The 2016 Atlanta Falcons had the best offense in the league according to almost every single metric and measurement. They scored 540 points, tied for the 8th most in NFL history. They were productive both running and passing the football and they overcame a young defense to ultimately fall to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
The Falcons offense was great, but how did it stand up against some of the best offenses in recent memory? Football Outsiders’s Aaron Schatz reviewed the 30 best offenses from the past 30 years and the Falcons cracked the top 20- and the Patriots dominated the list. Schatz used the DVOA statistic to evaluate the offense.
“Our DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) metric accounts for all [variables], measuring success on each play based on down and distance, then comparing it with an NFL average baseline adjusted for situation and opponent,” Schatz writes. “0 percent DVOA represents the league average, so an offense with a +30 percent mark rated 30 percent better than an average unit.”
The Falcons offense ranks 19th over the past 30 years with their offensive production even more impressive due to their difficult schedule. Why didn’t the Falcons rank higher? QB Matt Ryan and the receivers dominated their rankings, but the rushing attack scored just 1.7% DVOA, highlighting they were simply average.
For comparison, the 2013 Broncos and their most-points-in-NFL-history rank 16th thanks to a mediocre rushing attack and an extremely easy schedule (30th).
The 2011 Packers rank 15th thanks to a disastrous performance in the playoffs against the Giants; Schatz notes that the 2011 Packers would have ranked 5th if not for this game. I think it’s questionable to penalize some teams for performances in the postseason, while some others (2004 Chiefs, 13th) didn’t even make the playoffs.
The Patriots have four of the top 12 rankings, leading the way in 2007, 2010, 2011, and 2012. It’s clear that QB Tom Brady suffered a torn ACL at the absolute peak of the Patriots offense. Even though the 2016 offense under Brady was much better than it was from 2013-15, it would rank ahead of only the 2005 and 2006 offenses from 2004-12 (not including his 2008 season). Perhaps we’ll see the offense take another step forward in 2017 and play at the same level of efficiency as the earlier Patriots offenses.
The 2012 Patriots rank 12th with +31.8% DVOA.
The Patriots offense tripped up in the AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens, but it was dominant for much of the regular season and managed to lead “the league in points scored despite facing one of the league's 10 hardest defensive schedules.”
The 2011 Patriots rank 9th with +32.6% DVOA.
The 2011 season featured three of the top ten regular season offenses over the past 30 years with both the Packers and Saints (5th) crushing the list. TE Rob Gronkowski had the best ever season for a tight end “by a gigantic margin,” while the rushing attack ranked 4th in the league.
The 2010 Patriots rank 2nd with +39.4% DVOA.
The 2010 Patriots managed to avoid turnovers on the field, but saw a lot of turnover on the roster as they said good-bye to WR Randy Moss and added Gronkowski, TE Aaron Hernandez, and WR Deion Branch.
“The Pats led the league in passing DVOA and were second in rushing DVOA, making them other team besides the 1998 Broncos to rank among the top 25 of the past 30 years in both,” according to Schatz. “But what really drives the high DVOA rating of this season is that they did it while playing the toughest schedule of opposing defenses in the league.”
Only an embarrassing collapse against the New York Jets could derail this team.
The 2007 Patriots rank 1st with +41.1% DVOA.
There hasn’t been a more efficient offense in league history. The offense slowed down in the playoffs to +28.1% DVOA, which was anemic by that season’s lofty standards, but actually ranks better than the Falcons 2016 season (+27.2%). Brady had the best season for a quarterback in Football Outsider’s database, while Moss had the second-best season for a receiver (somehow behind 1995’s Michael Irvin).