In a season as short as the NFL’s, even a small stretch of losses can prove devastating to a team’s championship hopes. With 16 games, little rest, and a small margin of error, the NFL is the ultimate small-sample sport, where a lot is decided on a few lucky bounces, injuries, and/or critical mistakes.
The season is barely two weeks old, but there are already more than a handful of teams ready to press the panic button. Heading into Week 3, we have 9 squads that have fallen to the dreaded 0-2 start. While it may not sound as traumatic, it is important to know that since the current playoff format was adopted in 1990, only 24 teams have made the postseason after starting 0-2 (about one per season), and that the last team that made the playoffs after starting 0-3 was Buffalo in 1998.
This additional nugget makes Week 3 almost a must-win for all of these teams, more than a few of them who entered 2015 with serious championship aspirations. Even as there are some cases where the bad start can be traced back to bad fortune, others feature legitimate concerns regarding their roster, coaching, and injuries that could completely derail the season in a hurry.
Today we take a look at these 9 teams and rank them according to their remaining hopes of actually contending. Four of them made the postseason in 2014, but history suggests that at least half of them won’t repeat. Hope is the last thing that should die, but the panorama is bleak for most of these franchises.
#9 – Chicago Bears
The Bears entered the season projected to be the weakest link in the NFC North, and so far have proven all suspicions right. Their opening game saw them present a respectable effort against the mighty Packers, ultimately settling for an 8-point loss that probably was closer than the score suggests. However, Week 2 proved to be a catastrophe for Chicago, as they were pummeled at home, 48-23 by the Cardinals. The loss also included an injury to QB Jay Cutler, who will now have to miss some time and allow Jimmy Cutler to start.
The 79 points allowed by the Bears are the most in the league, and include a middling defense and bad special teams. They visit the Seahawks on Week 3 as huge underdogs, and the likely loss is bound to end Chicago’s season in all practical purposes. This team looks more like a contender for the #1 pick in next year’s draft, in what should be a long, nightmarish season in the Windy City.
#8 – Houston Texans
On paper, the Texans have been a respectable team through their two losses. Both of them came by 7 points against potential playoff teams, with their second defeat featuring a chance to tie the game in the final seconds. However, that undersells the real level of play shown by Houston, who may be on the verge of wasting yet another of JJ Watt’s prime years. After already switching starting quarterbacks in consecutive weeks, the prospects of a Houston playoff run seem bleak.
The difference between Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallet may be slim, but none of them is a quality option at QB; compounding that with Arian Foster’s long absence means that Houston will continue struggling to create yardage and having to rely on its stout defense to keep them in games. While that might work against weak AFC South opponents, the Texans are probably doomed after this slow start. Week 3 comes with an almost-elimination game against the Buccaneers, who showed signs of life after their opening-week disaster.
#7 – New York Giants
The Giants just became the first team in NFL history to lose its first two games despite owning double-digit leads in each of them. While that feat sounds ludicrous by itself, the way in which the Giants have failed is even more absurd, including the late-game botch against the Cowboys, and their terrible clock management against the Falcons. Despite having probably the best wide receiver in the league in Odell Beckham Jr, the Giants look as discombobulated as they have been in the past three seasons.
The only silver lining for New York is that the NFC East now looks wide open following Tony Romo’s injury. The Giants host Washington in a pivotal divisional game this Thursday, where the Giants must take advantage of their home crowd and give themselves a chance to contend going forward. The eventual return of Victor Cruz also provides hope, but that all shall fade if the G-Men don’t win on Week 3.
#6 – Detroit Lions
After seeing the Lions lose their first two games in frustrating fashion, it may seem foolish to think that they can turn their season around. However, it is also important to consider that both losses came on the road against quality opponents in San Diego and Minnesota, with their -15 point differential suggesting that Detroit is better than what their record says. The main problem for the Lions has been the quest to adapt to their new defensive personnel, which simply isn’t the same without Ndamukong Suh.
The Lions are 28th in points allowed and 30th in total defense through two weeks, and now they have to find a way to recoup quickly. Week 3 doesn’t get any easier with a Sunday Night Football clash at home versus the 2-0 Broncos. However, Denver has been a bit underwhelming in their two wins, and Peyton Manning is clearly diminished, which is something Detroit needs to exploit if they want to salvage their season. The odds are against the Lions, but playing four of their next five games at home should help.
