≡ Menu
Brady likes the second half of the season

Brady likes the second half of the season

When we think about the most dominant teams of all time, the New England Patriots of the last few years don’t leap immediately to mind. Yet, their performance late in the year has been mind-bogglingly good. From 2010-13, New England went 29-3 in the final eight games of each season, a record that no other team since 1960 can match over any four-year period. Including their three games this year, the Patriots are on a 32-3 run in regular-season games in the second half of the season. From 2010-2013, the Patriots also have the biggest four-year point differential in second-half games in the history of football.

Part of that huge point differential comes from the higher point totals that teams have than they did in the past, and from New England’s offensive-centric philosophy. As a result, when we look at Pythagenpat records, the Patriots are not as dominant.1 Here are the hundred best late-season teams over any four-year period, according to Pythagenpat record. The Patriots from 2010-13 rank only 38th on the list, behind four other recent Patriots’ runs, some of those overlapping with 2010-13. The Patriots have been great and it is an unlikely outcome that they’d have no Super Bowls in the decade so far, but they also have not been quite as strong in terms of their true strength as their second-half records would suggest. As a high-scoring team, we would have expected them to lose more of their regular season games than they have.

TimeTeamWinsLossesTiesPoint DifferentialAvg Pyth Win Pct
1973-1976Pittsburgh Steelers22603770.826
1960-1963Green Bay Packers20612640.822
1971-1974Miami Dolphins24403780.822
1973-1976Los Angeles Rams22603740.816
1972-1975Miami Dolphins23503420.812
1972-1975Pittsburgh Steelers21703160.811
1974-1977Los Angeles Rams22603420.809
1961-1964Green Bay Packers21522770.808
1992-1995San Francisco 49ers26604630.805
1970-1973Miami Dolphins24403840.803
1984-1987San Francisco 49ers26604860.798
1969-1972Minnesota Vikings21702490.797
1991-1994San Francisco 49ers26604470.796
1973-1976Minnesota Vikings20802860.796
1975-1978Los Angeles Rams22703160.796
1975-1978Pittsburgh Steelers25403300.795
1968-1971Minnesota Vikings22602320.794
1968-1971Dallas Cowboys23413660.79
1993-1996San Francisco 49ers24804120.788
1965-1968Baltimore Colts21612850.787
1966-1969Dallas Cowboys20712830.787
1989-1992San Francisco 49ers27503720.783
1962-1965Green Bay Packers20532950.781
1974-1977Pittsburgh Steelers23503460.781
1990-1993San Francisco 49ers25703790.775
2007-2010New England Patriots26604000.775
1983-1986San Francisco 49ers23903730.775
2009-2012New England Patriots27504730.773
1992-1995Dallas Cowboys221002830.773
1994-1997San Francisco 49ers25702840.77
2006-2009New England Patriots24803010.769
1985-1988Chicago Bears24802200.767
1964-1967Baltimore Colts20712300.766
1976-1979Pittsburgh Steelers25503230.766
1970-1973Minnesota Vikings20802080.764
1963-1966Green Bay Packers20532400.761
2004-2007New England Patriots27503820.757
2010-2013New England Patriots29305120.756
1984-1987Chicago Bears24802320.754
1967-1970Los Angeles Rams19722030.754
1986-1989San Francisco 49ers24803810.753
1995-1998San Francisco 49ers24802280.752
1972-1975Minnesota Vikings19902550.751
1987-1990San Francisco 49ers25703850.749
1968-1971Baltimore Colts21522330.749
1964-1967Green Bay Packers19722350.748
1967-1970Dallas Cowboys20713130.747
1970-1973Dallas Cowboys23503410.747
1966-1969Baltimore Colts21612790.746
1975-1978Dallas Cowboys21801970.744
1967-1970Baltimore Colts22422720.744
1971-1974Washington Redskins19812020.744
2004-2007Indianapolis Colts23902670.744
2009-2012Green Bay Packers25703930.741
1972-1975Oakland Raiders23502890.741
1973-1976Oakland Raiders24403550.741
2001-2004Philadelphia Eagles25702930.741
2008-2011New England Patriots26604220.741
1965-1968Dallas Cowboys20802640.74
1985-1988San Francisco 49ers23903600.74
1972-1975Los Angeles Rams19902270.739
1982-1985Miami Dolphins24502960.738
1971-1974Dallas Cowboys23502980.738
1988-1991San Francisco 49ers24803090.738
1994-1997Green Bay Packers24803200.738
2000-2003Philadelphia Eagles25702600.735
1969-1972Dallas Cowboys22512850.734
1974-1977Oakland Raiders24403270.734
1966-1969Los Angeles Rams19812120.733
1995-1998Green Bay Packers24803080.733
1971-1974Minnesota Vikings19902030.731
1977-1980Dallas Cowboys211001670.731
1976-1979Dallas Cowboys201001490.731
1965-1968Green Bay Packers171011640.73
1991-1994Dallas Cowboys23902810.728
2005-2008New England Patriots26603500.728
1981-1984Miami Dolphins23602540.727
2004-2007San Diego Chargers27502990.727
1974-1977Minnesota Vikings19902130.726
1983-1986Chicago Bears24802610.724
1993-1996Dallas Cowboys211101700.72
2006-2009San Diego Chargers28403520.719
2005-2008Indianapolis Colts24802280.719
2008-2011Baltimore Ravens23902700.718
1972-1975Washington Redskins19901480.718
1971-1974Oakland Raiders20712030.718
1982-1985San Francisco 49ers20903270.718
2008-2011Green Bay Packers211103410.717
1973-1976Miami Dolphins19902160.717
1990-1993Buffalo Bills221001700.716
1995-1998Denver Broncos211101970.715
2003-2006New England Patriots27503560.714
1973-1976Dallas Cowboys21702150.714
2003-2006Indianapolis Colts221002200.713
1988-1991Buffalo Bills201202480.713
1990-1993Houston Oilers221002300.713
1989-1992Buffalo Bills201202090.711
2005-2008San Diego Chargers25702960.71
1966-1969Green Bay Packers161201480.71
1976-1979Los Angeles Rams21902670.709

