The Packers and the greatest winning streaks in history

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Nov 18, 2011



By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts Streakologist


As the Cold, Hard Football Facts first brought to your attention last month, the Green Bay Packers have been on a winning streak unlike any other in NFL history. They have won 15 consecutive games without trailing in the fourth quarter, breaking the old record of 13 games by the 1942-43 Washington Redskins.
 
Now that the streak has climbed to 15 games, it puts the Packers in more select company. They are the eighth franchise and 10th team overall to have a winning streak of at least 15 games (including postseason).
 
Ten Longest Winning Streaks In NFL History
Team Games Season(s) Season Results
New England Patriots 21 2003-04 Super Bowl win, Super Bowl win
Chicago Bears 18 1933-34 NFL Championship, NFL-C loss
Chicago Bears 18 1941-42 NFL Championship, NFL-C loss
Miami Dolphins 18 1972-73 Super Bowl win, Super Bowl win
San Francisco 49ers 18 1989-90 Super Bowl win, NFC-C loss
Denver Broncos 18 1997-98 Super Bowl win, Super Bowl win
New England Patriots 18 2007 Super Bowl loss
Oakland Raiders 17 1976-77 Super Bowl win, AFC-C loss
Green Bay Packers 15 2010-11 Super Bowl win, ?
Pittsburgh Steelers 15 2004 AFC-C loss
 
Some facts:
  • A third of the teams were able to repeat as champions.
  • Good news for the 2011 Packers: every team on this list reached at least the conference championship in each season.
  • Only the 2004 Steelers didn’t reach the final championship game, but they did win the Super Bowl the following season.
  • The Steelers also ended the Patriots’ 21-game winning streak during the regular season.
  • The Packers (Aaron Rodgers) and each New England (Tom Brady) team are the only three teams to start one quarterback during the streak.
  • Green Bay’s streak started when Rodgers returned from a concussion last season after consecutive losses to Detroit and New England.
  • Pittsburgh’s streak started with Ben Roethlisberger’s first career start: a 13-3 win in Miami.
  • Backup quarterback Earl Morrall (11) started more games than Bob Griese (7) did during the Dolphins’' 18-game winning streak.
  • San Francisco began their streak during George Seifert’s rookie year as head coach in the NFL.
  • The 1947-48 Cleveland Browns won 18 consecutive games, but AAFC records are not officially recognized by the NFL.
 

Measuring Key Performance Factors

Now let’s break these streaks down further to see just how unique the Packers’ performance really has been.
 
Key Statistical Comparison
Team Games Season(s) PPG OPG Diff. Net Yards NYPG TO Diff SOS
Chicago Bears 18 1941-42 34.4 10.3 24.1 3183 176.8 18 0.404 (77-115-6)
New England Patriots 18 2007 35.6 17.0 18.6 2056 114.2 17 0.493 (142-146)
Denver Broncos 18 1997-98 32.5 17.3 15.2 1556 86.4 10 0.493 (142-146)
San Francisco 49ers 18 1989-90 28.5 13.8 14.7 2091 116.2 23 0.490 (141-147)
Green Bay Packers 15 2010-11 33.1 18.8 14.3 621 41.4 22 0.570 (102-77)
Oakland Raiders 17 1976-77 26.3 12.6 13.7 1134 66.7 13 0.494 (117-120-1)
Miami Dolphins 18 1972-73 25.6 12.3 13.3 1844 102.4 19 0.433 (107-141-4)
Chicago Bears 18 1933-34 20.7 7.8 12.9 - - - 0.483 (101-108-2)
Pittsburgh Steelers 15 2004 23.7 14.5 9.2 1209 80.6 9 0.500 (120-120)
New England Patriots 21 2003-04 23.7 14.7 9.0 597 28.4 22 0.536 (180-156)
 
Note: no statistics for yards and turnovers available for the 1933-34 Bears.
 
While the Packers may be middle of the road in scoring differential (thanks to allowing the most points) and next to last in net yards/game, they can claim to be the best team in turnover differential (based on per game numbers). They also have the toughest strength of schedule (SOS).
 
Now that SOS number is not entirely accurate since their nine games this season are against opponents with final records that have yet to be determined. That makes their six wins from 2010 (all 10+ win teams) factor in much more heavily. Their 2011 SOS to this point is 35-48 (0.422). Regardless, they will have a chance to boast the toughest SOS of all the teams depending on how things finish.
 
