New England Patriots (1/4/08)

Per request, I will add my two cents to the 16-0 Patriots, and assess their greatness with respect to NFL history. First of all, as of this writing, the Patriots have yet to complete their perfect season, but I consider it for the most part a foregone conclusion that they will. The Colts and Jaguars might give them some trouble, but does anyone honestly think that they wonít?

So, under the assumption that they will indeed finish the season 19-0, are they the greatest team ever?

Well, a friend of mine brought this up, and he has a valid point: a lot of the starters for teams in the 80s wouldnít even make the teams of the 21st century. This is true; players have become harder, better, faster, stronger more than ever hour after ourÖ er, well you get what I mean. And any arguments stating that Jim Brown is the best running-back ever can be put down when itís pointed out that he was simply that much bigger and faster than the rest of the league at the time. This is also true.

But that brings up a question: how does one celebrate greatness in NFL history? Well, thereís a simple answer to that: the Hall of Fame in Canton. In Canton, they donít measure greatness by size or strength; they measure it strictly in achievements (i.e., records, pro bowl appearances). Furthermore, those achievements are, for lack of a better word, achieved against competition at the time. For Eric Dickersonís 2105 yard season in 1984, no one says immediately afterward, ďYeah, but that was done against smaller lineman than today.Ē Itís irrelevant to the achievement.

That being said, we must compare the greatness of the 2007 New England Patriots against the greatness of the other all-time teams (i.e., the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 1989 San Francisco 49ers). And once we do that, I have to say that the Patriots donít quite stack up.

There are several measurements for this: win/loss, pro bowlers, hall of famers, etc. The 85 Bears? 18-1, 3 hall of famers, 9 pro-bowlers. The 78 Steelers? 17-2, 8 pro-bowlers, 9 hall of famers (11 if you include the coach and owner). The 89 49ers? 17-2, 6 pro-bowlers, and four (present and future) hall of famers (5 if you include Bill Walsh). The 72 Dolphins? 17-0, 9 pro-bowlers, 6 hall of famers (7 if you include Don shula).

The 2007 Patriots? 19-0, 5 pro-bowlers (Dallas had 7), 2 hall of famers (3 if you include the coach). Tom Brady is now a lock to get in. Randy Moss is probably over the top after this year. But I donít think thereís a single other consensus hall-of-famer on the team. Not exactly something that strikes fear in your opponents.

But what that doesnít say about the 2007 Patriots is the achievement of going undefeated. For all the talent the aforementioned teams had, only one of them could complete a perfect season. The earlier great teams didnít have to deal with the talent turnover from free agency in the modern NFL. Furthermore, the talent pool was less divided; there were only 28 teams to compete between 1976 and 1994. Before that only 26. Now thereís 31 teams, 32 if you include the Dolphins. As a result of all this parity, 68% of teams in the playoffs in the 70s were able to make the playoffs the following year. (In fact, of the 84 teams that made the playoffs in the 70s, 6 franchises comprised 46 of them.) In the 21st century, only 48% of teams are so lucky. For the amount of difficulty going into amassing talent, for a team to go 19-0 is simply astounding; for that, Bill Belichick should be remembered as one of, if not the, greatest head coach of all time.