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The (Unofficial) NFL Champions

July 7, 2013

Recently I came across a Wikipedia page for the Unofficial Football (Soccer) World Championship.  I was intrigued so I read on.  The Unofficial Football World Championship started after Scotland beat England in a friendly on April 15, 1967.  Since this was England’s first loss since winning the 1966 World Cup, Scottish fans joked that they were the unofficial World Champions.  In 2003, a freelance journalist took the idea further, writing an article in a magazine and a book.  There is also a website that tracks and maintains the progress.

After reading about this championship I couldn’t help but think: who would be the unofficial champions in some of the North American leagues?  Since the bulk of my interest is with Football and Baseball, I will only track the unofficial champions for those leagues.  To keep things simple, I will start with the NFL.

In order to determine who the champion is, it is first necessary to determine a starting point.  For the NFL, this is easy.  I will start with the 1970 season; the first season after the NFL-AFL merger.  The reason is that until this point, professional football looked much different than it does today.  Formats changed and many teams that competed no longer exist. 

One further side note is that there were two Super Bowls played before the merger.  The reason I have not started with Super Bowl I is that the unofficial champion and the Super Bowl champion is not necessarily the same team.  Since there were two leagues, there would potentially be two unofficial champions thus making for a confusing train of events.

Some final rules are: if the champion ties a game that is considered a push and they retain the title.  When a team defeats the championship team, they become the champion and hold the title until they lose.  Regular season and the playoffs all count but pre-season games do not.

So without further adieu, I present the Unofficial NFL Champion.

Starting Point

The first ever post-merger game occurred on September 18, 1970 between the Los Angeles Rams and the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Rams won the game 34-13 thus becoming the first unofficial champions.  They held the title until week 4 when they lost to the 49ers.  I reckon that Detroit fans will enjoy this championship as the Lions claimed the title in Week 10 with a 28-7 victory and held the title until the playoffs.  The 1970 season finished with the Baltimore Colts as both Unoffical and Super Bowl champs after their victory over Dallas in Super Bowl V.

God decided to put his hatred for Cleveland aside as the Browns became unofficial champions in Week 2 of the 1971 season but the celebration was short lived as they lost it to the Oakland Raiders the next week, marking the shortest reign as unofficial champions.  The Colts regained the title in Week 11 but lost to the patriots in Week 14.  The Patriots did not make the playoffs marking the first time the unofficial and Super Bowl champions were not the same team.

In 1972, teams seemed to play hot potato with the unofficial championship.  It changed hands 10 times over the course of that season, from Week 3 until Week 10 it changed hands every week and no team successfully defended the title twice.  Cincinnati had two reigns and unofficial champs that year as did Cleveland, Kansas City and Pittsburgh.  The LA Rams and Oakland Raiders also held the title for a week each with the eventual unofficial title going to Miami along with the Super Bowl.  A fun fact about 1972: although Miami was undefeated that season, they did not claim the unofficial title until the Super Bowl.

1973 was slightly less eventful.  Miami lost to Oakland in Week 2. Kansas City, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Dallas all enjoyed another reign with the title while Denver and Minnesota took their first titles.  However, Miami got it back with their eventual Super Bowl victory.

1974 saw a quick title change with New England defeating Miami.  Buffalo kept the unofficial title in the AFC East with a Week 6 victory over the Pats and held on until their Week 11 loss to Houston.  Dallas and Oakland also had reigns as champions before the unofficial title went to eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers.

In 1975, the unofficial title made stops in Buffalo, New York with the Giants, St. Louis, Miami and Baltimore before finishing the season back in Pittsburgh.

The Kansas City Chiefs took the title in 1976 with a Week 14 victory over the Cleveland Browns marking only the second time that the unofficial champion did not win the Super Bowl.  The title made stops in Oakland, New England, Detroit, Washington, Dallas, Atlanta and Houston as well.

1977 saw many title changes with a new unofficial champion in each of the first 5 weeks.  Cleveland began their second reign of the year in Week 5 and defended until a loss to Cincinnati in Week 8.  They kept the trend of futility going with a Week 9 loss to Minnesota, who in turn lost the next week to Chicago.  Chicago held the title until the Divisional round when they lost to eventual Super Bowl champion Cowboys.

1978 was the first season with a 16 week schedule.  The unofficial championship however did not make it through to the playoffs as the San Diego Chargers won off of fellow first timers the Seattle Seahawks in Week 15 and then failed to make the playoffs.  The LA Rams, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Cleveland also held the unofficial title at some point that season.

The Chargers kicked off the 1979 season with three consecutive defences before losing to the Pats in Week 4.  Green Bay captured their first unofficial title in Week 5 and promptly lost it to Atlanta in Week 6.  Oakland, the Jets, Houston and Cleveland had brief reigns as champs before it settled in Seattle after Week 16.  Seattle did not make the playoffs so for the second consecutive year, the Super Bowl and unofficial champions were different teams.

