Professional Football Dynasties Part 2

September 10, 2013

Continuing the list of NFL dynasties from yesterday's article...

 

29. The San Francisco 49ers, 1981-1998

48 points, Rank 2nd

Key Figures: Bill Walsh (coach), Jerry Rice (WR-199), Steve Young (QB-156), Joe Montana (QB-140), Ronnie Lott (CB/FS-126), Roger Craig (RB-102), Jesse Sapolu (C/G-99), Harris Barton (RT-94), Steve Wallace (LT-85), Randy Cross (RG/C-83), Michael Carter (NT-77), Guy McIntyre (G-75), Keena Turner (LB-73), John Taylor (WR/PR-68), Merton Hanks (S-68), Eric Wright (CB-63), Dwight Clark (WR-61), Brent Jones (TE-61), Keith Fahnhorst (RT-60), Charles Haley (LB-59), Bubba Paris (LT-57), Fred Quillan (C-57), Don Griffin (CB-56), Dana Stubblefield (DT-54), Dwight Hicks (FS-52), Dwaine Board (DE-52), Bryant Young (DT-51), Ken Norton (LB-51), Ricky Watters (RB-49), Tim McDonald (SS-49), John Ayers (LG-48), Carlton Wiliamson (SS-45), Tom Rathman (FB-44)

As a 9-year old Cowboys fan in January of 1982 I learned to hate the 49ers pretty quickly. I still have nightmares of "The Catch". I hated this team as much as any I’ve ever hated in sports. They were that good. And they were good until I was 4 years out of college.

The Bill Walsh/George Seifert 49ers always got rid of a player (even Joe Montana and Jerry Rice) a year early, as opposed to a year late. The names changed, but the team just kept winning. In addition to the 5-for-5 in Super Bowls the team posted 8 other seasons of at least two points. The only negatives were a 3-6 in the 1982 strike season and a 10-6 in 1991 where they happened to miss the playoffs on a tie-breaker.

Walsh’s legacy is unfathomable. His offense changed the game. Several of assistants have built dynasties of their own. The system (and/or talent evaluation) was so good, that a third round QB - taken after Jack Thompson, Phil Simms and Steve Fuller - is generally regarded as one of the handful of, if not the greatest QB of all-time after playing in it.

The other QB Steve Young, although he was a first round (supplemental) pick, had a career of ‘similar quality and shape’ (per w​ww.pro-football-reference.com) to Trent Edwards, Fuller, Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, John Hadl, Mike Pagel, Kerry Collins, Joey Harrington, Jeff George and Brian Sipe. He was 3-16 as a starter, with 11 TD and 21 interceptions.

He was plucked from Tampa Bay, for second and fourth round picks, plugged into this offense and at the end his career was similar to Dan Fouts, Ken Anderson, Joe Montana, Randall Cunningham, Tom Brady, Boomer Esiason, Johnny Unitas, Roger Staubach, Steve McNair and Fran Tarkenton. They took Joey Harrington (a #3 overall pick himself, 29 TD, 38 INT his first two seasons, 8-20 record) and turned him into Fran Tarkenton.

The greatest wide-receiver of all time? Yeah he went to Mississippi Valley State and by the way, he played in this offense. The 49ers traded up to pick him in the middle of the first round. The system and talent evaluation were both world class. Apparently Walsh saw some highlights of him on TV while in Houston for a game and asked for film on him, which confirmed what he saw.

I’m not saying these weren’t great players. But the system sure didn’t hurt and the fact that they acquired these players is incredibly impressive.

Another amazing thing – as good as the offense was, the defense matched it early on. Except for 1982, from 1981-86, the defense ranked higher than the offense in terms of points scored/allowed, consistently among the top handful of teams in the league throughout the dynasty.

 

30. The Washington Redskins, 1982-1992

22 points, Rank 12th

​Key Figures: Joe Gibbs (coach), Art Monk (WR-106), Joe Jacoby (LT-95), Darrell Green (CB-91), Charles Mann (DE-91), Gary Clark (WR-89), Russ Grimm (LG-83), Jeff Bostic (C-72), Dexter Manley (DE-70), Dave Butz (DT-66), Jim Lachey (LT-61), Mark May (RT/RG-61), Wilbur Marshall (LB-60), Darryl Grant (DT-58), Neal Olkewicz (LB-57), Mark Rypien (QB-55), Rickey Sanders (WR-52), Joe Theismann (QB-50), Raleigh McKenzie (G/C-47), Earnest Byner (RB-43), John Riggins (RB-33).

I remember reading once that this was a team. Meaning they worked together like a family. I realize lots of teams are like that, especially great teams. But that author noted that this team won both of the strike-season Super Bowls, where there was a lot of turmoil in the league, scenarios where stability and cohesiveness should help. Maybe it’s nothing, but it did stick with me.

Their best team (1983) lost the Super Bowl despite posting a 14-2 record – getting destroyed by the Raiders 38-9. We’ve sure seen happen a lot, no? That offense was the best I’ve ever seen – yet they scored 9 points in the biggest game of the year.

Outside of those four Super Bowl seasons they only had two 2-point seasons and two 1-point seasons, along with 3 negatives. It was a strangely up and down dynasty, a bit like the current Steelers. The Theismann/Riggins team has 3 great seasons. They reload a year, make a conference championship game with Jay Schroeder, and win a Super Bowl with Doug Williams the next. Reload for two years, then fire back into the playoffs and a year later win a Super Bowl at 13-3 with Mark Rypien. Then poof, two years later they have back-to-back sub .500 seasons and it’s off to obscurity. The team churned through 4 regular quarterbacks over 11 seasons and managed to win 3 championships. Joe Gibbs was one heckuva coach.

The team had great offensive lines, and a solid defense. Who can forget "The Hogs, the identity of the team? Sometimes that type of thing is just a media creation. But five of the top 11 names above, through an objective rating system, are offensive lineman. Zero are quarterbacks or running backs. This might be the only dynasty that was built most prominently around an offensive line. The quarterbacks and running backs seemed interchangeable.

I believe their ‘Fun Bunch’ touchdown celebration in the end zone led to the NFL banning the pre-staged multiple player touchdown celebration, which is about as dumb a rule as there is in sports. It’s a game people, let’s not take it so seriously please.

