The NFL at midseason — forecasting both winners and losers
If you are expecting me to let you know who will “win” each division and head to the playoffs, you are going to be disappointed with this column. Likewise, if you expect me to tell you if the Browns or Lions are going to “lose” out on the chance to get a postseason bid — well, again disappointment will reign.
There are four teams I am going to take a look at today and they are the essence of winners and losers. The New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers have not lost a game. The Miami Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals have not won a game. It is extremely rare for a team to win every game as it has been done only once. It also is difficult to lose every game. That magic trick has been accomplished just three times.
So, I will go out on a limb and let you know if we will see a rare example of greatness or ineptness in 2019. I will tell you what to expect and when to expect it. My fearless prognoses will be based on nothing other than my instincts; ergo, going out and placing a large wager on my calculations would be utter folly.
I can tell you this with absolute certainty: both the Patriots and 49ers have zero chance of finishing the season undefeated. Could they both get to the Super Bowl without a blemish? Of course, but then they would go head to head and that game will continue until one team wins.
Could the Dolphins and Bengals both go winless? Again, with absolute certainty I can say that won’t happen. Why not, you ask? That’s because they meet in December. At the very least they could tie, but we are talking about losing here.
Let’s start with the winless teams. I predict that the Dolphins will not go winless as was first done by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976. The Bucs had to play only 14 games, but they lost all of them. The Detroit Lions turned in a 0-16 season in 2008 and that was matched by the hapless Cleveland Browns two years ago.
I think the Dolphins will win tomorrow. That’s right. They play the Jets at home and if they can get Sam Darnold to see ghosts, a win is a distinct possibility. If they do not win tomorrow, they get the Bengals December 22, again at home. I think they will win at least one of those games.
As for the Bengals, they play the Jets on the first day of December and the previously aforementioned Dolphins three weeks later. The Bengals have decided to bench Andy Dalton for Ryan Finley to “see” what the youngster can do. I predict he will get hurt, Dalton will return, and the Bengals will avoid complete futility.
If nothing else, Cincinnati gets to play the penalty-prone Browns twice. That has to give Bengal fans some kind of hope, doesn’t it?
The only team to go undefeated in the NFL is the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Do you remember some of the players on Don Shula’s team? They had a trio of running backs by the names of Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris, a receiver named Paul Warfield and defensive stalwarts Nick Buoniconti, Dick Anderson and Jake Scott.
Most of you would likely name Bob Griese as the quarterback, but he only started five games that season due to injury. The veteran Earl Morral filled in admirably however. The kicker was one Garo Ypremian, who is more often remembered for an ill-fated, though humorous, pass attempt on a botched field goal.
Didn’t he also sell ties?
The San Francisco 49ers were not expected to be this good, but they are for real. Despite struggling with the Arizona Cardinals Thursday night, the Niners have exceeded expectations. But they still have to play the Seahawks twice and with Russell Wilson having an MVP season, defeating Seattle twice will be difficult. They also have to play at New Orleans on December 8. They will not go undefeated.
The New England Patriots are not as big a surprise as the 49ers. There are some skeptics who point out that the Patriots are likely to get into the playoffs every year because they play in the AFC East. The get to play the Dolphins and Jets twice each year! There may be something to that theory, but we are talking undefeated here, not just getting into the playoffs.
One cannot simply dismiss the accomplishments of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as playing in a weak division. They came “oh so close” to matching the 72 Dolphins when they lost to the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. Can they run the table?
I don’t think so and this Sunday could be a tough game at Baltimore. If the Patriots don’t corral Lamar Jackson, their first loss could be tomorrow. They also have to go to Houston and will host the Bills in late December. The Bills, as we all know, can circle the wagons!
One thing is certain. When the last undefeated team goes down, the members of the 1972 Dolphins will have a toast as they have done every year since they’re remarkable undefeated season.
I think they should keep the champagne on ice.
Al Stephenson is a columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune
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