Attention NFL purists, this piece is for you.
The 2014 NFL season is right around the corner. That sentence alone is enough to get the blood pumping of the millions of Americans that live for the NFL — the most popular sport in the country by a landslide. I share that enthusiasm, not only for the NFL, but for its history. And in this instance, for quantifying that history. I believe it to be a shame that MLB has preserved its history so well that its ancient heroes are fondly remembered and its legendary teams revered, while NFL history sits in relative obscurity. This history remains there, even when one of the more discussed topics in NFL circles is debated: Which franchise is truly the greatest in NFL history? Mind you, professional football has no New York Yankees. To answer this, the entirety of the sport’s history must be accounted for.
With that in mind, I set out to definitively answer the elusive ‘greatest’ NFL franchise debate. My goal was to shed some light on NFL history, and subsequently on every NFL franchise. This list isn’t the byproduct of arguments between fans or some run of the mill ranking of franchises based almost entirely on how many Super Bowl trophies each franchise has collected. Anyone can look up those numbers and anyone can form a baseless opinion. I dug much deeper, because that is what the NFL, and its history, deserves.
This debate, over which NFL franchises really are the greatest, has been raging for decades. Many fans claim their favorite team to be the ‘greatest’ of all-time, but that term is no doubt subjective. Understandably biased fans weigh certain aspects of NFL history differently, which obviously results in different interpretations of which franchise truly is the greatest.
My goal was to put together an objective look at this age-old debate. I accomplished this by using a weighted system, taking into account the numerous factors that I believe represent what greatness actually means in this context. For these rankings, previously subjective categories have been given baseline point totals. Those point totals have been applied to the entirety of each of the NFL’s 32 current franchise’s collective histories. How the numbers shook out are not opinion, merely numerical fact. This ranking is reflective of all 32 NFL franchise’s overall relative greatness, as defined by the following categories.
Super Bowl Championship (1966-Present): 20 Points
World Championship (1920-1965): 12 Points
Conference Championship (1960-Present): 10 Points
Division Championship: 6 Points
Playoff Appearance: 4 Points
Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee (Main Contribution): 8 Points
AP MVP* (1957-Present): 6 Points
AP Offensive POY (1972-Present): 4 Points
AP Defensive POY (1971-Present): 4 Points
*There is some debate over when the recognized MVP award was first given out. There were MVP-type awards handed out in the 1940’s but most NFL historians agree on 1957 as the official first year for the award. 1961 was the first official AP MVP but back to 1957 is typically recognized — and is in this ranking.
Icons: To aide in the visualization of each franchise’s greatness I’ve included four ‘icons’ for each franchise. The bolded names represent individuals that are iconic throughout the entire NFL, and it’s history, not just to their franchise. The bolded NFL icons throughout this list are players, coaches, and owners that transcended the game of football into mainstream culture, changed the way the game was played, were vital to the NFL’s growth, or were so great at their role that even a survey course of NFL history would be incomplete without their name.
Note: Each franchise’s “Established” date refers to when they joined the NFL, not necessarily when formed. This is because this is a ranking of the greatest franchises in NFL history — not professional football history. The same concept applies to the “icons.” Reaching stardom in the AFL or any league other than the NFL is not accounted for here.
You will not find a more comprehensive or fair analysis or ranking of all NFL franchises, in terms of all-time greatness, anywhere on the internet. That is a promise.
How does your favorite team stack up?
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