Undefeated NFL Teams – Which American Football Teams Have Had a Perfect Season?

Raised American Football Helmet in StadiumWhen it comes to sporting teams, the one thing that they would love to do is go undefeated for an entire campaign in order to all but ensure their success. When Arsenal achieved this in the Premier League, for example, they won the title and were rewarded with a gold replica of the Premier League trophy to mark their accomplishment. The fact that they are the only club to have managed it at the time of writing shows just how hard it is to in English football, but is the same true of American football? Does the nature of the sport and the way that the season works make it more likely for an NFL team to have a perfect season?

One thing that we do know is that American sports in general tend to abhor the idea of a match ending in a tie, so there is definitely an increased likelihood of a successful side going through the entire campaign by winning every game than there is in England. When the Gunners became ‘the invincibles’, for example, they did so whilst drawing 12 games. Whilst it is still an impressive accomplishment, it isn’t the same as winning every match that they had to play during the Premier League season. For NFL teams, the way the season is structured means that they can go undefeated in the regular season yet still not be Super Bowl champions.

Quick Answer: Has an NFL Team Ever Had a Perfect Season?

Since the first NFL season in 1920, when known as the APFA, only the Miami Dolphins in 1972/73 have gone through an entire season winning every game. The Dolphins won all 14 regular season games, their divisional playoff against the Cleveland Browns, the AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins.

The closest a team as come to replicating this was the New England Patriots in 2007/08. They won all 16 regular season games, a divisional playoff versus the Jacksonville Jaguars and the AFC Championship game against the San Diego Chargers, but lost to the New York Giants at Super Bowl XLII.

How the NFL Season Works

Kickoff Message at the Denver Broncos Mile High Stadium

The NFL regular season begins in September. Photo by Jeffrey Beall, flickr

In the United States of America, the National Football League is arguably the most popular sport that there is. In order to understand the importance of a perfect season in the NFL, we first need to get our heads around the way that the season is structured. At the time of writing, there are 32 teams that are divided equally into the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). The season gets underway with a pre-season period that lasts for three weeks, after which comes the 18-week regular season, starting early in September and running through until early January, seeing each team play 17 times.

List of NFL Teams

AFC (Division) NFC (Division)
Baltimore Ravens (North) Arizona Cardinals (West)
Buffalo Bills (East) Atlanta Falcons (South)
Cincinnati Bengals (North) Carolina Panthers (South)
Cleveland Browns (North) Chicago Bears (North)
Denver Broncos (West) Dallas Cowboys (East)
Houston Texans (South) Detroit Lions (North)
Indianapolis Colts (South) Green Bay Packers (North)
Jacksonville Jaguars (South) Los Angeles Rams (West)
Kansas City Chiefs (West) Minnesota Vikings (North)
Las Vegas Raiders (West) New Orleans Saints (South)
Los Angeles Chargers (West) New York Giants (East)
Miami Dolphins (East) Philadelphia Eagles (East)
New England Patriots (East) San Francisco 49ers (West)
New York Jets (East) Seattle Seahawks (West)
Pittsburgh Steelers (North) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (South)
Tennessee Titans (South) Washington Commanders (East)

Once the regular season has reached its conclusion, seven teams from each of the Conferences moves forward into the post-season play-offs, which are a single elimination tournament that will decide upon the teams that will end up playing in the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl, of course, is played between the winners of the championship games for the AFC and the NFC. In theory, the best team of the American Football Conference will take on the best team of the National Football Conference for the right to be declared Super Bowl champions and therefore be thought of as the best team that played in the NFL that season.

One thing to bear in mind is that the games played in the pre-season period are not-for-the-record exhibition games. This means that if they are lost then they will not count towards the idea of being an unbeaten season. Similarly, a team can go unbeaten throughout the regular season, but lose in the play-offs. This would count as them having been beaten and therefore not having the perfect season overall. That doesn’t mean that going unbeaten during the regular season isn’t an accomplishment, but it obviously isn’t as impressive as making it all the way to the Super Bowl and winning without losing a match.

The Perfect Season – Miami Dolphins in 1972/73

Miami Dolphins On-Field Logo

In 1972 (the Super Bowl was played in January 1973), the Miami Dolphins became the first team to win every game across an entire NFL season. Photo by Bob B. Brown, flickr

In the history of the National Football League, only one team has gone for an entire regular and post-season winning every single match that they played. That honour goes to the Miami Dolphins, who achieved it in 1972. The 53rd regular season of the NFL saw three divisions in each conference, made up of the East, Central and West. The winner of each division went through to the play-offs along with a wild card team, which was based on the best non-division winner across the course of the season. The Miami Dolphins played in the East Division of the American Football Conference, putting them up against the following sides:

  • New York Jets
  • Baltimore Colts
  • Buffalo Bills
  • New England Patriots

The Dolphins’ regular season worked out as follows:

