Winning any game — let alone winning every game — is a difficult thing to do in the NFL.
“In order to win just one game in the National Football League, you have to play at an exceptionally high level,” Colts president Bill Polian said. “At some point in time during the course of a season, breaks are going to go against you. At some point in time you are going to have a game that is decided the wrong way by the officials. And there are always injuries. Brian Billick said it best. Take a look at teams now, and it’s not how they will look in January. From my perspective, going 16-0 is damn near impossible to do.”
In many ways, going 16-0 is a more impressive accomplishment than winning a Super Bowl, even though winning a Super Bowl is more significant.
Rodney Harrison understands the pressure the Saints and Colts will face in their final games. He played for the 2007 New England Patriots, who finished 16-0.
“Every time you play someone when you are undefeated, they want to be that team that knocks you off,” said Harrison, who now is an analyst on NBC’s Football Night in America. “You’re going to get their very best. That’s why it becomes so difficult. Then you have the national scrutiny, the attention you get, making a distraction.
“Even if you are playing a team that’s not very good, like the Washington Redskins, this is their Super Bowl. If they can knock the Saints off, this completes their season.
“Each week, with more success comes more complacency, especially with younger teams that haven’t experienced consistent winning. It’s hard to maintain that level of mental toughness as well as being able to stay healthy. It’s easy to get up if it’s the Colts and Patriots playing. What happens when you play the Detroit Lions? That’s why a lot of times teams have a letdown.”
For a team to go undefeated, it has to want to go undefeated. And that isn’t always a given.
Polian says flat out it is not important for his team to finish 16-0. He said there is no value to an undefeated season from the Colts’ perspective.
There is a good chance, then, that Indy will finish the year with a blemish or two on their record.
Former Colts coach Tony Dungy, who sits across the desk from Harrison on the set of Football Night in America, said he knows for a fact that an undefeated season is not a priority for head coach Jim Caldwell. “The goal is to win the Super Bowl,” Dungy said. “If somebody was trailing them by one game, they’d have a real good shot to go 16-0. But because of the fact they are three games up, and if they win this week they have home field clinched, it’s hard to go and have that mindset the Patriots had. I think it will be hard for them to keep that razor edge for the last three games if they don’t mean anything.”
The Saints probably have a better chance just because they appear to want it more. Coach Sean Payton has indicated he will not take his foot off the gas pedal down the stretch, and quarterback Drew Brees has said he is jacked up about playing for perfection.
They have division games left against the Falcons, Bucs and Panthers. While none of the three has a great record, each could give the Saints a game. It’s never easy beating an opponent twice in a season, and the Saints showed in their somewhat lucky victory over the Redskins that they are not infallible.
The Saints also have to play the Cowboys next week. The game likely will be must-win for the Cowboys — who are in playoff contention.
So if either team goes 16-0 this year, the accomplishment will be nothing short of remarkable.
Q: Do you think Chris Johnson will beat the record of the most rushing yards?
— Dale Austin, Clarksville, Tenn.
A: I would say it’s a long shot that Johnson beats the record Eric Dickerson set in 1984. Dickerson ran for 2,105 yards that season. Johnson is on pace to run for 2,012 yards.
He would have to average 149 yards per game over his last four games to tie the record. The Titans have games remaining against running defenses that rank 28th (Rams), 14 (Dolphins), 21st (Chargers) and 13th (Seahawks).
Q: Hey Dan, do you think there’s any way the Cardinals reach the Super Bowl again? They looked mighty good against the Vikings.
— Casey D., Phoenix
A: I think we all have probably been guilty of underestimating the Cardinals. If they stay healthy, they certainly will have a chance to get hot late just like they did last year.
And I think we can make the argument that the Cardinals of 2009 have the potential to finish up a stronger team than the Cardinals of 2010, given the way they have run the ball better and better as the season has gone on.
There has been a lot of talk about what an interesting matchup the Colts and Saints might be in the Super Bowl, but a Colts and Cardinals Super Bowl also would be interesting. And an NFC Championship game pitting the Cardinals and Saints could be quite a shootout as well.
Q: Who do you think will be the leading candidate to replace Raheem Morris in Tampa? I know he has not been fired yet ... but barring a miracle turnaround, the season ticket holders will demand it.
— John Klopfer, Ocala, Fla.
A: First, let me say this: I will be surprised if Morris gets bounced after one season. But if he does get bounced, I would suspect he will be replaced by a big name coach.
Usually when an owner makes a move, he looks for a successor who is radically different from the person he is firing. And of course we have seen the Glazer family go after big names in the past, so it’s kind of their modus operandi. We all know the big names who are available: Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgren lead most lists.
Q: Now that all the attention on Brandon Marshall’s discontent has died down and he’s playing well, what are the chances he stays with the Broncos next season? We’d love to keep him.
— Terry Jackson, Eaton, Colo.
A: I think you probably will keep him, Terry. Marshall is a potential difference maker, and it’s not smart to allow potential difference makers to walk out the door without getting any compensation in return.
At least with Jay Cutler, the Broncos received Kyle Orton and a bounty of draft picks. I would bet that if the Broncos can’t sign Marshall, they’ll tag him.