As this season reaches its three-quarter stage, some interesting stories are beginning stories are beginning to take shape in the NFL. The first is that the Pittsburgh Steelers, sitting at 6-5 and dealing with injury issues all year, might just miss the playoffs. At this point, the odds would seem to favor edging into the wild card, but how often has this team been in this position in recent memory?
Another major story building steam is the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints success. After last week’s pair of victories they became the first 11-0 duo. Up until this point, only one team per year had achieved undefeated success this late into a season.
While both have a few tougher matchups remaining (Titans, Broncos, Cowboys), neither has a truly "elite" team remaining on their schedule. This makes it entirely possible that this year could witness the first 32-0 pair. It may be getting ahead of oneself, yet the Patriots game had the appearance of the biggest stumbling block to this and the Saints used it to make a statement.
The league is right now looked at as three teams head and shoulders above the pack (the Bengals were looking to creep into that discussion before that Oakland loss plunged them back into the "best of the rest" field). The third team in this discussion is, of course, the Minnesota Vikings. While they lost their chance at perfection in week seven, they are considered equal to the task of facing any team.
The playoffs are where this hypothetical begins to grow even more presumptuous. The NFL has a chance at seeing for the first time ever, two undefeated teams in the Super Bowl, should the Saints and Colts win out. This would be a historical first in and of itself, but it also guarantees someone keeps the ’72 Dolphins' champagne on ice...permanently.
Who is considered the greatest challenger to this potentiality? The Minnesota Vikings. While one may contend that Indianapolis likely has a more difficult road to the conference championship than New Orleans, once there, the Vikings have to be considered the greatest single threat to ending perfection.
Minnesota itself could quite possibly win out the rest of the year. They likely have the most difficult schedule of the three (especially should Warner be back to full health), but they very much have the capacity to do so.
In the event that Minnesota is the team to win the Super Bowl, they will have likely twice halted perfection within the playoffs. The only thing preventing them from pursuit of 19-0 should that occur, would be one troublesome loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in week seven.
Only in the NFL can the championship team of the previous year potentially miss the playoffs, and yet still have a great chance at drastically affecting the historical significance of the current year’s championship. It would be irony at its finest.
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