Could the Falcons really go 16-0? Nobody seems to think so

Thomas DeCoud estimates the Falcons' chances of going unbeaten at ... 0.5 percent? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Is Thomas DeCoud signaling that he feels his team has an 0.5 percent chance to finish 16-0? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The Falcons are halfway to an undefeated regular season almost nobody thinks will happen. Football Outsiders puts the chances of the Falcons going 16-0 at either 0.9 percent or 1.1 percent, depending on which FO index you check. Football Perspective, a more charitable numbers-driven web site, puts the likelihood of perfection at 3.3 percent.

We’ve already seen a slew of articles suggesting the Falcons aren’t as good as their record — I know; I wrote one of them – and the intent today isn’t to revisit that discussion. (But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Football Outsiders, in its Efficiency Ratings, ranks the 8-0 Falcons only the league’s ninth-best team; Aaron Schatz notes that the Falcons’ Defensive-weighted Value Over Average number is the worst of any 8-0 team ever.) Our focus is on the eight remaining games.

USA Today informs us that the Falcons are the 20th team since 1966, when the first Super Bowl was played, to be 8-0. (From 1966-77, seasons lasted 14 games.) You’re aware that only two teams — the 1972 Dolphins and the 2007 Patriots — completed a regular season unbeaten. USA Today, with help from the busy Football Outsiders, also breaks down the hurdles over which previous unbeatens tripped, Games No. 11 (four teams lost) and 14 (four more) being the most treacherous.

But here we veer from advanced analytics and turn to a rather basic set of numbers — the NFL standings. Of the Falcons’ final eight games, only one will come against a team currently above .500. (The Giants, who play here on Dec. 16, are 6-3.) Three more games feature an opponent at .500. The other four offer sub-.500 opposition.

That’s a slightly toughened version of the the season’s first half, which featured one opponent that currently holds a winning record (Denver); one at .500 (San Diego) and six with losing records. And now we ask: Of the remaining eight games, which looks scariest? (Remember: The Falcons still must play New Orleans and Tampa Bay twice apiece.)

The Saints? They’re playing without their head coach, whose contractual status even while he’s not coaching has become an issue, and they’re on pace to have the worst defense in NFL history. The Cardinals? Once 4-0, they’ve lost five straight. The Panthers? The Falcons saw them already and took what might have been their best shot.

The Giants? They’re good, but they’ve also lost to Dallas and Philadelphia, teams the Falcons just handled. The Lions? They’ve been one of the league’s bigger duds and, with two games against Green Bay and one against Houston to come before they face the Falcons, they could be out of it by Dec. 22.

That leaves, improbably, Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers were 4-12 last season, the last of those losses a 45-24 embarrassment in the Georgia Dome. They’re 4-4, having won three of four and not having lost to anybody by more than seven points. Unlike Bucs teams of recent vintage, they’re better on offense than defense — they’ve gained only two fewer yards than have the Falcons — and the 5-foot-9 rookie Doug Martin has rushed for 386 yards in the past two games.

On Sunday the Falcons play in New Orleans, and they well recall Drew Brees and his rub-it-in record. The Falcons would be stoked to play the Saints if both were 0-8. Next is a return to the Dome to face Arizona, which appears to have nothing left. Then it’s down to Tampa the Sunday after Thanksgiving. If I had to take a wide-angle guess at where the first loss will occur, I’d say it’ll happen Nov. 25 in the stadium with the pirate ship in the perilous Game 11.

When will the Falcons' first loss come?

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Granted, this all could be moot come 4:10 p.m. Sunday. The Saints could do the deed. (Though I, not being a fan of historically awful defenses, doubt it.) Or the Falcons, advanced analytics be darned, could rattle off another eight and become the worst 16-0 team ever. And here the aging historian in me recalls that, even as the only NFL entry ever to finish as an undefeated champion was going about its business, doubt held some sway.

The ‘72 Dolphins went 14-0 against a schedule that included — see if this sounds familiar — two opponents that finished above .500, and neither of those made the playoffs. They’d lost quarterback Bob Griese to a broken leg against the Chargers in Week 5, and he would return only when Earl Morrall couldn’t muster an offense against the young Steelers in the AFC title game. And even at 16-0, the Dolphins were underdogs in Super Bowl VII against Washington. (They won 14-7, no thanks to Garo Yepremian.)

Because those Dolphins finished 17-0, they’re generally considered the NFL’s greatest team ever. A lot of folks in Miami, however, insist the 1973 edition, which went 12-2 en route to another Super Bowl victory, was superior. So there’s precedent at work: Even winning every game doesn’t inoculate you against criticism. The unassuming Falcons are only halfway through their regular season, and already they know the feeling.

Further reading/viewing: Would the Falcons be getting nitpicked if they were 6-2?

By Mark Bradley

167 comments Add your comment

Stinger 2

November 7th, 2012
1:18 pm

Mark: Too much to hope for. It would be great for the Falcons to simply win their division and have a record to insure home field advantage for the playoffs. After that, then go undefeated and win the Super Bowl. Thats all that matters. I do believe Sunday at NO could be a loss.

