With no pro football on the docket this week, here’s an updated,
numbers-based look at the Greatest Teams To Not Win The Super Bowl —
a list that researches 47 NFL campaigns (1966-2012) and rewards regular-season record, per-game point differential, turnover margin,
strength of schedule, divisional superiority, blowout victories (and
any other bits of extra credit that may vault certain teams into the
The one significant caveat: Only teams
with 10 or more wins from 1966-77 (the NFL had a 14-game schedule) and
11 or more victories from 1978-2012 (16-game schedule) are considered.
Regular-season record: 13-3 Home: 8-0 … Road: 5-3 Per-game point differential: +10.3 Turnover margin: +14 Wins by 10 points or more: 9 Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0 Record vs. playoff teams: 4-2 Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3 Playoff extra credit: Lost in Super Bowl (to Giants)
The 1990 Bills ruled the AFC through fear — and with a devastating, quick-strike offense (league-high 428 points) that had no peer. Behind Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith (sorry, Andre Reed — for now), the ’90 Bills enjoyed a problem-free run to the East title and AFC championship, thumping the Dolphins and Raiders in the playoffs before suffering a gut-wrenching loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XXV.
But that franchise-defining defeat — capped by kicker Scott Norwood’s wide-right miss at the gun — doesn’t obscure double-digit excellence in point differential and turnover margin, nine blowout victories or a 4-2 mark against playoff teams (including a 17-13 win over the Giants in December).
Unfortunately, New York got its revenge in January.
9. 1984 Miami Dolphins
Regular-season record: 14-2 Home: 7-1 … Road: 7-1 Per-game point differential: +13.4 Turnover margin: +8 Wins by 10 points or more: 10 Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1 Record vs. playoff teams: 2-1 Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2 Playoff extra credit: Lost in Super Bowl (to 49ers)
The 1982 Dolphins reached Super Bowl XVII on the strength of a dominating defense, affectionately dubbed The Killer B’s. But when Miami reached The Big Game two years later, it had seamlessly morphed into an offensive machine, coinciding with the emergence of WRs Mark Duper and Mark Clayton and QB Dan Marino, who would break new ground with 48 TD passes in 1984 (an NFL record that stood for 20 years).
With Marino (the sixth QB taken in Round 1 of the heralded ’83 draft) leading the charge, the ’84 Fins were virtually unstoppable, notching 10 blowout victories and a sizable point differential (13.4).
The only drawbacks: In Week 11, Miami suffered its first loss to an underwhelming San Diego club (in overtime); and in the AFC playoffs, the Dolphins were fortunate to avoid the defending champion Raiders (knocked out in the wild-card round).
8. 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers
Regular-season record: 10-4 Home: 6-1 … Road: 4-3 Per-game point differential: +14.6 Turnover margin: +15 Wins by 10 points or more: 9 Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0 Record vs. playoff teams: 0-3 Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 5 Extra credit, part I: NFL modern-day record of five shutouts Extra credit, part II: Lost to Super Bowl champ (Raiders)
At the very least, the 1976 Steelers are the greatest team to start 1-4 in any NFL season. In their final nine regular-season games that year — all Pittsburgh victories — the famed Steel Curtain defense surrendered a total of 28 points (or 3.1 per game), a ferocious, awe-inspiring run that included three consecutive shutouts (an NFL record).
In the playoffs, the Steelers demolished the Colts in Baltimore, 40-14, before bowing out to the eventual champion Raiders in the AFC title game, in part a consequence of playing without injured running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier.
Of course, this ranking comes with some controversy, as Pittsburgh lost to every playoff-bound foe during the regular season and was a pedestrian 4-3 away from Three Rivers Stadium. But for us, ’tis better to stay on Jack Lambert’s good side.
7. 2010 New England Patriots
Regular-season record: 14-2 Home: 8-0 … Road: 6-2 Per-game point differential: +12.8 Turnover margin: +28 Wins by 10 points or more: 9 Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1 Record vs. playoff teams: 6-1 Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3 Playoff extra credit: None
Tom Brady has reached the Super Bowl five times in his career, but the 2010 Patriots might have been his most complete and balanced club over an 11-year period. Brady threw for 3,900 yards and 36 TDs (against only four INTs) and cruised to NFL MVP honors. Tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 13 TDs — while deftly sharing the running back load with Danny Woodhead, Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk.
Pass-catchers Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez each finished with at least 500 yards and five touchdowns receiving. And the typically bland New England defense allowed only 313 points — with seven or fewer points allowed in four of its last five regular-season games.
But the true greatness of the 14-2 season lies with Brady, who led the Patriots to 30-plus points in the final eight regular-season games.
6. 1969 Minnesota Vikings
Regular-season record: 12-2 Home: 7-0 … Road: 5-2 Per-game point differential: +17.6 Turnover margin: +12 Wins by 10 points or more: 9 Losses to sub-.500 teams: 2 Record vs. playoff teams: 2-0 Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 4 Playoff extra credit: Lost in Super Bowl (to Chiefs)
The 1969 Vikings achieved the rare triple crown of leading the NFL in points scored (379), points allowed (133) and per-game point differential (17.6). Throw in nine blowout victories, a perfect mark against 1969 playoff teams and three outings of 50-plus points — and we’re talking about one of the greatest regular seasons in league history.
But just like the 1968 Colts, the ’69 Vikings forever will be stained by a Super Bowl loss to a seemingly inferior team (Kansas City) from a seemingly inferior league (AFL); and while the Chiefs get full props for taking down the Vikings when it mattered most — 65 Toss Power Trap, anyone? — it’s important to include one gut-wrenching footnote:
In Week 1 of the 1970 season — the first official year of the NFL-AFL merger — Minnesota exacted some revenge on Kansas City, rolling to an emotionally charged 27-10 home victory.