Miami Dolphins’ 1972 Regular Season Results

Date (Game) Opposition Result Location
17/9/1972 (1) Kansas City Chiefs 20-10 Win Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas
24/9/1972 (2) Houston Oilers 34-13 Win Orange Bowl, Miami
1/10/1972 (3) Minnesota Vikings 16-14 Win Metropolitan Stadium, Minnesota
8/10/1972 (4) New York Jets 27-17 Win Shea Stadium, New York
15/10/1972 (5) San Diego Chargers 24-10 Win Orange Bowl, Miami
22/10/1972 (6) Buffalo Bills 24-23 Win Orange Bowl, Miami
29/10/1972 (7) Baltimore Colts 23-0 Win Memorial Stadium, Baltimore
5/11/1972 (8) Buffalo Bills 30-16 Win War Memorial Stadium, Buffalo
12/11/1972 (9) New England Patriots 52-0 Win Orange Bowl, Miami
19/11/1972 (10) New York Jets 28-24 Win Orange Bowl, Miami
27/11/1972 (11) St. Louis Cardinals 31-10 Win Orange Bowl, Miami
3/12/1972 (12) New England Patriots 37-21 Win Schaefer Stadium, New England
10/12/1972 (13) New York Giants 23-13 Win Yankee Stadium, New York
16/12/1972 (14) Baltimore Colts 16-0 Win Orange Bowl, Miami

It saw the Dolphins finish the regular season with a 14-0 perfect record, heading into the play-offs as the over-whelming favourites.

Chart That Shows the Final Standings in the AFC East in 1972

The Divisional match of the post-season pitched them up against the Cleveland Browns on the 24th of December 1972, with the Miami Dolphins running out 20-14 winners.

Miami Dolphins’ 1972 AFC Divisional Playoff

Date Opposition Result Location
24/12/1972 Cleveland Browns 20-14 Win Orange Bowl, Miami

That resulted in an AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which the Dolphins won 21-17.

1972 AFC Championship Game

Date Opposition Result Location
31/12/1972 Pittsburgh Steelers 21-17 Win Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh

It meant that they went into the Super Bowl match with the chance to complete the perfect season if they could defeat the Washington Redskins, as the team was known then, which they managed by 14-7 to make history.

Super Bowl VII

Date Opposition Result Location
14/1/1973 Washington Redskins 14-7 Win Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles

Undefeated Seasons

Akron Professionals in 1920

The inaugural American Professional Football Association, which became the NFL, was won by the undefeated Akron Pros. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Nowadays, tied matches in the National Football League are almost unheard of, but in the competition’s early years that wasn’t the case. In 1920, for example, American football was really just being established and the NFL was known as the American Professional Football Association at the time. There was no end of season championship match or play-off system in place at the time, with the season lasting for varying amounts of time. The Akron Pros played eleven games, winning eight of them and drawing three to go unbeaten. They were awarded the Brunswick-Balke Collender Cup, with the Staleys and the All-Americans unhappy about this.

Akron Pros’ 1920 Season Results

Date Opposition Result Location
3/10/1920 Wheeling Stogies 43-0 Win League Park, Akron
10/10/1920 Columbus Panhandles 37-0 Win League Park, Akron
17/10/1920 Cincinnati Celts 13-0 Win League Park, Akron
24/10/1920 Cleveland Tigers 7-0 Win League Park, Akron
31/10/1920 Canton Bulldogs 10-0 Win Lakeside Park, Canton
7/11/1920 Detroit Heralds Cancelled League Park, Akron
14/11/1920 Cleveland Tigers 7-7 Tie Dunn Field, Cleveland
21/11/1920 Dayton Triangles 13-0 Win League Park, Akron
25/11/1920 Canton Bulldogs 7-0 Win League Park, Akron
28/11/1920 Dayton Triangles 14-0 Win Triangle Park, Dayton
5/12/1920 Buffalo All-Americans 0-0 Tie Olympic Park, Buffalo
12/12/1920 Decatur Staleys 0-0 Tie Cubs Park, Chicago

Games in italics were against non-APFA teams

The two teams felt that they were more deserving of the Brunswick-Balke Collender Cup, given the fact that they had won more games than the Akron Pros and hadn’t lost to them. The awarding of the cup happened at a meeting, with other teams voting on who should be awarded it and deciding on the Akron Pros because they didn’t lose. Two years later and something not dissimilar happened, with the league having been re-named as the NFL on the 24th of June 1922. There were 18 teams playing during the season, with the Canton Bulldogs being named as the NFL Champions finishing with ten wins, two draws and no losses.

