Once again, the New England Patriots find themselves atop the NFL heap: 5-0 so far this year with the league’s best points-per-game margin. Las Vegas oddsmakers consider New England far and away the best team in football. Excellence isn’t unfamiliar for the Pats; just last month, we anointed their 2007 squad1 as the best single-season team in NFL history. But this year’s version is also one of the greatest teams in NFL history — through a season’s first six weeks.
Of course, that last qualifier is important; the Patriots aren’t even a third of the way through their schedule, and you don’t win any prizes for being really good going into Week 7. On the other hand, the Patriots are really, really good.
We can measure this using Elo ratings, one of our favorite metrics for ranking football teams. You can read the fine details of how they work here, but in a nutshell, Elo assigns each team a strength rating based on how likely it thinks that team is to win games in the future. The ratings are simple — their only inputs are the score, strength of opponent and location of each game — but they’re also predictive and self-correcting, so a team’s strength estimate is constantly evolving.
And in the case of the 2015 Patriots, that rating is ridiculously good. Through the first six weeks of an NFL season,2 only three teams have ever possessed a higher Elo rating than New England’s current mark of 1736:
|TEAM||YEAR||RECORD||ELO AFTER 6 WEEKS|
|3||New England Patriots||2007||6-0||1748|
|4||New England Patriots||2015||5-0||1736|
|5||San Francisco 49ers||1990||5-0||1734|
|6||Green Bay Packers||2011||6-0||1728|
|12||New England Patriots||2004||5-0||1714|
|14||Green Bay Packers||1963||5-1||1713|
|17||Green Bay Packers||1930||6-0||1708|
|19||Green Bay Packers||1962||6-0||1702|
|22||Los Angeles Rams||1968||6-0||1697|
|24||New England Patriots||2011||5-1||1695|
I wrote three weeks ago, when they were 3-0, that this year’s Pats were unlikely to match the 2007 team’s 16-0 regular season record … and they still aren’t. (New England has roughly a 7 percent chance of going undefeated now.) But the Patriots are within striking distance of where the ’07 Pats were at the same point that season, and that ought to strike fear in the hearts of New England’s remaining 11 opponents.
CORRECTION (Oct. 23, 10:50 a.m.): An earlier version of a table in this article listed the 1950 Philadelphia Eagles twice. One of the entries, which represented the Elo of the Eagles after five games, was incorrect and has been removed. The teams below that entry have each been moved up a slot, and the 2011 Patriots were added to the list as the 25th team.
CORRECTION (Oct. 25, 1:25 p.m.): An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect record for the 1931 Green Bay Packers through the first six weeks of the season. The team was 6-0, not 7-1. The Packers’ Elo through those six weeks was too low for them to be in the top 25, so we have removed them, moved the teams below up a slot, and added the 1951 Cleveland Browns.