#5 – New Orleans Saints
While calls for New Orleans’ demise have been constant in recent seasons, the start of 2015 has been shocking even to their detractors, with an 0-2 record that includes a devastating home loss against the Buccaneers. The Saints were favored by 10 points at kickoff, but instead suffered their fifth consecutive home loss dating to last season. Even with an offense that ranks in the NFL’s top 10, things look different now that Jimmy Graham is gone, and Drew Brees is suddenly looking like a lesser version of himself.
With a porous defense that Rob Ryan doesn’t seem to figure out, the Saints are a weekly candidate to allow a bunch of points, but that needs to stop immediately if the Saints wish to have a chance. Their division already includes a couple of 2-0 teams, one of which is New Orleans’ next rival. Visiting Carolina in Week 3 is essentially a make-or-break game for the Saints, who have been rumored to include Brees in trade talks shall the season fall apart quickly.
#4 – Philadelphia Eagles
In this very young season, the Eagles have to be considered the biggest disappointment so far. After an offseason full of trades and Chip Kelly’s grasp on personnel decisions, it seems as if the experiment is not working in Philly, where the Eagles are the only team in the NFL that hasn’t reached 100 rushing yards through two games. QB Sam Bradford has looked equally erratic, and the Eagles have produced only two quarters of competent play over their first 8 played.
And yet, their Week 1 game in Atlanta is one that Philadelphia should have won, and their brutal Week 2 loss versus Dallas produced an infamous silver lining after Tony Romo was injured during a sack. Despite their 0-2 start and losing on the tiebreaker versus the Cowboys, the NFC East looks overly winnable, especially now that the Eagles will visit a Romo-less Dallas in Week 8. It all has to start with a quick turn-around visiting the 0-2 Jets and their league-best defense. But even if the Eagles lose to the Jets, don’t count them out just yet.
#3 – Indianapolis Colts
In two games, the Colts have a -7 turnover differential while nobody else in the league is worse than -2. They have been blanked in consecutive first halves, and look like a shell of the team that advanced to the AFC Championship game a season ago. However, the Colts did play those two games against two of the best defenses in the NFL, and it has been evident that their new acquisitions are having a hard time adapting to their new system. The good news for the Colts is that their calendar is about to get much more friendly.
Week 3 comes against a Titans team that looked terrible a week after looking great, and Indianapolis knows that they just can’t start 0-3. Andrew Luck is clearly struggling, but has the track record to justify the optimism around the Colts as serious playoff contenders. Given their status as the AFC South bully, the Colts are still the favorites, but need to get back on track quickly to avoid any more upsets.
#2 – Seattle Seahawks
The defending NFC champions have looked vulnerable in many areas, especially with an offensive line that is struggling to keep QB Russell Wilson upright, while not opening enough lanes for RB Marshawn Lynch. With Kam Chancellor’s contract dispute looming over the team, the Seahawks haven’t looked like themselves, even if their Week 1 loss to the Rams was full of unlucky circumstances.
The good news for the Seahawks is that both losses came on the road, and now they will follow them with two straight home games against fellow 0-2 starters Chicago and Detroit, who seem like the perfect foes for Seattle to straighten things out. The Cardinals have again started out hot in the NL West, so Seattle knows that things need to get better sooner rather than later. In the end, the Seahawks should be all right.
#1 – Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have lost their two games by a combined 10 points, including a game in which they were a dropped catch from beating the Broncos, and a bizarre loss in Oakland in which their pass defense completely imploded. However, the Ravens still have an elite coach in John Harbaugh, and Joe Flacco bounced back in Week 2 after a rough start in Denver. The loss of Terrell Suggs hurts a lot, but the defense should improve as the season goes along.
The recovery must start this week when the Ravens have their home opener against the Bengals, followed by two additional division games in Pittsburgh and hosting the Browns. While it looks difficult, Baltimore has been known as a team that gets better with time, and they could just as easily be 2-0 at this point. Trust the Ravens and their track record of success.