The Top 10 NFL Teams of the Decade (UPDATED AGAIN)
With the ’00s coming to a close, I thought it’d be a good time to look back on the best football teams I’ve seen this year. Sit back and relax, because these are the Top 10 Teams of the Decade. *cue dramatic music*
10. Denver Broncos, 2005
Fate: Lost AFC Championship Game vs. Pittsburgh
Coach: Mike Shanahan
Pro Bowlers: 5 (QB Jake Plummer, WR Rod Smith, MLB Al Wilson, CB Champ Bailey, FS John Lynch)
Bio: This team is known in New England circles as the first to ever beat Brady and Belichick in the playoffs. They were downright dangerous. For once in his career, Jake Plummer hit his stride, throwing just seven interceptions against eighteen touchdowns. The defense was stoic and impregnable, a collection of cagey veterans that forced 41 turnovers throughout the year. The Steelers defense forced Plummer into several mistakes en route to their Super Bowl appearance, but this was a team that could have easily proved a match for the Seahawks in the Super Bowl had they won it. This was also Rod Smith’s last year of productivity, as he would fade into obscurity next year before retiring.
9. Buffalo Bills, 2004
Fate: 3rd Place, AFC East
Coach: Mike Mularkey
Pro Bowlers: 4 (DT Sam Adams, OLB Takeo Spikes, CB/KR Terrence McGee, CB/KR Nate Clements)
Bio: Bio: The 2004 Bills are a team that almost nobody respects and yet, despite that, they are easily one of the most intimidating defenses to have come to pass in the last ten years. Players like Adams, Spikes, and Clements were all on this team performing at their peak. They went on a tear down the homestretch, blowing out six teams by an average score of 38-14 and just missing the playoffs with a Week 17 loss to Pittsburgh. The Jets, with Chad Pennington at his best, were unable to muster more than 22 points. The Seahawks, who would lead the league in offense a year later, were held to three field goals. With an easier schedule, 12-4 could have been a solid possibility.
8. Baltimore Ravens, 2009
Fate: Lost AFC Divisional Game vs. Indianapolis
Coach: John Harbaugh
Pro Bowlers: 5 (RB Ray Rice, FB Le’Ron McClain, DT Haloti Ngata, ILB Ray Lewis, FS Ed Reed)
Bio: I know what you’re thinking: “9-7 AND THE 8TH BEST THIS DECADE!?” Well, yeah, for a couple of reasons. For one, this team was better than their record suggests. They kept losses close even with a defense hampered by injury, they were never blown out or beaten by a bad team, and they managed to stomp even good teams like the then-undefeated Broncos and Chargers. Second-year back Ray Rice is a Pro Bowler already and has proved himself a capable threat rushing and receiving, while QB Joe Flacco has also appeared more than competent in just his second year. This team might have been WR Derrick Mason’s last, best chance to get a Super Bowl ring.
7. Tennessee Titans, 2000
Fate: Lost AFC Divisional Game vs. Baltimore
Coach: Jeff Fisher
Pro Bowlers: 9 (QB Steve McNair, RB Eddie George, WR/KR Derrick Mason, TE Frank Wycheck, LT Brad Hopkins, LG Bruce Matthews, DE Jevon Kearse, CB Samari Rolle, SS Blaine Bishop)
Bio: You want to know how good this team’s defense was? When the playoffs began, no team had scored against them in three weeks. No team had found the endzone in over a month. They never lost a game by more than three points, and took several teams down in convincing fashion, including the eventual Super Bowl champion (and consensus league pacesetter) Ravens. While Baltimore would eventually claim vengeance in the playoffs, it was a hard-fought loss controlled by Tennessee for three quarters. Only a special teams touchdown and a defensive touchdown could put the Titans down for good. A sad end for a team that came up a tragic yard short of winning the Super Bowl the year before.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2002
Fate: Won Super Bowl XXXVII vs. Oakland
Coach: Jon Gruden
Pro Bowlers: 7 (QB Brad Johnson, FB Mike Alstott, DT Warren Sapp, DE Simeon Rice, MLB Shelton Quarles, OLB Derrick Brooks, SS John Lynch)
Bio: When you make a quarterback as mediocre as Brad Johnson into a Pro Bowler, odds are you’re a pretty good team. The Buccaneers housed as dominant a defense as they come, with potential Hall of Famers at every level. In the Super Bowl, against the league-leading offense of the Oakland Raiders, the Buccaneers made the game a laugher that ended with Rich Gannon getting sacked and picked five times each. Suffice to say, mere average offenses never stood a chance. The Bucs allowed a meager 12 points per game and never lost by more than 10 points. No team ever scored more than 24 without needing overtime.
