Some NFL teams and their fans can look in the lobby trophy case and recall multiple championships. Others must make do with memorable seasons that never delivered the big prize.
But for every franchise, there is a team that ranks as the best of all . . . or at least there are a handful that everyone can argue about.
Now that the league has more than 100 years in the books, here is a look at all 32 current franchises, and one season for each that stands above the rest.
Giants' best team was the 1986 squad led by LT
The Giants’ long history is full of memorable teams, including the NFL champions of 1927, 34, ’38 and ’56, and Super Bowl winners that earned the 1990, 2007 and ’11 teams their places in franchise lore.
But nothing in 95 seasons matches Bill Parcells’ 1986 team, which rode an elite defense to a 14-2 record, playoff blowouts of the 49ers and Redskins, and finally a second-half rally and a victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI at the Rose Bowl.
You might recall that Super Bowl for Phil Simms’ 22-for-25, three-touchdown passing performance that earned him MVP honors, but he was far from dominant in the regular season. He had 21 TD passes and 22 interceptions.
Tight end Mark Bavaro led the team by far in receiving yards with 1,001.
The focal point of the offense was back Joe Morris, who rushed for 1,516 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Mostly, the team was about defense, led by Lawrence Taylor’s 20½ sacks. He was the NFL MVP that season, still the most recent defensive player so honored.
Taylor was part of an elite linebacking core that included fellow Hall of Famer Harry Carson, Carl Banks and Gary Reasons. Leonard Marshall’s 12 sacks led the line.
The Giants allowed 236 points, second fewest in the league that year, and opposing quarterbacks threw 15 TD passes with 24 interceptions.
The defense enabled the Giants to win a number of close games that season. Nine of their 10 victories in one stretch were decided by seven points or fewer.
That included the regular-season’s most memorable finish, when Simms converted a fourth-and-17 pass to Bobby Johnson to set up the winning field goal in a 22-20 victory over the Vikings at the Metrodome.
But win they did, right to the end.
After losing their opener to the Cowboys, 31-28, the Giants won 17 of their next 18 (they lost in Week 7 at Seattle, 17-12) and were champions for the first time in 30 years. Parcells won the Coach of the Year award and eight Giants were named to the Pro Bowl.
"For the rest of your life," Parcells told his players in the locker room after the Super Bowl, "nobody can ever tell you that you couldn’t do it, ‘cause you did it."
Coach: Bill Parcells
Record: 14-2-0, finished first in the NFC East Division, won Super Bowl XXI.
Coordinators: Ron Erhardt (offense), Bill Belichick (defense)
Hall of Famers: Harry Carson, Lawrence Taylor
Points scored: 371 (23.2 per game), ranked eighth of 28 teams.
Points allowed: 236 (14.8 per game), ranked second of 28 teams.
IN THE PLAYOFFS
Divisional round: def. San Francisco, 49-3
NFC Championship: def. Washington, 17-0
Super Bowl XXI: def. Denver, 39-20
Phil Simms 259 completions, 468 attempts, 3,487 yards, 21 TDs, 22 interceptions, 74.6 rating.
Joe Morris 1,516 yards, 14 TDs, 4.4 avg.
Maurice Carthon 260 yards, 0 TD, 3.6 avg.
Mark Bavaro 66 rec., 1,001 yards, 4 TDs
Tony Galbreath 33 rec., 268 yards, 0 TDs
Raul Allegre 33 XP, 24 FG 105 Pts.
Jets' best was 1968 team led by Joe Namath that won Super Bowl
The Jets have had several very good teams, notably Bill Parcells’ 1998 squad that went 12-4 and reached the AFC Championship Game before losing to the Broncos.
But the season by which all others must be judged in franchise history clearly is 1968, when the Jets won the AFL Championship to reach their only Super Bowl – where they won with a shocking 16-7 upset of the Colts.
Quarterback Joe Namath might not have deserved being named MVP for that game – Carle Place High School’s own Matt Snell rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown – but he was the face of the team and league.
