Two weeks of the NFL season are officially in the books, which means there are, naturally, several 0-2 teams lingering around the NFL. These teams are not the most fun teams in the league to talk about -- being winless will do that to you -- but NFL teams are also very much capable of sprinting back from the early depths of the standings to secure a playoff berth.
"I can back the idea of Houston or Seattle making the playoffs. Both had tough schedules and didn't lose badly to anyone," were the genius words I wrote last year. "Both have veteran coaches and major upside at quarterback, as well as the potential to turn things around on both offense and defense, if they can make some adjustments."
It's possible I am smart. Or maybe just a blind squirrel. If you want to hear that genius expounded a little further, listen to myself, Brady Quinn and Ryan Wilson break down our picks for 0-2 teams to make the postseason on the Pick Six Podcast in the player below. Go ahead and subscribe too -- it's a daily NFL podcast that will make your life roughly 14 times better than it is now.
Last year we used data from the OddsShark database and this year we'll go back to the well. With last year's performance, we have now seen 98 teams start 0-2 to begin the season. Of those 98 teams, 12 have made the playoffs, meaning 12.2 percent of the time an 0-2 team makes the playoffs. That's a bump up from last year when we were seeing 9.8 percent of teams making it from 2007 through 2017. So we're looking at roughly 10 percent of teams here -- just about one per year with no guarantee that a team will make it every single year.
I would actually posit this is a year where one of these teams will NOT make it, but let's dive into some trends relating to the various teams before we take a look at the candidates in descending order.
Last year we determined that a few key factors were important to see how these teams might pretend. From 2018's article:
There's a clear pattern here, in my opinion: these teams had good quarterbacks, would eventually develop pretty good defenses and played against teams who we later found out to be excellent. In a lot of those cases we had a good idea those opponents were good. Point differential in those early games could be worth watching, although clearly it didn't matter with the Saints last season. Worth noting: only one of the teams to make this run in the last few years had a first-year head coach.
So did the Texans and Seahawks ultimately fit the criteria we laid out when they were sitting there winless? Let's check by looking at some factors, including their increase in scoring after Weeks 1-2, their final defensive ranking by DVOA and their final opponents records.
The Seahawks appear to hit every marker that we identified for an 0-2 team to make the playoffs. They have a franchise quarterback in Russell Wilson and a great coach in Pete Carroll. They improved their scoring from those first two games by more than seven points. They finished with a defense in the top half of the league. And they lost to the Bears (12-4) and Broncos (6-10), which clearly gives them a winning record but feels a little on the edge because of how bad Denver was. I would argue the Broncos were poorly coached last year and should have finished better; Denver is also a tough opener.
The Texans also checked every box that we identified! How exciting. They have a franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson who played 16 games. They have a veteran head coach in Bill O'Brien (get mad about his personnel moves this offseason all you want but he's shown to be a winning head coach). They improved their scoring from the first two weeks by more than 7.5 points on average. They finished with a top 10 defense. And they played tough teams early, losing to the Patriots (11-5) in Week 1 and the Titans (9-7) in Week 2.
So, this appears to be a pretty good formula for figuring out what teams can make a run from the 0-2 spot. It's not a guarantee, obviously, and it's also hard to predict whether teams will take off offensively, if teams can improve their defense over the course of the year and whether someone played a good team. Remember, no one was crowning the Bears ass after two weeks last year.
Let's dive into the nine teams and see if they fit the bill.
What's happened: A very easy selection for the last spot, since the Dolphins are actually one of the four worst teams in football history through two games based on point differential, checking in with a borderline impossible -92 point differential through two games. Suffice to say their defense might not be good. The Dolphins have a rookie head coach in Brian Flores and a combo of Ryan Fitzpatrick/Josh Rosen at quarterback. Their offense has scored 10 points in two weeks and is not going to become good. It just can't. They are actively shopping all of their good players and just traded their first round pick from LAST YEAR. The Dolphins were cremated by the Ravens 59-13 in Week 1 and 43-0 in Week 2. It's getting ugly in Miami and people are starting to question whether the Dolphins are hurting the "integrity of the game" and whatnot.
How they fit the mold: They do not check a single box outside of playing two good teams. If the Dolphins make the playoffs this year, I will print this story out and eat it on live video.
What's happened: Well, the Jets looked good through three quarters in Week 1, then gagged away a lead against the Bills, only to find out that would-be franchise quarterback Sam Darnold has mono and will be out an undetermined number of weeks. Replacing Darnold is Trevor Siemian, who was knocked out for the year on Monday night. Replacing him? Luke Falk, meaning Washington State now has its second starting NFL quarterback.
