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The Sporting News Top Five All-Time NFL Teams: Are The 1984 San Francisco 49ers The Best Ever?

Fooch's Note: I've added a poll asking which 49ers Super Bowl team do you think is the best. By "the best" I don't mean your favorite, but rather which was just the best team.

The folks at The Sporting News have put together a rundown of the greatest NFL teams of all time and the 1984 edition of our San Francisco 49ers has made it into the top five teams. The Sporting News has now come together with SB Nation to see which of the following five teams is the best of all time. The team blog of each historical team will be providing arguments as to why their team is the best of all time. The 49ers had several great teams in the 1980s. Here are the nominees:

1. '72 Dolphins
2. '84 49ers
3. '85 Bears
4. '78 Steelers
5. '62 Packers

Before we go into why the 1984 San Francisco 49ers are the greatest team of all time, you should take a moment to read howtheyscored's awesome write-up about the team. We've had a lot of new people joining the site lately, so for those who don't know, howtheyscored put together posts on every single season in 49ers history. You can read all of them HERE.

It can be difficult making historical comparisons in the NFL, even over the course of ten or twenty years. The league has evolved over the course of its history with rule changes occurring on a fairly regular basis. Even comparing the league today to what it was in the 1990s shows significant changes in rules benefitting quarterbacks and wide receivers. Peyton Manning is an awesome quarterback, but he's received some benefit in terms of rules regarding his wide receivers.

In comparing the five teams on this list one way to compare them is by comparing them to the teams playing in their particular season (rank in parenthesis):

Team W-L Pts Scored Pts Allowed Pts Differential TO Differential
'84 49ers 15-1 29.7/g (2nd) 14.2/g (1st) 15.5/g (1st) +1.0/g (3rd)
'72 Dolphins 14-0 27.5/g (1st) 12.2/g (1st) 15.3/g (1st) +1.3/g (2nd)
'85 Bears 15-1 28.5/g (2nd) 12.4/g (1st) 16.1/g (1st) +1.4/g (1st)
'78 Steelers 14-2 22.2/g (5th) 12.2/g (1st) 10.1/g (2nd) +0.6/g (5th)
'62 Packers 13-1 29.6/g (1st) 10.6/g (1st) 19.1/g (1st) +1.6/g (1st)

Just looking at those numbers would seem to indicate the 1962 Packers were the best of the five. They led the league in all four categories and lead all but points scored per game (trailing by only 0.2 ppg). However, they were in a league of 14 teams, the Dolphins were in a league of 26 teams, and the 49ers, Bears, and Steelers were all in a league of 28 teams. It's hard to differentiate when there was such a huge difference in the number of teams and spread of talent. The 1962 Green Bay Packers were a great team but it's hard to use just the stats to prove it.

I'd rather go with my gut feeling about the 1984 49ers and why they're the best. After all, we're talking about a popularity poll as opposed to any sort of specific proof of their greatness. My gut says the high octane offense of those 49ers would do more than enough to overcome the greatness of some of the other defenses on that list. This team had a compilation of talent that many current 49ers fans might not remember. The team was known for Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and the West Coast offense, but the team was so much more than just that.

The offense road a strong Montana season that benefited from a dominant ground game. While Roger Craig was only in his second season with the 49ers, Wendell Tyler led the team with 1,262 rushing yards, at 5.1 yards per rush. The team as a whole rushed for 4.6 yards per carry, good for second in the NFL that year.

Montana put together a Pro Bowl campaign, but if you check out his receivers that season, there was no single dominant wide out. In fact, Roger Craig really stepped up with his receiving skills as he led the team in receptions and was second in receiving yards. The top three non-RB receivers that year were WR Dwight Clark (52 rec, 880 yds), TE Earl Cooper (41 rec, 459 yds), and WR Freddie Solomon (40 rec, 737 yds).

It was really quite impressive that the team could dominate on offense without a truly explosive play-maker (at least in the traditional sense). This was a phenomenal team that road a great offensive scheme run by a great quarterback all the way to the Super Bowl. Arguably the best part of the 1984 season was beating Dan Marino in the Super Bowl. The 1984 Miami Dolphins finished the season 14-2 and rolled through the AFC playoffs before running into the 49ers. Marino was getting all the talk after he put together what would be his greatest season as a Dolphin.

Of course that leads us to the 49ers defense in 1984. While Marino got all the accolades coming into the game, the 49ers defense that year was absolutely dominant. As we complain about the 49ers current secondary, one needs only look at the insane dominance of the 1984 secondary. All four players made the Pro Bowl that year. The corners were Ronnie Lott and Eric Wright, while the safeties were Dwight Hicks and Carlton Williamson. The defense as a whole had a ton of depth that year, which allowed enough rotation to keep everybody fresh. 19 different players recorded sacks that season, with the team accumulating 51 total sacks and six players recording four or more sacks.

This combination of deep offense and defense makes it easy for me to consider the 1984 San Francisco 49ers the greatest team of all time. There were several great 49ers teams in the 1980s, but the balance on this team was second to none. Other teams might have had a bigger individual playmaker, but I don't believe anybody else amassed a similar level of depth across the entire roster.. For that reason, they remain at the top of my list.