Denver dropped from the ranks of the undefeated this week, going down at Lucas Oil Stadium to the fired-up Indianapolis Colts. Despite the defeat I am still very much of the belief that Denver are on a collision course with New England for the AFC Championship game. Peyton Manning threw two picks but his arm is looking much stronger, the spirals are tight and the deep ball is there. With the Broncos gone I am left with just three unbeaten teams, so let's look at whether any of them can go 16-0.
Carolina Panthers - 8-0
Odds on Betfair Sportsbook of 16-0: 9/1
Odds on Betfair Sportsbook of 19-0: 33/1
Week 10: at Tennessee
Week 11: v Washington
Week 12: at Dallas
Week 13: at New Orleans
Week 14: v Atlanta
Week 15: at New York Giants
Week 16: at Atlanta
Week 17: v Tampa Bay
I've picked out four key games for Carolina, all on the road. They go to Dallas on Thanksgiving in the most interesting match-up on that special day in the NFL. If Tony Romo is back as we expect, this is a toss up game. The Cowboys have lost six straight but they've been in every single game despite not having their QB. The next week takes Carolina to the hot and cold New Orleans. If Drew Brees is on then they can hang with anyone.
After Atlanta's visit in week 14 they have back-to-back road trips, going to the Giants and Falcons. I don't think the Panthers can be outplayed by either team but coming down the stretch both of those teams could be fighting for their postseason places. I see a lot of bumps in the road for Carolina, who I think can now be rightly regarded as the best team in the NFC. However, I just can't see them going undefeated, if they lose in Dallas then I think they go 13-3 but with the #1 NFC seed. So no 16-0 or 19-0 here.
Cincinnati Bengals - 8-0
Odds on Betfair Sportsbook of 16-0: 16/1
Odds on Betfair Sportsbook of 19-0: 50/1
Week 10: v Houston
Week 11: at Arizona
Week 12: v St. Louis
Week 13: at Cleveland
Week 14: v Pittsburgh
Week 15: at San Francisco
Week 16: at Denver
Week 17: v Baltimore
I fully expect the Bengals to take care of business in five of the eight games but we should look at the three in bold. In week 11 they travel to the desert to face Arizona in a game that has been flexed into prime time. This is one thing the NFL do right, they will move games around so a national audience will get to see the best matches. I love the Cardinals, they are at worst the third best team in the NFC but they are a tough match-up for anyone. They have a balanced offense and Carson Palmer might just be in the top three in the MVP voting honours at mid-season. This is a huge game for Cincinnati, win this and they'll gain a lot of national credit and belief.
In week 14 they entertain Pittsburgh who should have their QB back after he went down with injury again on Sunday. The Steelers are a borderline play-off team, they might be scrapping for their lives at this point. Andy Dalton's men will be favourites but it could be one where they easily slip up.
Lastly that big Monday night game in Denver. This could have huge home field and bye week implications so I suspect both teams will not be resting up and preparing for the postseason just yet. Cincinnati are likely not to be favoured in either Arizona or Denver. I also don't see them winning both. I wouldn't be surprised if they lose both. I predict a 14-2 record but that means no 16-0 or 19-0.
New England Patriots - 8-0
Odds on Betfair Sportsbook of 16-0: 11/2
Odds on Betfair Sportsbook of 19-0: 16/1
Week 10: at New York Giants
Week 11: v Buffalo
Week 12: at Denver
Week 13: v Philadelphia
Week 14: at Houston
Week 15: v Tennessee
Week 16: at New York Jets
Week 17: at Miami
Ok, here we go. A team that can actually do it. This team reminds me of the 2007 incarnation. The only real difference is they don't have that deep threat of Randy Moss but they have this tight end - Gronkowski I think his name is - who might just be the greatest to have ever played the game in that position.
In reality they'll only face two real foes, at Denver and at New York (AFC). I've put Miami in bold solely because the 1972 Dolphins are still the only team to have ever gone undefeated and won the Super Bowl. So, narrative wise, if New England are 15-0 then that would be quite the storyline but in all honesty, the Patriots will win that game easy.
So, at Denver. Tom Brady is clearly superior to Peyton Manning at this point in his career. The Patriots offense is firing on all cylinders. The defense isn't too shabby either but that Denver D (despite being ineffective at Indianapolis in week 9) is still really good. This is the biggest test left on New England's schedule.
I'd have New England as favourites by 3-4 points but I'm starting to buy into the theory that Peyton Manning's arm is not toast. This could be a great game. Let's be honest, Manning v Brady is the rivalry of this generation and it is always fun to watch. I know I'd happily sign up for one more game between them in January.
The other game is of course at the Jets. I think New England are a far superior team to their week 16 opponent. If the Patriots have lost at Denver then of course things would be different as they'll be in cruise control and resting up for bigger games down the road.
I have gone back and forth on this but I do think New England will do this. The only game I think they can lose is at Denver but I think they win. However I say that with the confidence of the school geek walking up to the most popular girl in school and asking her out on a date. As with every bet it all comes down to price, and the 11/2 is short. But the thing is, if they go 16-0, then 19-0 is extremely possible. The 16/1 to win it all without dropping a game isn't a bad price at all.
1pt back New England to go 19-0 at 16/1 on the Sportsbook
All odds are accurate after Week 9 games.