PRO FOOTBALL’s GREATEST TEAMS:
Sunday the New England Patriots faced the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII.
The Patriots missed out on the opportunity to be only the 20th team in pro football history to win back to back championships. How do should we rate 19 teams that did. Here’s a look back at them, you decide.
Here is every team that won back-to-back Championships in chronological order.
- 1922-23 Canton Bulldogs NFL Champion
Regular Season Record: 10-0-1, 11-0-1 (21-0-2) 1.000
Coach: Guy Chamberlin
Playoffs: 1922 No Championship Game
1923 No Championship Game
MVP: Guy Chamberlin
Quarterback: Harry Robb was also tailback
Notes: Chamberlin is in the Hall of Fame. Pro football at this time was a very local activity with only 18 teams in the league. All the teams didn’t meet each other. They didn’t play the same amount of games. The Canton Bulldogs did beat the second place Chicago Bears (9-3) 7-6 in 1922 and were 6-0 in 1923. However, they should not to be taken seriously as a national league.
- 1929-31 Green Bay Packers NFL Champions
Regular Season Record: 12-0-1, 10-3-1, 12-2 (34-5-2) .872
Coach: Curly Lambeau
Playoffs: 1929 No Championship Game
1930 No Championship Game
1931 No Championship Game
MVP: Verne Lewellan
Quarterback: Verne Lewellen (not really a quarterback, but a tailback)
Notes: These teams made Curly Lambeau a Hall of Fame Coach. Lewellan handled the ball on just about every play. He mostly ran the ball, but on 3rd and long would throw.
The game was more like Rugby than modern football. They did beat the second place New York Giants (13-1-1) in 1929, then again in 1930, losing 13-6. In 1931 they never met the second place 11-3 Portsmouth Spartans. The league as we know really didn’t exist until about 1933.
- 1940-41 Chicago Bears NFL Champions
Regular Season Record: 8-3, 10-1-1 (18-4-1) .818
Coach: George Halas; the most important person in what has become Professional Football.
Playoffs: 1940 Defeated Washington Redskins (9-2) 73-0
1941 Defeated New York Giants (8-3) 37-9
MVP: Sid Luckman
Quarterback: Sid Luckman
Notes: Signing Sid Luckman to run it, George Halas introduced the revolutionary T Formation in 1940. Changing the responsibilities of the quarterback position, Luckman led the Bears to a 54-17-3 record between 1940 and 1946. Winning four championships in the process. The great Bronco Nagurski was still there in 1940. This team destroyed the Sammy Baugh led Washington Redskins in 1940, then routed the New York Giants in 1941. This team was really good, way ahead of the rest of the league. One of the five most influential teams of all time. How they would fare against later teams is tough, but they were a team that forever changed professional football.
- 1946-1950 Cleveland Browns 1946-1949 AAFC Champions and 1950 NFL Champions
Regular Season Record: AAFC 12-2, 12-1-1, 14-0, 9-1-2 (47-4-3) .922
NFL 10-2 .833
Coach: Paul Brown; In conversation as greatest coach ever.
Playoffs: 1946 Defeated New York Yankees (10-3-1) 14-9
1947 Defeated New York Yankees (11-2-1) 14-3
1948 Defeated Buffalo Bisons (7-7) 49-7
1949 Defeated Buffalo Bills 31-21
Defeated San Francisco 49ers (9-3) 21-7
1950 Defeated Los Angeles Rams (9-3) 30-28
MVP: Otto Graham
Quarterback: Otto Graham
Notes: The Browns are usually dismissed as a great team, because they dominated the sub-standard AAFC. Not sure that’s fair. After the AAFC merged with the NFL, 3 AAFC franchises were admitted to the NFL (Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Colts). The Los Angeles Dons merged with the Los Angeles Rams to make a fourth team to be included. The other 4 teams of the AAFC folded. The Browns immediately went 10-2 in the NFL and won the title. The team they beat in the Championship Game were the L.A. Rams, who had many players from the old AAFC Dons. Their winning percentage the first six years in NFL was .817! Otto Graham was clearly the best player in football, Paul Brown was the game’s best coach. This was the best team in football from 1946-1955. They could be the greatest team of all time. The biggest concern is the quality of football played prior to the 1960s. Football was not the number one sport in the country, baseball was. Most of the nation’s best athletes went into baseball. This left the talent pool weak. They were the greatest team ever up to the rise of the Green Bay Packers in the early 60s.
