THE BIG COUNTDOWN: NFL’s 30 greatest teams that didn’t win the Super Bowl

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Joe Montana (left), Tom Brady (middle) and Dan Marino have accounted for 10 Lombardi trophies and 14 Super Bowl berths in their decorated careers, spanning 53 combined NFL seasons.

BATSBY Sports offers up a numbers-based survey of the NFL’s 30 Greatest Teams Not To Win The Super Bowl — a 53-year breakdown of excellence, covering the 1966-2018 seasons, based on the following categories: 

**Overall record (regular season)
**Per-game point differential
**Turnover margin
**Strength of schedule
**Divisional superiority for that season
**Blowout victories
**Bits of essential extra credit which may vault teams into the countdown 

Simply put, we’re extracting the emotion out of a listing that will surely elicit a few choice responses on social media. 

But hey, we can’t please everyone. 

The one caveat: From 1966-77 (when the NFL had a 14-game schedule), only clubs with 10 or more wins garnered consideration; and for 1978-2018, when the season expanded to 16 games, the minimum requirement mushroomed to 11 or more victories.

Among the teams missing the final cut (descending chronological order): 2018 Saints, 2018 Rams, 2018 Chiefs, 2017 Patriots, 2016 Falcons, 2014 Seahawks, 2009 Colts, 2009 Vikings, 2005 Seahawks, 2004 Eagles, 1986 Browns, 1980 Eagles, 1980 Browns, 1980 Chargers and 1975 Vikings.

30 – 1997 GREEN BAY PACKERS

RECORD: 13-3
HOME: 8-0/ROAD: 5-3
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +8.8
TURNOVER MARGIN: 0
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 9
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 2
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 7-1
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 4
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost in Super Bowl (Broncos)

OVERVIEW

Brett Favre and the Packers were 17-point favorites to beat John Elway’s Broncos in the Super Bowl — a bold presumption Green Bay would easily capture back-to-back Lombardi trophies for the second time in club history.

Obviously, this didn’t happen for LeRoy Butler, Reggie White and Co. on that Super Sunday … but it also doesn’t detract from a ’97 campaign which featured nine blowout victories and seven regular-season wins against playoff teams.

NOTE: Four teams from the NFC Central made the postseason.

29 – 2011 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

RECORD: 13-3
HOME: 7-1/ROAD: 6-2
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +9.4
TURNOVER MARGIN: +28
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 6
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 1
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 5-1
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 2
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: None

OVERVIEW

The 2011 Niners warrant props for enjoying a special season without minicamp practices (NFL lockout), or any valuable winter/spring time to adjust to new head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Quarterback Alex Smith (3,144 yards passing) and RB Frank Gore (1,325 total yards) enjoyed superb stats, but the defense carved out the true identity of this 13-3 club.

The 49ers allowed only one 100-yard rusher (Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch), two total rushing TDs and posted a league-high turnover margin of plus-28.

For good measure, San Francisco also had a supreme record against eventual playoff teams (5-1).

28 – 1967 BALTIMORE COLTS

RECORD: 11-1-2
HOME: 5-1-1/ROAD: 6-0-1
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +14
TURNOVER MARGIN: +15
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 7
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 0
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 2-1-1
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 4
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: None

OVERVIEW

The 1967 Colts did not lose a game until the season finale — a 34-10 defeat to the Rams which decided the NFL’s Coastal Division title.

Both clubs finished tied with the NFL’s best record for this season (by a long shot); but in 1967, only the four division winners reached the playoffs.

As a mixed blessing, Baltimore’s Week 14 loss also sealed the Colts’ fate as the greatest team in the Super Bowl era NOT to reach the postseason.

27 – 1973 LOS ANGELES RAMS

RECORD: 12-2
HOME: 7-0/ROAD: 5-2
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +15
TURNOVER MARGIN: +18
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 10
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 0
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 1-1
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 3
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: None

OVERVIEW

The 1973 Rams might have been Chuck Knox’s most efficient team of his storied coaching career. It was also his first campaign as a head coach, adding some spice to the Rams’ ranking.

For the year, Los Angeles led the NFL in point differential, turnover margin and blowout victories. Harold Jackson led all receivers with 13 touchdowns, as well.

One last thing: Despite tying the Vikings and Dolphins for the NFL’s best record in ’73 (and two full games ahead of the Cowboys) … the Rams didn’t host a single playoff game.

For the postseason opener (NFC semifinals), Los Angeles fell to Dallas at old Texas Stadium.

Where’s the justice in that?

