Analysis  

 

Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers among top NFL dynasties

As NFL Network wraps up "Dynasty Month" with a celebration of the Dallas Cowboys' legacy, we ask the question of the week ... or the question of the month ... Who was the Joan Collins of the NFL?

OK, maybe that was a poor reference to '80s television, but even if you didn't watch "Dynasty," you might have noticed that buzzword popping up in that decade, partially because of what the Steelers had just accomplished and partially because of what the 49ers were in the process of doing: stringing together championships while building, well, a dynasty.

With that in mind, I've ranked the five dynasties that were featured in "Dynasty Month," as you'll see below. Now I ask you to do the same ... @HarrisonNFL is the place. Surely nothing could inspire more opinionated responses than an exercise like this.

It should be mentioned that none of the dynasties below could have existed if not for the presence of some quality adversaries. We're thinking of the '90s Cowboys, who twice had to take out the Buffalo Bills to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Buffalo lost owner Ralph Wilson Jr. last month, and franchise quarterback Jim Kelly is fighting the good fight against cancer. It takes greatness to challenge greatness ... Wilson and Kelly had it.

Speaking of the Bills, another one of their longtime rivals kicks off our list as the fifth-greatest dynasty ...

NOTE: Each dynasty is listed along with the length of its dynastic run, its best team and an explanation of its ranking. Click on each team's name to see my all-time squad for the franchise.

5) New England Patriots

The run: 2001-present

The lowdown: Bill Belichick has built a dynasty during what is, without question, the toughest era in which to do so. The Pats won it all in the 2001 season -- Belichick's second year at the helm -- and also reigned supreme in 2003 and 2004, making New England just the second NFL team to capture three Super Bowl titles in a span of four years (joining the '90s Cowboys). And while Tom Brady and Co. have not grasped the Lombardi Trophy since then, they've only missed the playoffs once -- in 2008, when Brady went down with a season-ending injury in Week 1. And it wasn't like that was a down year in Foxborough; New England finished 11-5 with the little-known Matt Cassel taking snaps in Brady's stead. All told, in the past 13 seasons, the Pats have been to five Super Bowls, made the postseason 11 times and had nary a losing campaign.

Their best team: The 2007 squad, though it lost Super Bowl XLII on David Tyree's cranial theatrics, is still the best. The club went 16-0 in the regular season -- just the second time a team posted an unblemished record in the past 70 years -- while sporting a staggering point differential (315).

Why the Patriots are No. 5: I don't want to disparage what Belichick has crafted, but the bottom line is a harsh one. Of all the franchises on this list, the Pats have the least Super Bowl wins and a comparative lack of Hall of Fame-caliber players.

4) San Francisco 49ers

The run: 1981-1998

The lowdown: What started with Bill Walsh's scratch on a chalkboard morphed into a tidal wave of change in offensive football -- as well as five Super Bowl wins in 14 years. The West Coast offense came to be known to most fans -- and many future offensive coordinators -- through the lips of Pat Summerall and John Madden, who called many of the Niners' games on CBS in the '80s. Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig and Walsh's game-planning dominated most of the decade, but the defense also had its share of moments, putting up great performances in Super Bowls XIX and XXIV. Meanwhile, Super Bowls XVI and XXIII -- both narrow wins over the Bengals -- solidified Walsh's squad as the team of the '80s. And they weren't done when the calendar flipped; starting with the 1990 season, the Niners played in four of five NFC Championship Games, closing out the 1994 campaign with another Super Bowl title. San Francisco didn't have a losing season in the '90s until 1999.

Their best team: The San Francisco 49ers of 1984 are one of the three best teams of the modern era, putting together an 18-1 run that culminated with the complete demolition of the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX. Montana was brilliant, while the running game -- behind Craig and Wendell Tyler -- collected more than 2,000 yards. Oh, and every starter in the secondary made the Pro Bowl. #LegionOfBoomV1.0

Why the 49ers are No. 4: There is really no criticism to be made here, though we can point out that the Niners plummeted the year after winning their first Super Bowl, going 3-6 in the strike-shortened 1982 campaign. They also weren't able to win three out of four Super Bowls like the Cowboys or four out of six like the Steelers.

