The New Orleans Saints are a special football team. At 10-1, Sean Payton’s bunch are tied with the Rams for the best record in football. Drew Brees has thrown 29 touchdown passes against two interceptions and is posting a preposterous passer rating of 127.3. The defense, which got off to a slow start, has held opponents to a combined 38 points over the past three weeks. Marshon Lattimore & Co. have the best point differential in the league, and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) projections give the Saints a 31.2 percent shot of winning Super Bowl LIII, which is best in the NFL by more than 10 percentage points.
This is Brees’ best shot winning a Super Bowl since the 2009 Saints, which went 13-3 before taking home the Lombardi trophy in an upset victory over the Colts. That Saints team was great. And this team might be better.
Is this the best version of the Saints we’ve ever seen, Brees or otherwise? And what about breakout teams like the Chiefs or Rams? Are we seeing in 2018 the best teams those franchises have ever built? And on the flip side, is this the worst Raiders or Cardinals team we’ve ever seen?
I wanted to answer those questions, so I ran the numbers for each of the league’s 32 franchises, going back through the 1960 season. (Sorry, George Halas.) To estimate a team’s level of play, I used its point differential, which is a better predictor of win-loss record than win-loss record itself. This doesn’t include playoff performance, but if you’re looking for a list of which teams did well in the postseason, that isn’t hard to find elsewhere.
To account for differing lengths in seasons — including the unfinished 2018 campaign — I used point differential per game instead of cumulative point differential. Finally, to adjust for era, I standardized the numbers to get a sense of how dominant (or dismal) each team was versus the competition in its league of the time. For more on that, check out this primer on standardized score and the NFL from 2014.
I’ll start with the teams whose 2018 seasons rank toward the best in franchise history and work my way down to the ones that would qualify as most embarrassing:
Current season: 10-1 (best of 52 seasons in franchise history)
Worst season: 1980 (1-15)
The Saints are outscoring teams by an average of 13.9 points per game, the best in franchise history and just the second time they’ve topped 11 points per contest. To put that in context, the second-best point differential in the NFL belongs to the Chiefs, who are topping their opponents by 11 points per game.
This also ranks as the best offense in franchise history, even after accounting for the increased scoring around the NFL. The Saints rank 24th in standardized points scored per game since 1960 while averaging 37.2 points per game. The only team to top that raw total is the 2013 Broncos, who scored 37.9 points per game in a season in which scoring was slightly lower across the board.
Current season: 8-3 (third-best of 17 seasons in franchise history)
Best season: 2011 (10-6)
Worst season: 2005 (2-14)
This is less impressive than it seems, given that the Texans have been around for only 17 seasons, but Houston has outscored its opposition by an average of more than 10 points per game over the past five games. The Texans had posted a positive point differential only five times in franchise history before 2018; the 2011 season was their first trip to the postseason, and though Arian Foster & Co. actually underperformed their Pythagorean expectation that year, they improved to 12-4 with a lesser point differential before everything fell apart in 2013.
Current season: 9-2 (fourth-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1969 (11-3)
Worst season: 2012 (2-14)
Of course, 1969 was the first and last time the Chiefs won a Super Bowl. That team still ranks in the top six in franchise history on both offense and defense, a credit to the work put in by legendary coach Hank Stram. You won’t be surprised to hear that this is the best offense in franchise history, narrowly topping the 2003 Chiefs team with Priest Holmes scoring 27 rushing touchdowns. The problem, of course, is that the defense ranks 50th out of 59 Chiefs teams over the time frame.
Current season: 8-3 (fifth-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1985 (15-1)
Worst season: 1997 (4-12)
No, as good as this Bears defense is, it doesn’t match up to the Monsters of the Midway. What’s lost in remembering the 1985 Bears is just how good its offense was; buoyed by seven defensive and special teams touchdowns, Walter Payton, Jim McMahon and the rest of the ’85 Bears finished second in scoring and rank as the best Chicago offense since 1960. This team ranks sixth in modern franchise history on offense and eighth on defense, a testament to the sheer dominance of defenses at Soldier Field over the decades.
