Throughout NFL history, it’s been rare for a team to complete an entire regular season undefeated. It’s even more extraordinary for a team to complete the regular season and playoffs with a perfect record. In fact, in the 100-year history of the NFL, only one team has achieved the feat. Here’s a look at that team’s magical season as well as the other NFL teams that have come painfully close.
Early NFL teams went undefeated with ties
When the NFL started in 1920, the seasons were considerably shorter compared to today, included just 10 teams, and had different rules that allowed for ties. In fact, during the first season of the American Professional Football Association (APFA), which would become the NFL two seasons later, the Akron Pros won eight games and didn’t lose a game. They did, however, settle for three ties.
Two years later, under the newly-branded NFL, the Canton Bulldogs completed the schedule without a loss, winning 10 times, but finished with a pair of ties. The Bulldogs improved in 1923, winning 11 times and tying once.
With the number of games increasing, the Green Bay Packers were the first to win 12 games in a season. They accomplished the feat in 1929. They never lost a game but did end one game in a tie.
Modern-day NFL teams have come close to being undefeated
Since 1990, nine teams have started off the season with a 10-0 record. Of those, only three have made it to 14-0 in a season, and they include the 2007 New England Patriots, the 2009 Indianapolis Colts, and the 2015 Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers had their winning streak snapped in Week 15 by the Atlanta Falcons in a close game, losing 20-13. The Panthers rebounded and won a pair of playoff games before losing in Super Bowl 50 to the Denver Broncos.
The Colts ended their 14-game winning streak by losing back-to-back games to close out the regular season. However, Indy, managed to recover and make it to Super Bowl 44, where the team lost to the New Orleans Saints, 31-17.
The only team in the Super Bowl-era to make it to the title game with a perfect record and lose is the New England Patriots in 2007. Tom Brady led the Patriots to a perfect 16-0 regular-season record, and the team won both of it playoff games before shockingly losing to the underdog New York Giants in Super Bowl 42, 17-14.
Miami Dolphins make NFL history in 1972
In 1972, the Miami Dolphins were in just their third season in the NFL. Led by quarterback Bob Griese and running back Larry Csonka, and coached by Don Shula, the Dolphins did something no other team had ever done before and hasn’t done since.
After a less-than-impressive preseason, which included three losses in six games, the Dolphins opened the season with a road win at Kansas City. After three more wins, Miami was 4-0 when catastrophe struck. Griese suffered a broken right leg and dislocated ankle against the San Diego Chargers. Enter Earl Morrall.
The 38-year-old Morrall took the reins and led the Dolphins to a victory over the Chargers and nine consecutive wins thereafter. In the AFC Championship game, Morrall struggled. Shula called on Griese, who had recovered from his injury, and he proceeded to engineer a second-half comeback and 21-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Griese regained his starting role in the Super Bowl and the Dolphins narrowly defeated the Washington Redskins, 14-7. The Dolphins became the first NFL team with an undefeated record in league history. It’s a record that many marveled at because it had never been done before. In the long term it has proven to be just as impressive because it has withstood the test of time as no other team has ever repeated the feat.