Football Folklore: Contextualizing the 2017 Atlanta Falcons Offense

As the Atlanta Falcons were moving the ball up and down the field at will against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, the question arose within the walls of the Inside the Pylon Slack channel, “where does this Atlanta offense rank among the best in NFL history?”

As I’ve mentioned in previous Football Folklore pieces, comparing teams and players across years and eras can prove extremely difficult and dicey. Zeroing in on an absolute answer in these types of comparisons is almost impossible. However, there are ways to drill down on the information we have to at least get closer to the answer and provide further context to the question at hand.

For this particular question, I decided to simply look at points scored per game by each team in the regular season. There are certainly limitations to using points per game as the only metric, including, but not limited to the effect of injuries, adjustments for opponent, defensive and special teams scores, pace of play affecting the number of drives, and starting field position for each team which affect each team’s efficiency in scoring.

Once I had each team’s points scored per game, I adjusted for era by comparing each individual team’s figure to the league average within that given season. The resulting measure used in this study is then the percentage above league average each team’s points per game was.

Below are the top 100 NFL offenses in points per game adjusted for era represented by a percentage above league average in each season.

[table id=50 /]

As you can see by the results, the New England Patriots certainly will have their hands full defending the Falcons offense, ranked 23rd on the list, but overcoming a high-powered offense in the Super Bowl isn’t as difficult as it may seem. There are 29 Super Bowl teams on this list, including this year’s Falcons and Patriots. Those teams have gone 13-14 in the big game. Those teams ranked above the Falcons have only gone 4-6, with each winner overcoming a less than stellar defensive opponent by Super Bowl standards. This will also be the fifth matchup of top 100 offenses in the Super Bowl. In the previous four matchups, the better offense won twice.

Not surprisingly, the top 5 is comprised of the 2007 16-0 Patriots as Tom Brady was throwing to Randy Moss and Wes Welker, the dangerous 1998 Vikings of that same Moss’s rookie season, the non-Super Bowl version of the Greatest Show on Turf and the Peyton Manning led Denver Broncos of 2013. The surprise at #2 is the 1950 Los Angeles Rams with Norm Van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield splitting time at quarterback slinging the ball to Tom Fears and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch.

Both top five offenses that reached the Super Bowl – the 2007 Patriots and 2013 Broncos – lost.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @jfey5 and find his other work here.

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