SB Nation’s theme this week asks, “what was the best team that you cover that never won a Super Bowl?” For us, it’s too soon to talk about as the San Francisco 49ers are fresh off a Super Bowl loss. You can make a strong argument for the 2019 49ers’ team. It may not have registered yet, but the defense we just watched was one of the most dominant historical units in NFL history. They were that good and that complete. It’s a shame injury prevented us from seeing a full-season of Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa, D.J. Jones, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner, the three linebackers, and the starting secondary. That is the definition of a stacked lineup. Throw in an efficient offense that has speed at every position and the best tight end in football, and I’d put money on the 49ers to win the Super Bowl again every time.
The 2019 49ers offensive DVOA 7.2%, and on defense, they were -19.7%. The 2012 49ers defense was -14.4% (the lower number, the better on defense), while the offense was quite a bit more efficient at 16.5%. Adding Colin Kaepernick as a starter took the offense to another level under Jim Harbaugh. Frank Gore ran for over 1200 yards, and Michael Crabtree had over 1100 yards receiving. That offense had some serious speed of their own, as we saw Veron Davis and Delanie Walker make a difference over the middle, and Randy Moss contribute sporadically as well.
It was the defense that teams feared, though. NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis patrolling the middle of the field, with Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson right behind them. Good luck finding four better enforcers on any defense. Aldon Smith had 19.5 sacks that season. Add in Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks with Ray McDonald plugging up the middle, and you have an embarrassment of riches on that side of the ball.
In 1992, the 49ers lost to the Cowboys 30-20 in the NFC championship. That offense led the league in scoring and gave up the third-fewest points en route to a 14-2 regular-season finish. That year, San Francisco’s offensive DVOA was 33.1%. For reference, the 2018 Chiefs DVOA was 34.1%. Steve Young had a 25/7 TD/INT ratio and threw for over 3,400 yards. Ricky Watters ran for over 1,000 and also had over 400 yards receiving. Jerry Rice had 1,201 receiving and ten touchdowns, but the 49ers had two other receivers over 600 yards, and John Taylor was over 400. That team was loaded.
The ‘96 team finished 12-4 during Terrell Owens rookie year but lost to the eventual Super Bowl-winning Packers and Brett Favre. This is before my time, but Uncle Rog said don’t forget about the 49ers in ‘87 or ‘83. What’s your answer?