By: Denery Noone
The first installment of Denery's quest to determine the greatest Super Bowl Champion of all time via a single-elimination tournament.
We are bringing you part one of the Tournament of Super Bowl Champions here at the Breakdown. The tournament is a 34-team tournament that consists of four regions with eight teams in each region, and a play-in-game in the Florida Region and the California Region. Each region is constructed based off where that team's Super Bowl was played. With fifteen Super Bowls having been played in Florida, thirteen played in Louisiana and Texas, and twelve played in California, they make up the first three regions, with all other Super Bowl locations comprising the final region.
#1 Seed: 2004 New England Patriots- Super Bowl XXXIX (Jacksonville) Patriots 24 Eagles 21
The 2004 version of the Patriots has to go down as one of the top-five teams of all-time. The team of the 2000’s. This team left no doubt throughout the entire season that they were the best team in the league. They had the number four offense in the league, and the number two defense in the league. In the playoffs, they shut down the record breaking Peyton Manning and the number one offense in the Indianapolis Colts, they put up 41 points on the number one defense and the 15-1 Pittsburgh Steelers, and capped it all off against the Philadelphia Eagles, as we heard Patriots play-by-play announcer Gil Santos yell out, “Back to back! Three out of four!” as they put the final touches on their dynasty.
#2 Seed: 1994 San Francisco 49ers- Super Bowl XXIX (Miami) 49ers 49 Chargers 26
This team was completely dominant on both sides of the ball. They had the number one offense in the league, averaging 31.5 ppg, highlighted by the quarterback play of Steve Young and the great Jerry Rice. The defense was just as good led by Deion Sanders. They blew the Chargers out of the building in the Super Bowl, and Steve Young finally got that Super Bowl monkey off of his back.
#3 Seed: 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers- Super Bowl XIII (Miami) Steelers 35 Cowboys 31
The 1978 Steelers won their third Super Bowl in five years as they entered the prestigious company of Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers as the second team in NFL History to become a dynasty. The infamous “Steel Curtain” defense led by Joe Greene and on the backside by Mel Blount ranked first in the league allowing a mere 12.2 ppg. Terry Bradshaw swept the nation with his play, took home league MVP and Super Bowl MVP.
#4 Seed: 1998 Denver Broncos- Super Bowl XXXIII (Miami) Broncos 34 Falcons 19
Boy did everybody love John Elway. In 1998, the 38-year old put an emphatic stamp on his legendary career with a storybook ending. It wasn’t even close to Elway's’ best season statistically, as injuries plagued part of his season. But they did not need him to break any records in 1998, they had Terrell Davis to do that. Davis tore defenses apart with 2008 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. Had Elway been healthier they could have been a higher seed, but a four spot will do.
#5 Seed: 2009 New Orleans Saints- Super Bowl XLIV (Miami) Saints 31 Colts 17
This was far and away one of the most enjoyable teams that I have ever had the privilege to watch in my short lifetime. They had so much spunk, ferocity, and flare. The 2009 Saints were truly a product of their head coach, the fiery Sean Payton. They were fast, aggressive, and prolific. Drew Brees lead a passing attack that was unmatched, and Tracy Porter’s pick-six of Peyton Manning lead to the ‘Miracle in Miami’.
#6 Seed: 1968 New York Jets- Super Bowl III (Miami) Jets 19 Colts 7
“We’re gonna win the game. I guarantee it.” Broadway Joe captured the attention and love of the American people with his audacious, intoxicated proclamation the day before Super Bowl III. Namath was great in 1968. He was occasionally erratic but was consistently making plays for the Jets. It was not just Namath though, there is no Joe Namath without Don Maynard, and there is not a successful guarantee without the rushing attack of Matt Snell.
#7 Seed: 1990 New York Giants- Super Bowl XXV (Tampa Bay) Giants 20 Bills 19
The biggest question going into this tournament is does Jeff Hostetler or Phil Simms play quarterback for this team? For the purposes of the tournament and considering the fact that Hostetler was the quarterback that lead that Super Bowl run, he will serve as quarterback. The major stories surrounding the 1990 Giants were all about defense and the resurrection of the careers of O.J. Anderson and Hostetler during that playoff run. Let’s see if O.J. Anderson and his practice pants can lead the 1990 Giants on another run.
