The NFL’s Greatest Dynasties

Three years ago, after the New England Patriots won their third Super Bowl in four years, I wrote a column called The Definition of Dynasty, in which I examined the greatest sustained success any major professional football team had ever experienced. After a great deal of research and consideration, I named seven teams that I thought could justly be considered dynasties. The Patriots were not one of them.

Even though New England lost Super Bowl XLII, it should not surprise you that my opinion on this matter has now changed. When I wrote that first piece, the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady version of the Patriots only had three or four good seasons to their name. I have as much respect for three titles as the next guy, but don't dynasties make the playoffs more than three times? It just hadn't lasted long enough for me to compare Brady and Belichick to Bart Starr and Vince Lombardi. Now, though, New England has seven straight seasons with a winning record, including six playoff appearances, six division titles, an undefeated regular season, and three Super Bowls. Anyone who doesn't consider that a football dynasty doesn't believe in dynasties.

What I'm going to do here is look at 15 dynastic teams — I used 32 last time — and try to sort them out, eventually ranking all 15, and trying to find an appropriate cutoff for what is and is not a dynasty. Before I get to that, though, let me address a rising team that may one day belong on this list: the Tony Dungy Colts. They weren't included in the original article, but since Dungy took over as coach, Indianapolis has won at least 10 games every year (overall winning percentage of .760), captured five straight division titles, started a season 13-0, won a Super Bowl, and witnessed record-breaking seasons from Marvin Harrison (143 receptions in 2002) and Peyton Manning (49 TDs and a 121.1 passer rating in 2004). Is this a dynasty? With only one Super Bowl so far, it is obviously not. If the Colts win another championship or two, though, that could change.

These are the 15 teams I'll be examining, and eventually ranking:

The Mel Hein Giants (1933-1941)
70-30-6, .689 regular-season winning percentage, 2 NFL Championships

The Giants played in six of the first nine NFL Championship Games. During this time, they were .689 in the regular season, which equates to 11-5 in a 16-game season, and outscored their opponents by over 550 points, 1545-987. The 1930s Giants were loaded with future Hall of Famers — head coach Steve Owen, receiver Red Badgro, fullbacks Tuffy Leemans and Ken Strong, and tackle Cal Hubbard — but none was more impressive than Mel Hein. A center on offense and a linebacker on defense, Hein was named first-team all-NFL every year from 1933 to 1940, and was one of 11 players elected to the Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 1963. Most famously, Hein was named NFL MVP in 1938, the only offensive linemen ever to win that award. Although Hein and the Giants only won two championships (in 1934 and '38), they were a perpetual contender, a fixture in the championship game, and a favorite almost every time they took the field. That's what a dynasty is.

The Sid Luckman Bears (1933-1943)
98-23-5, .782 regular-season winning percentage, 4 NFL Championships

The Bears had only one losing season from 1930-1951, and this 11-year period was the team at its best. Hall of Famers who passed through Chicago during these years included head coach George Halas, quarterback Sid Luckman, legendary fullback Bronko Nagurski, do-everything back George McAfee, center Bulldog Turner, guards Danny Fortmann and Walt Kiesling, tackles George Musso and Joe Stydahar, defensive tackle Link Lyman, defensive end Bill Hewitt, and in 1933 and '34, Red Grange. I've named this group after Luckman, even though he didn't enter the league until 1939, because he brought a new level of dominance to Chicago, guiding the team to a truly absurd 45-8-1 (.843) record and three NFL Championships from 1939-43. During these 11 seasons, the Bears made seven championship appearances and won four titles, including a 73-0 victory in the 1940 NFL Championship Game, and undefeated regular seasons in 1934 (13-0) and 1942 (11-0), outscoring their opponents by a total of 2839-1313.

The Don Hutson Packers (1936-1944)
73-21-4, .765 regular-season winning percentage, 3 NFL Championships

The Packers and Bears are the most storied rivalry in the NFL. From 1936 through 1944, no other team won the NFL's Western Division. In 1936, the Bears went 9-3 but didn't qualify for the postseason because Green Bay was 10-1-1. The next season the Packers outscored their opponents almost 2-to-1 but missed out because the Bears had gone 9-1-1. So it went for nine seasons. The most hotly contested season was 1941, when both teams finished 10-1, with the losses coming against each other. The Bears won a playoff — the first non-championship postseason game in NFL history — and went on to crush the Giants 37-9 in the official title game.

