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.
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?