In the NFL, an perfect record is the ultimate achievement. Only the Dolphins pulled it off, and they haven't had a winning record since the 2006 season. Every year, the surviving members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins celebrate with champagne after the last undefeated team takes its first loss.
During the 2007 season, they had to hold their breath until the very last game. After the Patriots lost, their owner wondered aloud if it was possible to trademark "18-1."
It's also common for fans and analysts to track the undefeated teams and see which one lasts the longest, but noone ever really expects a team to go 16-0 in the regular season, let alone make it all the way through to 19-0 (and Super Bowl champs).
This could be the year we see that change.
Of the three undefeated teams remaining, the Arizona Cardinal are the least likely to reach the season undefeated. They play in the NFC West, which sent a 7-9 team to the playoffs two years ago but has improved dramatically since then. Their offense is 29th in the league and worst in their division, even behind the Seahawks, who average a mere 130 passing yards per game. Their defense is a more respectable 17th in the league, but still the worst in their division (although only 9 yards per game behind the St. Louis Rams).
Still, as great as the Cardinals have been, they still have to go to Seattle and face San Fransisco twice. They won't make 16-0.
The Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans have much easier schedules.
For the Falcons, their remaining opponents combine for an 18-30 record, or a winning percentage of .375. Take away the game against the Cardinals, which is going to be played in Atlanta, and that drops to 14-30 (.318). The only other game against an opponent with a winning record is the Week 8 trip to Philadelphia, right after the Falcons' bye.
Obviously the Saints are dangerous, even at 0-4, and have one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL. If the Falcons can win in New Orleans and in Philly, the rest of the schedule should seem pretty easy- the only other decent teams are the 2-2 Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, who both travel to Atlanta.
It may seem like I am overvaluing home field advantage, but the truth is, the Georgia Dome is one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, right up there with the Superdome in New Orleans. With only two tough matchups remaining (one of which is against the cursed Saints #SBHostCurse - it's a thing!), 16-0 is a very real possibility. Home field advantage throughout the playoffs, combined with an experienced and hungry team, easily makes the Falcons a Super Bowl favorite, despite being ranked only 15th on both offense and defense.
For the Houston Texans, the road is a little tougher. Their remaining opponents 22-24 (.478), with a road trip to Baltimore coming up in a couple fo weeks. However, I believe they are a better team than the Falcons. They went to Denver and dominated until the fourth quarter, when they had to fend off a late charge by Peyton Manning.
They also have matchups against the Packers, who are struggling, the Bears, who aren't as good as their 3-1 record (Colts, Rams, and a bad night for the Cowboys? My sister could coach a team through that stretch, and she doesn't even watch football.), and late season matchups with the Patriots and the surprising Vikings.
The Texans are strong enough on both sides of the ball to survive those five matchups (ranked 14th on offense, but their passing game is better than its average at 234 yards per game, and number one in the league on defense, with only 273 yards allowed per game and only 14 points allowed per game). Without those teams, the rest of their opponents are a mere 9-17 (.346), in part because they are playing in a division that is down this year (like the Falcons and the NFC South).
A strong defense and a strong running game is a formula for playoff success, and Matt Schaub is far better than Trent Dilfer, who won the Super Bowl with the Ravens during the 2000 season. Home field advantage though the playoffs won't matter for the Texans, who could reach the Super Bowl this year whether or not they get the top seed.
We are a quarter of the way through the season, so it's too early to place bets on this kind of thing. However, it's also a quarter of the way through the season, late enough to recognize trends that are establishing themselves.
Maybe it's unlikely, but with an 18 game regular season all but guaraunteed to be implemented in the next decade and the salary cap firmly established, this may be the last chance for any team to match the 1972 Miami Dolphins and finish a year with nothing but wins.
And if there is an undefeated team in the Super Bowl, everyone who can watch the game should be sure to do so.
There were four teams that went undefeated prior to 1932 (when the playoffs were created), but all of them had tie games (which were common because overtime hadn't been invented yet) and therefore did not have a "perfect" record.
The author would also love to see a team reach the Super Bowl with no losses, but with a tie or two, and having an undefeated season without having a perfect record.
He is also http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYwWKEc8c88 >so sad, so very very sad because the Cowboys couldn't pull it together for the game last night.
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