Only one team in National Football League history — the 1972 Miami Dolphins — went through an entire season unbeaten.
So you’ll have to excuse Green Bay Packers players for brushing off the topic of going undefeated this season.
The 5-0 Packers are off to their best start in 46 years and are one of two NFL teams without a loss. They haven’t tasted defeat since last December and including their playoff run to a Super Bowl title have strung together 11 consecutive victories.
The Packers are focused and seemingly unfazed by the hype or pressure that accompanies their mounting success. It’s one more reason to believe that if any team could accomplish what the Dolphins did four decades ago, it might be this one.
But while whispers of a possible unbeaten season are starting to surface, such talk hasn’t permeated the Packers’ locker room.
“Nobody in this building is thinking about that,” said guard Josh Sitton. “Let’s talk in Week 17. It’s a tough, tough league that we play in. We take it week by week, game by game.”
One betting web site this week listed the odds against the Packers going unbeaten at 15 to 1. But those numbers look favorable when compared to the 1,440 to 1 odds against the Detroit Lions, the other unbeaten team.
History strongly suggests the Packers will eventually lose this season. A letdown, key injury or hot opponent could trip them up. And yet, the Packers proved late last season on their march to a championship that they know how to handle adversity.
This is a team that possesses enormous talent but also mental toughness, which is why the possibility of a perfect season can’t be dismissed.
This should not be taken as a prediction the Packers will go unbeaten, but there are five good reasons why such a daunting prospect is at least a possibility.
1. Favorable schedule
The Packers have established a clear-cut home-field advantage, losing only once at Lambeau Field in the past two years. But it’s the road games that test a team’s fortitude. The Packers’ victory over Atlanta last week in front of a revved up Falcons crowd proved they can win anywhere, under any circumstances. The Packers trailed by two touchdowns yet rallied to beat the Falcons going away.
One oddsmaker predicted the Packers would be a double-digit favorite in every remaining road game this season except the Thanksgiving matchup in Detroit. He might have forgotten about the San Diego Chargers (4-1), who could give the Packers a run for their money on Nov. 6.
Nevertheless, only two of the Packers’ remaining 11 opponents made the playoffs last season, so they are not saddled with a particularly difficult schedule.
2. Oblivious to hype
For a team that has enjoyed so much recent success, the Packers remain remarkably humble. They are confident but not cocky. They refuse to get too full of themselves.
“I think that’s one of the strong points of this team,” said Sitton. “When the season started there was a lot of hype about the Green Bay Packers, this and that, Aaron Rodgers, dah, dah, dah. I think we have a unique ability to block all that out and just kind of live our simple lives up here in Green Bay. I think coach (Mike) McCarthy does a great job of pushing all that crap out of the building.”
Sitton paints a charming picture of the little team that could from Wisconsin, living an uncomplicated life, unaffected by big-city pressures and demands, guided by a coach that keeps his players grounded.
This Packers team, with its old-fashioned values, respects every opponent and then proceeds to methodically rip their heart out with impressive efficiency. But they refuse to dwell on their achievements.
“I don’t think any of us are too high on ourselves right now,” said tight end Tom Crabtree. “We know, just looking at the film, there’s a ton of room for improvement.”
3. Laser-sharp focus
Every week is the same for the Packers, no matter the opponent. Records mean nothing. Meticulous preparation is paramount. These Packers don’t just take one game at a time. They take one practice and one play at a time.
“You know what this team does better than any team I’ve been on?” said 11-year veteran defensive lineman Ryan Pickett. “We focus so much on ourselves. It really don’t matter who we’re playing. The Rams are going to get the same treatment the Patriots will get if they were coming here, the same respect. We work hard, prepare hard, we watch extra tape no matter who we play because it’s about getting ourselves better. That’s just the honest truth. It’s not like a slogan or something that you might say. It’s really real for our team.”
Don’t expect the Packers to overlook Sunday’s opponent, even if the St. Louis Rams are winless and 15-point underdogs.
“This is a focused team,” said Pickett. “When I tell you focused, it’s an intense focus.
“We’re not going to let down. It’s not going to happen.”
4. Winning habit
Good teams find ways to win. The Packers expect to win, not just by showing up, but by taking care of their business.
They have won games in which they have led the entire way, and they have rallied from double-digit deficits. No matter what the score or situation, their attitude doesn’t waver.
“We’ve won a few different ways this year,” said Sitton. “We’ve learned how to play through adversity. … You learn something each week, and each week you build confidence.”
It’s like a snowball effect. The more they win, the greater their confidence, and vice versa.
“Even though people say we’re a young team, I think we’re a veteran team because so many guys have been to the big game (Super Bowl) now,” said 13-year veteran receiver Donald Driver. “When you’ve got that many guys that have been to the big game, they know exactly how to get back there.”
5. Selective injuries
The Packers placed 15 players on injured reserve last season and still won a championship. The lesson there was that a team can withstand a multitude of injuries as long as its key playmakers stay on their feet.
In the Packers’ case, if quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews remain healthy, the team will always have a chance to win.
That’s not to say the season-ending injury to Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins in Week 2 won’t hurt, or that the potential return of Mike Neal and Frank Zombo won’t improve the Packers defense.
But winning most often comes down to a team’s difference makers. Matthews fills that role on defense, and Rodgers is the cornerstone of the offense.
Over their past 19 games, the Packers have posted a 16-1 record when Rodgers has been healthy for a full game. Their only blemish was a last-second, 20-17 defeat at Atlanta last November.
It’s not quite perfection, but it’s close. And it suggests such a goal for this year’s team isn’t an impossible dream.
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