Green Bay's .765 winning percentage is equivalent to averaging more than 12 wins per year, in a 16-game season, for nine years — a feat no team has accomplished in the Super Bowl era. Over this period, the Packers outscored their opponents 2222-1314. The man most responsible for this was Don Hutson, the only receiver with a decent argument to be ranked ahead of Jerry Rice on an all-time list. Hutson led the NFL in receptions eight times, in receiving yards seven times, and in receiving touchdowns nine times. He was also a good defensive back with 30 career interceptions, and a kicker who added 172 extra points to his 105 career touchdowns. Hutson retired as the NFL's all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, yards from scrimmage, total touchdowns, and scoring, with accompanying single-season records in each of those categories.

The Steve Van Buren Eagles (1944-1949)
48-16-3, .739 regular-season winning percentage, 2 NFL Championships

Few football fans remember Steve Van Buren today. In his rookie season, 1944, Van Buren led the NFL in punt return touchdowns and kickoff return touchdowns. The next season, he led the NFL in rushing and set the single-season record for rushing TDs. Two years later, he set the single-season record for rushing yards. Two seasons after that, he set a new one. Van Buren retired as the NFL's all-time leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, but he was really at his best in big games and bad conditions. The 1948 NFL Championship Game was played in heavy snow, the 1949 game in ankle-deep mud. Van Buren scored the only touchdown in the '48 game, and in '49 he ran for a then-record 196 yards, powering the Eagles to victory in both contests. During this six-year stretch, Philadelphia won three Eastern Division titles and outscored opponents 1818-1016.

The Otto Graham Browns (1946-1955)
105-17-4, .849 regular-season winning percentage, 4 AAFC Championships, 3 NFL Championships

The Cleveland Browns were the first racially-integrated team in the Modern Era of professional football. They were also a dynasty of almost unimaginable proportions. Born in the All-America Football Conference, Cleveland dominated the league, going 47-4-3 (.898) and winning all four league championships before a partial merger with the NFL that also included the AAFC's San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts. The first game of the 1950 season was a matchup between the AAFC's Browns and the two-time defending NFL champion Eagles. The media billed the contest as "The World Series of Pro Football," but the Eagles were heavily favored. Cleveland won the game 35-10. NFL apologists, desperately seeking an excuse, complained that the Browns passed too much. When the two teams re-matched three months later, Cleveland won 13-6 without throwing a single pass, the last time any NFL team has gone an entire game without passing.

The Browns went on to win the NFL Championship, and NFL Commissioner Bert Bell called them "the greatest team to ever play football." In each of the next three seasons, the Browns won their conference but lost the NFL Championship Game. In the 1954 and '55 seasons, Cleveland added two more NFL titles, with dominant championship wins of 56-10 and 38-14. The Browns' dynasty finally ended with the retirement of quarterback Otto Graham after the 1955 season.

During its four seasons in the AAFC, Cleveland had an .898 regular-season winning percentage, won the league championship every year, and outscored opponents 1561-683. Over the next six seasons, playing in the NFL, the Browns went 58-13-1 (.813), made all six championship games, won three titles, and outscored opponents 1984-1051. During Graham's ten-year career, the team was 105-17-4 (imagine a team going 13-3 or 14-2 every season for a decade) and played in the championship game every year, won seven titles, and outscored opposing teams 3545-1734, a margin of more than 2-to-1.

The Buddy Parker Lions (1952-1957)
48-23-1, .674 regular-season winning percentage, 3 NFL Championships

The most competitive rivalry of the 1950s featured the Detroit Lions and the Los Angeles Rams. From 1950-55, the Lions or Rams won every Western Conference title, and every NFL Championship was won by one of those two or the Browns. The problem for Detroit and L.A. was that they played in the same conference. Detroit, with three championships to the Rams' one, came out on top.

The Lions were quarterbacked by Hall of Famer Bobby Layne, but the team's greatest strength was its defense. Two Hall of Fame safeties, Jack Christiansen and Yale Lary, were joined by middle linebacker Joe Schmidt, who has been forgotten today (along with all the other greats who played before televised games were commonplace), but was one of the greatest defensive players in history. Christiansen and Lary, in addition to their superb defense — they combined for 96 career interceptions — were important special teams contributors, as well. Christiansen was probably the best punt returner in history, and Lary was one of the greatest punters ever.

