NFL: The top 30 teams of the modern era

The 1960 season represents the start of the modern era in professional football. That's the year that Lamar Hunt founded the American Football League, and that led to the AFL-NFL World Championship game that soon became known as the Super Bowl.

top 30 nfl teams of the modern era
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NFL: The top 30 teams of the modern era
30. 1963 San Diego Chargers

While there is no doubt that this pick is controversial since this version of the Chargers played in the early days of the American Football League, head coach Sid Gillman’s team was an offensive juggernaut.

The Chargers had the No. 1 offensive and defensive team in the AFL that season, and they had one of the best 1-2 punches at the running back position with Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln. Quarterback Tobin Rote was a smart and solid leader who could make all the throws in Gillman’s offense, but what really made this team special was the presence of wide receiver Lance Alworth. Silky smooth and deceptively strong, Alworth caught everything that he could catch and he was an exceptional runner.

The Chargers hosted the Boston Patriots in the AFL Championship game and rolled to a 51-10 victory in San Diego’s Balboa Stadium. Many thought that this was the AFL’s best team of its first five years and that they could have given the 1963 NFL champion Chicago Bears a decent battle.

(Photo by Charles Aqua Viva/Getty Images)
29. 1969 Kansas City Chief

The Chiefs were a battle-tested and well-schooled team under head coach Hank Stram and they were the last team to represent the AFL in the Super Bowl because the merger took effect with the start of the 1970 season. The Chiefs beat the defending Super Bowl champion New York Jets on the road in the playoffs and then overcame their archrivals, the Oakland Raiders in the AFL Championship game.

Len Dawson was a sharp leader and one of the most accurate quarterbacks of his day, and his ability to find his receivers on third downs allowed the Chiefs to keep drives alive. The Chiefs had a particularly vicious defense led by middle linebacker Willie Lanier and defensive end Buck Buchanan.

They hammered the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 in Super Bowl IV, and allowed the AFL to go out as two-time defending Super Bowl champions.

(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
28. 1960 Philadelphia Eagles

While this team is not often recognized as one of the great teams in NFL history, the 1960 Eagles did something that no other team was able to accomplish. The Eagles beat Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers in the NFL Championship game, and that’s the only time that Lombardi’s team ever tasted defeat in the postseason.

Head coach Buck Shaw had a largely veteran team that was led by the irascible Norm Van Brocklin at quarterback. While the Dutchman was in his final season as a player – he would go on to coach the expansion Minnesota Vikings in 1961 – he made big plays in clutch situations and threw 24 TD passes. The defense was led by hard-hitting linebacker Chuck Bednarik.

On the final play of the championship game, Packer fullback Jim Taylor caught a pass and was headed towards the goalline before Bednarik tackled him. Bednarik refused to get off Taylor, and the clock ran out and gave the Eagles the 1960 NFL championship.

(Photo by Herb Scharfman/Sports Imagery/Getty Images)
27. 1967 Dallas Cowboys

If you are looking for the 1967 Cowboys as an NFL or Super Bowl champions, you will not find them on any list. They may not have won a title that year, but they played in one of the greatest championship games played in NFL history.

The Cowboys were an emerging Eastern Conference powerhouse, and Tom Landry’s team was getting better each year. They had lost the 1966 title game to the Green Bay Packers at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, but this year they were forced to go to Lambeau Field to take on the defending champions.

The game was played in perhaps the most brutal conditions in sports history, as the two sides went at each other in minus-16 degree temperatures. The Cowboys heroically battled back from a 14-0 deficit to take a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter when running back Dan Reeves hit wide receiver Lance Rentzel with a 50-yard TD pass on an option play.

While the Cowboys had their hearts broken by Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak for the game-winning TD on the final play, the Cowboys showed more heart and ability in their NFL Championship game loss than most teams have demonstrated while winning.

(Photo by: Tony Tomsic/Getty Images)
26. 1966-67 Green Bay Packers

The Packers won back-to-back championships over the Dallas Cowboys in these two seasons, and then went on to represent the NFL and win the first two Super Bowls with victories over the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders.

The Packers had dominant offensive and defensive lines, and those units – led by offensive guard Jerry Kramer and defensive end Willie Davis —  were the backbones of Vince Lombardi’s teams.

They also had the brilliant leadership of quarterback Bart Starr, who would do whatever it took to win.

While Lombardi is known as a hard-edge disciplinarian, he was a multi-faceted individual who got the most out of his brilliant team on an every-game basis.

