When the New England Patriots beat the San Diego Chargers, 21-12, this past weekend, securing their fourth AFC Championship in seven years, they became the first team in history to reach 18-0 during a season. Only the 1972 Miami Dolphins have ever gone undefeated for an NFL season, but, back then, that meant only 17 games. If the Patriots win the Super Bowl to finish 19-0, how do they stack up against the greatest teams of all time?
Using both research and personal opinion as a starting point, the five other greatest teams of the modern NFL are the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the 1978-79 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 1989 San Francisco 49ers and the 1992-93 Dallas Cowboys.
In order to avert jinxes, I’ll mimic ESPN’s Bill Simmons and stipulate a contingency: ATPWTSB (Assuming the Pats win the Super Bowl). Ranking each team one through five in a host of categories.
Obviously, being the only undefeated team in NFL history weighs heavily for the 17-0 Dolphins; however ATPWTSB, they too will be undefeated throughout the season, making this category a virtual tie, with the slight edge going to New England because of the two more games played. 1a. Patriots, 1b. Dolphins, 3. Bears, 4. 49ers, 5. Steelers, 6. Cowboys.
Offense Points Scored:
This year’s Patriots shattered the all-time scoring mark of 556 set by the Minnesota Vikings in 1998. Perhaps the most prolific offense of all time, Tom Brady’s 50 TD passes and Randy Moss’ 23 TD receptions were both records breaking those of Peyton Manning and Jerry Rice, by one each. 1. Patriots, 2. Bears, 3. 49ers, 4. Dolphins, 5. Cowboys, 6. Steelers.
Defense Points Allowed:
The Patriots’ defense was a footnote to the 2007 season and surrendered lots of points, possibly because it could afford to. Although criticized at times for being old and soft against the run, New England’s D was solid and consistent. 1. Dolphins, 2. Bears, 3. Steelers, 4. Cowboys, 5. 49ers, 6. Patriots.
The Bears’ impressive turnover margin was only elipsed by the 2000 Ravens with +24 and deserves this No. 1 ranking. The Patriots above-average +9 turnover margin finds them at fourth, middle of the pack, as expected. 1. Bears, 2. Dolphins, 3. 49ers, 4. Patriots, 5. Cowboys, 6. Steelers.
One of the most crucial statistics, average point differential, truly shows how handily a team beat its opponents. With their record-setting offense, the Patriots top this category, followed closely by a Bears team that couldn’t match the Pats’ scoring power, but made up for it with stingy D. 1. Patriots, 2. Bears, 3. Dolphins, 4. 49ers, 5. Steelers, 6. Cowboys.
MVP, OPOY, DPOY:
The greatest teams should have the greatest players. In this category, I gave a team two points for having an NFL MVP and one point each for Offensive or Defensive Player of the Year. The Patriots and 49ers sit at the top with three points each, all awarded to one player (Tom Brady and Joe Montana, respectively). T1. Patriots, T1. 49ers, 3. Steelers, 3. Bears, 5. Cowboys, 6. Dolphins.
It’s hard to judge different coaches on different teams from different eras, so I’m just counting titles: each coach is rated by his championships. ATPWTSB, Bill Belichick will join Chuck Noll as the only coaches to ever win four Super Bowls. T1. Steelers’ Chuck Noll, T1. Patriots’ Bill Belichick 3. Dolphins’ Don Shula, T4. Cowboys’ Jimmy Johnson, T4. 49ers’ George Seifert, 6. Bears’ Mike Ditka.
Strength of Schedule:
The 17-0 Miami Dolphins had the good fortune to play one of the easiest schedules in NFL history and are thus being punished in this category. The 18-1 Bears, with the hardest schedule of all, rightfully deserve this No. 1 spot. The Patriots fell to No. 3.
Still, consider that the Steelers averaged a 16-3 record, while the Pats are undefeated. 1. Bears, 2. Steelers, 3. Patriots, 4. Cowboys, 5. 49ers, 6. Dolphins.
After dissecting each teams’ statistics, the 2007 Patriots land in a three-way tie with the 1985 Chicago Bears, who beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl that year, and the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
But as the late, great Bear Bryant said when asked about kicking a field goal down three, “Hell no! A tie is like kissing your sister.” So there’s only one fair tiebreaker: me. And, ATPWTSB, the tie goes to the Patriots, a team that will have achieved perfection in the NFL’s era of parity.
Starr is a member of the class of 2009.