Hanging in the rafters of Gillette Stadium in Foxboro are three banners commemorating the Super Bowl victories that the Patriots earned in 2001, 2003, and 2004. There also hangs a fourth banner in the opposite corner of the stadium, commemorating the 2007 season. Unless you took up residence under a rock for the past five years (if so, stop reading now) or have somehow successfully blocked it out of your memory (if so, please share your methods), the Patriots did not win the Super Bowl in 2007.
The banner, however stupid it may be, commemorates the only 16-0 regular season in NFL history.
This is no small feat; in fact it is quite the opposite. To be a Patriots fan during 2007 was like being a fan of Walker, Texas Ranger. You knew the bad guys were going to show up to "fight", but let's be serious. Throw in all the national venom that was being spewed on the heels of Spygate, Rodney Harrison's HGH suspension, running up scores and Bill Belichick's barbaric treatment of hooded sweatshirt sleeves, and the Patriots were full-fledged bad guys on a path of destruction. They set records at seemingly every turn as fans delighted in wondering if Bill would deactivate his punter for a game in anticipation of lack of use. Their offense was the highest scoring ever (589 points, 134 more than the second-highest in 2007), scored the most touchdowns ever (75) and achieved the highest point differential ever (plus-315, higher than 11 teams' total points scored). Encapsulated within those records are the incredible seasons had by Tom Brady (record 50 TD passes, 4,806 passing yards, plus-42 TD/INT differential) and Randy Moss (record 23 TD catches, record eight games with at least two touchdown catches, 1,493 receiving yards).
Now in week 14 of the 2011 NFL season, the Green Bay Packers are a perfect 12-0. This is right around the time where analysts customarily brush the mothballs off Mercury Morris when they unpack him from a storage facility in Miami to discuss perfection and greatness. The Packers haven't exactly been demolishing their opponents, more systematically beating their way to perfection. Aaron Rodgers is the front-runner for MVP at this point and is having a truly stellar season. Their remaining schedule has been softened as of late, as dates with the comically inept Caleb Hanie and the Chicago Bears and Ndamukong Suh's temper are their only true tests.
Last week, the Packers faced their toughest test of the season since Week 1 against New Orleans, needing a last-second field goal to get by the New York Giants, who are historically inclined to stomp on history. If we pull from history, the '07 Patriots faced their toughest test in Week 13, barely squeezing by the Ravens in Baltimore. In fact, they were only able to do so thanks to then-Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan shooting himself in the foot (actually, Rex would never harm feet) by calling a timeout immediately before his defense stopped the Patriots on a crucial fourth-and-1 when the Ravens led 24-21 with 1:48 remaining in the game.
Should the Packers run the table and finish the regular season a perfect 16-0, how will history remember them in relation to the 2007 New England Patriots? Taking only the regular season into consideration, the '07 Pats feat is immediately lessened by the '11 Packers. On the surface when football fans look back, seeing that two teams went 16-0 five seasons apart from each other does not seem all that special. That's not taking anything away from the presumably perfect Packers, it's just that the more times something happens in sports, the less special it is (see: hitting 50-plus home runs in a season). And in this case, something this substantial happening again has to deliver a serious blow.
What will hopefully not get lost in the shuffle of perfection is just how good the '07 Patriots were. Sure, they will always carry the stigma of losing Super Bowl XLII, and that stigma will balloon if the Packers do end up as 19-0 Super Bowl champions. The Packers' offense this season is not exactly on pace to challenge what the '07 Patriots did, but it could be close. Projecting what the Packers will end up with based on their per game averages shakes out like this:
|Statistic||2011 Packers (Projected)||2007 Patriots|
So again, the Packers would have to play above their season averages in order to catch the Patriots' output from '07. The real battle is between Rodgers of this season and Brady of '07. Through 12 weeks, their numbers look like this:
|Statistic||Aaron Rodgers, 2011||Tom Brady, 2007 (Through 12 weeks)|
Rodgers has the edge in passing yards, as he is currently on pace to break Dan Marino's record of 5,084 yards (along with Drew Brees and Brady). Touchdown passes will be close, as will the differential. Rodgers has been outrageously careful with the ball thus far despite throwing a pretty egregious (for him) pick last week to linebacker Chase Blackburn.
Strangely, where the real difference lies is in the defensive output. The Packers are almost always considered to have one of the best defenses in the league thanks to Charles Woodson's cover capabilities and Clay Matthews' flowing locks, but this season, the numbers tell us otherwise. Their defense ranks at an extremely pedestrian 17th in points allowed and 31st in yards allowed (yes, better only than the New England Patriots, who employ defensive backs Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman). The 2007 Patriots were able to achieve their record point differential not only because of their incredible offense but because their defense sneakily ranked fourth in both points and yards allowed. Sure, there were a lot of times where they faced desperate offenses in three- or four-touchdown holes, but impressive nonetheless.
If (read: when … jinx) the Packers go 16-0, they'll face light competition in the playoffs based on the brackets if the season ended today. After their bye, they'd face the winner of Dallas-Chicago and then the winner of (probably) San Francisco-New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game. The Saints pose the largest threat to the Packers, much like the '07 Colts did to the Patriots. The Packers will hope that the Saints get derailed before the NFC Championship, much like the Colts were by the Chargers. In the Super Bowl, all bets are off, as the perfect Patriots proved. And if the 18-0 Packers face the 15-3 Patriots this year, the Internet might just explode. Should the Patriots win and avenge their past, hopefully there will still be four banners hanging in Gillette, only now each will feature a Lombardi Trophy. As for that 16-0 banner, there might just be a spot in Lambeau for it.