The discussion is unavoidable.
The case would be compelling. No team has gone 19-0 in an NFL season. The Patriots set a record for scoring and hammered opponents by almost 20 points a game. They have one of the greatest quarterbacks ever in Tom Brady, one of the greatest deep threats ever in Randy Moss and one of the greatest coaches ever in Bill Belichick.
But the Patriots have flaws. Their defense proved vulnerable to the pass in the second half of the season. They scraped by against mediocre opponents such as the Philadelphia Eagles and Ravens. They haven't dominated in two playoff games.
So here's a look at the 10 greatest teams in NFL history and how they compare with this season's Patriots.
1958 BALTIMORE COLTS
Strengths -- Led league in scoring by a wide margin and finished second in scoring defense. Had the best quarterback in the league, Johnny Unitas, and incredible skill players in Raymond Berry and Lenny Moore. The defense forced 30 more turnovers than the offense gave up.
Weaknesses -- They won only 10 of 13 games and squeaked by the Giants in the NFL championship.
Compared with the Patriots -- As much as we love the local boys, the Patriots have been more dominant over a significantly longer schedule.
1994 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Strengths -- Led by Steve Young, these 49ers had one of the best offenses in NFL history. They scored almost 200 more points than the average offense and ran up more than 40 a game in the playoffs. Young and receiver Jerry Rice were at their peaks. Deion Sanders gave them a unique weapon on defense.
Weaknesses -- Despite Deion, the defense was good, not great.
Compared with the Patriots -- These teams are similar, with remarkable offenses and vulnerable defenses. Given that, an undefeated record would give the Patriots an edge.
1992 DALLAS COWBOYS
Strengths -- The Cowboys were as balanced as any other team in league history. All-time rusher Emmitt Smith was in his prime, as were Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman and Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin. Their defense allowed the fewest yards in the league. They outscored opponents, 116-47, in the playoffs.
Weaknesses -- They didn't play a strong schedule.
Compared with the Patriots -- New England's offense is better than any of Dallas' units. The Cowboys were more versatile. The Patriots get the nod for greater dominance throughout the season.
1996 GREEN BAY PACKERS
Strengths -- They scored the most points in the league and allowed the fewest. Brett Favre was an all-time great quarterback at his peak. Reggie White was among the most dominant defenders in league history. Nobody came within two touchdowns of them in the playoffs.
Weaknesses -- Not a lot of star power beyond Favre and White.
Compared with the Patriots -- These Packers might not be remembered as a great team, but they combined the best offense in the league with a surprisingly stingy defense. The Patriots were more dominant throughout the season, so they come out ahead.
1972 MIAMI DOLPHINS WEAKNESSES
Strengths -- As you might have heard, the Dolphins were the only previous modern team to go undefeated. They scored the most points in the league and allowed the fewest. They also gained the most yards and allowed the fewest. They boasted a great power/speed running duo in Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, an efficient quarterback, Bob Griese, and the winningest coach in league history, Don Shula.
-- Miami played a gentle schedule, beating just five teams with winning records in 17 games. The Dolphins won three playoff games by a total of only 17 points and were actually betting underdogs to the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl.
Compared with the Patriots -- The Dolphins had a less overwhelming offense compared with the league and a lesser quarterback. They beat lesser opponents. Despite their stouter defense, they would rank below the Patriots if New England wins Sunday.
1991 WASHINGTON REDSKINS
Strengths -- The Redskins won 17 of 19 games and overpowered nine opponents with winning records. They protected Mark Rypien on offense and hounded opposing quarterbacks relentlessly on defense. They excelled in every aspect of offense, defense and special teams. Joe Gibbs was an all-time great coach.
Weaknesses -- Some would cite Rypien, but he played brilliantly that season.
Compared with the Patriots -- The Redskins lacked a signature player on par with Brady but did everything well. The Patriots won their regular-season games by an average of 20 points, however, and that carries the day.
1989 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Strengths -- The 49ers had the best offense in the league, led by perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time in Joe Montana. They also had a surprisingly solid defense, ranking fourth in yards allowed. The 49ers won 17 of 19 games and outscored playoff opponents by a mind-boggling 126-26.
Weaknesses -- They struggled with the Los Angeles Rams in the regular season. Um ...
Compared with the Patriots -- The 49ers' offense wasn't quite as high-scoring but was more overwhelming in the postseason. San Francisco also had the sounder defense, so the Patriots lose this one.
1979 PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Strengths -- The Steelers went 12-4 in the regular season and won their fourth Super Bowl. They won 10 games against teams with winning records and outscored opponents, 92-46, in the postseason. They were as talented as any other team in history, with a Hall of Fame quarterback (Terry Bradshaw), two Hall of Fame receivers (Lynn Swann and John Stallworth), a Hall of Fame running back (Franco Harris) and Hall of Famers all over the defense.
Weaknesses -- They had some odd slips, such as a 34-10 loss to the winless Cincinnati Bengals in October. Bradshaw threw too many interceptions.
Compared with the Patriots -- The Steelers had a better running game and a more dominant defense. The Patriots pass much better and have suffered fewer lapses. New England has had the more impressive season, but it would be hard to pick them in a game against the more versatile Steelers.
1962 GREEN BAY PACKERS
Strengths -- The best of Vince Lombardi's many great teams went 14-1 and outscored opponents by 19 points a game. They attacked opponents with a wave of Hall of Famers that included Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Forrest Gregg, Willie Wood and Ray Nitschke. Lombardi might have been the greatest coach in league history.
Weaknesses -- They beat only four teams with winning records and struggled with the Detroit Lions in two games.
Compared with the Patriots -- The Packers had more great players and dominated more aspects of the game than the Patriots. Brady is better than Starr in an era that emphasizes passing far more, but that's not enough to get New England past Green Bay.
1985 CHICAGO BEARS
Strengths -- The Bears went 18-1 and overwhelmed opponents, 91-10, in three playoff games. Overall, they outscored opponents by 18 a game. All-time great runner Walter Payton remained near his prime. Buddy Ryan's 46 defense caused more turnovers than any other in the league. They brutalized teams with winning records as badly as they beat losers.
Compared with the Patriots -- Great matchup between one of the best offenses and best defenses in league history. But the Bears' offense was better than the Patriots' defense, and they dominated more in the playoffs, so edge to Chicago.
To cast your vote for the greatest team in NFL history, go to baltimoresun.com/nflpoll