In fact, Broadway Joe was AFL MVP for the season, even if by modern standards his statistics were mediocre: 3,147 passing yards with 15 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
Namath’s favorite targets were fellow Hall of Famer Don Maynard (1,297 receiving yards, 10 TDs) and George Sauer (1,147 yards). Snell and Emerson Boozer partnered to rush for a total of 1,188 yards and 11 TDs.
On defense Johnny Sample had seven interceptions in the regular season – and another in the Super Bowl, a game-changer at the 2-yard line.
Pro Bowlers Gerry Philbin and Al Atkinson were part of a defense that held opposing quarterbacks to a 52.4 passer rating.
The Jets started 3-2, then won 10 of their next 11, with the one loss coming against the Raiders in Oakland in the infamous "Heidi Game," when NBC cut away and missed the Raiders’ late comeback.
Namath and friends got their revenge when it counted with a 27-23 victory over the Raiders at Shea Stadium for the AFL title, with Namath hitting Maynard for the game-winner midway through the fourth quarter.
The Jets followed that with the stunner over the Colts at the Orange Bowl in Miami.
The week of the game, Namath famously guaranteed the Jets would win. Then he delivered.
The game was viewed as a validation of the AFL’s competitive bona fides after the Packers comfortably won the first two Super Bowls over the AFL champs. Two seasons later, the leagues were fully merged.
Coach: Weeb Ewbank
Record: 11-3-0, finished first in the AFC East Division, won Super Bowl III.
Offensive coordinator: Clive Rush
Defensive assistants: Walt Michaels, Buddy Ryan
Hall of Famers: Winston Hill, Don Maynard, Joe Namath
Points scored: 419 (29.9 per game), ranked second of 10 AFL teams.
Points allowed: 280 (20.0 per game), ranked fourth of 10 AFL teams.
IN THE PLAYOFFS
AFL Championship: def. Oakland, 27-23
Super Bowl III: def. Baltimore, 16-7
Joe Namath 187 completions, 380 attempts, 3,147 yards, 15 TDs, 17 interceptions, 72.1 rating.
Matt Snell 743 yards, 6 TDs, 4.2 avg.
Emerson Boozer 441 yards, 5 TD, 3.1 avg.
George Sauer 66 rec., 1,141 yards, 3 TDs
Don Maynard 57 rec., 1,297 yards, 10 TDs
Jim Turner 43 XP, 34 FG 145 Pts.
The best team for each NFC franchise
NFC East Division
Coach: Jimmy Johnson
Record: 13-3, beat Bills, 52-17, in Super Bowl XXVII
Hall of Famers: Troy Aikman, Charles Haley, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith
The argument: The counterargument comes from the 1977 team that went 12-2 behind coach Tom Landry and quarterback Roger Staubach.
But the 1992 and ’93 teams were a step above, part of a mini-dynasty that snuck in under the pre-free agency wire.
It all was fueled by "The Triplets," three future Hall of Famers who guided the Cowboys through the decade. Emmitt Smith was at his peak in ‘92, rushing for 1,713 yards and 18 touchdowns (plus 335 receiving yards and another TD). Troy Aikman threw for 3,445 yards and 23 TDs. Michael Irvin had 1,396 receiving yards, seven TDs.
Coach: Doug Pederson
Record: 13-3, beat Patriots, 41-33, in Super Bowl LII
Hall of Famers: None
The argument: There are other contenders, including 1949, ’60, ’80 and 2004. But let’s not get too cute. The Super Bowl LII champs are worthy.
They were 11-2 when they lost quarterback Carson Wentz – who had 33 TD passes and seven interceptions – to a knee injury.
Then they improbably survived three playoff rounds, including a Super Bowl in which backup Nick Foles was MVP after going toe-to-toe with Tom Brady.
The balanced offense had no rusher with more than 800 yards (LeGarrette Blount totaled 766) and no receiver with more than 900 (tight end Zach Ertz had 824).
Coach: Joe Gibbs
Record: 14-2, beat Bills, 37-24, in Super Bowl XXVI
Hall of Famers: Darrell Green, Russ Grimm, Art Monk
The argument: Washington’s ’91 team ranked first in points with 485 and second in points allowed at 224.
