No need to gloss it over: The numbers are pretty stark.
Since the NFL expanded to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, 265 teams have started a season 0-2. Of those, only 30 made the playoffs.
In the past two seasons — with a 14-team playoff format — 18 teams have started 0-2. Not one of them has gotten into the postseason.
But it has happened before, and three 0-2 teams the past two seasons have finished with eight or more wins. The 2017 Saints went 11-5 and were a Minneapolis Miracle away from the NFC Championship Game. The 2015 Seahawks came up one game short of a conference title game appearance, too.
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This year, we have seven winless teams through two weeks, and the bright side is that two of them have only one loss (by virtue of the Colts-Texans tie in Week 1).
Will any of them dig out of their early-season holes? Here are reasons for optimism for those seven, with the teams ranked in order of their chances to turn this season upside down.
Reason for hope: They’ve nearly won both games, ugly or not.
The Bengals have been in a position to win both of their games, with the ball in their hands at game’s end. That’s a place to start.
Sure, the offensive line — which the team spent significant resources to upgrade this offseason — has struggled mightily thus far, allowing 13 sacks. Opponents are daring the Bengals with an array of two-deep, soft coverages, and Cincinnati has not been able to take advantage yet.
But the Bengals were 4-5 in one-score games last season prior to the playoffs (when they were 3-1 in that department) and ended up OK. The offensive firepower on this roster suggests the team will be in good shape eventually, if they can run the ball with more consistency.
In fact, if you look back a year ago, the results were almost identical in Weeks 1 and 2. The only real difference is that the Bengals pulled off the win in a crazy, back-and-forth game with the Vikings in the opener a year ago. The following week, they lost to the Bears and a backup QB on the road. Same score as this year’s Week 2 QB2 loss (20-17) and everything. The struggles were similar, too: too many sacks allowed and not enough takeaways from the defense.
Any team with Joe Burrow (assuming he stays upright), Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Joe Mixon will score more points eventually. If they’d gotten a few more late conversions, they’d be 2-0.
Reason for hope: They started 1-4 last season and STILL should have made the playoffs.
A little less than a calendar year ago, the Colts were having to answer big questions about the state of the franchise following an 0-3 start (including an 0-2 mark at home), with the defense mostly to blame.
The reasons for this year’s 0-1-1 start might be slightly different, yet they’re just as frustrating. It’s hard to get shut out by the team that picked first in the draft this year (and suffer five sacks and three interceptions) and maintain a rosy disposition.
And yet, even with two gut-wrenching overtime losses to the Ravens and Titans later last season, the Colts found themselves at 9-6 on Christmas, with a playoff berth there for the taking. No, we can’t justify how they finished last season, which looked eerily similar to how this season is starting. But we also clearly can’t write off this one.
The offensive struggles in two games are real. They’re one-dimensional even with Michael Pittman Jr. on the field, so having him and fellow receiver Alec Pierce as late scratches against the Jaguars in Week 2 certainly hurt. But it’s hard to believe this offensive line, Matt Ryan, Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines can’t and won’t do more.
Even with some tough games upcoming, starting Sunday against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, it’s too soon to dismiss this Colts team. It might not be great, but it certainly should be better than what we’ve seen through eight quarters.
Reason for hope: Their next five games are eminently winnable.
We’re not going to sugarcoat some elements of the Titans’ 0-2 start. Derrick Henry (3.1 yards per carry) hasn’t gotten going yet, Ryan Tannehill (77.8 passer rating) is struggling, Taylor Lewan and Bud Dupree might miss some time and the defense is allowing a sickly 6.6 yards per play. Tennessee has the worst point differential (-35) in the NFL through two weeks.
Yikes. But here’s the bottom line: The Titans play in the AFC South. The rest of the NFL should only be so lucky.
A division crown — no, we’re not crazy — is absolutely right there for the Titans. Before the season, they and the Colts figured to be the most likely champs of this featherweight division. And right now, the Jaguars are the only South club with a victory.
We can’t gloss over the issues; they’re there, and they’re real. We’d start with the offensive line, honestly, which has suffered from draft misses (2020 first-rounder Isaiah Wilson and, at least so far, 2021 second-rounder Dillon Radunz) and free-agent decisions (letting Jack Conklin walk a few years ago). Henry, 28, also seems to have lost some juice, which is worrisome.
But there have been some flashes from rookie receivers Treylon Burks and Kyle Philips (when he’s not muffing punts), and the secondary should be in better shape soon. And we have to keep going back to the obvious: The Titans don’t even have to be great to win the South. They just need to win a few games, and their next five opponents (Raiders, Colts twice, Commanders and Texans) currently have a combined record of 1-5-2.
Reason for hope: They’re a few plays away from being 2-0.
In Week 1 against the Chargers, the Raiders fell behind and came up just short of mounting an impressive comeback. In Week 2 against the Cardinals, the Raiders dominated early before collapsing spectacularly. In a sport with thousands of ways to lose a game, the Raiders are acting like a team determined to discover as many of them as possible in a season.
But as with a few of their 0-2 brethren, the Raiders have been in the position you want in both of their games: with the ball in their hands and a chance to win it.
Most of the Raiders’ numbers suggest they should be competitive. Outside of takeaways and sack percentage on defense and the rushing totals on offense, the Raiders are middle of the pack or better in most metrics.
