Perfect Inspiration: Why the 2007 Patriots Deserve the Accolades

Mark MyersAnalyst IJanuary 25, 2008

Admit it, you didn't want them to do it. Neither did I, quite honestly.

As a Steelers fan, it was tough watching the Patriots go undefeated this year. I don't think you will find many fans outside of the New England fan base who can honestly say they enjoyed watching the Pats march through their schedule this year.

But there comes a time when you just have to give credit to a team that deserves it. And the Patriots deserve it in good measure.

No matter what happens in the Super Bowl, this season has been historic and impressive. And if they do what almost everybody thinks they will do on February 3, it will be hard to deny that they are the greatest team since the merger and perhaps of all time.

But what does it all mean exactly? How can you define this sort of achievement?

One way is to look at how likely it was to have occurred. So, considering that ChanceBot is due for retirement, I thought it would be fitting to fire up the bot one last time to look at the undefeated season.

I was surprised to find that, on the whole, the bot rates the Patriots only three or four points better than the next highest rated team—the Colts. On the other hand, thinking through how the ratings are calculated, it eventually made sense

In order to prevent blowouts from skewing the rankings, the bot ignores spreads over 21 points. And we all know that early on in the season, the Patriots were slicing teams for big points.

Then something happened. Their games became a bit more competitive.

Wins by four points over Indianapolis, and three points over Philly, Baltimore, and the Giants made them seem mortal again. (Heck, even their win by a "measly" 10 points over the Jets was a bit unexpected.)

So while their rating seemed low, it wasn't necessarily unreasonable. I decided to run the simulations with the ratings as-is.

The process was pretty simple. I erased every result from the season and reran the complete season 30,000 times—checking after each simulated season to see if the Pats had gone 16-0.

I found that if the season-ending ratings are accurate, the odds against a perfect season by the Patriots were a steep 140:1.

Allowing for the possibility that my ratings were off, I started rerunning the simulations. I adjusted the Patriots up by a field goal, then a touchdown then a full 10 points. Even at 13-point favorites over the Colts (more against other teams) the odds against perfection were 7.6:1.

No matter how I sliced it, the odds were against the Patriots going 16-0.

But here we are. They did it.

So I am left to consider that there was something else at work. And that something is, in my opinion, what makes this accomplishment very special and something we can all appreciate.

You can boil excellence down to two factors: skill and execution.

Are the Patriots so much better skill-wise than the rest of the league that 16-0 was a fait accompli? Are their physical talents so superior that victory was guaranteed no matter how sloppy their performance?

In both cases the answer is "No."

They are a very skilled team. That's obvious. But as the games against the Colts, Eagles, Ravens and Giants showed, they were capable of losing.

Only they didn't .

They went out every week and performed. Some weeks better than others; but always good enough to win.

This was not a team of high school players going undefeated against 10-year-olds. This was a team of professionals playing other professionals and winning every time.

Doing that requires more than just exceptional ability at blocking, running, tackling, throwing and catching. It requires focus, determination, and consistency. These are traits that all of us strive for in our own lives. They aren't unique to athletes.

It used to be that we looked to sports for inspiration. And despite the scandals permeating almost all sports these days, I think most of us still do.

While few people will ever perform in an arena as competitive as the NFL, we all have the ability to excel in our own way.

Whether we are students, working professionals, business owners, artists, or full-time parents, we all have things we are trying to achieve through the application of our own skills.

So for my money, if you are still looking to sports for some inspiration, the Patriots are an odds-on favorite.

Congratulations to the Patriots and their fans for an amazing season.

PS: Go Giants.