Canton Bulldogs’ 1922 NFL Season Results

Date Opposition Result Location
1/10/1922 Louisville Brecks 38-0 Win Lakeside Park, Canton
8/10/1922 Dayton Triangles 0-0 Tie Triangle Park, Dayton
15/10/1922 Oorang Indians 14-0 Win Lakeside Park, Canton
22/10/1922 Akron Pros 22-0 Win Elk’s Field, Akron
29/10/1922 Chicago Bears 7-6 Win Cubs Park, Chicago
5/11/1922 Toledo Maroons 0-0 Tie Lakeside Park, Canton
12/11/1922 Buffalo All-Americans 3-0 Win Lakeside Park, Canton
19/11/1922 Chicago Cardinals 7-0 Win Comiskey Park, Chicago
26/11/1922 Chicago Cardinals 20-3 Win Lakeside Park, Canton
30/11/1922 Akron Pros 14-0 Win Lakeside Park, Canton
3/12/1922 Milwaukee Badgers 40-6 Win Lakeside Park, Canton
10/12/1922 Toledo Maroons 19-0 Win Swayne Field, Toledo

A season on and the Canton Bulldogs went one better, literally, winning 11 games and only drawing one, not losing any. As with the previous campaign, there were no play-off games that season, so the twelve games were all that were played and they didn’t lose any of them.

Canton Bulldogs’ 1923 NFL Season Results

Date Opposition Result Location
30/9/1923 Hammond Pros 17-0 Win Lakeside Park, Canton
7/10/1923 Louisville Brecks 37-10 Win Lakeside Park, Canton
14/10/1923 Dayton Triangles 30-0 Win Lakeside Park, Canton
21/10/1923 Chicago Bears 6-0 Win Cubs Park, Chicago
28/10/1923 Akron Pros 7-3 Win Lakeside Park, Canton
4/11/1923 Chicago Cardinals 7-3 Win Comiskey Park, Chicago
11/11/1923 Buffalo All-Americans 3-3 Tie Olympic Park, Buffalo
18/11/1923 Oorang Indians 41-0 Win Lakeside Park, Canton
25/11/1923 Cleveland Indians 46-10 Win Dunn Field, Cleveland
29/11/1923 Toledo Maroons 28-0 Win Lakeside Park, Canton
2/12/1923 Buffalo All-Americans 14-0 Win Lakeside Park, Canton
9/12/1923 Columbus Tigers 10-0 Win Neil Park, Columbus

Fast-forward to 1929 and there were twelve teams in the league, of which the Green Bay Packers became champions thanks to twelve wins and one tie, with zero losses.

Green Bay Packers’ 1929 NFL Season Results

Date Opposition Result Location
22/9/1929 Dayton Triangles 9-0 Win City Stadium, Green Bay
29/9/1929 Chicago Bears 23-0 Win City Stadium, Green Bay
6/10/1929 Chicago Cardinals 9-2 Win City Stadium, Green Bay
13/10/1929 Frankford Yellow Jackets 14-2 Win City Stadium, Green Bay
20/10/1929 Minneapolis Red Jackets 24-0 Win City Stadium, Green Bay
27/10/1929 Chicago Cardinals 24-0 Win Comiskey Park, Chicago
3/11/1929 Minneapolis Red Jackets 16-6 Win Nicollet Park, Minneapolis
10/11/1929 Chicago Bears 14-0 Win Wrigley Field, Chicago
17/11/1929 Chicago Cardinals 12-0 Win Comiskey Park, Chicago
24/11/1929 New York Giants 20-6 Win The Polo Grounds, New York
28/11/1929 Frankford Yellow Jackets 0-0 Tie Frankford Stadium, Philadelphia
1/12/1929 Providence Steam Roller 25-0 Win The Cycledrome, Providence
8/12/1929 Chicago Bears 25-0 Win Wrigley Field, Chicago

The Championship game wasn’t introduced for another four years, with a play-off for said Championship hame being introduced in 1933, so there were no other matches to be played and they finished the season undefeated.

The Nearly Perfect Seasons

As mentioned, the nature of the way that the season works in the National Football League is such that a team can go through the regular season without losing a game, but can still end up not being the Super Bowl champions because of the fact that they lose in the post-season. That has happened three times at the time of writing, with two of those occasions happening to the same team. Here is a look at each of the seasons in closer detail:

Chicago Bears – 1934

By 1934, the National Football League as we understand it today had at least started to take some sort of shape. It was the 15th regular season and the first that saw the Ed Thorp Trophy being awarded to the NFL champion. The NFL itself was split into the Eastern Division and Western Division, with the two divisions finishing with the following win percentages:

Chart That Shows the Win Percentages of NFL Teams During the Regular Season in 1934

The two teams highlighted in green went on to play in the NFL Championship game

When the regular season reached its conclusion, the New York Giants finished at the top of the Eastern Division having won eight games and lost five of them. The Chicago Bears, meanwhile, concluded their season having won all 13 of the games that they played. It is fair to say, therefore that the Bears were seen as favourites for the Championship Game having remained undefeated in the regular season.

