The best NFL teams of the past decade, ranked from 10 to 1
By Sam Panayotovich
FOX Sports Betting Analyst
Comparing NFL teams across different years is one of America’s favorite pastimes. And while it’s not possible to know who would win a hypothetical football game, the conversation creates serious debate and endless arguments.
In sports betting, the numbers always tell the story. So I decided to compile a list of the best professional football teams of the past 10 years using power ratings from one of the most respected oddsmakers in the world.
Kenny White is a legendary Las Vegas bookmaker who has been setting lines for 40 years – and has been tracking sports data for even longer. When White was 12 years old, he used to monitor the wind conditions at Wrigley Field for his father.
"The wind at Wrigley is one of the most important factors in sports betting," White told me as we settled in. "A baseball total can swing two whole runs either way based on the direction and strength of the wind on the North Side."
Suffice it to say, White is my kinda guy. His NFL database goes back 10 years, and he has kept track of his ratings for all 32 teams. He actually assigns a point value to every single player on every team. A player such as Patrick Mahomes is worth nine points to White’s line, for example.
As for teams? That's where power ratings come in.
Oddsmakers evaluate teams on a scale to help set their lines. An average NFL team is rated at 100 points. A really good team usually sits in the 104-106 range, and the great ones are 107 or higher.
Teams are getting better and better. White recently noticed a slight increase in total team ratings over the past decade.
"Players are just bigger, faster and stronger," he explained. "When I’m grading guys out, it seems like one or two core guys on each team get better [each year], so the ratings slowly improve for good teams over time."
That trend plays out in the list of the best teams of the past decade. Believe it or not, the 2020 Kansas City Chiefs are the highest-rated team in the history of White’s ratings. Before they were decimated by offensive line injuries, White’s number on K.C. was 110.5 – meaning they were more than 10% better than an average team.
But as you can imagine, crunching those numbers is a fluid situation.
"Last year’s Chiefs team was the highest [rating] since I started doing this," White reported. "They were 110.5 at full strength. Thing is, I had to knock them down to 107.5 without the starting tackles. So my numbers had Tampa Bay (108.5) favored in the Super Bowl. And as we all know, the Chiefs closed as a 3-point favorite."
Top 10 NFL teams of the past 10 years
2020 Chiefs – 110.5
2019 Ravens – 110
2020 Saints – 109.5
2020 Packers – 109
2019 Chiefs – 108.5*
2020 Buccaneers – 108.5*
2018 Rams – 108.5
2019 49ers – 108
2017 Patriots – 107.5
2013 Seahawks – 107*
(*Won Super Bowl)
Amazingly enough, White’s four highest-rated teams failed to win the Super Bowl, as the ‘20 Chiefs, ‘19 Ravens, ‘20 Saints and ‘20 Packers all fell short of the ultimate goal.
In fact, White’s top-rated team in each of the past four years bit the dust early. The ‘20 Chiefs, ‘19 Ravens, ‘18 Rams and ‘17 Patriots all dominated the regular season but lost in the postseason.
"Tampa played its best ball at the end of the year," Westgate SuperBook vice president of risk management Ed Salmons told FOX Sports about that trend. "The Bucs' defense got healthy, and they just dominated everybody.
"That seems to happen in the NFL every so many years. I don’t know why that is. The Packers fit that role one year. The Steelers did it. A team just rides the wave and keeps winning, and all of a sudden, it makes the Super Bowl."
All in all, the ’16 Patriots, ’14 Patriots and ’13 Seahawks are the only teams in the past decade to have the highest rating in White’s system and lift the Lombardi Trophy.
"Current form is just as important [as power ratings] in the playoffs," White said. "Sometimes a team gets hot, and you’re making alterations to the number on the fly. You might drift a team two or three points if they’re rolling."
Two perfect examples of teams that got hot at the right time are squads just below the threshold for this top-10 list: the ‘10 Packers (106) and ‘17 Eagles (106).