They started 11-0, scoring more than 40 four times in that stretch, and won three of their first five by shutouts – 45-0, 34-0 and 23-0. Then they blew out the Falcons, Lions and Bills in the playoffs.
Mark Rypien had his best season, with 28 TD passes and 11 interceptions. Earnest Byner rushed for 1,048 yards, Gary Clark had 1,340 receiving yards and Art Monk had 1,049.
Charles Mann had 11½ sacks. Opposing quarterbacks totaled 13 TDs passes and 27 interceptions.
NFC South Division
Coach: Dan Reeves
Record: 14-2, lost to Broncos, 34-19, in Super Bowl XXXIII
Hall of Famer: Morten Andersen
The argument: The Falcons won three division titles in the 2010s, with the 2016 team reaching the Super Bowl before an epic collapse against the Patriots.
But the franchise standard-bearer remains the 1998 "Dirty Birds" who shocked the Vikings in the NFC title game before losing the Super Bowl to Denver.
The Falcons won 14 of 15 entering the Super Bowl, their only loss coming to Bill Parcells’ Jets, 28-3 (a score that would haunt the franchise years later).
Jamal Anderson had 1,846 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, plus 319 yards and two TDs receiving. Chris Chandler threw to two 1,100-yard plus receivers in Terance Mathis and Tony Martin.
Coach: Ron Rivera
Record: 15-1, lost to Broncos, 24-10, in Super Bowl L
Hall of Famers: None
The argument: Cam Newton’s MVP season was a tour de force. The multi-talented quarterback was at his peak, passing for 3,837 yards, 35 TDs and 10 interceptions and rushing for 636 yards and 10 TDs.
The Panthers scored more than 30 points in nine of 11 games heading into the Super Bowl, including a 49-15 rout of the Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game. (Newtown passed for two TDs and rushed for two.)
Carolina did not have a 1,000-yard rusher, and its only 1,000-yard receiver was tight end Greg Olsen.
Kurt Coleman had seven interceptions and Kawann Short 11 sacks.
Coach: Sean Payton
Record: 13-3, beat Colts, 31-17, in Super Bowl XLIV
Hall of Famers: none (yet)
The argument: This Saints rolled over most defenses, scoring 45 or more points four times in their first six games – 48 against the Giants – and eventually led the league with 510 regular-season points.
New Orleans was 13-0 before losing interest down the stretch and losing three in a row, then returned to life with a 45-14 rout of the Cardinals in the divisional playoff round.
Drew Brees threw for 4,388 yards with 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and Hofstra’s own Marques Colston totaled 1,074 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
Will Smith had 13 sacks and Darren Sharper nine interceptions.
Coach: Jon Gruden
Record: 12-4, beat Raiders, 48-21, in Super Bowl XXXVII
Hall of Famers: Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Warren Sapp
The argument: This one was easy until last season, when Tom Brady and friends added a second Lombardi Trophy. But Tampa Bay’s first Super Bowl winner, in its first season under Jon Gruden after he came over from the Raiders, still is its best team to date, thanks mostly to a fierce defense.
The unit included the likes of Sapp, Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Ronde Barber, and held opposing quarterbacks to a 48.4 passer rating, with 10 touchdowns and 31 interceptions.
Brad Johnson was nothing flashy at quarterback but got the job done with 22 TDs and six interceptions. Former Jet Keyshawn Johnson had 1,088 receiving yards and five TDs.
NFC North Division
Coach: Vince Lombardi
Record: 13-1, beat Giants, 16-7, in NFL Championship Game
Hall of Famers: Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Forrest Gregg, Paul Hornung, Henry Jordan, Jerry Kramer, Ray Nitschke, Jim Ringo, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Willie Wood
The argument: Picking the best Packers team is like picking the Yankees’ best. There is a lot to choose from. But this squad is difficult to argue against. It outscored its opponents, 415-148, in the regular season!
The list of blowouts is like something out of college football: 49-0 over both the Eagles and Bears, 41-10 over the Rams, a total of 10 victories by 10 or more points.
