Legendary Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula died on May 4 at age 90. He spent the last 48 years of his life watching teams try — and fail — to do what his 1972 Dolphins did, which is to go undefeated through the entire regular season, playoffs and Super Bowl.
That Dolphins team went 14-0 in the regular season and 17-0 overall. The team that has come the closest, the 2007 Spygate-soiled New England Patriots, actually did the Dolphins one better. They went 16-0 in the regular season and were 18-0 before losing to Eli Manning and the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
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In 2020, the Pittsburgh Steelers are the lone remaining team with a chance to gain membership in the Undefeated Regular Season club.
Can they do it? Is it worth plunking down some money at +1000 (10/1) odds that says the Steelers will run the table in the regular season? Before we go through their remaining schedule sports-talk radio style (”They’ll win that one, Mikey!”), let’s look at a few general concepts.
The Steelers are not winning big: Pittsburgh has won its last three games by three, four and five points, and had three other single-digit margins earlier in the season. Are they cutting it too close and bound to falter? Well, the ’72 Dolphins posted 11 of their 14 wins by double digits, but did have victories by one, two and four points. The ’07 Patriots rolled through the first seven games, but in the final nine, they had three victories by three points and one by four points.
COVID concerns: The Steelers have been reasonably fortunate with injuries. They lost key linebacker Devin Bush for the season with a knee injury, but their star collection of Ben Roethlisberger, James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster, T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Joe Haden and the emerging Chase Claypool largely has remained intact. The tide may have started to turn this week when Big Ben and three others went on the reserve/COVID-19 list after being deemed high-risk contacts of tight end Vance McDonald. It’s too soon to know if Roethlisberger will be able to play on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field.
OK, the schedule: The narrow victories the past three weeks came in possibly the Steelers’ roughest schedule patch of the season — all on the road, with the first two tough spots at Tennessee and Baltimore. The rest of the way, they are home for Cincinnati (2-5-1), at Jacksonville (1-7), home for Baltimore (6-2), at Washington (2-6), at Buffalo (7-2), at Cincinnati, home for Indianapolis (5-3) and at Cleveland (5-3). Four games against bad teams, but four against teams that are .625 or above. Not impossible, but tough sledding.
Back to that bet: No, I’m not betting on the Steelers to go 16-0. In 2019, there were two teams that made it to 8-0 — the Patriots and 49ers. Those teams lost a combined seven games the rest of the way. In 2018, the Rams were the only team that made it to 8-0 and finished at 13-3. It’s a hard ask, made even tougher by the uncertainties of the COVID era. I’d be happy to eat a Terrible Towel or two in a couple months, but I don’t think that will be necessary.
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