"That Packers team was scorching hot down the stretch, and they won the Super Bowl against Pittsburgh," White recalled. "But Green Bay was even better the next year in my ratings. They lost at home to the New York Giants in the playoffs. That was Eli’s second Super Bowl run."
White cashed in big when the Eagles upset the Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
"I had them winning the Super Bowl that year," he reminded me. "Philadelphia was my highest-rated team in football, and then [Carson] Wentz got hurt, and everybody was down on them. But there wasn’t a huge downgrade from Wentz to [Nick] Foles in my numbers. I went out and bought a Foles jersey."
As we mentioned earlier, power ratings are used to set lines. That part is simple: You subtract the lower-ranked team's rating from the higher-ranked team's, and that's your point spread (before accounting for home-field advantage).
By White’s numbers, the ‘20 Bucs would be 1.5-point favorites against the ‘13 Seahawks on a neutral field (108.5 – 107 = 1.5).
Yet as important as power ratings are for a bookmaker such as Salmons, they aren’t the end-all, be-all. You have to know when to make the necessary adjustments behind the counter.
"With the teams that are perceived as the best teams, you tend to make their numbers higher so everything else fits," Salmons admitted. "It’s easier to raise one team up so you have its line right all the time.
"The NFL is 80 percent power rating and 20 percent perception. The NFL has so much public money that perception needs to be baked in.
"Take the Super Bowl this past year. That line was crazy. Kansas City was down two starting offensive tackles, but it was Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense, and the public was happy to lay three.
"If you score points and win games, the public loves you."
Perception can definitely catch up to a team, too, especially when a team such as the Chiefs starts out gangbusters and covers six of eight games out of the gate. Bookmakers jack up their rating, thus making the point spread higher.
"The Chiefs had a weird year last season," Salmons noted. "They only covered once in their last eight regular-season games. They were kind of like an NBA team, where the spreads were just astronomical. Those Warriors teams with [Kevin] Durant and [Steph] Curry and [Klay] Thompson were laying 14 or more points at home in every game. They were awful against the point spread."
I know we’ve focused mostly on the past decade, but Salmons and White both agreed that the 2007 New England Patriots were the most dominant point-spread team since the turn of the century.
They won their first eight games by a combined 214 points. MVP Tom Brady led an offensive assault on the league, throwing 50 touchdown passes that season – 23 of them to Randy Moss – and the Pats finished 16-0 in the regular season.
In the betting world, New England laid 15.5 (three times), 16.5, 19.5, 20, 22.5 and 23.5 points as a favorite that season. Yes, an NFL team was expected to win a game by more than 22 points twice in one season. Let that sink in.
"They covered for two straight months, and I kept raising their rating," White remembered. "It didn’t matter. They just destroyed teams. That Pats team went 8-0 ATS to start the season, but they finished 2-9 ATS and lost in the Super Bowl to the Giants as a 12.5-point favorite."
"It was unbelievable," Salmons cracked. "We would get killed on the Patriots every week. And then we finally took the number and literally tacked like eight extra points to it. So of course, they completely reversed and stopped covering. But somehow the public was with it and started betting against them. We got destroyed all year. It never stopped.
"And when they played the Giants in the Super Bowl, there was so much Giants moneyline in that game. It was one of the rare years where the state of Nevada actually lost money on the Super Bowl."
It was only fitting to have Salmons make a number on the ’07 Patriots against the ’20 Buccaneers on a neutral field. Brady and Belichick against … Brady and Arians. Wouldn’t that be something?
What’s the line, Ed?
"If you make it without knowing the results of how those teams finished their seasons, I would make New England -7.5," Salmons estimated. "If you factor in the end results, with New England losing the Super Bowl, it’s still probably in the 5.5 or 6 range.
"That ’07 Patriots team is the highest-rated team of the 2000s. The point spreads were in the 20s. You just don’t see that."
Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He'll probably pick against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot.