The Washington Football Team is faced with a task on Monday that no team has accomplished since December of 2019: beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.
At 11-0, the Steelers are off to their best start in franchise history, which says a lot considering Pittsburgh has won six Super Bowl titles. Besides the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, no team appears more poised to take home to Lombardi Trophy this season than the Steelers.
Dealing with the pressure of carrying on with an undefeated season is something Washington head coach Ron Rivera is familiar with. Back in 2015, Rivera's Panthers begun the season 14-0 before falling to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 16, Carolina's only regular-season loss that year.
So, how did Rivera and the Panthers deal with that pressure?
"The one thing that we tried to do was we tried to avoid the conversation of it," Rivera said Friday. "We tried to keep it one game at a time, one game at a time and then we see what happens. When you start getting ahead and start thinking about the next one, the next one and even the next one after that, now you put yourself in a tough spot."
For the head coach, starting the season with 14 consecutive wins accomplished the team's first goal of the campaign: to qualify for the playoffs. Rivera made sure that his team knew the undefeated season didn't matter unless they performed well in January.
"From my perspective in the way that we did it and the way we talked about it was we accomplished what we wanted to in terms of getting ourselves into the show, into the playoffs," Rivera said. "Now, everything onto this point is really about us going out and doing our jobs."
The Panthers' 15-1 record earned them the top seed in the NFC that season and a first-round bye. Carolina would edge Seattle in the divisional round before blowing out Arizona in the conference championship, qualifying for just the second Super Bowl in franchise history.
By losing once in the regular season, there was no pressure in Carolina of finishing off an undefeated season with a Super Bowl victory. It wasn't like the 2007 Patriots, who entered Super Bowl XLII with an 18-0 record.
Looking back on that year, Rivera wished his team was 18-0 entering that Super Bowl against Denver, as he was curious to see if anything would have changed.
"I’ll be honest with you, when we eventually lost I was really disappointed because I would’ve loved to have gone into the Super Bowl undefeated just to see what happens, to see if that changes anything," Rivera said. "I really would’ve... I would've loved that opportunity."
Carolina's magical season wouldn't end the way they would have liked, though. The Panthers lost to the Broncos in Super Bowl 50, in what turned out to be Denver QB Peyton Manning's final NFL game.
No team has come close to an undefeated regular season since Carolina almost did that season, but the Steelers still have that dream alive in 2020. Rivera, though, hopes that undefeated season for Pittsburgh ends this week.