If you're looking for NFL nostalgia, you've come to the right place. The 2000s were a great decade for football: The Manning Brothers, the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick Patriots dynasty, LaDainian Tomlinson's Chargers, and so much more. It was also a decade full of classic games. Let's discuss the best teams of the 2000s.
The New England Patriots were the best team of this decade by a mile. They won three Super Bowls in four years (2001, '03, '04). Led by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, they were always entertaining when they made it to the Super Bowl, producing classics against the St. Louis Rams, Carolina Panthers, and Philadelphia Eagles. Their defense was loaded with talents like Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, and Willie McGinest. The early '00s Patriots were unbeatable when they played to the best of their ability.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were an elite team in the '00s. They were used to having home-field advantage in the playoffs and playing football deep into January. They played smashmouth football and possessed one of the most feared defenses in the league. In 2005, head coach Bill Cowher and Jerome Bettis rode off into the sunset with a victory against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. Three years later, Mike Tomlin became the youngest head coach to win the Super Bowl after the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals on a last-second, game-winning touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes in the back of the end zone. Tomlin has yet to have a losing season as a head coach.
This decade also amplified the Steelers-Baltimore Ravens rivalry. One of the fiercest rivalries in the NFL, these two teams are always playing for bragging rights in must-win games.
Here's a trivia question: Who won the most football games in the '00s? If you guessed the Indianapolis Colts, then you're right. They won an NFL-best 115 games in the '00s, per StatMuse . Led by Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Jeff Saturday, the Colts' high-octane offense launched an aerial assault on the league. This pass-first team had a winning record nine times this decade.
Even with this regular season success, they struggled in the playoffs. The Patriots were their kryptonite for many years. They finally put it together and beat them in the AFC Championship Game in 2006. After the fact, Manning led the Colts past the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl XLI. The Colts again went to the Super Bowl in 2009, losing to the New Orleans Saints in a shocking upset.
This team made history. They went 18-0 and looked like they were going to become the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to go undefeated. The football gods had different plans. In the final frame, the Patriots lost to the Giants in a shocking upset. Still, they're the greatest team never to win the Super Bowl. Brady threw for 50 touchdowns and won his first MVP.
Meanwhile, the defense was as great as any during the Brady-Belichick era. They were blowing teams out every week. It just so happened that the Giants were the better team in Super Bowl XLII.
One of the greatest defenses of all time, the 2000 Ravens were dominant from Week 1. Ravens head coach Brian Billick built the best defense in the league with Ray Lewis and Rod Woodson as the centerpieces. They gave up just 10.3 points per game and allowed 970 rushing yards in the regular season. They recorded a league-leading 49 takeaways and shut out four opponents. They gave up 23 combined points in the playoffs and crushed the Giants by a score of 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV.
The 2009 Saints were one of the best feel-good stories in modern NFL history. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city in 2005, the Saints gave the Big Easy something to cheer for as they rebuilt their beloved city. Head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees were the major chess pieces on this team. Their offense gained the most yards that season. The Saints' magical postseason run felt more like a Hollywood script than reality. They beat the heavily favored Colts in the Super Bowl. The city of New Orleans deserved this victory.
Before Tom Brady came along in 2020, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in 2002. Led by the now-disgraced Jon Gruden, the '02 Bucs introduced the NFL to the Tampa 2 defense. This simple yet effective defense was run to perfection by John Lynch, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, and Warren Sapp. In the playoffs, they upset the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, the last game ever played at Veterans Stadium. In Super Bowl, the Bucs immortalized their historic defense with a 48-21 win over the Raiders.
This was a team of Giant slayers. Before the season, head coach Tom Coughlin was on the hot seat, and the New York sports media criticized quarterback Eli Manning. They silenced the critics this year. They squeezed into the playoffs with a 10-6 record and went on one of the most unlikely playoff runs in NFL history, beating the Bucs, Cowboys, and Packers to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLII. Once they got to the big game, they beat the undefeated New England Patriots in the greatest upset in NFL history. The game put Eli on the map. Four years later, the Giants beat the Patriots again in the Super Bowl.
When Kurt Warne r filled in for an injured Trent Green, no one knew what Warner could do. An incredible underdog story, Warner led the Rams to their first Super Bowl win in 1999. Their offense featured four Hall of Famers, including Warner, Marshall Faulk , Issac Bruce, and Orlando Pace. Their head coach, Dıck Vermeil, was also a Hall of Famer. The Rams went back to the Super Bowl in 2001, losing to the Patriots and kickstarting their dynasty. This juggernaut of an offense revolutionized the game forever. The Greatest Show on Turf was the best offense in NFL history.
They weren't the best team in the '00s. But they were the most consistent. The core of head coach Andy Reid, franchise quarterback Donavan McNabb, and skill players Brian Westbrook and Brian Dawkins helped turn the hapless Eagles into Super Bowl contenders. They won 103 games this decade. The only teams that won more were the Colts and the Patriots. They went to the NFC Championship Game five times this decade. The Eagles peaked in 2004 when the prized offseason acquisition of star wide receiver Terrell Owens propelled the Eagles to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, they lost to the Patriots. The '00s Eagles were some great teams. They just couldn't win the big game.
