Published September 16, 2013
While the NFL season is still very young, the first two weeks have proven to be a telling indicator for the playoff field in any given season.
Last season, of the 12 teams that made the playoffs, none of them started the year with an 0-2 record. In fact, no team has made the playoffs after starting 0-2 since the 2008 season -- in which three separate teams were able to overcome the slow start. The Chargers, Dolphins and Vikings all made it in that year despite the rough start.
Looking at the bigger picture, since the NFL expanded to a 12-team playoff field in 1990, teams that are winless after the first two weeks have only made the playoffs 11.6 percent of the time.
On the flip side of that equation, teams that have gone undefeated in the first two weeks have qualified for the playoffs 63.3 percent of the time since 1990.
Last year, there were six teams to start the season with two wins but only three of them qualified for postseason play -- the Texans, 49ers and Falcons. The Chargers also started 2-0, but finished with a 7-9 record. The Cardinals and Eagles fell even further. The 2012 Cardinals started with four consecutive wins, two of which came against eventual playoff teams, but went on to lose 11 of their last 12 and finish the season with a meager 5-11 record. Likewise, the Eagles also lost 11 of their last 12 after starting the season undefeated to finish with an even more disappointing 4-12 record.
So where does that leave us for this season? As of Monday morning, there are eight unbeaten teams left in the NFL, five from the AFC and three from the NFC. But not all 2-0 teams are created equal.
Of the five in the AFC, two pairs actually play in the same division -- the Patriots and Dolphins in the East and the Broncos and Chiefs in the West. The Texans are the sole representative from the South. The Patriots are the only undefeated team in the AFC to have both wins come against divisional opponents. The Dolphins are the only team to have both wins come on the road. Neither the Chiefs nor the Broncos have played a divisional opponent, but the Broncos hold the clear advantage in margin of victory at a combined 40 points, including a blowout of the defending champion Baltimore Ravens. The Chiefs blew out the Jaguars in Week 1, but escaped with a win over the Cowboys this weekend by just a single point. The Texans have survived two close games. In Week 1 they climbed out of a 21-point hole to beat the Chargers and then had an overtime scare at home against Tennessee on Sunday.
Interestingly enough, of the combined 10 wins for the five undefeated AFC teams, only two of them have come against teams that qualified for the playoffs last season - the aforementioned blowout of the defending Super Bowl champions and the Dolphins' win this Sunday over the Colts.
The NFC is a little bit clearer with all three unbeaten teams coming from different divisions -- the Bears in the North, the Seahawks in the West and the Saints in the South. All three have beaten at least one divisional opponent, with the Saints twice beating NFC South foes. The Seahawks and Saints have played both away and at home; the Bears have had the benefit of playing both of their games in the comfort of their own stadium.
Of the three teams, you have to be most impressed with the Seahawks as they have a cross-country road win under their belt and a dominating win on Sunday night over the 49ers, who many, including myself, had pegged as the best team in football.
History suggests that the playoff field won't include all of these teams; remember, only 63.3 percent make the postseason historically. While that stat is telling, even more exact is the idea that only 11.6 percent of the teams that have yet to win will advance into the postseason. Or in last year's case ... zero percent.
As of Monday morning, there are seven teams that are 0-2 and an eighth team will enter the mix after the Monday night game between the Bengals and Steelers. Of the eight, five are from the NFC and just three will be from the AFC.
Of the five from the NFC, two pair reside in the same division -- the Redskins and Giants from the East and the Panthers and Bucs from the South. The Vikings are the sole representatives from the North.
There is good news for the Redskins and Giants, the Eagles and Cowboys both lost yesterday, meaning not a single team won a game this Sunday out of the NFC East. Because of that, the one-game gap is a little narrower for each of them to overcome than the Vikings. Not only do the Vikings have the undefeated Bears in their division, but also both of their losses have been within the division, leaving them fewer head-to-head matches to make up for their early deficit. In the Vikings' defense, both of their first two games were on the road, so if they can defend their home turf, particularly in the remaining divisional games, they can get back on track. But that is a big if.
The Panthers and Bucs also have the undefeated Saints in their division, and the Bucs just lost to them in their own stadium on Sunday. The Panthers have yet to face a divisional opponent and that bodes well for their chances to close the gap ... at least logistically.
All things considered, I would give the advantage to either the Redskins or the Giants to still make a playoff push but they will need to win the division to do so. And while the chances are minimal, this is not uncharted territory ... particularly for the Giants. The last time the Giants started a season 0-2 was in 2007. All they did that year was go on to win the Super Bowl.
The outlook is similar on the AFC side. The Browns and either the Steelers or Bengals will both be 0-2 in the AFC North, a division that went winless in the first week of the season. So just like the Redskins and Giants, the one-game gap between first place and last place isn't all that daunting.
The Jaguars are a completely different story altogether. Yes, they have the undefeated Texans in their division but that is the least of their worries. They are averaging only 5.5 points per game and giving up the second-most rush yards over the first two weeks of the season. The Jaguars aren't playing for the playoffs right now; they are simply trying to avoid going 0-16 on the season.