Taylor ran for 1,474 yards and 19 rushingtouchdowns for Lombardi’s juggernaut as the Packers rolled up an astounding 36 rushing TDs . . . and allowed only four!
Coach: Dennis Green
Record: 15-1, lost to Falcons, 30-27 in OT, in NFC Championship Game
Hall of Famers: Cris Carter, Randall McDaniel, Randy Moss, John Randle
The argument: Earlier on the day the Broncos denied Bill Parcells’ Jets a Super Bowl berth, the Vikings suffered an upset loss to the Falcons from which Minnesota fans still have not recovered.
That Vikings offense was a machine, scoring 556 regular-season points, then routing the Cardinals, 41-21, in the divisional round.
Randall Cunningham threw for 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, with Randy Moss and Cris Carter totaling 2,324 receiving yards and 29 TDs.
Robert Smith added 1,187 rushing yards.
As he entered the losing locker room at the Metrodome, Carter burst into tears. So did many Vikings fans.
Coach: Mike Ditka
Record: 15-1, beat Patriots, 46-10, in Super Bowl XX
Hall of Famers: Jimbo Covert, Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Walter Payton, Mike Singletary
The argument: There is no argument. Even for a franchise with a history as rich as the Bears’, this is a no-brainer.
The Bears outscored their opponents, 456-198, in the regular season, then 91-10 in the playoffs, including 21-0 over the Giants in the windy divisional round .
The offense was good, keyed by Payton’s 1,551 rushing yards and nine rushing TDs and Jim McMahon’s quarterbacking. But Buddy Ryan’s "46 Defense" is what this team is most remembered for.
Chicago allowed six rushing touchdowns the entire regular season, and had 64 sacks – 17 by Dent – and 34 interceptions.
Coach: Buddy Parker
Record: 10-2, beat Browns, 17-16, in NFL Championship Game
Hall of Famers: Jack Christiansen, Lou Creekmur, Yale Lary, Bobby Layne, Dick Stanfel, Joe Schmidt, Doak Walker
The argument: Oh, boy. This is a tough one. It is the Lions, after all! With all due respect to the 1991 team led by Barry Sanders that easily is Detroit’s best of the Super Bowl era, the 1953 team gets the nod.
This was one of three Lions championship teams of that decade. Layne’s balanced passing attack featured 502 receiving yards by Walker and seven receiving touchdowns from Leon Hart.
Bob Hoernschemeyer led the rushing game with 482 yards and seven TDs. OK, maybe that name does not roll off the tongue quite as easily as Sanders’.
NFC West Division
Coach: Dick Vermeil
Record: 13-3, beat Titans, 23-16, in Super Bowl XXXIV
Hall of Famers: Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace, Kurt Warner
The argument: Not much was expected of the ‘99 Rams, even less so after starting quarterback Trent Green went down with a preseason injury.
"We will rally around Kurt Warner, and we’ll play good football," coach Dick Vermeil said.
So it came to pass . . . and pass and pass and pass, as the "Greatest Show on Turf" rolled up big numbers, then rolled to a championship.
Warner would throw for 4,353 yards, 41 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Faulk totaled 1,381 rushing yards, 1,048 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Bruce had 1,165 receiving yards and 12 TDs.
Coach: George SeifertBill Walsh
Record: 14-2, beat Broncos, 55-10, in Super Bowl XXIV
Hall of Famers: Charles Haley, Ronnie Lott, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young
The argument: There is no wrong answer when you consider the likes of the 1984 or ’94 49ers here. Both were great.
But our pick is the 1989 team that outscored regular-season opponents, 442-253, then routed the Vikings, Rams and Broncos in the playoffs by a combined 126-16.126-26.
Montana still had it at age 33, throwing for 26 TDs and eight interceptions that season, which ended with his fourth and final Super Bowl ring of the 1980s.
Rice and John Taylor totaledcombined for 2,560 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns. Roger Craig rushed for 1,054 yards and six TDs.
