NFL Nation: 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.video

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

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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.

Best Texans Team Ever: 2009

June, 29, 2010
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Notable Players: QB Matt Schaub. WR Andre Johnson, DE Mario Williams, TE Owen Daniels, MLB DeMeco Ryans, LB Brian Cushing, SS Bernard Pollard

[+] EnlargeMatt Schaub
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesMatt Schaub passed for 4,770 yards in 2009, the sixth-most in NFL history.
Analysis: Let’s be frank. This will be the lone best team ever in our series of 32 that didn’t advance to the playoffs. These Texans are the best because they posted the only winning record in franchise history.

They did it despite some serious faults: a terrible run defense at the outset, a terrible run game and too many missed field goals late in close games.

Schaub posted the sixth-highest passing yardage season in league history. His 4,770 yards exceeded the best years for Peyton Manning or Warren Moon. Schaub accomplished this despite losing his second-best pass-catcher, tight end Owen Daniels, to a knee injury at the season’s midpoint.

The defense started poorly, but once in-season addition Pollard settled in, things settled down. Outside linebacker Cushing was fantastic from the start and won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Schaub showed just how valuable he can be, but these Texans often relied on his passing to win or stay in games. A win at struggling Tennessee early was the lone division victory. A 1-5 overall division record set up an impossible route to the postseason.

The Texans are hopeful the 2010 edition will replace this team as a franchise-best. A more balanced club and a playoff berth would accomplish that.

Most impressive win: I’m really struggling to pick one here, but I'll go with 34-31 in Nashville over the Titans in Week 2. Schaub threw four touchdowns to offset a huge day for Titans running back Chris Johnson.

Research room: The 2009 Texans were only the second AFC South team to finish with a winning record and not make the playoffs. (Jacksonville was 9-7 in 2004.)

Honorable mention:

2008: Andre Johnson was outstanding and running back Steve Slaton was a revelation with 1,282 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. But the 2008 Texans were outscored by 28 points. An 0-4 start killed them and a 5-1 finish was only enough for 8-8 overall.

Best Jaguars Team Ever: 1999

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Notable Players: WR Jimmy Smith, OT Tony Boselli, RB Fred Taylor, QB Mark Brunell, DE Tony Brackens, LB Kevin Hardy, S Donovin Darius

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AP Photo/Roberto BoreaTony Brackens made big plays for the 1999 Jaguars, including a team-record 12 sacks.
Analysis: The Jaguars have only 15 years of history, and choosing their best edition isn’t difficult. The 1999 club lost three games all season, all to the Tennessee Titans, with the third in the AFC Championship Game in Jacksonville.

Their ace running back was Taylor, who missed six regular-season games because of injury. He returned to turn in two 100-yard rushing games in the postseason.

Jacksonville had seven Pro Bowlers that season. After earning a bye with its 14-2 regular season, it waltzed to a 62-7 win over Miami in its first playoff game. James Stewart, who started seven games with Taylor hurt, scored 13 rushing touchdowns and Jimmy Smith pulled in 116 balls for 1,636 yards -- both still franchise records.

Brackens’ 12 sacks remain in place as the team’s single-season record. The 2009 Jaguars had 14 sacks total.

Most impressive win: Of the teams the Jaguars beat, only the Dolphins had a winning record. Only Carolina, the Jets, and Baltimore finished 8-8. Can you pick?

Research room: The 1999 Jaguars are one of four teams since 1999 to win at least 14 regular-season games and not reach the Super Bowl -- along with San Diego in 2006 (14-2), Indianapolis in 2005 (14-2), and Pittsburgh (15-1) in 2004.

Honorable mentions:

2007: A 11-5 record with an upset playoff win at nemesis Pittsburgh before a loss at eventual AFC Champion New England made for a surprisingly successful year.

1998: The AFC Central champions wound up 11-5, with a playoff win over New England before a road loss to the Jets.

1996: In only their second season on the field, the Jaguars got into the playoffs at 9-7 as the fifth seed thanks to tiebreakers with Indianapolis and Kansas City. They pulled upsets at Buffalo and at Denver before losing at New England in the AFC Championship Game.
Notable players: LG Bruce Matthews, QB Steve McNair, RB Eddie George, DE Jevon Kearse, CB Samari Rolle, WR Derrick Mason, S Blaine Bishop, TE Frank Wycheck

Eddie George
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesEddie George rushed for 1,509 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2000. He also caught 50 passes for 453 yards and two scores.
Analysis: While the Titans were transformed by reaching the franchise’s first Super Bowl during an improbable run in 1999, most insiders -- and this observer -- believe the follow-up team was better.

Fred Miller wasn’t as good as Jon Runyan at right tackle, but Randall Godfrey was a significant upgrade over Barron Wortham at middle linebacker. The defense allowed 133 fewer regular-season points than the year before. The addition of offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger also qualified as an improvement. These Titans weren’t discovering they were good, they knew they were good, rolling to a 13-3 season.

