AFC West: Best teams ever 2010

Best Broncos Team Ever: 1998

June, 25, 2010
6/25/10
11:45
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Notable players: QB John Elway, RB Terrell Davis, WRs Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey, TE Shannon Sharpe, OT Tony Jones, C Tom Nalen, G Mark Schlereth, DE Neil Smith, DE Trevor Pryce, LB Bill Romanowski, LB John Mobley, S Steve Atwater, K Jason Elam.

Analysis: This was a great all-time NFL team. In 2007, the NFL Network ranked the team as the 12th-best Super Bowl winner.

[+] EnlargeTerrell Davis
US PresswireTerrell Davis gained 2,008 rushing yards in 1998, just one of six 2,000-yard seasons in NFL history.
The 1998 Broncos followed up their magical 1997 season, in which they were a surprise Super Bowl winner, with a surgically precise team. The Broncos were masterful in every aspect of the game. Elway led the Broncos during his final NFL season, which culminated in an MVP-winning performance in an easy 34-19 win over Atlanta in the Super Bowl.

The Broncos won their first 13 games and finished the regular season 14-2. The only game Denver lost that it truly tried to win was its 14th game, a last-moment loss to the Giants at The Meadowlands. The Broncos were never challenged during three postseason wins. Known for not having the best supporting casts for much of his career, Elway enjoyed the benefit of a stunning running game and a nasty, fierce defense in his final season.

Running back Terrell Davis ran for 2,008 yards, which was then the third-highest rushing total in NFL history. He won the NFL MVP award that season.

When Davis’ hard, downhill running in coach Mike Shanahan's brilliant zone-blocking scheme was combined with the elegance of Elway passing to Smith, McCaffrey and the game-changing Sharpe, Denver was breathtaking to watch on offense.

Defensively, this mean, nasty group always seemed to come up with the big play. Things rarely went wrong for this team. It simply steamrolled through the season.

“We were stacked,” said Elam, who tied an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal during the season. “I remember us routinely being up by three touchdowns at the end of the first quarter and we knew it was over … It was a dream season.”

Most impressive win: The 34-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII. The supremely focused Broncos never truly let the Falcons in the game. It was a perfect ending to a near-perfect season.

Businessmen: People around this team always talk about how serious it was. Unlike the 1997 season in which Denver had to fight and scrap every step of the way for its first Super Bowl championship, winning it all was a foregone conclusion all season in 1998.

The Broncos were focused on winning the Super Bowl all season. After the win over Atlanta, there were no wild celebrations. Sure, players were happy. But they were businesslike. It was a different scene from the euphoric celebration that followed the team’s win over heavily favored Green Bay the year before. It was as if the 1998 title was expected all season.

Honorable mention:

1977: Red Miller’s 12-2 outfit was strong, but it was no match for the Cowboys in the Super Bowl.

1996: The memory of this team still stings in Denver. The Broncos were a great team, perhaps better than the 1998 outfit, but it lost at home in the divisional playoff round to Jacksonville, ruining everything good associated with this team.

1997: This is probably the most popular Denver team ever. It fought its way to the franchise’s first Super Bowl win as a wild-card team. The words “This one's for John” will never be forgotten in the Rocky Mountains.

Best Chiefs Team Ever: 1969

June, 25, 2010
6/25/10
11:30
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Notable players: QB Len Dawson, RB Mike Garrett, WR Otis Taylor, G Ed Budde, DT Buck Buchanan, DT Curley Culp, LB Bobby Bell, LB Willie Lanier, CB Emmitt Thomas, K Jan Stenerud.

[+] EnlargeEmmitt Thomas
Rod Hanna/US PresswireCornerback Emmitt Thomas was a reason why Kansas City's defense was so dominant.
Analysis: The 1969 Kansas City Chiefs were a veteran outfit that played together for quite while. Three years earlier, the same group lost to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl I.

But it all came together in 1969. The Chiefs were stacked with future Pro Football Hall of Fame players Dawson, Bell, Buchanan, Lanier, Thomas and Stenerud, and led by legendary coach Hank Stram. Stram was known for his innovative coaching, big personality, snappy clothes and an absolute love for his players.