Coach: Pete Carroll
Record: 13-3, beat Broncos, 43-8, in Super Bowl XLVIII
Hall of Famers: None
The argument: The Seahawks claimed their first championship with a blowout of the Broncos at MetLife Stadium in what was supposed to be the first cold-weather Super Bowl but was not so cold after all.
The heat, as usual, came from the Seahawks’ famed "Legion of Boom" defense, which held regular-season opponents to 231 points and only four rushing touchdowns.
Cornerback Richard Sherman (eight interceptions) headlined a dominant secondary that also included Brandon Browner, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.
On offense, Russell Wilson had 26 passing touchdowns with nine interceptions, and Marshawn Lynch rushed for 1,257 yards and 12 TDs.
Coach: Jimmy Conzelman
Record: 11-1, lost to Eagles, 7-0, in NFL Championship Game
Hall of Famer: Charley Trippi
The argument: Sure, the 1947 team won the NFL title, and the 2008 Cardinals reached the Super Bowl.
But these guys deserve better from history after losing a championship game to the Eagles, 7-0, that was played in a blinding snowstorm.
In the regular season, the Cardinals – then based in Chicago – scored 395 points in 12 games, including 63 against the Giants, 49 against the Boston Yanks, 56 against the Lions and 42 against the Packers.
Trippi, Elmer Angsman and Pat Harder provided a balanced rushing attack, each gaining between 550 and 700 yards. They totaled 20 TDs.
The best team for each AFC franchise
AFC East Division
Coach: Bill Belichick
Record: 16-0, lost to Giants, 17-14, in Super Bowl XLII
Hall of Famers: Randy Moss, Junior Seau
The argument: The Patriots have won six Super Bowls this century, and no disrespect meant to those fine Bill Belichick/Tom Brady squads. But their best team was one that did not win it all, thanks to an epic upset by the Giants in Game No. 19.
In the regular season, the Patriots were flawless, winning every game and scoring a league-high 589 points.
Tom Brady threw for 4,806 yards, with 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Randy Moss had 1,493 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns. Mike Vrabel had 12½ sacks, Asante Samuel had six interceptions and Vince Wilfork clogged rushing lanes.
Coach: Don Shula
Record: 14-0, beat Redskins, 14-7, in Super Bowl VII
Hall of Famers: Nick Buoniconti, Larry Csonka, Bob Griese, Jim Langer, Larry Little, Paul Warfield
The argument: Leading the NFL in points (385) and points allowed (171) is a pretty good argument, as is winning all 17 games they played.
Earl Morrall and Bob Griese split the season at quarterback because of an early injury to Griese, but the passing game was beside the point. The offense was built around backs Csonka, Mercury Morris and Jim Kiick, who totaled 2,6282,638 yards and 23 touchdowns.
The biggest name on the "No-Name Defense" was linebacker Buoniconti. Safeties Dick Anderson and Jake Scott totaled eight interceptions and both made the Pro Bowl.
Coach: Marv Levy
Record: 13-3, lost to Giants, 20-19, in Super Bowl XXV
Hall of Famers: Jim Kelly, James Lofton, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas
The argument: Props to the Bills’ AFL champs of 1964 and ’65, but the pick has to go to the early 1990s sort-of dynasty.
The best of the four Super Bowl losers was the first, fueled by the "K-Gun" offense of Kelly, Thomas and Reed. Buffalo led the league in scoring, then blew out the Raiders, 51-3, in the AFC Championship Game before running into Bill Belichick’s Giants defense in the Super Bowl.
Thomas rushed for 1,297 yards and 11 TDs and added 532 receiving yards and two TDs. Smith had 19 sacks.
AFC South Division
Coach: Tom Coughlin
Record: 14-2, lost to Titans, 33-14, in AFC Championship Game
Hall of Famers: None
The argument: Despite its AFC title game flop against the Titans, this clearly was Coughlin’s best team in Jacksonville, up to and including a 62-7 rout of the Dolphins in the divisional playoff round.
Bizarrely, the Jags were 0-3 against the Titans and 15-0 against the rest of the NFL.
Jacksonville led the NFL in points allowed at 217 and featured three players with double digits in sacks in Tony Brackens (12), Kevin Hardy (10½) and Gary Walker (10).