Detroit's .674 winning percentage doesn't look particularly dynastic: that's 10 or 11 wins per year in a 16-game season, which is good, but not Don Hutson or Otto Graham territory. The problem is that Layne was hurt in 1955, playing all season with a bad shoulder, and the team went 3-9. Take out that one bad year, and the Lions were 45-14-1 (.758). They "only" outscored opponents 1733-1280, but again, drop that '55 campaign, and it's 1503-1005. This team wasn't as dominant in the regular season as the other teams we've examined, but it won three championships, two of them against Graham's Browns. Part of the way we measure dynasties is by their performance against other great teams, and in that respect, the 1950s Lions measure up with just about anyone.

The Vince Lombardi Packers (1959-1967)
89-29-4, .746 regular-season winning percentage, 5 NFL Championships

The team that brought dynasties into the Super Bowl era, Lombardi's Packers won NFL Championships in 1961 and '62 and three straight years from 1965-67, the only team in history with three straight NFL titles. The last two league championships, in 1966 and '67, earned the Packers the right to play in Super Bowls I and II. Green Bay won big both times, 35-10 and 33-14. This team was stocked with legends, from the head coach and quarterback (Lombardi and Bart Starr, respectively) to a pair of Hall of Fame running backs and two Hall of Fame offensive lineman to a legendary middle linebacker to multiple Hall of Famers on the defensive line and in the defensive backfield. I haven't even mentioned borderline HOFers Jerry Kramer, Ron Kramer, and Dave Robinson.

During Lombardi's tenure in Green Bay, his team compiled a record that translates to nine seasons of 12-4 football, while outscoring the opposition 3080-1873. That's impressive and, yes, dynastic. But what really set the Packers apart was their performance in the postseason. Lombardi's 9-1 record as a coach in the postseason is the best in history — others have more wins, but no one can touch his .900 winning percentage — and the team's five NFL championships in seven years are unequaled throughout the league's history.

The Roger Staubach Cowboys (1969-1979)
116-41-1, .737 regular-season winning percentage, won 2 Super Bowls

The Cowboys actually had 20 winning seasons in a row, from 1966-1985, but this was the most dominant stretch. During the 11 seasons Staubach was in Dallas, the team made the playoffs nine times, played in five Super Bowls, and won two championships. Two may not sound like much after Lombardi's Packers, but the Cowboys were a dominant, front-running team for a decade or more. Season-in, season-out, it was a given that you had to beat the Cowboys if you wanted to win it all. During a decade in which Minnesota, Washington, and the Rams were all strong teams, the Cowboys still won the NFC five times in ten seasons. The only other team with five Super Bowl appearances in a ten-year period is nobody.

And it's really a nine-year period, beginning with Super Bowl V and ending with Super Bowl XIII.

During the Staubach years, the Cowboys outscored their opponents 3818-2539. The team features plenty of Hall of Famers — besides Staubach, you've got head coach Tom Landry, offensive tackle Rayfield Wright, defensive tackles Bob Lilly and Randy White, defensive back Mel Renfro, and a year or two from several others — but it also has plenty of snubs, most notably wide receiver Bob Hayes, linebacker Chuck Howley, and safety Cliff Harris.

The Paul Warfield Dolphins (1970-1975)
67-16-1, .804 regular-season winning percentage, won 2 Super Bowls

I can hear you now. What Dolphin dynasty? Who the heck is Paul Warfield?

These Dolphin teams won three straight AFC championships and two Super Bowls, including that 1972 season you might have heard about. What's interesting is that if you listen to players and coaches from that team, almost to a man they swear that the 1973 team, which "only" went 12-2, was better than the undefeated '72 Dolphins. Their 1972-73 seasons represent the best two-year record in league history, and the other years I've included (10-4, 10-3-1, 11-3, 10-4) weren't too shabby, either.

Paul Warfield was a wide receiver, one of five Hall of Famers on Miami's offense. He began his career in Cleveland while Jim Brown was still playing. In Warfield's rookie season, he finished fourth in the NFL in receiving yards and Cleveland won the NFL Championship. But Cleveland was a running team — Brown was succeeded by another Hall of Famer, Leroy Kelly — and Warfield didn't post big numbers. In 1970 he was traded to Miami, where he also did not post big numbers.

