Here's to the losers...
Yes, I've decided to skew negatively during Super Bowl week and talk about some of the best teams whose seasons came up a short in their quest for NFL immortality. And for the fanbases out there (including one with which I am intimately associated) I'm sorry in advance for digging up some painful memories...
10) 1968 Baltimore Colts (13-1)
Earl Morrell took over as quarterback due to an injury to Johnny Unitas and won the league MVP. The Colts steamrolled over the Cleveland Browns in the NFL title game and entered as 18 point favorites in Super Bowl III. Now, they're better known as the "other team" that played Joe Namath and the New York Jets and are almost forgotten in history.
9) 1986 Cleveland Browns (12-4)
Injuries to RBs Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner turned the '86 Browns into a high-flying passing attack led by Bernie Kosar. They had the best CB duo in history, Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield, leading the defense. But they had the misfortune of running into John Elway in the AFC Championship game in consecutive years. The Drive and The Fumble. Oh Cleveland...
8) 1983 Washington Redskins (14-2)
After winning the Super Bowl in the strike shortened season the year before, the 1983 Washington Redskins were poised to repeat. They had a team full of nicknames on offense: The Hogs, The Diesel, The Fun Bunch. They also scored a then record 541 points. But as we've learned, defense wins championships. Washington was last in total defense and it showed up at the worst moment, in front of Marcus Allen and the Los Angeles Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII.
7) 1984 Miami Dolphins (14-2)
Dan Marino spent his second NFL season shattering every passing record he could find. He threw for 5,084 yards and 48 touchdown passes during a time when a great season for a QB was half of those numbers. Most of those throws went to the Marks Brothers (Duper and Clayton,) but a lack of running game and a suspect defense made the Dolphins one dimensional. A very dynamic dimension, yes, but still one dimension. Sadly, that loss in Super Bowl XIX to the San Francisco 49ers was Marino's only career trip.
6) 2006 San Diego Chargers (14-2)
Behind league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson and fellow All-Pros Antonio Gates, Shawne Merriman, and Jamal Williams, the Chargers rolled into the 2006 playoffs. Late in the 4th quarter of the AFC Divisional playoff against New England, Marlon McCree picked off Tom Brady for what could have been a game ending interception, but Troy Brown stripped the ball and the Patriots went on to win the game. Head coach Marty Schottenheimer was fired a few weeks later in a dispute with management and Chargers were never true contenders afterwards. Had the Chargers won the Super Bowl in 2006, their move to Los Angeles in 2017 may never have happened.
5) 1990 Buffalo Bills (13-3)
This was the best of the Buffalo teams that made a record four straight Super Bowl appearances. This is also the team that suffered the most heartbreaking loss in Super Bowl history. Every Bills fan still blanches at the words, "wide right." Still, players like Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, James Lofton, and coach Marv Levy all became Hall of Famers. They just were never Super Bowl champions.
4) 2001 St. Louis Rams (14-2)
"The Greatest Show on Turf" was poised for another title run in 2001. Kurt Warner won his second MVP. Marshall Faulk was named Offensive Player of the Year for the third straight year. A series of trades and draft picks turned a maligned defense into the 7th ranked unit in the NFL. But they lost Super Bowl XXXVI to the 14-point underdog Patriots. Whether it was front office in-fighting or an injury to Kurt Warner's throwing hand, the Rams never returned to their high-flying form.
3) 1987 San Francisco 49ers (13-2)
The strike-shortened season was highlighted by Jerry Rice's 23 touchdowns in just twelve games. But in the 1st round of the playoffs, it was another receiver, Minnesota's Anthony Carter that stole the show. Carter caught 10 catches for 227 yards as the 8-7 Vikings upset the 49ers 36-24. Steve Young replaced Joe Montana at quarterback mid-game and after the loss, owner Eddie DeBartolo stripped head coach Bill Walsh of his title as team president.
2) 1998 Minnesota Vikings (15-1)
The Vikings were the toast of the NFL thanks to their prolific offense. They scored a then record 556 points in the regular season with a revitalized Randall Cunningham who lead the league in passing, the dynamic Randy Moss and his rookie record 17 TDs, and Hall of Famer to be Cris Carter. On defense, the Vikings were 6th in the league led by All-Pros defensive tackle John Randle and safety Robert Griffith. But Viking fans everywhere still pound their drinks in disgust at the mention of Gary Anderson's missed field goal in the NFC Championship Game.
1) 2007 New England Patriots (16-0)
I know, I know. It's hard to have the 2007 Patriots top this list since the franchise has won two more titles since. But if you look at the numbers, there is no denying this particular team's place in history. Perhaps it was the "Spygate" controversy at the beginning of the season, but New England tore through the league with a vengeance. They scored the most points in history (589) behind career years from Tom Brady and Randy Moss. Brady threw for a record 50 touchdowns and Moss caught 23 of them, another record. If not for an improbable throw by Eli Manning and an impossible catch by David Tyree, the 2007 Patriots would be the greatest single season team in sports. But alas, they'll have to settle for being the top team of this humble blogger's list.