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By Jay Clemons, SI.com

I've had this list running through my head for about 10 years. And now, it's finally (and figuratively) on paper: The 13 Best Teams in the Super Bowl Era to NOT Win a Championship!

Why 13 teams, and not the more conventional 10, you ask? Well, I identified 28 amazing teams at the beginning of my research and proceeded to cut the group in half -- 13 clubs, and one special honorable mention. Plus, I'm a sucker for noted humanitarians like Troy Aikman, Merlin Olsen and, ahem, Terrell Owens. Ha!

And before any New York fans can rattle off the following email ... Yes, the 18-0 Patriots of 2007 will be thrust onto this list -- SHOULD the Giants pull off the historic upset at Super Bowl XLII. (But I'm not holding my breath on that one.)

13. 2004 Philadelphia Eagles
Record: 13-3
Home: 7-1
Away: 6-2
Point Differential: +7.9
Turnover Margin: +6
Regular Season Wins of 10 points or more: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 2-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 1
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost in Super Bowl

OVERVIEW: OK, the '04 Eagles played in a haggard NFC East that season. And the club's point-differential marks and turnover rating didn't exactly set the world on fire. But there's no disputing how dominant McNabb and Co. were when Terrell Owens was in the lineup -- try 13-1 in T.O. starts, before the enigmatic receiver suffered a leg injury that curtailed his regular season. Of course, everyone remembers T.O.'s triumphant return in Super Bowl XXXIX, where he hauled in nine catches for 122 yards and almost led the Eagles to a win over the Patriots.

12. 1967 Los Angeles Rams
Record: 11-1-2
Home: 5-1-1
Away: 6-0-1
Point Differential: +14.4
Turnover Margin: +16
Regular Season Wins of 10 points or more: 10 (11th win vs. Green Bay )
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 2-0
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 4
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost to Super Bowl champs (Packers)

OVERVIEW: The 1967 Rams, led by QB Roman Gabriel on offense and the Fearsome Foursome (featuring Lamar Lundy, Roger Brown and Hall of Famers Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones) on defense, essentially had a flawless regular season -- 10 wins of 10 points or more and then beating the eventual-champion Packers, plus impressive point-differential and turnover margins. In fact, if the Rams hadn't been bedazzled by the Packers in the NFL semifinals (losing 28-7 at Green Bay ), their place in this countdown may have been more favorable.

11. 1994 Dallas Cowboys
Record: 12-4
Home: 6-2
Away: 6-2
Point Differential: +10.4
Turnover Margin: +7
Regular Season Wins of 10 points or more: 8
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 2-3
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost to Super Bowl champs (49ers)

OVERVIEW: The 1994 Cowboys were just as solid as the '92 and '93 teams that won Super Bowl titles -- with one notable exception, the absence of head coach Jimmy Johnson, who was summarily fired by owner Jerry Jones before the '94 draft and replaced by the less-personnel-savvy Barry Switzer. For the year, Dallas opened up with six straight wins (on the way to a 12-4 record) and lost to a better team in the NFC championship (the 49ers). Only a 2-3 record against playoff teams in the regular season can justify the Cowboys' low spot on this list.

10. 2005 Indianapolis Colts
Record: 14-2
Home: 7-1
Away: 7-1
Point Differential: +12
Turnover Margin: +12
Regular Season Wins of 10 points or more: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 5-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost to Super Bowl champs (Steelers)

OVERVIEW: Sure, the Colts captured a Super Bowl crown one year later. But the 2005 club, in my opinion, stands out as Indy's best team of the Peyton Manning era -- and it's not really close. Indy opened that regular season with 12 straight wins, posted a 5-1 mark against playoff teams, tallied nine blowout victories and had a symmetrical bonanza in point differential and turnover margin. 

9. 1979 San Diego Chargers
Record: 12-4
Home: 7-1
Away: 5-3
Point Differential: +10.3
Turnover Margin: +11
Regular Season Wins of 10 points or more: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 3-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 5
Playoff Extra Credit: None

OVERVIEW: With Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner and John Jefferson executing the high-powered "Air Coryell" offense, the 1979 Chargers are possibly the hippest team of this countdown. But this club also had substance -- notching nine blowout wins, scoring at least 26 points in 10 games and posting a plus-11 turnover margin. Oh, and did I mention that San Diego whipped that year's Super Bowl combatants -- the Steelers and Rams -- by a combined score of 75-23 during the regular season? Of course, it's fair to wonder, how did San Diego fall at home to Houston in the divisional playoff round? Try as they might, Chargers fans cannot blame that particular failure on Marty Schottenheimer, a then-unknown linebackers coach with the Detroit Lions.