The Dolphins were so good at this time that they seldom needed to pass. With the best interior offensive line in the history of professional football (Jim Langer, Larry Little, and Bob Kuechenberg) and the best one-two running back punch in the league (Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris), the Dolphins were a running team. But with Warfield in the lineup, the deep pass was always a threat. He averaged more than 20 yards per reception for his career — as a comparison, Randy Moss averages 15.8 — and retired with 85 receiving TDs, which was then the third-highest total in history.

In addition to a great offense, Miami also boasted one of the league's best defenses. From 1970-75, the Dolphins outscored opposing teams 2024-1161. Their .804 winning percentage over that span is equivalent to about 13-3 in a 16-game season. The team's dominance eventually ended due to a combination of defections (Warfield and Csonka both left for the World Football League) and the rise of the Steel Curtain.

The Steel Curtain (1972-1979)
88-27-1, .763 regular-season winning percentage, won 4 Super Bowls

I've identified other dynastic teams by a star player or coach, but the Steelers had so many great players, it's impossible — insulting, even — to restrict it to a single person. This club featured ten Hall of Famers: Chuck Noll, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, Mike Webster, Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, and Mel Blount. The Steel Curtain was probably the best defense in the history of professional football, and the offense had more Hall of Famers. This team was exceptional on both sides of the ball.

More than anything, it had an aura of success. From 1972-79, Pittsburgh went 50-1 against teams that finished under .500. These guys just didn't underperform. More importantly, though, they raised their game when the stakes were highest. Bradshaw, Harris, and Swann were all big-game players, guys who saved their best moments for the biggest stage. Pittsburgh's last Super Bowl win came against the overachieving '79 Rams, but the other three were against the mighty Vikings, led by Fran Tarkenton and the Purple Gang, or — in Super Bowls X and XIII — the Roger Staubach Cowboys. From 1972-79, the Steelers outscored their opponents 2765-1574.

The Ted Hendricks Raiders (1974-1983)
103-42, .710 regular-season winning percentage, won 3 Super Bowls

I could call them the Stabler/Plunkett Raiders, but Hendricks — a Hall of Fame linebacker — arrived in 1976, when the Raiders won their first Super Bowl, and retired after the 1983 season, when they won their third and final Super Bowl. The Raiders have a lower winning percentage than most of the other teams we're examining, but they're distinguished by consistent success. From 1965-1986, they had only one losing season. Along the way, they played in 11 AFL or AFC Championship Games and four Super Bowls. Eleven conference championship appearances in 17 years? Twenty-one winning seasons in 22 years? Those are special accomplishments.

I've chosen this 12-year period to represent the team, even though it omits 1967-1970, when Oakland was 45-8-3 (.830) and played in four conference championship games. The Ted Hendricks years — really 1976-83 — represent the heart of the team's Super Bowl success, and I tacked on 1974-75, when the Raiders went 23-5 (.821) and played in two AFC Championship Games, losing both to the Steel Curtain dynasty. During this time, the Raiders, playing in both Oakland and Los Angeles, outscored opposing teams 3446-2757. Hall of Famers included Hendricks, John Madden, Fred Biletnikoff, Dave Casper, Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Willie Brown, Howie Long, and — just for a year or two — Marcus Allen, George Blanda, Mike Haynes, and Jim Otto. There was an awful lot of talent on these teams.

The Joe Montana 49ers (1981-1990)
112-39-1, .740 regular-season winning percentage, won 4 Super Bowls

There is a case to be made for extending this dynasty into the Steve Young years, since from 1991-94, the team was 47-17 (.734) and won another Super Bowl. But one Super Bowl in four years doesn't look so great after four titles in nine years with Montana at the helm. Besides, we don't want to step on anyone's toes here, especially Jerry Jones'.

