10 Best NFL Teams Of The Past 15 Years
Rankings! Everyone loves them. The problem is, most rankings are downright stupid. They're done editorially, with zero numbers to back them up. That's not how we do things here. No, we love math far too much for that.
Enter nERD. nERD is the numberFire Efficiency Ratings Derivative, and it tells the truth and nothing but the truth. It adjusts for strength of schedule, it adjusts for the situation of the game, and in the end, it tells you just how good teams and players actually are.
What nERD measures is a matter of relativity: how good is this team in comparison to a totally average team? Imagine a field in which a team has any player at its disposal. What happens when you bench the current QB and put in this mythical, Joe Average player? What happens if you replaced the entire team with a totally average one? With these ten teams - the best teams of the past 15 years - they made those perfectly average team look like bottom-of-the-barrel Sun Belt squads.
10. 2002 Raiders
"But Nik!", you're surely saying, "The Raiders haven't been good since John Madden was 250 pounds!" Well, while I appreciate the candor in which you discuss this subject, that is simply not true. Just as Rich Gannon has been long underrated to the point of it being a borderline hate crime - that is an article coming soon, for sure - the Raiders themselves have been consistently better than you think. Sure, there's no rings to show for it and sure, perhaps it's better to be average when people to expect you to be average than be good when people expect you to be great, but the 2002 Raiders demonstrate that while the franchise itself has been disappointing, there have been significant bright spots.
Let's run through the basics of these Raiders first. They went 11-5, coming out on the losing end of Super Bowl XXXVII to Jon Gruden and his enormous teeth. They were 4-4 at one point, riding a four-game losing streak preceded by a 4-0 opening to the season; they proceeded to win nine of their next ten games, losing only on the road to a tough Dolphins team. How did they do it? Well, let's start with receiving: Jerry Rice and Tim Brown; yeah, that's not too shabby. Through the air, these Raiders scored a nERD of 102.94, scoring nearly 18 TDs more than the average team that season would have in the same situation.
But don't sleep on the defense, either. Their defense saved 66.97 points throughout the season, the equivalent of not giving up eleven touchdowns over the course of the season. All told, they finished with a combined nERD of 181.83, good for No. 10 on our list.
9. 2009 Vikings
Retrospection is an odd thing - it's hard to remember how good teams used to be when your mind is biased with how they currently are. In this case, it's hard to imagine that just a few years ago, the Vikings were so good that they made a list of the top 10 teams since "Married With Children" was still on the air while the current Ponder-led incarnation struggles to complete any forward pass whatsoever.
Regardless of what your personal feelings about Brett Favre are - or Brad Childress for that matter - you can't deny his greatness. He may have been a few years past his prime in 2009 and sadly, a few months away from the reason why Snapchat was invented, but he was very, very good for the Vikes: a 33-7 TD:INT ratio while racking up a nERD of 157.80, adding nearly twenty-seven touchdowns to his team's totals when compared to an average QB. The hits didn't stop there, though: the team leveraged a strongly above-average and a killer special teams unit anchored by Percy Harvin and Ryan Longwell to an overall nERD score of 182.67, scoring over thirty more touchdowns than an average team would in the same situations.
8. 2011 Packers
Just like the 2009 Vikings, the 2011 Packers were led by a QB of rather singular greatness. While Aaron Rodgers continues to be one of the most efficient and dynamic playmakers in the league, it was in 2011 that he hit his peak, leading the Pack to a 15-1 record and ultimately one of the most surprising playoff losses in recent memory.
Let's start with just a single number: 560. Yeah, 560, as in points. These Packers rolled up five touchdowns a game, putting up scores in the forties six different times, half of which came against eventual playoff teams. All told, they had the third-most efficient offense of the past fifteen years, falling just behind the Brady-led Patriots teams. With a total nERD of 185.33, they didn't need a great defense to succeed; their amazing offense puts them at #8 on this list, even if it eventually meant missing out on a Super Bowl.
7. 2006 Ravens
A direct opposite from the previous two teams, these Ravens did it on one side of the ball and really, only one side only: defense. Surrendering a laughably low twelve points a game, Ray Lewis and company put up a defensive nERD score of -187.63, stopping nearly thirty touchdowns from being scored that an average team would have given up. Let that marinate for a little - an average team would have given up over ten more points a game. That's ridiculous.
The Ravens in fact have the three highest defensive nERD scores of the past fifteen years, but it's a slightly above average offense that makes the 2006 squad stand out from the rest. While their rushing game under an older and declining Jamal Lewis was a net negative, it was the strong play of Steve McNair (+57.17 nERD) that kept the chains moving and put enough points on the board for the defense to seal the victory. All in all, they come in with an total nERD score of 190.64, good for No. 7 on our list.