- 1948-49 Philadelphia Eagles NFL Champions
Regular Season Record: 9-2-1, 11-1 (20-3-1) .870
Coach: Earle Neale
Playoffs: 1948 Defeated Chicago Cardinals (11-1) 7-0
1949 Defeated Los Angeles Rams (8-2-2) 14-0
MVP: Steve Van Buren
Quarterback: Tommy Thompson
Notes: Van Buren was a great all-purpose player. This is a team hard to rate. They were not as good as the AAFC Champion Browns. When the leagues merged in 1950 they couldn’t stay up with Cleveland.
6.1952-53 Detroit Lions NFL Champions
Regular Season Record: 9-3 10-2 (19-5) .792
Coach: Buddy Parker
Playoffs: 1952 Defeated Los Angeles Rams (9-3) 31-21
1952 Defeated Cleveland Browns (8-4) 17-7
1953 Defeated Cleveland Browns (11-1) 17-16
MVP: Jack Christiansen
Quarterback: Bobby Layne
Notes: Jack Christiansen was an all around good player. He was the best defensive back, best punt returner, played running back on offense. Bobby Lane was a Hall of Fame Quarterback. Doak Walker was hurt in 1952, but healthy in 1953. They beat the previously mentioned Cleveland Browns in 2 of 3 Championship Games. This was a very good team. Not as good as the earlier Browns, but better than the late 1950s Baltimore Colts.
7. 1954-55 Cleveland Browns NFL Champions
Regular Season Record: 9-3, 9-2-1 (18-5-1) .783
Coach: Paul Brown
Playoffs: 1954 Defeated Detroit Lions (9-2-1) 56-10
1955 Defeated Los Angeles Rams (8-3-1) 38-14
MVP: Otto Graham
Quarterback: Otto Graham
Notes: Last wave of the Otto Graham/Paul Brown Browns. They had .783 winning percentage these two season which is weak for this group. They did have two blow-out wins in Championship Games. They were probably not as good as late 1940s team.
8.1958-59 Baltimore Colts NFL Champions
Regular Season Record: 9-3, 9-3 (18-6) .750
Coach: Weeb Eubanks; Hall of Fame coach. Gained lasting fame by coaching New York Jets to unexpected win in Super Bowl III
Playoffs: 1958 Defeated New York Giants (9-3) 23-17 OT
1959 Defeated New York Giants (10-2) 31-16
MVP: John Unitas
Quarterback: John Unitas
Notes: This is an overrated team, mainly because they won the game that put the NFL on the map, the 1958 Championship Game against the New York Giants. Unitas was an all time great. Before Jerry Rice many considered Raymond Berry the best receiver in history. Lenny Moore was also on the team. Defensive End Gino Marchetti and Art Donovan created a formidable defensive line. The Colts were the last champions before the coming of the AFL. They fell away with the rise of the Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers in the years ahead.
9. 1960-61 Houston Oilers AFL Champions
Regular Season Record: 10-4, 10-3-1 (20-7-1) .741
Coach: Lou Rymkus, Wally Lemm
Playoffs: 1960 Defeated Los Angeles Chargers (10-4) 24-16
1961 Defeated San Diego Chargers (12-2) 10-3
MVP: George Blanda
Quarterback: George Blanda
Notes: Champions first two years of AFL. George Blanda was a quality Quarterback in the NFL, and Billy Cannon was to become a Hall of Fame Tight End. Still they are not to be taken seriously as great team. In the AFL they would have been among the worst teams in NFL.