The 1980s were dominated by the NFC. Even the two Super Bowls won by the Raiders (in 1980 and '83) were upsets over strong NFC teams. This ultra-competitive NFC featured the 49ers, a similarly dynastic team in Washington, the Bills Parcells Giants, and the Mike Ditka Bears. Emerging from this glut of greatness, San Francisco conquered the NFC four times in the 1980s, winning the Super Bowl all four times. These teams didn't have a lot of Hall of Famers. Head coach Bill Walsh is in, and Montana is in. Ronnie Lott is in. Defensive end Fred Dean was just elected to the Hall, but he retired after the 1985 season, and didn't play in Super Bowls XXIII or XXIV. Jerry Rice is a sure-fire Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible, but he didn't enter the league until 1985, missing Super Bowls XVI and XIX. That means the Niners had three Hall of Fame players in each Super Bowl.

How did this team accomplish so much with only a few superstars? Well, first of all, it had a lot of good players who weren't HOF-caliber, but were decidedly above average, people like Dwight Clark and Roger Craig. Secondly, Rice and Lott were not only Hall of Famers, they were outstanding in a historic sense. But the keys were Walsh and Montana. Walsh was an innovator who always made the most of what was available. Montana was one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play, and he was at his best in big games. Many fans know that Montana — the only three-time Super Bowl MVP in history — never threw an interception in the Super Bowl. What is less well-known is that from 1981-90, the 49ers went 51-22 against teams that finished at or above .500. That .699 winning percentage against good teams is among the best in history. Imagine going 11-5 against a schedule made up of nothing but playoff teams, and that's the Joe Montana 49ers.

The Joe Gibbs Redskins (1982-1991)
107-45, .704 regular-season winning percentage, won 3 Super Bowls

I've written before about Washington's 1983 season. I named them the second-best team not to win a Super Bowl and the sixth-best offense in history. The team went 14-2, with both losses coming by a single point, and set a league record for points in a season. Quarterback Joe Theismann was named NFL MVP, John Riggins set a new single-season touchdown record, and the defense led the NFL in interceptions and rushing defense. They won their first playoff game 51-7 and beat Montana's 49ers in the NFC Championship. Then they went out and got blasted by the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII, losing 38-9.

I gave you a whole paragraph about that team — which many Washington fans insist was the best in franchise history — because if Washington had won that Super Bowl, it would have matched San Francisco with four wins, and there might be legitimate debate as to who was the team of the '80s. Hall of Famers on these teams included Gibbs, Riggins, and newly-elected members Art Monk and Darrell Green. Interestingly, none of those players appeared in all four Super Bowls. Riggins retired after the 1985 season, Green wasn't drafted until 1983, and Monk missed Super Bowl XVII with an injury. It seems likely that at least one of the Hogs — the famous offensive line that anchored Washington's dynasty — will also be selected to the Hall in the future (guard Russ Grimm, a four-time finalist, seems most probable).

Like San Francisco's dynasty, Washington's success during the (first) Joe Gibbs era was remarkable because of the competition. Just to get out of the NFC East, Washington had to beat Parcells' Giants and strong Cowboy and Eagle teams. Once they got to the playoffs, though, Gibbs was almost unstoppable. From 1982-91, Washington was 16-5 in the postseason. The only teams with better postseason records are Lombardi's Packers (9-1) and the Tom Brady Patriots (14-3).

The Jimmy Johnson Cowboys (1991-1995)
60-20, .750 regular-season winning percentage, won 3 Super Bowls

This group had the shortest reign on the list, with only five years of true dominance, but made up for lost quantity with lots of quality. A .750 winning percentage is nice — the Cowboys were 11-5 in 1991, then 13-3, followed by three straight seasons at 12-4. More than regular-season dominance, though, what set this team apart was its success in the postseason, and specifically, against the K-Gun Bills, the Steve Young 49ers, and the Mike Holmgren Packers.

In the 1992 playoffs, Dallas won the NFC Championship Game at San Francisco and pounded Buffalo 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII. The next year, they beat the Brett Favre-led Packers in the divisional playoffs, the 49ers in the NFC Championship, and the Bills in the Super Bowl. In '94, a 35-9 pounding of the Packers was followed — finally — by a loss at San Francisco in the NFC title game. But Dallas was back in '95, beating Green Bay for the NFC Championship before conquering the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX. Nothing says "dynasty" like beating other great teams.

During these five seasons, the Cowboys outscored other teams 1976-1321. Several of the best players from this era aren't eligible for the Hall of Fame yet, but Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin are already in, while Emmitt Smith is a lock when he becomes eligible. Larry Allen and Deion Sanders, who joined the 'Boys in 1994 and '95, respectively, also have secure places in Canton. No one else seems likely to get in, but safety Darren Woodson and sack specialist Charles Haley will have a chance, center Mark Stepnoski has a prayer, and I personally feel that fullback Daryl Johnston should have gotten in on the first ballot.

