[This article, and ranking, was updated in Feb. 2021 at the conclusion of the 2020 season. It will be updated again following the Super Bowl in 2022]
People always argue, “The [Insert Their Favorite Team Here] are the best franchise in NFL history” but have no real substance behind their claim. A few years ago I made it my goal to end that debate… or make the answer fluid, I guess I should say.
In the summer of 2014 I developed a weighted statistical formula to rank all 32 NFL franchises in order of objective greatness. The inaugural rankings/results were collected independently but the results were first published elsewhere (before we created this site).
We’ve updated these rankings every year since that first summer they were collected. They are current heading into the 2021 regular season and we will continue to update this list following every future NFL season. To football history buffs like us, it’s incredibly interesting to see how this list has evolved, already, after just a few years of existence. NFL history really is a living, breathing thing — this list proves it.
Teams have risen and others have fallen since the inception of this all-time list. The answer today to “Which NFL franchise is the greatest?” has a definitive answer. But that doesn’t mean it will always be that way. In fact, history says it probably won’t.
Here we are introducing you to the NFL’s “DZFRF” or the clunkier DZ-Franchise-Ranking-Formula.
What was the criteria for this ranking? Good question.
The Point Breakdown is as Follows:
Super Bowl Championship (1966-Present): 20 Points
World Championship (1920-1965): 12 Points
Conference Championship (1960-Present): 10 Points
Division Championship: 6 Points
Playoff Appearance: 4 Points
Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee (Main Contribution): 8 Points
AP MVP (1957-Present): 6 Points
AP Offensive POY (1972-Present): 4 Points
AP Defensive POY (1971-Present): 4 Points
This weighted scale accounts for both team and individual success (because a team is ultimately only as good as its players). And although it reaches back to the early days of football it, appropriately, gives much more points to Modern-Era success. There are significantly more points to be awarded in the Modern-Era.
The accomplishments of former AFL teams are accounted for starting with the 1970 Merger (as well as the first four Super Bowls/Conference Championships from 1966-1969 for AFL teams).
This is because we wanted to only give credit to success that, literally, occurred in the NFL. This list isn’t the greatest franchises in football history — just the greatest in the history of the National Football League. But yes, we very much know that AFL teams were around for 10 years before joining the NFL.
For people that claim “This list only favors the older franchises!” Well, yes, somewhat… and that makes sense right? It’s a list about “all-time” NFL greatness. The NFL didn’t begin with the first Super Bowl and accomplishments from before then should not be forgotten.
However, this list doesn’t just favor older franchises. It favors successful franchises. Look at the Detroit Lions (joined the NFL in 1930) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (joined the NFL in 1933). Check out their disparity in points below. I mean, come on.
The Arizona Cardinals are the oldest franchise in the NFL yet they aren’t in the Top 10. They’re not even in the top 20! The Baltimore Ravens are ranked ahead of teams thirty years older than them. The Dallas Cowboys are a relatively young franchise and look how they stack up.
NFL history is not so easily categorized or boxed up.
Some teams have complicated histories, like the Cleveland Browns, for example. Even though their franchise up and moved to Baltimore, they retained their prior history when they came back. Unlike in Houston, where the Oilers became the Tennessee Titans and now the Houston Texans have their own history.
Each circumstance is completely unique, but please know that all instances were carefully considered.
Again, we will update this list at the conclusion of every NFL season. We will do this to visually show how the latest season impacts history and so we can see which franchises rise and which fall on the all-time ranking. History is alive. It breathes. And every year the past ebbs and flows with the present; you just have to look for it. This formula, and subsequent list, lets us view NFL history in realtime.
Hint: On mobile, this ranking reads better when holding your phone horizontally (or landscape).
Here is the official (and current) ranking of NFL franchises in order of overall greatness heading into the 2021 NFL season, after over 100 years of NFL football:
↑ = Moved up in ranking; ↓ = Moved down in ranking; as a result of the 2018 NFL season. The “X points gained” refers to how many points each franchise added from the previous season.
Behold, the NFL’s all-time Top 10 franchises:
1. Green Bay Packers: 802 Points (16 points gained)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers: 706 Points (26 points gained)
3. New York Giants: 658 Points (0 points gained)
4. Chicago Bears: 640 Points (4 points gained)
5. Dallas Cowboys: 634 Points (8 points gained)
6. San Francisco 49ers: 584 Points (0 points gained)
7. Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts: 542 Points (12 points gained)
8. (TIE) New England Patriots: 524 Points (0 points gained)
8. (TIE) CLE/LA/STL/Los Angeles Rams: 524 Points (8 points gained; rose one spot)↑
10. Boston/Washington Football Team: 510 Points (10 points gained)
The all-time middle-of-the-pack franchises:
11. Minnesota Vikings: 444 Points (0 points gained)
12. Cleveland Browns: 442 Points (4 points gained)
13. OAK/LA/OAK/Las Vegas Raiders: 436 Points (16 points gained)
14. Denver Broncos: 406 Points (0 points gained)
15. Philadelphia Eagles: 400 Points (0 points gained)
16. Miami Dolphins: 362 Points (0 points gained)
17. Kansas City Chiefs: 342 Points (20 points gained; rose one spot)↑
18. Detroit Lions: 330 Points (8 points gained; fell one spot)↓
19. Buffalo Bills: 264 Points (10 points gained)
20. Seattle Seahawks: 242 Points (10 points gained)
The all-time bottom feeder franchises (and, obviously, young franchises):
21. HOU Oilers/Tennessee Titans: 230 Points (14 points gained)
22. (TIE) CHI/STL/PHO/Arizona Cardinals: 212 Points (0 points gained)
22. (TIE) San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers: 212 Points (0 points gained)
24. Baltimore Ravens: 198 Points (4 points gained)
25. New Orleans Saints: 188 (10 points gained)
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 184 Points (42 points gained; rose two spots)↑
27. Cincinnati Bengals: 154 Points (0 points gained; fell one spot)↓
28. New York Jets: 146 Points (0 points gained; fell one spot)↓
29. Atlanta Falcons: 138 Points (0 points gained)
30. Carolina Panthers: 102 Points (0 points gained)
31. Houston Texans: 62 Points (0 points gained)
32. Jacksonville Jaguars: 46 Points (0 points gained)
After over 100 years of NFL football, this is how every franchise shakes out in terms of total history when compared to each other.
