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The 10 Best NFL Teams This Millennium

Football
The 10 Best NFL Teams This Millennium

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports Images

In case you’re a fan of the more macabre sports statistics, you can check out my article to which this is a spiritual successor, the 10 Worst NFL Teams Since 2000.

I would say that sports, especially football, follows the philosophy of ‘what have you done for me lately?’ but that’s really more of an indictment of human nature. Humans may be the only beings we know of that record history, but as ‘obsessed’ with it as we supposedly can be, we certainly forget it at an alarming rate.

When you peruse this list of top teams since the turn of the millennium, you may have the thought ‘of course, these franchises are amazing, they always win.’ In truth, three of the teams on this list have a losing record all-time. And the winningest franchise in the NFL, the Bears, does not grace this list. They also only have 1 Super bowl win, the same number as the Jets, who are in the bottom fourth of the NFL in all-time win percentage.

Here’s a fun game: can you guess the 3rd best NFL team all time in terms of win percentage? I’ll give you three guesses. I bet you couldn’t guess if I gave you ten.

Give up? It’s the Miami Dolphins, with a .567 win percentage. (If you guessed right, well done, you know your stuff.)

The Raiders and Vikings sure do plenty of losing, don’t they? Historically, they are the 10th and 8th best franchises in win percentage.

Alright, I think I’ve mauled the dead horse. So why, you may ask, am I bringing these historical facts to light in an article about the past decade and a half? Well, to remind everyone that whether your favorite team is on this list or not, a lot can change in a hurry in the NFL. Heck, if this list was made in 2010 the Titans and the Chargers would be on it. So don’t worry downtrodden fans, and those on top of the mountain, enjoy it; this too shall pass.

10. Seattle Seahawks: 120-104 since 2000

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports Images

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports Images

The ‘hawks managed to grind their way to the #10 spot via their recent success; they beat out the next closest team by one win. Bringing home a Super Bowl doesn’t hurt either. Most of the first decade was the Mike Holmgren era, which as many may recall was quite successful–10 years of coaching the team from 1999 to 2008 with only 3 losing seasons and 6 playoff appearances; one of which took them to a Super Bowl (XL) where they lost to the Steelers. It was something of a quick transformation thereafter; Jim Mora stopped by the head coach’s office to bring some coffee and coach the team for a year before being ousted for Pete Carroll, who as you know took them to the playoffs three out of the four years he’s been there. So 9 playoff appearances, 2 NFC championships and 1 Super Bowl victory is not too shabby. It also doesn’t hurt when you win your Vince Lombardi trophy by completely dominating the most terrifying offense in football history with the second youngest team in Super Bowl history. Yep, it’s good to be in the weird ole Pacific Northwest right now.

9. New York Giants: 123-101 since 2000

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Images

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports Images

Alright, is there anyone who doesn’t know the Giants history over the past decade? I mean seriously, if you don’t know most of this stuff you must be currently crushed by a sportsproof boulder. How do you get WiFi to read this on your Iphone from underneath that thing I wonder?

So yeah, the millennium started with the Giants going 12-4 and losing (badly) in the Super Bowl (XXXV) under head coach Jim Fassel. But hearten up, those of you under aforementioned rock; under Tom Coughlin they would proceed to go on an improbable run in 2007, pushing through the playoff field to face off with the undefeated Patriots and win a nail-biting game for the ages behind a borderline out-of-body miracle performed by both Eli Manning and David Tyree in the Catch: Giants edition. Oh, and then they’d do it again in 2011: claw into the playoffs, go on an improbable run of dominance, face off against Patriots (stadium once again only needs one type of confetti because both teams are blue white and red), perform the Catch 2: Mario Manningham, Giants take home another one, Eli looks badass. And then they, y’know, underperformed and missed the playoffs a for few seasons, who cares. You’re not my boy, blue, but well done.

8. New Orleans Saints: 125-99 since 2000

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports Images

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports Images

How can I sum up the Saints of this era. . . okay, how does this sound: ‘Defense: is it offense yet?’ This past year they picked up Rob Ryan and the team finally is playing some great D, which should terrify everyone in the NFL when they collect more talent on that side of the ball.

