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Sports Then and Now

Perfection in the NFL: The Teams That Came Closest and the One That Did

Posted on April 30, 2014 by Martin Banks

It’s the dream of every player, coach, owner and fan to witness their team go undefeated and lift the Lombardi Trophy after a perfect season. However, one of the greatest characteristics of the National Football League—its parity—is the reason the fleeting dream is so rarely realized. The only evidence necessary to see the truth in the difficulty of achieving a perfect season is the fact only one team has done it. We’re talking no losses and no ties — including playoffs. The 1972 Miami Dolphins remain able to crack open the champagne bottles every year to celebrate their distinct achievement, although several teams before and after that Dolphins team have so nearly joined them in the most elite group in football’s history.

The Only Perfect Season


Under the great Don Shula, the ’72 Dolphins achieved immortality by obtaining a perfect 14-0 in the regular season before defeating the Browns, Steelers and Redskins in the playoffs to finish 17-0-0. Although they boasted the NFL’s top-ranked offense by scoring an average of 27.5 points per game, the Dolphins’ defense carried the team through the playoffs. Miami never scored more than 21 points in a postseason game, but their opponents were held to 17 points or fewer thanks to the top-ranked defense in the league, which averaged 12.2 points allowed per game. The prowess of the Dolphins’ 4-3 defense was obvious in the Superbowl, where it held the NFC Champion Redskins to just seven points.

However, before the playoffs, Miami’s pursuit of perfection nearly ended in week six of the regular season when they took on the Buffalo Bills. The Dolphins overcame four turnovers and a ten-point fourth-quarter surge from the Bills to win by their slimmest margin of victory that season, 24-23.

Pre-Playoff-System Undefeateds

Between the start of the NFL in 1920 and 1932 prohibition was failing to combat alcoholism, speakeasies were all the rage, and there was no playoff system in place. Throughout that time period, four teams completed a season without a single loss. However, each of those seasons included at least one tie, blocking those teams from the perfect season. Those four teams were the Akron Pros in 1920, the Canton Bulldogs in 1922, the Canton Bulldogs again in 1923, and Green Bay Packers in 1929. The Buffalo All-Americans are another team that controversially claimed no-loss status, but a loss they considered an exhibition was recorded as an official game, leaving the All-Americans with a record of 9-1-2.

Nearly Perfect

Since the creation of the playoff system in the NFL, a team has been just one game away from perfection on three different occasions. Each of these teams lost their championship game, denying them one of the rarest titles in sports. The Chicago Bears finished with a perfect regular-season record of 13-0 in 1934, but a loss to the New York Giants in the championship game kept them from a perfect season. After becoming the first team to finish the regular season without a loss or tie in 1934, the Bears completed the feat once again in 1942. However, the Bears’ second attempt at perfection was once again thwarted in the championship game, this time by the Redskins.

The other team to almost join the ’72 Dolphins was, of course, the 2007 New England Patriots. An unblemished 16-0 regular-season record and two playoff victories all became for naught when they lost to the New York Giants in the Superbowl to finish the season 18-1.

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