If you root for a top 10 team all-time, you are truly blessed.
If your favorite team is ranked 21-32 and isn’t a young franchise, such as less than 40 years old… you root for a bottom feeder. Sorry. But that’s okay, at least you have an NFL team to root for on Sundays. Most of human history didn’t have that luxury!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, obviously, added a plethora of points to their all-time ranking as a result of the 2020 NFL season. They jumped up two spots and now only trail the New Orleans Saints by 4 points for the highest ranking in NFC South history.
The Green Bay Packers broke through the 800 point plateau, the first franchise to accomplish that. And this is with giving Charles Woodson’s Pro Football Hall of Fame distinction solely to the Raiders. Unlike with Reggie White where The Hall gave dual-designation to the Eagles and Packers, Woodson is (for whatever reason) listed only as a Raider. If that changes, we’ll update this and the Packers will get more points. But until then, so it goes.
The Pittsburgh Steelers became just the second NFL franchise to hit the 700 point mark. The Steelers and Packers really have separated themselves as the two most historic franchises in NFL history. Remember the Packers and New York Giants were the top two teams on this list when it was created following the 2013 season. The Steelers being No. 2 feels better and more accurate.
The Chicago Bears are in grave danger of being passed by the Dallas Cowboys, losing their top four spot in NFL history. The 2021 season could be the year that the ‘Boys pass the Bears on this all-time ranking.
There are currently two ties on the all-time ranking: Patriots/Rams at 8th and Cardinals/Chargers at 22nd.
The Kansas City Chiefs have passed the Detroit Lions on the all-time ranking, which seems about right. It was a long time coming, but the Chiefs will likely continue to rise this list quickly over the next decade.
The six lowest ranked NFL franchises on this all-time countdown combined for zero points in 2020. The poor get poorer when it comes to NFL history unfolding in real time.
The Miami Dolphins continue their stagnant standing on this list. They’ll continue to fall, it seems. The San Francisco 49ers used their trip to the big game to add a substantial amount of points, they’re gunning for the Cowboys and a top five spot all-time in NFL history.
The Cleveland Browns rank much higher than most people would assume, but their history is actually quite plentiful. These are facts, people. Many would probably also assume that the Miami Dolphins would have been ranked higher than they are, but their glory years could only carry them so far. Maybe if Dan Marino had delivered a ring or two… but I digress.
These are the types of misconceptions we were seeking to enlighten NFL fans about.
People’s perceptions are often incorrect. It’s cool to see NFL history laid out in an unbiased way. This way thoughtful conversations can be had without the passions of fandom clouding people’s judgements.
What this ranking shows us is that the NFL Franchise Mount Rushmore (after over 100 years of the league’s existence) is as follows:
Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants and the Chicago Bears.
These four franchises are closely followed by the Cowboys, 49ers, Colts and Patriots. Is there anyone on earth that would disagree that these are the eight most historic franchises in NFL history? I don’t think so. So, obviously there’s a lot of meat on this bone.
Looking at how some teams have fared since the initial list:
From the inaugural ranking (created following the 2013 season) the Patriots have climbed the most, from 14th to 8th place. The Dolphins have fallen the furthest, from 13th to 16th. The Seahawks have risen from 23rd to 20th. The Bears were the only team still in the top-10 that hadn’t gained a single point since this ranking was first created — but they finally gained 8 points heading into the 2018 season and have since added a few more points.
Since the first ranking, the Cowboys have joined the elite “600 point club” and the Colts, Patriots, Rams and Washington have joined the “500 point club”, while the Packers and Steelers are now the only franchises with more than 700 points. The Packers have added 88 since the first ranking. However the Patriots have added the most points since the first ranking, with an incredible 160 points gained in just five seasons. For reference, the New York Jets, who’ve been in the NFL since 1970, have just 146 points in their entire NFL existence!
Lets say that again. With this ranking, the Patriots have had more overall franchise success in the last five years than the Jets have had in their entire history in the NFL.
To see exactly how the teams were ranked the first time this list was ever completed (following the 2013 season) go on to Page 2!
There you can see which teams rose and which teams fell as last few seasons have unfolded. Spoiler Alert: There has been a lot of movement on this list. It’s incredibly interesting to watch NFL history unfold via modern success and failure.
Thank you, NFL history buff, for spending this time with us. Won’t it be fun to check this list right after the 2021 NFL season to see how the ranking is shaken up? We cannot wait.
NFL history is just awesome, isn’t it?
To see how the list has evolved check out the next seven pages in chronological order!