Fact: The Baltimore Colts finished with the NFL’s best record in 1967 yet failed to make the playoffs.
Impossible you say? Au contraire my friend. Actually the Colts and the Los Angeles Rams tied for the league’s best record in 1967, each team finishing 11-1-2. Before 1967, the NFL divided itself into Eastern and Western Conferences with each conference winner playing each other for the NFL championship. If two teams finished tied for the best conference record, then a tiebreaker game was played to determine the conference champ. That actually happened to the Colts in 1965. They and the Green Bay Packers finished with 10-3-1 marks and had to play in a tiebreaker game for the right to meet the Eastern Conference champion (the Pack prevailed 13-10 in OT and then beat the Browns the following week for the NFL title).
All that changed in 1967. The NFL added a 16th franchise, the Atlanta Falcons, and the league split into four divisions, the unforgettably named Century, Capital, Coastal, and Central divisions. Each division winner made the playoffs. No wild cards. Before 1967, the Colts and Rams would have played for the conference crown. Now, the Coastal division winner had to be determined by a tiebreaker rule. The Colts and Rams played twice in 1967. They tied once. The Rams won the other matchup. So the Rams won the tiebreaker and the Colts stayed home despite tying the Rams for the league’s best record (for some reason combined point differential in the head-to-head matchups was the tiebreaker rather than head-to-head record).
Four notes about this unusual occurrence:
1) The Rams and Colts were clearly the two best teams in the league. Besides their records, the Rams led the league in point scored (398) and points allowed (196), while the Colts were right behind them in each category (394-198). Compare those teams’ points scored to points allowed differential (+202, +196) to the league’s three other division winners, the Packers (+123), the Cowboys (+74), and the Browns (+37).
2) While they didn’t meet in the postseason, as it turned out the Colts and Rams did play to determine the Coastal division winner. They faced each other in the final game of the regular season knowing the division title was on the line. The Rams were 10-1-2 and the Colts were 11-0-2. Yes, the Colts entered the final week of the regular season undefeated! They led 7-3 after one quarter, but the Rams came back to crush them 34-10, sacking NFL MVP Johnny Unitas 7 times in the process. Other than the 1972 Dolphins, the 1967 Baltimore Colts are the only team in the Super Bowl era that hadn’t lost a game going into the season’s final week. That week 14 loss to the Rams didn’t just cost them a playoff spot; it cost them a shot at an undefeated season.
3) As you may know, many consider the 1968 Baltimore Colts to be the greatest team never to win a Super Bowl. The Colts went 13-1 that year and were absolutely dominant all the way up to Super Bowl III where they, along with the rest of the world, were shocked by the New York Jets. So in 1967 and 1968 the Colts lost a combined two regular season games, yet failed to win a single Super Bowl. The only other team to lose as few as two games in two years, the 1972-1973 Dolphins, won two Super Bowls. (The 1985-1986 Bears lost three regular season games in 16-game seasons and won one Super Bowl). The 1968 Colts loss in the Super Bowl was such an incredible upset that I think its obliterated memories of the 1967 Colts’ choke job against the Rams. No one ever talks about how the Colts blew an undefeated season in their last game.
4) Had the NFL kept the old alignment rather than split into four divisions in 1967, the Rams and Colts would have played for the Western Conference title and the 9-4-1 Green Bay Packers would have stayed at home. The change allowed the Pack to win the new Central division and go on to an unprecedented third-straight NFL championship and a second Super Bowl win in Vince Lombardi’s final season.