Which 0-2 NFL teams still have hope to save their seasons? Ranking all seven by playoff viability
The 2021 NFL season has entered Week 3 – meaning it's officially time for the league's 0-2 teams to delve into a frenzied panic.
The numbers aren't pretty. Since 1990, when the NFL expanded its playoff field from 10 teams to 12, only 11.6% of those which lost their first two contests reached the postseason – and only half that sample won division titles. Just three in that span – the 1993 Dallas Cowboys, 2001 New England Patriots and 2007 New York Giants, which represent 1.2% – recovered to win a Super Bowl.
You'd think the margin for error would expand now that 14 teams qualify for postseason, but none of last year's entries endured an 0-2 start. Maybe adding a 17th game to the regular season will improve the odds going forward, though there's not much to like about the outlooks of this year's seven winless squads through two weeks.
But let's rank them – from most likely to least – in terms of their ability to ultimately rebound into playoff form:
1. Minnesota Vikings
They're a wayward 37-yard field goal attempt and an overtime fumble away from being 2-0 – and that's despite a 28th-ranked defense. History suggests good things for the Vikes, who have been a postseason participant in every odd year since Mike Zimmer became head coach in 2014. And after opening with a pair of road games, the Vikings will only play away from U.S. Bank Stadium once more before November. A lot of encouraging factors for a team with an exceptional quartet of offensive skill players in QB Kirk Cousins, RB Dalvin Cook and WRs Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Historical note: This is the 14th time Minnesota has been 0-2, including last season. The Vikes have only bounced back from it to reach the playoffs once – 2008, RB Adrian Peterson's second season.
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2. New York Giants
If not for some devastating penalties last Thursday in Washington – one cost them a TD run from QB Daniel Jones, and an offside call gave WFT K Dustin Hopkins a second chance to hit the game-winning field goal – and/or WR Darius Slayton's drop of a would-be TD bomb from Jones, Big Blue would be 1-1 instead of 0-2 for the fifth consecutive year. New York nearly came back to win the NFC East last year – and the presence of Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is the main factor making the division incrementally more respectable in 2021 – before being undermined by the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17. Still, Jones' inspired play Thursday provided reason for hope. A stabilized defense and return to form by RB Saquon Barkley could also restore a sense of optimism. Historical note: Starting with the 2013 campaign, Big Blue has started 0-2 in every season with the exception of 2016, the only year the Giants have been in the playoffs since winning Super Bowl 46. New York did navigate 0-2 roadblocks to win NFL titles in 1934, and then again 73 years later while upsetting the previously undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl 42. The other 23 times it's happened to this proud franchise? Suffice it to say, no prideful conclusions.
3. Indianapolis Colts
They only rank this high because they have membership in the AFC's worst division, and the Titans' Derrick Henry and Julio Jones could always be abducted by aliens ... or maybe just get injured. Coach Frank Reich has done a masterful job in Indy despite the constant turnover under center, but can the Colts really tread water if second-year QB Jacob Eason walks through that revolving door for an extended period? Even if starter Carson Wentz wasn't dealing with a surgically repaired foot, pair of sprained ankles and specter of COVID-19 protocols while he remains unvaccinated, there was a very good chance for an 0-5 start for a team about to embark on a three-week road trip to Tennessee, Miami and Baltimore. The Colts projected above average at best, but that's not going to be sufficient against this lineup of opponents. Historical note: This is the Colts' first 0-2 start under Reich, who's now in Year 4. The franchise previously opened with two losses 21 times since losing Super Bowl 3 at the end of the 1968 season and reached the playoffs twice.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
They only rank this high because they have membership in the AFC's worst division, and the Titans' Derrick Henry and Julio Jones could always be abducted by aliens ... or maybe just get injured. But here on Earth, the Jags are riding a 17-game losing streak that extends to last season's regime – though previous coach Doug Marrone and QB Gardner Minshew II weren't nearly as overmatched as current franchise saviors Urban Meyer and No. 1 draft pick Trevor Lawrence have appeared in their two-week (so far) NFL baptism by fire. Historical note: This is the Jaguars' 10th 0-2 launch in 27 seasons. They have yet to survive one.
5. Detroit Lions
Do they play hard despite a thin roster? Yes. Could they challenge for second place in the NFC North? Under the right conditions ... maaaybe. Are they going to be 0-3 after this weekend once the Baltimore Ravens leave Motown? Yup. Historical note: This is the 25th 0-2 start in franchise history – and third in the past four seasons – and Detroit has come back to reach the playoffs ... once (1995).
6. Atlanta Falcons
They've been outscored by 49 points through two weeks, 15 more than any other team. Like Detroit, Atlanta could claw its way up to second in its division if things break their way – and that would mean QB Matt Ryan approaching MVP-caliber form, at minimum. Don't hold your breath. Historical note: They'd never started 0-2 under Ryan before last season ... when they finished 4-12. The Falcons have flipped two of their 16 all-time 0-2 starts into playoff trips.
7. New York Jets
They have more talent than last season's 2-14 Jets, a bar that doesn't get much lower. They also continue to lag behind the rest of the AFC East by a wide margin, and it's hard to imagine any scenario where New York contends in what's shaping up as a loaded conference. Just play to win the games, fellas ... though even those 2002 Jets who caught fire under Herm Edwards won their first game before dropping five of the next six. Historical note: The NYJ have been 0-2 19 times in their 62 seasons, 12 of those occurrences since 1989 and – now – four in the past five seasons. They've clawed back to the playoffs twice (1981, 1998).
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL's 0-2 teams: Ranking best to worst based on playoff hopes