Be­lieve it: Hope still ex­ists for some of the 0-2 NFL teams

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We rank the 11 clubs with­out a win in terms of which has the best chance for the post­sea­son,

Nate Davis

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.

 ?? BRAD REM­PEL/USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? QB Kirk Cousins and the Vik­ings are 0-2 for the first time un­der Mike Zim­mer.
BRAD REM­PEL/USA TO­DAY SPORTS QB Kirk Cousins and the Vik­ings are 0-2 for the first time un­der Mike Zim­mer.

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