But working chronologically, the Saints fumbled around mediocrity from 2000 to ’05 under Jim Haslett, which kept them from being higher on this list, because when Sean Payton took over in 2006, a hurricane was a-comin’. (Too soon?) Sean Payton proved he knew way more about offensive football than, well, anyone in football, and basically just turned defense into take-chances-to-get-a-turnover-so-we-can-have-more-offense. To his credit, they became an absurdly dominant, dynamic offense and they would go one to win a Super Bowl (XLIV) by defeating Peyton Manning and the Colts in one of the gutsiest play-called games by Payton in NFL history. Most people just love the razzle dazzle (myself included) of the ball-chucking machine that is Drew Brees, but if they focus more on defensive talent somewhat they will become even more of a powerhouse. Just sayin’.

7. Denver Broncos: 131-93 since 2000

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports Images

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports Images

It was somewhere around the ‘we don’t have a quarterback so let’s just throw Tebow in there’ time period, I realized that the improbable wins understated the fact that this team was jampacked with talent and if they could get a great QB they’d be just absurd. So they win the Peyton Manning sweepstakes and yeah, that happened. Unfortunately, without the need for a strangling defense to give them any chance, the defense somehow just became a fraction of their former selves; perhaps it was the loss of Elvis Dumervil and the aging of stars like Champ Bailey that caused the fall-off. But the reality is the defense is vastly underachieving, and has barely shown up to many games, with the get out of jail free card of a Peyton-led offense. Well, defense wins Championships, as Seattle clearly knew. The free agent moves the past few weeks show the Broncos remember now too, in a painful reminder that is the Super Bowl XLVIII loss. Oh and Mike Shanahan coached the team for 9 years with QBs like Brian Griese and Jake Plummer and Jay Cutler for a hot second before they traded him. But y’know if it isn’t Tebow or Manning no one cares.

6. Baltimore Ravens: 134-90 since 2000

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports Images

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports Images

Ah, the Ravens. This franchise has been so friggin’ successful in its short existence. The fan base will be so befuddled when the team has to rebuild, they’re going to be looking up ‘sports disappointment’ on Wikipedia. Only three losing seasons in the past fourteen years, with nine playoff appearances and two Super Bowl victories (XXXV and XLVII). Both Brian Billick and John Harbaugh are outstanding coaches–the only two coaches they’ve had since 2000. Ozzie Newsome has proven to be something of a phenomenal GM in talent assessment and team construction, with only one major mistake the way I see it: letting Anquan Boldin go after the 2012 Super Bowl. Perhaps he was trying to jump-start the process of rebuilding talent for another go at a championship, but for Flacco to truly be successful he needs physical, ball hawk receivers to compliment his very aggressive passing style. To that idea I would say the recent addition of Steve Smith this offseason is his way of remedying that situation, as Smith fits that mold perfectly. However, he is much shorter, and older than Boldin. Despite the hassle it would’ve been to retain Boldin with the salary cap, I think that was a necessary evil. Or maybe Flacco shouldn’t have demanded a bazillion dollar contract. Not like I can say I wouldn’t though.

5. Philadelphia Eagles: 135-87-1 since 2000

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports Images

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports Images

There’s one name that means (almost) everything to the Eagles of the 2000’s: Andy Reid. He is the Eagles over this time period, the way I see it. However you feel about his ousting in 2013 for Chip Kelly and his speedy Oregon offense, the reality is he dominated the NFC East for most of his career there. 9 playoff appearances, an NFC championship but a Super Bowl loss (XXXIX) with his longtime QB Donovan McNabb. The fact that Reid took them almost single-handedly to #5 on this list, and did it in a very competitive NFC East is no small feat. The man knows how to use talent effectively. (An underrated skill. I’m looking at you, Detroit.) It’s also necessary to mention the magnificent use of some of the best running backs of the decade in Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy. But, despite all of the success, they are the only team thus far on this list who didn’t win a Super Bowl over this time period. Jim Kelly better be able to continue his success–if Reid wins a Super Bowl in Kansas City the unruly Philly fans might revolt.

