WhatIfSports Duel to the Death: The Greatest of All Time (NFC)

In keeping with my vow from yesterday to ignore unnecessary Super Bowl hype until at least next week, today’s post introduces a concept first suggested by Lucas, who has wound up running a simulated NCAA football playoff through WhatIfSports each of the past two years. Lucas’ suggestion to myself was simple: why not run a similar tournament involving the best edition of each of the NFL’s 32 teams? As a fellow lover of hypothetical games that could never actually happen in real life, I found this idea to be stupendous but decided that a mere single-elimination tournament was setting the bar too low.

That’s right: we’re going to simulate an entire season of the greatest NFL teams of all time going head-to-head and, if we don’t come to the realization that this was a horrible and not-well-thought-out-at-all plan by Week 8, will continue all the way through the most super of all Super Bowls. Today, I’ll start by introducing my choices as each NFC team’s representative; the AFC teams will follow tomorrow.

Some basic guidelines I kinda, sorta followed when making my selections:

  • No teams prior to the NFL/AAFC merger in 1950. The game was just too different prior to that point to be able to make any cross-generational comparisons. Sorry, 1949 Eagles!
  • No one-year wonders. Each representative team should be a part of a larger run of success in that franchise’s history and ideally would come from the “signature” period of their franchise’s history, though that is not always possible.
  • Super Bowl winners get prioritized over all other teams, with one big exception we’ll get to tomorrow. For franchises that have never won a Super Bowl…well, it doesn’t really matter since they’re probably going to get pummeled in these simulations, so my choices for those teams were quite a bit more willy-nilly.
  • Finally, if I had trouble deciding between two teams, I erred on the side of which squad had higher profile players. Sorry, 1969 Vikings and 1984 49ers!

Alright, let’s light this candle…

NFC West

Record: 9-7 (won NFC West)
Playoffs: lost in Super Bowl to Pittsburgh
Coach: Ken Whisenhunt
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 32-32 (2006-2009)
Notable Players: QB Kurt Warner, WR Larry Fitzgerald, WR Anquan Boldin, S Adrian Wilson

Comment: Blech. Who do you pick as the “greatest” team from the most ignominous franchise in the league? Their last championship team isn’t even eligible for this exercise, since they won in 1948. The greatest string of success they enjoyed was probably the mid-’70s period where Don Coryell was their coach and Jim Hart was their quarterback and they won a few division titles but no playoff games. In other words, whoever winds up representing this franchise is going to wind up getting killed. So why not choose the 2008 Cardinals as the proverbial lamb being led out to the slaughter? If they’re going to finish 3-13, at least they’ll get to have Kurt Warner throwing to Larry Fitzgerald while doing it!

Record: 14-2 (won NFC West)
Playoffs: Won Super Bowl against Denver
Coach: George Seifert
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 52-12 (1989-1992)
Notable Players: QB Joe Montana, WR Jerry Rice, S Ronnie Lott, RB Roger Craig, LB Charles Haley, WR John Taylor

Comment: There’s a pretty fierce debate about which of the ’80 49ers teams were best: the ’84 team or the ’89 team. Statistically, they’re pretty even, but I’ll choose the ’89 team for the following reasons. First, Jerry Rice. Second, Joe Montana had probably his best season and if he got hurt in a simulated game, Steve Young’s always there to back him up. And third, Jerry Rice again.

Record: 13-3 (won NFC West)
Playoffs: Lost Super Bowl to Pittsburgh
Coach: Mike Holmgren
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 41-23 (2003-2006)
Notable Players: RB Shaun Alexander, T Walter Jones, QB Matt Hasselbeck, LB Lofa Tatupu

Comment: The Chuck Knox-coached Seahawks of the mid-’80s had some entertaining teams with Dave Krieg at quarterback, Curt Warner at running back, and Kenny Easley at safety. Ultimately, though, the Holmgren-led teams of the mid-2000s enjoyed the greatest string of success in club history. And given the edition of the Rams I’m picking, I don’t think we would be able to handle a division with three different K(C)urt Warners.

