Who will be The Team of the Teens? By that, I do not mean the team of kids between 12 and 19. I mean the team that will outshine all others in the 2010—2019 decade. The team that will record multiple Super Bowl victories. The team everyone else will hate and emulate at the same time. The team that will define the decade.
In every decade, the NFL has unofficially declared one team the premier team. In the 1960s, it was the Green Bay Packers, with their hard-charging, single-minded head coach Vince Lombardi. The ’70s belonged to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Terry Bradshaw, as they claimed four Super Bowl trophies to outshine the Dallas Cowboys, who made a remarkable five trips to the Super Bowl in that ten year span, winning two.
The 1980s were all about The San Francisco 49ers; the emergence of the West Coast offense, the brainchild of their genius head coach Bill Walsh; and that skinny quarterback with the steely nerves and the indomitable will, Joe Montana.
The ’90s belonged to the lip-smacking, never-a-hair-out-of-place Jimmy Johnson; the brash new face of the NFL, Jerry Jones; the fair-haired, golden-armed Oklahoma kid from California, Troy Aikman; and the Dallas Cowboys in general. They won three Super Bowls in four years, the first time that had ever been done.
The first decade in the new century brought us Bill Belichick with his cut up sweatshirts and his unbelievable sixth round find, Tom Brady. The Brady Bunch won three consecutive Super Bowls. They then posted the frst-ever perfect 16-0 regular season mark (the Dolphins’ perfect season was in the 14-game era), blew through the AFC playoffs, and then lost a heart-breaker to the upstart New York Giants.
So, who is next? Which team is poised to claim its very own decade and become part of that “greatest team ever” argument? To ascertain the likeliest candidates, it is first necessary to contemplate the formula. History suggests there is a predictor—a formula that seems too consistent to ignore.
Every team of the decade had a couple things in common: A relatively young coach coming into his own and establishing himself as a great leader/technician/motivator; a young superstar quarterback; a dominating (or at least very difficult to deal with) defense.
- The 1960s Packers had Vince Lombardi, whose influence on the game was so significant they named the Super Bowl trophy after him, and Bart Starr. Now, Starr was not a sensational quarterback, but he was a great field general who understood and executed his coach’s offense to perfection.
- The 1970s Steelers had Chuck Knoll, who began a coaching tradition like no other there in the Steel City. They also had Terry Bradshaw and the Steel Curtain. The honorable mention Dallas Cowboys had a fellow named Tom Landry and a quarterback named Roger Staubach, not to mention DoomsDay I & II.
- The 1980s 49ers had Bill Walsh forever changing the game with his X’s and O’s and Joe Montana making his case for best quarterback ever. They had a salty defense led by the likes or Ronnie Lott, too.
- The 1990s Cowboys were lead by Jimmy Johnson, the first coach ever to win both a NCAA championship and a Super Bowl. They were led on the field by the unflappable Troy Aikman. And, they had a defense that was quick, nasty, and sometimes downright dominating.
- The 2000s Patriots. Belichick. Brady. Bruschi. What more need we say?
So, if we assume this formula works and is a pretty good indicator of things to come, which team currently stands poised to climb Mount Domination in the 2010s? Here are my top six candidates, beginning with number six:
Number Six: Cincinnati Bengals
I know. Carson Palmer is already a six year veteran. The Bengals are good defensively, but not dominating. Marvin Lewis is not on many people’s “next coaching genius” list. Let’s not forget, however, that Lewis did help construct that Baltimore Ravens’ defense. He did spend valuable time on that Pittsburgh Steelers’ coaching staff. Carson Palmer is a strong-armed quarterback with more than sufficient skills to get the job done. Chad Ochocinco is no slouch. The running game has found its legs.
Most importantly, this beleaguered franchise has the taste of victory fresh in its mouth.
Number Five: Arizona Cardinals
The biggest missing piece here is the young quarterback. What they have at QB right now is pure greatness. Kurt Warner is also nearing Methuselah’s age. The other pieces are in place, though. Coach Whisenhunt has already made his mark on the team, getting them into last year’s Super Bowl, and coming within a Roethlissberger drive of winning it. The defense can be stingy and opportunistic. The receiving corps is as good as any in football.
And…the team finally believes it can.
Number Four: Baltimore Ravens
Joe Flacco is the X-factor here. Will he become more than a game manager? Will he be a play-maker? John Harbaugh, like his brother, appears to be the real deal. He could be the kind of young coach that makes his mark on the league. The defensive tradition in Baltimore is already well established and must simply be replenished.
Number Three: Green Bay Packers
The long shadow of Brett Favre is withering as the traitorous legend leads the Packers’ arch enemy into the playoffs. It is withering because of the play of their Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It is withering because the Packers’ defense ranks ninth in points allowed and second in yardage yielded. It is withering because Head Coach Mike McCarthy has his team poised and focused on the future, rather than dwelling on the past.
Could that future include another “team of the decade” for the citizens of the diminutive city of champions to cherish? It could.
Number Two: Dallas Cowboys
OK. Call me a homer, but I like where this team sits right now. The unknown quotient is a biggie: namely, who will be the coach going forward? The quarterback Tony Romo, however, I believe, is poised to become one of the league’s best. He has already set a number of team records in just his third full year as a starter. This is no small thing when you consider he holds the position held by guys named Meredith, Staubach, White, and Aikman.
The defense, under the guidance of current coach Wade Phillips has begun to assert itself, keeping some of the league’s most potent offensive attacks in check. Most of the defense is young. In fact, apart from the aging offensive line, most of the team is fairly young.
The Cowboys could be set to do that every-other-decade thing they do. It all depends on Jerry and the choice he makes at head coach.
Number One: New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees and Sean Payton have proven a lethal duo. This team hangs basketball-like numbers on opponents with a good deal of regularity. And now, they have Gregg Williams running the defense.
The Saints have already come within a game of the Super Bowl a couple seasons ago. They have gotten the homefield advantage for themselves in the current playoffs. They are young, hungry, and poised to become a force for the next eight to ten years.
Of course, plenty of other teams could have something to say about this. The Redskins may finally be headed in the right direction with the changes in front office leadership. The Colts and Patriots are still quality, well-oiled machines with quarterbacks whose names are already legendary and will be forever in any argument about the best to ever play the game. I like where the Texans are. The 49ers have the right coach in place, I believe.
My honorable mention team, however, is Norv Turner’s San Diego Chargers. Phillip Rivers and Company are—and should continue to be—a force with which to be reckoned.
It is conceivable that this will be the decade dominated by parity, that no team will assert itself. The magic wand may pass from hand to hand, team to team, city to city. History, however, suggests some team somewhere will emerge as the team to beat.
It could be yours.