8. 1998 Atlanta Falcons
Record: 14-2
Home: 8-0
Away: 6-2
Point Differential: +8.6
Turnover Margin: +20
Regular Season Wins of 10 points or more: 8
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 2-2
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost in Super Bowl

OVERVIEW: Before conducting the research, I never would have considered the '98 Falcons for this countdown (and especially not this high). But the numbers don't lie about the Dirty Birds: They defended their home turf with a perfect 8-0 mark in the regular season, tallied a monster turnover margin (second only to the '83 Redskins on this list), posted eight blowout wins and topped all comers in a highly competitive NFC West that year. Throw in a shocking upset of the Vikings in the NFC title game and a respectable loss to John Elway's greatest Broncos team in the Super Bowl ... and you have one of NFL history's most underappreciated teams.

7. 1990 Buffalo Bills
Record: 13-3
Home: 8-0
Away: 5-3
Point Differential: +10
Turnover Margin: +14
Regular Season Wins of 10 points or more: 9
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 4-2
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost in Super Bowl

OVERVIEW: Before the Bills of the 1990s became post-Super Bowl fodder for late-night talk show hosts, Buffalo actually ruled the AFC by fear ... and a devastating quick-strike offense that had no peer. Led by Hall of Famers QB Jim Kelly, RB Thurman Thomas and future Canton inductee Bruce Smith, the '90 Bills enjoyed a problem-free run to the AFC championship, where they blitzed the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3 and then entered Super Bowl XXVII as 7-point favorites over the Giants. But fate, or luck, wasn't on the team's side in Tampa, as kicker Scott Norwood's game-winning FG attempt from 47 yards veered wide right. On that January 1991 night, who could've possibly known the Bills would be so overmatched in the next three Super Bowls? That unfortunate stigma may hang over the franchise, as a whole -- but not in this countdown.

6. 1992 San Francisco 49ers
Record: 14-2
Home: 7-1
Away: 7-1
Point Differential: +10.4
Turnover Margin: +7
Regular Season Wins of 10 points or more: 8
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 5-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost to Super Bowl champs (Cowboys)

OVERVIEW: What can we say about the '92 49ers, led by QB Steve Young and coach George Seifert? They were as dynamic as the dynastic 49ers of the 1980s, led by Joe Montana (who was injured for most of the '92 season, his last in SanFran) and coach Bill Walsh. Looking at the numbers, they had strong marks in point differential and turnover margin. They also went 5-1 against playoff teams, had eight blowout wins and eight straight victories to close-out the regular season. The only failing, for lack of a better term, was the home loss to the eventual-champion Cowboys in the NFC title game.

5. 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers
Record: 15-1
Home: 8-0
Away: 7-1
Point Differential: +7.6
Turnover Margin: +11
Regular Season Wins of 10 points or more: 8
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 3-0
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost to Super Bowl champs (Patriots)

OVERVIEW: There have been only four 15-1 teams in the NFL since the league expanded the regular season to 16 games in 1978. So, the following statement shouldn't be constituted as a slap in the face to the Steel City faithful: The '04 Steelers are the worst 15-win team of the bunch. With that said, there aren't enough superlatives to describe the balance between the Pittsburgh defense, ranked No. 1 in scoring that season, and the offense helmed by rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger. Following a Week 2 defeat to Baltimore, Big Ben and Co. ripped off 14 straight victories to finish the regular season. The Steelers were similarly stellar in three telling areas: Turnover margin, blowout wins and 3-0 against playoff teams. And just like the '79 Chargers, Pittsburgh posted easy regular-season wins against the future Super Bowl combatants -- New England and Philadelphia (and in back-to-back weeks).

4. 1984 Miami Dolphins
Record: 14-2
Home: 7-1
Away: 7-1
Point Differential: +13.4
Turnover Margin: +8
Regular Season Wins of 10 points or more: 10
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 1
Record vs. playoff teams: 2-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 2
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost in Super Bowl

OVERVIEW: The 1982 Dolphins reached Super Bowl XVII on the strength of a dominating defense, affectionately dubbed "The Killer B's." But when Miami reached the Big Game two years later, the team had seamlessly morphed into an offensive machine, coinciding with the emergence of wide receivers Mark Duper and Mark Clayton and Dan Marino, who would set the league on fire with 48 TD passes in 1984 (a record that stood for 20 years). With Marino (the fifth and final QB taken in Round 1 of the famous 1983 draft) leading the charge, the '84 Fins were virtually unstoppable, notching 10 blowout victories and a two-TD point differential. For a while that year, it seemed Danny Boy could do no wrong ... until the Dolphins were throttled by the 17-1 49ers in Super Bowl XIX and before Marino committed the forgettable sin of doing a post-game Diet Pepsi commercial with Joe Montana.

3. 1968 Baltimore Colts
Record: 13-1
Home: 6-1
Away: 7-0
Point Differential: +18.4
Turnover Margin: +7
Regular Season Wins of 10 points or more: 11
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 1-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 4
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost in Super Bowl

OVERVIEW: The 1968 Colts are the greatest sacrificial lambs of NFL history. If this truly dominant club beats Joe Namath and the heavy-underdog Jets of the American Football League in Super Bowl III, can you imagine the Butterfly Effect from such an event? Like ...

