September’s Best in the NFL

Paul Kasabian

Does it really mean much for a team to get off to a hot start in September? Not necessarily. The 1993 Cowboys, 2001 Patriots, and last year’s Giants all started out 0-2 before winning the Super Bowl. On the flipside, the 1993 Dolphins went 9-2 before losing five straight games to miss the playoffs, and the 2004 Giants started 5-2 before losing eight of their remaining nine games. These examples serve as reminders that a team’s performance is much more important in December than September, but a hot start is quite nice nevertheless, and it can do wonders for an up-and-coming team’s confidence.

Here is a breakdown of the six undefeated teams in football. To spice things up, I have predicted their playoff fates and when I believe each team will lose its first game.

Giants (3-0): Sorry Cowboys fans, but until someone knocks the Giants off their pedestal, it is only right to refer to the Super Bowl Champions as the best team in football. New York’s defense has proceeded without a hitch even after losing Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Gibril Wilson and Kawika Mitchell, and this is due to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, whose blitzing schemes have driven offenses nuts since the beginning of last season. Eli Manning looks poised and confident in the pocket, and the versatile three-headed rushing monster of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw continues to astound teams. The only thing that is holding this team back is its ridiculously tough schedule after Week 6. The combined record of Giants opponents from Week 7-17 is an astounding 17-7, and the one team that the Giants face in that 11-week time span that currently has a losing record, Minnesota, has beaten New York in each of the last three seasons.

Prediction: The Giants will go 6-0 before losing a tough and sloppy game to Pittsburgh in Week 8. Furthermore, New York will grab second place in the East behind the Cowboys, which will eventually set up a heated rematch between New York and Dallas in the playoffs.

Dallas (3-0): The Cowboys are currently averaging 440 yards per game, and that is just obscene. With Julius Jones out of the way, Marion Barber will now have enough opportunities to become a Pro-Bowl running back. Tony Romo doesn’t need to worry about Patrick Crayton and his inability to catch passes when it truly matters, because Romo and T.O. have excellent chemistry. The Boys’ front seven is solid, but that secondary is suspect (see Amani Toomer’s touchdown in the Divisional Game last year for visual evidence). However, Dallas deserves its due credit for having the most well-rounded team in football.

Prediction: Dallas will waltz to an 8-0 record before losing a heartbreaker in East Rutherford, N.J. to the Giants. However, the Boys will win the division by virtue of having an easier schedule than the Giants (four out of their last six games are at home).

Buffalo (3-0): The Bills have improved greatly thanks much in part to Trent Edwards and Marcus Stroud. Edwards, the only half-Armenian quarterback in the NFL, is the steady conductor of the Bills’ offensive train. His cool and calm demeanor in the clutch has led to two game-winning drives in the closing minutes against Jacksonville and Oakland. On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Marcus Stroud leads a tough defensive line that is adept at stopping the run, and the return of linebacker Paul Posluszny and the great play of defensive back Ashton Youboty solidify a tough back seven.

Prediction: Well, my Bills fan roommate threatened to “rip my nose off” if I predicted that Buffalo would lose to Arizona in Week 5, but my Cardinals fan roommate will defend me because I’m going to say that Larry Fitzgerald and the Cards will torch the 4-0 Bills in two weeks. However, expect Buffalo to grab the Wild Card with a 10-6 record, finishing just one game behind the New England Patriots.

Denver (3-0): The Broncos seemingly don’t care that defense is an important facet in the game of football, but their record indicates that defense is irrelevant at the moment. Despite giving up an average of 28 points per game, Denver’s high-octane offense takes no prisoners. The Broncos are averaging 38 points per game (first in the NFL) and racking up 432 yards per contest (second in the NFL). By year’s end, Brandon Marshall will take the reins as the best wide receiver in football (18 catches, 166 yards in Week 2), and rookie Eddie Royal acts as a nasty second option. Quarterback Jay Cutler, who is currently receiving treatment for Type-2 diabetes, throws the ball effortlessly behind a stout offensive line.

Prediction: The 6-0 Broncos will lose in Week 7 to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, but Denver’s joke of a schedule, in which they get to play Kansas City twice and Oakland one more time, will get them into the playoffs as the AFC West winner.

Tennessee (3-0): The Titans, much like the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins, employ a no-name defense that has given up the fewest points per game (9.7) in football. Do you know who defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch is? Well, he’s gotten 31 sacks in his last three seasons, and he’s already picked up 2.5 sacks and 12 tackles in this year’s campaign. When he is not dealing with anger management issues, DT Albert Haynesworth is actually one of the best interior linemen in football. Lastly, can you name the Titan who is top-3 on the tackles list this century? It’s linebacker Keith Bulluck. Can’t we at least give this guy a nickname or something? He’s going to have 1,000 career tackles by the end of next season! However, it should be noted that Tennessee’s starting quarterback is Kerry Collins. That may have been OK at the turn of the century, but not right now. Furthermore, wide receiver Justin McCareins is the worst starting wideout in the NFL, and there is no close second.

Prediction: The Titans will lose in two weeks in Baltimore, which will start a 5-7 tailspin that will keep the offensively challenged Titans out of the playoffs in a brutal three-team AFC South slugfest that will come down to the wire.

Baltimore (2-0): I can only hope that uni-browed Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco plays well in the NFL and represents Division I-FCS with the best of his ability. Unfortunately, Flacco only has the experience and talent to beat teams with his fleet feet and not his arm at the present moment. He is getting a lot of help from his defense, which has been one of the nastier units in the league for as long as I can remember. Flacco may do better in a year or two, but right now, his quarterback rating is in the pits and he has yet to throw for a touchdown. Ed Reed is on his way to becoming a Hall-of-Fame safety, and linebacker Terrell Suggs has shown signs of returning to his Pro Bowl form. However, it’s hard to get an accurate gauge on just how truly good the Ravens are though, as Baltimore has beaten two winless teams this season.

Prediction: The 4-0 Ravens will lose to Indy in Week 6, and in a carbon copy of last season, they will miss the playoffs after suffering through a brutal second-half campaign.