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Top 10 NFL teams of the decade: 2013 Seattle Seahawks No. 1

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In a few weeks, we'll forget all about the 2018 NFL season and think only about 2019. This makes sense. With only 16 chances for teams to meaningfully impact their fate, it would be silly to entertain thoughts about anything but the immediate present.

But before we banish 2018 to the historical record, let's take a July breather and look back even longer, all the way back to 2010, and consider the top 10 teams of this decade.

While I made a good-faith effort to be objective in creating the list below, it struck me that I was attempting to pick out the 10 best organizations from a field that ostensibly included 288 options (32 teams per seasons over nine seasons). Facing a task that absurd demanded a certain lack of analytical rigor. Instead of assembling a deathly boring list of the most complete teams or melting into a puddle of anxiety over which team from 2012 could beat the best team of 2017, I kept things loose, weighing historical impact, seasonal and decade-long rankings and entertainment value. Some of the teams below were not especially good at certain aspects of the game -- but they were all great for one reason or another. (And every team here ranked in the top five in point differential that season, suggesting they were able to account for any lack of balance.)

Note: I've included each team's seasonal rankings in offense, defense, points scored, points allowed and point differential, noting where applicable when teams rank within the top 10 of a certain category among teams of the decade. Also, to prevent this from becoming a list populated only by Patriots, Broncos and Seahawks, I limited myself to one representative from each franchise. This is an arbitrary rule that I feel great about.

1) 2013 Seattle Seahawks

Record: 13-3; beat Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8.

Rankings:
-- 18th in overall offense (339 ypg)
-- T-8th in scoring (26.1 ppg)
-- 1st in overall defense (273.6 ypg; No. 4 of decade)
-- 1st in points allowed (14.4 ppg; No. 3 of decade)
-- 2nd in point differential (186; No. 9 of decade)

Later iterations of the Seahawks would become more balanced as quarterback Russell Wilson came into his own, but in terms of era-defining impact, it's hard to beat the title-winning coronation of the Legion of Boom. It seemed silly for opposing offenses to even suit up against Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Co. Rolling high on U Mad Bro? energy (I know this is from 2012, but if we have learned anything this decade, it's that memes carry!), the Seahawks held 16 of their 19 opponents that season (including playoffs) to 20 points or less. Opposing quarterbacks managed a meager combined passer rating of 63.4 in the regular season, easily the lowest mark of the decade. Though it looked like the ultimate clash between high-powered offense and suffocating defense, Super Bowl XLVIII quickly turned into a laugher, with Seattle running to a 36-0 lead against Denver and holding the Broncos' steamroller offense to 8 points total. Balance is great, but it's hard to imagine any team of any decade mustering much against this Seattle defense. Thus, the '13 Seahawks take the top spot.

2) 2015 Carolina Panthers

Record: 15-1; lost to Broncos in Super Bowl 50, 24-10.

Rankings:
-- 11th in overall offense (366.9 ypg)
-- 1st in scoring (31.3 ppg)
-- 6th in overall defense (322.9 ypg)
-- 6th in points allowed (19.1 ppg)
-- 1st in point differential (192; No. 6 of decade)

Like Denver two years prior, the 2015 Carolina Panthers failed to make good on an incredibly promising regular season, falling to the Broncos in a dispiriting flop of a Super Bowl. Aside from the sour ending, however, this team put together one of the best regular-season campaigns of the decade. Quarterback Cam Newton won the MVP award by throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns against just 10 picks, adding 636 yards and an additional 10 touchdowns on the ground. Carolina got as close as anyone has this decade of running the regular-season table, becoming the first team since the 2009 Colts to start 14-0. The Panthers tied the 2012 Niners and 2017 Rams for the most first-team All-Pro players on a single team in the decade, with six players (Newton, Mike Tolbert, Ryan Kalil, Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly and Josh Norman) earning the honor. Despite the lack of a real No. 1 receiver, Newton, tight end Greg Olsen and running back Jonathan Stewart made the offense work, while Kuechly and Norman shepherded a defense that corralled 39 takeaways, tied for third most of the decade.

3) 2017 Philadelphia Eagles

Record: 13-3; beat Patriots in Super Bowl LII, 41-33.

Rankings:
-- 7th in overall offense (365.8 ypg)
-- 3rd in scoring (28.6 ppg)
-- 4th in overall defense (306.5 ypg)
-- 4th in points allowed (18.4)
-- T-1st in point differential (162)

You might be surprised to find the Eagles here, given that they do not appear in the top-10 decades-long rankings in any of the big-picture categories I looked at. No individual player topped the 1,000-yard mark in either receiving or rushing, while quarterback Carson Wentz threw for just 253.5 yards per game. And, of course, Wentz didn't even participate in Philadelphia's improbable Super Bowl push, felled by a knee injury in Week 14. However, as fluky as Nick Foles' playoff run might have felt at the time, the truth is, the 2017 Eagles were one of the more dominant title-winning teams of the decade. Along with the 2016 Patriots, these Eagles are the only team to win the Super Bowl and rank in the top five in both scoring offense and scoring defense. They outscored their regular-season opponents by a margin of 10.2 points -- which nearly matches the margin by which they defeated the Pats in one of the more entertaining Super Bowls of the era.

