We are down to three. On Sunday, all five undefeated teams went on the road, and three survived their contests, with New England’s poor offense finally catching up to them in Cincinnati, and Seattle losing a wild game in Indianapolis. Let’s put all three teams under the microscope now to assess who has the best chance going forward of playing in the Super Bowl.
In the fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldilocks samples three different varieties, belonging to papa bear, mama bear, and baby bear. Two of the choices are polar opposites; of course, baby bear’s stuff is just right. When we look at the three remaining teams, it is Sean Payton playing the role of baby bear.
I whipped up a similarity score based on points (for, against, and difference), yards per play passing and rushing on both sides of the ball, and turnover margins. Forty other teams have started 5-0 since 1990. I tried to find the ten most similar teams, though that was impossible for Denver because the “similarities” were so dissimilar for all but two.
In an interesting contrast, Denver and Kansas City this year are each other’s most dissimilar team among all those undefeateds. To put that in some perspective, Denver has allowed more points than Kansas City has scored. The Chiefs have allowed only ten more points all season than Denver did on Sunday. Denver has a historically great passing offense, countered by easily the worst pass defense among the 43 undefeateds since 1990. Kansas City has a passing offense that is better than only the 2003 Panthers at this same point, in net yards per attempt, but in the top 5 in passing defense among undefeateds.
Meanwhile, as Denver is scorching hot, and Kansas City is cooling off opponents, the New Orleans Saints are just cruising along just right, stopping teams with decent pass defense, and relying on Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and company to score the points.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
All but one of the teams that show up on the Saints list won a playoff game. Eight of them advanced as far as a conference championship game. Four played in a Super Bowl, with three winning the title.
Having a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback and a defense that has shot from the worst in the league to respectable has the Saints on the right track. Only the running game is a concern, and that’s no concern at all looking at how other undefeateds performed in that area.
We will not even do a chart for Denver. The only two teams that are remotely similar are the 2011 Green Bay Packers and the 2000 St. Louis Rams. Denver is 2nd in net yards per attempt, to only that 2000 version of the Greatest Show on Turf, which started out averaging over 10 yards per attempt in the first five games. The other teams with such great passing offenses after five games also played some defense.
I wrote about how Green Bay was near the bottom of the 8-0 teams two years ago, because of their defense. The Packers went 15-1 with the #1 offense in the league, while finishing 19th in points allowed. The inability to get off the field against another good offense burned them, though, in the playoffs against the Giants. The 2000 Rams, meanwhile, finished 31st in points allowed, and only went 5-6 after that start.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The Kansas City Chiefs have been the feel good story of the early season. A 2-14 team a year ago, Kansas City has completely turned it around thanks to defense and special teams and Alex Smith bringing his special brand of ball that involves him making defenses into juggernauts and avoiding turnovers.
It has been a truly wonderful start that should be enjoyed for what it is–way better than anything associated with the Scott Pioli era.
It’s fitting that the most comparable team was the Dome Patrol in New Orleans, as Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, and Tamba Hali have been dominant so far.
Long term, two of the teams missed the playoffs still (and the 2009 Giants just missed this list, and went 8-8). The two most similar lost their playoff opener. Andy Reid does know one of the teams on this list, the only previous one he took to the Super Bowl.