Top Twelve Greatest NFL Teams of the Super Bowl Era
Since the 1966 season, winning the Super Bowl has been the ultimate goal for every NFL team. Many great players, coaches, and teams have come and gone since then. Narrowing it down to just a dozen elite teams is tough. As one would expect, every team on this list won the Super Bowl, but they accomplished more than that. All of them had special qualities, whether it was a huge number of Hall of Fame players, lopsided victories, an outstanding win-loss record, or all of the above. Here are my picks for the top twelve teams of the last 46 seasons, in chronological order.
1966 Green Bay Packers – The very first Super Bowl champion, Vince Lombardi’s Packers hammered AFL champ Kansas City 35-10 in what was then called the NFL AFL World Championship Game. The Packers went 12-2 and defeated Dallas 34-27 in the NFL Championship Game. QB Bart Starr was both the Super Bowl MVP and the NFL MVP. He led the league in passing. The roster was loaded with players who are now in the Hall of Fame including Starr, RB Jim Taylor, OT Forest Gregg, RB Paul Hornung, LB Ray Nitschke, among others. They were led by one of the greatest, if not the greatest, coaches in football history and were part of a dynasty that won the 1962, 1963, 1965, and 1967 NFL Championship Games, as well as Super Bowl II.
Head Coach: Vince Lombardi
1972 Miami Dolphins – For nearly forty years teams have tried and failed to equal what this team accomplished. Some have come close, but no one has been able to match the Dolphin’s perfect 17-0 record (including playoffs). They are the only team in NFL history to win every single game they played in both the regular season and postseason, with no losses or ties. The Dolphins had a balanced offensive attack with Bob Griese and Earl Morall at quarterback and two 1,000 running backs – Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris. WR Paul Warfield was another major weapon. The Dolphins had an outstanding offensive line, led by future hall of famers Jim Langer and Larry Little. The Dolphin’s defense was excellent as well. It was led by another future hall of famer, LB Nick Buoniconti. Safety Jack Scott was the MVP of the Super Bowl, where Miami defeated the Redskins 14-7. Despite their perfect record, this team has been criticized for playing a soft schedule and the razor thin margins of their postseason victories. Miami defeated Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Washington by a combined margin of 17 points. They were not a dominant, overwhelming force like the ’85 Bears or ’89 49ers. The ’72 Dolphins weren’t flashy, but they got the job done. Easy schedule or not, no one has been able to match what they did and it’s possible no one ever will.
Head Coach: Don Shula
1976 Oakland Raiders – The Raiders went 13-1 and crushed Minnesota in the Super Bowl 32-14 to capture their first Super Bowl title. They finished strong, winning 13 consecutive games to close the season. Most were by double digit margins. The MVP of the Super Bowl was WR Fred Biletnikoff, who eventually became a hall of famer. Other notable players included QB Ken Stabler, THE Dave Casper, CB Willie Brown (who had a pick six against the Vikings), and LB Ted Hendricks.
Head Coach: John Madden
1978 Pittsburgh Steelers – The greatest of Pittsburgh’s dynasty teams of the 1970’s, the Steelers went 14-2 and defeated Dallas 35-31 in the Super Bowl. The Steelers clobbered Denver and Houston in the playoffs by a combined score of 67-15. QB Terry Bradshaw was named MVP. The team had a whopping ten future hall of famers, including Bradshaw, coach Chuck Knoll, WR Lynn Swan, RB Franco Harris, C Mike Webster, DT Joe Greene, WR John Stallworth, LB Jack Ham, LB Jack Lambert, and CB Mel Blount. Ten players appeared in the Pro Bowl.
Head Coach: Chuck Knoll
1984 San Francisco 49ers – Three years after winning their first Super Bowl, the 49ers returned to glory in one of the dominant season in NFL history. They finished 15-1 and then crushed three postseason opponents to win the Super Bowl. They won 13 games by double digits, including all three playoff games. The 49ers offense was second in the NFL in scoring and the underrated defense was first in fewest points allowed. San Francisco’s entire starting secondary went to the Pro Bowl, as did five offensive starters. The 49ers faced explosive quarterback Dan Marino (in his only Super Bowl appearance) in Super Bowl 19. San Francisco crushed Miami 38-19 and QB Joe Montana was named MVP.
Head coach: Bill Walsh
1985 Chicago Bears – After losing to the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game the prior year, Chicago responded with a ferocious 15-1 season characterized by an overwhelming defense. Mike Ditka’s intense, volatile personality rubbed off on his team. The Bears rampaged through the regular season and then dismantled the Giants and Rams in the playoffs by the combined score of 45-0. In the Super Bowl, the Bears buried the New England Patriots 46-10. The defense earned a reputation for being one of the best in NFL history, allowing only about 12 points per game. Some of the most notable players were LB Mike Singletary, DL Dan Hampton, and DE Richard Dent. However, the Bears' underrated offense deserves some credit as well. They were second in the NFL in scoring. QB Jim McMahon delivered several gutsy performances despite battling injuries. Legendary RB Walter Payton rushed for over 1,500 yards.