On the other side, while the 1941-42 Bears did post jaw-dropping numbers (+24.1 PPG, +176.8 NYPG), they also faced the easiest schedule by far (.404). The 1972-73 Miami Dolphins are known for playing a lesser schedule and that is proven true with the numbers (0.433 is the second lowest).
 
Most teams played a schedule that was around .500, with the 1997-98 Broncos and 2007 Patriots having the same 142-146 mark.
 
That also makes the record-setting 2003-04 Patriots look that much crazier. They only outscored the opponent by 9.0 points/game, they only outgained them by 28.4 yards/game, they played a difficult SOS (0.536), and yet they still held it together for 21 straight wins. Contrast that with the 2007 Patriots, who were winning games by twice the margin, and New England fans got to see two very different streaks. One had a much more enjoyable ending than the other (this statement works for all NFL fans).
 

Fourth Quarter Wins

The key factor in the 2003-04 Patriots’ streak was their ability to win all the close games. Consider them the anti-Packers, as the Patriots seemingly were winning every other game on a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri or ending it with a big defensive stand.
 
Here is the breakdown of wins each team gained by a fourth quarter comeback (4QC) and/or game-winning drive (GWD). Also included is the scoring margin, total and average, the team had after the third quarter of their games (3Q Mg.)
 
Fourth Quarter Wins
Team Games Season(s) 4QC GWD %4QC %GWD 3Q Mg. Avg.
Pittsburgh Steelers 15 2004 6 7 40.0 46.7 75 5.00
New England Patriots 21 2003-04 4 8 19.0 38.1 147 7.00
San Francisco 49ers 18 1989-90 3 6 16.7 33.3 177 9.83
Chicago Bears 18 1933-34 4 5 22.2 27.8 155 8.61
Oakland Raiders 17 1976-77 3 4 17.6 23.5 183 10.76
New England Patriots 18 2007 4 4 22.2 22.2 255 14.17
Denver Broncos 18 1997-98 3 4 16.7 22.2 206 11.44
Miami Dolphins 18 1972-73 4 4 22.2 22.2 202 11.22
Chicago Bears 18 1941-42 2 2 11.1 11.1 302 16.78
Green Bay Packers 15 2010-11 0 1 0.0 6.7 193 12.87
 
The Packers, as we already knew, are the only team to not need a single fourth quarter comeback by their offense during the win streak. They only needed one game-winning drive, which came against Chicago in Week 17 last season. That gives them the lowest percentage of wins via a comeback or game-winning drive.
 
The 2004 Steelers meanwhile won almost half of their games with a game-winning drive in Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season. It’s not surprising to see the two teams at the bottom in scoring differential (full game and third quarter margin) pull out the two highest percentages of fourth quarter wins. They had the only three overtime wins (two for New England, one for Pittsburgh). 
 
Eighty percent of the teams did require at least three comebacks and four game-winning drives. No team was more surprising than the 1933-34 Bears, who made four comebacks and five game-winning drives in a low-scoring era where games rarely were decided in that fashion.
 
In Week 9 of Captain Comeback, we looked at Green Bay’s clutch defense and their ability to stop the opponent from tying or taking the lead in the fourth quarter. During their win streak, the Packers have faced 9 different games where the opponent trailed by 1-8 points in the fourth quarter. On those 16 drives, the defense allowed 0 points and forced seven takeaways (six interceptions and one fumble).
 
We were able to look at the data for the last five teams on the list and their defense in similar situations (score margin of 0-8 points in the fourth quarter/overtime) during their streaks.
 
Clutch Defense
Team Games Drives Points TOs Pts/Dr TO/Dr
2010-11 Packers 9 16 0 7 0.00 0.438
2004 Steelers 9 19 15 3 0.79 0.158
2007 Patriots 5 7 7 4 1.00 0.571
2003-04 Patriots 17 43 44 12 1.02 0.279
1997-98 Broncos 8 16 21 2 1.31 0.125
1989-90 49ers 7 11 20 5 1.82 0.455
 
Though they may allow the most overall points, the Packers have done the best job defensively in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. Their ability to create takeaways has accounted for nearly half the stops. The offense just does not find itself in comeback situations anymore due to the shutout the defense has been pitching.
 
Once again the 2003-04 Patriots stand out, as 17 of their 21 games featured the defense protecting the one-score lead. While they didn’t always do their job (see Super Bowl XXXVIII) the sheer number of times they did hold was remarkable. For reference, allowing 1.02 points/drive would rank your defense #1 in the league in practically any given year.
 