Current season: 10-1 (seventh-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1999 (13-3)
Worst season: 2009 (1-15)
The Greatest Show on Turf Rams were great on both sides of the ball; the 2001 Rams were actually slightly better on offense, but the 1999 defense finished fourth in scoring defense during its run to Super Bowl XXXIV. Lovie Smith took the Rams to seventh in scoring defense in 2001, but that team fell just short to the Patriots. The 2017-18 Rams score more frequently than even the GSOT Rams, but after accounting for the league scoring level, the 2018 Rams rank fifth in franchise history on offense. The 35th-ranked defense isn’t helping them move up the charts; they’ll need a massive boost from Aqib Talib over the final five weeks to approach the top three iterations.
Current season: 6-5 (eighth-best of 23 seasons in franchise history)
Best season: 2006 (13-3)
Worst season: 2007 (5-11)
This is a 23-season sample, since the Ravens don’t get to claim the Browns’ franchise history for their own. With scoring at record highs, this year’s Ravens actually rank as the third-best defense in franchise history while allowing 18 points per game. They’re behind the legendary defense of the 2000 Ravens, which allowed 10.3 points per game in a much more conservative era. The best defense in franchise history, somewhat surprisingly, is the 2006 team. They went down to the Colts in a miserable 15-6 playoff loss in which the defense held Peyton Manning and a dominant Colts offense to 261 yards, but Indy recovered all five fumbles and forced four Baltimore giveaways.
Current season: 8-3 (eighth-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1979 (12-4)
Worst season: 1997 (4-12)
When you think of the Chargers, the first name that comes to mind is Philip Rivers. The second and third are probably Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon in some order. You’ll eventually make it to Casey Hayward, but it’s his defense that has been driving the Chargers this season. Despite their turnover rate regressing toward the mean, the 2018 Chargers have the third-best defense in franchise history. The best offense Rivers has fielded requires a trip back to his debut season as the full-time starter in 2006, when the Chargers went 14-2 before falling short to the Patriots in the Marlon McCree fumble game.
Current season: 6-5 (10th-best of 24 seasons in franchise history)
Best season: 2015 (15-1)
Worst season: 2010 (2-14)
Quietly, this Panthers defense hasn’t been impressive in 2018. Carolina ranks 20th in scoring defense and 26th in DVOA. While the 2015 season ended in disappointment, the Panthers can look back fondly on a team that combined the best offense and fourth-best defense in the franchise’s brief history.
Current season: 6-5 (13th-best of 43 seasons in franchise history)
Best season: 2013 (13-3)
Worst season: 1992 (2-14)
Four of the five best seasons in Seahawks history came from 2012-15, which coincides with the first four seasons in Russell Wilson‘s career. Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider had Wilson on a rookie contract and an unsustainable run of incredible draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, only for the dominant draft classes to give way to mediocrity and disappointment. The only non-Legion of Boom team sneaking into the top-five is the 2005 Seahawks, who rode 28 touchdowns from league MVP Shaun Alexander into a Super Bowl appearance.
Current season: 3-8 (15th-best of 24 seasons in franchise history)
Best season: 1999 (14-2)
Worst season: 2013 (4-12)
The 2017 Jaguars rank just behind the 1999 bunch, but that might as well be an eternity ago given how far Doug Marrone’s team has fallen this season. If you’re looking for a bright spot, consider that the 2018 Jags are the second-best team of the seemingly ending Blake Bortles era by standardized point differential. The Jags have the point differential of a 4.2-win team, so they would project to be improved in 2019. Then again, they projected to be better in 2018, too.
Current season: 7-3-1 (20th-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1978 (14-2)
Worst season: 1965 (2-12)
The four best seasons in Steelers history, unsurprisingly, come between 1975 and 1979. The only missing season from the bunch is 1977, when the Steelers went 9-5. One year later, the 1978 Steelers would go 14-2 and outscore their opponents by 10.1 points per game in a league with two superteams (the Cowboys and Steelers) and a lot of flotsam. The best non-Chuck Noll Steelers team since 1960 is actually from the Mike Tomlin era, as the 2010 Steelers went 12-4 and lead the league in scoring defense. They subsequently advanced to the Super Bowl before falling to the Packers, who were in the middle of what would eventually become a 19-game winning streak.
Matthew Berry discusses the tight end position and how the Colts’ Eric Ebron is an elite fantasy player whom fantasy managers should be looking for.
Current season: 6-5 (20th-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1964 (12-2)
Worst season: 1981 (2-14)
The best and worst seasons for the Colts date back to their time in Baltimore; they went a combined 9-31-1 over their final three years in Maryland before moving to Indianapolis for the 1984 season. If we limit things to the organization’s time in Indy, its best season came in 2004, which was the high-water offensive mark of the Peyton Manning era and a rare campaign with three 1,000-yard receivers in Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokley and Reggie Wayne. The nadir was 1991, when a 1-15 season hinted that second-year quarterback Jeff George wouldn’t be a long-term solution for the Colts.
Current season: 4-7 (21st-best of 43 seasons in franchise history)
Best season: 2002 (12-4)
Worst season: 1986 (2-14)
It’s a bit of an upset that the 0-14 debut season from 1976 isn’t the worst season in Bucs history, but don’t let two narrow victories fool you: they were both awful. If anything, the 1986 team has a case for anecdotally being worse given that their starting quarterback for a chunk of the season was future Hall of Famer Steve Young. The 1976 and 1986 Buccaneers each rank among the 11 worst teams since 1960; the only other franchise to pull that off was the Colts, who had three bottom-11 teams between 1978 and 1982.
Current season: 8-3 (23rd-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 2007 (16-0)
Worst season: 1990 (1-15)
The Buccaneers are an example of a team with a brutal history where another bad season just manages to fall somewhere in the middle. The Patriots are in the opposite boat; after nearly two decades of dominance under Tom Brady, this is just another ho-hum great season. (To contrast, if the Brady era hadn’t existed before 2018, the Pats would be on pace for the eighth-best point differential in franchise history.) The 2007 Patriots rank as the best team since 1960 by this metric, outscoring opponents by 19.7 points per game. By contrast, this year’s Patriots are beating teams by 5.3 points per contest and have the point differential, essentially, of a 7-4 team. What’s ordinary for the Patriots would be a parade for most organizations.
Current season: 6-4-1 (26th-best of 58 seasons in franchise history)
Best season: 1998 (15-1)
Worst season: 1984 (3-13)
The 1998 team rates out better than any of the four Super Bowl-losing Vikings teams from 1969-76 under Bud Grant. Unlike those teams, though, the Vikings fell just short in the NFC Championship Game in 1998, blowing a 27-17 fourth-quarter lead and losing 30-27 in a game where kicker Gary Anderson — who had gone 35-for-35 on field goals during the regular season — missed a 38-yarder that would have sealed the game just before the two-minute warning. That team, which featured Cris Carter and rookie wideout Randy Moss combining for 29 receiving touchdowns, has the 10th-best offense since 1960 by standardized score.
Current season: 4-7 (27th-best of 53 seasons in franchise history)
Best season: 2016 (11-5)
Worst season: 1987 (3-12)
The Falcons’ offense from 2016 narrowly tops that Vikings unit from 1998; it was so good, in fact, that it carries Matt Ryan & Co. to the best Falcons team in franchise history despite the fact that the defense finished just 35th among the 53 editions. The 1998 Dirty Bird team that beat the Vikings in the aforementioned Gary Anderson game and went to the Super Bowl are fourth on both offense and defense, good for the second-best Falcons team in history.
Current season: 6-5 (32nd-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1983 (14-2)
Worst season: 1961 (1-12-1)
Washington went 2-21-3 over a two-season stretch between 1960 and 1961 as part of a 12-year run without a winning record. It took the intervention of Vince Lombardi to push the team over .500. In 1982, Washington dominated the strike-shortened season with a slightly above-average offense and the best defense in franchise history en route to their first Super Bowl victory. The following season, Joe Gibbs’ team switched it up and combined the best offense in franchise history with a 25th-ranked defense, only to fall short to the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII.
Current season: 6-5 (33rd-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1978 (12-4)
Worst season: 1960 (0-11-1)
If you thought Hue Jackson keeping his job after an 0-16 season was surprising, consider that the guy who went 0-11-1 in 1960 with the Cowboys was Tom Landry. He would go on to win 250 games and coach for 28 more seasons with Dallas before being fired by Jerry Jones. Jones struck gold with Jimmy Johnson, and Barry Switzer won a Super Bowl with Johnson’s players, but the Cowboys’ top 14 seasons all took place between 1966 and 1995. It only seems like Jason Garrett’s reign has lasted for the ensuing 23 years.
Matthew Berry breaks down his top adds off the waiver wire at QB, RB and WR for Week 13.
Current season: 5-6 (33rd-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1997 (12-4)
Worst season: 1964 (2-11-1)
The 1997 and 1998 back-to-back Super Bowl champions were 1-2 on this list until the 2013 Broncos and their dominant offense came along. The 1997 team was slightly better on both offense and defense, as Terrell Davis shouldered more of the offensive workload during his 2,008-yard season in 1998. The 2015 team that won the Super Bowl ranked just 19th in franchise history, a testament to regular success and to the beautiful randomness of the postseason.
Current season: 5-6 (33rd-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1961 (10-3-1)
Worst season: 1982 (1-8)
There are all kinds of weirdness in here; these totals include the franchise’s years as the Houston Oilers, and their worst season was the strike-shortened 1982 campaign. The worst full season was with a 1-13 Oilers team in 1973, while the 2-14 Titans of 2014 are the worst of the Nashville-era Titans teams. While the 1999 Tennessee team made it to the Super Bowl, the best Titans team was actually the 2000 bunch, which went 13-3 before losing to the Ravens in a playoff game in which Trent Dilfer went 5-of-16 passing for 117 yards and the Ravens returned a blocked field goal and an interception for a touchdown to seal a 24-10 victory. The current-day Titans rank exactly one spot below the 2017 team.
Current season: 4-6-1 (35th-best of 56 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1987 (10-5)
Worst season: 1990 (3-13)
I’m surprised, too, but Hue Jackson’s 0-16 masterpiece merely ranks as the fifth-worst season for the organization since 1960. The 2016 season was actually slightly worse. The Browns can’t even get losing right! You’ll note that the Browns went from riding high to the basement in all of four seasons, which is a product of Art Modell forcing coach Marty Schottenheimer out of his role. The 1990 Browns inspired Modell to hire Bill Belichick, who went 36-44 and won one playoff game in his five years in Cleveland.
Current season: 4-6-1 (37th-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1996 (13-3)
Worst season: 1986 (4-12-1)
This current Packers team is brutally average across the board, ranking 17th in scoring offense and 16th in scoring defense. The 15-1 Packers from 2011 rank as the best team of the Mike McCarthy era and the third-best team in modern franchise history, topped only by the Super Bowl champions of 1996 and the defending-and-retaining NFL champions of 1962, which was Vince Lombardi’s best team. The ’62 Packers went 13-1, outscored their opponents by more than 19 points per game, and still ranks as the best Green Bay defense of the past 59 years.
Current season: 5-6 (38th-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 2002 (12-4)
Worst season: 1972 (2-11-1)
The long-awaited Super Bowl winners of 2017 rank third in modern Eagles history, in part because Nick Foles struggled during the final three games of the regular season. The beloved 1980 Eagles from Dick Vermeil fall short to what might have been the best team of the Andy Reid era in Philadelphia. Other Reid teams made it further in the postseason, but the 2002 Eagles ranked in the top four in both scoring offense and defense before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champion Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game.
Current season: 5-6 (42nd-best of 51 seasons in franchise history)
Best season: 1988 (12-4)
Worst season: 2002 (2-14)
One of the more unlikely Super Bowl entrants in recent memory, the best Bengals team in franchise history was coming off of a 4-11 season and ranked 20th in points per game in 1987. The 1988 Bengals led the league in scoring and posted the best offense in franchise history before coming just short of the 49ers as six-point underdogs in Super Bowl XXIII. The 2002 Bengals, meanwhile, were bad enough to bring about the arrivals of Carson Palmer and Marvin Lewis. The latter seemingly might have to post an even worse season than 2-14 to lose his job.
Current season: 3-8 (42nd-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1982 (6-3)
Worst season: 1996 (1-15)
There’s something very Jets about the best season in franchise history, at least by the numbers, being a nine-game strike-shortened season from 1982. The best full regular season for the Jets was their 12-4 campaign in 1998, two years after the dismal 1996 season that marked the absolute bottom for the franchise. That 1-15 campaign was supposed to deliver the Jets Peyton Manning, but when Manning decided to stay at Tennessee, the Jets instead opted to trade down. Two years later, the Jets made a run to the conference championship with Bill Parcells as coach, Bill Belichick as defensive coordinator, and Keyshawn Johnson catching passes from Vinny Testaverde.
