Recurring trends in NFL dynasties

Posted: July 2, 2013 in Football, New entries
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Qualities of an NFL dynasty

The Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys. These teams come to mind when someone mentions the phrase: “NFL dynasty,” a franchise that repeatedly wins NFL championships in a short period of time. These teams during their dynasty period exhibited similar qualities that propelled them to championships. Here are some qualities that I feel significantly boost a franchises’ likelihood of becoming a repeat champion over a short period of time.

A patient leader

Franchises that win multiple championships in a short period of time do so with stability at the head coaching position for a reason. Bill Belichick led the 2001-2004 New England Patriots to three super bowl wins in four years’ time. Belichick has built a reputation on discipline, an ‘us against the world’ team mentality, and situational game-planning. Chuck Noll, head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1969 – 1991, led the Steelers to four super bowl wins between 1975 – 1980. Coach Noll led his team to multiple championships in part due to his development of a stout defense (nicknamed the steel curtain), drafting highly talented players, and emphasizing player fundamentals. Bill Walsh, former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, led his team to super bowl wins in 1981, 1984, and 1988. Walsh was instrumental to his teams’ success for instituting the west coast offense an offensive philosophy that emphasizes the short pass. Clearly stable and talented coaching is instrumental to forming a football club that can compete year after year at a high level.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick

Emphasis on the draft rather than free agency

Historically successful franchises build their team through the NFL draft. And they do so well. The Green Bay Packers, one of the most successful NFL franchises in NFL history, drafted many of their current star players. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receiver Jordy Nelson, linebacker Clay Matthews, and many other starting players were all drafted directly by Green Bay and played an integral role in Green Bay’s  2010 championship season.

Some franchises try to patch holes in their offense/defense through free agency. Sometimes an already successful franchises can add a key free agent to help them “get over the hump.” For example, when San Francisco signed Deion Sanders for the 1994 season, Sanders played an integral role in the 49ers super bowl championship that season. But he could not have done that had San Francisco not already assembled a stellar cast including Steve Young, Ricky Watters, and Jerry Rice. Signing a valuable free agent can make a difference for the team, but the ‘meat and potatoes’ for building a successful franchise must come from drafting high-caliber NFL talent.

Accruing quality depth

Successful franchises have quality backups that can perform well in the place of starters. As games get late into the third or fourth quarter, players can get injured or tired and in need of a break. Many teams are struck with injury, successful teams will push onward even when their star running back or linebacker is lost to injury. Championship caliber teams will have backup linebackers, linemen, and other position players that can come in and perform just as well as the starters. They don’t have to be flashy or even look good. They just have to be dependable. Players like this will accept a backup role on a championship caliber team because they know they are talented, and are interested more in winning games than in getting paid as much as possible. Reliable backups can mean the difference between making or not making the playoffs in the face of devastating injury*.

Operating on principles rather than trends

Truly successful NFL franchises make decisions based on correct principles rather than current trends. As the league has evolved to a more pass-friendly game, some franchises will still play to their strengths, even if that means building an offense around the running game. San Francisco and Seattle, two of the NFL’s very best teams, build their offenses around a great running offense. A great defense pairs well with a tough running attack because running the ball takes lots of time off the clock. This gives the defense plenty of time to rest. If the defense can keep opposing offenses to less than 14-16 points per game, a running offense will be enough to score sufficient points while still keeping the clock running. Even though offenses are passing now more than ever (evidenced in 2011 when Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees each threw for over 5,000 passing yards** in one season***), Seattle and San Francisco rely on sound football principle, regardless of popular NFL trends, which has led them deep into the playoffs in recent seasons.

San Francisco RB Frank Gore

San Francisco RB Frank Gore

Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch

Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch

At the end of the day many teams struggle just to post a check in the ‘W’ column, never mind trying to win one or multiple super bowl championships. Even still, some franchises consistently perform at a high level, yet fail to capitalize on their position with a championship win. The Buffalo Bills are a prime example of this. They went to four straight super bowls in the early 90’s. Let me say that again. The Buffalo Bills went to FOUR STRAIGHT SUPER BOWLS.  And lost each one. If you make it to multiple NFL championship games, your organization is clearly very well run. The final game rests upon the shoulders of the players and the coach to outperform their opponents. The general manager, owner, front office and much of the staff can only have so much impact on a team’s actual super bowl performance the day of the game. Becoming an NFL dynasty is a team effort, which probably explains why NFL dynasties are so difficult to form.

* 1999 St. Louis Rams. Backup quarterback Kurt Warner started in place of injured Trent Green and led the team to an NFL championship and led the greatest show on turf, one of the NFL’s highest scoring offenses ever.

** Former Miami quarterback Dan Marino holds the only other 5,000+ passing yard season in 1984. Many NFL pundits argue that Marino’s record of 5,084 yards in 1984 is more impressive than recent records due to the difference in the climate of the game and difference in rules 25+ years ago.

*** NY Giants Eli Manning got close, with 4,933 yards in the same season.

All images courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.

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