A quick look back at the 2007 Patriots

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Aug 19, 2008



(Ed. Note: The original version of this piece failed to include the 1941 Bears among the short list of most dominant teams in the history of football. The Cold, Hard Football Facts regret the error. In fact, we regret pretty much everything that's happened to us since 10th grade.)
 
We were just looking back at last season, lost in lazy reverie of days gone by and dreaming of the golden days of the gridiron ahead this autumn, when we stopped briefly to ponder the historical dominance of the 2007 Patriots.
 
Thoughts of New England bubbled to the surface when we were studying some data from 1920, the first season in NFL history. (What, do you have something better to do on a gorgeous summer day than study 88-year-old football data?)
 
Sure, everybody remembers the Super Bowl defeat the Patriots suffered last year – and the crushing, legacy-skewering losses the team has endured in consecutive postseasons. But it pays to remember that the 2007 Patriots were, inarguably, the single most dominant team of the Super Bowl Era, and, arguably (as you'll see below), the single most dominant team in the history of professional football (a fact which makes their Super Bowl defeat all the more shocking).
 
Their dominance struck us when we started comparing the 2007 Patriots to the teams in history that absolutely crushed their opponents virtually every single week. It's a short list.
 
In fact, only three teams in the history of NFL football, dating all the way back to the disorganized mess of the league's earliest years, outscored opponents by a wider margin than the 2007 Patriots:
  • The 1942 Bears went 11-0 and outscored their opponents by an average of 26.6 PPG (376 PF, 84 PA)
  • The 1941 Bears went 10-1 and outscored their opponents by an average of 22.6 PPG (396 PF, 147 PA)  
  • The 1920 Buffalo All-Americans went 9-1-1 and outscored their opponents by an average of 20.6 PPG (258 PF, 32 PA)
  • The 2007 Patriots went 16-0 and outscored their opponents by an average of 19.7 PPG (589 PF, 274 PA)
That's it, folks.
 
Considering all the extenuating circumstances involved, you can make an argument that the Patriots were the single most dominant team in history.
 
The 1920 All-Americans, for example, played in the very first year of the NFL. In fact, it wasn't even called the NFL. It was called the APFA (American Professional Football Association). Schedules were set by individual teams. They played different numbers of games, including games against teams who weren't even part of the league. It was in this disorganized mess, in the very first year of the league's existence, that the All-Americans set the first standard of dominance.
 
The 1942 Bears, meanwhile, played in the first year of the depleted wartime NFL (995 NFL players, coaches and executives served in World War II). Most teams played with second-rate rosters filled, in many cases, by guys unfit for military service. Even Bears coach George Halas had shipped off to the Navy. It was in this depleted mess, in the league's very first season following America's entry into the war, that the Bears set the NFL's next standard of dominance.
 
And then there are the 2007 Patriots – a team that outscored its opponents by nearly three touchdowns per game in a rigidly structured league purposely designed to make every game as competitive as possible.
 
So, given these surrounding circumstances, you can easily make the argument that no team in history dominated the league like the 2007 Patriots.
 
Ironically, three of the most dominant teams in NFL history all share one other thing in common: all three failed to win the NFL championship.
  • The 1920 All Americans went 9-1-1 in the pre-title game era NFL. The championship that year was awarded to the undefeated 8-0-3 Akron Pros  (who outscored their opponents 151-7).
  • The 1942 Bears, like the 2007 Patriots, went undefeated (11-0) and, like the 2007 Patriots, were shocked in the NFL championship game, falling to the Redskins, 14-6.
  • The 2007 Patriots, as everybody knows, went undefeated (16-0) but were shocked in the NFL championship game, falling to the Giants, 17-14.

Sadly for history's sake, both the 1942 Bears and 2007 Patriots reserved their worst offensive outputs of the year for the biggest game.

Interestingly, the team that was the most dominant of the Super Bowl Era before the 2007 Patriots, the 1968 Colts, also failed to win a championship. Those Colts are noted in infamy for falling to the Jets in Super Bowl III.
 
The lesson is obvious: regular-season dominance does not insure that you walk away with the trophy.
 
But it also doesn't change the fact that what the Patriots did in 2007 had really never been matched before, and is unlikely to be matched again any time soon.
 
Here's how the 2007 Patriots stack up against the most dominant teams of the Super Bowl Era. We're looking to piece together a list of most dominant teams in all of NFL history, and hope to have that out soon. However, as the examples of the 1920 All-Americans and 1942 Bears show above, it's not always fair to compare teams of past decades to those in modern football history.
 
MOST DOMINANT TEAMS OF THE SUPER BOWL ERA*
Team
Record
PF-PA
PPG Difference
Result
2007 Patriots   16-0   36.8-17.1  +19.7  Lost SB XLII
1968 Balt. Colts
13-1
28.7-10.3
+18.4
Lost SB III
1999 Rams
13-3
32.9-15.1
+17.8
Won SB XXXIV
1969 Vikings
12-2
27.1-9.5
+17.6
Lost SB IV
1968 Cowboys  
12-2
30.8-13.3
+17.5
Lost div. round*
1967 Raiders
13-1
33.4-16.6
+16.8
Lost SB II
1991 Redskins
14-2
30.3-14.0
+16.3
Won SB XXVI
1985 Bears
15-1
28.5-12.4
+16.1
Won SB XX
1984 49ers
15-1
29.7-14.2
+15.5
Won SB XIX
1996 Packers
13-3
28.5-13.1
+15.4
Won SB XXXI
1972 Dolphins
14-0
27.5-12.2
+15.3
Won SB VII
1973 L.A. Rams
12-2
27.7-12.7
+15.0
Lost div. round
1975 Steelers
12-2
26.6-11.6
+15.0
Won SB X
1976 Steelers
10-4
24.4-9.9
+14.5
Lost AFC title
1967 L.A. Rams
11-1-2
28.4-14.0
+14.4
Lost div. round**
1968 Chiefs
12-2
26.5-12.1
+14.4
Lost div. round***
1975 Vikings
12-2
26.9-12.9
+14.0
Lost div. round
1973 Dolphins
12-2
24.5-10.7
+13.8
Won SB VIII
1970 Vikings
12-2
23.9-10.2
+13.7
Lost div. round
1969 Chiefs
11-3
25.6-12.6
+13.0
Won SB IV
1975 L.A. Rams
12-2
22.3-9.6
+12.7
Lost NFC title
1971 Balt. Colts
10-4
22.4-10.0
+12.4
Lost AFC title
1966 Packers
12-2
23.9-11.6
+12.3
Won SB I
2000 Ravens
12-4
20.8-10.3
+10.5
Won SB XXXV
 
* Includes only those teams that outscored their opponents by at least a 2 to 1 margin; to reward those teams that dominated offensively and defensively.
 
** In the pre-merger NFL, these teams lost what were then called the conference championships. However, these games were the equivalent of today's divisional playoffs. The winners of the pre-merger "conference championships" would play for the NFL championship (the equivalent of today's conference championship) and then the Super Bowl.
 
*** The 1968 Chiefs finished in a tie with the Raiders atop the AFL's Western Division. The two teams met in a one-game playoff to determine the division champion, who would then face the Eastern Division champion Jets for the AFL championship. The Raiders beat the Chiefs, 41-6.

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