Since the Houston Texans joined the NFL and caused the most recent divisional realignment in 2002, the Atlanta Falcons are the 12th team to reach Week 8 without a blemish on their schedule.
Whether they will continue that run or not is anyone's guess, but if one looks back at the group that has come before them, things look good for the Falcons...to a point.
The Falcons have no qualms about getting to the playoffs, and they should be just fine in that regard.
No team that has made it to Week 8 undefeated has missed the playoffs, ever. In fact, only twice since the merger has the last undefeated team missed the playoffs: Denver and St. Louis in 1970 (three wins each), and New Orleans in 1993 (five wins).
However, success in the playoffs is not something that's shared by the previous group, and that is where Atlanta's troubles have been strongest.
Matt Ryan, Mike Smith and company have yet to win a playoff game, which doesn't sit well with the Falcon faithful but will likely be magnified intensely if the trend continues this season.
Here's a look at every team that's made it past Week 8 without a loss to show for it.
|TEAM||YEAR||RECORD||PLAYOFFS||OPP REC AFTER WK 8 (PCT)||OPP REC AT WK 17 (PCT)|
|Atlanta Falcons||2012||7-0||?||18-32 (.360)||?|
|Green Bay Packers||2011||15-1||0-1||20-32 (.384)||50-62 (.446)|
|Indianapolis Colts||2009||14-2||2-1||17-33 (.340)||46-66 (.411)|
|New Orleans Saints||2009||13-3||3-0||25-28 (.472)||52-60 (.464)|
|Tennessee Titans||2008||13-3||0-1||17-33 (.340)||52-59-1 (.469)|
|New England Patriots||2007||16-0||2-1||24-34 (.414)||62-66 (.484)|
|Indianapolis Colts||2007||13-3||0-1||27-24 (.529)||59-53 (.527)|
|Chicago Bears||2006||13-3||2-1||17-33 (.340)||44-68 (.393)|
|Indianapolis Colts||2006||12-4||4-0||24-26 (.480)||54-58 (.482)|
|Indianapolis Colts||2005||14-2||0-1||17-33 (.340)||40-72 (.357)|
|Philadelphia Eagles||2004||13-3||2-1||24-25 (.490)||45-67 (.402)|
|Kansas City Chiefs||2003||13-3||0-1||23-35 (.397)||55-73 (.430)|
Some facts to consider:
The 2007 Patriots and 2003 Chiefs both started 8-0; every other team had their bye week at or before Week 8.
The 2007 Colts had the toughest road to 7-0, as they were the only group to face opponents with a combined winning record (either after Week 8 or for the whole season). They owe that largely to the fact that they were the only team to not play anybody who hit the halfway point with under two wins.
On the flip side, seven teams (including Atlanta) played two teams that hit Week 9 with less than two wins. Both the 2007 Patriots and 2008 Titans had the benefit of playing teams that started 0-8.
The 2004 Eagles (the only one of the group to not make it to 8-0) and the 2006 Bears are the only two that did not beat a team in their streak that ended up with double-digit wins. The Eagles didn't even face a team that finished 9-7 (their best opponent was 8-8 Minnesota).
Six of the seven victims of the 2005 Colts finished with double-digit losses, but their other opponent was the 12-4 Jaguars, tied for the best final record among the victims along with the 2008 Colts at the hands of Tennessee.
Speaking of the 2008 Titans, they were one of four teams to beat two or more teams that finished with double-digit wins, and one of two, along with the 2003 Chiefs, to beat three teams with such a record (12-4 Indianapolis, 11-5 Baltimore, and 10-6 Minnesota).
They were, however, one of seven teams to include a win against a team that finished with two or fewer wins (the 2007 Patriots and 2009 Colts both included wins against 1-15 finishers).
No team that has made it to Week 9 undefeated has lost a conference championship game. Five of the teams lost their first playoff game, and the remaining six made it to the Super Bowl. However, the two that didn't play a team that also appears on this list both lost (the 2004 Eagles lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX, and the 2007 Patriots lost to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII).
The 2006 Colts were the only ones forced to start their playoff run on Wild Card Weekend, and they are one of two (along with the 2009 Saints) to take home the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season.
Perhaps most interestingly, every time two teams made it to this point undefeated, they ended up playing each other down the line, and each time Peyton Manning and the Colts were involved.
The first time was Manning's first Super Bowl and his only victory, over the Bears in Super Bowl XLI. In 2007, the Colts and Patriots played the latest matchup between undefeateds in the modern era, with New England overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to win a 24-20 slugfest. Finally, in Super Bowl XLIV, Manning and the Colts were stifled by Drew Brees and the Saints, 31-17.
So, what does any of this mean for Atlanta? It's a lot of nifty trivia, to be sure, but does it have any practical application?
The answer is no...but from that comes a yes.
The wide array of outcomes shows that a lot of things are possible for teams with the strongest starts. The playoffs are almost an inevitability, but that's not the issue for Atlanta.
The issue for Atlanta is winning once they get to the playoffs, and history shows there is no clear correlation between strong starts and playoff success.
Only two of the teams went on to win the Super Bowl, while five didn't even win one playoff game.
What this data really shows is that complacency is the worst enemy of successful teams.
Too many teams fall victim to their own success, either because they don't respect their opponents enough or don't have enough experience dealing with adversity to properly handle it when it does show up.
The Falcons have had several close calls, notable against the currently 1-6 Panthers, which could help them in the end.
They know there's plenty of room for improvement, and if they find that improvement then they could easily end up being the third team to win out the first half and the playoffs.
If they don't, they could make it a clean half-dozen of teams that started off strong but fell with a thud when it really counted.