3) Dallas Cowboys

The run: 1966-1985, 1991-96

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The lowdown: It all came crashing down for Dallas, at least in terms of being the greatest dynasty of all time, when the salary cap, injuries and -- believe it or not -- Dom Capers' Panthers ended the Cowboys' dreams of winning a record four out of five Super Bowls in 1996. The cap ravaged a team that was ill-equipped (along with many of the other teams adjusting to the financial learning curve) to deal with a ceiling on its salary growth. That doesn't, however, diminish the immense respect that is due to coach Jimmy Johnson and owner Jerry Jones for building the first roster to win three out of four Super Bowls. When you combine that with the incredible run of 20 straight winning seasons that Tom Landry and Tex Schramm put together throughout the '60s, '70s and '80s -- Dallas also made five Super Bowl appearances during that stretch -- you can make the case that the Cowboys should be No. 1 on this list. Some might not consider that the makings of a dynasty, but no team has equaled that run before or since. From 1966 to 1982, the Cowboys appeared in 12 NFC or NFL title bouts.

Their best team: With apologies to Johnson, Troy Aikman and all those dudes still wearing Novacek jerseys, the 1977 unit was the Cowboys' best team. Dallas went 12-2, won its last seven games and outscored its postseason opponents by an average of 29-8.

Why the Cowboys are No. 3: Again, the case could be made that this is the greatest dynasty. But to do that, you'd have to combine two eras, meaning this isn't a single-entity dynasty, like the 1970s Steelers -- whom the Cowboys couldn't get past in Super Bowls X or XIII.

2) Pittsburgh Steelers

The run: 1972-79

The lowdown: No other franchise has ever won four Super Bowls in six years like the Steelers did in the 1970s. And no other nucleus of players has ever won four Lombardi Trophies together. The Steelers teams that won Super Bowls IX, X, XIII and XIV had 22 players in common -- that is the very definition of a dynasty. Consider that the Niners' four title-winning squads of the 1980s shared just five players. When you can take one group of guys and squeeze eight straight playoff appearances and four Lombardi Trophies out of them -- like coach Chuck Noll did -- then you have the essence of what every organization is striving to achieve. Pittsburgh did it with steady ownership (thank you, Art Rooney), smart drafting (four Hall of Famers in 1974 alone) and uncanny big-game play (Terry Bradshaw's first career 300-yard outing came in Super Bowl XIII). Ultimately, age and injuries stopped Franco's Italian Army in its tracks.

Their best team: Longtime Steelers fans will still single out the squad from 1976, with the "Steel Curtain" defense that allowed just 138 points all season. But injuries to running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier led to a loss in the AFC Championship Game. Thus, the 1978 club -- which went 14-2 and beat the other best team of the 1970s, the Cowboys, in Super Bowl XIII -- gets the nod.

Why the Steelers are No. 2: A title-winning run that spans six seasons is pretty impressive. But it's not quite as glorious as what the No. 1 team accomplished. We also couldn't include the Steelers of the 2000s because the separation is too long. Pittsburgh won it all in 2005 and 2008 but missed the playoffs altogether in 2006 and 2009.

1) Green Bay Packers

The run: 1960-67

The lowdown: There is no better trampling of the NFL than the stomping Green Bay put on everyone in the 1960s. The Packers won five titles in a span of seven years (1961, 1962, 1965, 1966 and 1967), and they triumphed in every way possible: by scraping out close calls (the 1966 NFL Championship Game), by fighting the elements (in the 1962 title match and the 1967 NFL Championship Game, aka, "The Ice Bowl") and via pure blowouts (Super Bowls I and II). Vince Lombardi molded a group of men into champions, many of whom had been strictly average players under Ray McLean in 1958, when the Packers won one game. With Lombardi taking over in '59, Green Bay went 7-5. In 1960, the Packers were in the NFL Championship Game. After suffering a close loss in Philadelphia, Lombardi told his players "this will never happen again." It didn't. In fact, that defeat to the Eagles was the Packers' only postseason failure of the entire decade. Twelve Packers from these teams are now enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Forrest Gregg, Paul Hornung, Jim Ringo, Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Henry Jordan, Dave Robinson, Ray Nitschke, Willie Wood and, of course, Lombardi himself.

Their best team: The 1962 Packers are not only the greatest Green Bay squad ever, they are the greatest team in league history. They steamrolled through their schedule, going 13-1 in the regular season before beating the New York Giants in the NFL Championship Game by the score of 16-7. The offense led the league in scoring and the defense led the circuit in points allowed.

Why the Packers are No. 1: Some might argue that Green Bay didn't have as much competition prior to the AFL-NFL merger, but the retort is simple: You play the schedule you're given. The Packers outplayed whoever was in front of them in the postseason, and they did so more successfully than any franchise, or dynasty, ever has. They also put their stamp on the Super Bowl era, demolishing the Chiefs and Raiders in the first two editions of the game. The huge margins of victory gave Joe Namath's famous guarantee (that his AFL-champion Jets would beat the NFL-champion Colts in Super Bowl III) its juice -- and helped establish Green Bay as Titletown, USA.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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