1) The AFL never earns the pre-merger respect of the NFL;
2) Coach Don Shula never leaves Baltimore for the fresh-off-expansion Miami Dolphins in the early 70s;
3) Namath never gets the chance to visit Bobby Brady, on his phony death bed, in a campy, but memorable episode of TV's "The Brady Bunch" in the early 70s; 
4) And, even worse, Namath never signs a landmark deal to endorse pantyhose for Beauty Mist in the mid-70s. (URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23dBG27gnuU)

 

All kidding aside, the Jets' monumental shocker over the Colts is still hard to comprehend today, given Baltimore's supreme point differential for the season and 12 blowout victories -- including a 34-0 road thumping of Cleveland in the NFL title game. But then again, for the league's sake, I'm glad the Upset of the Century actually happened.

2. 1998 Minnesota Vikings
Record: 15-1
Home: 8-0
Away: 7-1
Point Differential: +16.2
Turnover Margin: +14
Regular Season Wins of 10 points or more: 12
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 3-0
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: None

OVERVIEW: The 2005 Oakland Raiders may disagree with this premise, but Randy Moss is likely the greatest first-impression player in NFL history. He's obviously had an amazing impact with this year's Patriots, totaling 98 catches for an NFL-record 23 TDs on a team that's primed for a perfect 19-0 season. But his first year with the '98 Vikings was also one of unparalleled success, reeling in 69 catches for 1,313 yards and a rookie-best 17 TDs. The '98 Vikings were a viable powerhouse in that 15-1 season, amassing 556 points (an NFL record before this year's Pats), registering 12 blowout wins and dismantling the opposition by a surreal 16.2 points per game. Perhaps more impressive, the offense didn't really click on all cylinders until after QB Randall Cunningham took over in Week 3 (due to a Brad Johnson injury). Of course, the Vikings' championship dreams were crushed unceremoniously by the Falcons in the NFC title game -- preventing the most-hyped Super Bowl of all time, pitting Moss, Robert Smith and Cris Carter against John Elway, Terrell Davis and Shannon Sharpe. But pound for pound, for the sake of this countdown, the '98 Vikings still have no peer ... except one.

1. 1983 Washington Redskins
Record: 14-2
Home: 7-1
Away: 7-1
Point Differential: +13.1
Turnover Margin: +43
Regular Season Wins of 10 points or more: 11
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Record vs. playoff teams: 5-1
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 3
Playoff Extra Credit: Lost in Super Bowl

OVERVIEW: Forget the near-meltdown vs. the 49ers in the NFC title game. Forget the team's futile showing against the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII (losing 38-9). From a regular-season perspective, the '83 Redskins trump all comers in this countdown -- even the go-for-broke Vikings of 1998. Looking at the numbers, Minnesota had a better overall record, more points scored and one more blowout victory. But the Redskins, led by Joe Theismann, John Riggins, Art Monk, Darrell Green and coach Joe Gibbs, prevailed in the end, thanks to an otherworldly turnover differential and actual Super Bowl berth. Talk about a close call!

**SPECIAL HONORABLE MENTION**
1967 Baltimore Colts
Record: 11-1-2
Home: 5-1-1
Away: 6-0-1
Point Differential: +14
Turnover Margin: +15
Regular Season Wins of 10 points or more: 7
Losses to sub-.500 teams: 0
Strength of division (minimum to maximum scale of 1 to 5): 4
Playoff Extra Credit: None

OVERVIEW: I was all set to include the '67 Colts into the Final 13 -- even though they're the only team mentioned here that didn't make the playoffs. But I recently finished reading, "Instant Replay," the seminal book co-written by the late-and-great Dick Schaap, depicting the daily life and times of Green Bay great Jerry Kramer during the Packers' title-winning season of 1967. In the book, Kramer respects the Johnny Unitas-led Colts, of course; but he hardly views the Horseshoes as a great team. (Ironically, Baltimore defeated Green Bay during the regular season.) Still, the 1967 Colts did not lose a regular-season game until the season finale -- a 34-10 loss to the Rams that decided the NFL's Coastal Division title and sealed the Colts' fate as probably the greatest team in the Super Bowl era to NOT make the postseason.

The Best of the Rest
*1969 Minnesota Vikings
*1970 Minnesota Vikings
*1975 Minnesota Vikings
*1978 Dallas Cowboys
*1986 Chicago Bears
*1987 San Francisco 49ers
*1990 San Francisco 49ers
*1996 Denver Broncos
*1997 Green Bay Packers
*1999 Jacksonville Jaguars
*2000 Tennessee Titans
*2001 St. Louis Rams
*2002 Philadelphia Eagles
*2006 San Diego Chargers
(Disclaimer: This writer's sometimes-confounding viewpoints do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sports Illustrated, SI.com or any other Time, Inc. property. This blog is merely a personal diary of the sporting universe.)
 
December 24, 2012  04:12 PM ET

The 1969 Viking team is considered their best ever. As a matter of fact, based on their defense which had the best 3 year run any defense has ever had, I'd put the 69, 70, and 71 squads on the list easily.

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