A month in and no unbeaten teams left
After lopsided losses Sunday by Arizona and Cincinnati, it’s become more evident than ever that perfection is virtually unattainable in the NFL.
Yes, we recall 2007 and how the Patriots came perhaps within a fluke catch by a third-string Giants receiver of 17-0 and a championship.
Times have changed even in that short span, though, and there are far fewer haves in the current NFL than have-nots.
This could be one of those seasons when 12 wins is a spectacular record. Most likely, we’ll see division winners with marks much closer to .500 than to 16 wins.
No less an authority than Tom Brady recognizes that.
“I think we’ve always done a great job putting losses behind us quickly and trying to move forward,” Brady said after his Patriots quieted the skeptics — for now — by routing the Bengals.
“It doesn’t always go right. In football season you don’t always go undefeated every year. You’re trying to build something; we’re trying to build something that is going to be tough to compete with.”
Coaches, general managers, players, just about everyone involved in any team sport say the same things. The idea, of course, is to be good enough to get to the postseason, then to be great.
There are loads of examples from recent years, including the Giants who stunned the Patriots to win the title after the 2007 season: a wild-card team that won three road playoff games.
Green Bay did the same thing three years later. Pittsburgh had done it in 2005.
After the Cardinals and Bengals fell, it made for the earliest in an NFL schedule that no unbeatens remained, tying with 2010.
Why is a zero in the loss column — or even a 1 — so difficult to attain? The last team to win the Super Bowl with only one loss during the season, incidentally, was Chicago after the 1985 season.
Among the factors that almost guarantee no NFL team will achieve a spotless record any time soon:
—Cliches. You know, the “any given Sunday” stuff. Well, in pro football it’s a truism. The talent levels on a majority of the teams are very similar. So a middle of the road club, one competing for a wild card if not a division title, can rise up and pull off an upset at any time.
—Weather. As the NFL gets deeper into the schedule, where games are played becomes extra important. That’s particularly true for indoor teams and those from warmer climes who wind up in Chicago or Buffalo or Cleveland in November and December.
—Matchups. A team such as the Broncos might be a matchup nightmare for most other opponents. But not for the Chargers, who gave Denver fits in 2013 even as Peyton Manning and company were headed to the Super Bowl.
—Unfamiliarity. Coaches often say one of their biggest challenges is preparing for opposition they rarely see. The NFL’s revolving schedule means AFC and NFC teams meet once every four years. The Seahawks the NFC East faced in 2010 look nothing like the current Seahawks.
OK, maybe the winless Raiders haven’t changed much in four years, but we’re discussing winners here.
—Complacency. If a team, even an undefeated one, clinches its division and then the best conference record, it tends to pull back a bit with nothing to really play for. If an opponent has everything to go for, well, the playing field has been leveled. The Colts of 2009 come to mind.
Plus, teams already in position for their playoff runs want to avoid ...
—Injuries. Nothing in the NFL evens out the competition more than injuries, particularly when they hit either star players or a specific unit. Late in the year, when the bodies are most sore, yet the prize is within sight, teams will do anything necessary to protect their key performers.
Even undefeated teams.
At the other end of the standings are the Jaguars (0-5) and Raiders (0-4). It seems almost unfathomable in this age of relative parity that a team could go winless, as Detroit did in 2008. One thing is for sure: Jacksonville and Oakland still have a chance at 0-16. But there won’t be any 16-0 records this year, and most likely not for a long time to come.
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