Friday, January 21, 2005

There Shall Come a Cowboy

Galley Friend L.B. has composed a magnum opus response to Soxblog. If you are interested in reading an in-the-weeds discussion of the relative merits of NFL dynasties, read on. If not go watch the VW terrorism commercial:
Soxblog makes some good points. In particular, I'd forgotten about the Pats beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh the week after that infamous Raiders game. That certainly was an impressive win. And I should reiterate that I really admire what the Pats have done, they are a great team, Belichick *is* a genius coach, Brady is terrific, etc. No quibbles there. I just think it's a bit much to start calling this group the greatest team ever--even better than the '70s Steelers, '80s/early '90s 49ers, or early '90s Cowboys. (Even the normally sensible Chris Mortensen of ESPN is peddling this line now.)

The commenters on Soxblog's reply did a nice job calling him out on his overrating the Rams and Colts as competition (one more note--that Ram team was coached by that bozo Martz, not Vermeil, which made a difference)--and on pointing out that those 80s teams (49ers, Bears, Skins, Giants) were all at their peaks at more or less the same time. (Speaking of beating premiere teams "under the most inauspicious conditions possible," I recall that one of those 49er Super Bowl-winning teams (1988-89) dominated the Bears 28-3 *at Soldiers' Field* in the NFC title game, in typical January Chicago weather, against a nasty Bears defense which gave up an average of 9.8 points per game at home that year. So much for those '80s Niner squads being "finesse" West Coast teams . . . And I hate admitting that, b/c as a Cowboy fan, I detest SF!)

As Soxblog mentions, the Pats' 32-4 record of the past two years is a remarkable achievement. But again, consider the competition and the state of the league as a whole (meaning, lack of other truly *great* teams).

First, let's take last year's Super Bowl champion Pats (2003-04). 14-2 record. #12 in scoring offense, #1 in scoring defense. Avg. margin of victory in regular season: 10.3 points. Playoff wins were squeakers except for beating the weenie Colts in Foxboro: 17-14 over the Titans, 24-14 vs. the Colts, and 32-29 in the Super Bowl vs. Carolina (a team that was pretty good but not "great" in any sense--QB? Jake Delhomme. Not exactly John Elway or Jim Kelly or Dan Marino). Still, a very, very good team.

How about this year's Pats? A better team, thanks to Corey Dillon. 14-2 again, #4 in scoring offense, #2 in scoring defense. Avg. margin of victory in regular season: 13.7. Awfully good, I'll admit, given the injuries, etc.

And finally, the 2001 Pats, their first Super Bowl team. 11-5. #6 scoring offense, #6 scoring defense Avg. margin of victory: 13.6 (padded by 31- and 21-points romps over the lame Colts "defense," and a 32-point blowout over the 1-15 Carolina Panthers in the last game of the season.) Playoff wins: the infamous "Tuck Rule" game against the Raiders, 16-13; the admirable win against the Steelers, 24-17 (in overtime, I believe)--made more impressive by the fact that Brady got knocked out of that game w/a knee injurie (but Drew Bledsoe isn't exactly chopped liver as a back-up QB). And then the squeaker 20-17 win over the Rams in the Super Bowl.

But now, let's look back, starting with the 1989-90 49ers--the successor to the team I mentioned above that romped over the Bears in Chicago in the NFC title game. With a new coach (this was the year Seifert took over, after Bill Walsh retired), they went 14-2. #1 scoring offense, #3 scoring defense in the league. Avg. margin of victory: 13.9 points (two touchdowns). And that margin-of-victory stat doesn't include their playoff wins, which were all thrashings: 41-13 vs. the Vikings, 30-3 vs. the LA Rams (who were pretty darn good back then - great offense w/Jim Everett, Henry Ellard, and Co.), and 55-10 against the Broncos in the Super Bowl.

And what about the next year, the 1990-91 Niners? They almost won it all *again*. 14-2, again. They barely lost the NFC title game to the Giants 15-13 (Montana was knocked out of that game). The Giants went on, of course, to beat the Bills in the infamous Scott Norwood Super Bowl.

Now, take the 1992-93 Cowboys, the first of Jimmy Johnson's two Super Bowl champs. 13-3 record. #2 scoring offense, #5 scoring defense. Avg. margin of victory: 15.2 points (over two touchdowns). Of their three losses, one was by 4 points, another by 3, and the third was a 31-7 drubbing against a very good Eagles team (11-5 that year) at the Vet, which the Cowboys avenged by spanking the Eagles 34-10 in the playoffs. Other playoff victories: 30-20 *at* SanFran (who were *14-2* that year and #1 in scoring offense, #3 in scoring defense), and 52-17 over the Bills in the Super Bowl.

What about the 1993-4 Cowboys, the 2nd Super Bowl for Johnson & Co.? 12-4 record (they lost the first two games of the season when Emmitt Smith was in a contract holdout, and I believe the other two losses came when Aikman was out hurt for 2 games). #2 scoring offense, #2 scoring defense. Avg. margin of victory in reg. season: 15.3 points. Playoff wins: 27-17 vs. Green Bay, 38-21 vs. another Seifert/Young/Rice/Watters 49er team, and 30-13 over the Bills in the Super Bowl.

The 1994 Cowboys, meanwhile, under that idiot Barry Switzer, went 12-4, #2 in offense, #3 in defense. Avg. margin of victory: 15.5 points. Beat the Holmgren-Farve-Reggie White Packers 35-9 before losing the NFC title game to San Fran 38-28 at Candlestick, after digging a 21-point hole for themselves in the first half b/c of some stupid turnovers. The Niners were just a little bit better that year (they had Deion): they beat the Cowboys by a touchdown in the regular season (also in Candlestick), which got them the crucial home-field for that NFC title game. 13-3 record. An offensive juggernaut, #1 in scoring offense (32 points per game), #6 in scoring defense. Avg. margin of victory: *18.8* points per game. Playoff wins: 44-15 vs. the Bears, 38-28 over the Cowboys, and 49-26 over San Diego in the Super Bowl.

And finally, the 1995 Cowboys--again under the buffoon Switzer, who was an awful NFL coach but managed to coast along on the talent Jimmy Johnson had assembled: 12-4, with three of those losses coming by 4, 3, and 7 points. (Damn Switzer and his crappy game management!) Avg. margin of victory in reg. season: 14.7 points. Playoff wins: 30-11 over Philly, 38-27 over Green Bay (who'd beaten the 49ers the week before, thus preventing the Cowboys from avenging their only bad loss of the season, 38-20 against the Niners), and 27-17 vs. the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

I haven't even bothered yet to look at the '70s Steelers... But just look at the Niners from 87-94, and the Cowboys from about 1991-1996. All those great seasons and Super Bowls, and those teams were slugging it out against *each other* for many of those years -- as well as (at various points) Parcells's Giants, Gibbs's Redskins, Ditka's Bears, and the emerging Packers under Holmgren.

One more crucial point: Let's assume the Pats win the Super Bowl this year, and join those early '90s Cowboys as the only squads to win 3 out of 4. What about the one year each team didn't win the Super Bowl? The 1994 Cowboys went 12-4 and lost in the NFC title game to the eventual Super Bowl champs. The 2002 Patriots went 9-7 and *didn't even make the playoffs!*

Given all this, I still think (as great as they certainly are) that it's a stretch to call this current group of Pats the "greatest team ever." Among the greatest 4 or 5? Sure. But not THE greatest, or even one of the top 2, in my (admittedly biased) opinion.

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