Best, worst of past decade in NFL: Signings, fantasy players, game and more

The start of a new decade is upon us with the 2020 NFL season. But before we get rolling with the '20s, ESPN is taking a look back at the best -- and worst -- of the 2010s and naming the top players of the decade for all 32 teams.

From the social media star of the decade to the worst call by a referee, ESPN's NFL team remembers the people and moments of impact -- good and bad -- from the past 10 years. And NFL Nation reporters select the two best players of the decade from their teams, the top coach and assemble all-division teams of the 2010s.


It all kicks off with the best and worst of the NFL from the past decade.

Division all-decade player, teams

Tuesday: AFC East and NFC East

Wednesday: AFC North and NFC North

Thursday: AFC West and NFC West

Friday: AFC South and NFC South



Best team





New England Patriots



How they fared: 141-42 (.770), 10 AFC East titles, 16 playoff wins, three Super Bowl titles

Qualifying for the playoffs each season of the decade, and winning the AFC East each year, is a good place to start. They also had five Super Bowl appearances, three championships and eight appearances in the AFC Championship Game. Their overall record in the decade, including playoffs, was a league-best 141-42. -- Mike Reiss

Worst team





Cleveland Browns



How they fared: 42-117-1 (.266), no playoffs

In a decade of unmatched futility, the Browns hired poorly, drafted worse (Johnny Football, anyone?) and, well, lost a whole lot of games -- 117 to be exact, seven more than any other team in the league. The infamous 0-16 record in 2017 underscores the despair that has enveloped a proud franchise and its rabid fan base. -- Jake Trotter

Best coach



Bill Belichick, Patriots



Record: 141-42 (.770)

Leading the Patriots to three Super Bowl championships, he became the only head coach in NFL history with six Super Bowls titles. His NFL-best 140 victories in the decade upped his career total to 304, which is third all time behind Don Shula (347) and George Halas (324). Belichick became the fastest to reach 300 wins, doing so in his 434th NFL game, faster than Shula (445) and Halas (455). -- Mike Reiss

Worst coach



Hue Jackson, Browns



Record: 11-44-1 (.205)


Jackson had the worst record of the decade among coaches with at least 50 games. In his defense, the Browns did hire Jackson with the aim of tanking to acquire assets for a rebuild. Still, Jackson clashed with management, his own assistants and even his own quarterback. At 3-36-1, he was fired during the middle of the 2018 season, after which the Browns rapidly turned their season around. -- Jake Trotter

Best free-agent signing



Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos, 2012



News helicopters tracked Manning's arrival for his visit to Denver. When he signed a five-year, $96 million contract in March of 2012, Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway hailed it as a franchise-changing move that "raises all boats." In Manning's four seasons, the Broncos won 50 games, four division titles, went to two Super Bowls, won Super Bowl 50 and set the NFL's single-season scoring record (606) as the only 600-point team in league history. That season Manning also set the NFL record with 55 touchdown passes. He had three of his top four career touchdown seasons with the Broncos -- 55 in 2013, 39 in 2014 and 37 in 2012. -- Jeff Legwold

Worst free-agent signing



Brock Osweiler, QB, Houston Texans, 2016


The Texans were a quarterback away from being serious AFC contenders, so they went all-in by giving Osweiler a $72 million contract without him meeting coach Bill O'Brien. Osweiler threw 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions before being benched in Week 15 of the 2016 season. It was clear his future wasn't in Houston due to a deteriorated relationship with O'Brien, so Houston got rid of Osweiler's contract that next offseason by trading him and a second-round draft pick to the Browns. -- Sarah Barshop

Best fantasy player of the decade



Antonio Brown, WR



Brown had six consecutive seasons (2013-18) with at least 300 PPR fantasy points, one of only three players at any position in history with a streak that long. He was the game's highest-scoring player overall in 2014 and second-highest in 2015. For the decade, Brown had a 101.8-PPR fantasy point advantage over the rest of his positional field, and on 22 occasions -- nine more than any other wide receiver -- reached the 30-point threshold. His scoring prowess helped raise the popularity of the zero-RB strategy, reminding that wide receivers can carry your team to fantasy success. He was the No. 1 overall pick on average in 2016, and was a top-six pick in 2015 (sixth), 2017 (third) and 2018 (fifth). -- Tristan H. Cockcroft

Worst fantasy player of the decade



Doug Martin, RB



Martin had the second-highest-scoring fantasy game by any player in the 2010s (55.2 PPR points, Week 9 of 2012), and the sixth-highest-scoring season by any rookie in the 2010s (311.6 PPR points, 2012), but his disappointments overshadowed his accomplishments. He was the No. 5 overall pick on average in 2013 and saw an 8.1-PPR-point-per game decline in production before suffering a season-ending labrum injury in October. He was the No. 8 pick in 2014 and 2016, and failed to reach the 90-point threshold in either season. From 2012 through 2018, Martin played in 84 games, and in only 10 of them did he score as many as 20 PPR fantasy points. -- Tristan H. Cockcroft

Best offense





New England Patriots



How they fared: Offensive efficiency: 71.3 (first), points per game: 29.5 (first), yards per game: 390.7 (second)

It helped having Tom Brady at quarterback, and perhaps this stat was most telling: The Patriots had 29 games over the decade in which they came back from a fourth-quarter deficit or tie to win. So they were clutch, in addition to potent (averaging 29.5 points per game). Not to be overlooked is their penchant for evolving on the fly. Their smashmouth offense to win Super Bowl LIII looked a lot different from the air-it-out approach that sparked the Super Bowl XLIX title. -- Mike Reiss

