Nothing to Lose

In the NFL you can't win 'em all—usually—and this season's crop of unbeatens might want to remember that you're better off if you don't
November 09, 2015

THE 2015 Patriots are 7--0, or 8--0 if you count court cases, which has spurred talk about whether they can go undefeated. Sure they can. But should they?

Going undefeated is like ice climbing: It sounds like fun until you actually try it. When teams start a season by reeling off a bunch of victories, they often end it by watching somebody else win the Super Bowl.

The 1972 Dolphins were the last NFL team to go unbeaten. Since then, quite a few teams have looked like they might go undefeated, most notably the '85 Bears and the 2007 Patriots. Chicago lost once, in its 13th game—to Miami, appropriately—and that New England team won 18 straight games before losing to the Giants and David Tyree's helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII.

If everybody wants to rule the world, nobody has quite figured out how to do it. And it's fair to wonder: Are teams better off losing at least once?

This is a particularly relevant question this season because the Patriots are not the only undefeated team. The Broncos, with the NFL's best defense and whatever is left of quarterback Peyton Manning, are also 7--0. So are the Bengals. (At press time so were the Panthers, who hosted Indianapolis on Monday night.)

Unbeaten teams, be warned: There is a danger in peaking early. The Lombardi Trophy often goes to the hottest team, not necessarily the best one—four of the past eight Super Bowl champions did not earn a first-round bye, and two did not even win their division.

The pressure of maintaining a perfect record can break even the best team. The last standing undefeated team usually gets knocked down, and it doesn't get back up. The 2009 Colts began the season 14--0, and the '11 Packers started 13--0, but neither won the Super Bowl. The '08 Titans were 10--0 but lost in the divisional round of the playoffs. And of course there were those '07 Patriots.

Ask yourselves, Bengals fans: Do you really want more postseason pressure on Andy Dalton, who has been a fine regular-season quarterback but has crumbled in Januarys past? For that matter do the Broncos really want more pressure on Manning, who is 11--13 in his playoff career?

There is only one team that seems like it can pull off a 19--0, start-to-finish masterpiece, and it resides in New England. Love them or hate them, the Patriots are a steel wall, impervious to outside pressures. They kept winning through Spygate, Deflategate and their star tight end's conviction for murder, along with a hundred other smaller storms, like the initial Tom Brady--Drew Bledsoe quarterback debate, or trading and cutting popular players, like DT Richard Seymour. The Patriots' logo ought to be something hitting a fan, with a giant w in the background.

With every Patriots victory, there is more talk about their Revenge Tour, in which the team supposedly seeks retribution against the rest of the league after the NFL penalized them for allegedly deflating footballs. Maybe it helps, psychologically, to feel persecuted. Maybe it's a silly motivational ploy. And maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe the Patriots are winning because they are the Patriots, and they always win.

Winning 16 games in a row is an incredible feat. (Fun fact: Jacksonville has won 16 games total over the last five seasons.) If a team could win 16 straight games simply because the universe was conspiring against it, the Lions would have gone undefeated years ago.

Brady and coach Bill Belichick have performed in this drama before. The pressure of being perfect is unlikely to get to them. They have won four Super Bowls. Not even the hottest of hot-takers would suggest that their legacy hinges on what happens this season. They are already among the best ever. And most of the Patriots take the field knowing that, whatever happens this year, they are already champions.

The Broncos play the Pats and the Bengals later this season, so they could all knock each other off. Cincy or Denver are better off losing at least once. But if they do, they'll probably have to win a playoff game in New England. Good luck with that.

NFL

Dezzy Spell

14

Extra Mustard

16

Faces in the Crowd

18

Dan Patrick

Mark Wahlberg

21

The Case for

Carli Lloyd

22

GO FIGURE

7

Touchdown passes for Saints quarterback Drew Brees in a 52--49 win over the Giants at the Superdome on Sunday. Brees tied the NFL mark (with seven others) for most TDs in one game. At one point he completed 18 straight passes.

Plays, out of 141 offensive snaps in the Saints-Giants game, that resulted in a loss of yardage. The two teams averaged 7.3 yards per play.

13

Total touchdown passes for Brees and New York QB Eli Manning, setting an NFL record. They broke the mark of 12 set on Nov. 2, 1969, by the Saints' Billy Kilmer and the St. Louis Cardinals' Charley Johnson, who threw six apiece.

49

Points scored by the Giants on Sunday, the most in a loss in the team's 91-year history and tied for the most by any losing team in NFL history. New Orleans and New York combined for 101 points, tied for third most in an NFL game.

PHOTOKEVIN HOFFMAN/USA TODAY SPORTS (A.J. GREEN) PHOTOCHRIS HUMPHREYS/USA TODAY SPORTS (VON MILLER) PHOTOTIMOTHY T. LUDWIG/USA TODAY SPORTS (ROB GRONKOWSKI) PHOTOJONATHAN FERREY/GETTY IMAGES (BREES) PHOTOJEFF HAYNES FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (REFEREE) ILLUSTRATION

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)