Head Coach: Mike Ditka
1986 New York Giants – Of the four Giants teams to win the Super Bowl, this was by far the most dominant. Bill Parcell’s team went 14-2 in the regular season and then destroyed the 49ers and Redskins by a combined score of 66-3 to reach the Super Bowl. After surprisingly trailing at halftime, the Giants buried John Elway and the Denver Broncos 39-20 in Super Bowl 21. QB Phil Simms was named Super Bowl MVP for his incredible 88% completion percentage. However, the team is most remembered for the incredibly dominant season of LB Lawrence Taylor, who was named NFL MVP.
Head Coach: Bill Parcells
1989 49ers – The 1980’s 49ers cemented themselves as one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history with this 14-2 season. The 49ers crushed three playoff opponents by a combined margin of 100 points. In the Super Bowl, they eviscerated the Denver Broncos 55-10 in the most lopsided Super Bowl ever. Joe Montana was named Super Bowl MVP for the third time. He was also the NFL MVP. His favorite target was WR Jerry Rice, who caught three touchdown passes in the Super Bowl. The 49ers went undefeated on the road and led the league in scoring.
Head Coach: George Seifert
1991 Washington Redskins –Joe Gibb’s third and final Super Bowl champion went 14-2 and easily dispatched Atlanta and Detroit in the playoffs. The Redskins decisively defeated the star-crossed Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl. QB Mark Rypien was named MVP. The Redskins were dangerous through the air and had an excellent secondary. The defense accomplished three shut outs. This is the first team on this list that I am old enough to remember and their greatness and dominance has always been burned into my memory.
Head Coach: Joe Gibbs
1992 Dallas Cowboys – I thought about putting the ’93 team here, but the ’92 squad had a slightly better record, finishing 13-3. The resurgent Cowboys were just three years removed from a 1-15 season. Their colossal 52-17 massacre of the cursed Bills capped an amazing turnaround and ushered in a glorious – albeit relatively brief – dynasty. They defeated a very good San Francisco team on the road in the NFC Championship Game. Notable players included QB Troy Aikman, RB Emmitt Smith, WR Michael Irvin, and LB Ken Norton Jr. The Cowboys’ underrated defense finished #1 in the NFL. Jimmy Johnson was given credit for turning around the franchise so quickly and winning the Super Bowl with the league’s youngest team. Most people thought Dallas was a year away from greatness, but the Cowboys proved them wrong.
Head Coach: Jimmy Johnson
2003/2004 New England Patriots – I combined these two together since they both finished 14-2, both won the Super Bowl by three points, and had most of the same personnel. Bill Belichick coached both teams and Tom Brady put together very solid seasons at QB in each year. The 2003 team’s season started inauspiciously with a 31-0 loss to Buffalo, but began to roll after a 2-2 start. Ironically, New England then defeated Buffalo by the exact same score in the regular season finale. After surviving a tough and snowy battle with Tennessee, the Patriots knocked off Indianapolis in the AFC Championship Game to advance to the Super Bowl. They returned to glory by narrowly defeating Carolina 32-29 in one of the most dramatic Super Bowls ever. Tom Brady was named Super Bowl MVP. The Patriots defense gave up the fewest points in the NFL.
Determined to get even better, the Patriots upgraded their running game in the offseason by adding former Bengals RB Corey Dillon. The 2004 team picked up where the previous season left off. However, the Patriots lost home field advantage to the 15-1 Pittsburgh Steelers. They also suffered significant injuries in the secondary. This didn’t stop New England, who easily gained yet another playoff win over Indianapolis in the divisional round and then knocked off the Steelers by two touchdowns on the road. The Patriots became the seventh - and to date last – franchise to win back-to-back Super Bowls by defeating Philadelphia 24-21. Other than Brady and Dillon, other notable players who appeared on one or both teams included LB Tedy Bruschi, S Rodney Harrison, DT Richard Seymour, WR Deon Branch (the Super Bowl 39 MVP). The Patriots won a then-record 21 games in a row from the fifth game of the 2003 season until the eight game of the 2004 season.
Head Coach: Bill Belichick
Which one of these teams do you think was the best? Are there any other teams that you think should have been included instead? I tried to include at least one team from each franchise that had won three or more Super Bowls. Because of this, I had to leave off some great teams, including the ‘74/’75 Steelers, ’98 Broncos, ’93 Cowboys, ’94 49ers, ’06 Colts, ’09 Saints, and ’11 Packers, among others. Please take the poll and/or leave a comment.