At the end of my Seahawks-Saints playoff preview, I came up with (what I thought was) a pretty neat bit of trivia:
New Orleans gained 4918 passing yards and allowed only 3105 passing yards. That 1813 yard difference is largest by any NFL team in history. The 1961 Oilers, led by George Blanda, Bill Groman, and Charley Hennigan, actually gained 2,001 more passing yards than they allowed, but Houston of course was an AFL team. And there’s a bit of an asterisk here because of the games played: the 1943 Bears, 1951 Rams, and 1967 Jets also had a larger passing yards differential on a per-game basis. But regardless, that puts the Saints in some pretty impressive company. The Oilers, Bears, and Rams all won their league’s championships that season, and Joe Namath’s Jets won the Super Bowl the next season. The team with the fifth largest passing yards differential on a per-game basis, prior to the Saints, was the 2006 Colts, also a Super Bowl champion.
I never ran the same numbers but for rushing yards, because I just assumed it would be dominated by the ’72 Dolphins and other similar teams. But as it turns out, the undefeated Dolphins rank only third in net rushing yards in a single season since 1950, even on a per-game basis. In 1972, Miami rushed for an amazing 2,960 yards, but allowed 1,548 yards on the ground to opposing teams. That comes out to a 1,412 yard difference, or a +100.9 rushing yards per game differential.
The 2001 Steelers, with Kordell Stewart, Jerome Bettis, and a suffocating defense, finished with a +98.7 differential, the fifth best differential since 1950. The ’84 Bears, behind Walter Payton and their own dominant defense, checks in at #4 at +99.8. The second best performance is owned by the ’76 Steelers, who finished with a +108.1 differential. That was the year Pittsburgh allowed just 28 points over the team’s final 9 games, and Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier both hit the 1,000-yard mark (they were the second duo to do so, behind Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris on the ’72 Dolphins).
None of those teams caused me any surprise, which I guess is why I never ran the numbers until today. But it would have taken me quite a few more guesses to come up with the number one team on the list. That’s why I’ll give you guys some hints. [click to continue…]