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5 best San Francisco 49ers teams of all-time

What are the best San Francisco 49ers teams of all-time? We know they have won five Super Bowl titles in their history. Is one of these teams not among the five best?

As San Francisco attempts to add a sixth Lombardi to the mix this year, we thought it made sense to look at some of the greatest teams from the past in Northern California.

From Joe Montana to Steve Young and Jerry Rice, there’s a rich history in San Francisco. So, what are the five best San Francisco 49ers teams of all-time?

Related: Sportsnaut’s NFL Playoff and Super Bowl predictions

5. 1988 San Francisco 49ers

best san francisco 49ers teams of all-time
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  • San Francisco 49ers 1988 record: 10-6
  • Season results: Defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII

Coming off a brutal upset loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the 1987 NFC Divisional Playoffs, San Francisco knew changes were needed in order to continue its dynastic run. It did just that in selecting defenders with each of the team’s first three picks in the 1988 NFL Draft (Danny Stubbs, Pierce Holt and Bill Romanowski). All three played huge roles on a defense that ranked in the top 10 of the NFL in points allowed.

The 49ers’ offense wasn’t an issue the previous season (or during the entire 1980s). However, it was the defense that made the difference here with Joe Montana (18 TD, 10 interceptions) having a down season. Roger Craig’s 2000-yard season out of the backfield helped, too.

San Francisco would go on to exact revenge against Minnesota in the divisional round, winning by the score of 34-9. It then blew out the Chicago Bears by 25 points in the NFC Championship Game before setting up a second Super Bowl matchup of the decade against the Cincinnati Bengals.

By now, you likely already know the story. Down 16-13 with 3:10 remaining, San Francisco took over possession of the ball at its own eight-yard line. Montana proceeded to lead the team down the field 92 yards, culminating in a game-winning touchdown catch from John Taylor with 34 seconds left. Jerry Rice won Super Bowl MVP with a record 215 yards. Meanwhile, this went down as Montana’s “John Candy Game.” Read the story here. It’s awesome.

4. 1981 San Francisco 49ers

best san francisco 49ers teams of all-time
Tony Tomsic-USA TODAY Sports
  • San Francisco 49ers 1981 record: 13-3
  • Season results: Defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI

The 1981 49ers are known more for Dwight Clark’s “The Catch” in the NFC Championship Game against the favored Dallas Cowboys. The last-minute game-winning touchdown catch from Joe Montana ended one dynastic run and started another.

But this squad was about a lot more than that. Head coach and general manager Bill Walsh hit a home run in the draft that spring, acquiring starting defensive backs Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright and Carlton Williamson within the first three rounds. All three played important roles as rookies with San Francisco boasting the second-best scoring defense in the NFL during the regular season.

Offensively, Joe Montana made his name known to the world after boasting a 2-6 record as a starter in his first two seasons. It didn’t hurt that he had Clark (85 receptions, 1,105 yards) and Freddie Solomon (59 receptions, 969 yards) as the best wide receiver tandem in the league.

After disposing of Tom Landry’s Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game, San Francisco took out the Cincinnati Bengals for their first ever Super Bowl title. That game saw Montana complete 14-of-22 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown, starting a perfect four-game Super Bowl run for the 49ers in the decade.

Related: Biggest upsets in NFL Playoff history

3. 1984 San Francisco 49ers

best san francisco 49ers teams of all-time: 1984
Tony Tomsic-USA TODAY Sports
  • San Francisco 49ers 1984 record: 15-1
  • Season results: Defeated the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX

The 1984 San Francisco 49ers were an absolute machine. Bill Walsh’s squad finished the regular season with a 15-1 record. It ranked No. 2 in scoring (29.7 points per game) and first in points allowed (14.2 points per game). The team’s only setback came Week 7 against the Pittsburgh Steelers by the score of 20-17. Of their 15 wins, 10 came by double-digits.

Montana was especially good this season (28 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) while running backs Wendell Tyler and Roger Craig combined for north of 2,800 total yards out of the backfield. As for the defense, it allowed 14 touchdown passes compared to 25 interceptions.

After disposing of the New York Giants and Chicago Bears in the NFC Playoffs by a combined margin of 44-10, San Franciso entered Super Bowl XIX against the Miami Dolphins as mere three-point favorites. What they did against Dan Marino and Co. was simply amazing. The 49ers racked up 537 total yards of offense and 31 first downs en route to winning by the score of 38-16.

Montana completed 24-of-35 passes for 331 yards with three touchdowns and zero picks. San Francisco’s defense intercepted Marino two times as a dynasty continued to unfold in Northern California.

2. 1989 San Francisco 49ers

best san francisco 49ers teams: 1989
Tony Tomsic-USA TODAY Sports
  • San Francisco 49ers 1989 record: 14-2
  • Season results: Defeated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV

San Francisco completed its only back-to-back run of the dynasty by absolutely demolishing opponents in George Seifert’s first season replacing the legendary Bill Walsh. Joe Montana won NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. Jerry Rice led the league with 1,483 receiving yards. San Francisco completed the regular season with a 14-2 record while outscoring its opponents by an average of two touchdowns per game.

But it was the utter domination we saw in the playoffs that made this one of the greatest San Francisco 49ers teams ever. Montana and Co. defeated the Minnesota Vikings by the score of 41-13 in the NFC Divisional Playoffs before beating the rival Los Angeles Rams 30-3 in the NFC Championship Game.

This set the stage for a Super Bowl matchup against John Elway and the Denver Broncos. The 49ers found themselves as 13-point favorites inside the Louisiana Superdome, and looked every bit the part of it. Before halftime even hit, San Francisco was up 27-3 via two Rice touchdown catches from Montana. Once the duo connected for a third time to open the third quarter, that was game.

The 49ers were ultimately on the winning end of the largest blowout in Super Bowl history, defeating Denver by the score of 55-10. Montana threw five touchdown passes while missing on just seven passes. Rice went for 148 yards and a record three touchdowns. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s defense picked off Elway two times while allowing a mere 10 complete passes. It was an embarrassment all the way around.

Related: Biggest blowouts in NFL Playoff history

1. 1994 San Francisco 49ers

NFL: Super Bowl XXIX
RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports
  • San Francisco 49ers 1994 record: 13-3
  • Season results: Defeated the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX

This San Francisco 49ers team actually paved the way for the NFL to start the salary cap era. Coming off a defeat at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game the previous season, general manager Carmen Policy spent the offseason adding several big-time players to the mix. That included the likes of defenders Ken Norton Jr., Gary Plummer, Rickey Jackson and future Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.

The rest was history (almost literally). After an ugly 40-8 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 5, Steve Young and Co. ran off 10 consecutive wins before resting their starters in Week 17. That 10-game span saw San Francisco outscore its opponents by an average of 20 points per game.

Once the playoffs started, opponents had no chance. The Chicago Bears felt that via a 44-15 loss in the divisional round before a rematch against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship game saw San Francisco jump out to a 21-0 first-quarter lead en route to blowing out Troy Aikman and Co.

This set the stage for Super Bowl XXIX against a big underdog in that of the San Diego Chargers. As Super Bowl-record 19-point favorites, the 49ers looked very much the part. Young got that monkey off his back in a big way, tossing six touchdowns. That included four first-half scores as San Francisco won by the margin of 49-26. Its offense put up 455 yards of offense, including 374 from Young himself. Rice hauled in 10 passes for 149 yards and three scores, too. It was a blowout of epic proportions, resulting in the 49ers’ final championship of a dynastic era.

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