There are several NFL teams considered dynasties, but which deserves to be called the best?
Over fifty years ago, the New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens and Boston Celtics all won five or more championships in a row. Those days are long behind us, and we never see major professional sports leagues dominate their sports like they used to, particularly the NFL, where Free Agency has made it difficult for teams to keep players and maintain consistency and cohesion, and where we’ve never had a Super Bowl three-peat, and have now gone over a decade without a successful title defense. And yet, pro football does have its dominant teams, and a few can be considered elite.
What makes a team a dynasty?
This excerpt, from the article, Where Patriots dynasty ranks among NFL’s most dominant franchises, says this:
“This is, to a degree, subjective. You and I might not see eye-to-eye on the importance of regular-season success vs. playoff success or Super Bowl victories vs. Super Bowl appearances. Longevity could also be considered a point of contention here, both in terms of franchises that didn’t sustain their success for very long (the 1990s Cowboys, for instance) or those that spread their success over longer stretches (the 1980s/1990s 49ers come to mind).
That last part factors in the whole quality vs. quantity conundrum, which only further complicates the whole dynasty debate.
Some tenets we might be able to agree on:
• A dynasty needs to win multiple championships within one era.
• Within said era, most of the key figures have to remain the same. The Seahawks made the Super Bowl in 2005 and then again in 2013, but those teams shared zero players and had entirely different coaching staffs. For the same reason, it wouldn’t be fair to include New England’s 1996 Super Bowl appearance in that team’s current dynasty profile.
• A dynasty can’t simply be a team that wins back-to-back championships. In other words, a third championship should be required at some point in the same era.”
Using that criteria, the teams most commonly referred to as dynasties are the Pittsburgh Steelers, the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys, and the New England Patriots. Other teams often included are the Green Bay Packers and the Oakland Raiders, but because their personnel changed and there were many years in between titles, they don’t meet the definition above, and I will be leaving them off this list.
The team that seems to get the votes for best dynasty most often is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are actually my second favorite team, and I can totally understand why people would consider them the best dynasty. There are three major reasons why the Steelers are often considered the best: 1) They are the only team to win four Super Bowls in only six years, 2) They have the most Lombardi Trophies (6), 3) They have sustained excellence for over the longest time — over 40 years, and 4.) The organization was founded by Art Rooney, and is still owned and run by the Rooney family.
These are all very legitimate arguments for Pittsburgh, and if you consider only championships, then sure, the Patriots fall two trophies short. However, I would argue that there are many other intangibles that make up a great football team, and many more factors that make for a football dynasty. And the best? That’s the argument I’d like to make now. Here are some reasons why I think the argument can be made for the New England Patriots being the best NFL dynasty ever:
(Don’t bother making Deflategate jokes or calling the Pats cheaters, because it’s all been said before. You may hate New England, and detest them for cheating, but everyone knows they didn’t need to, and everything they earned, they earned with talent and having arguably the best coach-quarterback duo to ever play the game. If you honestly believe Tom Brady and the Patriots had 14 amazing winning record seasons, won multiple playoff games, appeared in six Super Bowls, and won four Lombardi Trophies by filming some low quality videos on opposing team’s sidelines and deflating a few footballs, then you are an idiot. If you can’t see how profoundly talented this team is, then you probably don’t know much about football, or are blinded by jealousy. You don’t have to like them, or what they might have done, but at least have the humility to accept that this hugely successful team deserves to at least be considered a dynasty. I don’t like that they might have cheated either, and mostly because they never needed to. In this essay, I’m not looking to moralize and pick the team with the most pious character and spotless record. I’m looking to choose the team that won the most, dominated the most, had the most talented people, and did it all year in and year out. I ask that you have an open mind…)
1. The Patriots made it to all six Super Bowls and won four times with the same head coach and quarterback. Pittsburgh can’t say that. The Cowboys can, and won three in four years. So did the Patriots. And then made it to three more, and won the last. As the players around him changed, Brady has always had Belichick as his head coach, and has been blessed to have had only three Offensive Coordinators in fourteen years — Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels and Bill O’Brien. Other coaches have been there for years as well. It’s easy to see what a revolving door of coaches and coordinators can do to a quarterback. The Raiders have fired seven head coaches since 2000, and had a losing record nearly every year since. The other teams that are infamous for firing multiple head coaches and coordinators are the Browns, Redskins, Vikings, Lions, Dolphins, Rams, Buccaneers and Jaguars. All have had multiple losing seasons. There have been a number of very capable quarterbacks who have suffered and faltered due to losing their coaches, and often having to learn new systems and playbooks. Many thrived under certain coaches, and shriveled under others. Look at Colin Kaepernick’s pitiful regression in San Francisco. Brady has thrived under all three offensive coordinators, but it’s obvious that much of his success comes from having a consistent coaching staff, and talented people to trust and rely on.
