USA TODAY US Edition
Believe it: Hope still exists for some of the 0-2 NFL teams
We rank the 11 clubs without a win in terms of which has the best chance for the postseason,
It happens annually: NFL teams, a few of them invariably talented but underperforming, stumbls out of the gate with consecutive losses. Klaxons sound. Panic buttons flash. Columnists opine. Fans grumble.
And then the numbers roll out anew: Since the league expanded to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, only 12% of 0-2 squads ultimately reached postseason. (Teams starting 2-0 made it 62% of the time, while a 1-1 start conveyed a 43% shot.) Last year, nobody successfully overcame an 0-2 hole.
Over the past three decades, just 6% of 0-2 teams have won a division. A mere 1.2% – the 1993 Cowboys, 2001 Patriots and 2007 Giants – won the Super Bowl (There is a significant asterisk attached to this season, which will be the first non-strike campaign to feature 14 playoff entries).
Moral of the story? Win one of your first two games. But 11 teams this season failed to do that, so let’s rank them – from most likely to least – in terms of their ability to ultimately rebound into playoff form:
1. Atlanta Falcons: New guys like RB Todd Gurley, DE Dante Fowler Jr. and first-round CB A.J. Terrell need to assimilate – and Dan Quinn must iron out game-management and situation al awareness issues. The Falcons went 6-2 in the second half of 2019, winning at New Orleans and San Francisco along the way. There’s no reason the Falcons can’t win at least eight or nine games if healthy now, but a turnaround must commence immediately.
2. Philadelphia Eagles: They gave away the opener in Washington before getting pounded by the Rams, and Carson Wentz has not performed like a franchise quarterback. The defense is suspect behind the line, and there are even off-field issues – namely TE Zach Ertz’s stalled contract talks. Yet Philadelphia remains a member of what appears to still be the league’s weakest division and hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2016. “You never want to start 0-2,” said Wentz. “We’ll be OK . ... Things happen, but we’re not panicking”
3. Houston Texans: It seems as if they’ve quietly won the AFC South four of the past five seasons. But that success contributed to a very unforgiving 2020 schedule, one that opened with understandable losses to the Chiefs and Ravens and serves up the 2-0 Steelers in Week 3 and similarly desperate Vikings after that. The mere presence of QB Deshaun Watson provides a reasonable chance for a Texans turnaround, but he (still) needs better protection and must forge chemistry with the new weapons around him. Having the entire divisional schedule still ahead of them provides an opportunity.
4. Minnesota Vikings: In their first six years under Mike Zimmer, they reached postseason in 2015, 2017 and 2019 ... so this may not be their year. The schedule isn’t very friendly, either, with the Titans, Texans, Seahawks, Falcons and Packers coming down the pike. Defensively, a team that has just two sacks can’t compensate for its young corners ... especially problematic on days when QB Kirk Cousins can’t complete a pass – or can only complete them to the other team. The schedule seems to relent in November and December, but can the Vikes stay afloat that long?
5. Detroit Lions: So competitive with QB Matthew Stafford in the first half of last season, they’ve now lost 11 consecutive games – the past two with Stafford, including an ugly beatdown at Green Bay on Sunday. The return of WR Kenny Golladay, who led the NFL with 11 TD grabs in 2019, would really help – especially with the Cardinals and Saints up next. Detroit has several other good players, too, but there’s no time to waste – especially with the NFC North rival Bears off to a surprise 2-0 start (including a Week 1 comeback at Detroit).
6. Cincinnati Bengals: Individually, QB Joe Burrow is off to a solid start, setting a rookie record with 37 completions in Thursday’s loss to Cleveland. But when you’re the No. 1 overall draft pick – even if you’re surrounded by some talented players, as Burrow is – you’re rarely joining a team that has realistic playoff hopes, a reality compounded when you’re in the same division as the Ravens and Steelers.
7. Miami Dolphins: They went 5-4 down the stretch last year and might craft another strong finish – after figuring out how to incorporate so many free agents and rookies, possibly including first-round QB Tua Tagovailoa. But after dropping two divisional games and with a full plate of AFC West and NFC West opponents ahead? Sink, no swim.
8. Denver Broncos: Coming off of 2019’s fast finish, they looked like a legitimate wild-card threat – even in a division ruled by the reigning champion Chiefs. But in a matter of weeks, an extremely inexperienced team has lost OLB Von Miller and WR Courtland Sutton and won’t have QB Drew Lock or RB Phillip Lindsay any time soon. You might be a mile high if you think Denver is weathering this.
9. Carolina Panthers: They just lost their best player, RB Christian McCaffrey, for the foreseeable future. That’s too much for a young roster and new coaching staff to surmount. Cam Newton isn’t walking back through that door.
10. New York Giants: They just lost their best player, RB Saquon Barkley, until 2021. That’s too much for a young roster and new coaching staff to surmount.
11. New York Jets: If you’ve watched this club for five minutes, then you also know they’re done.