New England is lethal against top teams
The twittering negativity that plagued the Boston and national pigskin media in the days leading up to the Week 16 New England-N.Y. Jets game left the Cold, Hard Football Facts confused and perplexed.
For those of you who don't have the displeasure of splashing in the acid pool of gossip and negativity that passes for sports reportage among many in the Boston area, the theme of the week, comical in retrospect, was something like this: "The Patriots, defending Super Bowl champions and owners of a 29-4 record over the past two seasons, have been exposed. They can't win on the road against a good team like the Jets."
The truth was quite a bit different: New England throttled New York, 23-7, in a game that wasn't as close as the score would indicate. The outcome should not have been a surprise, because no team in modern NFL history has been more lethal in big games against quality opponents than the 2003-04 New England Patriots. Yes, that's right. No team has been more effective at carving up top teams.
How do we know? We turned to the sinewy Sherpas of the gridiron, the Cold, Hard Football Facts, to lead us out of the valley of negativity and up the mountain of pigskin knowledge. They compared the 2003-04 Patriots to the greatest teams over a two-year period in modern NFL history (since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970).
We identified the 10 teams of the era that have won the most games over a two-year span. All the greatest and most legendary teams are here and all except the 1982-83 Redskins, who played through a strike-shortened, nine-game 1982 campaign, won at least 30 regular season and playoff games over two seasons.
We then looked at each team's schedule to see how they fared against quality opponents – that is, how they performed against teams that finished a given season with a winning record. (We use the term "quality wins" to identify victories against quality opponents.) Loyal readers of the Cold, Hard Football Facts know that quality wins have proven a remarkably reliable indicator of a team's strength. It's an indicator based on a deceptively simple premise, one that trumps any other trend or stat: the best teams are those that are most capable of beating other good teams.
It turns out that no team in modern NFL history has been more deadly against quality opponents than the 2003-04 New England Patriots. It should comfort Patriots fans as the team gears up for the NFL playoffs in a conference mined by explosive, high-quality opponents. Here, then, is the view from the summit of football enlightenment. Marvel at its majestic beauty.
Overall record (regular season and playoffs)
1972-73 Dolphins.......32-2 (.941); two championships
1985-86 Bears............32-4 (.889); one championship
2003-04 Patriots.........30-4 (.882); TBD
1982-83 Redskins......28-4* (.875); one championship
1989-90 49ers.............32-5 (.865); one championship
1997-98 Broncos ........33-6 (.846); two championships
1978-79 Steelers........32-6 (.842); two championships
1992-93 Cowboys......31-7 (.816); two championships
1996-97 Packers........31-7 (.816); one championship
1990-91 Bills................30-8 (.789); zero championships
Record against quality opponents (regular season and playoffs)
2003-04 Patriots..........17-1 (.944)
1972-73 Dolphins.......13-1 (.928)
1982-83 Redskins......15-3 (.833)*
1989-90 49ers.............15-3 (.833)
1992-93 Cowboys.......14-4 (.778)
1978-79 Steelers.........17-5 (.773)
1996-97 Packers.........16-5 (.762)
1997-98 Broncos.........12-4 (.750)
1985-86 Bears.............11-4 (.733)
1990-91 Bills.................10-7 (.588)
*Includes strike-shortened 1982 season
Here, then, are some Cold, Hard Football Facts we can glean from these lists:
• No team – not even among football's most legendary teams – has won more games against quality opponents over a two-year period than the 2003-04 Patriots.
• No team has posted a better record against quality opponents (17-1; .944) than the 2003-04 Patriots.
• When put under the harsh light of the Cold, Hard Football Facts, it's clear why the Bills lost four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s: they beat up poor teams and had difficulty against top teams.
• The 1985-86 Bears padded their bully reputation beating up cupcakes, to the tune of a 21-0 record. Their record against quality teams was not nearly as good.
• Among 10 of the most legendary teams in NFL history, the 2003-04 Patriots are the only team that played two full seasons and performed better against quality opponents (.944 winning percentage) than it did against all opponents (.882).**
• If the Patriots beat the 49ers in the regular-season finale and go on to win the Super Bowl they'll set an NFL record for most victories over a two-year period.
• Great teams play their best against great opponents in big games. No team in modern NFL history has been better in big games than the 2003-04 Patriots.
** The 1982-83 Redskins also performed better against teams with winning records, but the 1982 strike made it difficult to decipher the quality of their opponents: eight of their 13 regular season and playoff opponents went 5-4 or 4-5 in the regular season.
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