Pick your flavor: Dominating defenses, prolific offenses or a combination of both.
Mix in the bias of your era, your tolerance for trash-talking or your pleasure in swag. In choosing the best teams in NFL history, there is no right answer, which is why we sit cautiously on the fence with our top five and brace for the rocks thrown our way for leaving your top team off the list.
Begrudgingly, however, we give the top team to the 1972 Miami Dolphins. As annoying as their champagne-popping routine is every time the last undefeated team in the NFL goes down in defeat, you have to hand it to a team that can make it through a grueling season without losing. That’s the 1972 Dolphins. There were more talented and entertaining teams, but no one made it through unblemished.
The 1985 Chicago Bears had a little of everything. They had the cocky quarterback in Jim McMahon. They had the smothering defense. They had the ultra-confident coach willing to get into fights with his assistants. They had the Super Bowl shuffle. And, oh my, they had Sweetness.
The vast majority of franchises have had at least one championship or Super Bowl appearance on their historical résumé, but ranking teams can be difficult. Which one of the Steelers or Cowboys or 49ers’ championship teams was better than the rest? Could the 1972 Dolphins have beaten the 1985 Bears or would Chicago have done a Super Bowl Shuffle over Miami’s no-name defense?
Here are all the candidates for best teams in NFL history, with each team publisher on the Scout.com network picking the best of that franchise and sifting through the sands of time from there.
MIAMI DOLPHINS – 1972
They are the only squad in NFL history to go undefeated. Do we really need to say more? OK, we will. RBs Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris became the first teammates to each rush for over 1,000 yards. And WR Paul Warfield averaged over 20 yards per catch.
CHICAGO BEARS – 1985
The world champions had one of the most feared defenses of all time, while the offense was led by the great Walter Payton. The Bears went through the NFC playoffs like a hot knife through butter before devouring the Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.
Green Bay Packers – 1962
Green Bay finished 13-1 and outscored its opponents by almost a 3-to-1 margin en route to a second consecutive championship. Jim Taylor dethroned Jim Brown as MVP by rushing for 1,474 yards and 19 touchdowns. The Packers finished No. 1 in points for, points against, rushing offense, total defense, rushing defense and passing defense.
Oakland Raiders – 1976
With six Hall of Fame players, including quarterback Ken Stabler, the Raiders rampaged through the NFL en route to a 13-1 record before dominating the Vikings in Super Bowl XI.
Philadelphia Eagles -1949
An 11-1 squad that scored 30.3 points per game and only allowed 11.2 on average, they trounced the Rams 14-0 in the NFL Championship game.
Arizona Cardinals – 2008With QB Kurt Warner at the helm, this 9-7 team in the regular season miraculously transformed into a Super Bowl-caliber squad in the playoffs. The Cardinals came within seconds of defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII before Ben Roethlisberger connected with Santonio Holmes to win 27-23.
Atlanta Falcons – 1998It was the team that gave the Falcons their only Super Bowl appearance with an overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings
Baltimore Ravens – 2000
Buffalo Bills – 1990
This team started Buffalo’s run to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances and was loaded with talent on both sides of the ball.
Carolina Panthers – 2003
The only team to make the Super Bowl in the franchise history and first NFC South division title. The offense was led by Jake Delhomme, Stephen Davis, Steve Smith and Mushin Muhammad. The defensive side of the ball was led by their defensive line with players like Julius Peppers, Mike Ruckers and Kris Jenkins.
Cincinnati Bengals - 1981 & 1988
The 1981 and ’88 Bengals, both 12-win AFC champions and single-digit Super Bowl losers to the San Francisco 49ers, will remain tied for best in franchise history until the Bengals win the Super Bowl.
Cleveland Browns – 1964
The 1950, ’51, ’53 and ’55 Browns teams led by QB Otto Graham could easily be noted as the best in franchise history, but the 1964 underdog Browns, led by RB Jim Brown, K Lou Groza and QB Frank Ryan demolished the then-invincible Baltimore Colts to win the Championship.
Dallas Cowboys – 1977
There’s no definitive answer here. You could make an argument for several Cowboys teams but the 1977 Dallas Cowboys were the most complete team in all three phases—ranking in the top 5 in rushing offense, passing offense, rushing defense, passing defense, kicking/punting and kick/punt returns.
