December 16, 2022 12:00pm

The Greatest Offense of All Time

We Asked Power Poll NFL.

Photo of Rick Gosselin
NFL Correspondent

Jeff Duncan’s book credits former New Orleans coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees with “building the greatest offense in NFL history.”

Our weekly NFL Power Poll begs to differ.

The Brees-Payton offense of the New Orleans Saints was the subject of our two questions in this week’s poll. In the first question, we asked our panel of NFL experts -- former players, coaches, officials, talent evaluators, writers and broadcasters – what’s the greatest offense of all time? We gave then four longevity options – the Payton-Brees Saints, Air Coryell in San Diego, the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis or the Montana-Young 49ers.

The 49ers won going away with 85 votes, followed by the Greatest Show on Turf with 68, Air Coryell with 22 and the Saints with eight. There were 31 voters who offered up an “other” – and most were based on one season – the 2007 Patriots (16-0), the 2013 Broncos (NFL-record 606 points), the 1992 Cowboys (Aikman-Smith-Irvin and a Super Bowl ring) and the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs (Mahomes and a Super Bowl ring.

“There were some single seasons or two better,” said Dave Campo, the former head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, “but didn’t have the consistency.”

From 1987-1998, the 49ers had two head coaches, two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and three Super Bowl rings. The 49ers led the NFL in scoring six times (1987, 1989, 1992-95) and in offense five times. San Francisco’s two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Joe Montana and Steve Young, spent those 12 seasons playing catch with the Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice.

“I’ll go with the team with two elite quarterbacks and the greatest wide receiver of all time,” said Bruce Castleberry, the sports editor of the Boston Herald.

Added Dave Blezow, the associate sports editor of the New York Post: “It’s hard to beat the combination of Montana’s precision, Walsh’s innovation and Rice’s greatness.”

Nick Pugliese, the sports editor of the Palm Beach Post, threw another log on San Francisco’s offensive fire: “The 49ers won more Super Bowls than those other offenses.”

Air Coryell with a Hall of Fame quarterback (Dan Fouts) and a pair of Hall of Fame receivers (Charlie Joiner and Kellen Winslow) led the NFL in offense four consecutive seasons (1980-83) and five times in all (also 1985). The Chargers also led the league in scoring three times (1981, 1982, 1985) and in passing six consecutive seasons (1978-83) and again in 1985.

“From 1979-82, the Chargers were an unstoppable force,” said Ira Kaufman of “Defenses had no answers for Coryell’s scheme and the players he had to make it elite.”

The Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis hit the trifecta, leading the NFL in offense, passing yards and points for three consecutive seasons (1999-2001) with Hall of Famers at quarterback (Kurt Warner), running back (Marshall Faulk) and wide receiver (Isaac Bruce).

“This is about as tough a category to pick just one because there are so many prolific offenses from different eras,” said Gene Frenette, a columnist for the Florida Times Union. “There are literally five or

more you can make an argument for…but the Greatest Show on Turf was about as memorable as any of them.”

The Saints led the NFL in offense six times with Brees at the helm (2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2016). They also led in passing six times (2006, 2008, 2011-12, 2015-16) and twice in scoring (2008-09). But like the Rams, the Saints won only one Super Bowl. Air Coryell didn’t win any.

“I don’t see the Saints offense as revolutionary in the ways that every other choice was,” said Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Added Bob Grotz of the Delaware County Daily Times, “I’ll take all those offenses over Payton’s Saints…but he’s still in the Top 10.”

Other offense that came up in the discussion were the Buffalo K-Gun from 1990-93, the Peyton Manning Colts from 2003-7007, the Patrick Mahomes Chiefs from 2018-22 and, of course, the Brady-Belichick combination in New England.

“How can the Tom/Bill combo not be considered,” said Mike Pereira, the NFL’s former supervisor of officials and now an NFL analyst for Fox. ”I put the number of rings into my equation.”

In our second question, we asked if Payton never coaches another down, does he belong in the Hall of Fame?

Payton is tied with Hall of Famer Bill Cowher at 22nd all-time in coaching victories with 161, winning 62.4 percent of the games in his 15 seasons with the Saints. But he only won the one Super Bowl – as did Cowher and fellow Hall of Famer Tony Dungy. Tom Coughlin, George Seifert and Mike Shanahan all won two Super Bowls but remain on the outside looking in at Canton. Dan Reeves and Marty Schottenheimer both rank among the Top 10 winningest coaches of all-time with 200-plus victories but also remain on the outside looking in.

In the poll, 154 voted “No, Payton needs to win another Super Bowl.” Only 59 voted to give him a bust

“The one thing that will be interesting if Payton comes up in the room for Hall of Fame is how much the selectors will factor in Bountygate against him,” said Joe Reedy of the Associated Press. “He did sit out a year because of it.”

“Sean Payton is not done coaching yet, giving him a chance to win a Super Bowl with two teams,” added Charean Williams of “Regardless, the coaching category now gives every Super Bowl-winning coach a chance to make Canton. If he wins another, he’s a lock. If he doesn’t, he likely gets in at some point but the wait will be longer.”

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of significant key players in American sports today. It's member list draws on people from media, team management, and league management. It is not a scientific survey, but the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those who know most about the sport.

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