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Are 2013 Broncos Better on Offense than 2007 Patriots?

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos are gunning for the 2007 New England Patriots as the best offense in NFL history. (Photo courtesy of CBS Sports)

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 Numbers

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:

2013 Denver Broncos through Week 4:

Score Offense Defense Expected Points
Week Day Date OT Rec Opp Tm Opp 1stD TotYd PassY RushY TO 1stD TotYd PassY RushY TO Offense Defense Sp. Tms
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
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/30/2013.

2007 New England Patriots through Week 4:

Score Offense Defense
Week Day Date OT Rec Opp Tm Opp 1stD TotYd PassY RushY TO 1stD TotYd PassY RushY TO
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
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/30/2013.
  • 2013 Broncos: 179 points, 1,932 total yards (1,455 passing, 477 rushing), 113 first downs, 5 TOs
  • 2007 Patriots: 148 points, 1,727 total yards (1,099 passing, 628 rushing), 105 first downs, 4 TOs

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.

Style of Play

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.

Strength of Schedule

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?

Small Sample Size

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.

About Nick Bohlen - @ndbohlen

Nick is an editor and regular contributor for the Patriots, Celtics, and Red Sox sections of SoB. (Despite growing up in Vermont, just a short drive from Canada, hockey never really caught on with him.) Follow him on twitter: @ndbohlen

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