THE 1990s COWBOYS WERE BETTERBy Tim MacMahon
First, let's make it clear that we're debating which four-year span was more dominant.
This is a discussion of dynasties, so double-digit-win seasons don't mean anything unless the team ended it by lifting a Lombardi Trophy. So it's the 1992-95 Dallas Cowboys versus the 2001-04 New England Patriots.
(Sorry, New England, your 16-0 season in 2007 is irrelevant here. If it makes you feel any better, folks around these parts are also still bitter about those Giants pulling off a playoff upset.)
Now here's something that will really perturb Patriots fans: The dynasty Cowboys would dominate the dynasty Patriots.
Let's begin with the eyeball test. We could do a whole Hot Button on in-his-prime Troy Aikman versus early-years Tom Brady, but those Dallas teams were superior offensively at every other position. In some cases, it's not laughably lopsided.
The proof, of course, is in the performances. Each team won three Super Bowl titles in its four-year window, but the Cowboys have the advantage in all of the other most important categories. The Cowboys won a little more often and a lot more convincingly.
The '92-95 Cowboys had a 49-15 record. They scored an average of 25.5 points and allowed 15.8. The only time they didn't finish third or better in scoring offense or defense was when the '92 team allowed the fifth-most points in the league.
The '01-04 Patriots had a 48-16 record. They scored an average of 24.2 points and allowed 17.2. They finished in the top five in scoring offense once and in scoring defense twice.
Those Cowboys played their best ball in the postseason, while those Patriots had an amazing knack for surviving in the playoffs.
Dallas went 11-1 in those four postseasons, with the lone loss coming to the Steve Young/Jerry Rice San Francisco 49ers in the 1994 NFC Championship Game. All 11 victories were decided by double figures, including Super Bowl scores of 52-17, 30-13 and 27-17.
The Patriots went 9-0 in playoff games during their dynasty years, failing to qualify for the playoffs after the 2002 season. Five of those games were decided by a field goal, including all three Super Bowls. Give those Patriots credit for performing in clutch situations, but they couldn't have kept it close against the Dallas dynasty teams.
THE 2000s PATRIOTS WERE BETTERBy Mike Reiss
When it comes to star power and headline personalities, the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots teams of 2001, '03 and '04 don't measure up to the title-winning Dallas Cowboys teams of 1992, '93 and '95. No contest there.
But when it comes to what the Patriots represented (coming out of the tunnel as a team before the Super Bowl victory over the Rams), their stunning upset of the "Greatest Show on Turf" to get the run started (one of the biggest shockers in Super Bowl history) and accomplishing the feat in the heart of the free-agent/salary-cap era (all the talk was that there would never be a dynasty again), they certainly measure up ... and then some.
When the Cowboys ruled the football world, it was easier to compose a winning team and keep it intact. Free agency began in 1993 when the Cowboys were capturing the second of three titles, so they didn't face the same type of challenge as the Patriots in keeping their championship core together. Yes, they still lost some players, but teams were still figuring out the system at that point.
Other things to like about the Patriots when comparing them to the championship Cowboys era:
1. They did it with one head coach (Bill Belichick), not two (Jimmy Johnson/Barry Switzer).
3. They were clutch, winning three nail-biters in the Super Bowl (all by a field goal), whereas the Cowboys' toughest challenges seemed to come in getting to the Super Bowl.
4. Few saw the Patriots' rise coming; they were 5-11 in 2000 and opened the next year 5-5, whereas the Cowboys had a steady resurgence and were viewed as primed to contend when they won their first Super Bowl.
In the end -- and this is the clincher from this perspective -- the Patriots remained a Super Bowl contender longer. Since their run started in 2001, they've been an annual threat to win it all, missing the playoffs just twice (2002, 2008) while posting the NFL's only 16-0 regular-season record. The Cowboys' surge lasted six years; they didn't register a playoff win from 1997 to 2008.
So the two franchises match each other when it comes to Super Bowls, but the Patriots have had sustained excellence longer. In the end, that's a fairly decisive tiebreaker.