10. 1961-62 Green Bay Packers NFL Champions
Regular Season Record: 11-3, 13-1 (24-4) .857
Coach: Vince Lombardi
Playoffs: 1961 Defeated New York Giants (10-3-1) 37-0
1962 Defeated New York Giants (12-2) 16-7
MVP: Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg or Jim Taylor
Quarterback: Bart Starr
Notes: Led by Forrest Gregg, Jim Ringo, and Jerry Kramer this may be the greatest offensive line ever. The defense was also among the best on list. Hall of Fame Running Back combo of Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung is probably the best. Most view Vince Lombardi as greatest head coach ever. This was a very well-balanced team with no weaknesses. This team is on short list of greatest ever.
11. 1964-65 Buffalo Bills AFL Champions
Regular Season Record: 12-2, 10-3-1 (22-5-1) .815
Coach: Lou Saban (Nick Saban’s Dad)
Playoffs: 1964 Defeated San Diego Chargers (8-5-1) 20-7
Defeated San Diego Chargers (9-2-3) 23-0
MVP: Jack Kemp
Quarterback: Jack Kemp
Notes: Better than Houston Oilers, but still would not have had a winning record in NFL.
12. 1965-67 Green Bay Packers
Regular Season Record: 10-3-1, 12-2, 9-4-1 (31-9-2) .775
Coach: Vince Lombardi
Playoffs: 1965 Defeated Baltimore Colts (10-3-1) 13-10 l Defeated Cleveland Browns (11-3) 23-12
1966 Defeated Dallas Cowboys (10-3-1) 34-27
Defeated Kansas City Chiefs (11-2-1) 35-10 1967 Super Bowl I
1967 Defeated Los Angeles Rams (11-1-2) 28-7
Defeated Dallas Cowboys (9-5) 21-17
Defeated Oakland Raiders (13-1) 33-14 1968 Super Bowl II
MVP: Bart Starr or Forrest Gregg
Quarterback: Bart Starr
Notes: The roster and strengths are similar to 1961-62 team. However the record is not as good as earlier version. They did not dominate as they did in the early 60s. The 1967 team had only the 4th best record in the NFL. Jim Taylor was just about through. Jim Ringo was no longer on the Offensive Line. On the up side…they won three straight NFL Championships, nobody else since 1931 had done that. They won the first two Super Bowls (even though they weren’t called that at the time). This is a tough team to place. Their winning percentage is misleading because they won the title in 1967 with 9-4-1 regular season record. Their winning percentage in 1965-66 was .815, which is among the best ever.
13. 1972-73 Miami Dolphins
Regular Season Record: 14-0, 12-2 (26-2) .929
Coach: Don Shula; overrated as a coach. Legit Hall of Famer, but not in conversation for greatest coach ever. About even with Chuck Knoll.
Playoffs: 1972 Defeated Cleveland Browns (10-4) 20-14
Defeated Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) 21-17
Defeated Washington Redskins (10-4) 14-7 1973 Super Bowl VII
- Defeated Cincinnati Bengals (10-4) 34-16
Defeated Oakland Raiders (9-4-1) 27-10
Defeated Minnesota Vikings (12-2) 24-7 1974 Super Bowl VIII
MVP: Larry Csonka
Quarterback: Bob Griese, Earl Morrall
Notes: The Dolphins “No-Name Defense” may have been best defense listed. In two Super Bowls, the defense only allowed 7 points. The Offensive Line was probably not as good as the Packers, but with Jim Langer, Larry Little and Bob Kuechenberg it is still among the best ever. The defensive secondary is among the best ever. Their two year record speaks for itself, the best ever (they lost 2 games in as many years). Their 3-year win percentage of .881 is the best in NFL History. The playoff run in 1973 was dominating without any close games. On the down side, the 1972 undefeated team only beat two teams with a winning record. Opponents had only a .397 combined winning percentage. If you watch Super Bowl VIII sometime you will see never has an offensive line dominated a quality defense as the Dolphins did to the Vikings. This Viking defensive line was the “Purple People Eaters” of Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, Gary Larsen, and Alan Page. On the short list of greatest defensive lines of all time, and they were completely dominated. This was A GREAT TEAM!
14. 1974-75 Pittsburgh Steelers
Regular Season Record: 12-2, 10-4 (22-6) .786
Coach: Chuck Knoll; underrated as coach. Not in the Vince Lombardi, Paul Brown, Bill Belichick Group. About even with Don Shula.
