aNewDomain — For the first time in league history, three NFL teams are undefeated as we cross the midway point of the regular season.
In their own unique ways, Carolina, Cincinnati and New England have remained unblemished through their first eight games. How long can it last? Are the 1972 Miami Dolphins and their unbeaten season in jeopardy? The Dolphins won all 17 of their games that season, including the Super Bowl. That was back when the teams only played 14 regular season games.
While it seems unlikely that any of these teams can finish what they started – remember the 2008 Patriots and the end of their perfecto in the Super Bowl – let’s take a look at each club’s shot at going 19-0 from best chance to worst.
New England Patriots
While it would be trivializing the Patriots a bit to say their run has been all about the offseason and “Deflategate,” there’s no doubt it has played a role. Quarterback Tom Brady is playing lights-out at age 38, on pace to throw for what would be a career-high 5,400 yards. Of course, Brady was at the center of the controversy that put the league’s best team under a shadow of doubt.
The Patriots’ success has been more than that. This is a well-constructed team that doesn’t need to have superstars at every position in order to succeed. No team comes close to their 133-point scoring differential and not just because of the Patriots’ prolific offense. Chandler Jones has been a revelation with a league-leading 9.5 sacks and Logan Ryan is tied for second in the league with four interceptions.
On offense, tight end Rob Gronkowski is 12th in the NFL in receiving yards. The Patriots’ leading rusher, LeGarrette Blount, is way back in the pack in 20th place among the league’s running backs. It’s a team game in New England.
This week: at New York Giants, Sunday
Toughest remaining test: at Broncos, Nov. 29
Because they were so bad last season, the Panthers have easily the least-challenging remaining schedule among the unbeatens. Games against the Titans, Redskins and Bucs are almost certain wins, meaning the Panthers almost can’t finish worse than 12-4. They will be better than that.
Fresh off a sterling performance against the Packers, quarterback Cam Newton is having a decent season with 1,820 passing and 343 rushing yards. His TD to interception ratio is only 14-9 but Carolina has been able to overcome the occasional miscue.
Linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly pace the defense, which sits near the middle of the pack in yards allowed per game.
How do the Panthers keep doing it? The aforementioned light schedule and ability to pull out close games are prime factors. Let’s see how much longer that can last.
This week: at Tennessee, Sunday
Toughest remaining test: at Atlanta, Dec. 27
With arguably the NFL’s most talented roster, the Bengals have a chance to reach their first Super Bowl in 27 years. Quarterback Andy Dalton has found a surprisingly reliable tight end in Tyler Eifert, who already has nine touchdowns, putting him on pace to break the franchise record. Ask Tom Brady how much it helps to have a good tight end on the roster.
Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill give Cincinnati an excellent one-two punch at running back, combining for 855 rushing yards. A.J. Green is a tough cover at wide receiver. He has Julio Jones’ speed and talent.
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap is tied for second in the league with 8.5 sacks.
The Bengals have shown an ability to win the close ones, taking four games decided by six points or fewer. Their comeback win over Seattle in Week 5 built serious momentum. But the rest of the schedule is tough, with road dates against Arizona and Denver and a home game with bitter rival Pittsburgh.
The Bengals will have to earn it.
This week: v.s. Houston, Monday
Toughest remaining test: at Arizona, Nov. 22
Photo of Tom Brady: By Andrew Campbell – Flickr
Photo of Cam Newton: By Keith Allison – Flickr