It is theme week across SB Nation: Best team to never win a championship. The New England Patriots had, of course, their fair share of talented squads to never hoist a trophy, and we will honor them and their legacy.
The best Patriots team to never win a Super Bowl is quickly found: despite facing one of the most difficult regular season schedules in the entire league, the 2007 squad cruised through its opponents to become the first and so far only team to finish with a perfect 16-0 record. Along the way, New England won its games by an unheard-of average of 19.7 points — an all-time record that stands to this day and illustrates just how dominant the team was in all three phases.
When the playoffs came around, however, the team started to show chinks in its armor before eventually losing its first and only game of the season in Super Bowl 42. The ‘07 Patriots therefore stand as arguably the best NFL team of all time to not win a championship — and clearly the top option in franchise history when it comes to this dubious honor. With that in mind, which team ranks second on that list? We’ve asked the Pats Pulpit staff to give its thoughts and came up with five squads competing for that title.
The case for the 1976 Patriots: Bernd Buchmasser
Before the arrival of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in 2000, the Patriots struggled to put a consistently successful product on the field for most of their franchise history. The late 70s, however, were an exception and one of the best periods of the pre-Belichick/Brady era: between 1976 and 1980, New England registered five straight winning seasons — including the first of now 21 division titles — and made the playoffs twice.
The best team of that era might have been the first one. The 1976 Patriots were one of the best teams in all of football: New England scored the second most points in the league (26.9/game), while allowing the 11th fewest (16.9/game); the team led the league in rushing yards per attempt (5.0) and defensive takeaways (50). The Patriots ended the regular season with an 11-3 record — tied for second best in the AFC — and as the number four seed in the conference.
In the divisional playoff round, however, New England had to travel west to take on the a 13-1 Oakland Raiders team suffered its only loss of the season against the Patriots: two months earlier, the team of head coach Chuck Fairbanks dismantled the Raiders 48-17. The playoff rematch did not prove as lopsided as the teams’ Week 4 meeting, however, and saw Oakland come away victoriously with a final score of 24-21 — a game that was overshadowed by one of the most controversial calls of all time.
In the end, the ‘76 Patriots turned into one of the biggest “what could have been”-stories in franchise history.
The case for the 2006 Patriots: Matthew Rewinski
Let’s be real, there was plenty of reasons to fear when the Patriots rolled into 2006 sans David Givens and top-10 all-time Belichick draft snag Deion Branch, not to mention the loss of New England clutch icon Willie McGinest and the addition of brand-new wet-behind-the-ears offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. It looked... not great.
And yet, the ‘06 Pats wrecked shop down the stretch, winning six of their last seven regular-season games, beating the living hell out of the rightfully despised New York Jets in the wild card round (at arguably the peak of the overall New York-Boston rivalry, natch), squeaked by a blazing-hot Chargers team with nine Pro Bowlers (!), and went into halftime of the AFC Championship Game up 21-6 on the Indianapolis Peyton Mannings. You know what happened next. The best way to explain it to someone who’s too young to remember it is “everyone played great, and also everyone made crucial mistakes that eventually killed us”. Brady included.
If nothing else, this quote from Troy Brown in the Rodney Harrison episode of A Football Life still gives 2006 College-Age-Me the willies: “There were some plays in there I know he (Rodney) would’ve made”.
For my money, there’s been squads that scored more points, won more games, and probably got better PFF grades (which we all know is the most important thing), but there’s never been a team like ‘06 that made you feel like “Wow Bill really can make a five-star entree out of what he finds in the Chopped basket, here comes banner #4” quite like this crew did. Fortunately for them, the next year’s squad would overshadow all their screwups to a literally historic degree.
The case for the 2008 Patriots: Oliver Thomas
The 2008 Patriots finished with an 11-5 record after Tom Brady finished with 11 attempted passes. There would be no postseason. Yet the roster that remained after Super Bowl XLII would make for its own story of adaptation between eras. Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Kevin Faulk combined to eclipse 2,600 receiving yards with former seventh-round quarterback Matt Cassel.
A defense that featured fixtures in Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Jarvis Green, Vince Wilfork, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison battled attrition. Junior Seau and Rosevelt Colvin rejoined late. But there were also rookie names in Jerod Mayo and Matthew Slater who would soon become captains, Pro Bowlers and All-Pro selections.
The case for the 2010 Patriots: Alec Shane
The 2010 Patriots seems like the next logical choice after the ‘07 squad. 14-2, eight guys selected to the Pro Bowl, won 11 of their last 12 games. Brady set an NFL record of 335 consecutive passes without an interception and had an absurd 9:1 touchdown-to-pick ratio on his way to an NFL MVP bid. Then they went one and done at home against the N Y freaking Js.
The case for the 2012 Patriots: Rich Hill
They could have finished the regular season 14-2 if the officials didn’t job them in Weeks 2 and 3 (Cardinals and Ravens). They also had a last minute loss to the Seahawks in Seattle, and an impressive comeback against the 49ers, coming back from down 31-3 to tie at 31-31, before falling short. The team boasted one of the best offenses in franchise history, with peak-Wes Welker, newcomer Brandon Lloyd, and Stevan Ridley running well; and they had an increasingly impressive defense with prime-Vince Wilfork and prime-Jerod Mayo, an improving Rob Ninkovich, as well as a rising Devin McCourty at the safety position and the acquisition of Aqib Talib.
If not for a season-ending injury to Rob Gronkowski in the divisional round and an early injury to Talib early in the conference championship game, as well as a mid-game concussion to Ridley that led to a turnover, the Patriots might have reached the Super Bowl for the second season in a row.
What do you think is the second best Patriots team never to win a Super Bowl? One of the five teams listed above? Or another one — with the 2017, who won our FanPulse survey, and 2015 squads coming to mind? Please let us know in the comments!