James Stewart and Fred Taylor totaled 1,663 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns. Mark Brunell was Coughlin’s quarterback.
Coach: Jeff Fisher
Record: 13-3, lost to Rams, 23-16, in Super Bowl XXXIV
Hall of Famer: Bruce Matthews
The argument: The Oilers won the first two AFL titles in 1960 and ’61, but the pick is the 1999 team that survived the wild-card round by pulling off the "Music City Miracle" kickoff return against the Bills, then fell short of tying the Super Bowl in the final seconds when the Rams’ Mike Jones tackled Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line.
Jevon Kearse led the defense with 14½ sacks and Eddie George the offense with 1,304 yards rushing and nine touchdowns, and 458 receiving yards plus another four TDs.
Steve McNair passed for 12 touchdowns and ran for eight.
Coach: Don Shula
Record: 13-1, lost to Jets, 16-7, in Super Bowl III
Hall of Famers: John Mackey, Johnny Unitas
The argument: No, we are not trolling the Patriots and Colts by saying their best teams were ones that lost Super Bowl upsets to New York opponents! It just worked out that way.
The 1968 Colts were a powerhouse, even with Unitas out most of the season at quarterback, replaced by Earl Morrall. The Colts led the league in points allowed with 144 and routed the Browns, 34-0, in the NFL Championship Game.
Tom Matte led a balanced rushing attack with 662 yards and nine TDs. Willie Richardson had 698 receiving yards and Hempstead High’s Mackey added 644.
Coach: Gary Kubiak
Record: 12-4, lost to Patriots, 41-28, in divisional round
Hall of Famers: None
The argument: The Texans never have gotten past the divisional round of the playoffs, but this team looked like it had a chance when it started 11-1, including a 43-13 rout of the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens, before it faltered down the stretch.
Matt Schaub had a fine year at quarterback with 4,008 passing yards and 22 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. Andre Johnson had 1,598 receiving yards and Arian Foster rushed for 1,424 yards and 15 TDs. J.J. Watt had 20½ sacks.
The Texans won six division titles in the 2010s without ever reaching a conference championship game.
AFC North Division
Coach: Brian Billick
Record: 12-4, beat Giants, 34-7, in Super Bowl XXXV
Hall of Famers: Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Shannon Sharpe, Rod Woodson
The argument: The Ravens were adequate on offense, led by Jamal Lewis’ 1,364 yards rushing. Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer started eight games each at quarterback in the regular season.
But the defense was great, recording four shutouts and in 15 of 20 games overall holding opponents to 10 points or fewer. Opponents had five rushing touchdowns all season; quarterbacks threw for 11 TDs with 23 interceptions.
In the Super Bowl, the Giants’ only points came on a kickoff return for a touchdown.
Lewis totaled 137 tackles, Duane Starks had six interceptions and Rob Burnett added 10½ sacks.
Coach: Chuck Noll
Record: 14-2, beat Cowboys, 35-31, in Super Bowl XIII
Hall of Famers: Mel Blount, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Jack Lambert, Donnie Shell, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, Mike Webster
The argument: There is room for argument in the 1970s dynasty, including the 1975 squad and one that did not win a Super Bowl: In 1976 the Steelers began 1-4 then allowed 28 points in nine regular-season games thereafter, with five shutouts!
The pick is 1978, with Bradshaw handing the ball to Harris and throwing it to Swann and Stallworth.
The Hall of Fame-studded defense led the league with 195 points allowed, and held the Oilers to 142 yards of offense in a 34-5 AFC Championship Game win.
Coach: Blanton Collier
Record: 10-3-1, beat Colts, 27-0, in NFL Championship Game
Hall of Famers: Jim Brown, Lou Groza, Gene Hickerson, Leroy Kelly, Paul Warfield
The argument: With all due respect to Otto Graham and his late 1940s AAFC powerhouse, we are going with the Browns’ last league champs, led by Manhasset’s own Jim Brown.