#8 Seed: 1983 LA Raiders/2000 Ravens (PLAY-IN GAME)
Because I am such a people pleaser, I am going to give you guys the results of the Play-in-games now instead of forcing you to wait until the results of the round of 32 are released. This is an extremely tough decision because that 1983 Raiders team had so many great players, Marcus Allen, Jim Plunkett, Howie Long, etc. However, I am going to have to go with that 2000 Ravens team. That is without a doubt one of the top-3 defenses OF ALL-TIME. It did not matter that Trent Dilfer was their quarterback. This defense was so dominant I could have been their quarterback and they still would have been successful. They let up 10.3 ppg which is completely unheard of. With that being said, congratulations 2000 Baltimore Ravens, you have made it to the round of 32.
#1 Seed: 1985 Chicago Bears- Super Bowl XX (New Orleans) Bears 46 Patriots 10
This is a no brainer. This is arguably the best team of all time. They were bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter than everyone else. Their 46 Defense was groundbreaking. The defense of the ‘85 Bears is still considered the pinnacle of defensive football, and will always hold that throne. With Walter Payton and Jim McMahon leading that offense, the team was essentially unstoppable in every phase of the game.
#2 Seed: 1989 San Francisco 49ers- Super Bowl XXIV (New Orleans) 49ers 55 Broncos 10
The 1989 San Francisco 49ers are far too similar to the 1989 Miami Hurricanes football team. Just like the Hurricanes making the move from Jimmy Johnson to Dennis Erickson because Johnson moved on, San Francisco had to deal with the departure of Bill Walsh as George Seifert was handed the keys. For both teams, the biggest advice those new coaches got was to stay out of the way and watch them do their thing because both teams were that good. For the 89’ 49ers, it was truly Super Bowl or bust, and boy did they take off. With a record of 18-1, the 49ers and big Joe Montana left everyone else in the dust on their way to the franchise's fourth title.
#3 Seed: 1969 Kansas City Chiefs- Super Bowl IV (New Orleans) Chiefs 23 Vikings 7
With eight Hall of Famers on their roster that included an all-time great quarterback, and one of the best coaches ever in Hank Stram, it was only a matter of time that this team won a Super Bowl. They were unsuccessful in 1966 as they went down to Lombardi’s Packers. Three years later they took down the Vikings and their infamous ‘Purple People Eaters’ defense and cemented their names in football lore. With Len Dawson at the helm, the team was second in the league in scoring. Yet, the real story was their overpowering defense that trotted out six future hall of famers. They let up a lowly 12 ppg, and when the playoffs came, they shut down the defending champion Jets led by Joe Namath, repeated that performance again the next week against Ken Stabler’s Raiders, and put the nail in the coffin against Minnesota.
#4 Seed: 1996 Green Bay Packers- Super Bowl XXXI (New Orleans) Packers 35 Patriots 21
This is underratedly one of the best teams in NFL History. Favre was simply incredible in 1996, throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 39 touchdowns in a time period where sexy passing games were not as prevalent as they are today. With Antonio Freeman, Robert Brooks, and the end of the year arrival of Andre Rison, Favre had plenty of weapons and ripped apart opposing defenses. Lucky enough for Favre, the ‘96 Packers had a number one defense to go with their number one offense. This was a defense that was led by the late, great Reggie White along with Gilbert Brown who both took over Super Bowl XXXI in the third quarter sacking Bledsoe twice in a row, as White went for three sacks in the game, and forced Bledsoe into four interceptions. This was a dangerous team that could compete with the best of them.
#5 Seed: 1973 Miami Dolphins- Super Bowl VIII (Houston) Dolphins 24 Vikings 7
For the 1973 Miami Dolphins, the most pressing question entering the season was how do you follow a 17-0 perfect season? For Bob Griese, “The No Name Defense”, and the rest of the 1973 Dolphins, the way to respond was by going 15-2 finalized by a thorough beatdown of the Vikings. Now this team obviously is not the 1972 version of the Dolphins, but there is a case to be made that what they did in 1973 was more impressive. Coming off of a perfect season, everyone is naturally going to expect you to be exactly that great again, no exceptions. This team was very similar to the ‘72 team, but it was not the same team. That 1972 team will never be replicated, and yet this 1973 team had the expectation to do so. Considering the expectations of perfection and the inevitable target on their backs, this team’s ability to bulldoze through everyone again with a 15-2 season and a second Super Bowl was impressive.
