The NFL is the most popular sports league in the USA. It is currently comprised of 32 teams, with 16 teams in each conference; the AFC and NFC respectively. Each team has a unique and rich history, with some franchises winning multiple championships, and others never ever making it to the biggest game of the year. Even for the teams that have been starved for a championship during their history, they’ve experienced magical moments, amazing players, and a great story. Fans have a special place in their hearts for their favorite franchise’s best team of all time. These squads made a mark on the NFL in some way, and left their fans with lifelong memories. This article is an attempt to pay homage to each franchise's’ best team.
This list will only be examining the last 50 years, also referred to as the Super Bowl era. My apologies to the legendary Cleveland Browns teams that existed back in the 40s, but a cutoff was needed. There is also a need to take some stats with a grain of salt due to how much football has evolved since the first Super Bowl half a century ago. it'd be unfair to consider how much some teams throw and score in the current era, so this list won’t just look at which team scored the most points in franchise history. Instead, you’ll see point differential mentioned often, which is how many more points a team scored compared to how many points they had scored against them. It’s not a perfect stat, but it helps illustrate how dominant a team really was that season.
It’s also important to note that while the Super Bowl counts for a lot, it isn’t the end all, be all. Football is a fickle sport and the variance of the sport is only compounded because it uses a one-game playoff system, which means a few bad bounces can ruin a team’s championship aspirations. Without further ado, please enjoy every current NFL franchise's best team they’ve ever had.
32 Arizona Cardinals: 2015-2016 Team
Last year, the Arizona Cardinals set the league on fire, averaging a franchise best 30.6 points per game. Their offense was dynamic, with Carson Palmer turning into a viable MVP candidate, and Larry Fitzgerald proving that time doesn’t affect him the same way it does everyone else. The league also fell in love with hyper-athletic defensive back Tyrann Mathieu that year, who added to the teams success. The Cardinals would win 13 games, their best record in the Super Bowl era. Sadly, injuries (ACL for Mathieu and finger for Palmer) would derail them in the postseason and they would fall in the NFC Championship game.
31 Atlanta Falcons: 1998-1999 Team
A team defined by its running back, the 1998 Atlanta Falcons were a legitimate title contender during an era chalk full of big time players. The team won a franchise-best 14 games, and had a very potent offense, scoring 27.6 points per game. This team also finished with a franchise’s best point differential of +153. This team would fall short of winning the championship, but did pull off a giant upset before the Super Bowl, when they stunned the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings.
30 Baltimore Ravens: 2000-2001 Team
Things were rough for the Baltimore Ravens when they first opened up shop in Maryland. They wouldn’t have a winning season for their first four seasons. Luckily for their fans, when they did finally get over that hump and posted a winning season, they were able to ride the success all the way to the championship. The 2000-2001 Ravens had an identity: defense. It was embodied by their all-world linebacker Ray Lewis.
29 Buffalo Bills: 1990-1991 Team
Honestly, with this franchise, you’d be able to pick any of the teams that made it to the Super Bowl during that brutal four-year stretch in the early 90s and be able to defend why they were better than the others. In the end, I’m opting to go with the team that started the cycle of sadness, the 1990-1991 team. It was the first Bills team to make the Super Bowl and they had a franchise-best +165 point differential. They were clearly the best team in the NFL, leading the league in wins with 13, and having a more than 40-point lead in point differential to the team that came in second.
28 Carolina Panthers: 2015-2016 Team
The 2015 Panthers ripped off 14 straight wins to start the season. They were good, ending the regular season 15-1, being led by league MVP Cam Newton and highly effective offense. The Panthers would average an NFL-best 31.3 points per game during the 2015-2016 season. Carolina posted an NFL leading and franchise-best point differential +192. The team was stacked with talent, having ten players that were selected to the Pro Bowl. None of those players actually participated in the All-Star game however, because the team was busy preparing for the championship. The Panthers would be entered as heavy favorites to win it all, but would be eventually defeated by Von Miller and the Denver Broncos.
27 Chicago Bears: The 1985-1986 Team
Led by what many consider the greatest defense in NFL history, the 1985-1986 Chicago Bears are a timeless team. They are still revered by Chicago fans, who look back fondly on that team as the definitive Bears club. They went 15-1 before claiming the cities only Super Bowl Championship that year, and led the league in scoring defense, holding opponents to an average 12.4points per game and only allowing 258.4 yards per game. The defense would end up leading the league in five other categories: rushing yards and touchdowns, first downs, interceptions, and takeaways.
26 Cincinnati Bengals: 1988-1989 Team
25 Cleveland Browns: 1986-1987 Team
24 Dallas Cowboys: 1992-1993 Team
23 Denver Broncos: 2013-2014 Team
While this team didn’t the Super Bowl, they were absolutely amazing. The 2013-2014 Broncos were arguably the greatest offense ever seen in modern era of the NFL. They would set multiple records, including most points ever scored and total touchdowns as a team. Peyton Manning, who would win league MVP, set an NFL record for touchdown passes after tossing 55 of them and also threw for another 5,477 yards. The team also had a franchise-best point differential of +207.
