“Eight and oh.”
Say it one time. It rolls off the tongue quite nicely. No matter how you type it, it looks amazing. 8-0. Eight and oh. 8 and 0. The Kansas City Chiefs are undefeated. They have won half of their regular season games without losing any.
Putting the tumultuous season that was 2012 aside for a second, this is a huge feat for any team. Statistically speaking, this doesn’t happen. Teams just don’t run the table for the first half of the season. In fact, it’s practically, statistically impossible. Like, maybe not quite as hard as winning the lottery, but damn close.
Since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger, exactly 1,285 NFL teams have taken the field. Of those 1,285 teams, only 20 of them (including the 2013 Chiefs) have started the season with an 8-0 record. That’s only 1.55 percent of all teams who have played the game in the last 43 years. While most have gone to a higher win count before losing, (if at all) they have all started with eight wins. This year the Chiefs have joined that club once again.
1972 Miami Dolphins
The first team to post that record was the famous – or is it infamous – 1972 Miami Dolphins. Of course, their huge claim to fame was the fact they went the entire season undefeated, posting a perfect 14-0 record (the league didn’t adopt a 16-game regular season schedule until 1978) and then going on to win the Superbowl. They inevitably get talked about every year when the final undefeated team is beaten because their record of a perfect season, including a Superbowl win, remains intact for another year.
The Dolphins didn’t face any powerhouses during that season. The combined record of their opponents was 51-86-3, or just about a 36 percent winning percentage. Although I didn’t find that in an asterisks next to their name, that’s the facts. Nobody really remembers their strength of schedule. Only that they won.
The very next year in 1973, the “Purple People Eaters” started the season with an 8-0 record, ending with an eventual mark of 12-2. While the combined record of their opponents was a bit better than the ’72 Dolphins, they weren’t world beaters by any means. Minus the ties (because overtime hadn’t been instituted at this point) the combined record of the ’73 Vikings – who eventually lost in the Superbowl – was exactly .500 with a record of 71-71-8.
1975 Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings continued their dominance in the mid ‘70s, fielding a second team who went 8-0 to start the season. The ’75 Vikings matched the final record of their ’73 brothers, finishing the season at 12-2. The team ultimately fell in the Divisional Round of the playoffs after beating teams who had a combined record of only 50-104. This was only a 32 percent winning record and one of the easiest in the history of 8-0 teams.
1977 Dallas Cowboys
Despite the Dallas Cowboys’ rise in fame and the self-proclaimed moniker of “America’s Team,” they only went 8-0 once in during their dominance in the late 70’s. In 1977, the team won its first eight games enroute to an overall 12-2 record and a Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season. Of note is this was the last team to go 8-0 under the 14 game schedule as the NFL adopted a 16 game schedule the following year. The Cowboys faced teams that were about even in 1977 with a combined record of 69-71. Ironically, the final team they faced that season was the Denver Broncos, who they turned around and defeated in the Superbowl.
In 1984 the Miami Dolphins made their second and final run at a perfect season, starting 11-0 before losing two of their last five games, finishing with a record of 14-2. This was the era of the quarterback and the Dan Marino led Dolphins ultimately faced the Joe Montana led San Francisco 49ers in the Superbowl and lost. The combined record of the teams the Dolphins beat that year was 87-104-1. Seven of the teams the Dolphins beat that season had a losing record. One of Miami’s two losses came against a 7-9 San Diego Chargers team.
1985 Chicago Bears
The following year brought the juggernaut known as the 1985 Chicago Bears to the NFL. There had never been anything like them before in the league, and truthfully (or thankfully) there hasn’t been anything like them since. On a team many considered to be one of the greatest of all time, they looked a lot like the 2013 Chiefs; perhaps more than any of the other teams in the 8-0 club. The team was built on a vicious defense, solid running game behind Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton and a game managing, if not fiery quarterback in Jim McMahon. Eight of the Bears’ wins that season were against teams with an eventual losing record, though they had the toughest schedule of any 8-0 team to that point with a total posting of 97-95.
Although the Joe Montana led 49ers defined the 80’s in regards to Superbowl victories, the 1985 Bears team embodied the decade. The team didn’t just win football games; they had a music video, their own dance, wardrobe controversies and then met the New England Patriots in the Superbowl and destroyed them. They were the definition of dominance.
