5 New York Jets
It was Rex Ryan’s first year as a head coach and Mark Sanchez’s first year in the league. Rex was already being touted as the league’s next great coaching mind and Sanchez was already posing as a villain from Miami Vice on the pages of GQ. Basically, both seemed about as unjustifiably hyped up as the release of Avatar. And in a way, they were. But the Jets defense helped them to a 9-7 record and they squeaked into the playoffs despite Sanchez’s 63.0 QB rating. And that’s when the Jets turned it on, upsetting the Bengals then the Chargers in the first two rounds. And it wasn’t until a Peyton Manning three TD performance in the AFC Championship that the overachieving 2009 Jets were sent packing.
4 Dallas Cowboys
In their inaugural season in Jerry Jones’ concrete slap to God’s face (also known as the new Cowboy Stadium), the Cowboys didn’t disappoint. Tony Romo had perhaps his best year as a pro and coach Wade Phillips finally adjusted to his permanent place on the hot seat as the Cowboys posted an 11-5 record and won the NFC East. But after handling division rival Philly in the Wild Card round, the Cowboys were bitch slapped by the Vikings and bounced out of the postseason in an embarrassing 34-3 loss. It was a game after which owner Jerry Jones tried to cry, but when his surgery ravaged tear ducts refused to cooperate, he had to settle for feeding on the blood of the young.
3 Minnesota Vikings
After adding the golden arm and stonewashed Wranglers of long-time rival Brett Favre in the off-season, the Vikings quickly became one of the league’s most potent offenses. Paired with running back/muscle-factory Adrian Peterson, Favre and the Vikes put up 29-plus points per game on their way to a second straight NFC North title. After roasting the Cowboys in the divisional round, the Vikings were one win away from their first Super Bowl since 1976, the hopes for which ended on devastating but pretty funny trademark Favre-y, gun-slung interception.
2 Indianapolis Colts
After a 14-0 start, Peyton Manning and the Colts seemed poised to render former coach Tony Dungy’s career completely pointless. In his first season without Dungy, Peyton Manning essentially ran the team from the field, while new “coach” Jim Caldwell napped with his eyes open on the sideline. The Colts won their sixth division crown in seven years, earned the AFC’s top seed, Peyton Manning won the MVP and they coasted into the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for Colts fans, though, they ran into a buzz saw of gold painted lunatics with a gibberish catch phrase who just needed it more.
1 New Orleans Saints
Calling the 2009 Saints a “team of destiny” is an understatement. The fan base for the always-horrendous Saints was so consistently embarrassed they actually invented the bag over the head. But in recent seasons the Saints had become a respectable team and a welcome point of pride for a city that was still reeling from Hurricane Katrina. And 2009 was the year it all came together. The Saints started the season 13-0 and never looked back. They became the first team to beat three Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks (Warner, Favre and Manning) in a row on their way to the Lombardi trophy, and, thank God, this picture came to define the 2009 Saints Super Bowl victory instead of this one.
Well, that’s all she wrote. The 2009 NFL season, summed up by its five most accomplished teams. Were the Jets only included in order to take one more potshot at Mark Sanchez’s weird GQ shoot? Maybe. But Gang Green also made a surprising run deep into the playoffs and nobody on the Chargers did a Baywatch photo shoot. So that clearly broke the tie.
And if you think you know of a more fitting team to make the cut, or even of a more self-indulgent photo spread from the ’09 season, then maybe you should make a list of your own!