated by the Giants in the NFC Championship. In the early 90’s the 49ers were losing many of the veterans who’d played an important role in their 4 Super Bowl victories, including Montana, who was traded to the Chiefs.

In ’94 the 49ers signed numerous free agents, mostly defensive players, to bolster the team. Included in these signings were cornerback Deon Sanders, and linebackers Gary Plummer, Rickey Jackson and Ken Norton Junior. The team’s number one draft pick for that year, fullback William Floyd, made an immediate impact for the offense.

The revamped 49ers led by quarter back Steve Young defeated the ‘94 Super Bowl champion Cowboys in the NFC Championship and went on to win the ‘95 Super Bowl. This victory gave the 49ers their fifth Super Bowl win in 14 years, an NFL record.

SUPER FUTILITY

Almost every team has played in at least one Super Bowl, though many teams have yet to win. Two teams have failed to win the Super Bowl in 4 outings.

The Vikings lost 4 Super Bowls between ’70 and ’77. The Bills matched the Vikings when they reached the Super Bowl each year from ’91-’94 and lost each game.

· The Vikings and the Bills share the record for the most Super Bowl appearances without a victory; they're both 0-4.

· The Bills have the record for the most Super Bowl losses in the shortest time; they lost 4 Super Bowls in 4 consecutive years.


Scott Norwood 'Wide Right'

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Comments 2 comments

Hxprof 4 years ago from Clearwater, Florida Author

Bigpayno, I agree that the Bills team that went to those Super Bowls was one of the best teams the NFL has seen, but the Cowboys of the early 90's were too much for anyone to handle; the Vikings gave the Cowboys their Super Bowl dominance in the now notorious trade for Hershel Walker. Hats off to Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones for properly using that trade to build such a dominating team.

Thanks for taking time to read and comment.


Bigpayno profile image

Bigpayno 4 years ago from Indianapolis, Indiana

Great Hub, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I am a firm believer that the Bills of the 90's that lost 4 straight Super Bowls were still one of the greatest teams ever assembled. The first year was the Giants tough defense, (almost like what they did to New England a few years ago), God only knows how they lost to the Redskins, but the next two years they would've beaten nearly any Super Bowl winning team in our modern era if they didn't have to play that Dallas Cowboy team.

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