2. Brady has had to win games with a revolving roster of talent, and apart from Moss and Gronk, has never been surrounded by superstar, big name players. However, even despite this deficit, Brady has been able to turn those players into superstars, by making the cast around him look great, and elevating his fellow players to greatness. Brady is so good, that he has made mediocre, average, or good players look MUCH better than they are. When it comes to his receivers, Brady has made stars out of players who might not play as well otherwise. In fact, over time, we have seen several of Tom Brady’s targets go elsewhere, and have less than stellar success. Deion Branch was never as good as he was in New England, and Wes Welker was all but a bust in Denver. Who knows how good Julian Edelman would be without Tom Brady throwing to him? Obviously, Rob Gronkowski is a star, on track to have a Hall of Fame career. Randy Moss will certainly be in Canton sometime soon. But most of the average wide receivers Brady has had to make do with, have not been naturally gifted and fabulous players. If anything, he has made them so, and done it year after year. Joe Montana had Jerry Rice. Terry Bradshaw had Lynn Swann. Peyton Manning had Reggie Wayne, Eli Manning has Odell Beckham Jr, Phillip Rivers has Antonio Gates, Ben Roethlisberger has Antonio Brown…and the list goes on and on. Plenty of Super Bowl winning QBs have had star receivers, but most of the time, Tom Brady has made do with what he had. And did it better than anyone, ever. As the leader and heart of that team, Tom Brady has welcomed and rallied a rotating team of misfits and malcontents, and made them look better every step of the way. He inspired them with his competitiveness, skill, and enthusiasm, and compelled them to be better and reach higher.
3. Even the years the Pats didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, they still made it far into the playoffs, and always had winning record seasons. That means that they didn’t win the Super Bowl one year, and then tank the next. Teams like San Francisco, the Ravens, and Seattle were all in the Super Bowl within the last three years, and all have struggled to win. The Patriots never have an off year. Even the year Brady got injured and missed the season, the backup QB and team went on to an impressive 11-5 record, and just narrowly missed the playoffs. In 2005, the Steelers won the Super Bowl, and the very next season, went 8-8. In 2002, they made it to the Divisional Playoffs, but the very next season, went 6-10. Last season, the Detroit Lions went 11-5 and made it to the playoffs, and this year, they are 1-7! The Patriots have been good, and competed EVERY season, and that’s something NO other team can say. They may have the occasional bad game, but never has Tom Brady and the Pats had a losing season and not had a chance at winning it all. In 2014, the Pats had a terrible game against the Kansas City Chiefs, and were massacred 41-14. The press went crazy, and everyone swore it was the end of an era, and Tom Brady’s career was over. Well, the Pats went on to finish with a 12-4 record, breeze through the playoffs, and beat dominant Seattle in the Super Bowl. The reason I bring this up is that the reason people were so quick to call for the Patriots demise, is that we just aren’t used to seeing the Patriots lose, and never by that much. It was so extreme and out of the ordinary, people naturally just assumed it meant Tom Brady could no longer play. But he can, and he is, and as long as he’s under center, this team will keep winning, season after season. Their winning percentage, and consistency at winning should make them an easy contender for top dynasty.
4. Tom Brady has won more playoff games than any other QB, and the Pats have won more playoff games this century than any other team. When it comes to the postseason, Brady is arguably the best quarterback to play the game. Nobody has been more clutch when it matters, and played so many big games, and been successful. The Patriots are a team built for the postseason, and snowy playoff games in New England have become a tradition.