You’d love to see Chandler Jones assert himself better, although the pass rush did help harass Kyler Murray early last week. The defense also played the last game without three contributors (LB Denzel Perryman, CB Anthony Averett and S Tre’von Moehrig). On offense, newly extended tight end Darren Waller was kept out of practice by a hamstring issue until a few weeks ago, and the whole operation is still relatively new under Josh McDaniels.
It figures to get better. The Raiders might need to learn how to win, as Derek Carr said — and we’d argue that stringing three or four quality quarters together might be another formula to explore. But overall, it’s not as if the Raiders have been an utter disaster.
Winnable games lie ahead, including four against AFC South opponents in the next seven (at Titans in Week 3, vs. Texans in Week 7, at Jags in Week 9 and vs. Colts in Week 10). Take care of business through mid-November, and the Raiders could be sitting at 5-4 or 6-3, if they get a few breaks.
Reason for hope: They’ve lost two games by a combined five points.
As with the Raiders, the Panthers easily could be 2-0. They took the lead with 73 seconds left against the Browns in Week 1 and had the ball twice against the Giants in the fourth quarter of Week 2 with a chance to win the game.
This has been par for the course under Matt Rhule. He’s now 5-16 in one-score games going back to 2020. Is it bad luck the Panthers are perpetually “a few plays away” from winning? Or is this merely who they are under Rhule?
We should find out in their next five games, against teams (the Saints, Cardinals, Rams, 49ers and Bucs) that averaged 11 victories a year ago. But four of those five are in Charlotte, and we can’t say that the Panthers have been abjectly awful in their first two outings.
Defensively, their longest play allowed this season is 25 yards. They’re forcing opponents to grind their way down the field, giving up a mere three touchdowns in eight quarters, one of which came on a short field after a turnover. It’s a young group (one regular over the age of 28) that’s coming together pretty well.
Christian McCaffrey is averaging 5.4 yards per carry and has eight catches in two games. They need to get him more involved, but McCaffrey has looked good early. The returns on Baker Mayfield have been uneven, but he hasn’t killed the Panthers, either. Expect a concerted effort to get D.J. Moore more actionable opportunities from here on out. Even with rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu struggling early, the offensive line hasn’t been bad on the whole.
The pressure is certainly reaching a rolling boil for Rhule. Mayfield needs to get it going soon, or he and the team could be facing irreconcilable differences shortly. Start converting these narrow losses into wins, and the script can change.
Reason for hope: They’ve allowed nine points in the first, second and third quarters of games.
There’s plenty of legitimate concern about the Texans’ offense right now. But the defense is following the Lovie Smith formula to a T: make the opponent work their tails off to trudge down the field and hold them to field goals.
Houston’s defensive rankings are not impressive on the whole. But when looking at the efficiency on third downs (9 conversions allowed on 27 attempts) and in the red zone (two TDs allowed in seven trips), the defense’s value comes through.
Now they just need more takeaways. They’ve picked off two passes so far, which is good. But there’s been some bad luck, too: The Texans have forced five fumbles through two games, but the opponent has fallen on four of them.
The offense clearly can help out a defense that tired late in both games. Houston’s defense is averaging 77.5 snaps played, while 27 of the Texans’ 36 points allowed were scored against them in the games’ final 15 minutes.
QB Davis Mills has played well in terms of ball control — he’s logged one lost fumble and zero interceptions. His accuracy (56 percent completion rate) could be better, for sure, but five dropped passes are to blame, too.
What’s mostly lacking in Pep Hamilton’s offense right now is a big-play element; the Texans have one offensive play longer than 29 yards, and it came on a flea flicker.
Brandin Cooks is a fine receiver, but he needs help. Right now, the only two players to score this season in 135 minutes of play for the Texans are TE O.J. Howard and PK Ka’imi Fairbairn. The Texans have gone nearly 98 game minutes without finding the end zone.
That’s the bad news. But when you consider that they’ve drawn a home tie against Matt Ryan and a road loss to Russell Wilson by seven points, it’s easier to see how modest improvements on offense — such as getting rookie RB Dameon Pierce going — could make a world of difference.
Reason for hope: The kids are alright.
When Falcons head coach Arthur Smith scoffed at low preseason expectations for his team, perhaps he was drawing confidence from the knowledge he has a talented rookie class that could help buoy things until Atlanta is actually good again.
To be fair, the Falcons have been very competitive through two games, taking a 16-point fourth-quarter lead on the Saints in Week 1 and fighting back from a 28-3 deficit in Week 2 to almost pull off a stunning upset of the Rams. Losing by one and four points, respectively, to two playoff contenders deserves no shame.
The rookies have been a bright spot in the 0-2 start.
Drake London (No. 8 overall pick) has now twice led the Falcons in receiving yards, scoring his first TD to kickstart the comeback effort Sunday and logging a two-point conversion to give the Falcons a chance to win. Arnold Ebiketie (No. 38) had a sack in Week 1 and is carving out a role on defense. The blocked punt by Troy Andersen (No. 58) was the kind of big play on special teams this squad needs to win games. Running back Tyler Allgeier (No. 151) and outside linebacker DeAngelo Malone (No. 82) have also contributed.
The offense has done enough to keep the team in games (even while the defense is lagging behind). If they can score 53 points in two games with Kyle Pitts catching a combined four passes for 38 yards, the potential to score even more is there.
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