How they fit the mold: They really don't either. Fun fact: Falk was taken with the 199th overall pick so people think he could be the next Tom Brady. Not so fun fact: he isn't playing for Bill Belichick. Darnold won't be back until at least after the bye and the Jets will probably have to play the Patriots twice with Falk (or someone off the street, hello, Jay Cutler). They're 23-point underdogs in some spots for the Week 3 matchup. Yikes. Darnold can't be rushed but he can't back soon enough to save this team. Adam Gase has been to the playoffs with a bad team before. I could see this defense being good if it gets healthy, but without a QB it isn't happening.
What's happened: Blasted by the Cowboys in Week 1 and manhandled by the Bills in Week 2, the Giants finally did the obvious and gave up on Eli Manning, inserting Daniel Jones into the starting lineup for Week 3. Jones, the No. 6 overall pick in this year's draft, will be a massive improvement over Manning in terms of mobility and an ability to make plays out of the pocket. Based on the preseason, he should be an overall improvement as well, but he's still a rookie diving headfirst in to the NFL. Expect him to see a hefty amount of blitzes from Todd Bowles this coming week. If you like Saquon Barkley catching a bunch of checkdown/panic throws in the face of a huge pass rush you are in luck!
How they fit the mold: Pat Shurmur has yet to establish himself as a trustworthy head coach in this sort of setup, although I don't think he's nearly as bad as a lot of people perceive him. He could actually look good if Jones is a franchise quarterback, which we certainly don't know right now. Jones being a stud as a rookie with minimal weapons and a questionable offensive line would change things for sure. Could the Giants score 21 or more points per game the rest of the way? Absolutely. They're averaging more than 420 yards through two games and have just 31 points. Yuck. I don't think the defense can magically become elite, not with the personnel they have. It is very possible the Giants lost to two playoff teams in the Cowboys and Bills. They would have a much better case if Shurmur/Jones were more known commodities and the defense had a chance of being good. Can't get there right now.
What's happened: An implosion of sorts is going down in Jacksonville, with Nick Foles suffering a collarbone injury while throwing a touchdown pass against the Chiefs in Week 1. The Jaguars defense didn't show up against Patrick Mahomes and they got run off the field. Gardner Minshew did his best to try and step in against Houston and came a couple inches short from upending the Texans. Doug Marrone and Jalen Ramsey are openly feuding on the sideline and Ramsey has demanded a trade out of Jacksonville. It's not an ideal situation.
How they fit the mold: Marrone had a winning record with the Bills once and took Jacksonville to the AFC Championship Game. He's clearly on the hot seat, but I think he qualifies as a veteran coach. Minshew is a sixth-round rookie, the other Wazzou guy under center. The Jaguars scored 19 points per game through two weeks. I have a hard time believing they average 26 points the rest of the way. The defense could be top 10 but not if Ramsey is traded. The Chiefs and Texans could both end up being good teams so the record could match. Ultimately it comes down to the QB situation. I love Minshew, but I can't buy this offense exploding enough, especially with Ramsey potentially getting traded, to justify putting them higher on the list. I will say this: their next four games are winnable, with the Titans coming to town Thursday ahead of a Week 4 road trip against the Broncos. The Panthers (road) and Saints (home) might feature backup quarterbacks. They could draw the Jets in Week 8 without Darnold too. Their schedule is manageable; it's a shame they're having internal issues.
What's happened: The Redskins put up a pretty good fight early on against the Eagles and Cowboys but just couldn't hold up against an onslaught from two very good offensive teams in the second half. Washington is actually scoring pretty well, posting 48 total points in their two wins, although at least one touchdown came in garbage time to backdoor a cover against the Eagles (grr).
How they fit the mold: I'm going to give Jay Gruden the benefit of the doubt and classify him as a quality, veteran head coach. Case Keenum has led playoff teams before, but Dwayne Haskins looming as Dan Snyder's hand-picked rookie gem is concerning. Offensively I don't think they can improve from where they're at, but if they maintain 24 points a game, they're going to be a team that can do some damage. They're getting major help from young players like Terry McLaurin and are dodging some health issues so far. Can the defense take a big step forward over the rest of the year? The Bears, Giants and Dolphins are on deck in three of the next four, so we'll find out pretty quickly. The Redskins could rip off a little stretch of wins here. I'm just worried ownership might get impatient and I'm not entirely confident the defense can be elite to make up for any offensive drop off.
4. Carolina Panthers
What's happened: The Panthers did a nice job hanging with the Rams and actually outplayed Los Angeles. Then they sort of messed themselves against Tampa. Turns out, Cam Newton hurt himself early in that game, aggravating a foot injury he suffered in the preseason. Carolina was AWFUL against Tampa -- they've given two games away and now Newton is in a situation where he has "no timetable" for his return and is considered "day to day." Vegas took the Panthers-Cardinals line off the board, which is usually an indication that there might not be a starting quarterback playing.
