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.
|Time||Team||Wins||Losses||Ties||Point Differential||Avg Pyth Win Pct|
|1960-1963||Green Bay Packers||20||6||1||264||0.822|
|1973-1976||Los Angeles Rams||22||6||0||374||0.816|
|1974-1977||Los Angeles Rams||22||6||0||342||0.809|
|1961-1964||Green Bay Packers||21||5||2||277||0.808|
|1992-1995||San Francisco 49ers||26||6||0||463||0.805|
|1984-1987||San Francisco 49ers||26||6||0||486||0.798|
|1991-1994||San Francisco 49ers||26||6||0||447||0.796|
|1975-1978||Los Angeles Rams||22||7||0||316||0.796|
|1993-1996||San Francisco 49ers||24||8||0||412||0.788|
|1989-1992||San Francisco 49ers||27||5||0||372||0.783|
|1962-1965||Green Bay Packers||20||5||3||295||0.781|
|1990-1993||San Francisco 49ers||25||7||0||379||0.775|
|2007-2010||New England Patriots||26||6||0||400||0.775|
|1983-1986||San Francisco 49ers||23||9||0||373||0.775|
|2009-2012||New England Patriots||27||5||0||473||0.773|
|1994-1997||San Francisco 49ers||25||7||0||284||0.77|
|2006-2009||New England Patriots||24||8||0||301||0.769|
|1963-1966||Green Bay Packers||20||5||3||240||0.761|
|2004-2007||New England Patriots||27||5||0||382||0.757|
|2010-2013||New England Patriots||29||3||0||512||0.756|
|1967-1970||Los Angeles Rams||19||7||2||203||0.754|
|1986-1989||San Francisco 49ers||24||8||0||381||0.753|
|1995-1998||San Francisco 49ers||24||8||0||228||0.752|
|1987-1990||San Francisco 49ers||25||7||0||385||0.749|
|1964-1967||Green Bay Packers||19||7||2||235||0.748|
|2009-2012||Green Bay Packers||25||7||0||393||0.741|
|2008-2011||New England Patriots||26||6||0||422||0.741|
|1985-1988||San Francisco 49ers||23||9||0||360||0.74|
|1972-1975||Los Angeles Rams||19||9||0||227||0.739|
|1988-1991||San Francisco 49ers||24||8||0||309||0.738|
|1994-1997||Green Bay Packers||24||8||0||320||0.738|
|1966-1969||Los Angeles Rams||19||8||1||212||0.733|
|1995-1998||Green Bay Packers||24||8||0||308||0.733|
|1965-1968||Green Bay Packers||17||10||1||164||0.73|
|2005-2008||New England Patriots||26||6||0||350||0.728|
|2004-2007||San Diego Chargers||27||5||0||299||0.727|
|2006-2009||San Diego Chargers||28||4||0||352||0.719|
|1982-1985||San Francisco 49ers||20||9||0||327||0.718|
|2008-2011||Green Bay Packers||21||11||0||341||0.717|
|2003-2006||New England Patriots||27||5||0||356||0.714|
|2005-2008||San Diego Chargers||25||7||0||296||0.71|
|1966-1969||Green Bay Packers||16||12||0||148||0.71|
|1976-1979||Los Angeles Rams||21||9||0||267||0.709|
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.
- I used 0.251 as the value in the Pythagenpat formula to find exponents for each team-year. [↩]
- 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. [↩]