Historically, starting an NFL season 0-2 is a path to disaster.
However, the advent of the 17-game schedule has changed those odds somewhat, and teams facing an early deficit in the standings can still make up enough ground to find a way into the playoffs.
After two weeks, nine teams are facing such a situation. Can any of them turn it around? Here are the nine 0-2 teams, ranked by their chances of making the playoffs, as voted on by the writers here at SB Nation.
9. Arizona Cardinals
Two things can be true.
The Arizona Cardinals might be a little bit better than we gave them credit for.
They still have a long way to go.
8. Chicago Bears
We don’t know what to tell you here. Things are rotten in Chicago and if Matt Eberflus can’t find answers in the next few weeks he’s probably destined to be the first coach canned this season. Promise has given way to despair for the Bears, and nothing is working.
While the NFC North has underperformed as a whole over the first two weeks, it’s difficult to imagine Chicago being the team to turn this around.
7. Houston Texans
The Houston Texans have a fiesty future ahead of them. C.J. Stroud certainly looked the part, even in a loss against the Indianapolis Colts, and Will Anderson Jr. seems to be a potential cornerstone player up front for the Texans.
But asking this team to make a playoff run this season seems like a tall task.
6. Carolina Panthers
What a difference two weeks makes. Prior to the start of the 2023 season the Panthers were a sext sleeper pick to steal the NFC South. After back-to-back division losses their hopes are dwindling with a putrid offense, and a rookie QB suffering for lack of weapons.
This defense is good enough to make noise, but the division looks much better than people expected with the Buccaneers, Falcons and Saints all sitting at 2-0. It’s going to be an uphill climb to find a back door into the playoffs.
5. Denver Broncos
Somewhere, somehow you need to have faith that Sean Payton is still that guy or this prediction seems ludicrously wrong. The jury is still out on whether Russell Wilson can elevate to become a difference maker like he was in Seattle, but the bones of this team are too good to completely write them off.
The biggest issue for a path forward isn’t the 0-2 start, but the AFC West. This remains a brutal division, even with the Chargers’ recent struggles. As we look for a Denver path forward the question is basically: Are the Broncos better than the Chargers? The answer right now is no. That puts this team in the middle of the pack when it comes to playoff hopes.
4. New England Patriots
What we saw from the New England Patriots over their first two games may ultimately be the story of their season.
A defense that is good enough to keep them in games, and an offense that while improved, is not yet ready to win those games.
Mac Jones has taken a step forward from what we saw last season, and this offense looks like an actual NFL offense again. Perhaps that unit improves over the next 15 games, getting to a point where they can take advantage of opportunities the defense gives them.
But they are not there quite yet.
3. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are 0-2. They have blown second-half leads in both losses. Brandon Staley is fending off questions about whether there is a hangover from last year’s playoff collapse, and the team is losing games despite these kinds of numbers:
Today on Fun Chargers Stats:
Since 2010: teams with 275+ passing yards and no turnovers are 382-96-2. That’s a win percentage of 80%.
With the loss to the Titans today, the Chargers are one of the 96.
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) September 17, 2023
Yet despite all of the above, an 0-2 start does not seem like the deathblow you thought it would be in the AFC this season. Despite the start they are just one game back in the AFC West, so all is not lost.
But this weekend is in many ways a playoff game, as they face the next team on the list. Starting 0-3? Then it is truly panic time.
2. Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota might not be as good as Vikings fans hoped, but they’re a damn sight better than they’ve shown so far. Lest we forget that this team was 1-1 this time last year before ripping off seven wins in a row, and while there’s still plenty of cause to doubt this team’s chances against the NFC elite in the playoffs, there’s little reason to write them off for a playoff spot.
The NFC North is wide open, and both losses came off uncharacteristic turnovers. It’s not hard to imagine the Vikings buttoning up their issues, or heck even giving up half their turnovers and being 2-0 right now.
Justin Jefferson remains the best receiver in the NFL. Offensively the team has weapons. They now hit a soft two weeks against the Chargers and Panthers, which should easily take them to .500 based on Los Angeles’ inability to stop big plays, and Carolina’s offensive ineptitude.
It’s okay to be bullish on the Vikings making the playoffs. We are.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
One of those teams in recent memory to start 0-2 and still make a playoff run?
The 2022 Cincinnati Bengals.
However, this year’s 0-2 feels much different than last year’s. A season ago the Bengals started with a pair of three-point losses: A 23-20 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a 20-17 loss on the road to the Dallas Cowboys. While there were questions of how the Bengals would respond — and whether two-high coverages were going to be a problem — you could still see a path to the playoffs, one they eventually followed.
This year, however, the Bengals have opened with a pair of losses in the division. Making matters worse, Joe Burrow is hobbled, there is talk of him perhaps sitting down, and when you look at Cincinnati’s upcoming schedule, there are some tough games on the horizon.
Given their history, the Bengals might have the best odds of getting in, especially given the other contenders. But this feels a lot different than last year.