4. Green Bay Packers: 139-84-1 since 2000

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports Images

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports Images

I’ve been trending towards the coaching side in this discussion, and I do believe Mike Sherman and Mike McCarthy to be good coaches, but for this team and this time period the two names that matter are quarterbacks: Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. It must be wonderful to transition from one Hall of Fame QB to another. Not that it’s surprising; the Packers are one of the best run franchises in NFL. They’ve only missed the playoffs 4 times in 14 years.  America in 2010 watched the Pack tear through the playoffs and win Super Bowl XLV handily (with a bit of a late-game sweat). They draft so well, they had to let the legendary Brett Favre go after 2007 because Aaron Rodgers was wasting away destroying the practice squad defense instead of crushing NFL defenses on Sundays. I mean, who has the problem of too many game-changing quarterbacks? Come on now. With an embarrassing number of incredible receivers, and the addition of wall-smasher RB Eddie Lacy, this team is going to continue to slap around the extremely strong NFC North for a number of years.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers: 143-80-1 since 2000

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports Images

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports Images

The AFC North and the NFC East are the only divisions with 2 teams on this list. The Steelers have earned their way to #3 in a very strong division (sans Browns, for now). They’ve done it with impressive defense, and a die-hard offense through the towering, scrambling Mr. Potato Head named Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. Their place as a powerhouse NFL team of this era simply is irrefutable, as they have been to three Super Bowls and won two (loss: XLV win: XLIII, XL). They’ve had two very successful coaches in Bill Cowher (retired) and Mike Tomlin (still active) who share the quality of openly demanding respect and production from their players. In fourteen years they’ve only had one losing season: 2003, where they went 6-10 and would subsequently draft Roethlisberger, who would become the youngest Super Bowl champion in history in the 2005 season.  So yeah, Pittsburgh fans, bust out your incredibly annoying terrible towels and wave them around like you’re going to become a self-propelled helicopter.

2. Indianapolis Colts: 149-75 since 2000

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports Images

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports Images

I strongly considered just putting two words in 50 pt font for this: Peyton Manning. Not to take away from the coaching staffs, but Peyton was basically quarterback, offensive coordinator, wide receivers coach, head coach, and de-facto emperor of Indianapolis. In 14 seasons since 2000 the Colts have had 12 playoff appearances, and 10 of those were Peyton-led. They went to two Super Bowls, winning XLI and losing XLIV. And let’s be honest about one thing: the Colts were NEVER the most talented team in the playoffs, and he continued to make them more than relevant. I wonder at the thought of what Peyton would’ve done with the Broncos’ talent when he was in his prime. In 2011, one of the few missed playoff seasons during this time, Peyton didn’t play due to the neck injury. The Colts went from winning the division basically every year to 2-14. Deion Sanders joked that Peyton should’ve won the MVP that year because of how bad the team was without him. But the Colts let him go due to the undeniable opportunity to draft pro-ready Andrew Luck, and sure enough they’ve continued to be dominant, led by another do-it-all quarterback. Thus the incredible luck of the Horseshoe-symboled team continues. The dang QB’s name is Luck. Way to be subtle, universe.

1. New England Patriots: 163-61 since 2000

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Images

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Images

The Patriots have soared to #1 on this list for two very good reasons: one, they have a Hall of Fame quarterback and coach, and two, they play in the saddest, worst division in football. During this time period the Bills are the 4th worst team, the Dolphins have a losing record: 107-117, and the Jets have barely escaped breakeven going 113-111. They’ve won the AFC East outright 12 out of the past 14 seasons. Someone smashed in the win-button in Foxborough. They’ve averaged a record of 11.65 wins and 4.35 losses a season since 2000. They’ve won the AFC five times and won the Super Bowl three of those times (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX). I mean heck, if it weren’t for their kryptonite, the Giants, who knows? Basically, they have Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and a no-nonsense, ultra-disciplined system many players want to play in to get the opportunity to  go on winning rampages. The future of this franchise hinges on one major question: whether Belichick will retire when Brady does. My money’s on no. Bask like a lizard in the sunlight, New Englanders. Feel the glorious winning on your scaly back. Nevermind. You get it.

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