Current season: 4-7 (44th-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1970 (10-4)
Worst season: 2008 (0-16)
The 2009 Lions actually rated slightly below the winless 2008 version by DVOA, but we’re not using that here. Rod Marinelli’s 0-16 team is the eighth-worst team since 1960, and no team has managed to post a less impressive season over the ensuing decade. It wasn’t (primarily) his fault, but Jon Kitna managed to feature for both those 2002 Bengals and the 2008 Lions.
Current season: 3-8 (45th-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1986 (14-2)
Worst season: 1966 (1-12-1)
It’s hard to argue with the success of the 1986 Giants, who lost in the opening Monday Night Football game of the season to the Cowboys and then rolled off 17 wins in 18 games. These numbers don’t include postseason performance, but those Giants might have had the most impressive playoffs in modern league history. They became the first and only team in league history to drop 49 points on the 49ers in a 49-3 blowout, shut out Washington 17-0, and then hammered the Broncos in a 39-20 Super Bowl victory. The 1993 Giants are credited with a better defense, but the tables were turned on them in a 44-3 gashing by the 49ers and Ricky Watters, who ran for five touchdowns.
Current season: 2-9 (47th-best of 59 seasons in franchise history)
Best season: 1994 (13-3)
Worst season: 2004 (2-14)
The 49ers are often very good or very bad, so they’re a perfect fit for this sort of look back. The 1994 team takes the nod by virtue of the best offense in franchise history and the third-best attack overall since 1960. A healthy Steve Young averaged 8.6 yards per attempt and completed 70.3 percent of his passes under offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan. To put that in context, Young is the only player between 1920 and 2008 to post a completion percentage of 70 percent or more over 400 passes. Drew Brees and Sam Bradford are the only ones to do that over a full season since.
Current season: 5-6 (47th-best of 53 seasons in franchise history)
Best season: 1984 (14-2)
Worst season: 2007 (1-15)
While you might be surprised that the lone undefeated campaign in NFL history fails to rank as the greatest season in Dolphins history, it’s worth remembering that Larry Csonka & Co. were only regarded as one-point favorites in the Super Bowl. They were unquestionably an excellent team, and one of the few in NFL history to lead the league in both scoring offense and scoring defense, but they weren’t as dominant on either side of the ball as the 1984 Dolphins were in Dan Marino’s breakout season. Those Dolphins ranked 21st in franchise history on defense, but the 1983 edition posted the best defense in Miami history. If they had just managed to combine the two, the ’72 Dolphins might have had company.
Matthew Berry explains why starting Kenyan Drake is basically a dart throw each week.
Current season: 4-7 (54th-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1990 (13-3)
Worst season: 1971 (1-13)
You might suspect that the four consecutive Super Bowl teams from 1990-93 rank atop the Bills leaderboard, and while the 1990 Bills measure out to be the best in franchise history, it’s not a clean sweep. The 1964 Bills went 12-2 in winning the AFL championship. More recently, the 2004 Bills went 9-7 with an 111-point differential, suggesting they were really closer to an 11-5 team. Those Bills needed to beat a Steelers team with nothing to play for in Week 17 to make the postseason and failed, as a six-game winning streak for the Bills fell just short of pushing them into January.
Current season: 2-9 (57th-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 2015 (13-3)
Worst season: 2003 (4-12)
Things went south quickly for the Cardinals, who were at a franchise peak no fewer than three years ago. Injuries and subpar drafts have taken their toll, though, and the current Cardinals rank as the third-worst team in franchise history with five games to go. I’ve mentioned teams that led the league in both scoring offense and defense already, but the 2003 Cardinals pulled the reverse and ranked last in both categories.
Current season: 2-9 (58th-best of 59 seasons in franchise history since 1960)
Best season: 1967 (13-1)
Worst season: 2014 (3-13)
Yes, Raiders fans: You’re not watching the worst team in your franchise’s history. The bad news is that you’re coming pretty close. This year’s Raiders are within a few percentage points of that low-water mark from 2014, which was Derek Carr‘s debut season with the team. The two defenses are essentially the same. The five worst Raiders teams have all come since the 2006 season, and their top-20 doesn’t include a single Raiders team from the past 15 years.