 

31. The Chicago Bears, 1984-1991

15 points, Rank 25th

Key Figures: Mike Ditka (coach), Buddy Ryan (Defensive Coordinator), Mike Singletary (LB-123), Richard Dent (DE-94), Steve McMichael (DT-93), Jay Hilgenberg (C-88), Dan Hampton (DE/DT-77), Mark Bortz (LG-60), Jimbo Covert (LT-59), Keith Van Horne (RT-57), Neal Anderson (RB-56), Dave Duerson (S-56), Walter Payton (RB-52), Tom Thayer (RG-50), Wilbur Marshall (LB-42), William "The Refrigerator" Perry (DT-41), Mike Richardson (CB-38), Otis Wilson (LB-37), Jim McMahon (QB-33), Jim Harbaugh (QB-30), Willie Gault (WR-30).

In the 1980s the Bears finally returned to glory. From 1951-83 the once dominant Bears earned dynasty points in just 4 seasons.

Comparing the 1980s Bears with the 1970s Rams is interesting. I think this might be one where the system gets it wrong.

The Rams trailed the Bears through 5 seasons (1977/1988) 15-12, with the Bears ahead based on their incredible 15-1 Super Bowl championship run in 1985. In years 6-8, the Rams went 32-16 and lost a Super Bowl with a 9-7 team. The Bears went 28-20, with two 11-5 playoff teams and a losing record the third year.

In the system, the Rams pull ahead with 18 points since they never had a bad year. The Bears lost 3 points for the 1989 6-10, and made them back in 1990-91. The Bears were 88-36, the Rams 86-31-1. Both teams scored 18 positive points. The Bears did this scoring in just 7 seasons, not 8. They would be tied with the Rams if they flip/flopped 1989 with 1991.

The Bears won a Super Bowl, the Rams didn’t. The Rams did play in 5 conference championship games to the Bears just 3. Somehow I don’t think the Bears should be 17% behind the Rams in points. I could live with them being tied. But I’m not sure how to change the system in a way that doesn’t cause issues elsewhere.

Perh​aps we could track the negative seasons separately? A team would still stall out after two years of -5 or three consecutive seasons without a point. But it wouldn’t set you back within the dynasty.

We would have to raise the threshold for becoming a dynasty over 13 points then too. The 2000s Eagles would have 16 points under this system and the recent Giants 15. The 1983-89 Broncos would have 17. The 1949-55 Rams (a dynasty under the current system) would have just 15 and the 1984-90 Giants would have 16. Food for thought.

 

32. The New York Giants, 1984-1990

13 points, Rank 29th – 30th (tied)

Key Figures: Bill Parcells (coach), Lawrence Taylor (LB-112), Phil Simms (QB-81), Leonard Marshall (DE-62), Harry Carson (LB-52), Carl Banks (LB-50), Bart Oates (C-50), Terry Kinard (FS-50), Perry Williams (CB-47), Joe Morris (RB-45), Gary Reasons (LB-40), Pepper Johnson (LB-40), Billy Ard (G-38), William Roberts (T/G-37), Mark Bavaro (TE-36), Jim Burt (NT-36), Lionel Manuel (WR-36)

Bill Parcells was a great evaluator of talent. That being said, just how bad the Giants were when he took over in 1983 has been a tad overblown. The Giants best team between 1973 and 1980 was 6-10. In 1981 they turned it around, finished 9-7, made the playoffs for the first time since the Kennedy assassination. They finished a respectable 4-5 in the strike shortened 1982. This might not seem impressive, but the turn around was enough to get Ray Perkins the job taking over Alabama for Bear Bryant. Lawrence Taylor was already in the fold as well.

Parcells came in and tore it apart. He decided that Phil Simms wasn’t the answer after all, and Scott Bruner took over permanently at QB (Simms missed the end of the 1981 season, including the playoff run and the entire 1982 season with assorted injuries). When Bruner was struggling, Simms came on in relief and suffered another season ending injury. The team finished 3-12-1, and Parcells nearly lost his job. It was a complete disaster. There’s something to be said about letting a first year coach have some time to grow and learn though. This team is a classic example of that.

While injured, Simms rededicated himself, started watching film intently, learning defenses (according to wiki anyway, I wasn’t there) and won his job back at the age of 30 in 1984. They returned to the playoffs and won a game before falling to the 15-1 49ers, 21-10. It’s impressive that Parcells was able to back off his decision the year before and realize he made a mistake.

The gains were solidified with a 10-6 campaign and another playoff win, before succumbing to another 15-1 squad (da Bearz) in the divisional round.

In 1986 it all came together. The only losses were 31-28 on opening night against the remnants of the Cowboys’ dynasty and a 17-12 loss in Seattle (they were 10-6 that year) in week 7. They won their next 12 through the Super Bowl XXI blowout of Denver. That being said, their Pythagorean record was just 12-4, there was definitely some luck.

In 1987 the real players finished 6-6 while the replacements were 0-3. Simms missed some time injured, Joe Morris wore down, and it was one of those lost seasons. 1988 saw a return to 10-6, but they missed playoffs.

In 1989 Ottis Anderson took over the running duties full time, and the Giants finished 12-4 before losing a heartbreaking overtime playoff game at home against the Rams. The Giants defense gave up two fourth-quarter FGs. Flipper Anderson ran into the tunnel after catching the winning TD. The team is still not considered a dynasty at this point. They are sitting on just 7 points after peaking at 8 three years earlier.

1990 started out as another potentially all-time great season. The Giants were 10-0. But then the wheels came off. They were blown out in Philadelphia and lost 7-3 to the 49ers, struggled with the 6-10 Vikings and lost 17-13 to the Bills. Simms was lost for the season in the Bills game.

It was beginning to look like a lost season. The 49ers were two time defending Super Bowl champions and finished 14-2 again. New York’s backup wasn’t Steve Young, trapped behind Joe Montana. Jeff Hostetler was a 29-year old third-round pick who had made 2 career starts. They finished the season with games against the 5-11 Cardinals and 1-15 Patriots and won them each by 3 points.