The 1980’s would end before another team in the NFL was able to run the table for at least half the season. However as the calendar turned from 1989 to 1990, so did the talent level of two teams. 1990 would mark the first year since the merger that two teams started the season at least 8-0. The New York Giants began to assert their dominance in the NFL while the San Francisco 49ers continued the legacy they had instilled through the 80’s brining the dynasty into the 90’s.
1990 New York Giants & San Francisco 49ers
The Giants and the 49ers followed very similar seasons, both starting at 11-0 before losing in week 12 and ending their runs. The teams met each other once in the regular season with San Francisco besting the Giants 7-3 on Monday Night Football. However that wasn’t the only time their paths would cross. Being the two powerhouses in the NFC, it was only fitting they would meet for the conference championship to decided who would face the Buffalo Bills in Superbowl XXV. In another low scoring affair, the Giants exacted their revenge against the 49ers and moved on to the final game of the season, defeating the Buffalo Bills for their second Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.
The Giants had a more difficult schedule during the 1990 season with their opponents having a combined record of 96-96 whereas the 49ers combined record was 88-104. The teams did play a couple of common opponents that season. Both teams played the Dallas Cowboys, the Los Angeles Rams and the Minnesota Vikings. They both beat the Cowboys and the Vikings. Because the Rams were in the 49ers division at the time, they played twice with San Francisco losing one of those contests.
1991 Washington Redskins
The very next season, in 1991, another team from the NFC East ran the table enroute to a Superbowl championship. The Washington Redskins started the season at 12-0 before losing in week 13 to division rivals, the Dallas Cowboys. The ‘Skins would only lose one more game that season on the way to a 14-2 record. In 2007, ESPN named this team the fourth greatest NFL team in history to that point. It would be the team’s first Lombardi Trophy not won during a strike year, which always comes with an asterisk.
It wouldn’t be until seven years later that another team started the season 8-0. In 1998 after having won their first Superbowl the year before, the Denver Broncos, led by quarterback John Elway in his final season, would take the NFL by storm.
The Broncos galloped out to a commanding 14-0 record to start the ’98 season with the final victory of their run coming against the Chiefs in a thrilling 35-31 victory. The Broncos lost the final week against the New York Giants in Giants Stadium. The Broncos had the easiest strength of schedule of any 8-0 team since the 1975 Vikings. The combined record of their opponents was 88-104 or a 45 percent winning percentage. Nonetheless, the team went on that year to win their second and final Lombardi Trophy against the Atlanta Falcons.
2003 Kansas City Chiefs
As the millennium turned so did the tide in the NFL. From 2003 to 2009 the NFL would see seven different teams join the 8-0 club. The Kansas City Chiefs were the first to jump on the train in 2003. Boasting one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL led by quarterback Trent Green and on the back of running back Priest Holmes, the Chiefs won their first nine games before losing in week 10 to the Cincinnati Bengals. The 2003 Chiefs were won the AFC West on a 13-3 record and faced the Peyton Manning led Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs, which they ultimately lost 38-31. The Chiefs would be the first team since the 1975 Vikings who started the season 8-0 and didn’t make it to at least the conference championship. The Chiefs faced a schedule very similar to the one their division rivals, the Broncos, faced in their 1998 run. In fact the win/loss column was exactly the same that year for the Chiefs opponents at 88-104.
2005 Indianapolis Colts
Two years later, Peyton Manning would begin his rise to the top of the heap in the NFL quarterback club. In 2005, the Coltsstarted their season 14-0 before losing two of their last three games. However, as has become quite the pattern with Manning, he was unable to get his team a victory in the post season and just as the Chiefs did in 2003, lost in the divisional round of the playoffs becoming the third team to start 8-0 and not make it to at least the conference championship game. That season the Colts faced the toughest schedule of any 8-0 team since the ’85 Bears with a combined record of 99-93.
2006 Indianapolis Colts
The following year in 2006, the Colts started out hot once again going 10-0 before finally losing to the Dallas Cowboys in week 11. Manning would lead the Colts to an eventual 12-4 record as they lost four of their last seven games before getting hot again the post season. The eldest Manning brother was finally able to break his playoff curse and took the Colts to the Superbowl, bringing home the Lombardi Trophy to Indianapolis after defeating the Chicago Bears 29-17. Though the AFC South was extremely poor that season – not one team in the division other than the Colts was above .500 – the Colts had the most difficult schedule of any 8-0 team to date with a combined opponent record of 106-86.