5. The Patriots did it all in the era of Free Agency, which meant that they often couldn’t keep great players, and never could depend on the same reliable and cohesive team from year to year, like the Steelers and other teams could. The era of unrestricted free agency has all but dismantled dynasties in professional sports, and entered the NFL in 1992. That was right in the middle of the Buffalo Bills’ streak of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances, and four straight losses. It’s hard to imagine that any team could make it to the big game four times in a row today. There’s just too many moving parts. Last season, the Patriots had arguably the best cornerback in the league, in Darrell Revis. They won the Super Bowl, and then during free agency, he left and signed with the Jets. And he had already replaced arguably the second best corner in the league — Aqib Talib. In two years, we lost the two best CBs in the game, yet here we are, with a patchwork motley crew of players, and inexperienced corners, and we’re still 8-0. You think about a team that could have been a dynasty, like the Minnesota Vikings of the ’70s, who lost the Super Bowl four times in seven years, and they had one of the greatest defensive lines in the game — the Purple People Eaters. The Steelers had the Iron Curtain. These teams had the same dependable roster of players year in and year out, and could build a defense like the Steelers and Vikings had. Those guys knew each other intimately, and built solid cohesion and trust as a team. Montana and the Niners had the same consistency a decade later. Brady never has. There are zero players from the 2001 Patriots championship team but Tom Brady. He’s built all this with his hands tied behind his back, and no other quarterback or team on this list had to do quite so much, with quite so little.
6. Tom Brady may not have all the records Peyton Manning does, but he’s got as many rings as Bradshaw and Montana, and is arguably the best quarterback to play the game. Others will say Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham, or Montana, but Brady played in six Super Bowls, won more playoff games than any other, holds plenty of postseason records, and most importantly of all, knows how to win when it matters. Brady is more clutch than any QB to ever play the game. He not only wins, he wins big when it matters. He’ll never come close to reaching Payton Manning’s records, but Peyton has a nasty habit of losing in big games, while Brady has won more than lost. Sure, he lost two Super Bowls to the Giants, but they were close, and fluke circumstances ended up deciding both games. Other QBs may have stronger arms and throw tighter spirals, but Brady is one of the fastest releasers in the game and reads defenses masterfully. Some people argue Brady’s a system quarterback, but you needn’t look further than how lethally skillful he is at reading defense coverage, and making changes at the line of scrimmage. Only Peyton Manning is as good as Brady in this area. However, Brady is probably better at exploiting opposing team’s mistakes, and making them pay. His game has only gotten better with time, and has grown and evolved to adapt better to defenses and changes in the game. So sure, Peyton may have records, but he doesn’t have rings. Bradshaw may have rings, but he doesn’t have records. Brady has both, and may only be rivaled by Montana in this regard. But as I stated above, Tom Terrific did it in the era of free agency, and with fewer star targets at his disposal. Imagine what Brady could have done with a Jerry Rice, or even Randy Moss in his prime, and for a few more years. The thing is, unlike Montana and Bradshaw, Brady’s not even close to being done. It’s hard to see Peyton going beyond this year, but Tom could very well win for many years more. He says that he’d like to play until 48, and while that would be nearly impossible, the way he’s playing, there’s no reason he couldn’t play for another four years. He takes care of himself, and seems to be evolving and adapting his style so much, he only seems to be getting better with age. His release time is the best in the NFL, and as a result, he takes far fewer hits in the pocket. He also seems to be moving more, and willing to takes steps to clear defenders and getting better shots downfield. This athlete may be on the tail-end of his career, but he is by no means close to being done. As the face of the franchise, Brady has been the force of nature driving this team to greatness year after year, and why this Pats Dynasty is so consistently good, and arguably the best.