#6 Seed: 2003 New England Patriots- Super Bowl XXXVIII (Houston) Patriots 32 Panthers 29
This is potentially my favorite team in the Patriots’ history. This was a gritty, aggressive, powerful team that came in week in and week out and took your lunch money. People questioned them after a brutal loss in week one to Buffalo, and a tough loss in week four to Washington, but after that, this team came out and beat everyone up. 2003 was the year that The Patriots finally became Tom Brady’s team as he was the one leading the charge. However, that defense is one of the best that I have personally seen in my lifetime. Ty Law and Tyrone Poole consistently abused opposing wideouts at the line, as Rodney Harrison catapulted into the spotlight as an All-Pro on the back end. Maybe it is because I had to deal with years of Kyle Arrington, Jonathan Wilhite, Sterling Moore, Brandon Meriweather, and many more liabilities in the defensive backfield, but I appreciate the 2003 Patriots defense and secondary about as much as I could appreciate anything else. They were truly dominant and they let you know it.
#7 Seed: 1971 Dallas Cowboys- Super Bowl VI (New Orleans) Cowboys 24 Dolphins 3
This is what makes what we are currently doing so special. One minute I am talking about Tom Brady and the Patriots, and the next I am talking about a Cowboys team that was led by Roger Staubach and Tom Landry while considering the implications of a potential matchup between the two. The 1971 Cowboys put up unprecedented offensive numbers for that time period, averaging 29 ppg with Staubach throwing for 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions after replacing Craig Morton who threw seven touchdowns himself. People may question how a team like this would matchup against the more recent teams, but don’t forget that Staubach could move around a little bit, and he could definitely sling it.
#8 Seed: 2010 Packers- Super Bowl XLV (Arlington) Packers 31 Steelers 25
2010 was officially Aaron Rodgers’ coming out party, as he escaped the shadows of Brett Favre. This Packers team was a wildly underachieving bunch that caught fire late in the season. The defense was tremendous only allowing 15 ppg in an era where scoring is a foregone conclusion, but the offense was the group that stole the spotlight during their magical run. With Rodgers running around slinging it, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, and James Jones were nearly uncoverable down the stretch. This is interesting because this team is matching up with the ‘85 Bears, a team that proved to be vulnerable when Dan Marino spread them out and threw the ball all over the yard, and Rodgers could do the same thing.
#1 Seed: 1972 Miami Dolphins- Super Bowl VII (LA Coliseum)- Dolphins 14 Redskins 7
Similar to the ‘85 Bears, this was absolutely a no brainer. For many people, this is the team. The perfect season, the dominant running game with Mercury Morris, and Larry Csonka, and the dominant ‘No Name Defense’ held no prisoners. They left absolutely no doubt the entire year. They were arrogant and loud, but they sure did back it up, and have to be at the very least a top-3 team of all-time.
#2 Seed: 1984 San Francisco 49ers- Super Bowl XIX (Stanford) 49ers 38 Dolphins 16
And for the third time we see a 49ers team show up in this bracket. Like the previous two 49ers teams in the bracket, this team was just as dominant. Finishing at 18-1, this 49ers team left every team in the dust. The 1981 49ers Super Bowl team was very talented but it was the first Super Bowl team in the franchise's history, this 1984 team solidified the legacies of Montana, Walsh and the rest of this San Francisco organization. For this team to win their second Super Bowl in four years in the fashion that they did it in set this team apart.
#3 Seed: 1992 Dallas Cowboys- Super Bowl XXVII (Rose Bowl) Cowboys 52 Bills 17
When you talk about great ‘Big Three’s’ in any sport, specifically football, the Big Three of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin has to be in the conversation of best ever. In a time period where the offensive style of play was transitioning from run-first to predominantly passing, this team was still able to maintain a tremendous balance and dominate in both areas. This team was so special because they had so many star players lined up on both sides of the ball, and they were not afraid to anything out of the ordinary. Led by Jimmy Johnson, this Cowboys team could finesse you through the air, and pound the ball with Emmitt Smith, while dominating on the defensive side. I truly believe this team could have played in any era and would have been successful because they were stout in all phases of the game.
#4 Seed: 1986 New York Giants- Super Bowl XXI (Rose Bowl) Giants 39 Broncos 20
1986 was the year that Phil Simms finally put on his ‘Big-Boy pants’ and catapulted himself into the category of elite quarterbacks. Simms had experienced a lot of issues early in his career with his relationship with head coach Bill Parcells, the injury bug, and turnovers, but in 1986, he finally put it all together. He still had trouble with turnovers, but he was able to get by that by throwing 21 touchdowns that year while starting all 16 games. Although Simms was finally playing up to his desired potential, it was Lawrence Taylor who pushed the team over the top. In 1986, Taylor had 20.5 sacks and won the league's MVP. The combination of Taylor, Carl Banks, and Leonard Marshall rushing the passer made this team special, and a truly difficult matchup for any team.
