The Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams were both victorious on Sunday, both moving to 5-0 and maintaining their status as the only undefeated teams in the NFL. As the calendar approaches mid-October and both teams are being feted as Super Bowl-bound juggernauts, the question has to be asked: Can either team go undefeated? To answer the question, Touchdown Wire broke down both teams, looked back at the history of undefeated teams and found out some interesting nuggets, such as how it’s a kiss of death to be the last unbeaten team in the NFL, why the likelihood of another 16-0 mark is growing and how the 2007 Patriots, the lone team to finish the regular season undefeated, is an unreasonable comparison for the two teams with their sights set on immortality in 2018.
Earning the honor of being the final unbeaten team isn’t exactly the harbinger of success you might (logically) think. This century, just one such team has won the Super Bowl. One! Here’s a list of last undefeated team in every season since 2000 along with their playoff result and final record.
2017: Chiefs (started 5-0) – lost wild card (final record 10-6)
2016: Vikings (5-0) – MISSED PLAYOFFS (8-8)
2015: Panthers (14-0) – lost Super Bowl (15-1)
2014: Three teams started 3-0 (we’re counting these teams in our numbers but not listing them because it’s too unwieldy)
2013: Chiefs (9-0) – lost wild card (11-5)
2012: Falcons (8-0) – lost NFC championship (13-3)
2011: Packers (13-0) – lost divisional playoff (14-2)
2010: Three teams started 4-0
2009: Colts (14-0) – lost Super Bowl (14-2)
2008: Titans (10-0) – lost divisional playoff (13-3)
2007: Patriots (16-0) – lost Super Bowl (16-0)
2006: Colts (9-0) – WON SUPER BOWL (12-4)
2005: Colts (13-0) – lost divisional playoff (14-2)
2004; Philadelphia Eagles (7-0) – lost Super Bowl (13-3)
2003: Chiefs (9-0) – lost divisional playoff (13-3)
2002: Two teams started 4-0
2001: Rams (6-0) – lost Super Bowl (14-2)
2000: Vikings (7-0) – lost NFC championship (11-5)
There are some fascinating facts to be gleaned from this list. Fifteen of the last unbeatens teams matched the 5-0 record currently held by the Chiefs and Rams. Of those 15:
- 1 missed the playoffs
- 6 didn’t win a playoff game
- 5 made the Super Bowl
- 10 didn’t finish over .500 in their regular-season games after suffering their first loss. This is crazy, even though four of those 10 have an excuse because they got to a double-digit win total before that inaugural defeat and thus didn’t have much to play for in the final weeks.
- Beware the trap game! The first losses for the last unbeaten team rarely come against top-tier competition. Excluding the 2007 Patriots (who didn’t lose until the playoffs), 10 of the 14 final undefeateds first lost to a team that was no better than one game over .500.
Not every 5-0 start belongs to the last undefeated team, of course. In 2003, for instance, when the 9-0 Chiefs were the last to suffer a loss, they were one of four teams to start with a 5-0 mark. Since the playoffs expanded in 1990, there have been 51 teams to start with that record (not including this year’s teams). Of those, the average finish was 12-4, more than 88 percent made the playoffs and nine were Super Bowl champions. But in the past decade, as many 5-0 teams have gone on to miss the playoffs as have gone to the Super Bowl.
There have been 1,145 team seasons played since the NFL expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978. One of those teams (the ’07 Pats) went undefeated (0.087%). Only 12 teams have started 10-0 or better (0.87%). To answer the question in simpler terms: not very much. However, great starts are becoming more common. In the first two decades of the 16-game schedule, no team made it through three-quarters of their schedule unbeaten. But a team has held a 12-0 mark six times in the past 13 years, suggesting that 16-0 is at least feasible.
First things first: Either the Rams or the Chiefs could go 16-0 but both won’t go 16-0 for the very simple reason that they play on Nov. 19 in Mexico City.
When trying to peer into the future, it’s instructive to look back at the only team to ever go undefeated in the modern NFL. And in comparison, the Rams and Chiefs can’t hold a candle. The 2007 Patriots won their first eight games by a respective of 24, 24, 31, 21, 17, 21, 21 and 45 points. (Average: 25.5 points.) Only four games (all in the back half of the season) were decided by one score. Those were also the only games in which they didn’t win by double digits.
The Rams have been dominant through five weeks, scoring at least 30 points in each game. Their average winning margin: 15 points or more than a double-digit total worse than the Pats. On Sunday, they needed a second-half rally to beat a Seahawks team that’s such a mess that its star defender flipped off the sideline last week while being carted off the field with an injury. Their only home game before Seattle was against Jon Gruden’s pathetic Raiders. They can do it, yes, especially with six easy division games against the dregs of the NFL. But one of the bold Sean McVay decisions (like Sunday’s 4th-and-1 at the end of the game) will backfire and L.A. will earn a loss, probably when you least expect it.
As for Kansas City? Let’s not waste either of our times: They have a slightly better shot of going undefeated as the 0-4 Cardinals. Patrick Mahomes is a legend in the making. The offense has five different playmakers that can change the course of a game. They have the greatest home-field advantage in the NFL that doesn’t take advantage of high altitude or man-made acoustical advantages.
But going into this week, their defense was ranked last in the league. Strange as it sounds, that’s not necessarily a dealbreaker. The 2011 Packers, who went 15-1, had the 32nd-ranked defense too.
The Chiefs defense is bad against both the pass and the run, however. While it’s not uncommon for dominant teams to have bad pass defense numbers because other teams are just slinging the ball late in games, a team that starts the year with a double-digit win total usually has a run defense in the top half of the league and certainly nothing near the No. 28 rank by Kansas City.
The Chiefs have already been in close games this year. It’s no knock on them to say that they’ll be like the other 1,144 teams of the last three decades and not post a zero in the loss column.
Anyways, Andy Reid can’t hold his nerves in wild-card games. Can you imagine the puddle of anxiety he’d be if something historic like 16-0 was on the line?