It probably is not surprising the longest win streak in NFL history was the one that had the most close calls, whether it was Olindo Mare missing a 35-yard field goal in overtime in Miami, the intentional safety game in Denver, Willie McGinest faking an injury to thwart the Colts at the goal line, or winning three close playoff games. The Patriots lived dangerously on the win probability scale, but the end result was 21 straight wins.
 

How Did The Streaks End?

When you’re talking about record streaks, it usually takes something significant to put an end to them. Some interesting trends highlight the endings to these great streaks.
 
1933-34 Chicago Bears: After George Halas’ team claimed the 1933 NFL Championship with an exciting comeback win over the New York Giants, they went a perfect 13-0 in the regular season to reach 18 consecutive wins. Once again they would face the Giants in the championship game, and Chicago held a 13-3 lead after three quarters. That’s when the Giants scored 27 unanswered points for a 30-13 win. It would hardly be the last time the Giants ended a perfect season with a fourth quarter comeback.
 
1941-42 Chicago Bears: In similar fashion, the Bears got hot late in the season and defeated the Packers and Giants in the playoffs for another championship victory in 1941. Coach George Halas would leave during the 1942 season for World War II. The Bears dominated the regular season, going 11-0 and leading the league in most categories. However, they would run into a team that was in the process of putting together their own impressive win streak.
 
The 1942 Redskins, led by Sammy Baugh, entered the championship game on a nine-game winning streak. They did not trail in the fourth quarter the last eight games, and would maintain a 14-6 lead after three quarters through the remainder of this game to defeat the Bears. Washington would win the first four games in 1943 without trailing in the fourth quarter, ending their streak at 13 straight wins. That record stood until the Packers surpassed it this season.
 
1972-73 Miami Dolphins: After losing to the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI, the Dolphins came back and claimed the NFL’s only perfect season with a 17-0 record in 1972. They started 1973 with a fourth quarter comeback against San Francisco, but fell behind 12-0 in Oakland the following week, going on to lose 12-7. Miami would get revenge by beating the 9-4-1 Raiders in the AFC Championship that year on their way to a second straight Super Bowl, but the loss disrupted what could have been a 29-game winning streak.
 
1976-77 Oakland Raiders: A few years after ending one of the greatest streaks in history, the Raiders went on one of their own. After being blown out 48-17 by the Patriots, John Madden’s best squad won the last 13 games in 1976 to win the first Super Bowl in Raiders’ history. They started 4-0 in 1977, but lost 30-7 at home to division rival Denver. The Raiders would have to travel to Denver for the AFC Championship later that season, losing 20-17.
 
1989-90 San Francisco 49ers: It was arguably the height of San Francisco’s success. Having just won the Super Bowl for the third time in eight years, head coach Bill Walsh retired and handed the job over to defensive coordinator George Seifert. The result was probably the most potent 49ers offense ever, and another Super Bowl trophy.
 
The 49ers then started 10-0 in 1990, bringing their win streak to 18 games. The Giants were also 10-0, and a Week 13 meeting on Monday Night Football was shaping up to be the game of the century. Both teams would lose in Week 12, ending the streak and dream matchup of unbeatens. The 49ers shockingly lost at home, 28-17, to the 3-7 Los Angeles Rams.
 
In the big Monday Night game, the 49ers beat the Giants 7-3. But later in the NFC Championship rematch, the Giants would walk out of Candlestick victoriously after a game-winning drive by Jeff Hostetler followed Roger Craig’s fumble.
 
1997-98 Denver Broncos: The Broncos won their last five games in 1997, finally breaking through to win their first ever Super Bowl. They would start 1998 with a 13-0 record and thoughts of a perfect season. A game in New York against the 5-8 Giants didn’t look like a big challenge, but Denver found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter.
 
After Terrell Davis rushed for a 27-yard touchdown and the Giants fumbled with 3:36 left, it looked like another victory in the books for the Broncos. The Giants held on defense, and Kent Graham had 1:49 to drive 86 yards. He did, hooking up with Amani Toomer for a shocking 37-yard touchdown with 0:48 left. John Elway was unable to lead the late comeback, and the perfect season was over. Denver would also lose the following week in Miami, but rebounded in time for the playoffs to win their second straight Super Bowl title in Elway’s final game.
 
2003-04 New England Patriots: After starting 2-2 in 2003, no one expected the Patriots to start the longest winning streak in NFL history. As explained above, they did it in every way imaginable, whether it was pitching a shutout, blocking a critical field goal, a late game-winning touchdown drive, a goal line stand in the closing seconds, or winning a shootout. They just kept winning, all the way through the Super Bowl.
 