Brown rushed 27 times for 114 yards and caught three passes for 37 yards in the championship game rout of the Colts, after a regular season in which he rushed for 1,446 yards – averaging 103.3 per game – and seven TDs, and added 340 receiving yards and two TDs.
Brown’s regular-season numbers were even better in 1965, but Cleveland lost the title tilt to the Packers, and Brown retired the following offseason.
Coach: Sam Wyche
Record: 12-4, lost to 49ers, 20-16, in Super Bowl XXIII
Hall of Famer: Anthony Munoz
The argument: Maybe we are biased in favor of teams with quarterbacks from Long Island, but the 1988 Bengals would deserve the nod over the 1981 team even if East Islip’s own Boomer Esiason were not its quarterback.
Esiason, the league MVP, led the 1988 team to an NFL-leading 448 regular-season points, throwing for 28 TDs with 14 interceptions. His favorite target was Eddie Brown, who had 1,273 yards – with an extraordinary average of 24 yards per catch – and nine touchdowns. Ickey Woods and James Brooks totaled 1,997 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. Cornerback Eric Thomas had seven interceptions.
AFC West Division
KANSAS CITY, 2019
Coach: Andy Reid
Record: 12-4, beat 49ers, 31-20, in Super Bowl LIV
Hall of Famers: None
The argument: Older fans know how good Hank Stram’s 1969 team was, but 50 years later a worthy successor arrived.
After being named MVP in 2018, Patrick Mahomes had a strong encore, throwing for 4,031 yards and 26 TDs with only five interceptions in 14 games. His favorite target in a balanced attack was Travis Kelce, with 97 catches for 1,229 yards and five touchdowns.
Kansas City beat the Texans in the divisional round after falling behind 24-0, then defeated the 49ers in the Super Bowl with 21 fourth-quarter points after trailing by 10.
That team was no fluke; Kansas City went 14-2 in 2020 before falling to the Bucs in the Super Bowl.
Coach: John Madden
Record: 13-1, beat Vikings, 32-14, in Super Bowl XI
Hall of Famers: Fred Biletnikoff, Willie Brown, Dave Casper, Ray Guy, Ted Hendricks, Art Shell, Ken Stabler, Gene Upshaw
The argument: This was the peak of the Sliver and Black’s glory days, highlighted by two victories over the two-time champion Steelers.
On opening day, the Raiders trailed Pittsburgh by two touchdowns late and won, 31-28, scoring 24 points in the fourth quarter. Then they blew out the Steelers, 24-7, in the AFC title game.
Scraggly quarterback Stabler led an offense that featured Cliff Branch – 1,111 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns and a 24.2 yards per catch average – and Mark van Eeghen, with 1,012 rushing yards.
The defense was full of memorable characters, including Hendricks, Jack Tatum and Otis Sistrunk.
Coach: Mike Shanahan
Record: 14-2, beat Falcons, 34-19, in Super Bowl XXXIII
Hall of Famers: Steve Atwater, Terrell Davis, John Elway, Shannon Sharpe
The argument: The ’97 Broncos finally won the franchise’s first Super Bowl, but their successors were better in Elway’s final season. He was good, with 22 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in 12 regular-season games, and he had two 1,000-yard receivers in Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey.
But the star of the offense was NFL MVP Davis, who totaled 2,008 rushing yards and 21 TDs.
The Broncos were 13-0 before being upset by the Giants, 20-16, in mid-December. They trailed the Jets, 10-0, in the third quarter of the AFC Championship Game but won, 23-10.
Coach: Sid Gillman
Record: 11-3, beat Patriots, 51-10, in AFL Championship Game
Hall of Famers: Lance Allworth, Ron Mix
The argument: The 2006 team went 14-2 and had the league’s best offense behind Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson before faltering in the divisional round against the Patriots. But let’s go old school and recognize the 1963 champs, who finished first in the AFL in both points and points allowed, then blew out the Patriots to win it all.
Allworth totaled 1,205 receiving yards and 11 TDs. Paul Lowe and Keith Lincoln totaled 1,836 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
The Chargers visited the Polo Grounds in November to face the JetsTitans and left with a 53-7 victory.