Who dominated their opponents more- this year’s Golden State Warriors or the 1985 Chicago Bears?
Plenty of sports pundits rushed to crown the Golden State Warriors as champions and as one of the greatest sports teams of all-time. They cruised through the regular season and dominated the postseason. Plenty of analysts and fans had them going 16-0 after just 14 postseason games, but the Cleveland Cavaliers got in the way of playoff perfection with a dominating win in game four. But just how good is this Warriors team? Plenty of comparisons will be made to the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, Jordan’s Bulls, Bird’s Celtics, the Magic/Kareem Lakers, but put that aside. How do they compare to some of the all-time great sports teams? Let’s take a look at them vs the 1985 Chicago Bears.
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All great teams put the exclamation point on their seasons with phenomenal postseason runs and a championship to go with it. However, you can’t analyze the postseason before you have a regular season to examine. The Bears went 15-1; the Warriors went 67-15. How do those records compare? Due to the nature of the sport and the length of the regular season, it wouldn’t be fair to just compare winning percentages. Two NFL teams (1972 Miami Dolphins, 2007 New England Patriots) finished the regular season undefeated. Obviously, no team has ever gone 82-0, but two teams have finished the regular season with more than 70 wins, the 2016 Warriors and the 1996 Chicago Bulls. Is it fair to put the threshold of an undefeated NFL season as the equivalent of 70 wins in the NBA? That seems to be a fair jumping off point.
If we also agree that a 41-41 record is the same as an 8-8 record, that allows us to compare NBA season win totals, to NFL win totals. Seven NFL teams have won 15 or more games since the NFL went to a 16 game season in 1978. That’s roughly once every five years. How does that compare to the NBA?
The NBA expanded to 82 games in the 68-69 season. Since that time, 12 teams have finished with 67 or more wins. This works out to roughly once every four years. Knowing the regularity of certain win totals can give us a comparable equivalent.
70+ NBA Wins = 16-0 NFL record
67-69 Wins = 15-1 NFL record
63-66 Wins = 14-2
60-62 = 13-3
56-59 = 12-4
51-55 = 11-5
46- 50 = 10-6
42-45 = 9-7
41-41 = 8-8
Comparing regular season records, the Warriors and Bears both finished with equivalent records. Comparing their statistics to the rest of the league, the Bears finished first in defense and second in offense in 1985. The Warriors finished this past season first in offense and second in defense. The Bears defense was historically great. The Warriors offense was historically great. While I would lean and say the ’85 Bears were more historically dominant on defense than this Warriors team was on offense, that’s hard to quantify, so we will call this a tie.
The final comparison to use for the regular season is point differential. The Warriors finished this season with a +11.6 point differential. While you can’t compare that to an NFL differential, you can compare it historically. Of all NBA champions, the 71-72 Lakers finished with a +12.3, as did the ’70-’71 Bucks. The ’95-’96 Bulls finished with a +12.2, leaving the Warriors fourth all-time in point differential. Of all Super Bowl champions, the ’85 Bears finished third in point differential (+16.1) trailing only the 1999 St. Louis Rams and the 1991 Washington Redskins. So here, we have a slight edge to the Bears.
But how was their competition? While you can’t compare regular seasons because basketball teams by nature play every team in the league, we can compare their postseason opponents.
The Warriors defeated an 8-8 Portland Trail Blazers team, an 11-5 Utah Jazz team, a 13-3 San Antonio Spurs team (albeit without Khawi Leonard), and an 11-5 Cleveland Cavaliers team.
The Bears faced three opponents vs four for Golden State, so can we throw out the Blazers and just focus on the final three opponents? The Bears faced a 10-6 NY Giants team, an 11-5 Los Angeles Rams team and an 11-5 New England Patriots team. That’s a 35-win equivalent for the Warriors opponents vs a 32 win total for the Bears opponents.
To be fair to the Bears, the Spurs team cannot be considered a 13-3 team without Leonard. Think about what the Oakland Raiders looked like in the playoffs last season without Derek Carr. While it’s impossible to know how good the Spurs would be without Leonard over a full season, it’s fair to say that team would probably win in the low 50s, which would put them as an 11-5 equivalent team. Let’s adjust the Warriors down to a 33-win equivalent and thus a very slight edge compared to the Bears regarding playoff opponents.
To break this tie, we have to look at postseason dominance and both teams were tremendous. The 1985 Bears finished the playoffs outscoring their opponents 91-10, an average of 30-3. The lone touchdown the defense surrendered was late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XX with the team already leading 44-3 and most of the subs were already in the game. The field goal surrendered came on a first quarter Walter Payton fumble. After the Patriots recovered the fumble, the offense went three and out and kicked a field goal. That means the starting unit of the 1985 Bears defense did not give up ONE sustained scoring drive for the entire postseason. However, is their +81 the most in playoff history? That answer is no. The 1989 San Francisco 49ers outscored their opponents 126-26 for a +100.
Let’s look at the Warriors squad. The Warriors went 16-1, increasing their point differential from 11.6 in the regular season to 13.5 in the postseason. The Warriors were about to accomplish the first undefeated postseason run in NBA history until they stumbled in game four of the NBA finals. The 2001 Lakers also only lost 1 postseason game and finished with a point differential of 12.8.
With the greatest postseason point differential in NBA history and a tie for the best record (technically the Warriors beat the Lakers 16-1 to 15-1 because in 2001 the first round was only a best of 5), the Warriors have the greatest postseason run in the history of the NBA. The 1985 Chicago Bears, while dominant, didn’t blowout teams to quite the same clip as the 1989 49ers.
While the 1985 Bears defense might be the most dominant unit in the history of sports, combine that with a very good (but not great) offense, and the Bears, as a team, come down a peg. After crunching the numbers, the level of dominance from the 2017 Warriors vs the 1985 Bears is close, very close. However, you have to give a slight nod to this year’s Warriors team. As a Chicago kid, that’s the biggest complement you could bestow upon a team.