26 – 1968 DALLAS COWBOYS

RECORD: 12-2
HOME: 5-2/ROAD: 7-0
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +17.5
TURNOVER MARGIN: +8
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 11
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 1
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 3-0
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 2

EXTRA CREDIT: None

OVERVIEW

The 1968 Cowboys actually topped their predecessors (the 1967 Cowboys fell to the Packers in the famed Ice Bowl) in overall record, point differential, turnover margin and blowout victories. 

Bottom line: It’s too bad the ’68 Cowboys had to play (and lose to) the 10-4 Browns in Cleveland, despite owning a better record. 

Which brings us to this:

Why did the NFL have so much trouble scheduling playoff games in the 1960s? 

When comparing apples-to-apples components, like division champions, the better record should always warrant a home playoff date; and yet, during the late 60s, this seemingly elementary concept was lost on the NFL front office, which copped out with an inexplicable rotation system (by division).

25 – 1999 JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

RECORD: 14-2
HOME: 7-1/ROAD: 7-1
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +11.2
TURNOVERS: +12
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 10
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 0
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 0-2
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 3

EXTRA CREDIT: None

OVERVIEW

It’s not a stretch to draw eerie parallels between the 1999 Jaguars and 2007 Patriots, the kingpins of this countdown (spoiler alert). 

Both clubs proffered double-digit excellence with point differential and turnover margin, while winning at least nine games by 10 points or more. 

The two head coaches, Tom Coughlin (Jaguars) and Bill Belichick (Patriots), were also sturdy branches from the Bill Parcells coaching tree

Here’s another painful memory: Both clubs lost to just one franchise during their near-flawless campaigns, with the Jags falling to the Titans three times in ’99 — including the AFC title game

24 – 1998 ATLANTA FALCONS

RECORD: 14-2
HOME: 8-0/ROAD: 6-2
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +8.6
TURNOVERS: +20
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 8
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 0
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 2-2
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 3
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost in Super Bowl (Broncos)

OVERVIEW

There’s plenty to love about the 1998 Falcons, including their perfect home record and sizable turnover differential (+20)

Throw in a major upset in the NFC title game (over the Vikings) and a respectable Super Bowl loss to John Elway’s greatest Broncos team … and you have one of history’s most undervalued clubs. 

Atlanta’s three main offensive weapons were quarterback Chris Chandler (3,154 yards passing, 25 TDs), tailback Jamal Anderson (2,165 total yards, 16 TDs) and receiver Tony Martin (1,181 yards, six TDs).

23 – 1999 TENNESSEE TITANS

RECORD: 13-3
HOME: 8-0/ROAD: 5-3
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +4.2
TURNOVER MARGIN: +18
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 6
LOSSES TO SUB-500 TEAMS: 1
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 3-1
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 3
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost in Super Bowl (Rams)

OVERVIEW

a) The 1999 Titans might have been omitted from this countdown … IF Frank Wycheck and Co. had never pulled off the Music City Miracle against the Bills — a ridiculous-looking, but legal lateral that saved Tennessee’s season. 

b) It’s proper to celebrate the elite-level production of running back Eddie George (1,762 total yards, 13 TDs) and the Titans’ four crucial victories versus the Jaguars (three times, including the AFC title game) and Rams (regular season) — the eventual Super Bowl champions. 

c) Speaking of which … you can’t hear the names “Kevin Dyson” or “Mike Jones,” without thinking of The Tackle.

Their names shall forever be linked together in Super Bowl history.

22 – 2004 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

RECORD: 12-4
HOME: 7-1/ROAD: 5-3
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +10.7
TURNOVER MARGIN: +19
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 8
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 1
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 3-2
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 3
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost to Super Bowl champs (Patriots)

OVERVIEW

Quarterback Peyton Manning (4,557 yards passing) set the sports universe ablaze during the 2004 campaign, amassing a then-NFL-record 49 touchdown passes for the Colts — besting Dan Marino’s 20-year-old record of 48 TDs (1984). 

As part of that prolific success, Indy enjoyed 10 games of 30-plus points, including six consecutive outings of 30 or more points from Weeks 8-13.

21 – 1979 SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

RECORD: 12-4
HOME: 7-1/ROAD: 5-3
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +10.3
TURNOVERS: +11
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 9
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 1
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 3-1
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 5

EXTRA CREDIT: Routed both Super Bowl teams during regular season

OVERVIEW

a) With Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner and John Jefferson executing the brilliant Air Coryell offense, the 1979 Chargers are this countdown’s hippest team. 

b) The Bolts whipped that year’s Super Bowl combatants — Steelers and Rams — by a combined score of 75-23. 

