"Ask Vic" will publish on Mondays and Thursdays through the offseason.
These are the 10-best teams I covered:
10. 1996 Jaguars -- They were 4-7 and in turmoil when destiny grabbed them by the seat of the pants and said, "Let's go." What other explanation is there for a team that was subpar in nearly every way until it faced elimination. Seven wins later, they were one win away from the Super Bowl. The '96 Jaguars are the most dramatic and fateful football team I covered of the 45 I followed. The most accurate kicker in NFL history chunked a chip shot field goal attempt in the last game of the regular season or the Jaguars wouldn't have even made the playoffs. Then came the greatest upset in NFL postseason history, a game the "Jagwads" trailed 12-0 in Mile High Stadium. The phenomena that flew home to a middle-of-the-night pep rally claimed the end of the Jim Kelly era in Buffalo the following week, and came closer than most realize to winning the AFC title in New England. In just the Jaguars franchise's second season, it peaked.
9. 2007 Jaguars -- Had Matt Jones and Dennis Northcutt not dropped passes at big moments late in a playoff game in New England, the Patriots' undefeated season would've ended abruptly in a playoff loss to the Jaguars. The '07 Jaguars were a power team that could stop the run with massive defensive tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud, and control the tempo with running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Quarterback David Garrard came out of nowhere to play the best football of his life and made a game-clinching run to score a dramatic playoff win in Pittsburgh.
8. 1994 Steelers -- Few gave the Chargers a chance of winning in Pittsburgh in the AFC title game. A long touchdown pass to Tony Martin and a wobbly pass by Neil O'Donnell that fell at Barry Foster's feet in the end zone are the painful memories that left a good team stunned. The Steelers were on a seven-game winning streak when they lost a meaningless game on Christmas Eve. They recovered by rolling over rival Cleveland in the playoffs and Blitzburgh appeared to be Super Bowl bound. Did they take the Chargers too lightly?
7. 2011 Packers -- They were a one-trick pony, but for most of the season they were an unbeatable stallion. The '11 Packers couldn't run the ball and were the worst defense in the league, but Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' passing attack were the toast of football. The Packers were 13-0 when they were freakishly upset by an undermanned Chiefs team. A few weeks later, a Giants team the Packers had beaten in New York in early December roared into Green Bay and exposed the Packers for what they weren't, which is to say balanced. One and done! The '11 Packers is the best 15-1 team I ever covered. They were also the only 15-1 team I ever covered.
6. 1999 Jaguars -- They only lost to one team, but it happened three times and the final time deprived a franchise that mortgaged its future its best chance to go to the Super Bowl. The 14-2 Jaguars were truly great. The final pieces were acquired in free agency and a defense retooled by Dom Capers made big plays and was on the verge late in the season of setting a record for fewest points allowed. On offense, Mark Brunell, Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell formed a passing trio to compare favorably to the eventual Super Bowl winners, the Rams, and Fred Taylor highlighted his season with a 97-yard touchdown run in the Jaguars' 62-7 postseason win over the Dolphins. "Uh Oh, Jaguars," was the team's Super Bowl song, and then the Tennessee Titans stopped the music one more time. It's a loss the Jaguars franchise spent years trying to overcome. The Titans left the Jaguars capped out and crushed.
5. 1974 Steelers -- Chuck Noll's team began its Super Bowl run with a signature defensive strategy that cocked Joe Greene at an angle between guard and center. Known as the "Stunt 4-3," the Steelers used it to throttle O.J. Simpson in the first round of the playoffs, and then to turn in two of the greatest postseason defensive efforts in NFL history in AFC title game and Super Bowl wins over the Raiders and Vikings. Terry Bradshaw emerged at midseason, sending Joe Gilliam to the bench and featuring a return to the running game that resulted in Franco Harris winning the Super Bowl IX MVP. For the Steelers, the good times were just beginning.
4. 1975 Steelers -- They only lost twice: in a surprising Week 2 upset at home to the Bills when Simpson set a Three Rivers Stadium rushing record, and in a meaningless regular season finale to the Rams. At all other times, the Steelers were dominant, beating Dallas 21-17 in Super Bowl X. Bradshaw became a star quarterback in '75, and his second-year receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth helped make the Steelers a team that could beat you with the pass, as well as with the run and defense. The only negative to this season is a neck injury that sidelined Greene and left him largely a one-armed player for the remainder of his career.
3. 2014 Packers -- With four minutes to play in the NFC title game in Seattle, the Packers were still peaking. They were the hottest and best team in the league, only a few weeks removed from a win over Tom Brady and the Patriots, and now they were thumping the Seahawks at Century Link Field. Then, all of a sudden, the lights went out. Somebody flipped a swtich and the Packers went dark. Seattle rallied against a Packers team that looked like it had made a deal with the devil and time had expired. When the Packers failed to recover an onside kick, they were toast. A team with incomparable fire power on offense and, finally, a defense worthy of playing on the same field with Aaron Rodgers, collapsed with the Super Bowl inches from their reach.
2. 1976 Steelers -- No one could understand why they started 1-4. Maybe they were too full of themselves. Here's what we know for sure: At 1-4 and with Bradshaw sidelined long-term by a neck injury, the Steelers began a run of dominance this reporter never saw equaled. At 1-4, the Steelers knew they had to win out to make it into the postseason. They won the next 10 games, including a 40-14 playoff win in Baltimore, by a combined 274-42, and rookie quarterback Mike Kruczek was the starter in six of those games. During the Steelers' run to the playoffs, the defense scored five shutouts and allowed a total of 28 points in nine games. This would be the best team this reporter had ever covered if it had been able to finish its run with a win in Oakland in the AFC title game. For that game, the Steelers were without Harris and running mate Rocky Bleier, both of whom were lost to injury the previous week in the win in Baltimore. More than an airplane crashed at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium that day. So did the '76 Steelers, the most powerful football team this reporter ever covered.
1. 1978 Steelers -- Regarded by many as the greatest team of all-time, the 14-2 Steelers had it all. This was the peak season of one of the greatest dynasties in sports history. The defense was still dominating and Harris was still a star running back, but the rules changes of '78 made Bradshaw, Swann and Stallworth the new stars of this team. Noll saw it coming. He saw what the rules changes would do to football and Noll was the first to capitalize. He turned Bradshaw loose and a team that had previously won games 10-3 scored 33, 34 and 35 points in its postseason march to the Super Bowl XIII title. Its win over Roger Staubach and the Cowboys in the Super Bowl was the mark of an undeniably great football team. The field was littered with great players that day: Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Randy White, Harvey Martin and "Too Tall" Jones were some of the stars on a Cowboys team that would have more players in the Hall of Fame if they hadn't lost twice to the Steelers in the Super Bowl. Bradshaw won the first of consecutive Super Bowl MVPs. The '78 season and his great performance in Super Bowl XIII was the peak of his career, as it was for the team Noll built.