Can the 5-0 Chiefs, Broncos or Saints emulate the undefeated 1972 Dolphins?
By Jesse Beller. Last Updated: 09/10/13 3:39pm
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In 1972 the Miami Dolphins went undefeated. Part of their early '70s dynasty under Don Shula, the team went 17-0, cruising to a Super Bowl title and football history. Every year a team challenges that record, and every year the '72 Dolphins drink champagne after the last undefeated team falls.
This year is no different - with three teams, the Saints, Chiefs, and Broncos undefeated going into Week 6 - so on behalf of those ageing Dolphins, let's see if anyone can join them in immortality.
To start, one of the Chiefs or Broncos must lose - as division rivals they play twice - and it is possible both could lose to the other. At this point Denver looks like the class of the league, with Peyton Manning pacing a prolific offence (46 points per game), and would be favoured against the Chiefs.
The Broncos should blow through its schedule until meeting the Chiefs in Denver on November 17 though Andrew Luck and Indianapolis could be a roadblock if they continue their excellent form. Assuming the Broncos do not trip up along the way, their three-week stretch of Chiefs at home, at Patriots, and at Chiefs again, should define their schedule.
If the Broncos can survive that test - and they should since their two best defensive players, Von Miller and Champ Bailey, are due back from suspension and injury respectively in the next few weeks - it would be plain sailing.
Unless of course they rest their starters, a tactic Manning-led teams have employed in past years. From a Broncos perspective, saving Manning and his surgically repaired neck from cold weather and unnecessary hits, is entirely logical since the goal remains the Super Bowl - not an undefeated season.
In a funny way, the best way for the Broncos to go undefeated is for the Chiefs to remain excellent. Kansas City, which was an NFL worst 2-14 in 2012, has rode its dominant defence and Alex Smith's mistake-free game management to five straight wins, and if they can keep pressure on the Broncos for the AFC West title, the Broncos would have added incentive to keep Manning on the field in weeks 14-17.
The Chiefs' chances at joining the Dolphins are somewhat slim. Their defence is excellent, but they sorely lack scoring punch, and it is almost impossible to imagine them going blow for blow with Manning. They do benefit from playing Manning in cold weather - something that has ruined him in past seasons - but that probably will not be enough.
On the bright side, the Chiefs have an easier schedule and should also be undefeated and coming off a bye at 10-0 when they meet the Broncos in Denver.
The final team in the undefeated trifecta is New Orleans. Head coach Sean Payton returned from a year-long suspension this year and once again he and Drew Brees are running an offensive juggernaut (26.8 points per game but against better defences). The difference between 2013 and 2012 - when the Saints went 7-9 and failed to make the playoffs - however, is defence.
In 2012 the Saints were historically bad, allowing 7,042 yards - the worst in NFL history. Rob Ryan was brought in as defensive coordinator this offseason to turn things around, and his arrival, as well as rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro's has led to a terrifying resurgence.
Thanks to an incredibly diverse defensive scheme - leaning heavily on complex blitzes - the Saints are giving up only 14.6 points per game, good for fourth best in the NFL.
Unlike the Broncos or Chiefs who are definitively unbalanced teams relying on one superb unit, the Saints are approaching balance - an amazing feat considering the strength of the Saints' offence. Unfortunately for the Saints, their schedule is not as forgiving as their AFC West competitors.
Thanks to NFL scheduling, the Saints play the entirety of the NFC West this season, and with that, they get games against the Seahawks and 49ers - preseason Super Bowl favourites and defensive juggernauts.
The Saints, Broncos, and Chiefs are all great teams, and all will likely advance far into the post season, but when it comes to being undefeated, it seems rather unlikely.
Denver has the best shot at joining the Dolphins in immortality, and if Manning decides he wants his name atop all the record books - not Tom Brady (who broke Brady's touchdowns in a season record with 50 in 2007) - it becomes a real possibility.
Still, just as every year, odds are those 1972 Dolphins will be popping champagne long before February and the Super Bowl.