AFC East: AFC Best teams ever

Best Jets Team Ever: 1968

June, 30, 2010
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Notable players: QB Joe Namath, RB Emerson Boozer, RB Matt Snell, WR Don Maynard, WR George Sauer, G Dave Herman, T Winston Hill, DT John Elliott, DE Gerry Philbin, DE Verlon Biggs, MLB Al Atkinson, CB Johnny Sample, K Jim Turner.

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Darryl Norenberg/US PresswireJoe Namath and the Jets stunned the football world by winning Super Bowl III.
Analysis: To sum up the glory of the season and the agony of being a New York Jets fan over the past 40 years, there's only one candidate for the best team in franchise history.

The 1968 Jets are iconic. They transformed the NFL with their landmark 16-7 victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, a result seared more deeply into legend with Joe Namath's renowned guarantee.

Those Jets remain the ultimate "any given Sunday" underdogs. They legitimized the upstart American Football League by knocking off the heavily favored Colts, an NFL institution. You can close your eyes and see the NFL Films clip of Namath wagging his index finger while he trotted toward the Orange Bowl tunnel.

But the Jets were no Buster Douglas fluke. While Namath was the leading man of an offense that averaged 29.9 points a game, the Jets owned the AFL's top-rated defense in yards allowed.

The Colts averaged 28.7 points a game. The fewest points they had scored in a game was 16, but the Jets' defense chased league MVP Earl Morrall from the game and made it easy for running back Matt Snell to hammer out the win.

Most impressive win: Aside from the Super Bowl, the Jets' biggest victory was avenging their Heidi Game loss to the Oakland Raiders. A month and a half later in the AFL title game, the Jets' defense yielded 433 total yards. Still, New York won 27-23.

Broadway No: The Jets' 1968 season is synonymous with Namath's swagger, but he wasn't always the driving force. Desperate to corral his recklessness, the Jets turned into a running team to the point Namath went 27 quarters without throwing a touchdown pass. Namath threw two more interceptions than he did touchdowns and finished with a 72.1 passer rating, 11th in the NFL.

Honorable mention

1969: The Jets followed up their championship campaign with a 10-4 record but scored only six points in their first playoff game and lost. They wouldn't have another winning season for a dozen years.

1998: Two seasons earlier, the Jets went 1-15. Head coach Bill Parcells navigated them to the AFC Championship Game behind the fifth highest-scoring offense and the second-stingiest defense.

1981: After a 1-3-1 start, the New York Sack Exchange backstopped the Jets to their first playoff berth in 12 seasons. They closed out the regular season with a 7-1 rally.

Best Patriots Team Ever: 2004

June, 30, 2010
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Notable players: QB Tom Brady, RB Corey Dillon, WR Deion Branch, WR/DB Troy Brown, TE Daniel Graham, T Matt Light, DE Richard Seymour, OLB Willie McGinest, OLB Mike Vrabel, ILB Tedy Bruschi, CB Ty Law, CB Asante Samuel, S Rodney Harrison, K Adam Vinatieri, ST Larry Izzo.

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Matthew Emmons/uS PresswireTom Brady and the Patriots collected their third Super Bowl win in four seasons.
Analysis: The New England Patriots are the only AFC East club with three championship seasons to consider, and one could argue with conviction their best team didn't win the Super Bowl.

But 2004 stands apart. The Patriots claimed their third Vince Lombardi Trophy in four seasons to establish themselves as one of the all-time great teams. Brady and head coach Bill Belichick ensured their place in Canton.

The Patriots picked up where they left off after winning Super Bowl XXXVIII the year before. They increased their win streak to an NFL record 21 games. They ranked fourth in scoring and second in points allowed. They lost two games all season, Week 8 at the Pittsburgh Steelers and Week 15 at the Miami Dolphins.

After beating the Indianapolis Colts for the second time and holding Peyton Manning's offense to three points in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Patriots scored 41 points to avenge their defeat in Pittsburgh.

In Super Bowl XXXIX, the Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles more comfortably than the 24-21 score indicates. Adam Vinatieri didn't need to drill a field goal in the closing seconds for a change.

Most impressive win: The Patriots never were more dominant than they were in Week 10 against the Buffalo Bills, a borderline playoff team that won three out of four heading into Gillette Stadium and six straight afterward. The Patriots rolled up a season-high 428 offensive yards and limited the Bills to 125 yards to win 29-6.

What can Brown do for you? Pretty much whatever you could ask of him. Brown caught only 15 passes in the regular season, but in Week 9 against the St. Louis Rams, he entered the game as an emergency defensive back when Samuel went down with an injury. Brown finished the season with three interceptions (one shy of the team lead) and broke the Super Bowl record for punt returns.

Honorable mention

2007: It's the greatest NFL team not to win the championship. Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker rewrote a good chunk of the offensive record book, but the Patriots fell short of finishing the season undefeated, losing in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.

2001: New England won its first championship with an offense that ranked sixth in scoring and a defense that ranked sixth in points allowed. Belichick's controversial decision to stick with Brady when Drew Bledsoe returned to health created a superstar.

2003: New England went 14-2 to win its second title in three years. The offense was pretty mediocre, but the defense posted three shutouts, gave up six points or fewer five times and averaged 11.9 points against over the final 10 weeks of the regular season.