(Photo by James Flores/Getty Images)
25. 1963 Chicago Bears

This was the last of George Halas’s NFL championship teams. The Bears had a brilliant season as they went 11-1-2 during the year and finished in first place in the West Division during the regular season.

They were not an offensive juggernaut with tough guy Bill Wade at quarterback, but bull-strong tight end Mike Ditka was virtually unstoppable that year with 59 receptions for 794 yards and eight TDs. The Bears were simply dominant on defense with Doug Atkins anchoring the defensive line from his defensive end position and middle linebacker Bill George shutting down opponents in the running game. Cornerback Dave “The Weasel” Whitsell was one of the game’s top cover men and he shut down opposing receivers.

The Bears outlasted the New York Giants 14-10 in the 1963 NFL title game to win their first title since 1946.

(Photo by Robert Riger/Getty Images)
24. 1972-73 Miami Dolphins

Don Shula built a juggernaut with the Dolphins shortly after he arrived in Miami following a successful but heartbreaking stint as head coach of the Baltimore Colts. The 1968 Colts had dominated the NFL, but were beaten in Super Bowl III by the New York Jets, and that was perhaps the greatest upset in professional sports history.

Shula would suffer no such heartbreak with the Dolphins. His team had a perfect 14-0-0 regular season in 1972 even though starting quarterback Bob Griese was injured much of the year. The Dolphins were so versatile on offense with Larry Csonka at running back and Paul Warfield at wide receiver and dominant on defense that they could win regular-season games with veteran Earl Morrall under center.

The Dolphins dominated the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs before beating the Washington Redskin 14-7 in Super Bowl VII. The Dolphins defended their title brilliantly the following year, as they overpowered the Minnesota Vikings in the championship game.

(Photo by: Kidwiler Collection/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
22. 1976 Oakland Raiders

The Raiders had been one of the most consistent teams in football for a decade at the start of the 1976 season, but they had yet to win a Super Bowl because they had been beaten by championship teams like the Packers, Chiefs and Steelers. However, head coach John Madden knew there would be no stopping his team in ’76 since the Raiders had been through so many pressure situations in the past.

The Raiders had an exceptional regular season, and lost just one game. Ken Stabler’s remarkable leadership and passing accuracy had allowed the team to pass every fourth-quarter test it had, and the Raiders were loaded with confidence.

After beating the Patriots and the Steelers in the postseason, they advanced to Super Bowl XI against the Minnesota Vikings. Both teams had fallen short in the Super Bowl before, and most thought this was a dead-even game between two dominant teams.

However, the Raiders offensive line – led by Gene Upshaw and Art Shell – overpowered Minnesota’s Purple People Eaters on the defensive line and rolled to a 32-14 triumph.

(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
21. 1990 New York Giants

The Giants were a very hungry team during the 1990 season, and they got off to a brilliant start when they won their 10 games of the regular season. They cruised to a 13-3 record under Bill Parcells, as they had crushing running attack featuring Ottis Anderson and a solid quarterback in Phil Simms. However, defensive coordinator Bill Belichick was perhaps the team’s best weapon, as he put together an opportunistic defense that came through when the game is on the line.

The Giants won the NFC championship by defeating Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers on the road, but they appeared to be in over their heads in the Super Bowl against the high-powered Buffalo Bills and their K-Gun attack led by quarterback Jim Kelly.

Even though the Bills had scored 51 points in the AFC Championship game victory over the Raiders, the Giants were not intimidated. Backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler started in place of the injured Simms, and the Giants’ ball-control offense took much of the steam away from Buffalo. The Giants got the 20-19 upset when Buffalo PK Scott Norwood’s game-winning attempt at the gun went wide right.

(Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
20. 1999 St. Louis Rams

The Rams had been frustrated for decades. They had been a strong team, but the presence of teams like the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers had kept them from ever making a legitimate run at a title.

However, head coach Dick Vermeil knew he had a special team at the start of training camp, and the 1999 season coincided with the downfall of the 49ers. The Rams took a serious blow when quarterback Trent Green was injured in preseason, but the emotional Vermeil merely gave the ball to unknown backup Kurt Warner and told him that he had the opportunity of a lifetime.

That’s because the Rams had a pair of sensational receivers in Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, and perhaps the game’s best all-around running back in Marshall Faulk. The Rams rolled through the season because of their high-powered offense, and earned a spot in the Super Bowl against the Tennessee Titans.

