While the goal for any franchise is to win the Super Bowl, the best way to achieve that is by building an organization that can have sustainable success. Being competitive year-in and year-out gives an organization the optimal chance to run into a championship when everything clicks for them in a season. Of course, even the best teams deal with meddling problems — injuries, performance drops, etc. — that can temporarily curtail their success. But by taking the long view, certain organizations will consistently be in contention.
The issue is that obtaining sustainable success is far easier said than done. Every team tries, but most fail because they don’t identify the right strategy at the outset. For some teams, a lack of patience leads them to mediocrity. With few exceptions, the best teams have taken time to regroup before they’re able to put together a complete roster. Spending significant money at the beginning of a rebuild can produce short-term wins but does not typically lead to long-term success. What are the differentiators that the best teams rely on?
Ultimately, there are three general factors that enable organizations to have sustainable success, all of which are simple and obvious to identify, though difficult to get right.
- Head Coach: In my mind, it’s the most important of the three and just slightly ahead of the quarterback. The HC will lead decisions on both sides of the ball and directly impact the QB’s ability to succeed.
- Quarterback: The most important position in all of sports is the next most important driver of long-term success in football. It’s neck-and-neck with the HC in terms of these criteria, then there’s a sizable gap to the Front Office.
- Front Office: To succeed, teams need at least a solid front office, which starts with the top football decision maker (typically the GM). If they have the right HC and QB though, this is not quite as paramount.
With these criteria in mind, here are the teams that are best setup for sustainable success over the next 3-5 years. Note that this is the timeframe for which we are projecting; this is not a list for 2022 nor the next 10 years. Over the horizon of the next 5 years or so, here are the rankings for likely success…
- Kansas City Chiefs
I worked with Andy Reid for 14 years in Philadelphia, who is a clear future Hall Of Fame Head Coach. Mahomes’ combination of athleticism, accuracy, intelligence, and leadership is lethal. Looking at each decade in football, there has been a theme of one team controlling the decade through dominant play. The 80s were controlled by the Cowboys; the 90s by the 49ers; the 2000s and 2010s by Belichick and Brady. When we look back at the late 2010s and 2020s, I think we will be saying the same about the Chiefs. That’s why they are the top team on this list.
- Buffalo Bills
From the day Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane arrived, they have made consistently smart team building moves. I worked with Sean for over a decade, and he’s in the top 5 head coaches in the league, if not higher. Their personnel decisions and execution have been excellent to the point that I think they have the best team they’ve had with this regime. They’ve also excelled in hiring. When you get a new coach, teams can be really good for 3-4 years until they start losing some of their coaches. They may not do quite as well when they don’t have the same caliber assistant coaches. Yet, Sean has done a great job of keeping a strong staff together, which will help them sustain success.
- Los Angeles Rams
The Rams winning the Super Bowl cemented their place on this list — they’ve proven why they belong. They took a different approach to player personnel decisions, team priorities, and cap management. In doing so, they’ve been one of the top five teams for the last four or five years. I think they’re still in that position for the next few years, as they have the same coach and primary ingredients. The question here is how many more good years Stafford will have left. He is the oldest QB for any team on this list at 34. But while he’s there, the Rams have a solid answer at the most important position.
- Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert is a top 3-5 QB. As for the HC, I believe Brandon Staley is using analytics generally in a very healthy, constructive way. And over time, he will benefit from doing so. The additions they’ve made over the last few years on offensive and defensive lineman leaves them in a position to get pressure against the best offensive lines and at least slow down pressure from almost any defensive line. Even with their spending, they’re still in solid cap shape. It’s not a problem for them; they’re not wide open with a bunch of unspent money, but it’s also not like they will be breaking down the team because they’ve spent too much too quickly. The only real concern for them moving forward is that they play in the same division as the Chiefs.
- Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have a smart and supportive owner in Steve Bisciotti. I worked with John Harbaugh for many years and consider him to be one of the top couple of head coaches in the league. They have a good team culture, and the players are consistently smart with great work ethics. The only hesitation with the Ravens is the uncertainty surrounding Lamar Jackson’s contract. But I feel confident they will work that out in the end and that he will be their long-term QB.
- San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Shanahan is undoubtedly one of the top offensive minds in football and one of the better overall head coaches. They have a very strong team that is balanced and strong on both lines. We’ll see who starts the season at QB, but I was extremely high on Trey Lance in the draft. So, I’m not at all concerned about him being the guy moving forward. In fact, I think he will contribute to their long-term success as he develops into one of the better young quarterbacks in the league.