Denver Broncos – 1998
John Elway and Terrell Davis led the team to a 14-2 record, as they dominated the NFL. It culminated in their second consecutive Super Bowl victory. This is without question the best Broncos team ever.
Detroit Lions – 1991
Houston Texans – 2011
This was the first team with double-digit wins in franchise history, an AFC South Championship, playoff appearance and win. This is with injuries to a quarterback position that saw T.J. Yates finishing the regular season as the starter, and it was one of the more well-liked teams in franchise history.
INDIANAPOLIS (BALTIMORE) COLTS – 1958
It’s hard to argue with the team that won the infamous “Greatest Game Ever Played.” While that might not be true, it was one of the most significant games in NFL history. The best Colts team (2005) in the modern era was upset in the playoffs.
Jacksonville Jaguars – 1999
The team went 14-2 and only lost to one team all year long, the Tennessee Titans. The team finished first in offense and second in defense and had seven Pro Bowlers.
Kansas City Chiefs – 1969
After entering the playoffs as a wild card team, the 1969 Kanas City Chiefs led by quarterback Len Dawson defeated the Minnesota Vikings in 23-7 in Super Bowl IV. The game marked the end of the AFL as the two rival leagues became one under the NFL shield the next season.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS – 1969
This was the start of the Vikings’ glory years, when the Purple People Eaters started to make a national name. They were ranked first in offense for points and 10th in yardage, and first in defense in both points and yardage. It was the first of four Super Bowl appearances in less than a decade.
New England Patriots – 2007
Although the Patriots did not go on to win the Super Bowl, the fact they went 16-0 cannot be ignored, nor can the way they won. But, unfortunately, when you play the same team twice in football, especially a good team, it’s tough to win twice. The Patriots were within 90 seconds of 19-0.
New Orleans Saints – 2009
New Orleans spent the first 13 weeks of the season making a bid as one of the best teams in NFL history. The Saints started 13-0, with only four of those games decided by one score. After holding off the Vikings for the NFC title, they beat the Colts 31-17 in the Super Bowl.
NEW YORK GIANTS – 1986
They went 14-2 and are widely regarded as the most successful in franchise history. Featuring a smothering defense and efficient offense, Phil Simms and company won their final nine regular-season contests and secured the top overall seed in the playoffs. Big Blue disposed of the San Francisco 49ers 49-3 in the divisional round, knocked off the Washington Redskins 17-0 in the NFC Championship game and bested the Denver Broncos 39-20 to win Super Bowl XXI.
New York Jets – 1968
Led by QB Joe Namath, who famously guaranteed victory, the New York Jets went 11-3 and defeated the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Pittsburgh STEELERS – 1976
The 1976 team didn’t win a ring but allowed only 50 points in their final 11 games to help overcome the loss of Terry Bradshaw after he was spiked on his head by Joe Jones. They were eliminated after Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier were hurt in the playoffs.
San Diego Chargers – 1994
With Stan Humphries and Natrone Means driving the offense and Junior Seau dominating on defense, these Chargers made the franchise’s lone Super Bowl appearance. The win in the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh was the biggest in team history.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS – 1984
The Super Bowl champion 1984 team that went 15-1 with Bill Walsh and Joe Montana at the peak of their powers was backed by the league’s No. 1 scoring defense.
Seattle Seahawks – 2013
Led by the brilliant play of quarterback Russell Wilson, running back Marshawn Lynch and one of the most dominating defenses in league history, the Seahawks captured their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history.
ST. LOUIS RAMS – 1999
After winning four games the previous season, the 1999 Rams went 13-3 under head coach Dick Vermeil and captured the franchise’s only Super Bowl championship with Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce leading the unforgettable Greatest Show on Turf.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 2002
Tennessee TITANS – 1999
With quarterback Steve McNair, running back Eddie George and tight end Frank Wycheck—who made the controversial pass to wide receiver Kevin Dyson during the Music City Miracle play against the Buffalo Bills—this team went on to lose to the Rams in the Super Bowl.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS – 1991
Mark Rypien might not make the list of best-ever quarterbacks, but this was a juggernaut. Washington finished first in points scored, second in points allowed, first in scoring differential and first in turnover margin. Washington’s two losses came by a combined five points, and they routed the Bills 37-24 in the Super Bowl.