Legend has it that the surviving players from the NFL’s only undefeated team, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, get together to celebrate each year when the last undefeated team goes down. The players involved insist that the story isn’t true, but even if it is, they haven’t had their party yet: there are still a remarkable six undefeated teams left through five weeks of this year’s NFL season.
Of course, it’s a lot easier to be undefeated after five weeks than undefeated after 16. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. Let’s take a look at this year’s candidates, and ask whether they have what it takes to win out.
Atlanta Falcons (5-0)
The Falcons might be this season’s biggest pleasant surprise. They were abysmal last year, but first-year head coach Dan Quinn has managed to make better use of the squad’s talent, and they Falcons are now 5-0.
But are the Falcons quite as good as the rest of the teams on this list? Well, maybe not. The Falcons are an elite team, but we’re not quite ready to put them in the same category as the Patriots or Bengals. The Falcons have the fourth-best offense in the league, but they almost lost to the Redskins last week.
That said, no team on this list has a weaker schedule than the Falcons. Aside from two games against the Panthers, they face only one team with a winning record: the hapless Colts.
Can they go undefeated? Probably not.
Carolina Panthers (4-0)
The Panthers have overcome a slew of injuries to reach 4-0, and they’ve won in style. That said, they’ve feasted on pretty weak competition early in the season: the four team that the Panthers beat have a combined record of just 4-15.
The Vegas latest odds peg the Panthers as the third most likely to finish undefeated (they trail only the Patriots and Packers), but we don’t see it. The Panthers and Falcons share the unfortunate fate of having to play each other twice, and the Panthers have a rough schedule on top of that: they will deal with the Seahawks and Packers, too.
Can they go undefeated? No way.
Cincinnati Bengals (5-0)
The Bengals will top a lot of power rankings this week, and for good reason. They just beat the Seattle Seahawks and that legendary defense to stay undefeated. Their offense is among the best in the league – it’s second only to the Pats, and the Cincinnati Bengals didn’t get to beat up on an easy Jags defense to boost their numbers. The road ahead isn’t easy for the Bengals, though: they still have to play the Arizona Cardinals and the Broncos. They also get the Steelers twice, and Pittsburgh should have Roethlisberger back for at least one of those games. The Bengals are certainly good enough to go undefeated, but as always, the odds are long.
Can they go undefeated? Yes!
Denver Broncos (5-0)
If it seems like half of the blurbs in this article mention the Broncos as a tough upcoming opponent, that’s just because it’s because that’s literally true. The Broncos play three of the five other undefeated teams before the season is up: the Green Bay Packers, the New England Patriots, and the Cincinnati Bengals. The good news for Denver is that all of these brutal games are at home.
The Broncos have the league’s best defense, and it’s an exceptionally well-rounded squad: Denver is top five in both run and pass defense, and no other team can say that. The Broncos are an elite team by every measure, but it’s hard to pick them to go 3-0 against the best that the league has to offer.
Can they go undefeated? Nope.
Green Bay Packers (5-0)
Green Bay’s vaunted passing attack has taken a step back this season, but they still have made short work of their opponents in the first five weeks. Some of the teams they played were very weak, but they also got a signature win against the Seattle Seahawks (who are, of course, much better than their 2-3 record indicates).
The road ahead is tough but manageable. The Packers will have to deal with Denver, Carolina, and the Arizona Cardinals, but they’ll also get games against their own weak division. Watch out for the Dallas Cowboys game, too – that team could go on a run once Tony Romo comes back.
Can they go undefeated? Yes.
New England Patriots (4-0)
The Patriots, of course, have done this already. They finished the regular season unbeaten and threatened to match the 1972 Dolphins’ record by winning the Super Bowl (really, they would have exceeded it – the season is now longer than it was in 1972). But Brady and co. fell short in the Super Bowl thanks to the improbable “helmet catch,” and the rest of the league enjoyed a hefty dose of schadenfreude.
What about this year? Can they go 16-0 again – or perhaps even go further? Well, the Pats are absolutely an elite team. They have the best offense in the league so far, though a 51-point game against the Jags probably throws off that stat a bit. The concern is their weakened defense, particularly the secondary.
One thing the Pats have going for them is their exceptionally weak schedule. Other than the Broncos, they don’t have a single other elite team left to play.
Can they go undefeated? Yes
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