The Tom Brady Patriots (2001-2007)
86-26, .768 regular-season winning percentage, won 3 Super Bowls

Note that even with the Super Bowl loss, and if the Patriots collapse next year, their legacy is already secure. Seven seasons is very decent, a .768 winning percentage is great, and three Super Bowl victories is unassailable. The controversy here, if any exists, is that I've named this dynasty after its quarterback rather than its head coach. Why? Well, Bill Belichick coached the Patriots in 2000, when the team went 5-11 — not that I blame him for that — and Brady didn't become a starter until '01, which is when the winning started. And — let's be straight here — he's a pretty good quarterback.

This is an "and counting" dynasty, so it's very difficult to predict its Hall of Fame roster, but here's my best guess. Locks include Belichick, Brady, and Junior Seau. Near-locks are Randy Moss and Richard Seymour, while the strongest maybes are Rodney Harrison and Adam Vinatieri, though there are others — particularly some of the younger guys — who will have a shot as well. During the dynasty years, New England has outscored opponents 2890-1965.

Sorting Things Out

I've shown you a lot of numbers. Let's try to put them all in one place, starting with regular-season winning percentage.

Regular-Season Winning Percentage

There are four teams that I believe stand out here. Two are the Browns (.849) and Dolphins (.804), with their +.800 winning percentages. On the other side are the Giants (.689) and Lions (.674), both well under .700. I would also give positive marks to the Bears (.782), who were in the very high .700s, and the Patriots, who are .768 in an era when that kind of success is very difficult to sustain.

Points For and Against

Points For and Against

I'm not sure how valuable this data is, but it's interesting to see how closely the ratio of points for to points against corresponds to winning percentage.

Championship Appearances and Titles

From 1966 on, only Super Bowls qualify for titles and championship appearances.

Championship Appearances and Titles

The Browns stand out in a big way here, with the Bears (seven title game appearances) and Lombardi's Packers (five championships) also positively distinguished. Less impressive are the Eagles and Dolphins, each with only two titles and three championship appearances.

Before we actually rank these 15 groups, let's remember that these are probably the 15 most dynastic teams in NFL history; ranking 15th is a compliment, not an insult. I think the top six are the ones which have to qualify as dynasties. The seventh to 10th spots are borderline, and I think 11-15 were just great teams, not real dynasties.

15. The Steve Van Buren Eagles (1944-1949)

In 1948, when the Eagles won their first championship, the Browns went 14-0 in the AAFC. The Eagles dominated the NFL in the late 1940s, but their dominance was short-lived, and it is possible that they were never the best team in professional football.

14. The Mel Hein Giants (1933-1941)

They ruled the NFL's Eastern Division, but seldom matched up with the best teams in the West. Their best record was 9-1-1 in 1939, when they lost 27-0 in the NFL Championship Game. This was a great team, but probably only the third-best of its own era.

13. The Buddy Parker Lions (1952-1957)

Conventional wisdom rates them higher than this, but the only area in which the Lions excelled was their championship total. That's the name of the game, and it's the reason they're ranked here at all, but the Lions weren't really a dominant team. In only one of these six seasons (1953) did they post a record of .800 or better.

12. The Paul Warfield Dolphins (1970-1975)

I know they had that .804 regular-season winning percentage, but I'm not impressed by short-lived dominance. Six years is very good, but it's just not that impressive with this kind of company.

11. The Ted Hendricks Raiders (1974-1983)

There are several ways to look at this team. A nice way is as one of the most talented teams in the history of professional football. Another is as a group of colossal underachievers who couldn't beat the Steelers and frequently lost when the stakes were highest.

10. The Don Hutson Packers (1936-1944)

I ranked them sixth when I wrote my original piece three years ago. There are four main reasons I have dropped them now: [1] They're a clear-cut second to the Bears in their own era; [2] They had very little star power outside of Hutson; [3] Most great players left football for the war, and in their absence, Hutson dominated the league in a way that never has and never will be replicated; [4] The Patriots passed them.

