Who is the best NFL team of all time? This is a question that millions have asked in the past, and millions more will ask in the future. It is also a question that has no definitive answer, which makes it even more fun to debate.
Depending on how old you are or how long you have been watching NFL football, you will likely have a different answer to this question. Below we will go over the teams that deserve to be in the discussion for best NFL all-time team before we tentatively crown a champion. Ultimately, this list reflects what teams did, not necessarily what they could have done.
Best NFL Teams of All Time
Part of what makes this exercise so difficult is comparing teams across eras. How can we compare the Steelers and Dolphins of the 1970s to the Patriots of the 2000s? The only way to compare these teams is by comparing how well they dominated their competition at the time. Using that criteria, here are the teams that deserve to be in the discussion for the NFL all-time team.
In the Discussion
The 1985 Bears have been ranked as high as number one on some lists and as low as the back of the top ten. The one thing that everyone can agree on is the 1985 Bears had one of the most feared defenses of all time. The Bears signature 46 defense racked up 64 sacks along with 34 interceptions. During a three-game stretch, the Bears beat their opponents by a combined score of 104-3, a precursor to what the playoffs would look like. The Bears went on to shut out their first two opponents and put an exclamation mark on their season with a 46-10 drubbing of the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, and L.C. Greenwood made up the “Steel Curtain” defense that led the 1970s Steelers to four super bowl titles. In 1978, the Steelers became the first team to ever win three super bowls. With an unchanged and arguably better version of that team in 1979, the Steelers won back-to-back Super Bowls for the second time in a decade.
The 49ers were the team of the 80s, and no iteration was better than the 1989 squad. This is the team that had one future hall of fame quarterback in Joe Montana hand over the ball to future hall of fame QB Steve Young. Jerry Rice was in his prime, and he and John Taylor each caught over 1,000 receiving yards.
The 1989 49ers went 14-2 and had an average victory of nearly 12 points in the regular season. When the playoffs started, the talent disparity was stark, as the 49ers won by a total margin of 126-26.
The 2007 Patriots likely would have beaten every team on this list if the games were played today. It would be an incredible all-time match up to see the 2007 Patriots try to avenge their 1985 Super Bowl loss to the Bears. But ultimately, the 2007 Patriots cannot be crowned the best team of all-time.
Tom Brady threw 50 touchdowns that year to just eight interceptions. It was of Hall of Famer Randy Moss’ first of three years as a Patriot, and he made it count, hauling in 23 touchdowns and 1,493 yards on 98 catches, all personal records. Brady also set personal records with his touchdowns, 4,806 yards, and 68.9 completion percentage.
The Patriots won all 16 regular-season games that year, the only time in history that accomplishment had occurred. New England beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round before beating the Chargers in the AFC Championship game. Of course, it all fell apart on an improbable “helmet catch” by David Tyree that helped to seal the New York Giants 17-14 underdog victory over the Patriots.
The only team in NFL history to win all of its regular season and playoff games, the 1972 Dolphins still crack a bottle of champagne each year when the final undefeated team falls. Results aside, though, the 1972 Dolphins probably were not even the best Dolphins teams of the 1970s. The 1973 team had a better scoring differential than the 1972 team and had a much easier time cruising through the playoffs. However, the 1973 team lost two games.
While the 1973 team may have been more talented, the 1972 team was still special. Mercury Morris and Larry Csonka both rushed for over 1,000 yards in just 14 games. The defense was also dominant, while the offense excelled despite QB Bob Griese being out half the season.
Arguably the best of the Lombardi Packers teams, the 1962 team must be seriously considered as the best NFL all-time team. They opened the season by winning their first four games, scoring 109 points and allowing just 14. On defense, the team forced an incredible 3.5 turnovers per game during the 1962 season. On offense, they rushed for 175.7 yards per game and were quarterbacked by Hall of Famer Bart Starr.
The one loss in the Packers 13-1 season came to the Detroit Lions in Detroit on Thanksgiving. The Lions defense included a litany of Hall of Famers, so this one loss cannot alone take away the greatness of the 1962 Green Bay Packers. The Packers came into the season having won the 1961 championship and successfully defended it, winning 16-7 vs. the Giants.
Best NFL All-Time Team
The 1991 Washington Redskins were not expected to be anywhere close to their glory days of the 1980s. Instead, they were better. In their first five games, the Redskins beat teams by a combined score of 102-0. In the playoffs, the domination continued as Washington won by a combined score of 101-41.
By Football Outsiders DVOA estimations, the 1991 Redskins had by far the greatest season in NFL history. And that’s what this list is about, what happened, not what could have happened. The Redskins defense wasn’t quite the 1985 Bears or 1970s Steelers, but their offense was much better than those teams. Washington also had one of the most dominant special teams rounding out potentially the most well-rounded team in NFL history.