The Houston Texans' team numbers this year are staggering, as they rank 1st in points per game and 2nd in opponent points per game. Their offense has the least turnovers in the league, and they have some great weapons in Andre Johnson and Arian Foster. They rank 2nd in pass defense and 11th in rush defense, though they rank 23rd in opponent yards per carry.
The team has not been faded by the loss of Mario Williams, as their defense continues to dominate thanks to Brian Cushing, Johnathan Joseph, and JJ Watt, who has 7.5 sacks and five batted passes already. When the offense is healthy, they have a ton of firepower with Matt Schaub, Foster, and Johnson - all of whom dealt with injuries at some point last season.
Something to consider when looking at the Texans' exceptional league ranks, however, is that they have played three teams that are 1-3. The combined record of their opponents is 5-11. The only team they have played that is considered a remote threat to make the playoffs is the Broncos, who the Texans beat by only six points.
Where the Texans were exceptional in league rankings, the Atlanta Falcons were not far behind. The Falcons high powered offense ranks 3rd in scoring, while they also possess the league's 8th best scoring defense. Just like the Texans, the Falcons' offense has the least turnovers in the league, and both teams beat the Broncos by six. Michael Turner leads a Falcons' rushing attack that averages 4.1 yards per carry - the best of the undefeated teams. The biggest weakness for Atlanta is their rush defense, which is ranked 29th and gives up the second most yards per carry.
The Falcons schedule has been significantly tougher than the Texans. Though their opponents' combined record is only 7-9, most would agree that it's much harder to remain undefeated playing against the Chargers and Panthers than against the Dolphins and Jaguars.
Finally, we have the Arizona Cardinals, who have burst on the scene with a dominating defense and a solid offense. They're only 16th in scoring offense, but are 3rd in scoring defense with the 4th most takeaways in the league. The problems with this team, however, is that they are only 15th in giveaways and average only 2.7 yards per carry. When your team is anchored by a strong defense, you usually want to compliment it with a strong rushing attack.
As far as wins and losses, the Cardinals have had the toughest schedule of the undefeated teams. Their opponents have combined for an 8-8 record, but that includes a win by the Seahawks over the Packers, so many people - especially those in Green Bay - would say their opponents' record should be 7-9. However, you can't discredit the Cardinals for two exceptionally impressive victories, as they beat the Patriots in New England and dominated the Eagles at home.
So, which team has the best shot at the perfect season?
Unfortunately, I'm going to have to start off by eliminating the Cardinals. They're a great story, and I think we can all agree that they've become a legitimate team, but I just don't see them sustaining this type of success. The offense lacks weapons aside from Larry Fitzgerald, who defenses can key in on and make the Cardinals put the ball in the hands of mediocre playmakers. In addition, Kolb has a history of inconsistency, and I'm sure he'll get cold at some point this year. It's incredibly difficult to continue to win when you run the ball for only 2.7 yards per carry. Finally, they still have two games against the 49ers and a game in Seattle against the Seahawks.
Now it comes down to the Texans and the Falcons. Both teams were expected to be good this year, but I don't think many people expected them to be this good. The Falcons have the most impressive win of the two teams, a 27-3 victory over the Chargers in San Diego. The Texans, however, have ridiculously impressive rankings of 2nd and 1st in offensive and defensive points per game. Both teams play in weak divisions, so that doesn't factor in the way it does for the Cardinals.
I have to go with the Falcons as the more likely team to run the table. The Texans exceptional rankings are very much due to abysmal competition. In addition, you have to factor in the injury history of their offensive weapons. Matt Schaub has missed at least five games in three of his five seasons with the Texans, and Andre Johnson was bothered by two separate hamstring injuries for most of the season last year. Arian Foster missed three games last season and is now being given an all-time enormous workload (on pace for 412 carries). Each of those players are potential injury risks for the Texans.
The Falcons, on the other hand, have so much offensive firepower that an injury to one player - aside from Matt Ryan, who has started 66 of a possible 68 career games - wouldn't hinder their offensive production too much. The receiving core of Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez is one of the best in the league, and the ground attack is strong with Michael Turner leading the power run game and Jacquizz Rodgers playing the scat back role.
The defense isn't of the shut-down, give-up-no-yards variety, but they make big plays. They force you into making bad decisions, get interceptions, force fumbles, and set up their offense with good field position.
This team's high powered aerial attack and play-making defense reminds me a lot of the Super Bowl champion Saints team that went 13-0 before their first loss. With Matt Ryan looking a bit more mature every game, I have to give his Falcons the best shot at pulling off 16-0. Of course, the NFL is an extraordinarily tough league, and it's a long shot to happen - but we'll see.