Naylor

November 7th, 2012
1:22 pm

Win A playoff game and I will be happy. Who cares if they go undefeated in the regular season.

Stinger 2

November 7th, 2012
1:23 pm

Mark: Please give the kudos to someone else.

Damage Inc.

November 7th, 2012
1:31 pm

I have a feeling that the Falcons are going to avenge the rub your nose in it game. I think they’ll do it differently though. The three running backs are going to have career games. It’s amazing how the universe has a way of getting back to “normal”.

Mark Bradley

November 7th, 2012
1:31 pm

Kudos, Someone Else.

Damage Inc.

November 7th, 2012
1:32 pm

kudos go great with a glass of milk.

Coach Killer Mike Vick

November 7th, 2012
1:33 pm

Hugh dawg gone right they can!!!!!!!!!!

Damage Inc.

November 7th, 2012
1:34 pm

Has anyone heard what made our normally cool headed, hall of famer tight end want to rip that Philly player’s head off? I LOVED IT!

Albany_Jacket

November 7th, 2012
1:36 pm

Mark, they need to go 19-0 (through the super bowl)

Buckeye

November 7th, 2012
1:41 pm

Give me 9-0 and we’ll go from there.

Stinger 2

November 7th, 2012
1:44 pm

Mark: Very funny. LOL

Weyman C. Wannamaker Jr. (A Great American)

November 7th, 2012
1:46 pm

Let them go 16-0 and… then lose their first playoff game.

southern bell

November 7th, 2012
2:02 pm

I’m with Buckeye. One game at a time.

1990_Champs_GT

November 7th, 2012
2:04 pm

I’d hate to let the Aints end this.

The only team I could stomach losing left on the schedule is the Giants.

Humphrey

November 7th, 2012
2:10 pm

Who CARES what people think? All that matters is this team believing in each other to go out and win 8 games to go. Why can’t we win em all? We won the first 8.

SM

November 7th, 2012
2:18 pm

I’ve been looking at the schedule since August when I was making my predictions. I had them losing to San Diego and the Giants. Once they got past San Diego with ease and the Giants lost to Dallas, I didn’t think there was any reason they HAD to lose to anyone else left on the schedule. All that being said, having home field so that the Bears or 49′ers or Packers or Giants have to play here, under ideal conditions in January, is the most important thing.

Pamela

November 7th, 2012
2:25 pm

hahahahahaha! The Falcons first lost will be this Sunday….November 11, 2012 to New Orleans Saints!! WHO DAT???!!! :)

Nobody

November 7th, 2012
2:27 pm

Mark, you misquote me. I don’t think so, either . . .

The Falconator

November 7th, 2012
2:28 pm

Let’s take the spotlight off Mount Undefeated and keep priorities and the mission straight. First, keep everyone upright and healthy the rest of the way. Next, make the playoffs. Then, win a playoff game. Finally, push for and win The Super Bowl.

Stinger 2

November 7th, 2012
2:33 pm

Pamela: So you could be right. If so how many games will you “Who Dats” still be behind the Falcons. Hint: You can get the answer by looking at the standings in the NFL South.

Bulldogs for Muschamp Lifetime Contract

November 7th, 2012
2:34 pm

They could but they won’t. Probably lose to the Saints this week

i could see 14-2.

i don’t care if it’s 12-4 as long as they win a playoff game or two

Mask of False Bravado

November 7th, 2012
2:37 pm

Does anyone ever listen to Warren Sapp’s commentary? How does he keep that job?

Big Dude

November 7th, 2012
2:39 pm

14-2, 15-1, who cares… Just get to the Super Bowl and win the championship.

Riggins

November 7th, 2012
2:39 pm

Look Mark Bradley, I think your blog has wandered off in so many different directions-so let me try to reel it in. First of all, the Falcons going 16-0 isn’t realistic on so many levels. 1. Why risk injury when they would have the best record in the league? 2. The regular season counts for nothing; it’s the playoffs that counts. 3. Rest your players. 4. I could go on an on, but I’m not.
It all boils down to being smart. The Falcons are looking to hoist the Lombardi trophy; they’re not the “Dirty Birds” anymore. This Falcons team isn’t listening to you writers, fans, or media-as it should be. Let them concentrate on 1 win at a time. The Falcons are writing their own history. The next three games will give football fans an indication of where the Falcons will be come January.

Bill

November 7th, 2012
2:40 pm

Saints would like nothing better than to ruin the Falcons perfect record. The Superdome will be rocking for this game. I am afraid this where the Falcons get their first loss

Scott

November 7th, 2012
2:42 pm

…just remember Pamela; even IF the saints win out the Falcons need only to finish .500 to win the division. After watching the New Orleans “D” I don’t see such a run. Furthermore, these Falcons might not win them all but they are not a collection of guys that will choke it up down the strech. To answer your question, Pamela, WE DAT.

Scoots

November 7th, 2012
2:46 pm

My guess is the Falcons split the series with Tampa, and lose 1 other game to either The ‘Aints or the Gigantes.

