With still no real football news to report on (no, Adam 'Pacman' Jones getting ticketed once again does not constitute as news in my book), it's time for some more arbitrary lists. This time compliments of yours truly.
The topic? The Top 5 franchises of the past decade. It's late and I'm tired, so I haven't compiled win-loss records for every team since '97, but I really want to get this post up so we can talk about it. Due to my lack of extensive research, there may be some serious flaws in my reasoning, so fire away at me if you disagree. Without further adieu:
1) New England Patriots
It pains me to say it, because I'm really sick of Bellicheck's smug ass getting heaped with praise, but New England has to be considered the most successful franchise of the past decade. The last few years of the '90s were forgettable with Pete Carroll at the helm, and Bellicheck's first year in 2000 wasn't much better. Enter Tom Brady in 2001 and the rest is history. 3 Super Bowls in the last 5 years, with an AFC Championship game appearance in one of their non-title winning seasons. Still, let's not forget that the Patriots won all 3 Super Bowl contests by a FG. A couple different breaks or bounces and we're perhaps talking about them as the Buffallo Bills of the 2000s. They converted and all three late opportunities in 2001, 2003, and 2004, and for that, they've got to be labeled as the most successful organization in the NFL the past ten years.
2) Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles, like the Patriots, had a rough stretch of seasons to round out the 20th century. In 2000, second-year head coach and second-year QB Donovan McNabb embarked on a stretch of dominance in the NFC that is sure to be forgotten because of their inability to close the deal and win the Big One. It's sad because the first 6 years of this decade (excluding the 6-10 T.O/McNabb feud season of 2005) were remarkably impressive and consistent. Four straight NFC Championship Game appearances from 2001-2004, with a Super Bowl appearance in 2004--not bad. After one sub-par year in 2005, the Eagles bounced back last year, returning to the playoffs and winning a game despite not having their starting QB for the last quarter of the season. Andy Reid can flat out coach, and so long as he's in town, the Eagles are sure to stay at or near the top of the NFC East.
Too bad we had the Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox experiments sprinkled in our history for the past 15 years, otherwise we might have been even more successful, but the bottom line is still that the Steelers have been extremely productive for the past ten years. The Steelers managed to post a 11-5 mark in '97, but bowed out of the playoffs against the Broncos in the divisional round as Kordell was seemingly playing with a blindfold on. After the meltdown, he was never the same, losing a combined 26 games over the course of the next 3 seasons. In 2001, the Steelers went to the AFC Championship Game, in 2002, we might have gone even further had the refs not been paid off by someone in the Titans upper-management. A 'roughing the kicker' call that late in a playoff game????? Are you fuc&*%g kidding me???? What made it worse was that POS basically admitted to flopping afterwards. Our Super Bowl triumph in 2005 helped me erase that memory but boy was that hard to swallow at the time. After the crushing 'defeat' in 2002, we sleepwalked through 2003, finishing with just a 6-10 record and missing the playoffs. Big Ben took over for the likeable but unskilled Maddox in 2004 and changed the face of the franchise for what I hope is a long time. Big Ben won his first 15 starts as a professional QB and led the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game. Unfortunately the defense got torched by Tom Brady & Co. We all know what happened in 2005. The Steelers haven't been the most consistent team the past ten years, but 3 AFC Championship game appearances, a Super Bowl victory, and two other divisional game appearances warrant their placement in the Top 5.
In all honesty, the Broncos might deserve to be ahead of the Steelers and perhaps even the Eagles for their astounding consistency the past ten years. Whatever though, I hate the Broncos. Also, since the '97 and '98 Super Bowl winning seasons (which technically constitute the first two years of the past decade), the Broncos haven't done much in the playoffs. Winning in the playoffs takes a little luck though. Winning each year during the regular season is no fluke. In fact, the Broncos haven't had a losing record since '99. They didn't make it out of the Wild Card Round though in any of those years except in 2005 when the Steelers jumped out to an early lead that we never surrendered. Still, as much as I dislike Mike Shanahan, you have to give him credit for the success he's had in the Mile High City.
Peyton Manning has obviously had plenty of success with the Colts since being drafted #1 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft. After struggling his first year, he and Edgerrin James had the Indy offense off and running by 1999. Early exits from the '99 and '00 playoffs, and missing the playoffs altogether in '01 keep them from being in the same category as the Eagles and certainly the Patriots. Still, it was obvious to most NFL observers that it was just a matter of time before Manning was able to break through and help lead his team to a championship. Then again, after his meltdowns in '03, '04 and '05 (the sweetest of them all), maybe it wasn't so clear-cut that he would ever elevate his game to another level when the stakes were the highest. The Colts finally broke through in '06, largely due to their defense in the playoffs, which had been hot topic of conversation for its abysmal performance heading into the post-season. The Colts certainly have a shot at going on a dynastic run for the next half decade, especially if Manning and Dungy remain in Indianapolis for the forseeable future.