Through 100 Years of the NFL, Who Was the Best Team in Each Decade?
The NFL has been in existence for 100 years now and has seen so many great teams over the years. Some have been the one-and-done type when it comes to championships, such as the 1985 Chicago Bears, who somehow managed to win just one Super Bowl with the team that many would have you believe is the greatest in history. There are the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who are still the only undefeated team to win a title in the Super Bowl era.
Some of the best teams didn’t even win a championship. The Buffalo Bills went to four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s and didn’t win a single one. The 2007 New England Patriots went undefeated during the regular season and then lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
However, the Pats were a force throughout the majority of that decade, something that isn’t easy to do. With that in mind, with exactly 100 NFL seasons now in the books, I thought it might be fun to take a look at the best team from every decade, the team that didn’t just win one year and go away, but a team that managed to stay around the top of the mountain for years on end.
1920-1929: Canton Bulldogs
The Canton Bulldogs were the first team in NFL history to win back-to-back championships, doing so in 1922 and 1923. Oddly enough, they won their titles after Jim Thorpe, regarded as one of the greatest athletes in history, left the team. Thorpe spent the inaugural 1920 season with the Bulldogs but then left to join the Cleveland Indians. The Bulldogs were the only team to win multiple titles in the NFL’s first decade.
1930-1939: Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers closed out the 1920s by winning their first NFL title and won four more in the 1930s. Packers head coach Curley Lambeau (the reason why Lambeau Field has its name) led Green Bay to titles in 1930, 1931, 1936, and 1939. He also won another in 1944, which ties him with Bill Belichick as the only head coach in NFL history with six titles.
1940-1949: Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears won two NFL championships in the 1930s but really made their mark in the ’40s. Led by Hall of Fame head coach George Halas, the Bears won titles in 1940, 1941, 1943, and 1946. The Bears went 11-0 in the regular season in 1942 but lost the NFL title game to the Washington Redskins. While many rosters took a big hit due to World War II, the league never shut down.
1950-1959: Cleveland Browns
After being the most dominant team in the short-lived All-American Football Conference, which folded in 1949, the Cleveland Browns entered the NFL in 1950 and promptly won their first championship, the first of three in the decade. The Browns appeared in six consecutive NFL title games, winning in 1950, losing the next three, and then won back-to-back championships in 1954 and 1955. The Baltimore Colts and Detroit Lions each won two titles in the ’50s.
1960-1969: Green Bay Packers
Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers owned the 1960s, becoming the first and only team in NFL history to win five titles in a single decade. The Packers went back-to-back in 1961 and 1962 and then became the first and still-only team to win three consecutive titles, doing so from 1965-1967. This decade is also responsible for the birth of the Super Bowl, which began following the 1966 season. The AFL had begun in 1960 and this was the new way to crown a true football champion before the two leagues fully merged in 1970. The Packers won the first two Super Bowls.
1970-1979: Pittsburgh Steelers
In what some have called the most competitive decade in NFL history, the Pittsburgh Steelers still managed to win four Super Bowl titles. Yes, the last one technically came in 1980 but it’s attached to the 1979 season. The Miami Dolphins, including the undefeated team from 1972, won back-to-back titles early in the decade and the Dallas Cowboys also won two Super Bowls, in 1971 and 1978. But the Steelers were the dominant franchise, winning titles in 1974, 1975, 1978, and 1979.
1980-1989: San Francisco 49ers
With great one-off teams in this decade, including the ’85 Bears, Bill Parcells’ 1986 Giants, and Joe Gibbs’ 1987 Redskins, the San Francisco 49ers still managed to win four Super Bowls in the 1980s. With Joe Montana leading the way, the Niners won in 1981, 1984, 1988, and 1989. The Raiders also managed to slip a couple in there. Their Super Bowl victory following the 1983 season would be the last Super Bowl win for the AFC for 14 years.
1990-1999: Dallas Cowboys
While the Denver Broncos would win two titles near the end of the decade, the 1990s will be remembered mostly for the Dallas Cowboys. America’s Team became the first team to win three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span and came close in the off-year, losing to the 49ers in the NFC Championship. Led by the trio of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin, the Cowboys won their three titles by a combined score of 109-47.
2000-2009: New England Patriots
The then-St. Louis Rams closed out the ’90s with a Super Bowl win and were heavy favorites following the 2000 season. However, the New England Patriots, led by a second-year quarterback named Tom Brady, shocked the world to win their first-ever Super Bowl. The Pats would join the Dallas Cowboys as the only NFL teams to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span and had the aforementioned undefeated regular season in 2007. The Pittsburgh Steelers would win their fifth and sixth Super Bowl titles in this decade as well.
2010-2019: New England Patriots
The Patriots made five Super Bowl appearances in this decade and won three of them. Brady & Co. also appeared in eight of 10 AFC title games. The Pats completed the biggest come-from-behind win in Super Bowl history after trailing 28-3 to the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51. The Patriots’ 34-28 win was also the only Super Bowl in history to go into overtime. New England was the only team in the decade to win multiple titles.