9. The Jimmy Johnson Cowboys (1991-1995)

Five seasons. If you made them hang on for 10 years, their record is 101-59 (.631). I hate myself for ranking them ahead of Hutson.

8. The Joe Gibbs Redskins (1982-1991)

Like Hutson's Packers, their problem is ranking second in their own decade. That .704 regular-season winning percentage didn't blow me out of the water, either. The team got very inconsistent — or the NFC East just got really tough — in the late 1980s.

7. The Roger Staubach Cowboys (1969-1979)

Given that they only won two Super Bowls, I think this a pretty generous ranking. I do like the prolonged dominance.

6. The Tom Brady Patriots (2001-2007)

I suspect they will eventually be higher than this.

5. The Joe Montana 49ers (1981-1990)

Yes, I know you think they should be higher. But they barely beat Washington as team of the decade, they only had three or four Hall of Fame players, and they only had four or five really great seasons.

4. The Sid Luckman Bears (1933-1943)

A reasonable argument can be made for putting them at the top of the list. Or the bottom of the list, I guess, since I'm doing this in reverse order. Four titles. Seven championship appearances. Hall of Famers galore. Incredible winning percentage and ratio of points for and against. But almost all of that was done from 1940-43. Yes, the Bears won a championship in 1933. The next one came seven years later. And the Bears, like Green Bay, benefited from certain people not going to war, most notably Luckman. Did Chicago lose good players? Absolutely. I just don't see this being better than the Steelers.

3. The Steel Curtain (1972-1979)

I agonized over who to put second. The 1970s Steelers dominated a decade of dynasties. On this list alone, they beat out the Cowboys, Dolphins, and Raiders. I've ranked them third, but if you want to put Pittsburgh second, I'm not going to argue with that, either.

2. The Vince Lombardi Packers (1959-1967)

Why did I rank them ahead of the Steelers? Math. The Steelers won four championships; the Packers won five. Green Bay made it to six championship games, while the Steelers only played in four. The Packers had 11 Hall of Famers to Pittsburgh's 10. Little differences, all of them, but added up, I gave Green Bay the edge.

1. The Otto Graham Browns (1946-1955)

I admit it: I am awed by this team. You've probably been able to tell since the beginning of this article. The Browns won seven league championships; no one else won more than five. The Browns played in 10 straight title games; no one else made more than four in a row (or more than seven total). The Browns posted a disgusting .849 winning percentage, while no one else topped .804. The one team that got that high, Miami, did it over a period of six years, which is much easier than sustaining that kind of dominance for a decade. Even if you don't trust the AAFC statistics, Cleveland was .813 in the NFL. That's still better than anyone else! They played for the championship every single year! It's insane, and it will never be equaled.

Comments and Conversation

February 16, 2008

Bruce Dineen:

On your dynasty rankings-you said the Detroit Lions won three championships in the 1950’s -two against the Cleveland Browns,Actually Detroit played in FOUR NFL title games in the 50’s-ALL against the Browns and the Lions WON THREE OUT OF FOUR AGAINST CLEVELAND

February 19, 2008

Brad Oremland:

Bruce,
Here’s the sentence to which you refer:

“[The Buddy Parker Lions] won three championships, two of them against Graham’s Browns.”

Otto Graham retired in 1955, and the Lions won their third championship against the Browns in 1957.

February 22, 2008

Bruce Dineen:

I agree w/you completely-we must have got our wires crossed-BECAUSE I am an old man and remember when the Lions defeated the Browns 59-14 in the 1957 title game.Graham’s last game was when he defeated the Rams in the ‘55 title game AND Buddy Parker quit the Lions in a huff right in the middle of training camp for the ‘57 season and George Wilson took over -The Lions owned the Browns in the fifties

March 4, 2008

Bruce Dineen:

Brad, The thing is Buddy Parker’s Lions never won three NFL titles-they won two(1952-1953).George Wilson won the 1957 title.Not only did the Lions win THREE out of FOUR title games from the Browns in the 50’s-but they won ALL THREE REGULAR SEASON MEETINGS(TWO against OTTO GRAHAM) SO all told the LIONS won FOUR out of FIVE over GRAHAM-TWO OUT OF THREE IN NFL TITLE GAMES-Like I said before in the fifties(with or without Graham)the LIONS owned the browns(“6’ out of “7” in the fifties!

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