Do Patriots rate a 10?

With win Sunday, New England would rank merely among the best

Analyzing the NFL's greatest teams

January 31, 2008|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN REPORTER

The discussion is unavoidable.

If the New England Patriots do what most expect and finish their perfect season with a win over the New York Giants on Sunday, some will anoint them the greatest team in NFL history.

The case would be compelling. No team has gone 19-0 in an NFL season. The Patriots set a record for scoring and hammered opponents by almost 20 points a game. They have one of the greatest quarterbacks ever in Tom Brady, one of the greatest deep threats ever in Randy Moss and one of the greatest coaches ever in Bill Belichick.

But the Patriots have flaws. Their defense proved vulnerable to the pass in the second half of the season. They scraped by against mediocre opponents such as the Philadelphia Eagles and Ravens. They haven't dominated in two playoff games.

So here's a look at the 10 greatest teams in NFL history and how they compare with this season's Patriots.

1958 BALTIMORE COLTS

Strengths -- Led league in scoring by a wide margin and finished second in scoring defense. Had the best quarterback in the league, Johnny Unitas, and incredible skill players in Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore. The defense forced 30 more turnovers than the offense gave up.

Weaknesses -- They won only 10 of 13 games and squeaked by the Giants in the NFL championship.

Compared with the Patriots -- As much as we love the local boys, the Patriots have been more dominant over a significantly longer schedule.

1994 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Strengths -- Led by Steve Young, these 49ers had one of the best offenses in NFL history. They scored almost 200 more points than the average offense and ran up more than 40 a game in the playoffs. Young and receiver Jerry Rice were at their peaks. Deion Sanders gave them a unique weapon on defense.

Weaknesses -- Despite Deion, the defense was good, not great.

Compared with the Patriots -- These teams are similar, with remarkable offenses and vulnerable defenses. Given that, an undefeated record would give the Patriots an edge.

1992 DALLAS COWBOYS

Strengths -- The Cowboys were as balanced as any other team in league history. All-time rusher Emmitt Smith was in his prime, as were Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman and Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin. Their defense allowed the fewest yards in the league. They outscored opponents, 116-47, in the playoffs.

Weaknesses -- They didn't play a strong schedule.

Compared with the Patriots -- New England's offense is better than any of Dallas' units. The Cowboys were more versatile. The Patriots get the nod for greater dominance throughout the season.

1996 GREEN BAY PACKERS

Strengths -- They scored the most points in the league and allowed the fewest. Brett Favre was an all-time great quarterback at his peak. Reggie White was among the most dominant defenders in league history. Nobody came within two touchdowns of them in the playoffs.

Weaknesses -- Not a lot of star power beyond Favre and White.

Compared with the Patriots -- These Packers might not be remembered as a great team, but they combined the best offense in the league with a surprisingly stingy defense. The Patriots were more dominant throughout the season, so they come out ahead.

1972 MIAMI DOLPHINS WEAKNESSES

Strengths -- As you might have heard, the Dolphins were the only previous modern team to go undefeated. They scored the most points in the league and allowed the fewest. They also gained the most yards and allowed the fewest. They boasted a great power/speed running duo in Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, an efficient quarterback, Bob Griese, and the winningest coach in league history, Don Shula.

-- Miami played a gentle schedule, beating just five teams with winning records in 17 games. The Dolphins won three playoff games by a total of only 17 points and were actually betting underdogs to the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl.

Compared with the Patriots -- The Dolphins had a less overwhelming offense compared with the league and a lesser quarterback. They beat lesser opponents. Despite their stouter defense, they would rank below the Patriots if New England wins Sunday.

1991 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Strengths -- The Redskins won 17 of 19 games and overpowered nine opponents with winning records. They protected Mark Rypien on offense and hounded opposing quarterbacks relentlessly on defense. They excelled in every aspect of offense, defense and special teams. Joe Gibbs was an all-time great coach.

Weaknesses -- Some would cite Rypien, but he played brilliantly that season.

Compared with the Patriots -- The Redskins lacked a signature player on par with Brady but did everything well. The Patriots won their regular-season games by an average of 20 points, however, and that carries the day.

1989 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Strengths -- The 49ers had the best offense in the league, led by perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time in Joe Montana. They also had a surprisingly solid defense, ranking fourth in yards allowed. The 49ers won 17 of 19 games and outscored playoff opponents by a mind-boggling 126-26.

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