Somehow they figured it out. They buried the Bears, 31-3 in the divisional playoff. As 8-point underdogs (the teams was a 3.5 point underdog in the regular season game, also in SF) they beat the 49ers without scoring a touchdown, in a classic 15-13 NFC championship game.

In the Super Bowl, they were a 7-point underdog against the best of the Bills teams. This after being a 4-point favorite in the regular season game at home – showing the impact of Hostetler vs. Simms at QB.

Parcells emphasized classic ball control and not making mistakes. They held the ball for nearly a full quarter, spanning the end of the 2nd quarter and first ten minutes of the 3rd quarter. This turned a 12-3 deficit into a 17-12 lead, and keeping Buffalo’s no huddle offense off the field. After the Bills took a 19-17 lead, the Giants went on another 14-play drive that took half a quarter before making the chip shot FG that gave them the lead and eventual victory. Trent Dilfer jokes aside, Hostetler has to be the worst QB to play for a Super Bowl winner. That’s a sign of a great all-around team. I don’t think people realize just how unlikely this championship run was. It really was a testament to coaching, adjustments and finding a way to make things work.

This is the ‘barely’ dynasty. If Scott Norwood makes the 47-yard field goal, the Giants finish with 11 points, not 13. If we count the replacement games in 1987 towards their record (we do not) they finish with 12 points.

Parcells ‘retired’ after the game. The team was old, Simms 36, Anderson 33, LT 31. Ray Handley wasn’t much of a head coach and Giants fell back into the depths, with more head coaches (3) than playoff appearances (2) between 1991 and 1999.

I say ‘retired’ about Parcells, because he was far from through. Wherever he went, he rebuilt teams. He brought the Patriots back to the Super Bowl, three years after a 2-14 season. Then he went to the Jets, and two years after a 1-15, they had the best record in the history of the franchise at 12-4. On to Dallas, where after 3 consecutive 5-11 seasons he turned in a 10-6 season in his first year, rebuilding the talent base in the process. In his third year he installed undrafted free agent Tony Romo at QB – Romo became a pro-bowler 3 of the next 4 seasons. The team he left behind finished 13-3 in 2007 under Wade Phillips. From there it was off to Miami, and sure enough, after a 1-15 they were 11-5 in 2008.

If your team was a disaster, Parcells was the guy you called in to figure out who could play, who couldn’t, and then he’d find the guys to fill in the holes. He came a long way from the Bruner/Simms decision.

 

33. The Leaderboard

Heading into the 90's, here's what the list looks like:

Rank

City

Team

Start

End

Points

1

Cleveland

Browns

1946

1972

57

2

San Francisco

49ers

1981

1998

48

3

Dallas

Cowboys

1966

1985

43

4

Oakland

Raiders

1967

1985

37

5

Chicago

Bears

1932

1950

36

6

 

 

 

 

 

7

Green Bay

Packers

1960

1967

30

7

Miami

Dolphins

1970

1985

30

9

Pittsburgh

Steelers

1972

1984

28

10

Minnesota

Vikings

1968

1982

24

11

 

 

 

 

 

12

Washington

Redskins

1982

1992

22

13

 

 

 

 

 

13

Green Bay

Packers

1936

1944

20

15

New York

Giants

1956

1963

18

16

Los Angeles

Rams

1973

1980

18

17

Detroit

Lions

1952

1957

17

17

Green Bay

Packers

1929

1932

17

17

Canton-Cleveland

Bulldogs

1922

1924

17

17

 

 

 

 

 

21

 

 

 

 

 

21

 

 

 

 

 

21

Decatur-Chicago

Staleys-Bears

1920

1927

16

21

Baltimore

Colts

1964

1971

16

25

Chicago

Bears

1984

1991

15

26

 

 

 

 

 

26

Boston-Washington

Redskins

1936

1944

14

26

New York

Giants

1933

1946

14

29

New York

Giants

1984

1990

13

29

Los Angeles

Rams

1949

1955

13

 ​

34. The Buffalo Bills, 1988-1999

17 points, Rank 17h – 20th (tied)

Key Figures: Marv Levy (coach), Bill Polian (GM), Bruce Smith (DE-165), Thurman Thomas (RB-136), Andre Reed (WR-116), Jim Kelly (QB-111), Kent Hull (C-95), Cornelius Bennett (LB-81), Phil Hansen (DE-69), Darryl Talley (LB-61), Henry Jones (SS-57), Jim Ritcher (LG-55), Nate Odomes (CB-54), John Fina (LT-49), Ted Washington (NT-49), Howard Ballard (LT-48), Will Wolford (LT-45), Ruben Brown (LG-45), Shane Conlan (LB-43), Glenn Parker (G/T-40), Mark Kelso (FS-39), Jeff Wright (NT-34), James Lofton (WR-33), Bryce Paup (LB-33), Steve Tasker (ST-7, AV doesn’t really do anything with Special Teamers)

Like so many great teams, the Bills rose from the ashes of a horrible (8-40) run over several years (1984-86). Being that bad allowed them to add can’t miss star players like Bruce Smith, Jim Kelly, Cornelius Bennett and Shane Conlan. This was supplemented with great draft picks like nabbing Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas in the second round and probably eventual Hall of Famer Andre Reed in the fourth round (he’s been a finalist 7 years running). If you don’t miss on top five-ten picks for 3 years and do well in the later rounds you can build a powerhouse rather quickly in the NFL. The non-replacements were .500 in 1987 and it reached a critical mass in 1988, when the Bills went 12-4 and reached the AFC championship game.

For those who weren’t there, my lasting image of this team comes from the 1990 season’s AFC championship game. At this point they had perfected the no huddle offense and taken the league by storm. They scored 428 points during the season, more than any team in the NFL. It wasn’t just pace, as their defense was sixth in the league in fewest points allowed. They scored 28 or more in half their regular season games and had put up 44 on the Dolphins in the divisional playoff.

On their first drive of the game they were taking off huge chunks of yards on each play, and Oakland was completely flummoxed. As they approached the 20-yard line, Art Shell called a defensive timeout, like a basketball coach. You just knew at that point the game was over. The Bills were up 41-3 at halftime and went on to a 51-3 win. Kelly only threw 23 passes in the game, but averaged 17.6 per completion. Thurman Thomas averaged 5.5 yards per carry.

