NFL Dynasties 1970 to 2020

Coaches and players create winning seasons. Owners and managers create dynasties.

A dynasty in sports is a franchise that has a prolonged run of successful seasons. They may wax and wane from season to season, and usually do. But, over decades, you can be sure they’ll be among the most competitive and most successful of teams.

Like political dynasties, there may be more than one sports dynasty recognized at a given time. Some will be more powerful than others. No match-up is guaranteed, though. The most entertaining clashes involve two dynasties at their peaks going head-to-head.

Unlike political dynasties where everyone recognizes who the dynastic rulers are and what defines them as a dynasty, sports dynasties are often a matter of opinion. Whether a team is considered a dynasty can be based on historic data or subjective assessments or both. CBS Sports, for instance, ranked what they considered to be NFL dynasties. The criteria they used were: championships won; sustained run of excellence; players/coaches; and enduring legacy. The dynasties they recognized were:

  1. New England Patriots (2001-18)
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers (1972-79)
  3. Green Bay Packers (1960-67)
  4. San Francisco 49ers (1981-94)
  5. Dallas Cowboys (1991-95)
  6. Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders: 1967-85
  7. Dallas Cowboys (1970-79)
  8. Washington Football Team (1982-91)
  9. Miami Dolphins (1970-74).

Certainly, these are reasonable choices. However, some of the criteria they used are debatable. For example, every team has had great players and coaches but that shouldn’t define an NFL dynasty any more than an astute or courageous leader would define a political dynasty. Likewise with an enduring legacy. The AFL’s New York Jets beating the NFL’s Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III is legendary but the Jets are certainly not a dynasty. The New England Patriots had a legendary 16-0 season in 2007 but lost to the first wild-card team ever to win a Super Bowl, the New York Giants. The Patriots are certainly a dynasty while the Giants are not, but which team left a more enduring legacy in Super Bowl XLII?

Whether it’s sports or politics, the word dynasty implies continuity. An NFL dynasty must have continual success, demonstrated by consecutive winning seasons. From 1970 through 2020, all 32 teams have had at least one winning season. (1970 was the first year of the newly merged AFL-NFL league.) All NFL teams but two (Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers) have had at least two consecutive winning seasons from 1970 to 2020. However, only fifteen teams have had more than five consecutive winning seasons.

  • The Patriots have had 19 consecutive winning seasons
  • The 49ers and Cowboys have had 16 consecutive winning seasons
  • The Raiders have had 11 consecutive winning seasons
  • The Steelers, Colts, Seahawks, and Chiefs have had 9 consecutive winning seasons
  • The Packers and Rams have had 8 consecutive winning seasons
  • The Dolphins, Titans, and WFT have had 7 consecutive winning seasons
  • The Vikings and Bills have had 6 consecutive winning seasons

Nevertheless, some people grant the Green Bay Packers dynasty-status based on their three eras of consecutive winning records (less than ten years each) but not the Las Vegas Raiders who have had just one era of consecutive winning seasons (over ten years).

Championships are also an important criterion for a sports dynasty. Of the fifteen teams having more than five years with consecutive winning records:

  • The Patriots have appeared in 11 Super Bowls, winning 6
  • The Steelers (6 wins) and Cowboys (5 wins) have appeared in 8 Super Bowls
  • The 49ers have appeared in 7 Super Bowls, winning 5
  • The Packers (4 wins), Colts (3 wins), Raiders (3 wins), WFT (3 wins), and Dolphins (2 wins) have appeared in 5 Super Bowls
  • The Chiefs (2 wins), Rams (1 win) Bills (no wins) and Vikings (no wins) have appeared in 4 Super Bowls
  • The Seahawks have appeared in 3 Super Bowls, winning 1
  • The Titans have appeared in 1 Super Bowl but did not win it.

But championships alone don’t make a dynasty. The New York Giants have appeared in five Super Bowls, winning four of them including two wins over the dynastic New England Patriots. However, their longest period of consecutive winning records is only three years, which they achieved three times. Their total string of consecutive winning records is only nine years, less than nine of the fifteen teams in the chart at the top of this article. The franchise is almost one hundred years old but it’s not considered to be a dynasty.

The fifteen teams are all certainly elite franchises and maybe a few of the teams could be considered to be dynasties. Considering only the number of consecutive winning seasons and the number of Super Bowl appearances results in this ranking:

  1. New England Patriots

2. Dallas Cowboys

3. San Francisco 49ers

4. Pittsburgh Steelers

5. Oakland/Los Angeles/Las Vegas Raiders

6. Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts

7. Kansas City Chiefs

8. Green Bay Packers

9. Seattle Seahawks

10. St Louis/Los Angeles Rams

11. Washington Football Team

12. Miami Dolphins

13. Buffalo Bills

14. Minnesota Vikings

15. Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans

Maybe at least a few of them could be considered dynasties.

The key characteristic of a dynasty is consistency. In a political dynasty, all the leaders come from the same family or other common source. There may be good leaders and bad leaders but you always know where the next leader will come from. In sports, that points to the importance of ownership and the team’s management, things that aren’t typically mentioned in discussions of win-loss records. Coaches and players garner all the attention because they are the ones who create the team’s success for a season. But they are only there because of decisions made by the front office. The New England Patriots were controlled for thirty years by three different owners before Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994. Six years later he brought in coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady and created a dynasty.

Coaches and players create winning seasons. Owners and managers create dynasties.

What do you think? Which of the fifteen teams shown in the graph at the top of the article do you consider to be NFL dynasties?

Data Notes

The raw data for this analysis came from pro-football-reference.com. Several steps were taken to prepare the data for analysis.

Historic team names were recoded to reflect the current name of the team.

  • Baltimore Colts was recoded as Indianapolis Colts
  • San Diego Chargers was recoded as Los Angeles Chargers
  • Boston Patriots was recoded as New England Patriots
  • St. Louis Rams was recoded as Los Angeles Rams
  • St. Louis Cardinals and Phoenix Cardinals were recoded as Arizona Cardinals
  • Houston Oilers and Tennessee Oilers were recoded as Tennessee Titans
  • Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Raiders were recoded as Las Vegas Raiders
  • Washington Redskins was recoded as Washington Football Team
  • Cleveland Browns before 1999 was recoded as Baltimore Ravens.

With the exception of the graph at the top of this article, data before 1970 was ignored. The 1970 season was the first season played by the combined AFL and NFL after their merger in 1966.

Win percentage was calculated as the number of wins divided by the number of wins plus the number of losses. Ties were not included in the calculation. A winning season was defined as a win percentage greater than 0.5.

In the first graph, selected data from 1955 to 1970 is included to show consecutive winning seasons for the Green Bay Packers (1960-1967), Dallas Cowboys (1966-1985), and Las Vegas (then the Oakland) Raiders (1965-1980). Not shown are consecutive winning seasons for the Los Angeles Rams (1966-1971) and the Cleveland Browns (1957-1969, before becoming the Baltimore Ravens).

Several new teams entered the NFL after 1970. The only new team that impacted this analysis was the Seattle Seahawks. The gap on the left side of the histogram for the team shows when they entered the league.

2 Comments

  1. >The New England Patriots had a legendary 16-0 season in 2007 but lost to the first wild-card team ever to win a Super Bowl, the New York Giants.

    Just a minor fact check here, the first wild-card team to win a Super Bowl was the 1980 Oakland Raiders. Since then the ’97 Broncos, ’00 Ravens, and ’05 Steelers all did the same feat before the ’07 Giants

    Like

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