Record: 13-3 (won NFC West)
Playoffs: Won Super Bowl against Tennessee
Coach: Dick Vermeil
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 44-20 (1999-2002)
Notable Players: RB Marshall Faulk, QB Kurt Warner, WR Isaac Bruce, WR Torry Holt, T Orlando Pace, DE Kevin Carter

Comment: The 2001 team was probably a little better even if they gagged the Super Bowl and there’s a whole slew of L.A. Rams teams from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s who probably deserve inclusion as well. On the other hand, screw ’em: this was one of the most entertaining teams of all time and Mike Martz’s craziness was at least slightly tempered by Dick Vermeil’s penchant for crying. The ’89 49ers are obviously the favorites for this division, but the Rams have a puncher’s chance.

NFC South

Record: 13-3 (won NFC South)
Playoffs: lost NFC Championship to San Francisco
Coach: Mike Smith
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 45-19 (2009-2012)
Notable Players: QB Matt Ryan, WR Roddy White, DE John Abraham, CB Asante Samuel, WR Julio Jones

Comment: Are you aware that the Falcons are currently in the midst of their greatest period of sustained success in team history? It’s kinda sad yet true! The ’98 team that went to the Super Bowl is almost certainly the best single-season team in franchise history, but went 16-32 in the three years sandwiching around that. They were a bigger fluke than Mark Fidyrich in 1976. So, I’m left no choice but to go with…Matt Ryan?!?! GAHHH THEY NEVER TELL YOU THE CHOICES WILL BE SO HARD!

Record: 11-5 (Wild-Card Recipient)
Playoffs: lost NFC Championship to Seattle
Coach: John Fox
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 38-26 (2005-2008)
Notable Players: WR Steve Smith, DE Julius Peppers, QB Jake Delhomme

Comment: The 2003 team made the Super Bowl and nearly beat the Patriots but were wholly unremarkable during the regular season. The 2008 team was probably the best in franchise history during the regular season, but then the Cardinals game and six Jake Delhomme turnovers happened. So almost by default, we’re left with the 2005 team that had Steve Smith terrorizing defensive backs all around the league, a young Julius Peppers doing young Julius Peppers things, and not a whole lot else. STRONG CONTENDER RIGHT HERE.

Record: 13-3 (won NFC South)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Indianapolis
Coach: Sean Payton
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 45-19 (2008-2011)
Notable Players: QB Drew Brees, G Jahri Evans, S Darren Sharper, WR Marques Colston, G Carl Nicks

Comment: Probably the easiest choice on the board. No word on whether simulated Gregg Williams will put out bounties on Joe Montana or not.

Record: 12-4 (won NFC South)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Oakland
Coach: Jon Gruden
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 42-22 (1999-2002)
Notable Players: DT Warren Sapp, LB Derrick Brooks, CB Ronde Barber, DE Simeon Rice, S John Lynch, WR Keyshawn Johnson

Comment: Another obvious choice that gets even better if you imagine 2013 Jon Gruden announcing some of their games. “This 2002 Jon Gruden, I call him 2004 Lindsay Lohan because he had all the talent in the world but had no idea of the challenges that lay ahead and was completely out of the game in seven years. *raises right hand slightly* I like ‘im.”

NFC North

Record: 15-1 (won NFC Central)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against New England
Coach: Mike Ditka
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 50-13 (1984-1987)
Notable Players: RB Walter Payton, LB Mike Singletary, DE/DT Dan Hampton, DE Richard Dent, DT Steve McMichael, LB Wilber Marshall, LB Otis Wilson

Comment: HOLY CRAP IS THIS DIVISION LOADED. The NFC West was pretty rugged this year, but it looks like the Western Athletic Conference by comparison to this monster. This is arguably the greatest single-season team of all-time…and they’re no sure bet to make the playoffs. Calling this the deadliest division right now.

Record: 9-3 (won NFL National Division)
Playoffs: won NFL Championship against Cleveland
Coach: Buddy Parker
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 35-11-2 (1951-1954)
Notable Players: QB Bobby Layne, HB Bob Hoernschemeyer, HB Doak Walker, S Jack Christiansen, CB Yale Lary

Comment: Thank God for the Lions’ sake I didn’t make the cutoff date 1960. They might have been forced to trot out a team with Scott Mitchell as their quarterback.

