Fortune favors the bold: Saints and Colts should strive for 16-0

Quarterback Drew Brees, center, has an entire team and the entire Crescent City fired up, three wins from regular season perfection.
Quarterback Drew Brees, center, has an entire team and the entire Crescent City fired up, three wins from regular season perfection. (John Amis/associated Press)
By Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Of course they should go for the perfect season, both of them, the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts. They ought to dismiss the very thought of safely coasting across the finish line, of resting starters for the playoffs and fretting over injuries that might occur or might not.

Having reached 13-0, they should stop treating perfection like a burden and approach the remaining three games of this regular season as if this is their chance of a lifetime, which it obviously is.

The Saints have pretty much had this right since Week 6, when Reggie Bush said going undefeated was entirely possible. The Colts, on the other hand, seemed to be afraid of committing; it came as something of a surprise Monday when Colts Coach Jim Caldwell said Indy will approach Thursday's night game in Jacksonville "just as we have done the previous 13."

Only three years ago the notion of a team going 16-0 was unthinkable. Then the New England Patriots did it, and won a pair of playoff games to go 18-0 before failing to finish the Perfect Season by losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl. So here we are two seasons later with two teams having reasonable chances at going 16-0. The Saints will be heavily favored in all three of their games, at home against Dallas and Tampa Bay and at Carolina in the season finale. The Colts, who have a difficult opponent this week in division rival Jacksonville, would be heavily favored in their final two games, at home against the Jets and at Buffalo.

Theirs is the joint story of this NFL season. If either gets through unscathed, that team becomes the greatest team, by record, in NFL history.

If the two were to meet in the Super Bowl in Miami in February, the winner would become not only the greatest team in pro football history, but one of the great teams in the history of American sports. The case could be made it belongs up there with, perhaps ahead of, Ruth's 1927 Yankees, Wilt's 1972 Lakers and Jordan's 1996 Bulls.

The idea of playing for a perfect team led Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, who played for the three-time champion Dallas Cowboys in the early 1990s, to say on the NFL Network on Sunday morning, "I would turn in all three Super Bowl rings and my Hall of Fame bust for one undefeated season." It's good somebody with credentials put football perfection in proper perspective.

One can hope Irvin's public statement and the boldness of the Saints' approach led the Colts to seemingly change their plans of resting starters beginning Thursday night. It's a good thing. In 2005, the Colts were 13-0 but shut it down, lost two of the final three games in the regular season, and dropped a first-round playoff game, at home, to the wild-card Steelers. In 2007, the Colts clinched home-field advantage two days before Christmas, did not play with any great purpose for three weeks, and lost in the first round, at home, to the Chargers. (If the Colts choose to limit playing the time of their starters, they'd get a college-like layoff of around 30 days because the top two seeds in each conference wouldn't play until Jan. 16 or 17.)

Colts GM Bill Polian pointed out several times in recent days that in those final weeks of the 2005 season Coach Tony Dungy's son committed suicide, and that in 2007 the team had to play without two of its three best defensive players, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. And Polian, who oversaw the Bills' Super Bowl teams, is Midas in my book when it comes to assessing how teams ought to approach important situations.

Thing is, the Colts have already won a Super Bowl (2006 season) in the Peyton Manning era. And the NFL isn't the NBA or NHL, where worthiness is measured in multiple championships. One is significant. That particular pressure is done and gone. You know how the Colts can pull even with the Belichick/Brady Patriots who have three Super Bowl victories? Do the one thing the Pats failed to do: complete the Perfect Season.

That's how two would be greater than three. Dare to be great, at the very least try, and one-up the 16-0 Patriots and 17-0 Dolphins (who played a 14-game regular season in 1972).

This is the perfect time to put your foot on the pedal if you're Indy because the AFC isn't anywhere near as tough at the top or as deep as it has been. The defending champion Steelers probably won't even make the playoffs.

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