5. 2011 Green Bay Packers
Regular-season record: 15-1 Home: 8-0 … Road: 7-1 Per-game point differential: +12.6 Turnover margin: +24 Wins by 10 points or more: 8 Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1 Record vs. playoff teams: 6-0 Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3.5 Playoff extra credit: Lost to Super Bowl champ (Giants)
The No. 5 ranking seems great — until you realize that heading into December 2011, many pundits were hailing Green Bay as a viable candidate to go 19-0 and assume the mantle of Greatest Team in NFL History. But a Week 15 loss to the lowly Chiefs and divisional-playoff home defeat to the Giants quickly softened the perception of these Packers, an offensive juggernaut but mere mortals on the defensive end.
Still, what’s not to love about 560 regular-season points (just shy of the 2007 Patriots’ record of 589), 11 games of 30 or more points, a stellar turnover differential (+24) and a sterling 6-0 mark against 2011 playoff clubs?
Of course, that unblemished status doesn’t include the devastating postseason loss to the Giants, but the Packers aren’t the first dominant team to be unhinged by New York in the playoffs.
4. 1998 Minnesota Vikings
Regular-season record: 15-1 Home: 8-0 … Road: 7-1 Per-game point differential: +16.2 Turnover margin: +14 Wins by 10 points or more: 12 Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0 Record vs. playoff teams: 3-0 Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3 Playoff extra credit: None
The Vikings were a certifiable powerhouse in that 1998 season, amassing a then-NFL record 556 points (predating the ’07 Patriots), registering 12 blowout wins and dismantling the opposition by 16.2 points per game. (This explosion coincided with WR Randy Moss’s NFL rookie season: 69 catches, 1,313 yards and 17 TDs.)
Of equal relevance, the offense didn’t supremely click until after backup QB Randall Cunningham (3,704 yards passing, 35 total TDs) took over in Week 3 (because of Brad Johnson’s injury).
Of course, Minnesota ‘s championship hopes were dashed by Atlanta in the NFC title game — remember Gary Anderson’s only missed field goal in a two-year span? — precluding a titanic clash with the eventual champion Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII (John Elway’s triumphant swan song).
3. 1983 Washington Redskins
Regular-season record: 14-2 Home: 7-1 … Road: 7-1 Per-game point differential: +13.1 Turnover margin: +43 Wins by 10 points or more: 11 Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0 Record vs. playoff teams: 5-1 Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3 Playoff extra credit: Lost in Super Bowl (to Raiders)
From a regular-season perspective, the 1983 Redskins trump nearly all comers in this countdown — even the high-powered Vikings of 1998. The only thing preventing a No. 2 ranking is quite obvious: It’s hard to get routed 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII (to the Raiders) and expect glowing recollections from everyone in the NFL universe.
Looking at the numbers, Minnesota has a better overall record, more points scored and one additional blowout victory. But the Redskins, led by QB Joe Theismann, John Riggins, Art Monk, rookie Darrell Green and head coach Joe Gibbs, prevail in the end, thanks to an eye-popping turnover margin (+43), a 5-1 mark versus playoff teams (including a win over the eventual champion Raiders in October), two one-point losses and an actual Super Bowl appearance.
There’s also this consolation prize: The 1983 Redskins are the greatest defending Super Bowl champs to not repeat the following season.
2. 1968 Baltimore Colts
Regular-season record: 13-1 Home: 6-1 … Road: 7-0 Per-game point differential: +18.4 Turnover margin: +7 Wins by 10 points or more: 11 Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0 Record vs. playoff teams: 1-1 Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 4 Playoff extra credit: Lost in Super Bowl (to Jets)
We could break down the Colts’ Super Bowl III loss to the Jets in numerous ways, but it’s more fun to wonder how NFL history might have been written if Baltimore had not been party to the most storied upset of all time. Something like …
1) The AFL never earns the premerger respect of the NFL.
2) Coach Don Shula never feuds with Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom and ends up leaving Baltimore for the still-in-expansion-mode Dolphins in 1970.
3) Newly minted celebrity QB Joe Namath never gets the chance to visit Bobby Brady, on his phony death bed, in a campy-but-memorable episode of TV’s “The Brady Bunch.”
Regular-season record: 16-0 Home: 8-0 … Road: 8-0 Per-game point differential: +19.7 Turnover margin: +16 Wins by 10 points or more: 12 Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0 Record vs. playoff teams: 5-0 Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2 Playoff extra credit: Lost in Super Bowl (to Giants)
The Patriots’ perfect regular season in 2007 was more than just an unblemished record; it was an across-the-board reckoning for a club that genuinely wanted to win every game 45-7, no exceptions. How else should one reconcile otherworldly production in point differential (19.7), turnover margin (+16) and wins by 10 points of more (12) and a 6-0 mark against playoff teams — including three division winners?
But alas, there’s a fine line between being universally hailed as the greatest club in NFL history (on the precipice of 19-0) — and begrudgingly accepting one writer’s award for Best Team To Not Win A Super Bowl. It’s a consequence from the ultimate bittersweet season.
On the positive side, Tom Brady set an NFL record with 50 touchdown passes, with Randy Moss also collecting an NFL-record 23 TD receptions. And realistically speaking, only the Ravens and Giants had fourth-quarter opportunities to spoil the Patriots’ run of perfection during the regular season — a stunning achievement in a parity-driven era.
But a loss in Super Bowl XLII downgrades New England’s once-in-a-generation dominance from September-December to a simple footnote in NFL history.