November 30, 2009
Time is running short on the last year of the '00s, so it's time to dive into the daunting task of ranking the NFL's best of the decade. Best what? Best everything. We're going with a series of top 10 lists, and if something miraculous happens between now and Dec. 31, well, we'll just have to catch it at the end of 2019.
10. 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Record: 12-4. Eventual fate: Beat Raiders in Super Bowl.
This year saw the best in a string of great Tampa Bay defenses, giving up just 12.2 points per game. The offense wasn't terribly dynamic, but it was efficient, with Brad Johnson(notes) completing 62 percent of his passes, with 22 touchdowns against just six interceptions. The defensive roster read like an All-Star team: Derrick Brooks(notes), Warren Sapp(notes), Simeon Rice(notes), Ronde Barber(notes) and John Lynch(notes).
9. 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Record: 15-1. Eventual fate: Lost to Patriots in AFC championship game.
The two teams that played in the Super Bowl in 2004 were both busted up by the Steelers in the regular season (though the Patriots avenged the loss in the playoffs). Ben Roethlisberger(notes) went 13-0 in his rookie year, propped up by a mean running game (Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley(notes) combined for 1,771 rushing yards) and a stifling defense.
8. 2005 Seattle Seahawks.
Record: 13-3. Eventual fate: Lost to Steelers in Super Bowl.
All anyone remembers is the ugly Super Bowl and the bitterness that followed, but this was an outstanding team. The Seahawks averaged 28.2 points per game on the season, which led the league, and Shaun Alexander(notes) had one of the great years any running back has ever had. Seattle started that season 2-2, and didn't lose again until Week 17. The Seahawks lost again to the Steelers in the Super Bowl, but many Seahawks fans still don't quite see it that way.
7. 2004 Philadelphia Eagles.
Record: 13-3. Eventual fate: Lost to Patriots in Super Bowl.
Amazing things can happen when Terrell Owens(notes) is in his prime and feeling cooperative. The Eagles' regular-season record of 13-3 doesn't indicate the quality of this team, as two of those losses came in the last two weeks of the season, when starters were resting. Statistically, it was the best year of Donovan McNabb's(notes) career, as he finished with a rating of 104.7. They lost a close one to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, Terrell Owens went to the dark side and the next season was a mess.
6. 2003 New England Patriots.
Record: 14-2. Eventual fate: Beat Panthers in Super Bowl.
Rodney Harrison(notes) joined the Patriots family this year, boosting the defense to the league's best, allowing 14.9 points per game. They needed it, too, because the offense in this particular season was all Tom Brady(notes), all the time. The Patriots started the season 2-2, and then didn't lose again.
5. 2001 St. Louis Rams.
Record: 14-2. Eventual fate: Lost to Patriots in Super Bowl.
Kurt Warner(notes) collected his second MVP award in 2001, and it was also the last year that Marshall Faulk(notes) would crack the 1,000-yard rushing barrier. In fact, Faulk went over 2,000 yards from scrimmage when you factor in his 83 catches and 765 receiving yards. The Rams outgained the Patriots 427-267 in the Super Bowl, but turned the ball over three times and let the Patriots shock the world and start a dynasty.
4. 2005 Indianapolis Colts.
Record: 14-2. Eventual fate: Lost to Steelers in divisional round.
They lost in the playoffs in one of the all-time craziest finishes in NFL history, but this was probably the best and most balanced Colts team of the decade. Edgerrin James(notes) had one of the best years of his career, Marvin Harrison(notes) and Reggie Wayne(notes) were both over 1,000 yards for the season, and the defense actually finished second in the league in points allowed.
3. 2004 New England Patriots.
Record: 14-2. Eventual fate: Beat Eagles in Super Bowl
Corey Dillon(notes) was added to the Patriots' mix in 2004, finally giving the Patriots a running game that deserved to share locker room space with their passing game. Dillon pounded out 1,635 yards and 12 touchdowns. Receiver Troy Brown(notes) earned the respect of everyone when he stepped in to play defensive back after a rash of injuries. This team was mauled in the regular season by the Steelers, but avenged that loss in the playoffs before going on to beat the Eagles in the Super Bowl.
2. 2001 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Record: 13-3. Eventual fate: Lost to Patriots in AFC championship game.
How good was this team? It made a Pro Bowler out of Kordell Stewart. This was arguably the best "we're going to run the ball and you're not" team of the decade, with the Steelers running for 2,774 yards on the season and allowing opponents only 1,195 ground yards. The Steelers had four different players with eight or more sacks, too: Aaron Smith(notes), Joey Porter(notes), Kendrell Bell(notes) and Jason Gildon. Their season ended with that crazy game where Drew Bledsoe(notes) came off the bench and played brilliantly for the Patriots, who also got a couple of special teams touchdowns.
1. 2007 New England Patriots.
Record: 16-0. Eventual fate: Lost to Giants in Super Bowl.
No, they didn't get the big shiny ring at the end, and everyone outside of New England thought "18-1" was pretty funny. Let's not kid ourselves, though. No one saw a better team in the '00s. They went 16-0 in the regular season, and only four of those wins were of the single-digit variety. They annihilated teams. Randy Moss(notes) set a record with 23 touchdown receptions, Tom Brady set a record with a mind-blowing 50 touchdown passes and Brady also got 49 of 50 MVP votes.
Comments, criticisms, omissions, and your own top ten lists are encouraged in the comments below.
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