We all know the story of Super Bowl XXV. The Bills played the best game any losing team ever had. They were mistake free until the final FG attempt, someone just had to lose the game and they ran into an opponent who played a near-perfect game. Thomas was the best player on the field and should have received the MVP in a losing effort. He carried the ball 15 times for 135 yards and a TD and caught 5 passes for another 55 yards.

Like the 1970s Vikings a championship just wasn’t in the cards. The Bills were clearly overmatched in their other 3 Super Bowls, all against dynasties themselves.

Their third Super Bowl, after the 1992 season was an incredible run. They came back from a 35-3 third-quarter deficit in the first round of the playoffs against the Oilers, with backup QB Frank Reich – the greatest comeback in the history of the NFL. They blew out the Steelers and Dolphins to get back to the Super Bowl. Kelly was injured again – but this time there was no magic and they lost 52-17 in what is more remembered as the 1990s Cowboys coronation.

Few remember that the Bills led at halftime of their fourth Super Bowl; 13-6 – despite being 10.5 point underdogs. 45 seconds into the second half, Leon Lett forced a Thomas fumble that was returned for a touchdown. The Bills went 3-and-out, and the Cowboys marched down the short field for another TD and the lead. Kelly was intercepted, and the Cowboys scored the back-breaker on a fourth and goal from the 1.

Unlike the Vikings, the Bills could have won one or two of their Super Bowls with a few bounces, it just didn’t happen.

The decline was slow and steady. They finished at least 10-6 and made the playoffs four of the next six seasons. But they were never a real factor. In 1999 they posted their best record since the 1993 Super Bowl season (11-5). Kelly was gone and Thomas was a backup at this point. Bruce Smith was 36 and only had 7 sacks that year.

Doug​ Flutie was doing a nice job running but was middle of the pack in the NFL as a passer. Despite the team being 10-5, he was benched for the last game of the season and Rob Johnson took over. Johnson played well against a 13-2 Colts team that was going for home field advantage. The Bills won 31-6 – Johnson was 24-of-32 for 287 yards, two TDs and no interceptions.

The next week however, Johnson was mediocre at best, 10-for-22, 131 yards in the game. The Bills trailed the Titans 12-0 at halftime. However, they came back to take a 16-15 lead with just time for the final kickoff remaining. The Titans pulled off The Music City Miracle, returning it for an unlikely, touchdown after a series of laterals. The Titans went on to the Super Bowl, coming within a yard of the championship.

Johnson was not the answer; the team was 5-14 with him as the starting QB over the next two years (4-1 with Flutie in 2000 before he left for San Diego). The Bills were 3-13 in 2001 and have had one just one 9-7 season in the last 13 years. They have not played a playoff game since The Music City Miracle, the longest current drought in the NFL.

Not to harp on it (ok, I’m harping on it), I don’t really agree with the system ranking this team below the 1973-80 Rams either (18-17). They lasted longer, and accomplished more. Taking the Bills best 8 years, they lead 19-18. Giving zeroes instead of negatives, as discussed in the 80s Bears comment would show the Bills ahead 21-18. I am starting to like that idea more and more . . .

 

35. The Dallas Cowboys, 1991-1999

20 points, Rank 13h – 14th (tied)

Key Figures: Jimmy Johnson (coach), Jerry Jones (owner/GM), Barry Switzer (coach), Emmitt Smith (RB-136), Michael Irvin (WR-118), Troy Aikman (QB-110), Nate Newton (LG-82), Erik Williams (RT-74), Deion Sanders (CB/PR-71), Darren Woodson (SS-71), Tony Tolbert (DE-66), Larry Allen (RG/T-59), Mark Tuinei (LT-51), Mark Stepnoski (C-48), Leon Lett (DT-42), Charles Haley (DE-40), Chad Hennings (DT-40), Kevin Smith (CB-39), Jay Novacek (TE-37), Russell Maryland (DT-36), Tony Casillas (DT-33), Ken Norton, Jr. (LB-31), Alvin Harper (WR-31), Daryl Johnston (FB-26)

The Jimmy Johnson/Jerry Jones Cowboys were the first team to win three Super Bowls in four seasons, a feat since matched only by the 2001-04 Patriots. Whenever someone says a college coach cannot do it in the NFL, please remind him or her about Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer.

The Cowboys had fallen on hard times after the Landry era. Johnson inherited a 3-13 team with a young Michael Irvin, a 27-year old Herschel Walker, Jay Novacek and Nate Newton. It wasn’t like there wasn’t any talent, but it was still an awful team.

Early​ in the 1989 season, Johnson pulled the trigger on "The Trade"; Johnson decided trading Herschel Walker, coming off a 1500 yard rushing, 53-reception season was the only way to get the pieces he needed. Most don’t remember this, but five games into the 1989 season, Walker was averaging 3.0 yards per carry and had just 246 yards rushing. The team was 0-5 (outscored 146-54), and their only close game was a 27-21 loss to Atlanta, who would finish 3-13.

The Cowboys gave up Herschel Walker, two third-round picks, a fifth rounder and a tenth rounder; they received 5 players and 8 picks, including three first rounders, three second rounders, a third-round pick and a sixth-round pick. One of the picks traded away became Jake Reed, a solid WR.

From the Cowboys side of the ledger, Issiac Holt started at CB from 1989-92, the other players didn’t do much of anything. But those picks, oh those picks. The first one turned into arguably the greatest RB in NFL history, Emmitt Smith. Darren Woodson, a 5-time Pro-Bowl safety was used for another. Alvin Harper, Aikman’s #2 WR for several years was also drafted. Dixon Edwards was another pick, a starting LB for 6 years. The Cowboys traded 3 of the other picks for value as well.

Johnson was incredible in the draft. Troy Aikman was his first pick. Daryl Johnston and Mark Stepnoski were third rounders, Tony Tolbert was a fourth rounder. All four started for the Super Bowl champion team 3 years later. In addition to Harper, the 1991 draft landed Russell Maryland, Erik Williams and Larry Brown also starters for the Super team. All told, the 1995 team had 14 of 22 starters drafted under Jimmy Johnson from 1989-93. That doesn’t count Hall of Fame tackle Larry Allen who was drafted a few weeks after Johnson left in 1994.

