It’s an age old question sports pundits and fans love to talk about: Who’s better? Michael Jordan or Lebron James? Peyton Manning or Tom Brady? The 1996 Chicago Bulls or the 2015 Golden State Warriors?
Those are all being put on the back-burner for a later time. Maybe if I decide to do a series on this or something. The who would win question I’m asking today is not something I’m seeing a lot of, mostly because it hasn’t happened yet or because people dismiss it as “obvious”. Who would win a hypothetical matchup: the undefeated (so far) 2015 Carolina Panthers or the undefeated New England Patriots?
Now, there’s obviously a ton of variables that come into play: what’s the weather like? Sleep is even a factor. So let me set up the conditions of this matchup: both teams are fully healthy, well rested, the game is in Glendale, Arizona (the location of Super Bowl XLII), and since it’s played in a dome you have fair weather conditions. No snow, no rain, no freezing temperatures. Just two unbeatens (presumably) ready to leave it on the field.
The answer is obviously the 2015 Carolina Panthers.
I’m pretty sure if you’re a Patriots fan or a fan of football in general you’re probably cussing me out and about to leave. Hear me out. This has nothing to do with “Oh those 2007 Patriots SUCKED”. They obviously didn’t suck, otherwise they wouldn’t have gone undefeated. The 2015 Panthers are just better. Let’s take a look:
The 2007 Pats were excellent. They had excellent wideouts, an excellent quarterback, and they won. They had a capable defense led by Vince Wilfork and Mike Vrabel, two players who I see going to the Hall of Fame. They also set records galore. Records that probably won’t be broken in my lifetime unless something drastically changes in the NFL. How the hell can you beat them?
No team except the Giants could in 2007, and that was barely with a couple miracles in the Super Bowl. The 2015 Carolina Panthers could easily have shredded everybody that stood in their way if they magically replaced the 2007 Panthers. Why am I so confident in their abilities? Well:
Their defense is absolutely astonishing. Fully healthy, I don’t think there’s any team other than perhaps the 2015 Arizona Cardinals that could stand up to them and really win. Yeah, they do get overconfident, but that’s their only flaw really. They can shut down pretty much anybody for three quarters of a game, especially one dimensional offenses. Josh Norman is one of the best corners in the league, their defensive line is stellar, and they have a linebacker in Luke Kuechly that can do pretty much anything, and he’s not even the leading tackler on that defense. The Patriots from 2007 were really one dimensional. Their running game was “meh” at best, and that hurt them when they played against good defenses such as the Giants. And while the Patriots aerial assault was record shattering, it would have had trouble against the Panthers defense. Brady might not get sacked too much behind that impressive o-line, but receivers would struggle mightily. That’s not to say he couldn’t get an amazing throw and catch in there. He is Tom Brady after all. But even the greatest generals can’t win every battle, especially if they’re hopelessly outgunned.
The outgunning occurs when the Panthers are on offense and the Patriots are on defense. While the Patriots had a good defense, it was ill-equipped to handle an offense from 2015. In 2007 the league had yet to experience the Wildcat formation, let alone a versatile quarterback who can run and pass, run options or run the Wildcat. It also wasn’t a league where tight ends did a ton of catching, so Greg Olsen would be also shock to this defense. Even though this Carolina team hasn’t set the gaudy records that the Patriots have, I find it hard to believe that this defense could slow down the brutal attack that can be the 2015 Panthers offense (just ask the 2015 Washington defense).
Comparing their strengths of schedule, I would argue that if you try and frame this argument from that point of view the Patriots are actually weaker. People seem to forget that the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets that year combined just 5 wins total, while in the case of Carolina, their worst divisional opponent has 5 wins (the New Orleans Saints). The Panthers also had to win in Seattle (a rare feat only done by the best teams these days) and against a red hot Packers team. These things are hard to do, and while the Panthers may have to defeat somebody with the caliber of the Cardinals like the Patriots did with the Colts to convince some people that these Panthers are legit, these Panthers are surely capable of it.
The simple point is that I would take the 2015 Panthers any day over the 2007 Patriots, with no offense intended to them, just as I’d take the 2007 Patriots over the 1972 Dolphins any day. The Panthers are just simply a better team, perhaps not in every facet of the game, but overall they’re more complete. Bill Belichick is arguably a better coach than Ron Rivera, and Tom Brady-Randy Moss is arguably the best quarterback-wide receiver duo in the history of the sport. It doesn’t mean that team is better though. Time warp them to the present, it’s hard for me to see them doing as well now as they did back in 2007. Time warp that team to the last drive of last year’s Super Bowl, they probably aren’t going home with the Lombardi trophy. That 2007 Patriots team was indeed the best team in football history for a while. Today, though, that simply is no longer the case.