Five years ago, the 5-0 Lions and 5-0 Packers would just have been two really good football teams. We'd have all been talking about the Lions restoring pride in the battered Motor City and Aaron Rodgers pushing Tom Brady for the title of the NFL's best quarterback.
We're doing all of that, but a mere five weeks into the season, some of us are already proposing the possibility of an undefeated season for one of the only remaining unbeatens.
The conversation about an undefeated season has changed since the Patriots went 16-0 in 2007. It used to be a concept that was brought up almost in jest. No matter how deep into the season it was, most fans and media members would talk about some unbeaten team, raise the topic of the 1972 Dolphins, laugh and move on to the next story.
Nobody honestly thought the Rams would go unbeaten when they started 6-0 in 1999; St. Louis finished 13-3. The Vikings looked like a special team while putting up 31 points or more six times in their first seven games in 1998, and they lost game No. 8; they finished 15-1. There was surprise, but not outright shock, when the Broncos finally lost in Week 15 to the Giants that same year; Denver ended up 14-2.
Football fans and analysts used to understand that even sniffing an unbeaten season took an embarrassment of talent and good fortune. That's why the 15-1 Bears of 1985, not the '72 Fish, are widely considered the best NFL team ever. Losing doesn't always mean you were bad; sometimes it just means the other team got some breaks and some things you tried didn't work out. You just hoped it didn't happen in that game with the Roman numerals.
Now? Now we get to Week 5 and start to wonder if two teams in the same division have a shot at going unbeaten. Forget the fact that the Lions are in the middle of the pack in total defense and that the Packers are in the bottom third of the league in yards allowed. Ignore the reality that the Lions have an injury-prone quarterback in Matthew Stafford who has played 13 games in two professional seasons and that the Packers have a secondary with a roughly 67-year-old cornerback/safety, Charles Woodson, as its fulcrum.
There's also the significant factor of these teams facing off twice as divisional foes. Even if they are the top two teams in the NFL, whoever wins their Nov. 24 meeting would still face the daunting task of having to win again in the season finale Jan. 1, and any coach will tell you how difficult it is to beat a good team twice in a row.
Not to throw too much cold water on everybody, but there are accomplishments that happen once in a lifetime and accomplishments that happen once, period. Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, the Dolphins' 14-0 campaign and the 1980 Miracle on Ice are most likely permanent members of that category.
The historic '07 Pats needed every bounce in the book (don't for a second act like there wasn't a massive amount of luck and favorable calls involved in that Ravens game) and still couldn't win the big trophy. The Lions, even with Nick Fairley alongside Ndamukong Suh, aren't going to get all those breaks. The Packers, even with The Other No. 12 calling signals, won't make the right decision every time.
That '07 season was cool, and that was why it was so painful when the Giants won in Phoenix: Because it's doubtful we'll ever see anything like that ever, ever again, no matter how much we might yearn to witness that type of excellence again.
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