Some thoughts on all of this:

  • So far, New England has won all three games in the second half of the 2014 season by at least 22 points. But as you would suspect from a team whose record has far outstripped its Pythagenpat record, the 2010-2013 second half Patriots had their record boosted quite a bit by their performance in close games.  Over that stretch, New England went 11-3 in games decided by seven or fewer points, which is the top record in such games among all NFL teams.
  • The clear historical parallel for the Patriots is the 1981-95 49ers. It’s actually pretty eerie. The 1987 49ers appear high on the list, just like the 2006 Patriots. Then the 49ers appear again in the early 1990s. The Patriots follow the same pattern. The early 1990s 49ers also couldn’t get over the Super Bowl hump until 1994. This year would be appropriate year for the late-run Patriots to break through, too. Yes, I am a Patriots’ fan, so that’s convenient.
  • Only one team in the top ten won no Super Bowls during its run: the mid-1970s Rams. These Patriots won’t get forgotten the same way because they’re connected to those early 2000s Super Bowl-winning teams, but it’s amazing to think how little people think about those mid-1970s Rams teams that were really good. Using estimated DVOA, I found a while back that those 1970s Rams were the what-might-have-been team of the decade. Even though the Vikings kept going to the Super Bowl and the Rams only had the one trip after their best play was already in the rearview mirror, the Rams were actually even better by DVOA. People remember the Vikings because of the Super Bowl losses, but the Rams get consigned to the dustbin (maybe not by us, but most football fans). Maybe that’s better to not have those Super Bowl losses be the legacy, but the mid-70s Rams could easily have won multiple Super Bowls and they were relatively unlikely to be shut out.
  • The team with the best overall Pythagenpat winning percentage was a strong candidate for the GOAT: the 1962 Green Bay Packers. The rest of the top 10 is a who’s who of dominant teams, including teams that should have won Super Bowls but didn’t: 1968 Baltimore Colts, 1968 Dallas Cowboys, 1969 Minnesota Vikings, 1970 Minnesota Vikings, 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1985 Chicago Bears, 1991 Washington Redskins, 1999 St. Louis Rams, and 2007 New England Patriots.
  • The teams that are just best in the second half by Pythagenpat winning percentage have some more unusual entries. The top 10 are: 1968 Colts, 1970 Cincinnati Bengals, 1973 Cowboys, 1967 Los Angeles Rams, 1973 Rams, 1969 Vikings, 1976 Steelers, 1984 San Francisco 49ers, 1987 49ers, and 2012 Seattle Seahawks. It’s kind of amazing that only one of the most dominant second-half teams actually won a championship (the 1984 49ers). The playoffs are pretty random, anyway, but predicting what will happen based on just the end of the season definitely comes second to using the whole season.2

As for today, the Patriots face a division winner for the fourth straight week.  Given how hot both New England and Green Bay have been, it should make for an outstanding game.

  1. I used 0.251 as the value in the Pythagenpat formula to find exponents for each team-year. []
  2. Note that I am at least temporarily retiring discussing my bets. Now that the Arizona Cardinals are 9-1, I think it is clear that I have hexed my bets by daring to write about them. Sure enough, on Sunday, I won my bet that I didn’t write about and horribly, disastrously lost my tweeted bet. So my betting life will now go undiscussed for at least the foreseeable future and, hopefully, unhexed. []
  • Malene, CPH

    I know there has been some notably high-scoring snow games, but over the course of 4 seasons, I still suspect weather is a factor in suppressing pythpat for the pats.

  • What I glean from this is: teams that are really good also happen to be really good in the second half of the year. Like you said, the top of this list is basically a who’s who of football awesomeness. You have title winners, dynasties, teams of the decade, and real teams of the decade.

    Pythagenpat record is a great way to look at strength, but how much do you think the schedule difference pre-1978 helps older teams? Dividing by 14 instead of 16 in the equation to find the Ppat N should make the exponent higher.

    I don’t know if I will have time, but I’d like to check out the same teams but use SRS, AYP differential, and Andreas’ estimated DVOA. Maybe even some type of Pythagenpat+ similar to PFR’s passing index scores. Could be neat…or it could be a complete waste of time. Sometimes you don’t know till you’ve already wasted the time.

    • That’s a great point on the exponent. That is part of it. Still pretty surprising that those mid-90s 49ers rank so much higher than these Pats. One interesting thing about the top teams in 2nd half being all these great teams: I think it was a lot less true for teams that dominated in the first half of the season. I found that a little surprising. But I also should double-check that.