Ranking the best Super Bowl team of this past decade may seem like a fool's errand. A Lombardi is a Lombardi, after all. The bottom line is that Super Bowl-winning teams made it through the NFL season and playoffs, then made off with the NFL's ultimate prize.
But let's humor our inner bar patron for a bit. There are differences among the Super Bowl winner in the "aughts," even among games trotted out by the same franchises.
Take the 2004 New England Patriots, a dominant squad during the course of that year's regular season and playoffs. That team was better than the 2001 iteration of the Patriots, which squeaked by the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs in the infamous "Tuck rule game."
|In Depth: Best Super Bowl teams of the decade|
And couldn't one make an argument that an NFL team that dominated from the beginning of the season until the end, as the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers did, was better than the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers or 2007 New York Giants, both of which got hot at the right time?
Behind the numbers
We used four metrics to rank the Super Bowl-winning teams of the past decade. The first two take into account each team's regular-season record and its net points (points scored minus points scored against). The last two metrics consider the postseason: the team's average margin of victory in its playoff games and the margin of victory in the Super Bowl itself. For each metric we ranked the teams from best to worst, then averaged their totals for a final ranking.
Both teams were led by their defenses. The 2000 Ravens boasted Ray Lewis(notes), Rod Woodson and cornerback Duane Starks(notes) (who had six interceptions that season). The Baltimore offense was pedestrian: Jamal Lewis(notes) did rush for 1,364 yards that year, but Trent Dilfer(notes) was no Peyton Manning(notes). Yet the Ravens finished with a 12-4 record and mauled their playoff opponents. They beat the Denver Broncos by 18 at home, then went on the road to beat the Tennessee Titans by 14 and the Oakland Raiders by 13. In the Super Bowl, they dominated the New York Giants, winning 34-7.
The 2002 Buccaneers were just as impressive, ripping off a 12-4 regular-season record, led by their defense. Their offense, helmed by quarterback Brad Johnson(notes), blossomed in the postseason. In the playoffs, the Bucs beat the San Francisco 49ers by 25, then the Philadelphia Eagles by 17. In the Super Bowl, they demolished the Oakland Raiders by 27. It helped that the Bucs were coached by Jon Gruden, who was one year removed from coaching the Raiders.
Next on our list are the aforementioned 2004 Patriots, the best of New England's three Super Bowl-winning teams of the decade. The Pats had an amazing 177 net points, finishing 14-2 in the regular season, led by quarterback Tom Brady(notes) and running back Corey Dillon(notes), who ran for 1,635 yards.
Last year's champs, the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers, check in at No. 4 on our list, led by the league's No. 1 defense. Against the San Diego Chargers in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Steelers' defense held the Chargers to 15 yards on the ground. They won the Super Bowl over the Arizona Cardinals on a spectacular Ben Roethlisberger(notes) throw and Santonio Holmes(notes) catch in the final moments of the game.
At the bottom of the list? The 2001 Patriots rank eighth, having finished 11-5 after Tom Brady took over in the second game of the season. The Pats won a controversial playoff game against the Oakland Raiders (the "Tuck rule," a play in which Brady was sacked and fumbled the ball, but the officials determined that Brady's arm was moving forward when he was tackled, thus it was an incomplete pass – the Pats retained possession and kicked a game-tying field goal), then won the Super Bowl over the St. Louis Rams on a 48-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri(notes).
The 2007 New York Giants, exciting a Super Bowl as they delivered, are last on our list. The team finished 10-6 in a regular season in which head coach Tom Coughlin's job security was questioned continually. The Giants only had 22 net points on the season. They trailed in every one of the postseason games they played. But helped by the miracle catch by David Tyree(notes), the team knocked off what may have been the true best team of the decade: The 2007 Patriots, who went 16-0 in the regular season and had a record 315 net points.
The top five:
1t. 2000 Baltimore Ravens: Slideshow
1t. 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Slideshow
3. 2004 New England Patriots: Slideshow
4. 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers: Slideshow
5. 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers: Slideshow
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