(In case you’re wondering … San Diego flopped at home to Houston in the divisional playoff round.) 

c) Modern-day Chargers fans cannot blame the ’79 flameout on Marty Schottenheimer, a then-unknown linebackers coach with the Lions.

20 – 1976 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

RECORD: 11-3
HOME: 6-1/ROAD: 5-2
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +10
TURNOVERS: +14
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 8
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 2
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 3-1
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 4
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost to Super Bowl champs (Raiders)

OVERVIEW

The 1976 Patriots pounded the Dolphins, Steelers and Raiders (in September) and cruised to the AFC East title. 

In turn, the Raiders, who lost just once during that championship season (to New England), were very lucky to survive the Patriots in the AFC playoffs rematch. 

Here’s the scene: New England led Oakland 21-17 late and seemingly had the Raiders in a 4th-and-long foxhole. 

However, a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty (against ‘Sugar Bear’ Hamilton) gave Ken Stabler and the Raiders a chance to score the game-winner.

Three weeks later, Oakland would capture the first Lombardi Trophy for owner/general manager Al Davis and head coach John Madden.

19 – 2001 ST. LOUIS RAMS

RECORD: 14-2
HOME: 6-2/ROAD: 8-0
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +14.4
TURNOVERS: -10
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 9
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 1
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 6-1
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 3
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost in Super Bowl (Patriots)

OVERVIEW

We would love to reward the 2001 Rams (1st in scoring, 1st in point differential, 8-0 road record, 6-1 against playoff teams) with a top 10 ranking, but it’s hard to look past the club’s minus-10 output with turnovers. 

Yes, quarterback Kurt Warner (4,830 yards passing, 36 TDs), tailback Marshall Faulk (2,147 total yards, 21 TDs) and wideouts Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce all notched superb numbers in Mike Martz’s explosive offense.

That aside, there’s really no justification for 22 lost fumbles and 22 Warner interceptions. Ugh.

18 – 1990 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

RECORD: 14-2
HOME: 6-2/ROAD: 8-0
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +7.1
TURNOVERS: +1
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 6
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 1
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 4-0
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 1.5
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost to Super Bowl champs (Giants)

OVERVIEW

The 1990 Niners were on track to become the first club in history to win three consecutive Super Bowls — rolling for 10 straight victories to start the season, going undefeated on the road and riding high from perhaps Joe Montana’s best statistical season of a Hall of Fame career (3,944 yards passing, 26 TDs). 

But alas, a Montana injury and subsequent fumble from Roger Craig in the NFC title game thwarted San Francisco’s bid for three straight Lombardi trophies.

17 – 2012 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

RECORD: 12-4
HOME: 6-2/ROAD: 6-2
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +14.1
TURNOVERS: +25
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 8
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 1
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 3-3
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 3
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost to Super Bowl champs (Ravens)

OVERVIEW

Only the Cardinals held the Patriots to less than 20 points during the 2012 regular season, a remarkable achievement for an Arizona club that would eventually drop nine straight games. 

As for Tom Brady (4,827 yards passing, 34 TDs), his club averaged 34.8 points — highlighted by a staggering run of 45, 37, 59 and 49 points from Weeks 8-12 (four straight outings) — and bore the look of a supposed Super Bowl shoo-in.

Unfortunately, that’s now things played out, with the Patriots falling to the eventual champion Ravens (AFC title game).

16 – 2010 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

RECORD: 14-2
HOME: 8-0/ROAD: 6-2
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +12.8
TURNOVERS: +28
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 9
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 1
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 6-1
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 3

EXTRA CREDIT: None

OVERVIEW

a) Tom Brady passed for 3,900 yards and 36 TDs (against only four INTs) and cruised to NFL MVP honors. 

b) Tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 13 TDs. 

c) Pass-catchers Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez each tallied 700 yards or six touchdowns. 

d) The 2010 Patriots notched 30-plus points in eight straight games — a feat replicated by Peyton Manning and the 2013 Broncos (Weeks 1-8).

15 – 2005 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

RECORD: 14-2
HOME: 7-1/ROAD: 7-1
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +12
TURNOVER MARGIN: +12
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 9
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 0
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 5-1
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 3
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost to Super Bowl champs (Steelers)

OVERVIEW

Sure, the Colts captured the Super Bowl crown one year later; but the 2005 club stands out as Indy’s best of the Peyton Manning era

Indy opened with 12 straight wins, posted a 5-1 mark against playoff teams, tallied nine blowout victories and enjoyed a symmetrical bonanza with average point differential (+12) and turnover margin (+12). 

