The Atlanta Falcons just finished an impressive offensive season. As we turn the page to 2017, I thought I'd take a moment to see exactly where the Falcons fit in the hierarchy of the best offenses of all time.
Before we get to the list of the best offenses in NFL history below, I'd like to note something interesting: Only two of these teams ended up winning the Super Bowl. By comparison, the five best defenses of all time that I listed last year all went on to win it all. I think it suggests that if you have a good defense, you have a better chance, all other things being equal, than if you have a good offense.
1) 1999 St. Louis Rams
Points per game: 32.9. Passing yards per game: 272.1. Rushing yards per game: 128.7. Yards per play: 6.45.
It was so exciting to see Kurt Warner -- for all intents and purposes a rookie -- and this stacked attack nearly double the Rams' scoring output from the previous season (285 in 1998 to 526 in '99). They were just going downfield all the time. This was truly a special team, and I think Dick Vermeil, who put the offense together, was really a brilliant football coach. Following up on what the '98 Vikings offense did, these Rams -- who operated with a bit more flair than Minnesota -- really helped set the tone for the prolific offenses to come. Yes, the 2000 and '01 Rams outpaced this group, but I think that success was largely carried over from this crew. The Greatest Show on Turf has produced three Hall of Famers -- Warner, all-everything back Marshall Faulk and left tackle Orlando Pace -- with receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt possibilities to join them in Canton. Between them, Ricky Proehl and Az-Zahir Hakim, this group was just outstanding to watch.
2) 2007 New England Patriots
Points per game: 36.8. Passing yards per game: 295.7. Rushing yards per game: 115.6. Yards per play: 6.22.
The Pats followed up on what the Rams did by taking offensive football to the next rung. Tom Brady set what was an NFL record at the time with 50 touchdown passes, while Randy Moss caught a still-record 23 touchdown passes and Wes Welker notched 112 receptions. New England broke new ground in scoring totals (589 points) and had the ball for nearly 33 minutes per game while scoring less than 24 points just once in the regular season. When you score 48 points or more on the road three times, you know you're special. And, of course, they went 16-0. This just shows you what Brady can do when he has a receiver like Moss -- the best receiver Brady's played with to this day -- to work with.
3) 2013 Denver Broncos
Points per game: 37.9. Passing yards per game: 340.3. Rushing yards per game: 117.1. Yards per play: 6.33.
- 2017 NFL DRAFT
▹ Best and most worrisome picks
▹ Five Teams that improved the most
▹ Day 2 winners and losers
▹ Most intriguing pick of Round 1
▹ Day 1 winners and losers
▹ QB frenzy shakes up Round 1
▹ Draft Do-overs:
▸ 2008 | 2011 | 2014 | 2015
- MARSHAWN LYNCH TRADE
▹ Lynch, Raiders poised for run
▹ Raiders boast NFL's best offense?
This was Peyton Manning at the peak of his powers, able to get into the right play on every occasion and lead his receivers perfectly to maximize their yardage after the catch. With his mental ability as potent as ever and his physical ability still sufficient, Manning orchestrated everything, setting the NFL's scoring record while topping 50 points three times. He also threw for an unprecedented 55 touchdown passes and 5,477 yards with 8.3 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 115.1. Four players posted double-digit touchdown catches, while Knowshon Moreno helped keep defenses honest. The ability to use the tight end (Julius Thomas) and ground game smartly really helped this unit shine.
4) 2011 Green Bay Packers
Points per game: 35.0. Passing yards per game: 307.8. Rushing yards per game: 97.4. Yards per play: 6.56.
Aaron Rodgers had one of those truly off-the-charts years we know he's capable of, while Jordy Nelson broke out with his first 1,000-yard campaign. Nelson brought a new dimension to the game, but the wheel that really turned the machine was tight end Jermichael Finley, who ensured this offense was always moving downfield. This was not a short-pass offense, and Finley -- a serious mismatch against most defenders, thanks to his size and speed for the position -- was a large reason why. With all the right components in place, Rodgers passed for 45 touchdowns and a 122.5 rating -- which stands as the best single-season passer rating of all time -- en route to capturing his first NFL MVP award, and the Packers set a franchise record for points scored (560).
5) 2016 Atlanta Falcons
Points per game: 33.8. Passing yards per game: 295.3. Rushing yards per game: 120.5. Yards per play: 6.69.
You almost had to shake your head and wonder how Atlanta could be so much better on offense than it was in 2015. The team ran 78 fewer plays while scoring 201 more points en route to Super Bowl LI. But everything was clicking for the Falcons this season. You could see it as far back as training camp, the way they were incorporating the running backs into a complete passing game. Everybody was on the same page. It was interesting and wonderful to watch. Everything just went right for this team.
Matt Ryan seemed to play with renewed confidence in 2016 after a down 2015. You saw it in the summer, the way he took command in camp. I also think it helped that Devonta Freeman averaged almost a full yard more per carry than he did in 2015, while the addition of productive free agent Mohamed Sanu meant Ryan didn't have to force it to star receiver Julio Jones all the time. I think Ryan might have been given too much to do too soon in his early years in the NFL, but he answered any questions there might have been about his ability with his MVP campaign.
6) 1990 Buffalo Bills
Points per game: 26.8. Passing yards per game: 199.8 Rushing yards per game: 130. Yards per play: 5.67.
The K-Gun offense was an innovative attack, pushing the Bills to 26.8 points per game and 95 points in two playoff contests en route to Super Bowl XXV. And while I think our modern increase in scoring and offense can, in part, be attributed to an increase in plays, Buffalo succeeded despite running just 931 offensive plays. Also, unlike most prolific offenses these days, the Bills ran the ball (479 attempts) more than they passed it (425). It helped to have Thurman Thomas, who led the NFL in scrimmage yards (1,829), toting the ball. Thomas was one of four Hall of Famers produced by this team, along with Jim Kelly, James Lofton and Andre Reed.
7) 1998 Denver Broncos
Points per game: 31.3. Passing yards per game: 226.5. Rushing yards per game: 154.3. Yards per play: 5.85.
This Denver team scored 501 points despite John Elway missing four starts, thanks in large part to a running game led by Terrell Davis. This was probably the best offense Mike Shanahan put together since he ran the San Francisco 49ers' offense in 1994 and won three postseason games by double-digits. Shanahan liked to run, and it showed, with Denver posting 525 running plays against 491 passes. This was a great system for running the ball, and it helped Davis produce a 2,000-yard season. I know many will clamor for the 1998 Vikings to be included on this list, but in my view, the '98 Broncos were more diversified than the Vikings, who threw well but had nothing like the Broncos' ground game.
Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.