5. Philadelphia Eagles, 2008
Fate: Lost NFC Championship Game vs. Arizona
Coach: Andy Reid
Pro Bowlers: 2 (CB Asante Samuel, FS Brian Dawkins)
Bio: Another controversial team that got hot at the right time. They hit their lowest point when they came off a tie against the woeful Cincinnati Bengals and phoned it in against the Ravens in Baltimore. They benched their franchise quarterback for poor performance for the first time. But when it mattered, starting with a scorching win over Arizona, this team was on fire, besting the reigning champion Giants twice, including a win in the divisional round. They also delivered the killing blow to the playoff hopes of the Dallas Cowboys, crushing them 44-6. Their run came to an end against an even-hotter Cardinals team that looked like the team of destiny, but it was a run to remember.
4. Indianapolis Colts, 2005
Fate: Lost AFC Divisional Game vs. Pittsburgh
Coach: Tony Dungy
Pro Bowlers: 8 (QB Peyton Manning, RB Edgerrin James, WR Marvin Harrison, OT Tarik Glenn, C Jeff Saturday, DE Dwight Freeney, OLB Cato June, FS Bob Sanders)
Bio: The Colts would go on after having their best record in franchise history to win a Super Bowl title a year later, but that doesn’t mean that this squad was lesser than their Super Bowl incarnation. They won 13 straight games to start the season. For years before ’05, the Colts would build a strong regular season record on purely offense and winning shootouts, but this was a year where the defense stepped up and played just as hard. They lost to the eventual champion Steelers in the divisional round in a game that was arguably the biggest upset in modern playoff memory, but that doesn’t take the shine off of a strong season by the first team to appear honest-to-goodness unbeatable this decade.
3. New England Patriots, 2004
Fate: Won Super Bowl XXXIX vs. Philadelphia
Coach: Bill Belichick
Pro Bowlers: 6 (QB Tom Brady, RB Corey Dillon, DT Richard Seymour, MLB Tedy Bruschi, K Adam Vinatieri, ST Larry Izzo)
Bio: The 2004 Patriots are largely considered one of the greatest Super Bowl champions in the history of the league. They were certainly the best of the decade. With a veteran defense that would become legendary, the Patriots merely dominated every team they encountered, with a couple exceptions. While a fantastic Pittsburgh team beat them at Heinz Field, the Pats would come back and repay the beatdown with interest when it really mattered: in the playoffs.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers, 2004
Fate: Lost AFC Championship Game vs. New England
Coach: Bill Cowher
Pro Bowlers: 9 (RB Jerome Bettis, WR Hines Ward, C Jeff Hartings, OG Alan Faneca, OT Marvel Smith, DE Aaron Smith, MLB James Farrior, OLB Joey Porter, SS Troy Polamalu)
Bio: If it weren’t for the heroic accomplishments of the team above this one, or perhaps if it weren’t for the less-than-stellar performance they put on in the AFC championship game, this team would have been remembered as the decade’s best. While the franchise would win two more titles years later, neither of those squads was quite as good as this one. With a pulverizing (if inconsistent) defense and an offense that moved the ball with a high degree of efficiency, the Steelers were the team to beat in 2004. They bested both Super Bowl contestants in the regular season, and ended the year with a 14-game winning streak.
1. New England Patriots, 2007
Fate: Lost Super Bowl XLII vs. New York Giants
Coach: Bill Belichick
Pro Bowlers: 8 (QB Tom Brady, WR Randy Moss, OG Matt Light, OT Logan Mankins, C Dan Koppen, DT Vince Wilfork, OLB Mike Vrabel, CB Asante Samuel)
Bio: One of the best and most controversial teams in NFL history. Probably the best that I’ve ever seen in my 12 years of football spectatorship. The 2007 Patriots will be remembered by everyone for either being the first team to complete a 16-0 regular season, or for the infamous “Spygate” incident that hung over the team. It has been suggested by many that the disrespect that Coach Belichick perceived from the rest of the league for the incident is what led him to tell his team to blow opponents out of the water, as if to prove that his team was as good as any with or without cheating. For weeks, the Patriots looked unbeatable, but a proud and scrappy Giants squad proved their betters in the end.