Which leads us to the demise of the team. Depending on who you believe, Jones and Johnson got drunk and Johnson was shooting his mouth off in a bar that they needed him to win. Jones said we’ll see, and fired him. As one message board says, it’s a classic case of what happens when keepin’ it real goes wrong.

Barry Switzer, who by all accounts was a great motivator was able to keep it going for a couple of more years, including winning the third Super Bowl. But once the flow of talent from the draft started to slow, the team fell apart. By 1997 they were 6-10 and Switzer was out. The Cowboys made the playoffs in 1998 and 1999 but were just 18-14 overall and that was it. They went 5-11 each year from 2000-02, before Bill Parcells was brought in to try to build it all again.

***

There has been some debate about Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders, and whether or not Emmitt was a product of the line or not.

Approximate Value tends to think Emmitt made the line, more than the line made Emmitt. I agree with that assessment, and I’m happy to see an objective system agree. The Dallas line was impressive, but the numbers above do not show it to be comparable to The Hogs, for example.

Approximate value gives Sanders 150 points, Smith 170. Smith played longer, sure. But through his first ten seasons, Smith’s AV was 144 points. Smith also had a higher peak, with three 20-point seasons and two 17-point seasons. Sanders’ top 5 were 20-19-17-16-16.

Sanders’ linemen weren’t any slouches either. Lomas Brown is a borderline Hall of Famer Kevin Glover made 3 pro-bowls.

The bigger problem with Sanders, in my mind, was who do you give the ball on third and 2? His playoff record? He rushed for more than 69 yards in one out of 6 games. He was held to -1 once, against the 1994 Packers, not exactly a juggernaut that year at 9-7. But it was 32 degrees out. He managed just 10 carries for 40 yards against the Eagles in 1995. Again it was 30 degrees. He had playoff caliber teams behind him those days. He scored 2 playoff TDs in his career. He really only made a difference in one of six playoff games.

For his career Sanders averaged 5.0 yards/carry in the regular season, 4.2 in the playoffs. Smith averaged 4.2 yards/carry in the regular season, but 4.5 in the playoffs. He played in 17 playoffs games and ran for 70 or more yards in 14 of them. He scored 21 touchdowns in the postseason. You could give him the ball in any weather, in any situation. I would take Emmitt over Barry without flinching.

 

36. The Green Bay Packers, 1993-2004

16 points, Rank 21st – 24th (tied)

Key Figures: Mike Holmgren (coach), Ron Wolf (GM), Mike Sherman (coach), Brett Favre (QB-178), LeRoy Butler (S-94), Reggie White (DE-93), Ahman Green (RB-75), Frank Winters (C-75), Antonio Freeman (WR-68), Darren Sharper (FS-68), Marco Rivera (RG-67), Dorsey Levens (RB-53), George Koonce (LB-49), Robert Brooks (WR-47), Bernardo Harris (LB-46), Edgar Bennett (RB-45), Gilbert Brown (DT-45), Santana Dotson (DT-45), Tyrone Williams (CB-45), Mike Wahle (LG-43).

The Brett Favre led Packers made the playoffs ten times in 12 seasons, winning Super Bowl XXXI and losing Super Bowl XXXII in one of the biggest upsets in history. The team was great for two years and very good for 12, your standard NFL dynasty.

Favre came up as a hotshot fan favorite, pretty much universally liked amongst NFL fans as the Packer dynasty revived. Most casual fans had never heard of him and he was winning games

At one point, he was my favorite player in the league, and my only connection to Packer fandom is that my best friend’s dad is a nice guy and a Packer fan. I didn’t even know him when I became a Favre fan.

Somehow it all turned and Favre became a pretty polarizing figure in the second half of his career. There’s probably a book or two there . . . on how athletes (celebrities really) fall in and out of public favor.

Anyway, but 1996 the Packers were on top of the football world. Heading into Super Bowl XXXII as 11-point favorites over the Broncos it seemed like the sky was going to be the limit for these guys, the game was perceived as a coronation beforehand. 4 hours later, Terrell Davis had run roughshod in what is probably the greatest single-person performance in Super Bowl history, after that, the Packers were never really the same.

Green Bay had 14 dynasty points before Super Bowl XXXII. Mike Holmgren left for a GM/coach gig with Seattle in 1999, and the Packer dynasty nearly ended, as the team went 8-8 and then 9-7. Mike Sherman was able to pick up the pieces and the team finished 12-4 over the next two seasons, and made the playoffs every year from 2001-04.

Despite a 44-20 regular season mark, they never made it out of the divisional round of the playoffs. It all collapsed in 2005 with a 4-12 season marking the end of the road for Sherman. They finished 8-8 in Mike McCarthy’s first year and that was the end of the dynasty.

To give some perspective on what we are calling a dynasty, if the Packers had won Super Bowl XXXII they would basically be your median dynasty, with 18 points and 2 championships.

 

37. The Denver Broncos, 1996-2005

14 points, Rank 26th – 28th (tied)

Key Figures: Mike Shanahan (coach), Rod Smith (WR-120), Tom Nalen (C-113), Trevor Pryce (DT/DE-76), Terrell Davis (RB-67), Al Wilson (LB-67), Matt Lepsis (T-66), Ed McCaffrey (WR-61), Dan Neil (RG-60), John Mobley (LB-59), Shannon Sharpe (TE-54), Bill Romanowski (LB-54), Mark Schlereth (LG-48), John Elway (QB-47), Brian Griese (QB-43), Jake Plummer (QB-39), Ben Hamilton (LG-39), Tony Jones (LT-38), Jason Elam (K-35), Champ Bailey (CB-32).

I mentioned this earlier, but no single player has been more responsible for winning a Super Bowl than Terrell Davis was in Super Bowl XXXII. Everybody talks about Elway finally getting his rings, but for a few years, Davis was the best player in football. Elway was 12-for-22 for 123 yards with an interception in that game, by the way. His top receiving target, Shannon Sharpe caught five passes for 38 yards and the Broncos completed just two passes for more than 12 yards. Late in the fourth quarter with the game tied, Denver had a first and goal at the Packer 8. Davis ran for 7 yards but the play was called back for holding. Facing a first and 18, Davis just ran for a backbreaking 17. It was that kind of game for him.