An opening-night loss at Buffalo was a grudge match over the Music City Miracle, but Tennessee responded with an eight-game winning streak. The Titans won in a variety of ways. They beat the Giants 28-14 and the Steelers 9-7, adapting to what a certain Sunday may have demanded.

They also lost close games to Baltimore and at Jacksonville. The total margin of their three losses was seven points.

With the NFL’s best record and as the No. 1 seed, the Titans felt primed to return to the Super Bowl and win it. But they were undone by the rival Ravens, who upset the Titans in Nashville with big defensive and special-teams performances that sparked a run to a championship. Jeff Fisher says the 2000 Titans are the best team he’s coached, which made the loss to the Ravens all the harder to swallow.

Most impressive win: The Giants were ranked as the NFC’s best team in 2000, and the Titans beat them by two touchdowns on Oct. 1.

Research room: While it was the Ravens’ year, and they are regarded as an all-time defense, it was the Titans who finished the year as the NFL’s No. 1-rated defense.

Honorable mentions:

1993: This edition of the Houston Oilers, which had two Hall of Fame offensive linemen in Mike Munchak and Matthews and a Hall of Fame quarterback in Warren Moon, rattled off 11 consecutive wins to conclude the regular season and finished 12-4. But they lost their first playoff game to Kansas City.

1961: The Houston Oilers were 10-3-1 and won their second AFL championship in a row with 13 players who were in the AFL All-Star Game.

1999: The Music City Miracle came to define a gritty, prepared, never-say-die team. They won their first playoff game thanks to the last-second trick play and came a yard short of forcing overtime on the final play of the franchise’s lone Super Bowl appearance.

Best Colts Team Ever: 1958

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NFL/Getty ImagesJohn Unitas and Raymond Berry led the 1958 Colts to victory in "The Greatest Game Ever Played."
Notable players: QB John Unitas, WR Raymond Berry, LT Jim Parker, HB Lenny Moore, RB Alan Ameche, DT Gene Lipscomb, DE Don Joyce, DE Gino Marchetti, DT Art Donovan.

Analysis: It’s very difficult to choose against the 1958 NFL champions, who took the crown with an overtime win in "The Greatest Game Ever Played." That win over the Giants at Yankee Stadium avenged a regular-season road loss to New York and did much to propel the NFL and football to prominence.

It’s prompted books with subtitles like “The Birth of the Modern NFL” and “How the 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever.”

And Baltimore’s lineup featured six players -- Berry, Donovan, Marchetti, Moore, Parker and Unitas -- who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as is their coach, Weeb Ewbank.

These Colts were 6-0 at home and finished 10-3. Before the title tilt, they’d won by an average of 17 points and only once by a margin as small as seven. Their three losses were by 14 points. While Unitas threw 19 touchdowns against seven interceptions, the offense was really run-based with 24 rushing touchdowns and an average of 177.3 ground yards per game.

The defense posted even more impressive numbers, allowing only nine touchdown passes while intercepting 35 passes. Safeties Andy Nelson and Ray Brown had eight interceptions each.

And, before you fire off that e-mail: Sorry if Indy folks don't like it, but yes, Baltimore and Indianapolis are the same franchise. Check the nickname, check the record books, check with the league. We're following its lead. This is what happens with relocated teams, with only the Browns/Ravens exception.

Most impressive win: Did we mention "The Greatest Game Ever Played?"

Research room: The 1958 Colts were the first team in league history to win a game in overtime, regular season or postseason.

Honorable mentions:

1959: These Baltimore Colts finished 9-3 and beat the Giants for the title again, with the same core of eventual Hall of Famers the 1958 team had.

1968: The famous clip of Joe Namath running off the field, his raised index finger wagging, overshadows these Baltimore Colts. They outscored opponents 402-144 and won the NFL title but lost Super Bowl III to the New York Jets in another game crucial to the league’s growth.

2006: Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts went 16-4 and their four-game playoff run produced a Super Bowl title. Yes, 2005 may have been a better team, but this one gets the nod because it got the trophy.

1970: In the last five seconds of Super Bowl V, rookie kicker Jim O'Brien’s 32-yard field goal lifted the Baltimore Colts to victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Best Broncos Team Ever: 1998

June, 25, 2010
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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.

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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 is for John” will never be forgotten in the Rocky Mountains.

Best Chiefs Team Ever: 1969

June, 25, 2010
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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

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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

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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.

Best Browns Team Ever: 1964

June, 23, 2010
6/23/10
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Notable players: RB Jim Brown, WR Paul Warfield, K Lou Groza, G Gene Hickerson, RB Leroy Kelly, QB Frank Ryan, LB Jim Houston.