#5 Seed: 1966 Green Bay Packers- Super Bowl I (LA Coliseum) Packers 31 Chiefs 10
I mean how could we not put the first ever Super Bowl Champions into the competition? These were the guys that paved the way for everyone else. If it was not for the 1966 Packers, there may not be the extravagant Super Bowl event that we get to witness every year on everyone's favorite holiday (Super Bowl Sunday). Not to mention they were lead by the greatest coach of all time Vince Lombardi, and they had hall of famers up and down their entire roster starting with quarterback Bart Starr. The reason why I have them so low on the list despite the fact that they were one of the all-time great teams is because of the competition they were going against, and the question of how their style of play would translate against some of the other teams in this bracket. However, they absolutely deserve a spot and will be dangerous here in the five-spot.
#6 Seed: 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Super Bowl XXXVII (San Diego) Buccaneers 48 Raiders 21
This is absolutely one of my favorite Super Bowl winning teams of all-time. From the head coach down through the entire roster, they made each week more entertaining than the one before. This team obviously made its mark with the infamous Tampa 2 defense that shut down so many teams, and actually produced three pick 6’s in their Super Bowl win, but that offense held up its end of the bargain too. From Brad Johnson to Michael Pittman, Keyshawn Johnson, Mike Alstott, and Joe Jurevicious were hard pressed to be overshadowed by the likes of Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Ronde Barber, and Simeon Rice. This was a great team with a special core in a brilliant system, and they are a team that could compete with any team in any generation.
#7 Seed: 1976 Oakland Raiders- Super Bowl XI (Rose Bowl) Raiders 32 Vikings 14
This was another example of a great Oakland Raider team. They did not have the unbelievable defense that usually had, they did not have the dominant running game that they usually possessed, but they had Ken Stabler, and they knew how to win. Stabler had a great season in 1976, throwing for 2,700 yards and 27 touchdowns as guys like Hall of Famer Dave Casper and Cliff Branch exploited those secondaries each week. Despite their lack of domination in any facet of the game, this team lead by John Madden simply knew how to win, and that is what made them so dangerous.
#8 Seed: 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers/2015 Denver Broncos (PLAY-IN GAME)
For the purposes of a maintaining a generational balance in this tournament, I am going to give the 2015 Broncos the edge in this play-in game. Now if you want to talk about a team that relied solely off of the firepower of its defense, this team is your absolute jackpot. With a mixture of Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler under center, this offense could do virtually nothing against any defense they opposed. However, boy was that defense great. From the secondary all the way to the front-four, they thoroughly manhandled everyone, especially in the playoffs. Going up against Big Ben, Tom Brady, and Cam Newton brought the best out of this unit and propelled them to infamy.
#1 Seed: 1999 St. Louis Rams- Super Bowl XXXIV (Atlanta) Rams 23 Titans 16
I would like to preface this by saying that in my opinion, this is absolutely the death region of this bracket. Each of these teams were truly fantastic with talent up and down the entirety of their rosters. Now with that being said, who else could you put here other than ‘The Greatest Show on Turf?’ This was one of the most enjoyable teams to watch in NFL History. They truly started the evolution of NFL offenses into the hurry-up, pass-first attacks that have become so popular and lethal ever since. It also did not hurt that they had one of the best running back’s in NFL history in Marshall Faulk who was also a great receiver, and a highly underrated defense that allowed this team to become an all-time great.
#2 Seed: 2013 Seattle Seahawks- Super Bowl XLVIII (New York- The Meadowlands) Seahawks 43 Broncos 8
It would not have mattered who this team went up against in the Super Bowl in the 2013 season, they would not have lost. This team optimized playing with attitude and backing it up. They would go out and would talk the entire game, but at the same time they would punch you in the mouth on every single play. From their dominant defense to their bruising all-pro running back Marshawn Lynch, this team beat up every single team they played against. I would genuinely put this team up against any team in history and feel extremely confident with my decision.
