It takes about two weeks into an NFL season before everyone agrees that fans and analysts can start evaluating the “realness” of any given team. That’s a nice way of saying that NFL viewers are an inherently suspicious bunch, and that just because a team starts off the season on the right foot is no indication of its future success. If you remember last season, you know that the Texans went undefeated in the first two weeks before losing every single game after that. The only thing about success in the league is that it’s fleeting and fickle.
Wins come one week at a time, though, and the best records are all held by teams that, at one point or another, had two wins to their names without suffering any losses. Here, then, are the eight NFL teams who piled up the most victories in a single NFL season. Some of them are Super Bowl champions. Some of them are not. Some of them predate the Super Bowl entirely.
8. Green Bay Packers, 2011, 13 wins
The team that wound up achieving the least on this list, the 2011 Packers, defending Super Bowl champions, stormed out the gate to win their first 13 games before losing a tightly contested 19-14 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. While Aaron Rodgers and company wound up making the playoffs, any hope they had of defending their title was squashed as they fell to the New York Giants, who would eventually win that year’s Super Bowl.
7. New Orleans Saints, 2009, 13 wins
While the Saints started their 2009 season the same way that the Packers did, they finished on a down note, losing their last three games and reeling into the postseason. Luckily for them, they got their collective act together and wound up taking their talents all the way to the Big Game, winning Super Bowl XLIV over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. That game, which finished 31-17, would be Manning’s worst loss at a Super Bowl until 2014.
6. Denver Broncos, 1998, 13 wins
Momentous because of the historical context — the best start, at the time, for more than 25 years; Elway’s pending retirement that had nearly happened before the season started; the eventual Super Bowl victory. The last Broncos season to earn the franchise a place in the victory books (although last year’s team was statistically amazing) was also the best Broncos season on record, as the team would finish 1998 with 14 wins and only two losses.
5. Chicago Bears, 1934, 13 wins
That is not a picture of the 1934 Chicago Bears. That said, one of the oldest franchises in the NFL can look back on a nearly perfect season that saw them win all 13 of their regular season games before going on to face the New York Giants in what would come to be referred to as the Sneakers Game. It has a Wikipedia entry. The Bears were the first team in NFL history to go undefeated in the regular season, but this should be weighed against the fact that the league was only 14 years old at that point.
4. Indianapolis Colts, 2009, 14 wins
Most commonly cited as the losing end of the 2009 Super Bowl (because, if you haven’t heard, Peyton Manning is an eternal spring of great regular seasons and underwhelming playoff appearances), the Colts started off their season more impressively than their eventual Super Bowl opponents, nabbing 14 regular season victories in a row before the playoffs started and managing to burn through everyone all the way until the Big Game, which they lost. Badly.
3. Cleveland Browns, 1948, 15 wins
Sometimes it feels like the early successes of the Cleveland Browns were only allowed to happen in order to set up a foil for their continued and perpetual mediocrity since their return to Ohio in 1999. For example, the ’48 Browns managed to win every single game of the regular season as well as the championship game — a game they won by beating the Buffalo Bills, 49-7. That’s the old Cleveland Browns. The new Cleveland Browns haven’t won 15 games combined in the last four seasons, and this year’s victorious home opener was just their first in the last decade.
2. Miami Dolphins, 1972: 17 wins
You could argue that the ’72 Dolphins deserve to be No. 1 on this list, since they’re the only team to have successfully finished off a regular season and a postseason without losing a single game. That’s all true, and in the grand scheme of things, the Dolphins were an impressive team and deserve to be on any short list for “greatest teams ever,” but they also played all but two games on Sundays (with one Monday game and one Saturday), and there’s an argument to be made that going undefeated all the way was easier when teams had a full week of rest and recuperation.
1. New England Patriots, 2007, 18 wins
Which is why we’ve got to give the nod to the ’07 Patriots when it comes to straight victories. Not only did they win more on a more compressed schedule, but they came up short when it really mattered, laying out their blueprint for Super Bowls future, when they lost to Eli Manning and the New York Giants. Eli is the Patriots’ kryptonite.