I’m wrapping up my series on top teams of the 21st century with three leagues outside the Big Six. Over the years I have offered odds, strength ratings, trends and analysis for the WNBA, the CFL, Arena Football, the XFL and even the Alliance of American Football. While the latter two didn’t stand the test of time, the others did, and I’ve been studying them for nearly as long as other sports. In fact, my databases for CFL, WNBA and Arena Football go back further than 20 years, giving me the chance to present lists of top teams for each league.
Here’s one final reminder of how I determine the ratings. Essentially, they are a statistical calculation that quantifies how much a team has outplayed its competition. My Effective Strength Ratings are basically a power rating that can be used to create a neutral-field point spread between two teams, even from different seasons. Using the top two teams on the WNBA list, it would be determined that the 2001 Cleveland team would theoretically have been a 1.4-point favorite over 2017 Minnesota. The formula I have used to create these ratings has not changed in the 20-plus years I have done them, an important factor when comparing teams from different seasons or eras. It could be reasonably argued that because of numerous other factors, including playoff success, the Lynx were the better team. But these are purely statistical ratings.
Top 10 WNBA Teams (Effective Strength Rating) Record — Playoff Fortunes
1. 2001 CLEVELAND ROCKERS (+ 8.26), 23-12 SU and 18-15-2 ATS — Eliminated in first round
2. 2017 MINNESOTA LYNX (+ 6.88), 33-9 SU and 22-20 ATS — Won WNBA championship
3. 2002 HOUSTON COMETS (+ 6.82), 25-10 SU and 19-15-1 ATS — Eliminated in first round
4. 2010 WASHINGTON MYSTICS (+ 6.8), 22-13 SU and 20-14-1 ATS — Eliminated in first round
5. 2010 INDIANA FEVER (+ 6.33), 21-14 SU and 18-17 ATS — Eliminated in first round
6. 2017 LOS ANGELES SPARKS (+ 6.32), 31-11 SU and 27-15 ATS — Lost in WNBA finals
7. 2016 LOS ANGELES SPARKS (+ 5.99), 32-11 SU and 21-22 ATS — Won WNBA championship
8. 2007 INDIANA FEVER (+ 5.95), 24-16 SU and 22-18 ATS — Lost in Eastern Conference finals
9. 2011 SEATTLE STORM (+ 5.76), 22-15 SU and 18-18-1 ATS — Eliminated in first round
10. 2000 NEW YORK LIBERTY (+ 5.6), 24-15 SU and ATS — Lost in WNBA finals
These results were somewhat of a surprise to me, as I clearly expected that Lynx team to top the list. As champions of the WNBA that season, they are obviously looked at as a more successful team than the 2001 Rockers. However, Cleveland was the best defensive team of the century in terms of my strength ratings, holding teams more than 11 points below their season averages. While they were actually outplayed offensively, they were so good on the other end of the court that it made up for it. Even so, a first-round playoff upset loss proved that the best teams are good on both ends of the court. Due to many playoff upsets, just two WNBA champions over the last 20 years made this list. Los Angeles and Indiana are the only two franchises with multiple entries.
Top 10 CFL Teams (Effective Strength Rating) Record — Playoff Fortunes
1. 2009 MONTREAL ALOUETTES (+ 13.1), 17-3 SU and 12-8 ATS — Won CFL championship
2. 2016 CALGARY STAMPEDERS (+ 11.12), 16-3 SU and 14-6 ATS — Lost in Grey Cup
3. 2006 BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (+ 10.67), 15-5 SU and 12-8 ATS — Won CFL championship
4. 2004 MONTREAL ALOUETTES (+ 9.96), 14-5 SU and 12-7 ATS — Lost in East Division finals
5. 2002 WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (+ 9.57), 13-7 SU and 12-8 ATS — Lost in West Division finals
6. 2000 MONTREAL ALOUETTES (+ 9.55), 13-7 SU and 10-9-1 ATS — Lost in Grey Cup
7. 2019 HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (+ 9.54), 16-4 SU and 13-5-2 ATS — Lost in Grey Cup
8. 2017 CALGARY STAMPEDERS (+ 9.27), 14-5 SU and 10-10 ATS — Lost in Grey Cup
9. 2014 CALGARY STAMPEDERS (+ 9.25), 17-3 SU and 13-6-1 ATS — Won CFL championship
10. 2008 CALGARY STAMPEDERS (+ 8.69), 15-5 SU and 14-6 ATS — Won CFL championship
The Calgary and Montreal franchises dominate the CFL list, with the Stampeders claiming four top-10 spots and the Alouettes grabbing three. Calgary won two titles with the teams on the list and Montreal took home one with the No. 1 entry. The only other title winner on the list is the ’06 B.C. Lions. Unlike previous lists of top teams, all CFL entries finished .500 or better against the spread.
Top 10 Arena Football Teams (Effective Strength Rating) Record — Playoff Fortunes
1. 2013 ARIZONA RATTLERS (+ 20.1), 18-3 SU and 16-5 ATS — Lost in Arena Bowl
2. 2015 SAN JOSE SABERCATS (+ 17.02), 20-1 SU and 13-8 ATS — Won Arena Football championship
3. 2002 SAN JOSE SABERCATS (+ 16.02), 16-1 SU and 11-6 ATS — Won Arena Football championship
4. 2013 SPOKANE SHOCK (+ 15.83), 15-5 SU and 13-6-1 ATS — Lost in semifinals
5. 2012 PHILADELPHIA SOUL (+ 15.28), 17-4 SU and 13-8 ATS — Lost in Arena Bowl
6. 2016 ARIZONA RATTLERS (+ 15.28), 15-4 SU and 10-9 ATS — Lost in Arena Bowl
7. 2014 ARIZONA RATTLERS (+ 15.16), 18-3 SU and 12-8-1 ATS — Won Arena Football championship
8. 2014 SAN JOSE SABERCATS (+ 14.5), 14-6 SU and 12-7-1 ATS — Lost in semifinals
9. 2011 ARIZONA RATTLERS (+ 14.47), 18-3 SU and 12-9 ATS — Lost in Arena Bowl
10. 2007 SAN JOSE SABERCATS (+ 13.29), 16-3 SU and 14-4-1 ATS — Won Arena Football championship
This list is thoroughly dominated by two franchises, Arizona and San Jose, each claiming four spots. We’ve seen it a lot before, however: The team at the top of the list did not win a league title, as the ’13 Rattlers were upset as double-digit favorites in the Arena Bowl. The top team to win a title in terms of my Effective Strength Ratings was the ’15 SaberCats, who went 20-1, outscoring opponents by a ridiculous 21.4 PPG. Collectively, these top 10 teams generated the best point-spread success rate of any league I covered, going 126-70-3 ATS, good for 64.3%, evidence that bookmakers weren’t as sharp with Arena League lines as other sports.