6. 2006 Chargers
This is one surely has to come as a bit of a surprise. These Chargers didn't make their conference title game - although to be fair, neither did the No. 7 Ravens, either - and their playoff demise essentially ended Marty Schottenheimer's career. But what a year it was, scoring nearly 500 points and going 14-2 against the ninth-toughest schedule that season.
As with many teams on this list, this squad was led by an amazing talent - in this case, LaDainian Tomlinson in his glorious prime. Posting up over 2,300 all-purpose yards and 31 TDs, LT put down his mark with one of the greatest single seasons ever; in fact, it was the strongest overall rushing performance since we started calculating the statistic. That's not to say that Philip Rivers (+80.14) or Antonio Gates were too shabby either. Even with a very average defense, the Chargers put up an overall nERD score of 192.18, good for No. 6 on our list even if it meant that Marty had to go.
5. 2012 Patriots
This is going to be a theme. I'm warning you now.
The Patriots under Bill Belichick have been good. They've been very, very good. They've been so good that great teams like last year's edition don't really seem all that great, because they pale in comparison to the truly absurd years. The 2012 edition of these Patriots featured all of the hallmarks of their system: ridiculously efficient passing under Tom Brady's direction, underrated rushing (thanks to Stevan Ridley, an absolute steal in the the third round), and a bend-don't-break defense that ends up being better than you think, especially given how often they're on the field due to the efficiency of the offense.
All told, these Patriots end up with a total nERD of 206.15, No. 5 on our list. But the question is, how many Patriots teams have been better?
4. 2007 Colts
What is going on here? Yet another team that didn't even make their conference championship! If you're watching closely, approximately none of our teams so far won the Super Bowl that yet. None!
Part of that is simply because the playoffs in a one-and-done system doesn't always reward the better team; instead, it rewards the team who plays well in that singular instance. The 2007 Colts were great all year - they were simply only pretty good when they were knocked off by the Chargers in the playoffs.
But what made them so great? Well, as you might guess, Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne had a lot to do with it. Everyone knows that those two are unparalleled talents, but the real story that year was on the defensive side of the ball, where the Colts limited opponents to only 262 total points (#1 in the league) and ended up with a defensive nERD total of -45.55, behind a second-best takeaway differential of +18 over the season. All in all, their total nERD score was 208.48, just ahead of the 2012 Patriots but a sizable drop-off from the next three titans.
3. 2001 Rams
Ah, the Greatest Show on Turf. How I miss thee!
This is definitely one team that shouldn't need much introduction. Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, and Isaac Bruce at the height of their powers. A team so good that Ricky Proehl and Az-Zahir Hakim suddenly became in-demand talents. We know how great the offense was, but in a recurring theme on this list, the defense was a lot better than you think.
They held opponents to just 17 points/game that year - good for #7 in the league - while totaling a nERD score of -108.13, the best score on the list outside of the ridiculous 2006 Ravens squad. You certainly wouldn't think they were the most balanced team, but they're by far the most balanced team on this list. They had the #1 offense and the #4 defense in terms of nERD that year; no one else on here can come close to saying that. They end up with a total nERD of 224.73, nearly three touchdowns better than the 2007 Colts and eight or nine better than some of the earlier teams on this list.
2. 2010 Patriots
Just about everything I said about the 2012 Patriots is applicable here, except you're essentially substituting in BenJarvus Green-Ellis for Stevan Ridley, not to mention nearly 1,000 total all-purpose yards from Danny Woodhead from left field.
I'll spare you the rehash of breaking down this team, bu you can exactly how good they were. (How in the world did they lose to the Sanchez-led Jets?!) But they're not the best. In fact, they weren't even close.
1. 2007 Patriots
Here they are, the big Kahuna. No one is even close. No one can even breathe the air these guys were breathing.
Their nERD score was 336.01. 336.01! That's a full one-hundred points higher than the No. 2 team, and that team was essentially a derivation of this one.
Offensively, they scored forty-six touchdowns more than an average team would in the same situation. Nearly three a game. Defensively, they stopped an additional ten more. At a certain point, you run out of superlatives to talk about how great this time was.
And yet, like every single team on this list, they didn't win the Super Bowl. Not a single one took home the trophy. Football, for it's warts and it's concussion problems and for the constant player drama, is the best league there is for this very season. On any given Sunday, anything can happen - believe it or not, somehow, someway, teams as brilliant and unstoppable as the 2007 Patriots can lose.