How they fit the mold: The Panthers were my top pick here until the revelation that Newton might miss a lengthy amount of time. We can't possibly expect Carolina to rally behind Kyle Allen and/or Will Grier with a crazy run from 0-2 to win the division or even sneak in as a wild card. Otherwise this would be a good fit. The Panthers have a veteran QB (when healthy) and a veteran coach in Ron Rivera who is underrated. They averaged 20.5 points per game through the first two weeks -- I don't think they'll end up getting to 28, and certainly not without a healthy Cam, but they could end up getting to 25 or more. Defensively it wouldn't be shocking at all if the Panthers ended up as a top-tier defense provided that Luke Kuechly stays healthy and the defensive front develops. If Newton is out for any extended period of time, though, you can't back Carolina to make a run. So I'm forced to move them down a couple of notches with only a vague, ominous updates from the team on its quarterback.
What's happened: After keeping things shockingly close with the Seahawks on the road in Week 1, the Bengals were abused by the 49ers at home in Week 2, leading us to believe Cincinnati might be who we thought they were before the season. Cincinnati's defense was good in the first game and terrible in the second. Andy Dalton still passed for more than 300 yards in the second game, although most of it was on a garbage time touchdown to John Ross. It's still hard to get a read on this team, but it's certainly a concern seeing the injuries on the offensive line to begin the season and it's probably one of the biggest red flags moving forward.
How they fit the mold: The Bengals have a veteran quarterback in Dalton. Joke all you want, but he has the same number of playoff wins as the rest of the division's starting quarterbacks now. It's zero, but still. Zac Taylor would be an aberration in terms of making the playoffs as a rookie head coach to start 0-2. The return of A.J. Green seriously interests me, because I think it would take Dalton's game to another level. Cincy's only averaged 17.5 points per game through two games. I could see them getting to 24 or 25 points for the rest of the season. The OL is a big problem but the defense might be bigger: Cincy looked AWFUL against San Francisco. Maybe the 49ers are the surprise team this season. If that's the case, Cincy's two losses could look a lot better. I really talked myself into this possibility late, but I really don't think we should discount it with the Steelers losing Ben Roethlisberger and the Browns looking questionable. There are holes in the AFC.
2. Denver Broncos
What's happened: Denver plodded its way through a pair of tough losses, including a brutal one to the Bears in Week 2 (Chicago would have been the slam dunk top two-loss team had Eddie Pinerio not buried a long field goal). The Broncos were entirely lethargic against the Raiders and Joe Flacco's first half was a massive red flag. Despite people giving up on him, he looked a lot better in Week 2 against a difficult Bears defense and, despite a terrible goal line interception, led a touchdown drive and two-point conversion to give the Broncos what should have been a lead. I don't think they were going to beat the Raiders in Week 1, but if DaeSean Hamilton catches an easy touchdown late in that game, this team could be 2-0 fairly easily.
How they fit the mold: Another rookie head coach in Vic Fangio, a guy who hasn't exactly inspired confidence through his first two weeks of the season, which would NOT fit the mold. Certainly there's no way both the Bengals and Broncos will make it with rookie head coaches. Anyway, the Broncos clearly have a defense that can be upper echelon. They haven't recorded a sack this season somehow, but that won't last, not with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in town. The offense has averaged 15 points so far this season. It's not a crazy stretch to imagine them getting to 22 points on the year after they hit at 20.6 on the season last year. Flacco is a Super Bowl winner. No one believes, but I'm not writing him off based on what we saw from him in the last six quarters.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
What's happened: The Steelers got torched on national television by the Patriots in Week 1 and then in Week 2 lost their Hall of Fame quarterback while losing at home as a four-point favorite to the Steelers. This is fine. This was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender and now there are serious questions about their decision to trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick. The defense was a nightmare over the first two weeks of the season and the offense looked horrific under Ben Roethlisberger. After losing Ben for the season, it's the Mason Rudolph show. This is the wild west for the Steelers.
How they fit the mold: The coach isn't in question here, as Mike Tomlin has never finished below .500 in a season with the Steelers. There will be nitpicks about his defense's performance and he could absolutely land himself on the hot seat with a disastrous season. Rudolph is the giant question mark here: we have no idea how he's going to look once he's in the lineup as a starter. He pushed the ball vertically at Oklahoma State and should have a rapport with James Washington, not to mention having a bunch of weapons. The defense needs to improve ASAP, with Devin Bush and Fitzpatrick making immediate impacts. The fact that Baltimore looks great is a problem for the Steelers, but there's certainly some openings in the wild card area for someone to take advantage. The Steelers season looks lost, but if Kevin Colbert is right about Rudolph and he's good enough, this team can still make a playoff run.