4) 2016 New England Patriots

Record: 14-2; beat Falcons in Super Bowl LI, 34-28.

Rankings: No. 4 overall offense (386.3 ypg)
-- 3rd in scoring (27.6 ppg)
-- 8th overall defense (326.4 ypg)
-- 1st in points allowed (15.6 ppg; No. 8 of decade)
-- 1st in point differential (191; No. 8 of decade)

It was a struggle to pick the best Patriots team of the decade, with the squads from 2010, '12, '14 and '17 earning strong consideration. But the 2016 edition both dominated the regular season and also won a Lombardi Trophy, which, it turns out, is hard to do. This was not Tom Brady's best season, while tight end Rob Gronkowski struggled to stay on the field. And yet, New England just kept winning. After a few years of appearing to give the rest of the NFL a sporting chance, the Patriots stopped fooling around and took complete control of the AFC, stomping their way to the first of three straight conference titles. This team gets bonus points for helping Brady enter the surreal, unprecedented phase of his career as a 39-and-over quarterback who can't be stopped.

5) 2013 Denver Broncos

Record: 13-3; lost to Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8.

Rankings: -- 1st overall offense (457.3 ypg; No. 2 of decade)
-- 1st in scoring (37.9 ppg; No. 1 of decade)
-- 19th overall defense (356 ypg)
-- 22nd in points allowed (24.9 ppg)
-- 1st in point differential (207; No. 3 of decade)

These Broncos were fatally flawed, as Super Bowl XLVIII made clear, and their later reinvention as a defense-oriented outfit stands as a logical adjustment. The '13 Broncos were also less balanced than the 2012 edition -- which featured Peyton Manning's return to the league after the messy end of his Colts tenure -- or the group from '14, which ranked fourth on offense and third on defense. But throughout the 2013 regular season and most of the playoffs, Denver was a juggernaut. Manning was operating at the peak of his powers, moving the ball at will and piling up 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdown passes, both all-time records. The object of football is to score more points than your opponent, and no team in history has been better at scoring points than the 2013 Broncos. Is there anything more demoralizing than trying to keep up with an offense that averaged nearly 40 points per game? (Well, aside from scoring just 8 in the Super Bowl.)

6) 2015 Arizona Cardinals

Record: 13-3; lost to Panthers in NFC Championship Game, 49-15.

Rankings:
-- 1st in overall offense (408.3 ypg)
-- 2nd in scoring (30.6 ppg)
-- 5th in overall defense (321.7 ypg)
-- T-7th in points allowed (19.6)
-- 2nd in point differential (176; No. 10 of decade)

A coterie of NFL lifers in various stages of the grizzled veteran phase of their careers came together to dominate Arizona's 2015 schedule, including coach Bruce Arians, quarterback Carson Palmer, pass rusher Dwight Freeney, defensive lineman Calais Campbell, cornerback Patrick Peterson and, of course, Cardinals all-timer (and perpetual feel-good story) Larry Fitzgerald. The Panthers' complete dismantling of Arizona in the NFC title game counts as a demerit, but even so, this is one of the more balanced teams on this list. After logging 20 years of experience as an NFL assistant, Arians finally enjoyed success as a (non-interim) head coach, directing a high-flying offense fronted by Palmer, the former No. 1 overall pick who put together the best season of his career at age 36 (4,671 passing yards and 35 touchdown tosses, both career highs, and a league-high 8.7 yards per attempt). James Bettcher's defense, meanwhile, smothered opponents, ranking eighth against the pass and sixth on the ground. Though they might not stand out statistically in the decade-wide view, putting up the 10th-best point differential is a sign of a team that was tough to beat.

7) 2012 San Francisco 49ers

Record: 11-4-1; lost to Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, 34-31.

Rankings:
-- 11th in overall offense (361.8 ypg)
-- 11th in scoring (24.8 ppg)
-- 3rd in overall defense (294.4 ppg)
-- 2nd in points allowed (17.1 ppg)
-- 4th in point differential (124)

Though this team did not finish with the best record of the Jim Harbaugh era, it did produce the most postseason success, barely losing out to the hot-streak-riding Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. The defense was characteristically tough, producing four of the team's six first-team All-Pros (NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and Dashon Goldson). On offense, this was the high point of Harbaugh's four-year tenure, marked by one of the deftest quarterbacking transitions of the decade. After Alex Smith's career renaissance was interrupted by injury in Week 10, coordinator Greg Roman adjusted his offense to take advantage of backup Colin Kaepernick's considerable mobility. How often does the No. 2 quarterback turn out to be a bona fide star capable of carrying his team to the Super Bowl? The transformation was highlighted by Kaepernick's jaw-dropping performance against the Packers in the Divisional Round (263 passing yards, two touchdown passes, 181 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns).

