There’s four weeks to go in the 2009 regular season and after 13 weeks, for the first time ever, we are still left with two undefeated teams. With the AFC’s Indianapolis Colts and the NFC’s New Orleans Saints both sitting undefeated at 12-0, there still remains the possibility that two teams could finish the season at 16-0, and should they both make it to the Super Bowl, we could also see a championship game featuring two undefeated teams.
The last time a team went undefeated in the regular season, it was the 2007 New England Patriots, who ran the table in the regular season, and didn’t lose a single game until the one that mattered the most, when they fell to the Giants in the Super Bowl. The only team that has gone an entire year, both regular season and playoffs without a loss, was the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Though the season was shorter back then and they only finished with a 16-0 record even after winning the Super Bowl, they still hold the distinction of being the only team to complete an entire season unblemished and take home the championship. In a bit of irony, should either the Colts or Saints match that feat, they will have to do it in Miami early next year, as Miami is the host of Super Bowl 44.
So who has the better chance of keeping their streak alive and marching undefeated into the Super Bowl? Well to start with both teams faced stiff competition this weekend in their bids to stay undefeated. Both teams have run away with their respective divisions and while each had the chance wrap up their division title, there was really little pressure on either to do so today. The Colts were up against a division rival this afternoon in the Titans, who since they switched to Vince Young at QB had run off five straight wins. With Indy stomping all over Tennessee 31-9 in an earlier matchup in Tennessee this year and the Titans being hot right now there was some concern the Titans could walk into Lucas Oil Stadium and shock the Colts. However that was not the case and Manning and the Colts played strong in a 27-17 win and ran their current regular season winning streak to 21 games. The Saints came off possibly one of their biggest wins in franchise history on Monday night when they knocked off the Patriots 38-17. Off a short week and facing a far inferior squad in the Washington Redskins, this was a definite flat spot for the Saints. With only a couple minutes to go the Redskins were leading 30-23 and looked to be in good shape to hand New Orleans their first loss. Potential league MVP Drew Brees had other ideas though as he tied the game with a 53 yard bomb to Robert Meachum to tie the game. The Saints would eventually force a turnover in overtime before kicker Garrett Hartley kicked the game’s winning field goal to push New Orleans to 12-0.
With their wins, each team claimed their division crowns, so what motivation do they have to keep up their torrid pace to the year? Well to start with, they still have home field advantage to clinch throughout the playoffs. The next closest team to the Colts is the 9-3 Bengals so they have some breathing room, while the Saints have the Vikings at 10-2 who’re only a couple games back. With only four games to go, it would seem rather unlikely that the Colts will give up their lead. Minnesota’s loss tonight goes a long way in helping the Saints hold them off, though at only two games back they certainly aren’t out of it. Advantage: Colts
Now let’s look at how each team got to this point so far this year. Both teams have had a fairly similar schedule in terms of difficulty so far. The Colts have played four winning teams, five losing teams and one with an even record. In contrast New Orleans has faced three winning teams, six losing teams and three even teams. We’ll call that one a draw. But who has been more impressive in their victories thus far? Both offenses have been on fire with the Colts scoring 331 points and 41TDs and the Saints scoring 440 points and 56 TDs. In addition to the moderate advantage the Saints have there, New Orleans also boasts a 189 point net difference between their points for and points allowed, a number which is 59 points more than that of the Colts. Advantage: Saints
Both teams split their remaining home games between home and road dates so their will be no advantage in time spent on home field. Indy will only face one divisional rival in the Jags, while New Orleans will take on all three of theirs. Two of Indy’s opponents currently hold down spots in the Wildcard, while one of New Orleans’ opponents, the Cowboys, are currently a division leader. In all, Indy’s opponent’s hold a 25-23 combined record so far and the Saints’ opponents rank slightly under that with a 20-28 record.
To pick a decisive winner here would be splitting hairs so it may come down to whose opponents will have more to play for. Indy’s two games vs. Wildcard teams in Denver and Jacksonville will surely be spirited, and the Jets are only one game back of the Patriots for their division lead. The only game which their opposition may be packing it in could come in the season finale in Buffalo where both teams will most likely have very little to play for. For the Saints, Atlanta has been faltering, though remain in a Wildcard hunt and Dallas will be pressing to keep their lead atop the NFC East. Games against Tampa and Carolina should be a walk in the park unless Sean Payton decides to sit down some of his starters in the last two weeks. In a slight lean, I say Advantage: Saints
To close out the regular season I would overall give once again, a slight lean to the Saints to remain undefeated, however the truth is both teams have very legitimate shots. When it comes down the playoffs and who will challenge the Dolphins immortality as the only team to go undefeated all season, I again believe the lean may have to go to New Orleans. Reason being is while both Indy and New Orleans are battle tested and have shown great resilience, I think the Saints have just proved themselves against more quality opponents. Indy narrowly beat the Pats 35-34 on a controversial play and outside of that game their only significant wins could maybe be a win over Arizona when the Cards were struggling at the beginning of the year, and a narrow 17-15 win over the Ravens. In contrast New Orleans has already taken down a few of the league’s stronger teams and done so in impressive fashion. The Eagles, Giants and Patriots have all been blown out by the Saints and it hasn’t been close. In those three games the Saints outscored their opponents by a combined 134-66 margin. A Colts/Saints Super Bowl, especially if each team is still undefeated at the time would be something for the ages, but it says here the Saints hold a slight advantage in their assault on the record books.