In 2004 they got stronger as a team, and started 6-0. A trip to Pittsburgh on Halloween proved to be a nightmare as they fittingly fell behind 21-3 on the scoreboard after the first quarter. The deficit was too much to overcome, and the longest winning streak in NFL history was over. However, the Patriots would extract significant revenge on the Steelers.
 
2004 Pittsburgh Steelers: At 1-1, the 2004 Steelers weren’t much of a contender themselves. Tommy Maddox was injured in a blowout loss to the Ravens, and that marked the beginning of the Ben Roethlisberger era in Pittsburgh. He kept winning, and was doing it against some of the best teams in the league that year. After ending New England’s streak, the Steelers beat the NFL’s last undefeated team in the Eagles. Before you knew it, the Steelers were 15-1 and the top seed in the conference.
 
They would slip by the Jets in the playoffs, setting up a rematch with the Patriots in the AFC Championship. The game was a reversal of the Halloween performance, with the Patriots taking a 24-3 halftime lead. The Steelers would lose 41-27, ending their 15-game winning streak. The following season, the Patriots would return to Heinz Field to end the Steelers’ 16-game regular season win streak as well.
 
2007 New England Patriots: The revamped Patriots scared the league to death with a practically flawless performance on their way to an 8-0 start. They really did look like a team that was unbeatable. Then another “game of the century” took place against undefeated Indianapolis, and everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief as the Colts demonstrated you can play with this team for sixty minutes. Still, the Patriots came back to win, and then destroyed Buffalo 56-10 on primetime.
 
That’s when things slowed down, and the Philadelphia Eagles, during a down year and starting A.J. Feeley, gave the Patriots all they can handle at home on a Sunday night primetime game. The Baltimore Ravens, with Kyle Boller at quarterback, did the same thing the following week, and all of a sudden the Patriots looked rather beatable.
 
In the last regular season game, the Patriots and Giants (who else?) had little to play for besides history, and the Giants had one of their best performances of the season. No one was able to score more points (35) or hold a larger lead (12 points) over the Patriots than the Giants did that night. They would still lose as New England completed the 16-0 regular season, but it gave them the necessary confidence for a miracle playoff run.
 
When the teams met again in Super Bowl XLII, it was the upset-minded Giants that provided the greatest drive in NFL history. Eli Manning drove them 83 yards in the final minutes to pull off the shocking upset. What is it about the Giants and 80+ yard touchdown drives to complete fourth quarter comebacks that end perfect seasons?
 
2010-11 Green Bay Packers: As established above, the Green Bay winning streak is unlike any in history. What they accomplish with their fourth quarter leads and ability to stay ahead is second to none.
 
When you talk about records like the longest winning streak in history and most consecutive wins without trailing in the fourth quarter, it’s only natural to be looking for the streak to end any day now. That’s why it’s a record. It’s hard to keep extending something that’s never been done before.
 
Of the three aforementioned teams that repeated as Super Bowl champions, none of them did it through their second championship. The Patriots lost their seventh game in year two, the Broncos lost their 14th game in year two, and the Dolphins lost their second game in year two.
 
Where will it end for Green Bay?
 
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to Lambeau this week. They have lost four of their last five games and have not looked good all season. Josh Freeman’s first career win was an 11-point comeback in the fourth quarter against Green Bay in 2009, but based on recent play, this does not look like a good matchup.
 
How about the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving? The 1962 Packers went 14-1 with their only loss in Detroit on Thanksgiving. Yet if Matthew Stafford plays the way he did against Chicago (two pick 6’s), then the only thing we’ll be asking during Thanksgiving dinner is how did Stafford manage to completely stink up the joint before Nickelback even hit the stage?
 
Three of the longest winning streaks in NFL history have been ended by the New York Giants. They also defeated a fourth team, the 1990 49ers, in the playoffs during one of their streak seasons. The Packers will go to New York in Week 13. If they’re still perfect, this could be a spot for history to end, and to be made again. If not then, then perhaps in the playoffs. The Giants did end Green Bay’s season in 2007 at Lambeau.
 
When the Packers have that letdown - that loss - wouldn’t it be better to get it out of the way now rather than in the playoffs? They’re on pace to set history (22 straight wins) with a Week 17 win over Detroit. After that, you’re talking about the bye week. That’s a waiting game for that next opponent, who just won a Wild Card game and is eager to write their own history.
 
What history will Green Bay leave? Their win streak is already historic. Now at 9-0, we get to watch them tread dangerously on the longest path to perfection anyone has ever embarked on.

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