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The 2007 Patriots set all sorts of records, and are as good as you remember.  In fact, that New England team was even great when compared among great teams.  Through 13 games, the Patriots outscored opponents by 281 points, by far the best differential among teams since 1970.  Carolina’s +168 points differential, while good enough to lead the league in 2015, looks downright unimpressive by comparison.

But what’s often forgotten about that New England team is that it slowed down considerably during the season, perhaps due to age (the Patriots were the third oldest team in the NFL that year, by AV).  In case you forgot:

  • The 2007 Patriots outscored opponents by 25.4 points per game in New England’s first 10 games.
  • In the team’s final six games, the Patriots outscored opponents by 10.2 points per game.
  • In three playoff games, New England outscored opponents by 5.7 points per game.

We think of the ’07 Patriots as a dominant team, and they of course were.  But they were also a team that ran out of gas as the season went along, culminating in the Super Bowl loss.  New England covered the point spread, often by large amounts, in nine of the team’s first ten games. Then, the Patriots covered the spread in just one of New England’s final nine games.   While the ’07 Patriots were one of the greatest teams in football history, it’s also true that their story was a tale of two halves: an absurdly dominant first half, and a less-than-overwhelming second half, that failed to meet expectations.

The 2015 Panthers?  Well, Carolina was an underwhelming undefeated team early in the year, frequently placed at the back of most power rankings behind the other undefeated squads.  After six weeks, the 5-0 Panthers ranked 6th in ESPN’s power rankings, behind the unbeaten Patriots, Packers, Broncos, and Bengals, as well as the 4-2 Cardinals. That’s not intended as a knock on ESPN: Carolina also ranked 6th in points differential at that time.

Two weeks later, the 7-0 Panthers were only 5th according to ESPN; it wasn’t until Carolina got to 11-0 (or, more accurately, the Patriots finally lost) that the Panthers jumped to the top of ESPN’s power rankings.  But the truth is, Carolina has played a lot better in recent weeks.  Here is what I wrote at the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago, picking up after a string of close games:

Against Tennessee [Game 9], the Titans last ran an offensive play while trailing by one score with 14:14 left in the 4th quarter. The next game, against Washington [Game 10], was even more dominant: With 38 minutes left in the game, Matt Jones fumbled deep in Washington territory, and Carolina up 21-14. The Panthers scored a touchdown on the next drive, and Washington never again trailed by fewer than 14 points. And on Thanksgiving [Game 11], the Panthers beat that by a full minute knocking out the Cowboys with 9:33 left in the second quarter.

Since then, Carolina won a nailbiter against the Saints to get to 12-0, with the knock out coming in the final seconds, but then blew out Atlanta, with the Falcons last having possession and trailing by less than 14 points with over 53 minutes remaining in the game.

Carolina’s been knocking out opponents earlier of late, which meshes with the team’s points differential.  In fact, the Panthers biggest four margins of victory this year have come in the team’s last five games.  Which is why, at least in one way, the ’15 Panthers may be hotter in mid-December than the ’07 Patriots were.

The graph below shows the margin of victory in each game for both the ’07 Patriots (in blue, with red dots) and ’15 Panthers (in black, with teal dots).  I have also produced a linear trend line (in blue, for New England, and black, for Carolina) for both teams.  The graph speaks for itself.

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It’s going to be close to impossible for a team to match what New England did as far as outscoring opponents by 254 points through ten games.  And it’s worth remember that the Patriots success in 2007 came against a far tougher schedule (0.4 points above average versus -3.5 points below average for the Panthers).  But this Carolina team is now peaking at the end of the season, and that’s one advantage the Panthers have over the 2007 Patriots. And nowhere is that more evident than in the play of the team’s passing attack.

Through seven games, Cam Newton was averaging 6.40 Adjusted Yards per Attempt, which ranked 24th in the league among passers with 100 attempts. Since then, over his last six games, Newton is averaging 9.99 Adjusted Yards per Attempt, second best in the NFL.

So what say you? What do you think of the 2015 Panthers?

  • sacramento gold miners

    Carolina’s had a magical ride, but I’m not sure they will beat either Seattle or Green Bay if they face either club in January. I would also put the 2007 Patriots in the separate subset of teams with great regular seasons, but not among the elite historically, since they couldn’t win the most important game of the season. That New England team belongs with teams like the 1968 Colts,1969 Vikings, and 1984 Dolphins.

    • I would add Arizona to that list: frankly, I’d bet on the Cardinals on a neutral field against team team in the NFL. Carolina will likely have to beat Green Bay/Seattle in round 2 and maybe Arizona in the NFCCG, so that will be quite a tough task.

      NE certainly belongs with the ’68 Colts and ’69 Vikings, along with the ’42 Bears. But I also think most observers, myself included, would put them among the best teams ever.

      That said, the intent of the article was to highlight the way in which they faded, and that was very real. They just weren’t *that* good by the end of the season. We all know the ’07 Giants were not a great team, and NE probably loses to the ’07 Colts again in the AFCCG if they had beaten San Diego. The Patriots of January were very different, both statistically and eye test-wise, of the Patriots of September/October.

      • Tom

        Chase, agreed, and I think if I weighted the SRS ratings more for recent games in my chart above, New England’s decline would be much more evident.

        • Yeah, in that chart, the decline is sort of muted by all the credit for the earlier domination.