Worst offense





Jacksonville Jaguars



How they fared: Offensive efficiency: 33.3 (last), points per game: 18.9 (31st), yards per game: 317.9 (last)

It's all about the quarterback, and the Jaguars haven't exactly flourished at that position. Blake Bortles was their best of the decade at the position by far. He is second in franchise history in passing yards, attempts, completions and touchdown passes, but he also led the NFL in turnovers (94) and interceptions (75) in his five seasons (2014-18). Still, he was a significant upgrade over Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert. It's no coincidence the Jaguars were one of the worst teams in the red zone, because that's related to QB play. Per ESPN Stats & Information research, no team saw fewer drives reach the red zone than the Jaguars from 2010 through 2019, and they ranked 28th in red zone TD percentage and 31st in red zone scoring percentage. Here's a stat that perfectly sums up the franchise's struggles: Bortles' 24 victories from 2010 through 2018 is the most of any Jaguars QB. The guy in second place? David Garrard, who went 8-6 in 2010, followed by Gardner Minshew (6-6), Henne (5-17) and Gabbert (5-22). -- Michael DiRocco

Best defense






Baltimore Ravens



How they fared: Defensive efficiency: 59.4 (first), points per game: 19.7 (third), yards per game: 322.6 (second)

Baltimore barricaded the end zone for offenses over the past 10 seasons, seven times finishing in the top 10 in fewest points allowed, including four years among the top three. At the start of the decade, the Ravens' defense dominated with two future Hall of Famers in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs. By the close of it, Baltimore was turning turnovers into touchdowns with Eric Weddle, C.J. Mosley and Marlon Humphrey. The Ravens finished this decade with the highest-scoring offense behind quarterback Lamar Jackson, but their identity over the past 10 years remained on the defensive side of the ball. -- Jamison Hensley

Worst defense





Oakland Raiders



How they fared: Defensive efficiency: 38.0 (last), points per game: 26.2 (last), yards per game: 360.7 (27th)

Continuity is key, and the Raiders had very little on defense in the 2010s. Hey, six different defensive coordinators in the decade does not exactly signify stability, from John Marshall to Chuck Bresnahan to Jason Tarver to Ken Norton Jr. to John Pagano to Paul Guenther. And that's not counting a pair of heavy-handed, defensive-minded head coaches in Dennis Allen and Jack Del Rio. The Raiders have rebuilt their linebacker corps and secondary to enter the '20s. The focus is solely on Guenther, whose defenses are responsible for two of the eight worst single-season defensive efficiency seasons of the past decade. -- Paul Gutierrez

Best game



Super Bowl LI: Patriots 34, Falcons 28



The. Greatest. Comeback. In. Super Bowl. History. That unquestionably qualifies it for game-of-the-decade status. The Patriots trailed 28-3 with 8 minutes, 31 seconds remaining in the third quarter. They roared back to score 31 unanswered points -- with two touchdowns in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter, and then winning it on the first drive of overtime -- with some help from questionable Falcons playcalling in the fourth quarter. -- Mike Reiss

Runner-up: Super Bowl XLIX: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24. Malcolm Butler will forever be immortalized in New England for saving the game with an improbable interception in the final seconds, bringing home the Patriots' first Super Bowl title in a decade. Should Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson have been throwing at the goal line? It's a question some are still asking in Seattle. -- Mike Reiss

Worst call by referee



The crew working the 2018 NFC Championship Game missed two fouls on one huge play, a brutal omission that helped the Rams beat the Saints and advance to Super Bowl LIII. Two officials stood by as Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman slammed into Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis before the ball arrived. They could have called defensive pass interference or an illegal hit to the head of a defenseless player. Either would have given the Saints a key first down late in the game. Among the consequences of the missed call(s): a disastrous one-year experiment with replay review of pass interference. -- Kevin Seifert

Biggest social media star of the decade



J.J. Watt, DE, Texans



Watt, who has the most Twitter followers among NFL players, has embraced social media, showing snippets of his life on and off the field. He responds to some of the many tweets he gets from fans, and he's used his social media presence for good. In 2017, Watt wanted to raise money to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey. He started with a goal of $200,000 -- including the $100,000 he donated -- and ended up raising more than $41 million. -- Sarah Barshop

Biggest change in the game


The NFL's current stance on brain health is unrecognizable from where it stood at the beginning of the decade. In the fall of 2009, members of a congressional committee slammed commissioner Roger Goodell for what they perceived to be his inattention to the topic. Now, the NFL has arguably the most comprehensive concussion-mitigation program in professional sports. During that span, it made more than two dozen safety-related rule changes and required players to wear better-rated helmets. It also added three independent neurological consultants and a designated athletic trainer at games to help spot and evaluate symptoms, while also implementing a five-step return-to-play protocol. -- Kevin Seifert

Best player



Tom Brady, QB, Patriots


If the ultimate barometer is wins, Brady is the slam dunk choice. His three Super Bowl championships in the decade gave him six overall, making him the only player in NFL history to hit that mark. Patriots coach Bill Belichick has often said about Brady that a defining characteristic of his career is that he usually followed up a subpar performance with one of his best. That's a testament to his mental toughness. -- Mike Reiss

Runner-up: Drew Brees, QB, Saints. He began the decade as MVP of Super Bowl XLIV in February 2010. Brees ended it as the NFL's all-time leader in career passing yards and TDs. Although Brees never got back to the Super Bowl during the 2010s, he did lead the Saints to the playoffs six more times while surpassing 5,000 yards four times and breaking the NFL record for completion percentage three times. -- Mike Triplett

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