The only things missing from that special season? A battle-tested kicker (Mike Vanderjagt) missing a bunny field goal in the divisional-round loss to the Steelers.

14 – 1967 LOS ANGELES RAMS

RECORD: 11-1-2
HOME: 5-1-1/ROAD: 6-0-1
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +14.4
TURNOVERS: +16
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 10
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 0
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 2-0
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 4
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost to Super Bowl champs (Packers)

OVERVIEW

Say hello to one of the great under-the-radar teams in NFL history.

The 1967 Rams, led by quarterback Roman Gabriel and the Fearsome Foursome (starring Hall of Famers Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones), enjoyed a sublime regular season — 10 blowout victories, one signature win over the champion Packers, plus impressive margins with average point differential (14.4) and turnovers (+16). 

However, due to the NFL’s archaic system of scheduling playoff games in the 1960s, the 11-1-2 Rams had to travel to Green Bay for the NFL semifinals (spoiler alertthey lost to the eventual Super Bowl champs).

13 – 2004 PITTSBURGH STEELERS

RECORD: 15-1
HOME: 8-0/ROAD: 7-1
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +7.6
TURNOVERS: +11
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 8
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 0
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 3-0
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 3
EXTRA CREDIT: Lost to Super Bowl champs (Patriots)

EXTRA CREDIT, PART II: Routed both Super Bowl teams during regular season

OVERVIEW

This team doesn’t get enough credit, history-wise. There were plenty of positives to celebrate:

a) The Steelers owned the No. 1 defense that season. 

b) The offense was helmed by rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger and Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis (13 touchdowns in his penultimate season). 

c) Following a Week 2 defeat to Baltimore, Pittsburgh ripped off 14 straight victories to finish the season. 

d) The Steelers were stellar in three major areas: Turnover margin (+11), blowout victories and 3-0 against playoff teams (regular season). 

e) Pittsburgh posted easy regular-season wins against the Super Bowl combatants — New England and Philadelphia. 

For our countdown, just one other club accomplished this feat (1979 Chargers).

12 – 2013 DENVER BRONCOS

RECORD: 13-3
HOME: 7-1/ROAD: 6-2
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +12.9
TURNOVERS: 0
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 10
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 0
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF CLUBS: 4-3
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 4
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost to Super Bowl champs (Seahawks)

OVERVIEW

a) Quarterback Peyton Manning established new single-season highs with yards passing (5,477) and touchdown passes (55)

b) The Broncos absurdly scored 40-plus points six times

c) Tailback Knowshon Moreno had a dream season, rolling for 1,586 yards, 13 TDs and 60 receptions. 

d) Receiver Demaryius Thomas crossed the elite-level threshold of 90-plus catches, 140 targets, 1,400 yards and double-digit TDs in back-to-back seasons. 

e) Denver would have a higher grade, if it wasn’t for the nil turnover margin … and a 35-point drubbing in the Super Bowl.

11 – 2006 SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

RECORD: 14-2
HOME: 8-0/ROAD: 6-2
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +11.8
TURNOVERS: +13
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 7
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 0
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 1-2
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5):
4
EXTRA CREDIT: None

OVERVIEW

The Chargers had a top-flight QB (Philip Rivers), formidable defense, the NFL’s single greatest weapon (LaDainian Tomlinson — 2,323 total yards, 31 TDs), home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs and a path to the Super Bowl that didn’t involve the notoriously stingy Ravens. 

However, a crushing loss to the Patriots in the divisional playoff round — where the Chargers couldn’t retain possession of a crucial Tom Brady interception in the final moments (Marlon McCree fumble) — unfairly sealed Marty Schottenheimer’s fate as a coach who couldn’t win The Big One.

10 – 1992 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

RECORD: 14-2
HOME: 7-1/ROAD: 7-1
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +10.4
TURNOVERS: +7
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 8
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 0
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 5-1
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 3
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost to Super Bowl champs (Cowboys)

OVERVIEW

The 1992 Niners were as dynamic as their dynastic forebears of the 1980s, with Steve Young succeeding Joe Montana at quarterback and George Seifert seamlessly handling the coaching reins after Bill Walsh retired. 

Ricky Watters and Co. capped the regular season with eight straight victories — a necessity for holding off the Cowboys in the race for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. 

