As best I can determine, there are only six NFL teams in the last 30 years that have approached what the Packers are doing right now, in terms of having an undefeated or nearly undefeated regular season.
The 1985 Chicago Bears started 12-0, the 1998 Denver Broncos, 2005 Indianapolis Colts and 2009 New Orleans Saints started 13-0, and the 2009 Colts won fourteen games before starting their backups in the final two. The 2007 New England Patriots, of course, went 16-0 in the regular season and 18-0 overall before losing to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
Of those teams, the 2009 Saints are probably the closest to the current Packers, both statistically and spiritually. They're also the first team on my list since the '98 Broncos to win the Super Bowl. To see if the Packers might follow in their footsteps I asked Andrew Juge, an excellent writer and grader for Saints Nation, to break down the '09 Saints for me and see how they stacked up against today's Packers.
"Like the Packers this season, the offense put up a truckload of points and the defense generated an enormous amount of turnovers. The only team standing in their way was themselves, they were clearly superior to everyone else," said Juge.
Both teams' offenses led the league in scoring*, and both quarterbacks raised their game to otherworldly levels. Aaron Rodgers led the league in almost every quarterback-related statistic, while Drew Brees led the league with 34 touchdown passes in '09 and threw just 11 interceptions. Both offenses relied on a deep and diverse group of wide receivers and a playmaking tight end. Arguably, Rodgers is playing better than Brees was in '09, but Brees had the league's sixth-ranked rushing attack to lean on (The Packers currently rank 29th).
Meanwhile, both defenses gave up massive amounts of yardage--the Packers are currently 30th in total defense, while those Saints were 25th--but made up for it by taking the ball away from opponents and physically beating up opposing quarterbacks. The Packers' defense is currently tied for 14th in points allowed and first in the league in interceptions.
"It was definitely a high risk, high reward style," said Juge. "You've got to generate turnovers when you take consistent risk blitzing like that. But that was a perfect compliment to an unstoppable offense. They didn't need to stop anyone. Getting the offense 2-3 extra possessions was more than enough... Every game Williams set out to just physically maul the passer."
The Saints skated through their first 13 games before losing to Dallas and Tampa Bay. They finished 13-3, earned home-field advantage in the NFC and wound up beating the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
Juge told me that Saints fans tended not to think about the possibility of going 16-0 during the team's winning streak. "That was unchartered waters for Saints fans. We've never had much success as a franchise," he said. "The attitude was "sure 16-0 would be nice, but we'll gladly go 14-2 if it means a Super Bowl". The mentality was just different than a dynasty like the Pats. With the Pats, they were out to make history because they had already accomplished other things."
Juge's key word, mentality, might be the most important quality of the Packers this season. Super Bowl champions tend to get lax, to rest on their laurels, to assume that success will just come easily to them. Perhaps the most impressive part of the 11-0 run has been the Packers' attitude during it. "The Saints have been always sought out high character guys in the Sean Payton era. They were always level headed, hungry and mature. Never satisfied. With Drew Brees running the show he was never going to allow anyone to get big headed or lose focus," Juge said. The same could be easily said about Aaron Rodgers and this year's Packers.
Ultimately, having the best regular-season record in the NFL is meaningless without having success in the playoffs. The Atlanta Falcons learned as much last year when the Packers blew the doors off the Georgia Dome in a 48-21 playoff stomping. To win the Super Bowl, the Packers will have to avoid getting knocked off by a determined upstart, ala the '05 Steelers or the '07 Giants or the '10 Packers themselves. The Saints were able to pull that off, defeating the powerhouse Brett Favre-led Vikings and Peyton Manning's Colts, by drawing on all the qualities mentioned above. "The Saints as fans and as a team set out to just be the best team in 2009, and history mattered less," said Juge. "With their history and Super Bowl last year on the Packers' side I think they can afford to dream bigger."
*To avoid confusion about tenses, I'm just using the past tense for both teams, even though the Packers' season is still going on. I apologize for any undue confusion.