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Football Outsiders: 4 Patriots rank in the top 20 teams of the past 30 years

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Can the 2017 Patriots match their predecessors? And, more importantly, would they even want to?

Football Outsiders has continued their “30 best of the past 30 years” series and after looking at the best offenses, defenses, and special teams units, they just covered the best 30 overall teams of the past 30 years.

Like their previous articles, they factor in the postseason into their rankings which helps teams that make great runs at the Super Bowl, but favors teams that miss the postseason over teams that make the playoffs and have a weak showing.

The New England Patriots have four teams inside the top 20:

19. 2012 New England Patriots +34.8%

The Patriots ultimately lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the postseason. The Ravens also defeated the 2012 Denver Broncos, which came in 18th for these rankings. That’s how improbable it was for Joe Flacco and the Ravens to disrupt the Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger dominance over the AFC.

11. 2004 New England Patriots +39.6%

“The Patriots ranked second behind Pittsburgh during the regular season: No. 3 on offense, No. 7 on defense and a surprising No. 16 on special teams,” Football Outsider’s Aaron Schatz writes. “It was the closest they came to breaking their remarkable 21-year streak of above-average special teams. The Patriots went 14-2 despite playing the hardest schedule of any team on this top-30 list. Then they dominated the playoffs, forcing 11 turnovers in three games while turning the ball over only once themselves.”

10. 2010 New England Patriots +40.6%

Football Outsiders notes that the Patriots would have ranked 4th in history if this didn’t include postseason runs, but a disastrous game against the New York Jets sank the team down to 10th overall. This was the second-best Patriots team according to Football Outsider’s metrics.

2. 2007 New England Patriots +50.3%

The Patriots had the most dominant offense in league history, but the defense was average for the season and special teams wasn’t up to Bill Belichick’s normal lofty standards. The offense was unable to drag this team to the top of the charts, while the team’s late-season decline in efficiency also played a major role.

The 1991 Washington team ranks first with a +61.7% rating as the team had the 20th best offense of the past 30 years, the 10th best defense of the past 30 years, and the 14th best special teams unit over the past 30 years. This was a well-balanced, well-oiled machine that finished the season 1st in points for, 2nd in points against, and ran through the postseason with a 102-41 point total.

While we don’t have access to Football Outsider’s postseason metrics, we can look at the regular season performance of the Patriots under Bill Belichick according to FO’s team efficiency rankings.

The 2016 Patriots finished the regular season with a +25.3% score, which trailed the above four teams (2007, 2010, 2004, 2012), along with the 2009 (+28.8%) and 2006 (+26.3%) teams. This past year’s team edged out a close trio of 2011 (+22.8%), 2015 (+22.6%), and 2014 (+22.1%).

In general, DVOA does a pretty good job of aligning team perception and success. The six worst Patriots teams under Bill Belichick were in 2013 (+18.9%), 2002 (+15.7%), 2008 (+13.1%), 2005 (+9.6%), 2001 (+7.9%), and 2000 (-5.6%). That first Belichick team is the only one that was below average.

The 2017 Patriots hope to continue the team’s trend of improvement as the franchise has improved in DVOA every season since 2013. But as last year proved, the Patriots don’t need to set records in order to win the Super Bowl- and as the 2007, 2010, and 2012 Patriots showed, having a record-setting team doesn’t always result in a Lombardi Trophy.