1934 NFL Championship Game – 9/12/1934

Eastern Division Winner Score Western Division Winner
New York Giants 30-13 Chicago Bears

In the end, though, the Championship Game finished up with the New York Giants winning 30-13 and spoiling the perfect season that the Bears had been enjoying. It was still impressive to win 13 regular season games, but they didn’t win the Championship Game to round it off.

Chicago Bears – 1942

It must have been gutting for the players and the supporters of the Chicago Bears to complete a perfect regular season but then lose in the Championship Game in 1934, but imagine how gutting it must have been to see exactly the same thing happen eight years later. They did win the Divisional Championship in 1937, 1940 and 1941, but in 1942 they played eleven regular season games and won all eleven of them. That put them into a Championship Game against the Washington Redskins, who didn’t do too badly themselves thanks to ten wins and just one defeat in the NFL Eastern Division. Here are how the teams performed:

Chart That Shows the Win Percentages of NFL Teams During the Regular Season in 1942

The two teams highlighted in green went on to play in the NFL Championship game

Having once again gone through the entire regular season without losing a game, the Chicago Bears were full of confidence heading into the Championship Game. They were up against a team that had only lost one game, however, so it’s not as if the Washington Redskins were lacking in confidence.

1942 NFL Championship Game – 13/12/1942

Eastern Division Winner Score Western Division Winner
Washington Redskins 14-6 Chicago Bears

Perhaps that is why the game ended up seeing the Redskins once again break the hearts of Bears fans around the country, running out as 14-6 winners.

New England Patriots – 2007

It is interesting that the next time that a club went unbeaten but failed to win the Championship Game didn’t happen again for more than 60 years. In 2007 the National Football League was in its 88th regular season, which took place between the sixth of September and the 30th of December. The regular season saw the American Football Conference split up into AFC East, AFC North, AFC South and AFC West. The National Football Conference, meanwhile, was equally split geographically into the NFC East, the NFC North, the NFC South and the NFC West. Six teams from each Conference went into the play-offs, which were as follows:

Chart That Shows the Teams That Qualified for the Playoffs During the 2007 NFL Season

The New York Giants were lucky to make it into the play-offs, having come second in the NFC East division and qualified via a wild card. They won ten games but lost six in the regular season. The New England Patriots, on the other hand, went undefeated into the play-offs thanks to the fact that they won all 16 of the games that they played their division without losing any. The Patriots defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars and the San Diego Chargers on their way to the Super Bowl final, whilst the Giants won 24-14 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 21-17 against the Dallas Cowboys and 23-20 versus the Green Bay Packers to make the final themselves.

  • New England Patriots
    • Wild Card playoff: Received bye
    • Divisional playoff: Defeated Jacksonville Jaguars 31-20
    • AFC Championship game: Defeated San Diego Chargers 21-12
  • New York Giants
    • Wild Card playoff: Defeated Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-14
    • Divisional Playoff: Defeated Dallas Cowboys 21-17
    • NFC Championship game: Defeated Green Bay Packers 23-20 (OT)

Interestingly, earlier in the season, in Week 9, the New England Patriots went up against the Indianapolis Colts with both teams unbeaten at that point. The Pats had won eight games in a row, whilst the Colts had won seven. The match was dubbed Super Bowl XLI ½, owing to the fact that the pair had met in the previous season’s AFC Championship game and were predicted to meet in that season’s AFC Championship game. The New England Patriots won the game 24-20, meaning that many felt that they would be well-placed to win the actual Super Bowl, should they make it that far.

They did, of course, make it that far, being seen as the odds on favourites thanks to their perfect record to that point and the fact that the New York Giants only made the play-offs courtesy of a wild card. In the end, though, the Giants did enough, winning the game 17-14 and stopping the New England Patriots from joining the Miami Dolphins as a team with a perfect record during the regular season and the post-season.

Chart That Shows the Score at the End of Each Quarter at Super Bowl XLII in 2008

Obviously what they achieved was still to be applauded, but ultimately the New York Giants finished the season as the Super Bowl winners and were therefore crowned the NFL champions.

Longest Same-Season Undefeated Runs

With just one team having gone through an entire season without losing any games whatsoever, it is worth having a quick look at the longest undefeated runs that teams have gone on in a National Football League season. This will include the teams that we’ve already mentioned, just to give their achievements some context:

Chart That Shows the NFL Teams with the Longest Same Season Unbeaten Runs

You can see just how unlucky the New England Patriots were to not join the Miami Dolphins with a perfect season to their name, given the fact that they actually won more games in succession than the Dolphins. It was simply down to the format of the season that the Miami Dolphins went unbeaten for 17 games and won the Super Bowl whilst the New England Patriots won 18 games but then lost the Super Bowl.