Patriots: The greatest ever?
New England Patriots' brilliant season spurs discussion of greatest teams in NFL history.
The New England Patriots have marched through the National Football League's regular season with a spotless 16-0 record. After earning a bye during this week's opening round of the playoffs, the team will begin what it hopes will be a crowning achievement: only the second perfect season ever and the longest.Skip to next paragraph
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The 1972 Miami Dolphins went 17-0, but the Patriots need to go two better to win the Super Bowl.
The Patriots have often won impressively this season, sometimes by big margins, other times by coming from behind, as they did Saturday beating the New York Giants, 38-35 after trailing by 12 points.
To really distinguish themselves, however, they must now win three more playoff games in a league that prides itself on competitive balance. If they do, it will cement the view among many fans that New England is the ultimate team in the most team-oriented of all the major American spectator sports.
No other sport, after all, has such large rosters (45 players) or uses so many athletes in a typical game. No other sport requires so much en masse coordination. And in no other sport do players who virtually never touch the ball (linemen) factor so significantly in a team's success. So a team approaching perfection in the NFL's upset-rich atmosphere is truly something special.
Whether the Patriots become the greatest ever remains to be seen, but to date they've had the right stuff to take their place among the greatest of all time. Some of the members of that select group follow:
1972 MIAMI DOLPHINS
Coach: Don Shula
Avg. margin of victory: 13.6 points
Championship game: Beat the Washington Redskins, 14-7, in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever.
Notes: After an embarrassing 24-3 Super Bowl loss to Dallas in the previous season, few could have anticipated the team would run the table. Starting quarterback Bob Griese broke his leg in the season's fifth game, but veteran backup Earl Morrall emerged as a supersub, taking the Dolphins all the way to the Super Bowl, whereupon Griese returned. The offense wasn't overpowering, but the swarming "No-Name Defense" shut out Washington until they scored on a flukish play with two minutes to go.
2007 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Record: 16-0 and counting
Coach: Bill Belichick
Avg. margin of victory: 19.7 points.
Post season: Must win two playoff games to reach Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Ariz., on Feb. 3.
Notes: Coach Belichick was fired during his first fling as head coach (by Cleveland) and quarterback Tom Brady was an overlooked sixth-round draft choice coming out of the University of Michigan. Together they've led New England to three Super Bowl wins. This year's team greatly improved its pass-catching corps, adding deep-threat receiver Randy Moss. The result: league records for TD throws and catches during a campaign in which an odd incident (an NFL reprimand for sideline spying) stoked motivational fires.
1985 CHICAGO BEARS
Coach: Mike Ditka
Avg. margin of victory: 19.6 points
Championship game: Beat New England, 46-10, in the biggest Super Bowl rout up to that time.
Notes: For one glorious season, the Bears were about as dominant and intimidating as any team has ever been, especially on defense. They also were a colorful contingent, with a flamboyant coach, a cocky quarterback (Jim McMahon), and a lovable wide-body rookie defensive lineman (William "The Refrigerator" Perry), who was used as a ballcarrier near the goal line. During the playoffs, they outscored three opponents by a combined 91 to 10.