NFL Handicapping: A Look At The Unbeatens
by T.O. Whenham - 10/2/2013
Through the first quarter of the NFL season we still have five unbeaten NFL teams — a remarkable accomplishment. The further we go with unblemished teams, the more interesting it becomes — as both a fan and a handicapper — to look at how long they might stay unbeaten, and which team is most likely to be the last one standing. In alphabetical order:
If you asked one hundred people which unbeaten team would last the longest you would get a solid majority picking the Broncos. You can’t blame people, of course — Peyton Manning has been far from mortal, and the offense is as impressive as any we have seen in a long time right now. I have to rain on the parade somewhat for two reasons — the team has played a weak schedule so far, and they remain more vulnerable than any team in the league to any kind of injury to their QB.
The good news, though, is that their schedule remains weaker than some that their rivals face. Before their Week 9 bye they face somewhat challenging trips to Dallas and Indianapolis, but those are interspersed with gift home games against the Jaguars and Redskins. After the break things get a bit tougher, with trips to New England and Houston, a home test against an upstart Tennessee team, and home and home tests with the Chargers and Chiefs — two teams that have the potential to shine. Only the season finale in Oakland looms as a reasonably easy game. So, is Denver going to go undefeated? No. They should cruise to their bye, but there are probably two losses in the second half — both on the road. They have a good look at least 10-0, though, so they are well positioned to be the last team standing.
Kansas City Chiefs
There is a lot to like about this Kansas City team right now. What I like most of all, though, is that they don’t try to be more than they are. They know their strengths and limitations, and do a better job than almost every team in the league at controlling the game so the style and tempo suit them. It’s impressive that they are this effective just four games into their new regime. You need to be cautious in your praise here, though, because they have played a very weak schedule. The Cowboys are the best team they have faced — and that’s not saying much — and they only won by a single point. There is talk that this team could go into their week 11 contest in Denver unbeaten and coming off a bye. I’m not buying it. They play some feisty, challenging teams in their next five — Tennessee, Oakland, Houston, Cleveland and Buffalo. I have real doubts that they can win all five.
New England Patriots
It all comes down to the next two weeks for the Patriots. They travel to Cincinnati and then host New Orleans. Tough games both — though Cincinnati isn’t nearly as tough as they should be because of their incompetent coaching. If the Patriots can win those two then it is possible — and perhaps even likely — that they could head into their epic Week 12 game against Denver at 10-0. Just imagine what the ratings for that game would be. I think the Pats will beat the Bengals, but the Saints are a much bigger test. That being said, I give New England the second-best chance of being the last unbeaten standing, especially because the receivers showed some much needed progress last week after a concerning start.
New Orleans Saints
We know that this offense is potent and dangerous at home. What will determine the fate of this team will be their ability to play much better on the road than they did in their lone road win — an ugly two-point win in Tampa Bay. They play two in a row — at Chicago and New England – then have a bye and a home game against the Bills another trip to New York to play the Jets. Beating the Bears and Patriots two weeks in a row just feels like too much to ask for this team, and I expect them to fall.
The Seahawks are a much different team on the road than at home — and not in good ways. They have been lucky to come out on top in both road wins. They have to travel again this week, and the Colts are not going to be friendly hosts. They also face trips to St. Louis, Arizona and Atlanta before their late bye week. The Seahawks will lose at least one of those, with this week being a solid candidate.
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