It was a pretty common sight to see the words "Most Prolific Offense in NFL History" (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) in articles references the AFC Champ Broncos in the lead-up to Super Bowl Sunday. There were reasons for this, of course. They led the league in offense in the most offense-heavy year of all-time. They set a record for points scored (and became the first team to ever top 600). Manning set the passing yardage and TD records. But, as their 8-point output in the Big Game showed, perhaps their offense wasn't all it seemed.
I think it's only fair to measure a team against its own context. So I'm going to use a simple measure to check how great the Broncos' offense really was.
This is a REALLY fast study you can do with any team, from any era.
All you do is a quick ratio. The team's number of points scored, divided by the average number of points a team scored that season. This tells you, essentially, how many season's worth of points the team scored in the season in question. Let's look at the 2013 Broncos.
The Broncos scored 606 points in 2013.
All 32 teams scored 11987 points.
Divide the latter by the former (11987/32) and we see that the average team scored 374.59375 points in the season.
Then we do a simple ratio. 606/374.59375=1.618
In other words, Denver scored 1.6 season's worth of points this year. But is that really the best figure in the 16-game era?
I picked 10 teams which I believe represent the best offenses of the era. Truth be told, they're probably NOT the 10 best teams. You could probably find someone better, because some of these may be overrated. Either way, they're the ones I tried, because I'm interested in getting a quick answer, not necessarily the right answer. Here is a list of the teams and how many points they scored:
2013 Broncos - 606 points
2007 Patriots - 589 points
2011 Packers - 560 points
1998 Vikings - 556 points
1983 Redskins - 541 points
1999 Rams - 526 points
2004 Colts - 522 points
1994 49ers - 505 points
1991 Redskins - 485 points
1981 Chargers - 478 points
Now here they are, reordered how they rank when we divide their scoring by their scoring context:
2007 Patriots - 1.703
1998 Vikings - 1.637
2013 Broncos - 1.618
1991 Redskins - 1.602
1999 Rams - 1.582
2011 Packers - 1.578
1994 49ers - 1.559
1983 Redskins - 1.549
2004 Colts - 1.518
1981 Chargers - 1.446
Well, the 2013 Broncos, the 2011 Packers, even the 1983 Redskins, and (expecially) the 2004 Colts look quite a bit worse this way; the 1991 Redskins look astonishingly good this way. The '91 'Skins are also the top-ranked team to have actually won the Super Bowl. In fact, only three of these teams ('91 Redskins, '94 49ers, and '99 Rams) won the Big One at all.
Adjusting for context is something that people virtually NEVER do with football stats. I don't know why this is. As someone who's more of a "baseball guy," it's almost laughable, since baseball has been doing this for a LONG time. But it's fun to goof around and see some things in a new light. And, like just about every "study" I've ever done, this one spits back to me yet another reason to consider the 2007 Patriots the greatest team in NFL history (at least in something resembling the modern era). Certainly, I'd have no qualms about saying that they were better at scoring than the 2013 Broncos. The 17-points more that the Broncos is more than made up for by the context in which each team played, even though they seem to be contemporaries.