22 Detroit Lions 1991-1992 Team
The franchise many consider the worst in NFL history, the Lions have never even made it the Super Bowl. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s been all bad, as the Lions have been blessed to root for two of the game’s most transcendent stars; Calvin Johnson and Barry Sanders. Both of these men would play with the best incarnation of Lion’s teams, but Sanders’ 1991-1992 team has the edge. His Lions team scored more points (21.2 points per game vs. 20.1 points per game) and had a better point differential (+44 vs. +39), which is even more impressive when you how much higher scoring was in Johnson’s era.
21 Green Bay Packers: 1996-1997 Team
Probably the most storied franchise in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers had quite a few options. In the end, the 1996-1997 Super Bowl Champions seemed like the worthiest team. This team was far and away the best in the NFL that year, finishing with a league-high point differential of +246; it was 97 points better than the next closest team. The team romped through the playoffs, winning the Super Bowl by a score of 35-21.
20 Houston Texans: 2012-2013 Team
19 Indianapolis Colts: 2009-2010 Team
Point differential has been used in this column a lot. But when trying to rank the Indianapolis Colts and their glory days with Peyton Manning, you need to be careful. Peak Manning is going to score a lot of points and win double digit games. Sadly, the Colts never seemed interested in giving Manning a good defense to close the deal. From 2002 to 2010, when the Colts won ten games or more every season, the defense gave up nearly 300 points every year. Manning’s offense was killer at that time, but the defense ruined his point differential, and would often rear its ugly head in the playoffs.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars: 1999-2000 Team
For a franchise that is often mocked for its failures, the Jacksonville Jaguars have had a few really good teams. Their best team came in the 1999-2000 season, five seasons after the team had been created. That team still holds the franchise record for wins with a 14-2 record and a point differential +179. The team also made the Conference Championship game, which is tied for the deepest postseason run in franchise history.
17 Kansas City Chiefs: 1969-1970 Team
The Kansas City Chiefs won the fourth Super Bowl in football history in 1970. Fans that remember the 1969-1970 team must have really fond memories because it was the best team that the franchise has ever had. That team played 47 years ago and played in the American Football League (the AFC/NFC were still years away) and was led by their defense. They allowed 12.6 point per game, which was the best in the AFL. They also had the best point differential in the AFL, with a +182.
16 Los Angeles Rams: 1999-2000 Team
Often referred to as the “Greatest Show on Turf,” this era of Los Angeles Rams teams was special to watch. The best version of the team came in the 1999-2000 season, when the team won 13 games, the Super Bowl, and led the NFL in points scored (526) and point differential (+284). They are often considered one of the greatest collections of talents.
15 Miami Dolphins: 1972-1973 Team
Owners of the only undefeated season in the Super Bowl era, the 1972-1973 Miami Dolphins hold a special place in both their fans hearts and the NFL’s heart. The Dolphins had a point differential of +214, best in the league. This team had the best scoring offense and the best scoring defense in the NFL that season. They did this scoring 27.5 points per game and allowing their opponents to score 12.2 points per game
14 Minnesota Vikings: 1998-1999 Team
Led by their overpowering offense, the 1998-1999 Minnesota Vikings rolled to a franchise best record of 15 and 1. The offense scored a franchise-best 34.8 points per game. This helped this team sport a point differential of +260, the best in franchise history. Sadly, the team would lose in the conference championship to the Atlanta Falcons because of a missed field goal that many consider one of the saddest moments in sports history (unless you’re a Falcons fan).
13 New England Patriots: 2007-2008 Team
I know that this team didn’t win the Super Bowl and they’ve become some kind of black mark on the Patriots' dynasty. That is absolutely ridiculous. This team was a goliath that marched through the NFL, only to be stopped when injuries and mediocre offensive line play caught up to them in the final game. They scored an NFL record 589 points and posted the best Super Bowl era point differential of +315.
12 New Orleans Saints: 2009-2010 team
This team that had been associated with failure and disappointment, but everything changed when the New Orleans Saints landed highly touted free agent Drew Brees. They paired with head coach Sean Payton and entered an unrivaled golden era in franchise history. The best season was 2009, when the Saints started off by rattling 13 straight wins before winning the franchise’s only Super Bowl.
11 New York Giants: 1986-1987 Team
The 1986-1987 New York Giants are a special team to countless Giants fans around the country. It’s easily the best team in franchise history since the start of the Super Bowl era. The team won a franchise-best 14 games and had the franchise’s best point differential (+135) in the Super Bowl era. Many expected an epic NFC Championship between the Giants and the defending Super Bowl champions, the Chicago Bears. Unfortunately, the Bears failed to hold up their end of the bargain and were upset by Washington. The Giants didn’t fall short of their expectations, as they went on to win the championship.