Record: 13-1 (won NFL Western Division)
Playoffs: won NFL Championship against NY Giants
Coach: Vince Lombardi
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 43-10-1 (1960-1963)
Notable Players: QB Bart Starr, RB Jim Taylor, RB Paul Hornung, CB Herb Adderley, DT Henry Jordan, DE Willie Davis, S Willie Wood, LB Ray Nitschke

Comment: No offense to John Madden (“Where’s BRETT FAVRE BRETT FAVRE BRETT FAVRE BRETT FAVRE BRETT FAVRE? BRETT FAVRE.”), but the ’60s Packers were the quintessential dynasty in league history and the ’62 team was the best of all of them. My personal choice for greatest team of all time.

Record: 12-2 (won NFC Central Division)
Playoffs: lost Super Bowl to Miami
Coach: Bud Grant
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 45-10-1 (1973-1976)
Notable Players: DT Alan Page, QB Fran Tarkenton, DE Carl Eller, S Paul Krause, DE Jim Marshall, RB Chuck Foreman

Comment: I am fairly confident the 1969 version of the Vikings was the best of all time (seriously, DAT DEFENSE), but having a Vikings participant in this simulation without Fran Tarkenton at quarterback just feels dirty and wrong. So instead of having a team with average offense and HOLY FREAKING CRAP I AM CRAPPING MY PANTS RIGHT NOW defense, we’ll just choose a team that has a very good offense and a very good defense. Seems much more reasonable.

NFC East

Record: 13-3 (won NFC East)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Buffalo
Coach: Jimmy Johnson
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 49-15 (1992-1995)
Notable Players: RB Emmitt Smith, WR Michael Irvin, QB Troy Aikman, DE Charles Haley, G Nate Newton, TE Jay Novacek

Comment: really wanted to choose one of the Landry-Staubach teams from the ’70s, but the Cowboys’ unquestioned best four year-stretch was 1992-1995. On the bright side, I’m sure simulation Jerry Jones picks his nose and adjusts his junk on camera just as often as real-life Jerry Jones does.

Record: 14-2 (won NFC East)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Denver
Coach: Bill Parcells
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 42-21 (1986-1989)
Notable Players: LB Lawrence Taylor, LB Harry Carson, DE Leonard Marshall, RB Joe Morris, TE Mark Bavaro, DT Jim Burt

Comment: Interesting question for the simulation: will opposing offensive linemen from teams that competed pre-1980 take one look at LT lining up across from them and scream OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT???? and then run away and cower with fear? We can only hope.

Record: 10-2 (won NFL East)
Playoffs: won NFL Championship against Green Bay
Coach: Buck Shaw
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 30-21-1 (1946-1949)
Notable Players: QB Norm Van Brocklin, WR Tommy McDonald, C/LB Chuck Bednarik, WR Pete Retzlaff, CB Tom Brookshier, DE Marion Campbell

Comment: Tough, tough choice. Because, if we’re being honest, the best run in modern Eagles history was probably 2001-04, but who wants Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb going up against the ’92 Cowboys and ’86 Giants? The Vermeil-led Eagles of the late ’70 and early ’80s also would make a fine choice, but they didn’t win a Super Bowl. So we’re going to choose a compromise candidate and watch as Philly fans proceed to boo Norm Van Brocklin and tell him about the unfavorable odor his mother emits.

Record: 14-2 (won NFC East)
Playoffs: won Super Bowl against Buffalo
Coach: Joe Gibbs
Surrounding Four-Year Record: 43-21 (1989-1992)
Notable Players: CB Darrell Green, WR Art Monk, T Joe Jacoby, T Jeff Lachey, DE Charles Mann, WR Gary Clark, QB Mark Rypien

Comment: Okay, this was kind of a fluke team – I mean, Mark Rypien was the highest rated quarterback in the league, for crying out loud – but holy crap were they a great fluke team. Their two losses came by a combined five points and they won their three postseason games by a combined score of 102-41. NOT BAD.

Tomorrow, the AFC participants…

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2 thoughts on “WhatIfSports Duel to the Death: The Greatest of All Time (NFC)

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