If the Green Bay Packers keep winning, and the upcoming schedule suggests they might, coach Mike McCarthy is going to have some important decisions to make in the coming weeks about his team’s quest to achieve what only two other teams have done since the merger: An undefeated regular season.
We’ve seen a handful of teams reach the point the Packers are currently at. Most recently, the 2009 New Orleans Saints started 13-0 while the Indianapolis Colts began that same season with 14 straight wins. The New England Patriots went undefeated during the 2007 regular season, and both the 2005 Colts and 1998 Broncos started 13-0. We’ll focus on those five teams.
Each coach approached their undefeated starts differently. So many factors go into a coach’s decision to play their starters, rest them or a combination of both that it’s impossible to nail down a way that is guaranteed to succeed. But by studying what went right and wrong for each coach and his choices, we can hopefully paint a picture for McCarthy to use.
After starting 13-0, the Saints kept their foot on the gas to achieve perfection. At the time, the 11-2 Minnesota Vikings were still in contention for the NFC’s No. 1 seed, which undoubtedly was a factor in the Saints pursuing every win they could get. The Cowboys ended the Saints’ perfect season in Week 15, but that didn’t stop them from playing Drew Brees and the rest of the starters the very next week (despite a Vikings’ loss) against the Buccaneers. New Orleans lost that game, too, but homefield advantage was secured with another Vikings’ loss.
No players of significance were injured during week’s 15 and 16. The Saints then rested their starters in Week 17 in a loss to Carolina Panthers. The Saints would go on to win two home games in the playoffs before knocking off the Colts in the Super Bowl.
The Colts went the opposite way as the Saints in ’09. At 14-0 and with homefield advantage locked up, the Colts benched Peyton Manning and several others starters during the third quarter of the Colts’ Week 16 game with the New York Jets. Up 15-10, Curtis Painter and the backups squandered the lead down the stretch and lost 29-15. Coach Jim Caldwell’s choice to play it safe was widely criticized, and even center Jeff Saturday said he didn’t blame the Colts’ fans for booing during the fourth quarter of their Week 16 loss.