      • Corey

        The Pats did fade, but they faded from “Best Team of All Time” to “excellent but not historically ridiculous team.” The trend line was negative, but their absolute performance was still pretty darn good. In the 8 games before the Super Bowl they went 8-0 with a MoV of 10.1. Adding the SB drops their MoV to 8.7, but with a 1.5 SOS their SRS is 10.2 for those nine games. A 10.2 SRS would have been second-best in the league in 2007 behind Indy’s 12.0, but with the AFCCG in Foxboro the Pats would probably still have been objective favorites (obv they would have been betting-line favorites due to the huge Pats bias in the lines that year and bettors still factoring in the first half performance). And Indy wasn’t quite as good in the second half that year either.

        For comparison, the Panthers’s MoV in their last 9 games is 14.6, but with a -4.3 SOS their SRS is 10.3. So, when the Pats faded, they were still about as good as the on-fire Panthers are right now.

        FWIW, the main thing I learned from looking these numbers up is that the Panthers’ schedule has been really atrocious. Seattle and Green Bay are the only teams with a positive SRS they have played this year, and 10 of their 13 games have been against teams ranked 20th or below in SRS (JAX, NOx2, TB, PHI, IND, TENN, WASH, DAL, ATL), with an 11th game against 17th-ranked Houston.

    • Richie

      I’m not sure what’s to trust about Green Bay at this point. Although, they finally looked a little better against Dallas.

      • Agreed. But Rodgers is always scary.

        • Richie

          His late-season swoon is destroying both of my fantasy teams that had a chance of winning championships!

    • Tom

      Man, I don’t know…I would put the 2007 Patriots in their very own subset. They did not win the most important game of the season, so I’d never rank them higher than a team that did, including the 2007 Giants, but my God man, they were like the German Army in 1939-1940…or the Mongols or the Romans or any other dominant force. They weren’t just winning games, they were ripping teams up, almost playing a different game. They cannot ever belong to that group of legendary teams that won the big one (1989 Niners, 1985 Bears, etc.), but they’re in a different group than the ’84 Dolphins, in my mind.

      • I agree with you, although I’d add two caveats:

        1) They definitely were better than the ’84 Dolphins, but the ’68 Colts, ’69 Vikings, and ’42 Bears were really, really good, too. All three would have been in the GOAT discussion with a win.

        2) The ’07 Patriots certainly didn’t look like a dominant force their last 9 games. That does count for something, which gets lost when you look at the full season numbers.

        • snoth cambin

          I would say they were still dominant. The ravens always play the Patriots close, they blew out a really good steelers defense the jets game was the big downer, then they put up 28 in the first of the miami game, 38 in the finale and dominated a good jags team. They slowed down from that chargers game on. Age got to the defense toward the end of the season.

          • sacramento gold miners

            I would say the 2007 Steelers defense was a far cry from the 2008 unit, which routed Matt Cassell and the Pats the following season. Going back to the 2007 Patriots, that season marked another time when the SB teams played each other in the regular season. A number of times, the regular season loser won the SB rematch, but I really thought New England would win that game on a neutral field by at least a TD.

            I brought up the ’84 Dolphins because they were another strong offense without a dominant RB. The ’84 49ers had a huge advantage with the likes of Roger Craig and Wendall Tyler.

    • Craig

      You mean despite the fact that the Panthers already beat both teams this year?
      I’m tired of the double speak on the Panthers. Middle of the season and undefeated “They haven’t played anyone good.” This after beating both the Packers and Seahawks. Now it’s “They won’t be able to beat the Green Bay or Seattle.”

      P.S. the cheating ’07 Pats team should be put in the category with the ’02 Pats, ’04 Pats, (both accusing the Pats of video taping the other teams walk thru) and the ’15 Pats (not just with Deflate-Gate, but also using of illegal plays and formations that the refs some how never picked up on?)…

  • Tom

    Below are the weekly SRS ratings for both the 2007 Patriots and 2015 Panthers. Man, the Pats really were freakishly dominant that year…after crushing the Bills 56-10 in Week 11, their SRS rating was 27.1. Although the “decline” isn’t very pronounced – and has to be the result of just coming back down to earth to play football with the rest of the league along with age as you mentioned – it’s still there, and there’s no doubt the Panthers are trending upward.

    • No chance Carolina catches them, but if they play dominant football the rest of the way, they may pass NE in a weighted SRS based on recent games.

  • Tom

    One more chart – here are the weekly SRS ratings for the Top 5 teams, Week 4 through Week 14. Pats trending down, the Cards and Bengals (somewhat) holding steady, and the Seahawks and Panthers trending upward.

  • Corey

    New England going 1-9 ATS is slightly misleading, because those spreads were not exogenous to New England’s earlier dominance. After NE opened 9-1 ATS (with, I imagine, Vegas getting killed in the process), the Pats’ lines got ridiculously inflated: three times in the last six weeks they were favored by more than 20 points, and they were -18.5 and -13.5 in the two road games. For example, they beat Miami 28-7 in Week 15 (after leading 28-0 at halftime), but failed to cover because the line was -22.5. They beat the #6 SRS/#3 DVOA team (Jacksonville) 31-20 in the playoffs, but failed to cover the -13.5 line. Etc.

    Or another way of illustrating the inflation: they played San Diego twice at home, in Week 2 and then again in the AFC Championship Game. The line was -3.5 the first time and -14 the second time.

    They did have a drop-off in performance, but not nearly as much as their ATS record suggests.

    • I would agree that it is slightly misleading, but it is pretty interesting. But it’s also helpful because the high spreads show how dominant NE was in the first 10 games.

  • Craig

    Well, it’s easy to have such a high and dominating mark in the nfl record books when the team cheats or has an under handed advantage. I still say that 16-0 mark for them should require an asterisk (*) beside that record… This was after all the year of Spy-gate…