#3 Seed: 1991 Washington Redskins- Super Bowl XXVI (Minnesota) Redskins 37 Bills 24
While the infamous ‘Hogs’ offensive line unit saw a lot of personnel turnover from their last world championship in 1988, the transition they saw was seamless as they continued to dominate at the line of scrimmage and in the running game. Once again, the Redskins running game was at the top of its game, with Earnest Byner going for more than 1,000 yards in 1991, and with the star play of quarterback Mark Rypien elevated to a whole new level, this Redskins team became on of the best of all time. They had the number one offense in the league, the number two defense in the league, a pro-bowl quarterback, and a hall of fame offensive line. They knew they were better than everyone and they went out each week and they showed it.
#4 Seed: 2014 New England Patriots- Super Bowl XLIX (Glendale, Arizona) Patriots 28 Seahawks 24
I can tell you right now as a Patriots fan that when Malcolm Butler made that interception at the goal line in Super Bowl XLIX, that was one of the best moments in my entire life. That entire 2014 Patriots’ season was one of the most special rides I have ever been a part of as a fan and one that was most enjoyable to witness. After a decade of trying to replicate what they had done in 2004, who knew all it would take would be a revamped secondary lead by an all-pro, a healthy Rob Gronkowski, an MVP-ish Tom Brady, and an undrafted slot corner out of West Alabama to get the job done. They were prolific, they were fun, charismatic, and they were not afraid to blow you out. This another team that could matchup with anybody because they really could beat you in any way. They could play defense, pass all over you, and if you had a weak run defense (Indianapolis) they would run it right down your throat.
#5 Seed: 1993 Dallas Cowboys- Super Bowl XXVIII (Atlanta) Cowboys 30 Bills 13
I know they were almost the same team as the 1992 Cowboys, but I could not defend leaving the ‘93 ‘Boys out of the tournament. They were so good, so talented, and just as dominant as the 1992 team. With Emmitt rushing for almost 1,500 yards and 9 touchdowns, and Michael Irvin receiving for 1300 yards and 7 touchdowns, the star power for this team was at a peak level. And although Troy Aikman was underwhelming, they still did everything they needed to do to make them a great team. Like I said for the 1992 team, one of my favorite aspects of the 1993 Cowboys was their leader Jimmy Johnson and everything that he brought to the table. Johnson was fearless. Johnson truly was the perfect guy to lead this team to the promise land.
#6 Seed: 1981 San Francisco 49ers- Super Bowl XVI (Pontiac, Michigan) 49ers 26 Bengals 21
In the fourth and final installment of the San Francisco 49ers in the tournament, we have the 1981 team coming out of the miscellaneous region. There was not anything crazy special about this 49ers team, they did not have the biggest stars or have a bunch of pro bowlers, but they knew how to win games. They took Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense and they perfected it. Joe Montana threw for over 3,500 yards and 19 touchdowns, and really epitomized what it meant to spread defenses out. The 19 touchdowns is nothing crazy, but in an era where running backs dominated, Montana’s yardage numbers spoke for themselves. On top of that, with their talented offense, they played superb defense that kept them in every single game that they played. The thing that defined this team was winning. Nothing else mattered to them and they showed that throughout the entire ‘81 season.
#7 Seed: 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers- Super Bowl XL (Detroit) Steelers 21 Seahawks 10
The Bus’s Final Ride-- It was only a matter of time until this core finally won a championship. They were great in 2004 going 15-1 before being ousted in the AFC Championship by the Patriots in what was remarkably Big Ben’s rookie year. Fast forward to 2005 with the majority of their core from 2004 returning, a more experienced Big Ben, and an aging core in New England, it seemed that it was finally time for them to take that next step, and boy did they take it. They did not have a similarly flashy regular season by only winning 11 games, but once the playoffs started they really hit their stride. Their defense played great and the bus ran loose on everyone, Big Ben did what he needed to do, and that is what made this a championship caliber team.
#8 Seed: 2007 New York Giants- Super Bowl XLII (Glendale, Arizona) Giants 17 Patriots 14
As happy as I was when the Patriots beat the Seahawks in 2014, I was probably five times more devastated when the Giants thwarted the Patriots chances at an undefeated season in Super Bowl XLII. In my mind, there was no fathomable possibility of the Giants beating the Patriots in that Super Bowl, but then I was introduced to their front seven. Honestly, that game and that entire playoff run is what makes the Giants inconsistencies so frustrating. They had so much talent, such a great and persistent pass rush and defense overall, and a star quarterback with untapped potential, yet they consistently underperform in the regular season and have trouble making the playoffs. However, in 2007, everything was going as planned. They finally put it all together. The defense, the offense, the pressure, the passing game, everything was working perfectly, and on that one February night, their perfect gameplan and execution denied New England the chance of perfection of their own.