The team’s road to the Super Bowl was not easy. They ended the season with an 11-3 record and finished a game behind the Oakland Raiders in the AFL’s Western Division. Kansas City had to beat the Jets and Raiders on the road in the playoffs before they had a chance to upset Minnesota in the Super Bowl.

But Kansas City’s defense buried teams all season. Even though Dawson missed six games because of an injury, the defense kept the Chiefs on the Super Bowl highway. During the playoffs, they limited the Jets and Raiders to a combined 13 points. Minnesota’s high-powered offense managed a meager seven points during Super Bowl IV.

“Our defense was special," Stenerud said. “I remember that playoff run and we just didn’t give anything up. We held down some really good offenses. That defense was really the difference-maker for that team.”

Most impressive win: The 23-7 win over Minnesota in Super Bowl IV. The Chiefs dominated the Vikings, who were a 13-point favorite.

Send them home unpacking: The Oakland Raiders’ players were so sure they’d dispatch the Chiefs in the AFL Championship Game that they packed their bags to head to the Super Bowl after the game.

The Raiders had reason to be confident. They had won the West with a 12-2 record and beaten the Chiefs in two regular-season matchups. But Stram's team took the game that mattered. Kansas City went into Oakland and stunned the Raiders 17-7, sending the Chiefs (and not the bags-packed Raiders) to New Orleans.

“As the Chiefs were waiting for the team buses, they saw all the Oakland players leave the stadium with their bags in their hands, going home instead of the Super Bowl,” Kansas City team historian Bob Moore said. “The Chiefs players were all laughing at Oakland’s players.”

Honorable mention:

1966: The AFL’s first Super Bowl team. This quality outfit finished 11-2-1 and beat the Bills for the AFC title.

1971: Many of the old Chiefs believe this, and not the Super Bowl-winning team, is the best team in Chiefs history. But they just couldn’t get it done like the 1969 team.

1995: This was a solid team led by the NFL's top-ranked defense, but the Chiefs stumbled in the playoffs.

Best Raiders Team Ever: 1976

June, 25, 2010
6/25/10
11:15
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Notable players: QB Ken Stabler, FB Mark van Eeghen, WR Fred Biletnikoff, WR Cliff Branch, TE Dave Casper, OT Art Shell, G Gene Upshaw, DL John Matuszak, DL Otis Sistrunk, LB Phil Villapiano, LB Ted Hendricks, CB Willie Brown, S George Atkinson, S Jack Tatum, P Ray Guy.

[+] EnlargeJohn Madden
AP PhotoJohn Madden's 1976 season was nearly perfect -- culminating in a Super Bowl win over the Vikings.
Analysis: This championship season was in the works for some time. Oakland owner Al Davis and coach John Madden put together a great team.

The Raiders didn’t have the titles that Miami, Dallas and Pittsburgh had, but they were a dominant team in the 1970s. If you were going to win the Super Bowl, you probably had to go through the madcap marauders of the East Bay.

Wild, free-spirited and wickedly clutch on the field, the Silver and Black was a special fabric of the NFL in the 1970s. They were always known for close calls, but in the end not having enough to be complete the championship journey.

That all changed in 1976. The Raiders had plenty. They were, by far, the class of the NFL and they have the hardware to prove it.

Led by a stunning group of players, this team had depth on offense and defense. Stabler was the engineer, as he seemingly rolled out of bed and led the Raiders to one last-minute win after another. He had great receivers in Biletnikoff, Branch and Casper. The offensive line was anchored by future Pro Football Hall of Famers Shell and Upshaw.

Defensively, the Raiders were nasty with first-year Raider Matuszak and Sistrunk up front, Hendricks in the middle and Brown and Tatum anchoring the unit.

It was enough for Oakland to nearly go unbeaten. After New England thrashed the Raiders in Week 4, Oakland didn’t lose another game. Oakland went 13-1 in the regular season (despite having a five-game trip spanning Weeks 2-6) and then won home playoff games against New England and Pittsburgh before toying with Minnesota in Super Bowl in XI.

It was a culmination of a great run in Oakland. In the end, this team will be remembered as one of the NFL’s great all-time teams.

