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Kragthorpe: In NFL, going unbeaten or winless is equally difficult

Published December 19, 2011 3:04 pm

NFL • Playoff format, parity almost always conspire against perfection — in either direction
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In the wake of Sunday's NFL results, I'm not sure whether to be more in awe of the 2007 New England Patriots or the 2008 Detroit Lions.

Green Bay's first loss of the season and Indianapolis' first win drove home the points that going unbeaten throughout an NFL regular season is extremely difficult and going winless is nearly impossible.

Part of the reason that staying perfect is so tough, frankly, is that it is not required in pro football, thanks to the playoff system. Oklahoma State's overtime loss to Iowa State knocked the Cowboys out of the national championship race, but Green Bay's defeat in Kansas City will not even keep the Packers from securing home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

The Packers had full motivation to win, but human nature dictates that they knew a loss would not really hurt them. Having said that, the Chiefs' victory illustrated once again that the talent gap between a great team and an mediocre team is not that significant in the NFL. If a superior team cooperates, an upset is always possible.

Indianapolis proved that theory as well — with no catches for former BYU star Austin Collie, but with considerable help from Tennessee. The Titans are fighting for a playoff berth, and they certainly needed to beat Indy. But three turnovers (including an interception returned for a touchdown) gave the Colts a chance to win, and they took advantage of it for once.

So the Packers illustrated that you have to play close to your best every week to win games in the NFL and the Colts proved that if you keep showing up on Sundays, it's hard to continually avoid winning.

Ultimately, not much changed Sunday. Only a collision of planets would keep the Packers from earning a No. 1 seed in the NFC and the Colts probably have not jeopardized their No. 1 overall draft status. Yet these results should remind everybody that human heads and hearts are inside of those uniforms, so NFL games are never foregone conclusions.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt