Both the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts have a chance to clinch their respective divisions this week. Indianapolis needs a win against Houston and a Jacksonville loss to wrap up the AFC South. New Orleans needs a win against New England and an Atlanta tie or loss, or if the Falcons lose they only need a tie against the Patriots to lock up the NFC South. After starting the season 10-0, these teams face the very real possibility of going undefeated. Let's take a closer look at these two undefeated teams and see what has made them so successful this year.
The Colts come into Week 12 ranked 2nd in Total DVOA. Indianapolis' passing offense is ranked 3rd in DVOA, and has carried the team while the running game has faltered. Peyton Manning is having another superb year, throwing for a league leading 3,171 yards, 21 touchdowns, and only 9 interceptions. The leading receivers have been veteran stalwarts Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, but Manning has also gotten help from the younger members of their receiving corp. Rookies Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon have both caught over 30 passes and three touchdowns in their first season as professionals. Despite the absence of a dependable running game, the Colts have been able to consistently move the ball down the field. Currently, they are averaging a league leading 39.78 yards per drive.
On defense they are excellent against the pass, ranking 5th in Pass Defense DVOA. But, they have been good against the run too, ranking 12th in Run Defense DVOA. The strength of Indianapolis' defense is their defensive line, especially their ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The Colts' defensive line ranks 6th in Adjusted Sack Rate, and Mathis and Freeney are a big part of the reason why. Through ten games they have combined for an impressive 18 sacks. As a whole, Indianapolis' defense has proven to be of the bend but don't break variety. They are allowing 29.23 Yards/Drive, that's good for 20th in the league, and behind such defensive luminaries as Carolina and Seattle. But they are only allowing .128 touchdowns per drive, the second fewest in the league behind Pittsburgh.
Take a closer look at the New Orleans Saints after the jump...
While New Orleans is not the perennial Super Bowl contender that the Colts have become in recent years, the Saints are playing like it this season. They head into Monday's showdown with the Patriots ranked 3rd in Total DVOA (New England is first) and 3rd in Offense DVOA. With so many weapons in the passing game: Drew Brees, Jeremy Shockey, Marques Colston, and Reggie Bush to name a few, you might be surprised to know that the Saints' passing attack has been outperformed by their running game thus far. New Orleans ranks 2nd in Rush Offense DVOA behind only Dallas, and only 6th in Pass Offense DVOA. The addition of an effective running game with Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell has taken the Saints' offense to new heights, and makes them a more complete offense when you compare them with Indianapolis.
The biggest change on defense has been the addition of new coordinator Gregg Williams and FS Darren Sharper. Williams has installed a more aggressive, blitzing style of defense and it has led to more turnovers for New Orleans. The Saints are leading the league with 20 interceptions and they are also among the league leaders in forced fumbles with 11. All of these big plays on defense have allowed New Orleans to maintain an excellent +10 turnover ratio, and helped to cover up the fact that they have struggled against the run. Despite their undefeated record the Saints rank 26th in Rush Defense DVOA, something they will need to improve if they want to have continued success in the playoffs. New Orleans is allowing an average of 115 rushing yards per game, and it almost caught up with them against Miami and St. Louis. Unless they can figure out a way to shore up the interior of their defensive line midseason, they will continue to be vulnerable against teams with elite running backs.
Clearly these are two of the very best teams in the NFL right now, but what are the chances they will be able to run the table? Could we end up with a Super Bowl match up of unbeatens? Just looking at the schedule, I would say that New Orleans has the tougher road to 16-0. Not only do they face a tough New England team on Monday, they also play Atlanta in Week 14 and Dallas in Week 15. The Falcons could be playing for their playoff lives by Week 14, so I could see them getting up to beat the Saints at home. The Cowboys have three very good running backs, and I think New Orleans will have a tough time slowing down their offense. Outside of those three games the Saints play a winnable schedule to close the season including: Washington, Tampa Bay, and Carolina.
Indianapolis will not face anyone of New England or Dallas' caliber in their last six games, but they do have plenty of tough match ups with division opponents. In the next four weeks the Colts will take on Houston, Tennessee, and Jacksonville. The Texans and the Jaguars nearly beat Indianapolis in their last go round, and you know there is nothing they'd like better than to end the Colts undefeated streak. The Titans hardly look like the same team anymore, and they should be a tougher test for Indianapolis in Week 13 than they were in Week 5. While none of these teams rank higher than 14th in Total DVOA I wouldn't be surprised if one of them is able to upset the Colts, especially once Indianapolis secures home field advantage throughout the playoffs and starts resting players.
To the best of my knowledge there has never been a Super Bowl played between two undefeated teams, and while it's certainly possible I wouldn't hold by breath waiting for that scenario to play out this season. There are simply too many variables to expect both of these teams to not slip up at least once en route to the playoffs and beyond. If I had to hazard a guess I would say Indianapolis has a better chance of going undefeated. They have a favorable schedule and are the more experienced team. The Saints are very good but I think their weaknesses in the defensive front and on special teams (23rd in ST DVOA), should cause them to slip up eventually. At this point in the season are New Orleans and Indianapolis your Super Bowl favorites? How do Minnesota and New England compare to these teams? Who else would you include as a possible Super Bowl contender heading into Week 12?