Playoffs: 1974 Defeated Buffalo Bills (9-5) 32-14
Defeated Oakland Raiders (12-2) 24-13
Defeated Minnesota Vikings (12-2) 16-6 1975 Super Bowl IX
1975 Defeated Baltimore Colts (10-4) 32-14
Defeated Oakland Raiders (11-3) 16-10
Defeated Dallas Cowboys (10-4) 21-17 1976 Super Bowl X
MVP: Joe Greene
Quarterback: Terry Bradshaw
Notes: This is the best defensive line of the teams listed. Maybe the best Linebacker Corps ever (Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Andy Russell). The defensive secondary was also good, but not as good as Dolphins. The offense was only OK. Bradshaw was a good Quarterback, about the same as Griese, but certainly no Joe Montana. The Offensive Line is not close to 1960s Packers or 1972-73 Dolphins. Lynn Swan is one of the most overrated players of all time. John Stallworth is a solid Hall of Fame selection, but was he better than Paul Warfield? The Offense is not in the top half of other teams listed. The Defense was excellent however the Dolphin’s Defense was probably better.
15. 1978-79 Pittsburgh Steelers
Regular Season Record: 14-2, 12-4 (26-6) .813
Coach: Chuck Knoll
Playoffs: 1978 Defeated Denver Broncos (10-6) 33-10
Defeated Houston Oilers (10-6) 34-5
Defeated Dallas Cowboys (12-4) 35-31 1979 Super Bowl XII
1979 Defeated Miami Dolphins (10-6) 34-14
Defeated Houston Oilers (11-5) 27-13
Defeated Los Angeles Rams (9-7) 31-19 1980 Super Bowl XIII
MVP: Jack Lambert
Quarterback: Terry Bradshaw
Notes: The consensus among modern sports experts is that the late 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers were the Greatest Team ever. After studying the matter, I disagree. The easiest comparison is with the team they replaced as best in football, the Miami Dolphins. The Steelers winning percentage in 1975-76 was only .786 and in 1978-79 was .813. While impressive by a historical perspective, they are not in upper half of teams we are rating, while Miami had the best 2-year record. Even though Steelers have 4 titles in six years their overall record in those six years is only 67-21 (.761), which is good, but the Dolphins record between 1970-1975 was 67-16-1 (.807) which is better. The Dolphins clearly had the better regular season record. If the Super Bowl victories is all we’re counting then of course the Steelers with four, while Dolphins with only two, the Steelers are better. Of course, one of Pittsburgh’s Championships was a direct result of a fluke play. The “Immaculate Reception” was spectacular, but very fortunate for Steelers legacy. It would have been very interesting if Kenny Stabler’s desperation pass to Clarence Davis to beat the Dolphins in 1974 playoffs hadn’t happened. This would have sent Miami into Pittsburgh for the AFC Title Game. A match-up of the two best teams of a generation.
16. 1988-89 San Francisco 49ers
Regular Season Record: 10-6 14-2 (24-8) .750
Coach: Bill Walsh 1988, George Seifert 1989; these were Bill Walsh’s teams.
The most innovative offensive mind ever.
Playoffs: 1988 Defeated Minnesota Vikings (11-5) 34-9
Defeated Chicago Bears (12-4) 20-12
Defeated Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) 20-16 1989 Super Bowl XXII
1989 Defeated Minnesota Vikings (10-6) 41-13
Defeated Los Angeles Rams (11-5) 30-3
Defeated Denver Broncos (11-5) 55-10 1990 Super Bowl XXVIII
MVP: Joe Montana or Jerry Rice
Quarterback: Joe Montana
Notes: This team won five Super Bowls between 1982-1995. 1988 and 1989 were not their best teams, but are the only ones that met our criteria of back to back championships. The 1984 team went 15-1 and rolled through the playoffs culminating with an overwhelming victory over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX. The best and most innovated offense of all time was Walsh’s 49ers. Joe Montana is on the short list of greatest quarterback ever. Jerry Rice is clearly the best wide receiver in history. The 49ers running back Roger Craig is the most versatile of running backs. The Offensive Line was also good. This team had a great offense and a solid defense, but not among best of all time. Two year winning percentage is only .750. If the criteria was a 10-year run, this team would fare much better.
