Home > Football, Rants > The Top 10 NFL Teams of the Decade (UPDATED AGAIN)

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
Record: 13-3
Offense: 2nd
Defense: 9th
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
Record: 9-7
Offense: 21st
Defense: 1st
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
Record: 9-7
Offense: 8th
Defense: 3rd
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
Record: 13-3
Offense: 16th
Defense: 1st
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
Record: 12-4
Offense: 20th
Defense: 1st
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
Record: 9-6-1
Offense: 13th
Defense: 3rd
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
Record: 14-2
Offense: 3rd
Defense: 5th
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
Record: 14-2
Offense: 3rd
Defense: 6th
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
Record: 15-1
Offense: 8th
Defense: 3rd
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
Record: 16-0
Offense: 1st
Defense: 12th
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.

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Categories: Football, Rants Tags: ,
  1. March 16, 2010 at 3:02 PM

    Good lord, this list is awful.

    THREE teams that only won nine games?!?!
    Only TWO Super Bowl Champions?!?!

    Wow.

    • March 16, 2010 at 3:53 PM

      Allow me to explain and rebut.

      At least you’re being forthright and honest, but I think the logic of “Super Bowl Champ = Best Team That Year” doesn’t hold water. The 2000 Ravens are lauded as one of the best defenses of all time because they won the Lombardi Trophy and held the Giants scoreless on offense and yet, statistically, they were behind the Titans in both overall defense and in wins that year. You’d get laughed out of a building if you tried to contend seriously that the Steelers were the best team in the league in 2005. Sure, they won the only prize that matters by beating two of the teams on this list, but calling them the league’s best (which is what this list sought to quantify and rank) is questionable. The Patriots in 2001 were barely an average team, but they won when it mattered.

      I’m also of the opinion that win-loss record is a weak indicator of team strength. The ’04 Bills, ’08 Eagles and ’09 Ravens had great years, but couldn’t “find ways to win” or were defeated by pure fluky luck. Each outscored their opponents by over 100 points over the course of the season, had multiple Pro Bowlers, and made it over .500 against a highly difficult schedule. The two teams that made the playoffs both won at least one postseason game and were only defeated by the eventual champion of their conference. The Eagles were only kept from the Super Bowl due to the superhuman efforts of an All-Pro receiver on the other sideline.

  2. March 16, 2010 at 4:27 PM

    I agree that the best team doesn’t always win the Super Bowl — the Giants-Pats Super Bowl is proof enough of that. Therefore, listing the ten best teams of the decade does not necessarily mean simply ranking the Super Bowl champions. However, truly great teams find a way to win MOST of the time, and at the very least, contend for the Super Bowl. You’ve got a Bills team here that MISSED the playoffs ahead of eight teams that actually won the Super Bowl. That’s incomprehensible.

    Another pick that jumped out at me was Baltimore at #8. I fully agree that they were better than their record suggests. No argument here. But you have them as the BEST team of 2009? Um, what? Let’s just assume that the Saints weren’t the best team for a moment — how on earth were the Ravens better than the Colts? The Colts won FIVE more regular season games, actually went to the Super Bowl, and defeated the Ravens in BOTH of their meetings (one regular season, one postseason). Yeah, Baltimore had great offensive and defensive rankings, but only in Bizarro World could they be considered better than the 2009 Colts. And trust me, I’m being polite about this.

    Bottom line: You can crunch the numbers and pad your argument with stats all you want, but when you’ve got 80% of the Super Bowl champions ranked behind a team that couldn’t even make the playoffs (and that’s not even your worst pick!) it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to see the credibility in any of your more reasonable comments.

    • March 16, 2010 at 6:11 PM

      The reason the 2009 Colts don’t show up on the list is very simple: they jobbed at the end of the season like they always do. The 2005 Colts had the same record, but I consider them the better team even though they immediately lost in the divisional round. They didn’t put Curtis Painter/Jim Sorgi out to go get his throat stomped on by Buffalo and the Jets. The Ravens, on the other hand, played hard and won a series of convincing victories against very good teams. They lost a lot more games, but their biggest loss was against Green Bay, a very good team. The Saints were a great team this year and played hard, but I still have to consider that the Rams and Redskins came within a touchdown and a field goal, respectively, of beating them. On top of that, they lost to Tampa Bay at home with their starters, and almost lost again to Minnesota.

      The 2004 Bills, I can understand the issue with, but I put them on the list because they were a truly terrifying defense when they were healthy. If their inclusion gives you such cognitive dissonance just drop them, move the Broncos up one and put the 2007 Colts at number 10.

      Again, these are just my opinion. The 2000s were a strange decade for Super Bowl champs. TWO Wild Card teams (’05 Steelers, ’07 Giants) achieved in three years what no team had achieved before in winning the big game after playing three consecutive road playoff games. The ’00 Ravens and ’06 Colts won the big game without a bye. That leaves six winners who won the Super Bowl with a bye:

      ’01 Patriots: One of the weakest Super Bowl champions in history. Needed an obscure rule to win their first playoff game, and were unimpressive throughout the regular season.

      ’02 Buccaneers: On the list.

      ’03 Patriots: Racked up 14 wins, but got shut out against Buffalo and lost to the 5-11 Redskins. Needed late-game heroics and a kickoff out of bounds to beat the Panthers in SB XXXVIII.

      ’04 Patriots: On the list.

      ’08 Steelers: Huge, glaring weakness in the offensive line leads to underwhelming offense. Got spanked by Tennessee and Philadelphia.

      ’09 Saints: Reasons outlined above.

      I’m not saying you’re “wrong” or anything, I’m just pointing out my reasoning. It doesn’t resonate with you because you value Super Bowl wins and playoff success more than I did while I was compiling this list, and that’s legit. I understand that entirely.

  3. March 16, 2010 at 6:52 PM

    Let me start off by saying that I truly appreciate that you’ve taken the time to respond to my criticisms — you could have easily shrugged them off or told me where to go. Thank you for that.

    I didn’t mean to make it sound as though I’m baffled by the exclusion of the 2009 Colts. They COULD and probably SHOULD have been one of the best, but they took their foot off the gas, and came up short when it mattered. Their exclusion does not bother me at all. I only mentioned them because they were, by almost any measure, SUBSTANTIALLY better than the 2009 Ravens. My sincere question for you involves these two teams only — how were the 2009 Ravens better than the 2009 Colts? I mean, even if you base your argument on Baltimore’s TOUGH schedule (and I’m clearly not denying it — they had it rough), Indy still won five more regular season games, advanced further in the playoffs, and defeated the Ravens in Baltimore during the regular season AND in Indy during the playoffs. I simply cannot fathom in what way the Ravens were the superior team. I could expand this argument to include the Saints, the Vikings, the Packers, and several other teams as well, but in my mind, the Colts-Ravens debate is the most open and shut. The Ravens went 10-8 overall, and failed twice to defeat the Colts in head-to-head matchups. How were they the better team?

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