2007 New England Patriots
In 2007 the Tom Brady led New England Patriots took a shot at history only to have it pulled away from them by New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree and Manning – this time Eli, not Peyton – in the Superbowl. However, one mark the ’07 Patriots hold in the record book is they are the first team to go undefeated in the regular season since the 16-game schedule was introduced in 1978. The Patriots historic run began on September 9, 2007 and didn’t stop until the final whistle blew on Superbowl XLII, February 3, 2008. Through 16 regular season games and two playoff games, the Patriots were perfect in their execution. Perhaps the most impressive fact of that historic season was the fact that the Patriots faced the hardest schedule of any 8-0 team to that point with a combined record of 108-84.
In 2008 the Tennessee Titans joined the 8-0 club for the first time in franchise history by starting their season 11-0 before getting lit up by the New York Jets in week 12. The Titans would move on to an eventual 13-3 record and become just the fourth team in NFL history to start the season at least 8-0 and then lose the divisional round of the playoffs. Taking its first downturn in several years, the Titans’ strength of schedule was slightly lower than the previous two members of the club at 92-100.
As the 2009 season started, it was the fifth straight season that at least one team would start their season at 8-0 and beyond. The ’09 season turned out to be the only the second time in NFL history that two teams got off to hot starts and went over half the season unbeaten.
The Colts, still under the leadership of Manning but with a first year head coach in Jim Caldwell, began their run at a second Superbowl in 2009. Meanwhile, 821 miles south in New Orleans, the Saints led by quarterback Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton had other plans. In the true definition of the immovable object meets the unstoppable mass, the Colts and Saints were destined to meet before the first kick off of the season.
The Colts cruised to a 14-0 record and many thought they might finally be the team to take the “Perfect Season” title away from the ’72 Dolphins as they truly looked unstoppable. However, the biggest controversy of the season struck in week 16 when rookie coach, Caldwell, benched Manning in favor of backup Curtis Painter. The Colts lost the game and their chance at an undefeated season. Manning backed his coach’s play but others weren’t so kind. However, the writing was on the wall that Caldwell wasn’t concerned about the immortality of an undefeated season as he gave this quote in an interview a month before that week 16 game.
“Going undefeated was always a secondary goal. I don’t think we’ll put too much emphasis on that.”
Down in New Orleans, a city still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina and relying on their professional football team to keep their spirits up, an undefeated season – and eventual Superbowl – was all that mattered. In fact, that season the Saints included their ongoing win total as part of their pre-game chant, led by Brees.
While the undefeated season would elude them with a week 15 loss to the Dallas Cowboys (followed by two more losses in the last two weeks) they would find themselves face to face with their fellow 8-0 club members, the Colts in Superbowl XLIV. The Saints would come away with the win and Manning and the Colts would have to return to Indianapolis and plan for the next year.
In that historic season, the Colts faced a bit of harder schedule with a combined opponent record of 97-95. The Saints combined strength of schedule was 89-103. Both teams played several common teams during the regular season and it was probably the most evenly matched teams in recent history.
It would be two seasons until the NFL saw another 8-0 team. This time it would be one of the oldest franchises in the league to join the club and a familiar one to end their run.
2011 Green Bay Packers
In 2011, the Green Bay Packers started their season defending the Lombardi Trophy that they had won the previous year with a franchise best 13-0 record before losing in week 15 against the Kansas City Chiefs. While 2011 was a horrible season (perhaps only trumped by the dumpster fire that was 2012) the Chiefs were able to play keep-away from Aaron Rodgers under the “expert” coaching of then interim head coach Romeo Crennel and “all-star” quarterback play from Kyle Orton. The Packers would win their next two games – the final of the regular season – only to become the third 8-0 team in eight years to lose in the divisional round of the playoffs. While it was truly an MVP season for Rodgers, the team wasn’t able to overcome the eventual Superbowl champion New York Giants. For the third time since 1990, the combined record of the 8-0 team’s opponents was an even 96-96.
Last season while the Chiefs were having the worst year in franchise history (yes, they’d gone 2-14 before but never had a murder-suicide during the year or such inept leadership) the Atlanta Falcons were having the best in their history. The “Dirty Birds” of Atlanta jumped out to a 9-0 record to start the season last year, including a week one victory over the Chiefs. The Chiefs held their own in the first half of that game, going into halftime only down by three. However, in the second half, the Chiefs did what the Chiefs do and completely collapsed in the second half, allowing the Falcons to outscore them 20-7 in the second 30 minutes. The Chiefs embarrassment was complete when Falcons tight end Tony Gonzales dunked on his former after scoring a touchdown in his first return to Arrowhead since he left for the Falcons in 2009.