17. 1992-93 Dallas Cowboys
Regular Season Record: 13-3, 12-4 (25-7) .781
Coach: Jimmy Johnson
Playoffs: 1992 Defeated Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) 34-10
Defeated San Francisco 49ers (14-2) 30-20
Defeated Buffalo Bills (11-5) 52-17 1993 Super Bowl XXVII
1993 Defeated Green Bay Packers (9-7) 27-17
Defeated San Francisco 49ers (10-6) 38-21
Defeated Buffalo Bills (12-4) 30-13 1994 Super Bowl XXVIII
MVP: Emmitt Smith
Quarterback: Troy Aikman
Notes: These teams completely dominated during both playoff runs. The Offensive Line is one of five best of all time. Emmitt Smith is in the top ten of running backs. Troy Aikman is a solid at quarterback, in the Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr, Bob Griese group. The Defense was also very good. Nothing like the Dolphins or the Steelers, but better than the 49ers and Patriots. These Cowboys won 3 Super Bowls in four years. Two were blow out wins in Super Bowl without any close calls in the playoffs. The overall winning percentage over the two years is weak, worse than both the Broncos and Patriots who’s runs came later. The Broncos of 1997-98 were probably better.
18. 1997-98 Denver Broncos
Regular Season record: 12-4, 14-2 (26-6) .812
Coach: Mike Shanahan
Playoffs: 1997 Defeated Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5) 42-17
Defeated Kansas City Chiefs (13-3) 14-10
Defeated Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) 24-21
Defeated Green Bay Packers (13-3) 31-24 1998 Super Bowl XXXII
1998 Defeated Miami Dolphins (10-6) 38-3
Defeated New York Jets (12-4) 23-10
Defeated Atlanta Falcons (14-2) 34-19 1999 Super Bowl XXXIII
MVP: John Elway; Terrell Davis was NFL MVP in 1998, but knowing what happened to Broncos after Elway retired after Super Bowl XXXIII it’s clear Elway was their Most Valuable Player.
Quarterback: John Elway
Notes: After researching this is a very underrated great team, probably because the 1997 team won as a Wild Card. From 1996, 1997, 1998 they went 13-3, 12-4, 14-2. Do to the Wild Card status, the team had to win in Kansas City (13-3) and Pittsburgh (11-5) to advance to Super Bowl. The biggest strength was the Offensive Line. They had a dominant running game led by the O-line and Terrell Davis. John Elway was not as good as he was in late 1980s, but he was still John Elway. The Defense was good, but the team depended on ball control by the offense to keep the ball away from the other team’s offense. Their victories in the Super Bowl was to the two toughest teams of any on the list (Packers and Falcons) This was a quality team, in the same league as other top teams on list.
19. 2003-2004 New England Patriots
Regular Season Record: 14-2, 14-2 (28-4) .875
Coach: Bill Belichick; best coach ever? Record over an 18-year span, it is probably the most impressive of all time. Only George Halas maintained success over that many years.
Playoffs: 2003 Defeated Tennessee Titans (12-4) 17-14
Defeated Indianapolis Colts (12-4) 24-14
Defeated Carolina Panthers (11-5) 32-29 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII
2004 Defeated Indianapolis Colts (12-4) 20-3
Defeated Pittsburgh Steelers (15-1) 41-27
Defeated Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) 24-21 2005 Super Bowl XXIX
MVP: Tom Brady
Quarterback: Tom Brady
Notes: Awesome two-year record. Tom Brady is a little overrated, but Belichick, because of his personality, is underrated. The way they stay competitive year in and year out while constantly changing personnel is unprecedented. Every year they are one of the favorites to win Super Bowl. Why 2003-04 team was so successful without many individual stars is because how Belichick used his players. He has many situational substitutions and allows marginal players to excel at very specific responsibilities. Belichick revolutionized the way rosters were managed. A great team led by a Great Coach!