San Diego kicked off the 80s with a Week 1 regaining of the title from Seattle.  Buffalo enjoyed 2 separate regins as unofficial champs.  Baltimore, New England and Atlanta also held the title with the LA Rams becoming champs in Week 16 and taking the title into the playoffs for the first time in 3 years.  The title changed hands 3 time during the playoffs with Dallas winning in the Wild Card round, Philedelphia in the NFC Championship game and Oakland claiming it in the Super Bowl.

In 1981 the San Fransisco 49ers took the title into the playoffs and held on, becoming the first team to hold the title through the entire playoffs.  Before that, the unofficial title changed hands on an almost weekly basis with stops in Denver, Seattle, Oakland, Detroit (x2), Tampa Bay, Kansas City, San Diego and Cincinnati.

The Raiders began their time in Los Angeles with a Week 1 unofficial championship.  They would hold on until aWeek 4 loss to Cincy and then regain from San Diego in Week 9.  In the playoffs, the title went through the Jets and Dolphins before ending up with eventual unofficial and Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins.

The LA Raiders finished the 1983season as both Super Bowl and unofficial champions with their victory in the big game over Washington.  Washington regained the title from Dallas who held it for the first 7 weeks of the season before losing to eventual champion LA Raiders.  Seattle and the St. Louis Cardinals also held the title during the season.

1984 did not see much movement with the unofficial title with LA holding on until a Week 5 loss to Denver.  The Broncos held the title until Week 13 when Seattle became champs.  Kansas City won the championship in Week 15.  The Chief’s week 16 win combined with failure to make the playoffs allowed them to carry the title to the offseason.

In 1985 the unofficial title spent most of the season hanging out in the AFC East.  With the exception of a 1 week reign by the Lions, the Dolphins, Jets and Patriots combined to hold the title for the season after Miami took the title from Kansas City in Week 3.  This held true until the Super Bowl which New England lost to Daaaaaaa Bears.

With their Super Bowl victory in 1986, the Giants regained the unofficial as well as official title.  Minnesota, Cleveland, the Raiders, Eagles and Redskins all held the title at some point in that season.

New Orleans spent a good portion of 1987 as the unofficial champs, winning it initially in Week 5 and then holding the fort from Week 9 until the Wild Card round.  Washington gained the title in the conference championship and finished the season as the unofficial champions to go along with their Super Bowl rings.

1988 was another year where the title changed hands frequently.  In Week 1, the Giants took the title away from Washington, who would get it back in Week 14, but not before San Fransisco, Atlanta, Dallas, and the Rams enjoyed a week with the title.  New Orleans was the most successful of the year holding the unofficial title from Week 5 until Week 9, with the Eagles holding from Week 10 until losing to Washington in Week 14.  Dallas and Philly enjoyed weeks 15 and 16 respectively with the title and the 49ers finished the season as unofficial and Super Bowl champs.

1989 was one of the less common years where the unofficial champion at the end of the season did not make the playoffs.  The Chargers captured the crown in Week 15 but did not make the playoffs so the good people of San Diego could take some comfort in the fact that their team were unofficial champs.  The title spent time in LA with the Rams, Buffalo, Atlanta, San Francisco, Green Bay and Kansas City.

Buffalo spent Week 13 until Week 17 of 1990 with the title when they lost to Washington.  The Bills had a chance to regain the title against the Giants on Super Bowl Sunday but lost to the Giants who retained the unofficial title.  It could be said that the Giants deserved the unofficial title (as well as Super Bowl) as they held the unofficial from Week 2 until Week 12. 

The Redskins managed to win the Super bowl and unofficial title in 1991.  The Saints had a nice run as unofficial champs in 91 and the Chargers nearly pulled their signature move of winning the title and then not making the playoffs.

With the exception of 3 weeks where it was held by Philly, Kansas City and the Rams, 1992 saw the unofficial title held exclusively by the Cowboys and 49ers.  The Cowboys reclaimed in the conference finals and defended through year 3 of the Bills Super Bowl futility.

Dallas repeated as both Super Bowl and unofficial champions in 1993 after winning both from Buffalo on Super Sunday.  Dallas spent a few weeks with the title as did the relocated Phoenix Cardinals, Redskins, Falcons and Oilers.

The Detroit Lions spent much of 1994 as the unofficial champs of the NFL.  A week 17 loss to Miami started a chain of events leading to the winner of the Battle of California Super Bowl being crowned. 

The Washington Redskins finished the 1995 regular season as unofficial champs and failed to make the playoffs.  The Carolina Panthers welcomed themselves to the NFL by holding the title from Week 16 to Week 17.  Detroit had the most successful defences that year with 2.

In 1996, the Cincinnati Bengals pulled out some Week 17 heroics to snatch the title from Indianapolis.  Once again the unofficial champion differed from the Super Bowl champions.