With the score tied in the fourth quarter, Warner threw a long TD pass to Bruce, and the Rams held on for their first Super Bowl title when linebacker Mike Jones tackled Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson on the one-yard line to preserve the victory.

 (Photo credit should read STEVE SCHAEFER/AFP/Getty Images)
19. 2012 Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens started the year as though they would be very difficult to beat as they won nine of their first 11 games.

However, John Harbaugh had to have a few doubts as the Ravens lost four of their last five regular-season games and finished with a 10-6 record. While that was good enough to win the AFC North title, there were a few doubts.

However, the Ravens found themselves once again in the playoffs. Quarterback Joe Flacco proved to be one of the best postseason passers of all-time as he led the Ravens to key playoff road victories over Broncos and Patriots. The win at New England allowed the Ravens to face the San Francisco 49ers and head coach Jim Harbaugh in the Super Bowl.

John Harbaugh, Flacco and the Ravens got the best of that encounter in a 34-31 Super Bowl classic.

That game opened eyes around the league because the Ravens proved they could win with offense as well as defense.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
18. 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1974 and ’75, and while their first Super Bowl championship run was basically a strong defensive show that featured Joe Greene & Co. punishing the Minnesota Vikings, the ’75 team got all they could handle from Roger Staubach and the Dallas Cowboys.

The second of those two championship seasons featured a bit more productivity from Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and Lynn Swann on offense.

The Cowboys pushed the Steelers to the limit, but Swann’s acrobatic catches over game Cowboys defensive back Mark Washington proved to be the difference in their 21-17 victory in Super Bowl X.

(Photo by Tony Tomsic/Getty Images)
17. 2007 New England Patriots

The 1972 Miami Dolphins had celebrated their status as the only undefeated team in NFL history to complete their spectacular season with a Super Bowl championship. The Patriots appeared ready to rain on their parade with an explosive regular season that saw them reel off 16 straight victories.

When Bill Belichick’s Patriots added postseason victories over the Jacksonville Jaguars and San Diego Chargers, they became strong favorites to finish the season as Super Bowl champions in a confrontation with the New York Giants.

While they had been pushed by the Giants in a season-ending regular-season game, the Patriots had handled New York in that matchup.

But despite their dominance in the first 18 games, the Patriots lost in heartbreaking fashion and champagne bottles popped throughout South Florida.

(Photo by Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images)
16. 2007 N.Y. Giants

The Giants appeared to be in over their heads as the 2007 postseason began. While they made it to the playoffs as a Wild-Card team, they finished second in the NFC East to the Dallas Cowboys and they had to play all their postseason games on the road.

The Giants had lacked consistency most of the season, but they found their gam in the playoffs as they defeated the Tampa Bay Bucs, Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. The victory over Green Bay was especially impressive, since the Packers had an explosive offense with quarterback Brett Favre pulling the trigger. The Giants managed to beat Green Bay 23-20 in overtime at frigid Lambeau Field. It appeared that head coach Tom Coughlin was about to suffer from frostbite, but placekicker Lawrence Tynes put him out of his misery when he connected on the game-winning 47-yard field goal.

The Giants had the unenviable task of taking on the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Giants’ nasty defense had pressured New England quarterback Tom Brady throughout the game, but the Patriots held a 14-10 lead late in the fourth quarter. That’s when Giants quarterback Eli Manning escaped a heavy Patriot pass rush, faded back and launched a pass in the direction of wideout David Tyree that the receiver caught against his helmet.

That play set up the Super Bowl-winning TD pass from Manning to Plaxico Burress, and gave the Giants one of the greatest postseason runs in NFL history.

(Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
15. 2003 New England Patriots

The Patriots set a standard for sensational play with their consistency that saw them win 15 games in a row. After New England lost in Week Four to the Redskins, their record slipped to 2-2. They would not lose again in the regular season or the playoffs.

Tom Brady completed 60.2 percent of his passes, and five New England receivers caught 30 or more passes. Outside linebacker Mike Vrabel had 9.5 sacks, while defensive end Richard Seymour had 8.0 QB traps.

The Patriots rolled to postseason victories over the Titans and Colts, and they outlasted the Panthers 32-29 in the Super Bowl, for their second title in three seasons.

(Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
9. 2013 Seattle Seahawks

There have been several teams with signature defenses in the modern era, and those teams are well-known. The 1970s Steelers, the 1985 Bears and the 2000 Ravens are among the best defensive teams that have ever taken the field.