Most impressive win: A 32-14 victory over Minnesota in Super Bowl XI. The Raiders showed their dominance on offense and defense by completely suffocating the Vikings. It was a fitting day to end a near-perfect season. No one in Oakland will forget the sight of a jubilant Madden being carried off the Rose Bowl field by his victorious Raiders. Davis surely never will.

Crazy start: The Raiders had some memorable battles with Pittsburgh. This special season started with a classic battle between the two 1970s powerhouses in Oakland.

The Steelers led 28-14 with five minutes to go. However, Oakland made a furious comeback to tie the score. Oakland then got the ball back and won it with a short field goal with 18 seconds remaining, sending the home crowd into a wild celebration.

Nothing like beating the hated Steelers on opening day. It set the tone for Oakland’s best season of all time.

Honorable mention:

1967: The Daryle Lamonica-led Raiders were 13-1 in the regular season before being worn down by Green Bay in Super Bowl II.

1980: The Raiders became the first wild-card team to win a Super Bowl. The 11-5 Raiders were led by coach Tom Flores and spunky, resurgent quarterback Jim Plunkett.

1983: The Raiders’ third Super Bowl champion was a dominant unit. Led by a great defense and young running back Marcus Allen (1,014 yards rushing, 11 TDs), this was a special team.

Best Chargers Team Ever: 2006

June, 25, 2010
6/25/10
11:00
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Notable players: QB Philip Rivers, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, K Nate Kaeding, LB Shawne Merriman, DT Jamal Williams, C Nick Hardwick, FB Lorenzo Neal, ST Kassim Osgood, TE Antonio Gates, LT Marcus McNeill, CB Quentin Jammer.

[+] EnlargeLaDainian Tomlinson
AP Photo/Denis PoroyLeague MVP LaDainian Tomlinson led a Chargers team that was a favorite to win the Super Bowl.
Analysis: Unlike the other three teams in the AFC West, the memory of San Diego’s greatest team doesn’t bring back happy thoughts for Chargers fans.

The memories are tough and raw. Oh, what could have been.

San Diego has never won a Super Bowl. This team was its best chance. The 2006 San Diego Chargers were loaded.

Then they went out and blew it in the playoffs.

I was in San Diego for the team’s AFC divisional playoff game against New England and the town was buzzing all weekend. The Chargers were an NFL-best 14-2 and the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. San Diego was unbeaten at home in the regular season. Marty Schottenheimer’s team was expected to go to, and probably win, the Super Bowl.

Then came the fourth quarter of the New England game. The Patriots stunned San Diego by scoring 11 points in a little more than seven minutes to knock off the Chargers, 24-21.

The dream season was over and the Chargers were never the same again. Schottenheimer, who didn’t get along with general manager A.J. Smith anyway, was sent packing and was replaced by Norv Turner.

Running back LaDainian Tomlinson was the NFL MVP after an incredible season in which he ran for 1,815 yards and scored an NFL-record 28 rushing touchdowns. Philip Rivers took over for the departed Drew Brees after sitting for two years and played well right away. The defense was suffocating and opportunistic.

The 2006 Chargers were good enough to win a Super Bowl. They just couldn’t get it done.

Most impressive win: A 23-13 victory over visiting Pittsburgh. The Chargers bounced back from a tough loss in Baltimore to handle the defending Super Bowl champions in Week 5. They made a statement in that game.

Rocky times: The Chargers had some off-field issues in 2006. Linebacker Steve Foley was shot after a confrontation with an off-duty police officer days before the start of the season, creating a major distraction. Shaun Phillips stepped in and played very well in Foley’s absence.

Safety Terrence Kiel was arrested at the team’s facility during the season for possession of controlled substances. Kiel, who didn’t play for San Diego after 2006, was killed in an auto accident in July 2008.

Honorable mention:

1963: The Chargers won the AFL title after an 11-3 season. They were dominant, fielding the best offense and defense in the league.

1980: They lost to the AFC championship game to Oakland. This was an offensive juggernaut (418 points, 26.1 ppg).

1994: This team has a special place in San Diego fans’ hearts. It’s the only time the Chargers made the Super Bowl.

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