The NFL regular season has seen its first week go into the books. And with it goes the hopes of sixteen teams who no longer have a chance at running the table and having a perfect season.
That leaves the other sixteen teams who can still attempt to join the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only team to not lose a game throughout the entire NFL season, playoffs included. The 2007 New England Patriots had a perfect 16-0 regular season, but as we all remember, fell to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, thus leaving the '72 Dolphins standing alone.
As I look at the teams who were victorious in Week 1, there are only two teams that jump off the page and scream "Hey, we have a legitimate shot at going unbeaten!" These two teams are the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, and the Baltimore Ravens. These two play each other in Week 15, meaning that the winner could be on their way to perfection.
The Saints spent the first thirteen weeks of the 2009 season with a goose egg in the loss column. They ultimately lost in Week 15 to the Dallas Cowboys. That loss, in fact, triggered a three game losing streak to end the season, including ugly losses to the Panthers and the cellar dwelling Buccaneers.
This season can be different, though. The offense features the same core group of players that brought the Saints their first Super Bowl title. Lead by four time Pro Bowler Drew Brees and his arsenal of receivers, including Marques Colston and Robert Meachem, there is no reason to think that the Saints can't match their offensive production from a year ago, when they were the top rated offense in the league.
While the passing game gets a lot of the recognition in New Orleans, the running game is one of the best in the league. Quietly, the Saints were the sixth ranked rushing offense a season ago, lead by Pierre Thomas, who is expected to carry the bulk of the load. The ultra quick Reggie Bush provides a nice change of pace, and is as just as dangerous of a threat catching passes as he is running.
While the defense last season gave up a lot of yards, a big factor in that was because most teams were forced to air the ball out early and often, as the Saints had already assumed large leads. Through one game, they have showed that they are capable of shutting down even the most explosive of offenses, as they proved by shutting down the Brett Favre-led Minnesota Vikings in a 14-9 opening victory.
The schedule plays to the Saints advantage, too. It is not a far cry to say that they have already played their toughest opponents of the season, the Vikings. The rest of the way, New Orleans only has to play four playoff teams from a season ago: the Cardinals, Cowboys, Bengals, and the Ravens. The only downside to playing only four playoff teams is that the Saints play each one of them on the road.
The Cardinals are a much different team than a season ago, and Cincinnati has a knack for being a letdown against quality opponents outside their own division. So, that leaves a Week 12 showdown in Dallas,the first team to beat New Orleans last year, and the Week 15 blockbuster in Baltimore as the only two real potential stumbling blocks.
Then there are the aforementioned Baltimore Ravens. This is a team that has always been built on defense, but has made a lot of noise with their offensive acquisitions as of late.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Ravens are lead by quarterback Joe Flacco. The third year starter out of Delaware made significant strides last season, and should be primed to improve yet again with the plethora of talent he has been supplied.
Though not known as a pass happy offense, Baltimore should see their eighteenth ranked passing attack climb the charts, with the additions of Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmandzadeh. Boldin already paid big dividends in the Ravens Week 1 victory over the Jets, as he hauled in seven catches for 110 yards, including two grabs of over 25 yards on the drive that culminated in what ultimately became the game winning field goal.
The Ravens fifth ranked rushing game from a season ago features a heavy dose of Ray Rice, with a compliment of Willis McGahee. Though McGahee sees a bulk of the carries near the goal line, it is Ray Rice who is the workhorse. Last season, Rice rushed for 1,339, third most in team history, while also leading the team with 78 receptions, for a total of 2,041 yards from scrimmage.
The defense, as it has been since the teams inaugural season of 1996, is lead by linebacker Ray Lewis. Last season, the Ravens were the third ranked defense, and if Monday night's showing was any indication, they could end this season ranked even better than that. Though the secondary has been plagued by injury already this season, especially the loss of Ed Reed, the returns to full health of nose tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker Terrell Suggs give Baltimore the NFL's best front seven.
The Ravens also have a favorable schedule, in that they also only play four 2009 playoff teams the rest of the season. They get the Bengals twice, the Patriots, and of course, the Saints. Aside from those games, there is also a tough week fourteen matchup, where the Ravens will travel to Houston to face the up and coming Texans, and of course, being in the AFC North means two meetings with the Steelers. But with the talent in Baltimore, those are all winnable games
So, when it comes right down to it, the odds are clearly enormous for any team to go 19-0, but at some point, it is going to happen. And with the talent in both New Orleans and Baltimore, this could very well be the season.
If the injuries can be avoided and the stars align properly, then who knows, when Week 15 rolls around and the Saints travel to Baltimore, it could be the game of the year, and the game that determines who goes undefeated.