In 1997 the unofficial championship changed hands in every round of the playoffs.  Minnesota, San Francisco and Green Bay each had the title for a week before Denver took it along with the Lombardi trophy.  The Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens each saw their first franchise unofficial titles in this year.

1998 was the closest a team came to carrying the unofficial title throughout the whole season.  Denver held on until their Week 15 loss to the Giants who finished the year as unofficial champs.

The 1999 Colts had a nice run as unofficial champs.  They lost to Buffalo in Week 17 who in addition to losing the Music City Miracle also lost the unofficial title.  If it’s any solace (to Buffalo fans), Tennessee lost the unofficial title along with the Super Bowl on the 1-yard line to the St. Louis Rams.

In 2000, it was Week 17 heroics that once again won the unofficial title.  The Atlanta Falcons finished the year at the top of these arbitrary and unsanctioned standings.

2001 saw what is possibly the earliest crowning of the unofficial champions.  The New England Patriots took the title from the Jets in Week 12.  They never let it go on the way to the franchise’s first Super Bowl.

After holding the unofficial title until Week 4, the Pats relinquished to the San Diego Chargers.  After that it went to Denver and Miami for a week each, Buffalo for a fortnight, back to New England, to Oakland as revenge for the Snow Bowl, back to Miami and finally ended in Minnesota.

2003 was another year that saw the unofficial championship change hands in every round of the playoffs.  The Pakers took it with a Wild Card victory over Seattle, lost it to the Eagles in the Divisional Round and the Panthers took their second unofficial championship on their way to their first official championship game.  They of course lost both to the Pats.

2004 was the least eventful year for the unofficial championship.  It went from the Patriots to the Steelers in Week 8 and then back to the Patriots in the conference championship game.  This was the fewest times the title changed hands in a single season and the fewest number of teams to hold the title during a season.

In 2005, the unofficial championship did not make it out of the regular season.  Seven different teams held it at one point during the season and the only one to successfully defend more than twice was the eventual champion Miami Dolphins.

At the end of 2006 the St. Louis Rams were unofficially the champions of the NFL.  That is all I will say about 2006.

The Patriots won the title off of the Colts in Week 9 of 2007.  They finished the season 16-0.  The Giants won the unofficial championship as well as the Super Bowl in what was possibly the greatest moment in sports ever.

Indy could have had a fairly long streak and taken the title both into and out of the playoffs in 2008 but their inability to win in the post-season (most years) eventually lead to Pittsburgh taking the title.  Cleveland held it for 1 week.  Maybe God doesn’t hate Cleveland after all.

Pittsburgh won the title in Week 15 of the 2009 and then failed to make the playoffs.  Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Green Bay also held the title for a period that season.

The Patriots finished the 2010 regular season with the title but lost it to Sexy Rexy and the Jets in the divisional round.  The Jets lost to Pittsburgh and then Pittsburgh to Green Bay in the Super Bowl.  Once again the team that brought the title into the playoffs failed to bring it out.

Week 17 magic struck again in 2011 with San Diego taking it from Oakland.  Oakland took it from Kansas City who took it from Green Bay in Week 15, Green Bay’s only loss of the regular season.  Week 15 was the latest in the season that a team held onto the title.

In Week 3 of 2012 San Diego lost the title to Atlanta.  Atlanta lost it to New Orleans in Week 10, right when they got hot.  They lost it to the even hotter San  Francisco 49ers, who made it all the way to the Super Bowl.  They however did not make it with the unofficial title as they lost it in unlikely fashion to the Rams, who then lost it to the Vikings.  The Vikings won their last two games and made the playoffs with the title.

The fun with the Unofficial Football World Championship is that it is held by a team that although a force to be reckoned with, is not a current title holder.  The current Unofficial Football World Champion is Argentina, who won it from Sweden who won it from North Korea.

The NFL however has given us a rather anti-climactic ending, however given the stats, a not unexpected one.  Some late season upsets nearly lead to a terrible team being considered a championship team in the NFL.  What we have learned through this (and should really have been blatantly obvious) is that if the team who holds the title makes the playoffs, the Super Bowl winner will also be unofficial champions.  Therefore, due to a late season surge by the Vikings which saw them grab a Wild Card spot, the current Unofficial NFL Champions are the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens.

Some Fun Facts

Considering the buzz kill that was the result of this survey, let’s take a few moments to address some fun facts.

Every team has held the title on at least one occasion.  Arizona has not held the title since changing to the Arizona Cardinals.  The longest single run as champion was the Green Bay Packers in 2010-2011.  They won the title along with the super Bowl and held onto it until Week 15. 

No team has ever held the title through the entire season.  Also, no team has entered the playoffs with the title and won the Super Bowl in the same season.

Despite being undefeated in 1972 the Dolphins did not win the unofficial title until the Super Bowl.  The Patriots in 2007 did not win the unofficial crown until Week 9 meaning that across two undefeated seasons, the undefeated team held the title for a combined 7 regular season weeks.

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