1976: Patriots fans thought a storybook season was unfolding in the bicentennial. Steve Grogan and Sam Cunningham led the Pats to an 11-3 record, but a controversial late-hit call helped them lose to the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs.

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Best Dolphins Team Ever: 1972

June, 30, 2010
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Notable players: QB Bob Griese, QB Earl Morrall, RB Larry Csonka, RB Mercury Morris, WR Paul Warfield, C Jim Langer, G Bob Kuechenberg, G Larry Little, DE Bill Stanfill, MLB Nick Buoniconti, SS Jake Scott, FS Dick Anderson.

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Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireDon Shula guided the 1972 Dolphins to a 17-0 record.
Analysis: As it turns out, you can argue with perfection.

The obvious choice for the greatest team in Miami Dolphins history is 1972, the historic season in which they went undefeated and claimed their first championship.

But some important members of that team have claimed the 1973 edition was even better, although it lost two games against better competition before closing out the season with its second straight Super Bowl victory.

"The question is, do I think my team is better than it was a year ago?" coach Don Shula said after the follow-up title. "There's no question about it. I think we're a better football team than we were a year ago at this time. I think we've gone one step beyond last year's football team. Even though we were 17-0, a perfect season, going back-to-back on Super Bowls is more meaningful."

With all due respect to Coach Shula, perfection won't take a backseat here.

The '72 Dolphins played a pretty feeble schedule, but they ranked first in total offense, scoring offense, total defense and scoring defense. They beat their opponents by an average margin of 15.3 points in the regular season despite losing Griese to a broken ankle in October.

In the playoffs, they dispatched a pair of teams with double-digit victories, the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Dolphins easily beat the NFC's top-seeded Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl and would have shut them out if not for Garo Yepremian's flubbed field goal that turned into the Redskins' only points.

Most impressive win: Down 10-7 in the third quarter and on the road against the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, Griese replaced Morrall and directed a pair of touchdown drives in a 21-17 victory.

Forgiving schedule: The Dolphins feasted on a schedule that was one of the weakest in NFL history. In the regular season, they played no playoff clubs and just two that finished with winning records. Six opponents won four or fewer games. The combined record of their regular-season foes was 70-122-4.

Honorable mention

1973: Some assert Miami's back-to-back championship team was better than the one that went undefeated. It held opponents to single-digit points eight times, including the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl.

1984: Dan Marino threw for 5,084 yards in propelling the Dolphins to a 14-2 record and the AFC championship. Marino's lone Super Bowl appearance ended in a miserable loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

1971: Miami's motivation for its historic 1972 season was losing the Super Bowl to the Dallas Cowboys after going 10-3-1 and shutting out the Baltimore Colts in the AFC Championship Game.

1983: Marino's rookie season was electric. He took over for David Woodley, who had guided the Dolphins to the Super Bowl in a strike-shortened season. Even more impressive was the No. 1-rated Killer B's defense.

Best Bills Team Ever: 1990

June, 30, 2010
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Notable players: QB Jim Kelly, RB Thurman Thomas, WR Andre Reed, WR James Lofton, C Kent Hull, DE Bruce Smith, OLB Cornelius Bennett, OLB Darryl Talley, ILB Shane Conlan, CB Nate Odomes, ST Steve Tasker.

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US PresswireJim Kelly threw 24 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions in 1990.
Analysis: The Buffalo Bills went to an unprecedented four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s and lost them all.

Buffalo's best shot was its first, and not merely because it came down to a last-second field goal attempt that went wide right. That squad was its most complete on both sides of the ball.

The 1990 Bills are known as one of the best teams not to win the Super Bowl. Their 13-3 record is tied for the best in franchise history. They ranked first in scoring offense and sixth in scoring defense. Kelly led the NFL in passer rating, Thomas led in yards from scrimmage and Smith was voted defensive player of the year.

The Bills rolled through the regular season. They went undefeated at home and seemed to be surging down the homestretch. They outscored their first two playoff opponents 95-37, but went up against the NFL's best defense when they met the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.

The Bills led the Giants by nine points in the second quarter and held a two-point lead in the fourth quarter. But the Bills trailed by a point when Scott Norwood lined up from 47 yards away for what would have brought Buffalo its first major championship. The kick sailed wide of the upright.

Most impressive win: The Los Angeles Raiders went into the AFC Championship Game at Rich Stadium with only four losses while allowing an average of 16.4 points. The Bills annihilated the Raiders 51-3 with the help of six interceptions. The score was 41-3 at halftime.

Norwood not to blame: Did Norwood really choke? To claim he did is to suggest a successful kick was probable. The fact is, Norwood never had made a field goal longer than 49 yards in his six NFL seasons. That meant 47 yards was about the limit of his range. He made 6 of 10 attempts from 40-plus yards that season. The fateful attempt also was on grass, a surface he was kicking on for only the fourth time.

Honorable mention

1964: The Bills won their first of back-to-back AFL championships with a squad that ranked first in total offense and defense. They outscored opponents by an average of 11 points a game.

1991: The Bills rebounded from their "Wide Right" heartbreak, repeating their 13-3 record and reaching the Super Bowl again. They scored at least 34 points nine times.

1993: Buffalo won the AFC championship a fourth straight time. The offense ranked sixth in total yards, while the defense ranked fifth in yards allowed and had a league-high 47 takeaways.

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