During the postseason, though, the Niners dropped their second NFC title game at home in three years.

9 – 1984 MIAMI DOLPHINS

RECORD: 14-2
HOME: 7-1/ROAD: 7-1
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +13.4
TURNOVERS: +8
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 10
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 1
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 2-1
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 2
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost in Super Bowl (49ers)

OVERVIEW

The 1982 Dolphins reached Super Bowl XVII on the strength of a dominating defense (dubbed The Killer B’s). 

However, when Miami reached The Big Game two years later, it had seamlessly morphed into an offensive machine, coinciding with the emergence of wideouts Mark Duper, Mark Clayton and second-year quarterback Dan Marino, who would break new NFL ground with 48 TD passes

The Dolphins were virtually unstoppable (pre-Super Bowl), notching 10 blowout wins and a sizable average point differential.

8 – 1976 PITTSBURGH STEELERS

RECORD: 10-4
HOME: 6-1/ROAD: 4-3
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +12.7
TURNOVERS: +15
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 9
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 0
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 0-3
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 5
EXTRA CREDIT, PART I: NFL record 5 shutouts
EXTRA CREDIT, PART II: Lost to Super Bowl champs (Raiders)

OVERVIEW

At the very least, the 1976 Steelers are the greatest-ever team to start 1-4. 

In their final nine regular-season outings — all victories — the famed Steel Curtain defense surrendered a grand total of 28 points (3.1 per game), a ferocious run that included three straight shutouts (NFL record). 

In the playoffs, the Steelers crushed the Colts in Baltimore, 40-14 … before bowing out to the champion Raiders in the AFC title game — playing without injured running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier.

For good measure, Hall of Famer Jack Lambert has said the following many times: The ’76 Steelers were better than the four Super Bowl champs of the same decade. 

High praise, indeed.

7 – 1969 MINNESOTA VIKINGS

RECORD: 12-2
HOME: 7-0/ROAD: 5-2
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +17.6
TURNOVERS: +12
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 9
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 2
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 2-0
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 4
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost in Super Bowl (Chiefs)

OVERVIEW

These 1969 Vikings achieved the rare triple crown of leading the NFL in points scored (379), points allowed (133) and per-game point differential

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 single seasons in modern-day lore. 

However, just like the 1968 Colts, the ’69 Vikings will forever be stained by a Super Bowl loss to an AFL club — Len Dawson’s Chiefs. 

65 Toss Power Trap, anyone?

6 – 2011 GREEN BAY PACKERS

RECORD: 15-1
HOME: 8-0/ROAD: 7-1
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +12.6
TURNOVERS: +24
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 8
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 1
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 6-0
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 4
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost to Super Bowl champs (Giants)

OVERVIEW

In December 2011, some pundits were targeting Green Bay for a 19-0 destiny. 

However, a Week 15 loss to the lowly Chiefs and divisional-playoff home defeat to the Giants quickly softened the perception of the Packers, an offensive juggernaut … but mere mortals on the defensive end. 

Still, what’s not to love about 560 points (just shy of the 2007 Patriots), 11 games of 30-plus points, a stellar turnover differential and sterling 6-0 mark against 2011 playoff clubs?

5 – 1998 MINNESOTA VIKINGS

RECORD: 15-1
HOME: 8-0/ROAD: 7-1
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +16.2
TURNOVERS: +14
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 12
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 0
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 3-0
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 3

EXTRA CREDIT: None

OVERVIEW

a) The Vikings were a powerhouse in 1998, 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

b) This explosion coincided with Randy Moss’s NFL debut: 69 catches, 1,313 yards and 17 TDs (good luck topping that rookie record). 

c) Ultimately, Minnesota ‘s championship hopes were dashed by Atlanta in the NFC title game, precluding a titanic clash with the eventual champion Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII (John Elway’s triumphant swan song).

As for those who believe the 1998 Falcons should be ranked higher than the Vikings, thanks to the NFC title-game victory, I say: Take the win and move on.

Subjective bottom line: If Minnesota and Atlanta played 10 times at the Metrodome, the Vikings would have incurred one or two defeats, tops.

4 – 1990 BUFFALO BILLS

RECORD: 13-3
HOME: 8-0/ROAD: 5-3
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +10
TURNOVERS: +14
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 9
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 0
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 4-2
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 3
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost in Super Bowl (Giants)

OVERVIEW

Behind Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith, Buffalo enjoyed a problem-free run to the AFC title, thumping the Dolphins and Raiders in the playoffs before suffering a gut-wrenching loss to the Giants (SB XXV). 