Analysis: Jim Brown and Paul Warfield in the same offense.

Does any more need to be said?

[+] EnlargePaul Warfield
Malcolm Emmons/ US PresswirePaul Warfield averaged 17.7 yards per catch during his rookie season in 1964.
Often you hear Cleveland fans longing for the glory days, and this group led by Brown and Warfield -- perhaps the two best to play their respective positions -- tops the list.

This team was ahead of its time. Cleveland, which finished 10-3-1 in 1964, scored more than 400 points in an era when that was extremely difficult. For perspective, only eight teams scored more than 400 points in 2009 with two more regular-season games (16) and numerous advancements in the NFL game.

Brown, 28 and in his prime, rushed for 1,446 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. He averaged more than 100 yards rushing per game. Warfield, then a 22-year-old rookie, had 920 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, as he was a key figure who helped revolutionize the vertical passing game. He averaged 17.7 yards per catch in '64, a stat that would still be impressive today.

To further prove Cleveland's dominance, they won the NFL Championship, 27-0, over the Baltimore Colts. The high-powered offense with Brown, Warfield and Ryan (25 touchdown passes) at quarterback was too advanced. Cleveland scored 30 points or more in half of its games that season.

Brown, Warfield, Groza, Hickerson and Kelly -- who was a rookie kick returner in '64 -- are all Hall of Famers from this group.

Most impressive win: As mentioned earlier, Cleveland's 27-0 rout of the Baltimore Colts was the exclamation point of the '64 season.

Both teams had an amazing collection of talent. But Baltimore Hall of Famers such as quarterback Johnny Unitas, running back Lenny Moore and tight end John Mackey were stifled by Cleveland's defense, which forced four turnovers. Brown rushed for 114 yards for Cleveland and Ryan threw three touchdown passes in the blowout win.

Research room: Groza had one of the most interesting careers in football history. He played 22 years in Cleveland and arrived as an offensive lineman. He made the Pro Bowl nine times as a left tackle and also played some right tackle, center, defensive tackle and kicker during his career. Groza was the kicker for the '64 team at age 40. He made 22 field goals and all 49 extra-point attempts.

Sudden retirement: Following the championship in '64, Brown would play one more season before suddenly retiring to pursue a movie career.

Brown rushed for an astounding 1,544 yards and 17 touchdowns in his final season. Most of Brown's rushing records have been broken. But he's widely considered the best running back of all time.

Honorable mention:

1950: Another elite, championship team stacked with talented players such as Otto Graham and Marion Motley. This Browns team would give the '64 group a run for its money. But not having Warfield or Brown on this squad makes the difference.

1953: The Browns, again led by Graham at quarterback, ran off 11 consecutive wins before losing a meaningless final regular-season game. But Cleveland lost to the Detroit Lions, 17-16, in the NFL Championship for a disappointing end to an otherwise dominant season.

1986: This team is best known for falling victim to "The Drive" led by quarterback John Elway of the Denver Broncos. Elway orchestrated a 15-play, 98-yard drive in Cleveland to force overtime and Denver eventually won the game, costing a talented Browns team a shot at the Super Bowl. One year later, a chance at revenge against Denver in the AFC title game was thwarted by "The Fumble."

Best Bengals Team Ever: 1988

June, 23, 2010
6/23/10
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Notable players: OT Anthony Munoz, QB Boomer Esiason, RB James Brooks, RB Ickey Woods, DL Tim Krumrie, WR Eddie Brown, S David Fulcher

[+] EnlargeIckey Woods
Manny Rubio/US PresswireIckey Woods led the Bengals with 1,066 yards rushing and 15 TDs.
Analysis: If not for the late-game heroics from San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, the 1988 Cincinnati Bengals would have earned the franchise's first and only Super Bowl title. Instead, they join a long list of great teams that are often forgotten after losing in the big game.

With the Bengals leading by three points, Montana drove San Francisco 92 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to seal a 20-16 victory in Super Bowl XXIII. Montana's game-winning touchdown throw to receiver John Taylor with 34 seconds remaining has been replayed constantly and is a reminder of how close the Bengals were to winning the Super Bowl.

But being that close to a title is what makes the '88 Bengals the best team in franchise history.

Cincinnati's explosive offense led the NFL in scoring with 448 points and in total yards in '88. Esiason threw for 3,572 yards and 28 touchdowns, and the Bengals nearly had two 1,000-yard rushers in Ickey Woods (1,066 yards) and James Brooks (931 yards).

The '81 Bengals also won the AFC and are a close second. Coincidentally, Cincinnati lost to San Francisco in the Super Bowl that year as well.

Most impressive win: Despite Cincinnati lighting up the scoreboard all season, the AFC Championship Game was a defensive battle against the Buffalo Bills.