10 New York Jets: 1968-1969 Team
Due to the constant mockery that the New York Jets receive, it’s sometimes easy to forget that they have won a championship. The 1968 Jets were the first AFL team to ever win the Super Bowl, upsetting the Baltimore Colts 16-7 after their star quarterback, Joe Namath, guaranteed that his underdog Jets would beat Johnny Unitas's vaunted Colts. The team won 11 games, tied for second best in franchise history, and sported a point differential of +139, also the second-best in franchise history. The team above them, the 1998 Jets, did warrant consideration for this spot. It’s hard not to reward Broadway Joe and his team for winning the championship when the teams were so close in important stats.
9 Oakland Raiders: 1976-1977 Team
One of the more iconic franchises in the NFL, the Oakland Raiders have had periods of great success and periods where they were a punchline. One of their greatest eras came when John Madden, the Hall of Fame coach, ran the team. His most famous team was the 1976 team, which won a franchise-best 13 games and the team’s first Super Bowl. The team would only finish with one loss after the playoffs, going 16-1 (the NFL regular season was only 14 games back then).
8 Philadelphia Eagles: 2004-2005 Team
A common joke with the Philadelphia Eagles is that they’ve never won a Super Bowl. While that may be true, it doesn’t change the fact that they’ve been close. They came painfully close to winning a championship during the 2004-2005 season. That team, led by Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb, would win a franchise best 13 games. They would ultimately fall short of their ultimate goal when they loss an instant classic game to the burgeoning dynasty in the northeast, the New England Patriots, 24-21.
7 Pittsburgh Steelers: 1975-1976 Team
When you win six Super Bowls, you have quite a few all-time teams from which to choose. In the end, the 1975-1976 Pittsburgh Steelers just barely edged some of the others. This team was probably one of the most well-rounded of the “Steel Curtain” era teams. They had the second-best scoring defense, holding teams to 11.6 points per game. On offense, they scored 26.6 points per game, good enough for fifth in the league. They rode this balance a franchise-best point differential of +211 and a championship.
6 San Diego Chargers: The 2006-2007 Team
Easily one of the most offensively talented team in recent memories, the 2006 Chargers lit up scoreboards. They had the best offense in the league by a mile, averaging 30.8 points per game, four points per game more than the next closest team. Leading the charge was the eventual league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson, who scored an NFL-record 28 rushing touchdowns. The offensive firepower played a key role in their league-best point differential of +189 and franchise best 14-2 season.
5 San Francisco 49ers: 1984-1985 Team
Tied for the most Super Bowl trophies in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers are one of the NFL’s premier franchises. It’s no surprise that they have quite a few teams from which to choose, but the one that stands head and shoulders above the rest is the 1984-1985 team. This team went a franchise-best 15-1 en route to winning the championship. It also sports a point differential of p+248.
4 Seattle Seahawks: 2013-2014 Team
Following a very promising playoff run in 2012, the 2013 Seahawks were pegged by many as Super Bowl favorite heading into the season. They fulfilled everyone’s expectations, winning 13 games, home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and winning their first ever championship after dismantling one of the greatest offenses in NFL history in the title game.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2002-2003 Team
This is a franchise that had often been ridiculed for its lack of success, but everything changed when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided to hire Jon Gruden. Prior to hiring Gruden, the Bucs had been a competitive team, but weren’t exactly Super Bowl contenders. Enter Gruden, who took a talented defensive nucleus and turned them into champions in 2002.
2 Tennessee Titans: 1999-2000 Team
A team that will be remembered for infamy, the 1999-2000 Tennessee Titans were inches away from winning their first Super Bowl. Down seven with few precious seconds left, Steve McNair deftly drove his team down the field. He got them down to the 10-yard line, where he completed a pass to Kevin Dyson, who was tackled one yard short of the end zone and ended the game.
1 Washington Redskins: 1991-1992 Team
Though this team has struggled to find it’s footing in the last decade or so, fans in the D.C. area probably still remember the 1991-1992 Washington team. The team won a franchise-best 14 games before marching onto a Super Bowl victory. This team also holds the best point differential in franchise history after posting an impressive +261. They achieved these lofty accomplishments because they were balanced, ranking first in scoring offense after averaging 30.3 points per game and second in scoring defense as they only allowed opponents to score 14 points per game.
The team was talented, having eight Pro Bowlers and 2 All-Pro players. They were balanced on offense, finishing with the seventh-ranked passing offense and fifth-ranked rushing offense. Their Pro Bowl quarterback Mark Rypien led the team. He threw for 3,564 yards and 28 touchdowns.
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