Records are meant to be broken, right?
Not necessarily. Some records just seem to be out of reach. For instance, Cal Ripken Jr.’s MLB record for consecutive games played with 2,632. No active player has been even close to “The Iron Man” and his streak, the nearest being above 300 games.
Wayne Gretzky is called “The Great One” and rightfully so. Gretzky holds the NHL record for career points scored with 2,857. The closest active player to him is Joe Thornton with 1,566 points. Thornton is 40 years old and the second oldest active player in the league, making it almost impossible that he will catch Gretzky’s record.
Welcome to Perfectville – Population 1
Then there’s the 1972 Miami Dolphins who were coached by the NFL’s winningest coach of all-time, Don Shula. The 72′ Dolphins are the only team in NFL history to complete the perfect season. Miami finished the season 17-0, winning 14 regular-season games, two playoff games, and Super Bowl VII.
The 1962 Green Bay Packers, 1976 Oakland Raiders, 1984 San Francisco 49ers, and 1985 Chicago Bears all came close, losing one regular-season game each. Perhaps no team came closer than the 2007 New England Patriots, who made it all the way to Super Bowl XLII before losing to the NY Giants and the memorable David Tyree ‘Helmet Catch.’
With five teams getting so close to cracking the impossible, I would bet money that this record is in fact, breakable.
Looking at the team that got the closest, New England was 1st in total offense and 4th in total defense in 2007. That Patriots team also set NFL Records for highest point differential for a season at +315. This signifies that for a team to go perfect, they must play perfect.
Here’s where the challenge comes in for any team hoping to break this record.
Assuming that a team in quest of the perfect season is guaranteed a playoff bye-week, that team then ultimately has to win 19 games. Not only does a team have to be ready to play every game, they have to hope that they don’t incur major injuries or sustain winning despite losing key players to injuries.
There are other factors that increase the level of difficulty. The NFL schedule now consists of Monday, Thursday, and Saturday games. Teams can have a short turnaround week which could ultimately leave them at enough of a disadvantage to drop a game that they would have otherwise won.
If you consider International games, things really get daunting. Since 2007, each season has consisted of a there few games scheduled in London and Mexico. That overseas travel could interrupt a team’s chance of staying perfect.
Could 2020 Be the Year?
The 2020 season might be the best chance that a team may ever have again to capture this elusive record. 2020 will be the last season in which teams will play a 16 game regular season. The league will increase to 17 regular-season games in 2021, further decreasing the odds of going perfect.
The Coronavirus pandemic has also canceled all international games next season, adding another reason to think 2020 could be the best chance. On the other side of that coin, the coronavirus pandemic is preventing teams from executing their routines in preparation for the upcoming season.
Lastly, teams likely that would threaten that record would be the teams led by the last three NFL season MVPs; Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, and Lamar Jackson. As fate would have it, The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, and Baltimore Ravens all cross paths this season, decreasing the likelihood that one of these teams would pull off the perfect season in 2020.
It’s certainly not in the realm of impossibility, however, NFL teams have their work cut out for them if they ever wish to do what only one team has ever done before.
Don Shula and the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Forever Perfect.