Tim

November 7th, 2012
2:46 pm

Mark, great article, but worst poll options in the history of polls on your blog…
We have 8 games left, but you give us only 4 options – They will either lose @ NO/@TB or vs. NY – Or they will go undefeated…no chance that they lose to Detroit? No slip up against any of the other home games?

Hey Hey Tampa Bay

November 7th, 2012
2:51 pm

You know Tampa has always had The Birds figured out and Tampa will beat them at least one game and maybe both.

Hollywould

November 7th, 2012
2:51 pm

Of course they COULD. Hell, the Jaguars COULD win all the rest of their games. Just be ready for the Saints this weekend. For once in this series I believe we can ouscore them against that lousy defense.

Scoots

November 7th, 2012
2:51 pm

Can’t wait for Sunday. The pregame hype will be all about Sean Payton and Drew Brees, and when the Falcons beat the Saints, ESPN will run coverage all day Monday about the downfall of the Saints stemming from the Bounty Scandal. And if the game is within a touchdown, it will just be another weak, ugly win for the Falcons and we should all just put paper bags on our heads as we disgustingly win over our weak second-half-of-the-schedule opponents.

Hollywould

November 7th, 2012
2:52 pm

Nativebird

November 7th, 2012
2:57 pm

With a track record as distmill as 40 years of hilarious if not were it so sad awfulness, there is plenty Of reason why any sportswriter talking head worth his resume will not risk picking my beloved Falcons to do ANYTHiNG other than be another disappointment of unmet promise. This franchise has brought this lack of trust and expectation purely and solely upon itself. Mark it: NO ONE will ever give the Falcons any credit or measure or worthiness until it actually wins a superbowl….and even then, they will have to win another one immediately to avoid the inevitable nationwide belief that the first one was purely a fluke. This is what happens when you’re an abject joke for 40 years.

Remarkable

November 7th, 2012
2:58 pm

Bill, I think you might be right and “this where the Falcons get their first loss.”
I’m also with 1990_Champs_GT and say, “I’d hate to let the Aints end this”

Go Falcons. Win at least one more!

Da Birds

November 7th, 2012
3:14 pm

Matt Ryan for MVP and Mike Smith for Coach of the year. some of the same people doubting the falcons didnt think we would beat Denver or the Eagles either; just keep winning baby

Nola Clap

November 7th, 2012
3:15 pm

Falcons are about to go 0-8 and miss the playoffs, sorry to inform you.

abby normal

November 7th, 2012
3:18 pm

Hey, Bradley….REALITY CHECK!!! The Falcons will not go 16-0. Just ain’t gonna happen. In fact I’m already sweating the New Orleans game. My guess is the Birds play .500 ball from here on out and finish at 12-4. That should gets us in the playoffs where, hopefully, we can win at least one game and shut the national media types the hell up!!

Real talk

November 7th, 2012
3:31 pm

The Giants did not lose to Dallas.

LOL at The Aints

November 7th, 2012
3:37 pm

Dallas beat the Giants in NY the first week of the season if I’m not mistaken.

Hamad Meander

November 7th, 2012
3:37 pm

One game at a time guys. The main thing is to get into the playoffs, hopefully with a bye and homefield and win a game. That would be progress. I like this Falcons team and think they are pretty good, but I do not believe they are going undefeated or to the Superbowl. Superbowl teams have great lines and this team simply doesn’t have a good enough offensive or defensive line to win the biggest game.

MoFaux

November 7th, 2012
3:38 pm

Secure home field advantage, and then rest the players for the playoffs. No players or fans should care about anything else.

LOL at The Aints

November 7th, 2012
3:40 pm

Pamela = STB4,, thats pretty lame dude,, you can do better than that, LOL

hiramsaint

November 7th, 2012
3:48 pm

bradely finally got something right

DONNAN OF A NEW ERA

November 7th, 2012
3:49 pm

“Could the Falcons really go 16-0? Nobody seems to think so”

That’s because no one is that stupid.

Jim

November 7th, 2012
3:50 pm

Real Talk, Uh, Yes they did, Sept. 5th. 24-17

Chris Snow

November 7th, 2012
3:51 pm

Let’s worry about beating the Saints on Sunday…do NOT want to loose to those fools.

AINTS FANS STILL talking blah blah blah

November 7th, 2012
3:57 pm

We need ONE MORE WIN and then to clench a home spot for the playoffs and we are Rocking and Rolling!! I’m PRAYING they don’t lose this weekend!! I can’t take all the Who Craps talking ish

Damage Inc.

November 7th, 2012
3:59 pm

The saints are on track to have the worst defense in RECORDED history!
Question: “Who dat gone beat them saints?”
Answer: “Anyone with an offense.”

Real talk

November 7th, 2012
4:05 pm

I’m a f*cking idiot.

Calistoga Dawg

November 7th, 2012
4:08 pm

Don’t care about undefeated. I want to see this team hoist the Lombardi trophy. That is it. If by chance we did finish undefeated AND were Super Bowl champs, the pundits will just say the league was weak. They would then rattle off about two dozen better Super Bowl champs. That’s the reality of being a Falcon fan. We have been too awful to mediocre over the last 46 years to erase the perception in one season.