8) 2011 Green Bay Packers

Record: 15-1; lost to Giants in Divisional Round, 37-20.

Rankings:
-- 3rd in overall offense (405.1 ypg)
-- 1st in scoring (35 ppg; No. 3 of decade)
-- 32nd in overall defense (411.6 ypg)
-- 19th in points allowed (22.4 ppg)
-- 3rd in point differential (201; No. 5 of decade)

The 2011 Green Bay Packers ended the regular season as they began it: scoring 40-plus points in a narrow win. Their defensive rankings are unimpressive, and, like several of the other top-tier teams of the season, they were ultimately confounded in the playoffs by the New York Giants. But from Week 1 to Week 17, Aaron Rodgers and Co. were nearly untouchable, losing only once (to the Chiefs in Week 15) while topping 40 points six times, tied with the 2013 Broncos for the most such games in the decade. Though he'd won a Lombardi Trophy the season before, this was the season when Rodgers showed himself to be truly on another plane as a quarterback, throwing for 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns, both still career highs. He took home the first of his two MVPs and set a record for single-season passer rating (122.5) while working with a stacked offensive cast, including Jordy Nelson (who notched his first 1,000-yard season), Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, James Jones, Randall Cobb and Donald Driver. Thirty-five-year-old veteran Charles Woodson, meanwhile, picked off seven passes as one of the leaders of a defense that did enough to keep the offense ahead.

9) 2018 Kansas City Chiefs

Record: 12-4; lost to Patriots in AFC Championship Game, 37-31.

Rankings:
-- 1st in overall offense (425.6 ypg; No. 6 of decade)
-- 1st in scoring (35.3 ppg; No. 2 of decade)
-- 31st in overall defense (405.5 ypg)
-- 24th in points allowed (26.3 ppg)
-- 2nd in point differential (144)

Let's get a little weird, guys! The Chiefs might be the least-balanced team here. The defense was terrible, and Kansas City lost a head-to-head regular-season matchup with the Rams, a legit contender for this list. And yet, Patrick Mahomes' debut season as a starter was so transformative -- and meant so much to the game -- that I had to find a way to include the team that made it possible. We will probably look back at Kansas City's whirlwind 2018 as a turning point, with NFL history divided into pre- and post-Mahomes eras. And this is not just about the quarterback; yes, Mahomes is a singular talent, but it's impossible to separate his MVP season from coach Andy Reid's direction and the use of an exceedingly capable supporting cast around Mahomes on offense. I can acknowledge that I'm venturing into the weeds on this one; even so, it's worth noting that for most of the year, the offense was more than capable of making up for the dreadful D, as evidenced by the robust point differential. The Chiefs might not make the cut here if I were taking a more cold-blooded, analytical tack -- but a list of the best teams of the decade that does not include Mahomes is not a list I want any part of.

10) 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars

Record: 10-6; lost to Patriots in AFC Championship Game, 24-20.

Rankings:
-- 6th in overall offense (365.9 ypg)
-- 5th in scoring (26.1 ppg)
-- 2nd in overall defense (286.1 ypg; No. 10 of decade)
-- 2nd in points allowed (16.8 ppg)
-- 3rd in point differential (149)

As long as I've gone off the rails with the Chiefs, let's keep the fun going with this odd duck of a team. The list of squads I'd favor in a hypothetical matchup against these Jaguars is long, and it would include teams that did not make this piece, like the 2018 Rams, 2012 Broncos, 2016 Falcons and several incarnations of the Saints, Patriots, Packers and Seahawks. Blake Bortles might go down as history's purest representation of The Quarterback Teams Try to Talk Themselves Into. Running back Leonard Fournette plodded to 1,040 yards on 3.9 yards per carry. The leading Jaguars receiver (Keelan Cole) finished tied for 40th in the NFL with 748 yards. And yet, the offense managed to keep pace with the world-class defense (loaded with studs like Calais Campbell and Jalen Ramsey), with Jacksonville being one of a handful of teams this decade to rank in the top five in points scored (fifth), points allowed (second), and yards allowed (second) in their season. (The 2015 Seahawks and 2012 Broncos are two notable squads that ranked in the top five in their seasons in scoring, scoring defense, offensive yards and defensive yards, but they were precluded by my one-representative-per-franchise rule.) It didn't hurt that the defense contributed seven touchdowns via interception or fumble return. Jacksonville never won more than four games in a row, but the Jags proved to be a formidable playoff force, pushing the Patriots to the brink in the AFC title game.

Follow Tom Blair on Twitter @TomBlair426.

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