NFC North: Best teams ever 2010

Best Vikings Team Ever: 1969

July, 1, 2010
7/01/10
12:00
PM ET
Notable players: Defensive linemen Carl Eller, Gary Larsen, Alan Page and Jim Marshall; receiver Gene Washington; center Mick Tingelhoff; quarterback Joe Kapp; safety Paul Krause.

Carl Eller
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireCarl Eller was part of a Vikings defense that allowed just 133 points in 1969.
Analysis: On the strength of a defensive line that sent all four starters to the Pro Bowl, the 1969 Vikings won 12 consecutive games and became the first NFL expansion team to reach a Super Bowl. The “Purple People Eaters” defense allowed the fewest points in the league that season (133), while the Vikings offense scored a league-high 379 points.

NFL Films recently produced a series naming the 1969 Vikings one of the five best teams in league history that didn’t win the Super Bowl. The 1998 Vikings were also on that list, but the ’69 team was more balanced. Its offense scored at least 50 points in three different games, while the defense allowed the fewest points, yardage and first downs in the NFL while ranking second in takeaways. The 12-game winning streak was the longest in a 35-year span of the league.

The team’s two losses that season came by one point at the New York Giants in the season opener and by a touchdown in the season finale at Atlanta. Both defeats came with starting quarterback Joe Kapp sidelined and backup Gary Cuozzo taking most of the snaps. Despite the presence of three future Hall of Famers (Eller, Page and Krause), Kapp was named MVP for the way he inspired a team-oriented concept throughout the year.

In a legendary gesture, Kapp turned down the award and reiterated the team’s battle cry that season: “40 for 60” -- 40 players committed for 60 minutes of football. Players were so confident in the sum total of their talent that they often laughed at opponents when they celebrated touchdowns.

Speaking in the NFL Films piece, Marshall said opponents would ask why they were laughing when they had just given up a touchdown. “Yeah,” Marshall said, “but you’re not going to win the game. We are.”

There was a sense of destiny for this team, and its 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV was stunning. But when you consider the four Vikings teams that went to the Super Bowl, as well as the 1998 team that just missed it, you have to consider the 1969 group as the most dominant.

Most impressive victory: Tie for the team’s collective work against the 10-3 Cleveland Browns. The Vikings took two games against the Browns by a combined score of 78-10, including a 51-3 romp in the regular season and a 27-7 victory in the NFL Championship Game.

Did you know? The 1969 Vikings won the last NFL Championship in history. The NFL and AFL merged the year afterward, creating conference championships that fed into the Super Bowl.

Honorable mention

1998: Finished a franchise-best 15-1, set the NFL record (since broken) with 556 points scored and made it to NFC Championship Game.

1973: Advanced to Super Bowl VIII with a 12-2 record and a resounding victory at Dallas in the NFC Championship Game.

1976: This team’s two losses came by a total of five points. It breezed through the playoffs before a 32-14 loss to Oakland in Super Bowl XI.

Best Packers Team Ever: 1962

July, 1, 2010
7/01/10
11:30
AM ET
Notable players: Fullback Jim Taylor, right tackle Forrest Gregg, quarterback Bart Starr, linebacker Ray Nitschke, cornerback Herb Adderley, defensive end Willie Davis, center Jim Ringo, halfback Paul Hornung, safety Willie Wood, defensive tackle Henry Jordan.

[+] EnlargeJim Taylor
AP Photo/Bill IngrahamIn their 49-0 win over the Eagles, Jim Taylor and the Packers gained a total of 628 yards.
Analysis: There are notable players, and then there are the best of the very best. All 10 players listed above have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In other words, nearly half of the Green Bay Packers' 1962 regular lineup were among the best of their era. That type of talent collection could never be replicated in today's era of superstar contracts.

Under Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi, this Packers team shut out two of its first three opponents and won its first four games by a combined score of 109-14. It went on to finish the season 13-1, leading the NFL in both points scored and fewest points allowed, and won the league championship with a 16-7 victory over the New York Giants. There hasn't been another one-loss season in Green Bay ever since.

