The Best Player in the History of Each Franchise: AFC Edition

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CINCINNATI - NOVEMBER 12: LaDainian Tomlinson #21 of the San Diego Chargers runs the ball against the Cincinnati Bengals on November 12, 2006 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Chargers defeated the Bengals 49-41. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The regular season has yet to start, and all 32 teams are tied at 0-0. And while not all teams are created equal, and not every team will go to the Super Bowl, each team has experienced greatness in one form or another. Here’s a list of the best player in the history of each franchise.

The Best Player in the History of Each Franchise: AFC Edition

North

Pittsburgh Steelers- “Mean” Joe Greene

Talk about a franchise with plenty of choices. The Pittsburgh Steelers have won more Super Bowls than anyone else in the NFL, and they’ve had plenty of great players. Ben Roethlisberger, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Jack Lambert, Jerome Bettis, Troy Polamalu, the list goes on and on. However, “Mean” Joe Greene has to be considered the very best.

He was one of the most dominant players in NFL history, and he epitomized the Steel Curtain defense. Greene was the defensive rookie of the year, a two-time defensive player of the year, and an eight-time All-Pro. He was named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time team, and played a crucial role in Pittsburgh’s first four Super Bowl wins.

Baltimore Ravens- Ray Lewis

The Baltimore Ravens are a very young franchise, but they’ve already had so many great players. Jonathan Ogden is already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Ed Reed is on his way. However, nobody can touch Ray Lewis, who many consider the greatest linebacker of the century.

Whether it was his hard hits or his famous pre-game speeches, Ray Lewis is one of the best defenders of all time. There’s a reason there’s a statue of Ray Lewis outside of M&T Bank Stadium.

Cincinnati Bengals- Anthony Munoz

C’mon, was there even a shadow of a doubt? Anthony Munoz is considered by many to be one of the greatest tackles, if not offensive linemen in the history of the NFL. A.J. Green is a very talented player, and he’s well on his way, but for the time being, Munoz shuts this list down faster than opposing pass-rushers.

Cleveland Browns- Jim Brown

Jim Brown is considered by many to be the greatest football player that ever lived. In all but one of the nine seasons he played in the NFL, Brown led the NFL in rushing yards, and he led the NFL in touchdowns five times. Even in the modern era, where scoring is easier than ever, Brown is still in the top ten all-time.

South

Indianapolis Colts- Peyton Manning

This was a tough one. Which Colts quarterback do you put up here? Johnny Unitas? What about Andrew Luck? It’s a little soon, but there’s no question he’s a talented young man. Nope, at the end of the day, this one was a gimme. It had to be good ol’ Peyton Manning. Manning currently holds all of the passing records, and he helped with a Super Bowl for the Colts.

Jacksonville Jaguars- Tony Boselli

If you’re a fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars, then you’re thinking, duh! If you’re not, then you might not know who Tony Boselli was. Tony Boselli was a left tackle for Jacksonville, and the team’s very first pick and helped pave the way for the earliest Jaguar teams.

Tennessee Titans- Earl Campbell

This is a bit of a cheat, but in all reality, the Tennessee Titans do inherit the legacy of the Houston Oilers. If the Oilers had been revived like the Cleveland Browns, then a true Titan like Eddie George could’ve gotten in, but they haven’t, so Earl Campbell it is.

Earl Campbell is that back that every powerback gets compared to. In just nine seasons, Campbell rushed for 9,407 yards and 74 touchdowns. That’s over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns a year, and it’s just a shame he didn’t play longer.

Houston Texans- J.J. Watt

The Houston Texans are a relatively young franchise, but there were still many decent candidates for this spot. Andre Johnson was a very good wide receiver, Arian Foster is one of the best undrafted NFL players in history, and even Mario Williams had some success in Houston. However, nobody can touch what J.J. Watt has done so far in Houston.

Two years ago, Watt was playing injured, and he still managed to record 17.5 sacks. As impressive as that was, it was only his third best season. Twice, Watt has recorded at least 20 sacks, and he’s the only person to have ever done so.

East

New England Patriots- Tom Brady

Tom Brady is a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer, and maybe the greatest quarterback of all time. He’s won more Super Bowls than any quarterback in history, and he holds just about every post-season passing record. Considering that Brady may end up winning Lombardi number six this year, there’s no debate about who the greatest New England Patriot of all time is.

New York Jets- Don Maynard

Here’s something you might not know, Don Maynard retired in 1972, and he is still the leading receiver in New York Jets history. Of all the receivers that have suited up for the New York Jets in history, none have achieved that success that Maynard did. Mark Gastineau is another player that history just hasn’t given enough credit to.

Buffalo Bills- Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith is the NFL’s all-time leader in sacks, was there really any other choice? O.J. Simpson? No way. Smith had 13 seasons with at least 10 sacks, and even though his Bills teams never won a Super Bowl, he was a crucial part in his team going to four straight. Bruce Smith doesn’t get enough credit, when he should be mentioned as one of the best pass rushers in history.

Miami Dolphins- Dan Marino

In our article regarding the best quarterback of all time, we explained just how unlucky Dan Marino was. His Dolphins teams were rarely any good, but that didn’t stop him from being one of the best quarterbacks in history. If only Dan Marino had won a single ring, he’d probably be considered the best quarterback of all time, but he’s easily the best Dolphin.

West

Oakland Raiders- Gene Upshaw

For the better part of two decades, Gene Upshaw was a crucial part of Oakland’s offensive line. While Jim Otto and Art Shell helped a lot, Upshaw was the driving force behind that line, and he’s one of the best offensive linemen of all-time.

Kansas City Chiefs- Derrick Thomas

One of the biggest tragedies in pro football history is the loss of Derrick Thomas. Thomas was only 33 years old when he passed away, and he only enjoyed 11 seasons in the NFL. In those 11 seasons, he had at least ten sacks seven times, including the 1990 season where he registered 20.

Denver Broncos- John Elway

There’s really no question right now, is there? Maybe if Von Miller keeps it up, and carries his team to another Super Bowl, we can revisit, but for now, it’s gotta be John Elway. Elway has at least 30,000 passing yards on every other Broncos quarterback in history, and considering the work he’s done behind the scenes, he’s not done with Denver yet.

Los Angeles Chargers- LaDainian Tomlinson

It’s weird to think that newly enshrined Pro Football Hall of Famer, LaDainian Tomlinson is actullally a bit underrated. Sure, people remember how dominant he was, but not just how dominate. Look at his numbers from the first eight years of his career. He averaged 1,470 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns, as well as nearly 500 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns a year during his prime. Those numbers are ridiculous, and only Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice have more total touchdowns than Tomlinson.

Don’t forget to also check out the NFC version!

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