I don’t think people appreciate just how great Davis was before he got hurt. According to pro-football-reference.com’s Approximate Value system, Davis’s 1998 season is tied for the ninth most valuable RB season of all time, and four of those ahead of him come from Jim Brown. He was the AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year in both 1996 and 1998, and the 1998 AP NFL MVP. Through 1998 (four years in the league, and his age 26 season), his most similar player was Jim Brown. The rest of list includes Lenny Moore, Thurman Thomas, Chuck Foreman, LaDainian Tomlinson, Emmitt Smith, Larry Brown, Ricky Watters, Marcus Allen, Barry Sanders and Tony Dorsett. Eight of the 11 are in the Hall of Fame or will be soon.

There’s been a lot said that Mike Shanahan’s system can plug and play anyone at the RB position. While that may be somewhat true, none of them have come close to doing what Davis did.

This dynasty maxed their points out in 3 seasons. Despite it technically being a decade this was basically a 5-year team, 1996-2000.

This dynasty lasts until 2005 because it tests the limits of the system by barely surviving from 1999-2002. With Davis hurt and Elway retired the 1999 team finished 6-10. They briefly recovered for an 11-5 2000 campaign that saw them back in the playoffs before floundering at 8-8 and 9-7 the next two seasons. By the time they were back in the playoffs again in 2003, Jake Plummer was the QB, Clinton Portis was the running back and aside from Rod Smith, Tom Nalen and a few others, it was a different team. By 2005 they were poised to get back to the Super Bowl, but the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game upset them.

Unlike many dynasties this one never really crashed and burned. They sputtered out, the next four seasons were 9-7, 7-9, 8-8, 8-8. Shanahan left after the first 8-8.

38. The Leaderboard

Into the new millenium...

Rank

City

Team

Start

End

Points

1

Cleveland

Browns

1946

1972

57

2

San Francisco

49ers

1981

1998

48

3

Dallas

Cowboys

1966

1985

43

4

Oakland

Raiders

1967

1985

37

5

Chicago

Bears

1932

1950

36

6

 

 

 

 

 

7

Green Bay

Packers

1960

1967

30

7

Miami

Dolphins

1970

1985

30

9

Pittsburgh

Steelers

1972

1984

28

10

Minnesota

Vikings

1968

1982

24

11

 

 

 

 

 

12

Washington

Redskins

1982

1992

22

13

Dallas

Cowboys

1991

1999

20

13

Green Bay

Packers

1936

1944

20

15

New York

Giants

1956

1963

18

16

Los Angeles

Rams

1973

1980

18

17

Detroit

Lions

1952

1957

17

17

Green Bay

Packers

1929

1932

17

17

Canton-Cleveland

Bulldogs

1922

1924

17

17

Buffalo

Bills

1988

1999

17

21

 

 

 

 

 

21

Green Bay

Packers

1993

2004

16

21

Decatur-Chicago

Staleys-Bears

1920

1927

16

21

Baltimore

Colts

1964

1971

16

25

Chicago

Bears

1984

1991

15

26

Denver

Broncos

1996

2005

14

26

Boston-Washington

Redskins

1936

1944

14

26

New York

Giants

1933

1946

14

29

New York

Giants

1984

1990

13

29

Los Angeles

Rams

1949

1955

13

 

 

39. The New England Patriots, 2001-present

33 points, Rank 6th

Key Figures: Bill Belichick (coach), Scott Pioli (GM), Tom Brady (QB-177), Matt Light (LT-109), Logan Mankins (LG-99), Vince Wilfork (NT-90), Wes Welker (WR-86), Richard Seymour (DE-84), Dan Koppen (C-80), Tedy Bruschi (LB-65), Mike Vrabel (LB-64), Kevin Faulk (RB-60), Ty Warren (DE-50), Steve Neal (RG-50), Jerod Mayo (LB-47), Randy Moss (WR-46), Deion Branch (WR-45), Ty Law (CB-40), Rodney Harrison (SS-40), Troy Brown (WR/PR-40), Nick Kaczur (RT-40), Asante Samuel (CB-38), Sebastian Vollmer (T-35), Rob Gronkowski (TE-29)

People always ask how the current Patriots stack up historically. I’d say very well. Is there a chance they could end up on top?

​The Patriots have 33 points through 12 years. Comparing them to the five teams ahead of them:

The 1932-50 Bears had 32 points through 12 years. They lasted another 7 years and won one more championship, finishing with 36 points.

Through 1978, the 1967-85 Raiders had 26 points. They won two more Super Bowls and finished with 37 points.

The 1977 Cowboys won the Super Bowl and had 31 points through year 12 of their dynasty. There weren’t any more championships in the cards, but they did make another Super Bowl and 3 more NFC championship games, finishing with 43 points in 1985.

The 1981-98 49ers also had 33 points through 1992. The run lasted six more years and produced another title, wrapping up with 48 points.

The Browns are the only team that appears out of reach. Through 12 years (1946-57) the Browns had 47 points. That dynasty lasted 15 more years, but produced just one more championship. Cleveland ended with 57 points.

Throug​h 12 years the Patriots are tied with the 49ers for the second greatest run in years 1-12. Four of the other five teams were able to win another championship, and four of the five lasted another 6-9 years. The Patriots still have some work cut out for them to catch these guys, but winning the Super Bowl this year would vault them into fourth place.

***

There are quite a few parallels between this team and the 1980s 49ers.

1980 49ers, 6-10, 2000 Patriots 5-11. Both teams won the Super Bowl the next year, and followed up that season with a negative dynasty score in year two. Other than the 49ers missing the playoffs at 10-6 in 1991, neither team had another negative season during their run.

Both teams had a name QB, from a blue blood Midwestern college, who was drafted very low compared with other all-time great QBs. Joe Montana was a third rounder from Notre Dame and Tom Brady a sixth rounder from Michigan. In the Pro Football Historical Abstract, Sean Lahman did a simple study of great QBs from 1978-2002. His list turned up 17 qualifying QBs. Only Montana was drafted lower than #40. Brady would also be on the list.

Both teams seem to follow the philosophy of letting players go a year early rather than a year late.

As mentioned earlier, both teams have (had) 33 points 12 years into their dynasty.

