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On his Monday morning appearance on the Dennis & Callahan radio show, Adam Schefter likened the 2013 Denver Broncos to the 2007 New England Patriots: an “unstoppable force” meeting a series of extremely movable objects. After the Broncos racked up a franchise-high 52 points in a Week 4 win over the Philadelphia Eagles – behind Peyton Manning’s 4 touchdown passes, giving him 16 (!!!) on the year – it’s hard to argue against the comparison, even as humongous homer.
The scary question left to ask, though (especially as a humongous homer): even considering Tom Brady’s record-setting 50 touchdown passes and the Patriots most-in-NFL-history 589 points, is Denver’s 2013 offense even better than New England’s circa 2007?
The obvious starting point is comparing the two teams’ in terms of points scored and total yards accrued. So let’s start with the raw numbers and dig further from there:
|1||Thu||September 5||boxscore||W||1-0||Baltimore Ravens||49||27||24||510||445||65||2||24||393||335||58||2||25.06||2.35||-5.68|
|2||Sun||September 15||boxscore||W||2-0||@||New York Giants||41||23||23||414||307||107||1||28||376||353||23||4||9.74||-2.15||8.62|
|3||Mon||September 23||boxscore||W||3-0||Oakland Raiders||37||21||31||536||372||164||2||13||342||293||49||19.35||-4.12||1.63|
|4||Sun||September 29||boxscore||W||4-0||Philadelphia Eagles||52||20||35||472||331||141||21||450||284||166||32.31||-12.67||15.05|
|1||Sun||September 9||boxscore||W||1-0||@||New York Jets||38||14||28||431||297||134||17||227||167||60|
|2||Sun||September 16||boxscore||W||2-0||San Diego Chargers||38||14||25||407||263||144||2||14||201||149||52||3|
|3||Sun||September 23||boxscore||W||3-0||Buffalo Bills||38||7||27||485||308||177||1||12||193||83||110||2|
|4||Mon||October 1||boxscore||W||4-0||@||Cincinnati Bengals||34||13||25||404||231||173||1||17||283||226||57||2|
In sum, crap. The 2013 Broncos pretty much blow the ’07 Patriots out of the water when it comes to Weeks 1-4, scoring a touchdown more per game on average (44.75 points per game vs. 37) with 50 more yards from scrimmage (483 yards per game vs. 431.75 ypg).
It’s interesting to note that the Broncos have relied heavily on the passing game (and why wouldn’t you with Peyton Manning surrounded by an arsenal of wide receivers like Wes Welker, Eric Decker, and Demayrius Thomas?), while the ’07 Patriots had a more balanced attack (you know, because they only had Randy Moss and young Welker, ho hum). 54% of New England’s plays through a quarter of the ’07 season were running plays (141 of 261), while Brady attempted just 120 passes. Meanwhile, Manning has thrown 159 passes compared to just 120 handoffs for running plays (43%). I’m not sure this says anything about which offense was better, but it would certainly suggest the Patriots felt more confident running the ball with a big lead to kill clock, while Manning is more comfortable calling audibles and picking apart a defense aerially to maintain possession and the lead at the end of games.
The up tempo style that is currently in vogue in the NFL these days (thanks, Chip Kelly) also plays a factor. The Broncos have run 18 more plays this season than the Patriots six years ago, but even more telling than the volume of plays, though, is the number of possessions through four games. The Patriots offense had 40 possessions after Week 4; Denver had a whopping 51 after Sunday’s shellacking of the Eagles. When your team is scoring on nearly 40% of its possessions (touchdowns, mind you; I don’t even want to get into tallying Matt Prater altitude field goals), another 11 offers a lot of opportunities to score (at that conversion rate, another 4 touchdowns or so). In other words, the current style of play gave the 2013 Broncos extra chances to punch it in that the 2007 Patriots didn’t have.
Without a Lombardi Trophy to show for that season, all I have of that team is its perch atop the record books, so you bet I’m frantically tapping out “SOS” in morse code to try to prove the Broncos weren’t a better offense than the 2007 Patriots. Were the Patriots up against a tougher slate of games to kick off their season than the Broncos?
To start 2007, the Patriots faced the New York Jets (finished 4-12), San Diego Chargers (11-5), Buffalo Bills (7-9) and Cincinnati Bengals (7-9). Cumulatively, those teams would end up 29-35, good for a .453 winning percentage. In 2013, the Broncos have faced the defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens (currently 2-2), New York Giants (0-4), Oakland Raiders (1-3) and the aforementioned Eagles (1-3). So far, those teams are winning at a .250 clip. That’s a pretty noticeable discrepancy in opponents, and did I mention the Broncos still get the Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Redskins, two tilts against the San Diego Chargers, and another crack at the Raiders?
For those of you crying out about the unfairness of quoting opponents’ win-loss records after just four games, I thank you for finding the one notable chink in the armor: small sample size. Are the Broncos actually capable of sustaining this level of play for another 12 games that remain in a grueling 17 week season? That doesn’t include two games against the rejuvenated Kansas City Chiefs, an always tough game against this year’s Patriots (or so I hope), a visit to the Houston Texans, not to mention the playoffs (and we all know how that turned out for the Patriots in 2007, son of a…).
After all, forget being the first team to crack 600 points in a season; the Broncos are on pace to surpass 700 points this year. And even if they blew that record-setting Patriots offense out of the water through Week 4, I have a hard time believing they’re going to sustain that breakneck pace without running into some sort of defensive buzz saw. While Manning certainly has the pedigree to lead the most prolific offense in NFL history, a lack of a running game is bound to catch up with him eventually.
Would I bet against him? Probably not. But I’m not ready to crown a new king of the hill just yet (as Grantland’s Bill Barnwell pointed out in his article earlier today, which I probably should have linked to sooner, the 2007 Patriots ramped up their offense starting in Week 5, scoring 183 points over that four game stretch; also, like I said, I’M A HUMONGOUS HOMER). So in the meantime, I’m going to keep one eye on the record books and the other warily eyeing this year’s Broncos. Either way, lord knows it’ll be fun to see what unfolds.