The Packers have won 12 titles in their history, including five under Lombardi, but the 1962 team was a powerhouse unto itself. If you've read David Maraniss' biography of Lombardi, you understand why: This edition of the Packers recorded a pair of 49-0 victories and set an NFL record for highest average point differential in its games (19.1 points). Here are some other notable marks:
  • In the second 49-0 drubbing, this one at Philadelphia, the Packers gained -- yes -- 574 more yards than the Eagles (628-54).
  • The 49-0 victories are the two biggest shutouts in team history.
  • The 1962 Packers scored 53 touchdowns, the second-most in team history despite a 14-game season at the time. Its 36 rushing touchdowns remain an NFL record.
  • The defense led the NFL with interceptions (31) and fewest passing yards allowed (2,084).
The season's running performance was the grist for Lombardi's epic "Run To Daylight" with Bill Heinz. While Hornung is often remembered as the Packers' top back, in 1962, Taylor led the team with 1,474 yards and an amazing 19 touchdowns.

The Giants were hell-bent on revenge in the championship game, having lost to the Packers 37-0 the year before. The game was in New York, but the Packers controlled the game throughout in 17-degree weather at Yankee Stadium. The Giants' only score came on a blocked punt. (Check out this NFL Films video on that game. Cool stuff.)

Most impressive win: It's hard to overlook an NFL title game, but beating any team 49-0 and outgaining it by 574 yards is a stunning demonstration of dominance.

Did you know? Nitschke was the MVP of the championship game but might have had a bigger impact on the league a few hours after the game. As the story goes, Nitschke appeared on the television show "What's My Line?" wearing his trademark black rimmed glasses. A film producer named Ed Sabol bought the rights to that appearance for $3,000. Sabol's company eventually became known as NFL Films.

Honorable mention:

1966: Won Super Bowl I after finishing the regular season 12-2. Its two losses, to San Francisco and Minnesota, came by a total of four points.

1996: Led the NFL in points scored and fewest points allowed, the only team to do so in the past 36 years, and won Super Bowl XXXI.

1929: Clinched the Packers' first NFL Championship, this one based on final standings, with an undefeated record (12-0-1).

Best Lions Team Ever: 1970

July, 1, 2010
7/01/10
11:00
AM ET
Notable players: Running back Mel Farr, center Ed Flanagan, tight end Charlie Sanders, linebacker Paul Naumoff, defensive tackle Alex Karras, cornerback Lem Barney, cornerback Dick LeBeau.

[+] EnlargeDick LeBeau and Lem Barney
AP Photo/Jim PalmerCornerbacks Lem Barney and Dick LeBeau combined to snag 16 interceptions during the 1970 season.
Analysis: I’m fully aware that this franchise played for four NFL Championships during the 1950s, winning in 1952, 1953 and 1957. It was without question the golden age of Lions football, but you can make a decent argument that the best team came two decades later.

The 1970 Lions ranked second in the NFL in points scored and points allowed, won their first two games by a combined score of 78-3 and finished the season with the league’s second-highest average point differential (10.4), according to pro football-reference.com. They had the best turnover ratio in the league, were the victims of Tom Dempsey’s then-record 63-yard field goal and produced an impressive five-game winning streak to end the regular season.

This team fielded two Hall of Fame cornerbacks, and both Barney and LeBeau had the best seasons of their careers. LeBeau intercepted nine passes, while Barney had seven -- returning two for touchdowns. The Barney/LeBeau team helped the Lions limit the powerful Dallas Cowboys to five points in the playoffs, and that total should have been enough for an offense that put up at least 28 points in six of its regular-season games.

But the offense inexplicably fell flat that day in a 5-0 defeat, leaving Lions fans their first in a series of torturous “what-ifs.” At the time, there was a feeling the Lions were bound for a Super Bowl victory had they gotten past the Cowboys.

