NFL Nation: team of the decade

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Although the NFC South hasn't been around for a full decade, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been declared the division's team of the decade.

That's according to ESPN.com, which used a formula concocted by NFC West colleague Mike Sando, who works part time as a rocket scientist, as well as a little bit of the human touch. I argued Tampa Bay's Super Bowl title should move them up a few spots higher than their ranking by the formula and Sando agreed.

The Bucs ranked ninth in the league and were the only NFC South team with a winning percentage over .500 for the decade. Carolina ranked No. 13, which seems pretty fair on the surface.

But I'd like to throw out a couple of scenarios that demonstrate just how close Carolina was to cracking the top 10. Let's suppose George Seifert's 1-15 disaster of 2001 never happened. The Bucs have 76 wins this decade. The Panthers have 71. Let's say Seifert's last season was a 6-10 year and the Panthers would have as many wins as the Bucs.

Carolina also came a lot closer to winning in their one Super Bowl appearance than a lot of people remember. If the Panthers had beaten the Patriots in Houston, they probably would be ranked ahead of Tampa Bay.

The Saints ranked No. 19 and the Falcons No. 21, which goes to show the importance of putting together back-to-back winning seasons. That's been nearly impossible for the NFC South teams throughout their existence.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Although the 2009 season could have major ramifications on the debate for team of the decade, the AFC North should have a sense of pride to be the only division in football to have a pair of top-5 franchises.

According to NFC West blogger Mike Sando's mathematical formula, the Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 3) and Baltimore Ravens (No. 5) were elite NFL franchises in the past decade. The grade included factors such as regular-season wins, playoff appearances and victories and losses in the Super Bowl since 2000.

Although a spirited case could be made that Pittsburgh should be the No. 2 franchise ahead of the Indianapolis Colts, Indianapolis did have more success than the Steelers in the regular season. Pittsburgh had more success than the Colts in the playoffs, including two Super Bowls wins compared to Indianapolis' one. But it wasn't enough to put the Steelers on top in this particular formula.

Pittsburgh, the defending Super Bowl champion, is trying to be the first team to repeat since the 2003-04 New England Patriots, who are the top-rated franchise in this decade with three Super Bowl wins.

But if the Steelers find a way to tie New England's mark, trying to pinpoint the best team of the past 10 years will be very difficult.

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