We’ll see how the Pats fare from here out. From 1993-98 the 49ers won another Super Bowl and posted 15 more points – enough to be a dynasty in their own right. We’ll see if as Brady ages the Patriots can pull a Steve Young out of their magic hat too . . .

 

40. The Indianapolis Colts, 1999-present

23 points, Rank 11th

Key Figures: Tony Dungy (coach), Bill Polian (GM), Peyton Manning (QB-209), Jeff Saturday (C-147), Reggie Wayne (WR-142), Marvin Harrison (WR-138), Edgerrin James (RB-113), Dwight Freeney (DE-94), Ryan Diem (RT-92), Tarik Glenn (LT-89), Robert Mathis (DE-61), Dallas Clark (TE-55), Joseph Addai (RB-54), Charlie Johnson (T/G-52), Raheem Brock (DE-47), Antoine Bethea (FS-47), Gary Brackett (LB-46), Adam Meadows (RT-41), Dominic Rhodes (RB/KR-38), Jake Scott (RG-38), Ryan Lilja (LG-38), Bob Sanders (S-35), Marcus Pollard (TE-32), Mike Vanderjagt (K-32), Chad Bratzke (DE-31)

I was surprised this team ranked so high. It is easy to forget how many games this team won. They won 12-14 games every single season from 2003-2009. I believe no other team in history won at least 75% of their games for seven straight seasons. Only the great Browns (6) team came close. The Patriots (3), 49ers (3), Cowboys (3), Cowboys again (4), Packers (3), Dolphins (4), Raiders (4) and Steelers (2) didn’t. Even the 1920s Bears only hit 4 in a row. It’s truly an amazing an unappreciated accomplishment.

​That being said they struggled in the playoffs, making just three conference championship games (winning two). They were eliminated by less than a touchdown six times in the playoffs. From 2002-2010 the Colts were 109-35. For perspective, the Pats were 114-30 from 2003-2011. I don’t think most people think of the teams as being as close as they actually were.

Also note that Peyton Manning has more AV points for a single dynasty than any other player, edging out Jerry Rice. Tom Brady is two very good years from catching Manning.

 

41. The Pittsburgh Steelers, 2001-2011?

16 points, Rank 21st – 24th (tied)

Key Figures: Bill Cowher (coach), Mike Tomlin (coach), James Farrior (LB-105), Hines Ward (WR-101), Troy Polamalu (SS-100), Alan Faneca (LG-99), Ben Roethlisberger (QB-96), Casey Hampton (NT-88), James Harrison (LB-86), Aaron Smith (DE-79), Joey Porter (LB-67), Jeff Hartings (C-55), Brett Keisel (DE-54), Larry Foote (LB-53), Ike Taylor (CB-52), Marvel Smith (LT-50), Willie Parker (RB-48), Max Starks (T-46), LaMarr Woodley (LB-45), Deshea Townsend (CB-44), Kimo von Oelhoffen (DE-40), Kendall Simmons (RG-40), Ryan Clark (FS-40), Jason Gildon (LB-38), Santonio Holmes (WR-37), Heath Miller (TE-36), Plaxico Burress (WR-36), Jerome Bettis (RB-27)

This has been an interesting dynasty. For the first three years the extremely mortal Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox quarterbacked the Steelers. The 15-1 and 13-3 Pittsburgh teams didn’t win the Super Bowl, but 12-4 and 11-5 teams did. There’s a lot of luck in those records though, as those four teams outscored their opponents by 121, 140, 124 and 131 points. The best team by point differential wasn’t any of those, it was the 2010 team (+143) that went 12-4 and lost the Super Bowl to the Packers.

This​ has basically been a very good team for 2 out of every 3 years. Literally, they’ve had to reload every third year with a team that was extremely mediocre. I believe this team is the only 11-plus year dynasty that never made the playoffs three years in a row. The off years haven’t been close, 6-10, 8-8, 9-7, 8-8. But they’ve won two Super Bowls, won another AFC Championship Game, lost two AFC Championship Games to New England – they’ve accomplished a lot. They are probably most similar to the 1982-1992 Redskins, who were never great (except for 1982 and 1992), but always very good and ready to step in during the seasons where the great teams were just very good.

The Steelers have had an extremely balanced roster, look at all of the good, but not great, players above. The Colts are more stars and scrubs, it’s an interesting contrast.

 

42. The Final Leaderboard

Rank

City

Team

Start

End

Points

1

Cleveland

Browns

1946

1972

57

2

San Francisco

49ers

1981

1998

48

3

Dallas

Cowboys

1966

1985

43

4

Oakland

Raiders

1967

1985

37

5

Chicago

Bears

1932

1950

36

6

New England

Patriots

2001

2012?

33

7

Green Bay

Packers

1960

1967

30

7

Miami

Dolphins

1970

1985

30

9

Pittsburgh

Steelers

1972

1984

28

10

Minnesota

Vikings

1968

1982

24

11

Indianapolis

Colts

1999

2012?

23

12

Washington

Redskins

1982

1992

22

13

Dallas

Cowboys

1991

1999

20

13

Green Bay

Packers

1936

1944

20

15

New York

Giants

1956

1963

18

16

Los Angeles

Rams

1973

1980

18

17

Detroit

Lions

1952

1957

17

17

Green Bay

Packers

1929

1932

17

17

Canton-Cleveland

Bulldogs

1922

1924

17

17

Buffalo

Bills

1988

1999

17

21

Pittsburgh

Steelers

2001

2011?

16

21

Green Bay

Packers

1993

2004

16

21

Decatur-Chicago

Staleys-Bears

1920

1927

16

21

Baltimore

Colts

1964

1971

16

25

Chicago

Bears

1984

1991

15

26

Denver

Broncos

1996

2005

14

26

Boston-Washington

Redskins

1936

1944

14

26

New York

Giants

1933

1946

14

29

New York

Giants

1984

1990

13

29

Los Angeles

Rams

1949

1955

13

 

 

42. The Current Landscape

Teams that could become dynasties with a great 2013 (7-12 points)

Green Bay Packers (2009-?) – The Packers are sitting on 11 points. So to become a dynasty, they will need to finish 10-5-1 or better while winning the division; 13-3 if they don’t win the division or make the NFC Championship Game.