But that defeat — capped by kicker Scott Norwood’s wide-right miss with seconds to spare — doesn’t obscure double-digit excellence with average point differential and turnover margin, nine blowout victories or a 4-2 mark against playoff teams (December win over the eventual-champion Giants).

And don’t forget about the Bills’ 51-3 rout of the Raiders in the AFC title game.

3 – 1983 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

RECORD: 14-2
HOME: 7-1/ROAD: 7-1
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +13.1
TURNOVERS: +43
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 11
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 0
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 5-1
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 3
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost in Super Bowl (Raiders)

OVERVIEW

It’s hard to lose 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII and expect glowing recollections from everyone. 

(Cue the Jack Squirek video.)

As such, the 1998 Vikings had a better overall record, more points scored and one additional blowout victory.

Also, the narrative of the 1990s Bills could have been completely different, if Scott Norwood had closed the deal in the first Super Bowl appearance.

However the Redskins, led by quarterback Joe Theismann, John Riggins (Hall of Fame) and Art Monk (Hall of Fame), prevailed in the end, thanks to an eye-popping turnover margin (+43), a 5-1 mark versus playoff teams (beating the Raiders in October) and a repeat NFC title. 

As such, like it or not, the 1983 Redskins are the greatest defending champs not to repeat … by a long shot.

2 – 1968 BALTIMORE COLTS

RECORD: 13-1
HOME: 6-1/ROAD: 7-0
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +18.4
TURNOVERS: +7
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 11
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 0
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF CLUBS: 1-1
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 4
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost in Super Bowl (Jets)

OVERVIEW

The Colts finished on the business end of the greatest upset in NFL history, but that shouldn’t detract from Baltimore’s regular-season brilliance. 

Namely … the defense stifled the opposition like no other in 1968, surrendering 10 or fewer points a staggering 10 times

Of course, without the Colts’ landmark defeat … 

a) The expansion American Football League (1960-69) never earns the NFL’s pre-merger respect. 

b) Hall of Fame coach Don Shula (most victories in NFL history) likely doesn’t feud with Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom and bolts Baltimore for the novice Dolphins in 1970.

c) Jets quarterback Joe Namath — on the heels of the greatest ‘guarantee’ in team sports history — 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.

1– 2007 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

RECORD: 16-0
HOME: 8-0/ROAD: 8-0
PER-GAME POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +19.7
TURNOVERS: +16
WINS OF 10 POINTS OR MORE: 12
LOSSES TO SUB-.500 TEAMS: 0
RECORD vs. PLAYOFF TEAMS: 5-0
STRENGTH OF DIVISION (scale of 1 to 5): 2
PLAYOFF EXTRA CREDIT: Lost in Super Bowl (Giants)

OVERVIEW

The Patriots’ run at perfection was an across-the-board reckoning for a club that genuinely wanted to win every game 45-7. 

How else should one reconcile otherworldly production with average point differential, turnover margin and blowout wins (including three division winners)? 

But alas, there’s a fine line between being the greatest club in NFL history … and the Best Team Not To Win A Super Bowl. 

As a plus, Tom Brady set a then-NFL record with 50 TD passes, with Randy Moss also catching an NFL-record 23 touchdowns.


About The Managing Editor

Jay Clemons remains the only sports writer on the planet to capture Cynposis Media’s national award for Sports Blog Of The Year (beating out NBA.com, MLB.com, PGATour.com, The Players’ Tribune in 2015), along with the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s pre-eminent award for Best Writer (2008). Through the years, Mr. Clemons has been a key figure with numerous blue-chip sports/media brands, namely the Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and the NBC/Universal family. With Sports Illustrated (2006-11), Clemons served a triple role with SI.com‘s heralded football coverage—editing Peter King’s famed ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ column, penning award-winning pieces for NFL and then writing/narrating scripted videos within the NFL and baseball realms. In 2013, Clemons’ first year with the company, FOX Sports South enjoyed a monumental increase of approximately 34 million Web hits in a 12-month cycle—merely posting 11 million hits the previous year. 

Then, over a two-month span in 2014, FOX Sports South amassed 19.5 million Web hits—a 60-day record for any FOX affiliate. And in 2015, Clemons claimed the aforementioned Cynopsis Media award on FOX Sports’ behalf, the company’s only national writing award during that period. Clemons, a graduate of Michigan State University  and Wayne State University, has been an on-camera Web-TV host for Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports. In 2015, he also became the first-ever sports journalism professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.

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