The Falcons went on to win the NFC South and secured the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Gonzalez – then in his 16th year in the league – finally got his first (and now it appears his only) playoff win when the Falcons beat the Seattle Seahawks in thrilling fashion 30-28. However, the following week, the Falcons would lose to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game. Ironically, the Falcons would join the 49ers – albeit the 1990 49ers – as the only member of the 8-0 club to lose the in conference championship game. On the road to their 13-3 record, the Falcons faced a relatively easy schedule as the combined record of their opponents was 87-105.
The entire history of (at least) 8-0 teams looks like this:
|1972||14||Miami Dolphins||14-0||Won Superbowl VII||51-86-3|
|1973||14||Minnesota Vikings||12-2||Lost Superbowl VIII||73-73-8|
|1975||14||Minnesota Vikings||12-2||Lost Divisional Round||50-104|
|1977||14||Dallas Cowboys||12-2||Won Superbowl XII||69-71|
|1984||16||Miami Dolphins||14-2||Lost Superbowl XIX||87-105-1|
|1985||16||Chicago Bears||15-1||Won Superbowl XX||97-95|
|1990||16||New York Giants||13-3||Won Superbowl XXV||96-96|
|1990||16||San Francisco 49ers||14-2||Lost Conference Round||88-104|
|1991||16||Washington Redskins||14-2||Won Superbowl XXVI||96-96|
|1998||16||Denver Broncos||14-2||Won Superbowl XXXIII||88-104|
|2003||16||Kansas City Chiefs||13-3||Lost Divisional Round||88-104|
|2005||16||Indianapolis Colts||14-2||Lost Divisional Round||99-93|
|2006||16||Indianapolis Colts||12-4||Won Superbowl XLI||106-86|
|2007||16||New England Patriots||16-0||Lost Superbowl XLII||108-84|
|2008||16||Tennessee Titans||13-3||Lost Divisional Round||92-100|
|2009||16||Indianapolis Colts||14-2||Lost Superbowl XLIV||97-95|
|2009||16||New Orleans Saints||13-3||Won Superbowl XLIV||89-103|
|2011||16||Green Bay Packers||15-1||Lost Divisional Round||96-96|
|2012||16||Atlanta Falcons||13-3||Lost Conference Round||87-105|
|2013||8||Kansas City Chiefs||8-0|
While the season is still ongoing and it’s an “any given Sunday” league, the Chiefs are in good shape having run the table for the first half of the season. Looking back at the other 19 teams who have gone at least 8-0 in the season, eight of them won the Superbowl and another four made it to the big game but couldn’t finish the deal.
Looking back at these records, there is no asterisks next to any of these teams based on the schedules they’ve played. Nowhere has anything been said that even though the 1972 Dolphins had one of the weakest schedules of any of these 20 teams that they don’t deserve their record. Teams play the games they’re scheduled to play and win as many as they can. While I can see coach Jim Caldwell’s point in pulling out Manning in 2009 and saying going undefeated wasn’t the goal, it should always be the goal. Professional football players get paid to do one thing. Win football games.
The Chiefs have the hardest part of their schedule coming up in the second half of the season. While the Buffalo Bills are bringing up the bottom of the AFC East they shouldn’t be counted out. If this piece hasn’t taught you anything, it should have shown you that history is important and trends should be respected. The Chiefs haven’t won in Buffalo since 1987. Some of you weren’t even alive then.
If the Chiefs can break one of the longest losing streaks in the NFL, they have reached their much needed bye. After that, the gauntlet truly begins. The Chiefs play on the road against Denver, then home against a much improved San Diego Chargers team before hosting Manning and his merry men in Arrowhead for the second time in three weeks. Once they survive that they go on the road against a scrappy Redskins team and then brave the “Black Hole” that is Oakland so they can get “D” Cell batteries thrown at them. The Chiefs round out the second half of the season with a home game against the only team to knock the Broncos down to size, the Colts before going on the road to sunny San Diego for the season closer.
While history may be on their side, the Chiefs are going to need every bit of moxie and grit they’ve shown in their first eight games to get through the remainder of this schedule. They’ve already made history. The rest is up to them.