Thursday December 3rd, 2009

For the first time in NFL history two teams are undefeated after 11 games. If the Colts and Saints run the table and reach Super Bowl XLIV, they would face off in Land Shark Stadium, home of the Dolphins. How appropriate considering Miami is the only team in league history to go undefeated in a season, finishing 17-0 in 1972.

Now back to reality.

New Orleans and Indianapolis have as much chance of reaching the Super Bowl unbeaten as Eric Mangini does of being voted Coach of the Year by his players. In fact, it's not absurd to say that one or both teams will fail to get there.

Reason 1: Three of the past four teams that had the league's best record failed to win a playoff game that year. Might New Orleans or the Colts be the fourth in five years? I predict the Saints will finish 16-0 because they have a relatively soft schedule and need to keep winning to claim homefield over 10-1 Minnesota. The Colts will lose at least one game because coach Jim Caldwell is expected to rest some of his regulars once Indy clinches homefield, which could happen as early as the next week.

Reason 2: The playoffs are all about matchups, and Indianapolis could find itself facing a San Diego team that has knocked it out of the postseason each of the past two years -- on the road and at home. With no significant changes to either roster, why should this year be any different? As for the Saints, Minnesota has the defensive personnel to match up with New Orleans' potent offense; and Brett Favre leads an offense that has the playmakers and balance to make life tough on New Orleans.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Here's a look at how the final five games of the regular season will go in the pursuit of perfection for the Saints and Colts:

Tennessee at Indy

The Titans have won five in a row since Vince Young replaced Kerry Collins at quarterback. Young is 2-2 as a starter against the Colts, and his passer rating increased in each of those games, from 34 to 104. Indianapolis won the last meeting, 31-9 in Nashville on Oct. 11, when Peyton Manning threw for 309 yards and three scores. But the Titans' secondary was banged up then; it's healthy now. And Tennessee running back Chris Johnson has been on a tear, carrying for 128 yards or more in six consecutive games. He was held to 34 yards on nine carries in the previous meeting, but if the Titans can establish their run game and keep Manning on the sideline, they have a legitimate shot at winning. Pick: Colts

New Orleans at Washington

It's a short week for the Saints, who are coming off an emotional win over the Patriots and facing a Washington team that has lost six of seven and has no chance for a winning season. The only thing the Redskins are losing faster than games is players; only 13 of the 22 players who started in Week 1 were in the opening lineup Sunday against Philadelphia. To beat the Saints you must score points, and Washington hasn't tallied more than 27 in a game this year. Conversely, New Orleans has scored at least 27 on 10 occasions. Pick: Saints

Denver at Indy

The Broncos have the pass rush and secondary to slow (relative term) Indy's passing game. Where Denver will come up short is on offense, where it lacks the firepower to keep pace with Manning & Co. The Broncos are averaging only 17.8 points a game and have scored more than two offensive touchdowns in a game just once, in Week 2 against Cleveland. Indy's offense has put up three or more TDs in seven games -- and is complemented by a defense that's allowing only 16.7 points a game, third-fewest in the league. Pick: Colts

New Orleans at Atlanta

At the midpoint of the season this was my pick for the Saints' first loss. But Atlanta has injury issues with QB Matt Ryan (toe) and running back Michael Turner (ankle), and its defense has been spotty. That's a bad combination against New Orleans. Pick: Saints

Indy at Jacksonville

It's likely Indianapolis will have clinched homefield heading into the game, which could lead coach Caldwell to rest some of his starters. Even if he doesn't, it figures to be a tough game. Each of the past four meetings between Indy and Jacksonville was decided by a touchdown or less. Jacksonville lost three of the games, but it was by only two, seven and three points. Jacksonville will be battling for a playoff spot; Indy will be fighting off boredom. Pick: Jaguars

Dallas at New Orleans

The Cowboys have the personnel to match up with the Saints, particularly if offensive coordinator Jason Garrett elects to stick with the running game instead of relying on Dallas' sporadic passing attack. Tony Romo has lost five of his past seven December starts and thrown nearly twice as many interceptions (11) as touchdown passes (six) during that time. Don't look for that to change. Pick: Saints

N.Y. Jets at Indy

By this point the Jets either are going to be counting down to their tee times, or fighting for a wild card spot. If it's the latter, they could make the game interesting if Caldwell rests his guys. Other than that, the Jets and rookie QB Mark Sanchez aren't ready for primetime. Pick: Colts

Tampa Bay at New Orleans

The Bucs have played extremely hard for rookie coach Raheem Morris, but they simply lack the talent to stay with the Saints. There's really nothing else to say. Pick: Saints

Indy at Buffalo

The Bills have played with emotion and purpose under interim coach Perry Fewell, and new starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has made Terrell Owens relevant again. But my guess is that Caldwell is going to want his players to have a solid tune-up before their playoff bye, so expect the Colts to play well in their finale. Pick: Colts

New Orleans at Carolina

With perfection staring them in the face, the Saints won't squander the opportunity -- not with the uber-competitive Drew Brees at quarterback. New Orleans wins this one going away. Pick: Saints

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