Brett Favre started in an NFL-record 297 consecutive games. Most of those games were with the Packers, the team he played for from 1992-2007. The Packers clinched five playoff berths in the decade. While the gunslinging quarterback failed to relive the glory days of the '90s, he kept the Packers competitive. Towards the end of the decade, Favre passed the torch to Aaron Rodgers, who went on to have his fair share of success in the frozen tundra of Green Bay.
This team was something special. While the Chargers made the playoffs five times this decade, they peaked during the mid-2000s. LaDainian Tomlinson had a historic year with the Chargers, rushing for an NFL record 28 touchdowns and winning MVP. Finishing the regular season at 14-2, the team looked hungry for a Super Bowl and had all the necessary pieces to make it happen. Unfortunately, they ran into the Patriots dynasty in the playoffs. Tomlinson is one of the best players never to win a ring.
Other impact players on this team were Philip Rivers, Lorenzo Neal, and Shawn Merriman, among many others.
Mike Holmgren was the mastermind who flipped the Green Bay Packers' fortunes and turned them into a contender in the '90s. He resigned as their head coach and took over the Seattle Seahawks, intending to repeat his team-building success in Green Bay. In 2005, his Seahawks were firing on all cylinders. Led by Shaun Alexander's power running and a solid defense, the Seahawks went 13-3 and clinched a Super Bowl berth for the first time in franchise history. Unfortunately, they lost 21-10 to the Steelers in the big game. They were robbed by awful officiating. All told, Holmgren's Seahawks made the playoffs five times this decade.
The Cardinals went 9-7 in 2008. While their season was above average, their playoff run would be historic. Led by Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Edgerrin James, the Cards' offense unleashed an aerial assault on every team they faced. The Cardinals shocked the world and made it to Super Bowl XLIII for a showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was their first championship game in 60 years. It would be one of the best games in NFL history, even if they lost.
I know what you're thinking: Jeff Fisher, seriously? Before stinking up the joint with the Rams, he was a decent coach for the Titans. His smashmouth offense, led by late quarterback Steve McNair and power running back Eddie George, was tough to defend. Their defense was also tough, and they didn't give up any easy yards. Even though it didn't take place in the '00s, they led the Titans to their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history in 1999, losing by one yard.
All told, the Titans went to the playoffs five times this decade. McNair, the 2003 co-MVP, was eventually replaced by Vince Young, who had so-so results in Fisher's system. Similarly, George was replaced with Chris Johnson, who rushed for 2,000 yards in 2008.
This team is often forgotten among the best teams of the decade. They're lost to history thanks to their Super Bowl performance against the Ravens and because of the Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning era that gave the Giants two Super Bowl rings. But this 2000 team was still impressive. Led by Tiki Barber on offense and Michael Strahan on defense, they went 12-4 in the regular season and even beat the Vikings 41-0 in the NFC Championship Game. It's a shame they aren't given the respect they deserve.
This team was an offensive juggernaut featuring Jake Delhomme, Muhsin Muhammad, and triple-crown winner Steve Smith. Despite their lethal offense, they lost to the Brady-Belichick Patriots in an entertaining Super Bowl. They almost returned to the Super Bowl in 2005 but lost in the NFC Championship Game.
Bears head coach Lovie Smith had a career year in 2005. His incredible defense, led by Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Charles Tillman, took over games. On offense, he made the most of quarterback Rex Grossman and a run-heavy offense. And on special teams, rookie sensation Devin Hester was breaking records as a return man. The Bears went 13-3 and marched to the Super Bowl. They lost 29-17. You can only do so much against Peyton Manning. Still, this was the best Bears team since the 1985 Bears.
The 2009 Vikings were a fun team. Led by aging veteran Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, and Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin, the Vikings were a Super Bowl contender from day one. In Favre's last full season, the Vikings went 12-4 and finished with a top-five offense. The Vikings suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Saints in the NFC Championship Game. In the final moments, Brett Favre threw the game-deciding interception. As fate would have it, the Colts would play the Saints in the Super Bowl. But if Favre decided to throw the ball away instead of forcing it into coverage, the Super Bowl matchup of Peyton Manning versus Brett Favre could've happened.
This team was better than you remember. After John Elway retired, longtime head coach Mike Shanahan managed to put together a handful of winning seasons in his absence. The Broncos went to the playoffs four times this decade and had their best season in 2005. Quarterback Jake Plummer had a career year. Running back Mike Anderson and wide receiver Rod Smith played at a high level. Champ Bailey and John Lynch led their defense. They gave Tom Brady his first playoff loss in the playoffs and made it to the AFC Championship Game, where they were crushed by the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
David J. Hunt is a freelance writer based out of Philadelphia. He ran cross country at Penn State, became a volunteer firefighter during COVID-19, and is a self taught journalist. He's a diehard Philly sports fan. When he isn't watching sports, he enjoys working out, fishing, and traveling. You can find more of his writing at The Chestnut Hill Local and The Temple News. You can follow him on Twitter at @dave_hunt44.
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