The 2013 Seattle Seahawks may not be better than those vaunted defensive units, but they showed they belonged in the same conversation with those teams with their stellar performance. When it came to speed, hard-hitting, nastiness and overall aggressiveness, the 2013 Seahawks showed they belonged.

They also proved to be one of the best tackling teams in recent memory thanks to the play of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. The Seahawks were the top defensive team in the league in yards and points allowed.

Additionally, quarterback Russell Wilson proved to be a sensational leader and accurate passer, while running back Marshawn Lynch demonstrated that he could not be stopped between the tackles.

The Seahawks were at their best in Super Bowl XLXVIII when they overwhelmed Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 43-8.

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
7. 1991 Washington Redskins

Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs was one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game, and he proved it by winning three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks.

The 1991 Redskins, led by powerful quarterback Mark Rypien, were probably the best of those teams. Rypien threw 28 touchdown passes in leading the Redskins to a 14-2 record. The offense was explosive and versatile as Earnest Byner and Ricky Ervins gave them dependable production on the ground, while receivers Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders were nearly unstoppable.

Defensive end Charles Mann had 11.5 sacks to lead the defense, while cornerback Darrell Green proved to be one of the best cover corners of his era with his explosive speed and top-of-the-line instincts.

The Redskins dominated the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions in the NFC playoffs before taking apart Marv Levy’s Buffalo Bills 37-24 in the Super Bowl.

(Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
6. 1989 San Francisco 49ers

Bill Walsh had walked away from the 49ers after they had won the Super Bowl following the 1988 season, and many thought that the team would lose its edge with mild-mannered George Seifert taking over as head coach.

However, Seifert proved to be the perfect replacement for Walsh. He was not as demanding or detail-oriented as Walsh, and the players loved that they seemingly had more freedom. Seifert put his signature on the team, and the Niners played with increased efficiency all season and dominated with a 14-2 record.

The Niners were at their best in the postseason, as they dominated the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams in the playoffs before a record-setting performance by Joe Montana and the offense in the Super Bowl as San Francisco rolled to a 55-10 victory over Denver.

(Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)

3. 1985 Chicago Bears

This is one of the legendary teams in NFL history thanks to an overwhelming defense that was coached by defensive guru Buddy Ryan. Players like Dan Hampton, Steve McMichael, Wilber Marshall, Mike Singletary, Otis Taylor and Gary Fencik made it impossible for opposing offenses to move the ball against the Bears and establish any offensive traction.

While the Chicago offense was not record setting, quarterback Jim McMahon and running back Walter Payton led a unit that was opportunistic and dangerous.

Head coach Mike Ditka may have had an uncomfortable relationship with Ryan, but he proved to be the perfect leader for this team as the Bears went 15-1 during the regular season. But as dominant as the Bears were during the regular season, they were even better in the playoffs when they shut out the Giants and Rams before destroying the Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.

(Photo by Bill Smith/Getty Images)

2. 1984 San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers won three championships under Bill Walsh, and this was the best of his teams. The Niners overpowered the opposition and recorded a 15-1 record as both Joe Montana and running back Roger Craig were on top of their games.

The Niners also had a crushing defense that season, as Ronnie Lott, Keena Turner and Michael Carter refused to give opponents any hope.

San Francisco ripped through the Giants and the Bears in the playoffs before overpowering Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins 38-16 in the Super Bowl.

(Photo by Rob Brown/Getty Images)

1. 1978-79 Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers won a pair of back-to-back championships in the 1970s, and the team that won the second pair rates the nod as the best team of the modern era.

Not only was this one of the greatest defensive teams of all-time with Joe Greene, Donnie Shell, Jack Lambert and Mel Blount, but the offense also reached its peak with Terry Bradshaw at quarterback and wide receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann giving head coach Chuck Noll tons of big-play ability.

The Steelers beat a strong Houston Oilers team in the AFC title game both seasons, and defeated the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowls following those two seasons.

Both the Cowboys and Rams played sensational games, but they did not have the firepower to compete with the Steelers.

(Photo by Jim Campbell/Getty Images)

While there have been champions every year, we endeavor to rank the best teams of the modern era. We include some of the greatest teams from the old AFL, and we also include two teams - the 1967 Dallas Cowboys and 2007 New England Patriots - that did not win championships.

We don't think we have ended the argument, but we hope we have added to the debate.

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