Games with postseason stakes are the most entertaining aspect of sports. The beauty of the NFL is that these high-stakes matchups come into play very early in the season.
Since 1970, only 9.5% of NFL teams have made the playoffs after starting the season 0-2. For the teams that lost both games in the first two weeks of the season, every game from now on is important as far as playoff hopes are concerned. The safest way to reach the playoffs is to reach 10 wins, which is getting harder and harder after the playoffs to start the season.
Still, all is not lost. That 9.5% is much higher than nothing! Five teams have started the season without a win. Here they are, ranked by their chances of making the playoffs.
The Bengals were clear candidates for regression this season. They survived big plays last season and scraped their way to the Super Bowl with strong defensive play, and hitting moments on offense and special teams. While it may have been unrealistic to expect them to repeat the final two months of their Super Bowl run, the Bengals played much worse than anyone could have predicted in the first two games of the season.
Cincinnati’s offensive line is a big problem, with Micah Parsons and the Cowboys completely dispossessed in their Week 2 loss. That’s not what the Bengals were hoping for with the investments they made up front during the seasons. La’el Collins has had a rough start to the season, but to be fair, he’s been paired with Parsons and TJ Watt in back-to-back weeks – arguably the two best edge rushers in the league.
The Bengals aren’t doing the eye test any favors, but statistically they’re off to a startlingly weak start on offense. The Bengals are 30th in yards per play (4.3), 31st in adjusted yards per attempt (3.4), 30th in pass completion rate (38.6%) and 23rd in expected points added per game (-0.097). They have also allowed a sack on 12.7% of their dropbacks and have five turnovers on the season. They’ve just struggled to get plays off the ground in this initial slump.
Fortunately, the Bengals have more than enough talent to be one of the rare 0-2 teams that make the playoffs after a slow start. Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are all capable of shredding defenses and scoring cuts in blocks. It is highly unlikely that the Bengals offense will continue to play this poorly, but the offensive line is once again a concern. Collins is not the player he was at the peak of his time with the Cowboys and the rest of the line is struggling as well.
The Bengals’ skill set can get them back into the playoffs and they are blessed to be only one game behind the rest of the AFC North for the time being. If any of these teams have the ability to catch fire and win enough games to dig themselves out of this hole, it’s this one.
The Raiders have started the season 0-2, but like the Bengals, they have the best talent to pull themselves out of this early slump. It feels a little irresponsible to write off an offense featuring Davante Adams, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow. Derek Carr is a good enough quarterback to effectively run the ball to those guys, and the Raiders would be sitting at 1-1 if they had just tackled Kyler Murray.
If anything, the story of Las Vegas’ early season shows two things. First, the NFL can be really fickle. The Raiders now face an uphill battle to make the playoffs because they let Murray ran 84.9 yards on a two-point conversion. Second, it shows how close the talent teams are to each other. The Raiders played the Los Angeles Chargers hard in the first week of the season before losing to the Cardinals in overtime. If a bounce goes here or there in a different way, the Raiders would make a strong position in the playoffs.
Of course, the biggest championship they play in is the division they play in. They still have two games left against Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson and the Broncos (who don’t look nearly as challenging as they did a few months ago) have yet to play. Those are the slugfests the Raiders will have to win in the AFC West now that they’ve dropped the first two games of the season. It is possible, but starting the season playing catch up against Mahomes, Wilson and Justin Herbert is not an enviable position.
The Titans navigated the offseason like a team that needed to rebuild their roster for long-term success, and they look that way to start the season. After a close loss to the New York Giants in the opener, they got blasted by the Bills on Monday night, leading to rookie Malik Willis replacing starter Ryan Tannehill in the fourth quarter.
Less than a calendar year after being the top seed in the AFC, the Titans have a lot of questions. Will Derrick Henry thrive behind a stacked offensive line? Can Tannehill recapture the magic he had when he took over the starting job? Will Tennessee’s defense strengthen after getting torched in Buffalo?
Mike Vrabel is a good head coach and the Titans have had some sustained success lately – getting back into the playoff race is out of the question. Their biggest help is their division. The Indianapolis Colts seem to be the worst team in the NFL although the Houston Texans are not far behind. The Titans shifted their focus from the short term to the long term with their offseason, but they still have a good chance of making the playoffs.
Baker Mayfield was not the answer so far for the Panthers, shockingly enough. Mayfield ranks 32nd in ESPN’s QBR with a score of 23.7 (out of 100). Carolina’s offense had some productive moments in the second half of their Week 1 loss to the Browns, but has mostly sputtered and struggled to get off the ground this season.
The Panthers have the framework of a team capable of making the playoffs, but they have not been consistent enough when it seems like a reasonable possibility. However, the outlook for the future is not entirely negative. They have playmakers on both sides of the ball, but the combination of Mayfield and what appears to be a lame duck head coach in Matt Rhule hasn’t been enough to get the Panthers across the finish line in their games.
Their season fate will be decided next month, with tough games against the New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams coming up. Good luck, Rhule and Mayfield, a legacy is on the line in a very short amount of time.
Atlanta has been more competitive this season than expected, but this is still a team far removed from contention. Neither side of the ball has been consistent and Marcus Mariota has been a roller coaster at quarterback. Rookie wide receiver Drake London has been great to start the season, but the Falcons haven’t gotten much production out of Kyle Pitts.
The Falcons offense might get hot if they figure out a way to incorporate their incredibly talented tight ends into the running game, but right now they’re still a little discombobulated. The Falcons have exciting talent on both sides of the ball, but depth issues will keep this team from being truly competitive and needing enough wins to get back into the playoffs.
Atlanta may indeed be erratic enough to upset a much better team down the road, but right now the playoffs are a stretch of what this team should be hoping to accomplish.