I realize there is some room for discussion here. But the 1970s were a newly competitive era for the NFL, and that’s where I landed when comparing this team with the 1950s teams.

Most impressive victory: I’ll go with a tie for the Lions’ collective performances in shutting out Green Bay twice -- 40-0 in the season opener and 20-0 in the season finale. The Packers weren’t a good team that year but they did win six of their other 12 games.

Did you know? The 1970 Lions were the first wild-card playoff team in NFL history. When the league merged with the AFL, the postseason was expanded to eight teams -- three division winners and one wild-card team.

Did you know, Part II? Soul musician Marvin Gaye had a failed tryout for the 1970 team.

Honorable mention

1952: A high-powered offense scored 40-plus points five times on the way to a 9-3 record and an NFL Championship.

1953: A similar team scored a touchdown in the final minutes of the championship game to become the third team in NFL history at that point to win back-to-back titles.

1957: The Lions overcame the training camp resignation of coach Buddy Parker and the broken leg of quarterback Bobby Layne to win its last NFL title.

Best Bears Team Ever: 1985

July, 1, 2010
7/01/10
10:30
AM ET
Notable players: Tailback Walter Payton; quarterback Jim McMahon; defensive linemen Richard Dent, William "The Refrigerator" Perry, Steve McMichael and Dan Hampton; linebacker Mike Singletary; safety Dave Duerson.

[+] EnlargeWilliam Perry
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesRefrigerator Perry celebrates during Super Bowl XX against the New England Patriots.
The 1985 Chicago Bears were known, in equal parts, for their dominant defense and outsized personalities. The Bears' blitz-happy "46" defense spurred them to a 12-0 start, a 15-1 regular season record and the largest margin of victory in a Super Bowl at the time. And a roster that included three Hall of Fame players, five All-Pros and nine Pro Bowlers gave us some lasting and unique images.

Who can forget Perry diving into the end zone on Monday Night Football or catching a touchdown pass at Lambeau Field? Many of us can still feel the tension between coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, a dynamic that ultimately resulted in both men carried off the field after the Super Bowl. McMahon's message-laden headbands. And is there anything else to say beyond "Super Bowl Shuffle?"

Those sideshows were the grizzle on the meat of a team that was as talented, at least defensively, as any modern-day championship group. That collection of players gave the Bears the only championship they have known in the past 47 years.

Nearly half of the defensive starters made the Pro Bowl. Singletary and Hampton are in the Hall of Fame. One day, Dent will join them. Two players finished with double-digit sacks: Dent (17) and linebacker Otis Wilson (11). As a team, the Bears forced 54 turnovers. During one particularly dominant stretch, the Bears went two months without giving up more than 10 points in a game.

Their only loss came in Week 13 at Miami, which finished 12-4 that season. But the Bears rebounded from that loss, winning their final three games by an average margin of two touchdowns, and then elevated themselves to historic status in the playoffs.

On the way to Super Bowl XX, the Bears shut out the New York Giants (21-0) and Los Angeles Rams (24-0). The culmination of their season was a dominating 46-10 victory over New England in which the Bears set seven Super Bowl records.

Most impressive win: It's hard to look past a 36-point victory in a title game of any kind. At the time, it was the largest margin of victory in a Super Bowl.

Quotable: "In life, there are teams called Smith, and teams called 'Grabowski'....We're Grabowskis!" -- Ditka, painting his team as a blue-collar group that evoked Chicago's heritage. The nickname caught on.

Honorable mention:

1941: Six future Hall of Fame players contributed to a 10-1 record and an NFL Championship. All of its victories were by more than a touchdown, and its only loss was by two points to Green Bay.

1940: The same core of Hall of Fame players finished 8-3 and also won the NFL Championship. The title game was a legendary 73-0 defeat of Washington.

1942: An undefeated regular season (11-0) featured four shutouts over its final six games. But this team lost 14-6 to Washington in the NFL Championship Game.

SPONSORED HEADLINES