7. Bill Belichick is arguably the best head coach to ever lead an NFL team. Him and Brady are the winningest coach-qb combo in NFL history. He has an impressive 240-118 record, and has been to eight Super Bowls, winning four rings with New England and two with the Giants — more than any other coach. He has won Coach of the Year three times, and is often mentioned as one of the top three coaches, along with Don Shula and Bill Walsh. I think Belichick’s accomplishments in the era of Free Agency are stunning, considering he had a constantly shuffling cast of characters. What he did was nothing short of genius, constantly rearranging the pieces, and trying to make it all work. Belichick demonstrates great vision and has been so innovative as a coach, he has changed the game and inspired a lot of imitators. His dynamic approach includes using players in new and effective roles, not being sentimental and knowing when to cut aging and under-producing players (although often unpopular with fans!), designing complex offense with a large number of plays and clever tricks and maneuvers to fool defenses, and navigating and exploiting the draft to make smart trades and swap draft spots, and often drafting undervalued bargain players who often turn into great players. As the former Defensive Coordinator under Parcells at the Giants, Bill is a gifted defensive strategist, and has used the draft and solid training to always field a defense that competes and manages to get Brady back on the team. There are many more ways Belichick innovated the game, and continues to find new ways win, but perhaps it’s the special bond between him and Brady that makes the best case for why the Patriots could be the best dynasty ever.
8. The Patriots have been to seven Super Bowls, and all since owner Robert Craft bought the team. Just like the Steelers wouldn’t be the Steelers without the Rooney Family running the team, the Patriots would not be winners without Craft’s support. He has given Belichick more power than most coaches get, and hired good GMs and support staff to help Bill win championships. The Craft family are strong owners, and have fostered an atmosphere of winning.
9. New England actually ties Dallas and Pittsburgh for the most Super Bowl appearances with eight. Their record is 4-4. However, a team should rightfully be recognized for just getting to the Super Bowl, which is a victory in itself. These teams had great records, and played well all season and throughout the playoffs. The Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills both went to the Super Bowl four times each, and with terrific teams, but lost each time. But we don’t call them dynasties because they never won when it counted. The Patriots have won though, and even when they lost, it was often very close. Under Brady, the Pats lost to the Giants first by 3 points and then by 4. In the Brady-Belichick era dynasty, we’ve rarely lost, and then, only barely lost.
10. The Patriots nearly matched Don Shula’s 1972 Miami Dolphin’s perfect season record in 2007, falling one short, to go 18-1. The 1972 Dolphins went 14–0 in the regular season and won all three post-season games, including Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins, to finish 17–0. However, the Pats’ season was two games longer than Miami’s, so the Pats hold the record for being the only team to win 16 regular season games, and the only team since Miami to win every game in the season. This was an incredible season, and a truly remarkable accomplishment. Naturally, Patriots fans are bitter about missing out on a perfect season, and losing such a close game, and one that they had dominated throughout. We’ll never get over that loss. But here we are, once again, at 8-0, on potentially on to another perfect season. I don’t necessarily think we’ll get there, but this is only the second time we’ve made it to 8-0, and you know when the last time was. The fact that we have such a great record, and always have one of the best records in the league, is further proof that this team deserves to be considered for number one.
11. Tom Brady and his revolving cast of characters over the last 14 years have an incredible record, and no team in the NFL has a winning record against Tom Brady. There are multiple teams that have never even beaten Brady. At home, the Patriots’ total home record, in all regular season and playoff games started by Brady, is an astonishing 108-18! Brady and company have simply dominated the league for over a decade and a half, and have run roughshod over every team in the league. There are dozens of teams that have been victimized by the Patriots, and suffered stinging losses of 20, 30, or 40 points. During the 2007 season, the Patriots were accused of showing off, because they kept scoring on their hapless opponents. Apparently, some people forget a game is 60 minutes, and we play to the end. If they had the ball, and were in a position to score, they did. No one cried foul — least of all, us — when the Chiefs put 41 points on us, but have no problem calling the Patriots out when they do it. No one likes to consistently lose to the same team, and that’s what the Pats have done to this league. Between that and accusations of cheating, it’s no wonder so many people hate the Patriots. They hated the Cowboys too. And the Raiders. If it’s not your team, everyone hates a winner. Simply put, no team has so expertly executed the field and dominated and devastated so many teams over such a long period as the New England Patriots. The Pats have been winners, and their record unmistakably reflects that.
12. It’s not over yet. As long as Tom and Bill are in New England, you can never rule out the possibility that the Pats may win more Super Bowls. I think we can all confidently say, if the Patriots were to win won more Lombardi with this duo, there could be no doubt who the greatest dynasty was. Of course, as you can see, I already think they are!