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 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 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, the three 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 you'll walk away with the trophy.
But it also doesn't change 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.