Baltimore Ravens (2008-?) - Our defending Super Bowl champs have 10 points. For this team to officially become a dynasty the Ravens have to win the division with a 13-3 record or make it back to the Super Bowl.

New York Giants (2005-?) – Tom Coughlin’s Giants have won two Super Bowls, but are not yet a dynasty, because they’ve mixed in several mediocre campaigns including three negative seasons.

All the Giants had to do in 2012 was make the playoffs or finish 11-5 and they would have moved into the realm of dynasty. Instead they finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. This team has made the playoffs just once in the last four seasons, but they did win a Super Bowl that year, and they haven’t finished under .500 since 2004. For every plus there’s a minus.

Only two other teams won two championships but did not end up with dynasties; the 1947-49 Eagles and the 1958-59 Colts. Last year was a big step back, dropping the Giants from 12 to 10 points. This could go either way, coming off of a -2, if they Giants don’t finish at least .500 the dynasty is over. If they go 13-3 and win the division, or make it back to the Super Bowl, they are officially a dynasty.

New Orleans Saints (2009-?) – I think some of us have forgotten about these guys, but they were sitting on 10 points in just 3 years before Bounty Gate. From 2009-11 the Saints were 37-11. Their playoff losses were both on the road by 9 total points.

This team was one more great year from becoming a dynasty. They’ve been kicked back to 7 points after last year’s disaster, so now they need to go at least 9-6-1 or make the playoffs or they start over. However, if they go 13-3 and win the Super Bowl, they are a dynasty.

Atlanta Falcons (2010-?) – The Falcons have finished 13-3 two of the last three seasons, finishing 36-12 overall. Worse teams have won Super Bowls. Like the Saints, the Falcons sit on 7 points but Atlanta isn’t in jeopardy of losing its dynasty in 2013.

Teams building their resumes (4-6 points)

San Francisco 49ers (2011-?) – The 49ers just missed the Super Bowl in 2011 after a 13-3 season, the Giants took them out in overtime of the NFC Championship Game. Last year the 11-4-1 49ers took the next step as they went to the Super Bowl. Both register as 3 points seasons. So the 49ers cannot become a dynasty quite yet, but the future is looking quite bright in San Francisco.

Denver Broncos (2011-?) – Peyton Manning has revived the Broncos. They were the best regular season team in the AFC last year at 13-3, before their upset double-OT loss to the Ravens in the playoffs. Tim Tebow’s playoff appearance from 2011 also gave them a point, so the Broncos are entering 2013 with four points.

Dynasty bids that ended in 2012

Philadelphia Eagles (2000-10) – The Eagles hit as high as 11 points in both 2004 (their Super Bowl season) and 2010. The team went to 5 NFC championship games, but just missed the level of a dynasty.

San Diego Chargers (2006-09) – The Chargers reached as high as 9 points after 2009’s 13-3 campaign. Like the 1996-2005 Broncos, this one didn’t collapse, it just kind of faded into mediocrity, with 9-7, 8-8 and 7-9 marks the last three years.

Dynasties that could end in 2013

We covered this above, but the Steelers have to finish at least .500 or it’s all over. With their playoff appearance in 2012, the Colts bought themselves at least two more years before we can officially call them dead. With Andrew Luck and a promising young roster, this team could very well be poised for the rare second act dynasty.

The Patriots are looking as weak as they have in a long time as the 2013 season gets set to open, but I don’t think there is too much danger of the dynasty ending just yet.

Others with points going into 2013

Houston Texans (2011-?) – 3 points

Cincinnati Bengals (2011-?) – 2 points

Seattle Seahawks (2012-?) – 1 point

Minnesota Vikings (2012-?) – 1 point

Washingto​n Redskins (2012-?) – 1 point

Teams that had points heading into 2012 but are now back to zero

New York Jets (2009-11) – peaked at 4 points after 2010.

Detroit Lions (2011) – earned 1 point in 2011

 
 

COMMENTS (7 Comments, most recent shown first)

joedimino
Thanks wovenstrap . . . maybe I'll try to tackle college dynasties next :-)
7:48 PM Sep 16th
 
wovenstrap
Thought #1: You clearly, CLEARLY need to be writing a regular football column for billjamesonline.com -- that was really sharp, engaging writing and I'd love to read more of it.

Thought #2: There's no way in hell that Denver-GB Super Bowl was *actually* one of the biggest upsets in SB history -- objectively, it just wasn't. The proper spread for that game should have been no larger than like 2 points, seriously. The 14-point spread in favor of GB existed for very poor reasons. I predicted Denver would win that game based on the following reasoning: GB is a really good team, Denver is a really good team. There's just not much to choose from there. But the NFC team is getting touted as this massive favorite based on the fact that the NFC had won the last 13 Super Bowls. I just didn't see the Redskins' 10-point victory over the Dolphins in 1983 as having any relevance to a game being played in 1998 -- but the press groupthink sure didn't agree with me on that one. I figured the Pack would be cocky, complacent and guessed that Denver would win. I swear, look at the two teams objectively, there's just no justification for a 14-point spread.
3:56 AM Sep 12th
 
mikewright
You're not giving Landry enough credit. Walsh's offense was designed to be a specific defense, Landry's flex. In addition to inventing the 4-3, Landry also invented the modern offense. While Lombardi just tried to run over people, it was Landry who began spreading the field, running motion and shifts to get the mismatches that are the goal of every offense today.

And, defensively, when your hear people talking about linemen taking up blockers and letting the backers run free and about gap control, what do you think they're talking about? The Flex. They don't use the terminology, but he concept is the same.
9:19 AM Sep 11th
 
studes
I don't know what happened, but this article is now fixed.
7:29 PM Sep 10th
 
studes
Oh man, this is totally my fault. I thought I had cleared this up. Will update the article, if I can!​
7:21 PM Sep 10th
 
TJNawrocki
Is there a reason you just published the second half of yesterday's article over again?
5:33 PM Sep 10th
 
Trailbzr
From 1954-58, the New York Giants (football) had Tom Landry coordinating the defense and Vince Lombardi the offense, although the positions weren't called that at the time.
10:04 AM Sep 10th
 
 
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