The Bengals had to win with toughness, holding the Jim Kelly-led Bills to 181 total yards in a 21-10 victory. Cincinnati held Buffalo to 45 yards rushing and forced three turnovers. The Bengals also ran the ball 50 times for 175 yards in the win to set up their Super Bowl showdown with San Francisco.

Research room: The Bengals had seven Pro Bowlers in '88. Esiason, Munoz, Brooks, Brown and tight end Rodney Holman represented the AFC on offense. On Cincinnati's defense, Fulcher and Krumrie also earned Pro Bowl nods.

The Ickey Shuffle: To the casual football fan, probably the most memorable aspect of the run made by the '88 Bengals was the invention of the "The Ickey Shuffle."

Woods came up with a famous (infamous?) touchdown dance that consisted of a stutter-step to each side, then a spike of the football. Artistically, "The Ickey Shuffle" wasn't all that great. But it became one of the most well-known touchdown celebrations in NFL history.

Honorable mentions:

1981: This remains the only other Bengals team to play in a Super Bowl. Quarterback Ken Anderson had a career year, throwing for 3,754 yards, 29 touchdowns and a 98.4 passer rating.

2005: The best team of the Marvin Lewis era, Cincinnati went 11-5 and won the AFC North. But a first-quarter knee injury to quarterback Carson Palmer led to a quick playoff exit against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

1975: Another first-round playoff exit makes this a quality but forgotten team. The Bengals were very well-balanced in '75 and ranked in the top seven in total offense (No. 2) and total defense (No. 7).

Best Ravens Team Ever: 2000

June, 23, 2010
6/23/10
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Notable players: LB Ray Lewis, OT Jonathan Ogden, S Rod Woodson, TE Shannon Sharpe, RB Jamal Lewis, LB Peter Boulware, CB Chris McAlister, DT Sam Adams

[+] EnlargeRay Lewis
AP Photo/Nick WassRay Lewis and the Ravens' defense helped the young franchise win its first, and so far only, Super Bowl.
Analysis: The 2000 Ravens are the clear choice for a franchise that's only been in existence for 14 years. It was the only team to win a Super Bowl and also had arguably the most dominant defense of all time.

Baltimore was far from a perfect Super Bowl team in 2000. Most notably, the team had issues at quarterback. The Ravens started with Tony Banks under center but finished with Trent Dilfer, who played efficiently enough for Baltimore to make an incredible run to end the season.

At one point, the Ravens were a middle-of-the-pack, 5-4 team. Then Baltimore got hot, winning seven straight to end the regular season and four more postseason games, including a victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.

Led by middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens set several defensive records in 2000, including fewest points (165) and fewest rushing yards (970) allowed in a 16-game season. Baltimore also pitched four shutouts.

There were seemingly no weaknesses on defense. Baltimore's defensive line was stout with Adams and Tony Siragusa, the linebackers were elite, and the secondary had stud playmakers at safety (Woodson) and cornerback (McAlister).

Then-rookie tailback Jamal Lewis anchored the offense with 1,364 rushing yards. Tight end Sharpe was the team's most dependable receiver, recording 67 receptions for 810 yards.

Most impressive win: Although the Super Bowl win over the Giants will go down as the biggest game of the season, the most impressive was Baltimore's dominance in the AFC Championship Game, a 16-3 road win over the Oakland Raiders. The Ravens' defense smothered Oakland's high-powered offense led by quarterback Rich Gannon. Baltimore forced five Oakland turnovers.

Research Room: Longtime Ravens kicker Matt Stover made the only Pro Bowl of his 19-year career in 2000. With an inconsistent offense, Stover was clutch in connecting on 35 of 39 field goals. He led the NFL in both field goals made and field-goal attempts that season. Stover also converted all 30 extra-point attempts.

Lone ranger: Ray Lewis remains the only player currently with the Ravens from their Super Bowl team in '00. Now 35, the future Hall of Famer is still playing at a Pro Bowl level. Lewis signed a multi-year deal in '09 to make certain that he retires a Raven.

Several key members from Baltimore's Super Bowl team left the organization in the past several seasons. Jamal Lewis last played for the Ravens in '06, Ogden retired after the '07 season, and McAlister and Stover last played for Baltimore in '08.

Honorable mentions (in order):

2006 (tie): Baltimore finally got solid quarterback play from former NFL MVP Steve McNair, and the Ravens won 13 regular-season games. But in the postseason they ran into nemesis Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, who eventually won the Super Bowl.

2008 (tie): The Ravens became the first NFL team to win two road playoff games with a rookie quarterback (Joe Flacco). But their run was stifled in fourth quarter of the AFC title game to another eventual Super Bowl champion: The Pittsburgh Steelers.

2001: Baltimore's attempt to defend a Super Bowl title ended with a second-round playoff exit. The Elvis Grbac experiment was a disaster. After signing a big free-agent deal with Baltimore, he had more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (15).

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