We aren’t even completely through week 3 of the season but a number of NFL teams can basically start looking at young players and trying out some new plays. Why is that? It’s because starting off 0-3 is basically a kiss of death. I saw some TV coverage last week that made a big deal out of how no team in the last 10 years (maybe less?) has made the playoffs after starting 0-2. But that’s a pretty short trend. As best I can tell, there have been 191 teams since the merger to start 0-3. Only 4 of those teams made the playoffs, which is about 2%. Those lucky few? The ’81 Jets ended up 10-5-1, the ’92 Chargers ended up 11-5 (after actually starting 0-4), the ’95 Lions ended up 10-6, and the ’98 Bills ended up 10-6. An old Bucs team also made it but that was back when they only played 9 games. Beyond those four, the ’90 Seahawks and 2000 Steelers got to 9-7 for an above-500 season but missed the playoffs, and a few others made it to 8-8. But if you start 0-3, you have put yourself in a serious hole. Who do we have at 0-3 so far, and how dead are they?
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags have been outscored by an average of over 20 points a game, have lost at home and on the road, and have lost to the Raiders, who are supposed to be one of the worst teams this season. Their incompetent starting QB has been injured and replaced by a somewhat competent QB, but there isn’t a lot of hope here.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tampa has only been outscored by about a touchdown per game on average, which obviously isn’t good but isn’t insurmountable. That’s even more true given that two of the losses were by 1 and 2 points. Two of these games have also been on the road. Unfortunately, none of Tampa’s remaining games look especially easy, with the potential high points being next week at home against Arizona and maybe week 16 at St. Louis. With Atlanta ahead of them and the Saints at 3-0, it would take a lot for Tampa to make the playoffs; things don’t look very good.
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikes have lost their three games by 10, 1, and 4, so they’ve certainly been competitive. Two of their games have been on the road, which seems to be a recurring theme. The good news is that the Vikings still have Adrian Peterson and they get to play the weak NFC East. The bad news is that they still have Ponder at QB and two of their losses were already against divisional foes. Given that they made the playoffs last year you don’t want to count Minnesota out yet, but they need to turn things around quickly and hope that the Packers continue having a rough time.
NY Giants: The Giants got absolutely throttled today, and have also lost to the Broncos by 18. The Denver loss might be considered excusable, given how good they appear to be, but Carolina and Dallas are not on that level. The NFC East has been very tight recently, and the Giants have a potential gimme in week 10 coming off the bye against the Raiders, but it’s hard to be excited with how they’ve played so far.
Washington Redskins: Unlike the other 0-3 teams, the Redskins have already lost twice at home. They were within a score against both the Lions and the Eagles, but those were both never really in doubt. They were never in the game against the Packers. Like the Giants, the Redskins have the advantage of playing in the weak/even NFC East, and they get to play in Oakland, but they also have to play in Denver and host the 49ers. If RGIII is still getting over his injury and can pick up his game maybe Washington can make a run, but it’s going to be tough sledding.
As a fan of one of these teams, or just the NFL in general, you want to say that there’s no reason a team can’t go 9-4 or even 10-3 the rest of the way if they turn things around. And that’s true, but history tells us that it’s rare for a team to start 0-3 and then go even 8-5. If I had to pick one of these teams to make it I think I would go with the Vikings, but I can’t say I like their chances. On the other hand, the Saints, Seahawks, Dolphins, Pats, and Chiefs are well on their way. I haven’t checked on how many teams start 3-0 and make the playoffs, but I imagine the percentage is pretty high. In terms of which of those undefeateds look the worst, I think you surprisingly have to go with the Pats. They looked better today, but the first two games were very shaky.
As I write this, the Steelers are down by 17 to the Bears. If the game stays this way, the Bears will go to 3-0 and the Steelers will go to 0-3 to get on the good and bad lists respectively. Pittsburgh’s point differential won’t be that bad, but two home game losses hurt and the AFC North is always tough. The Bears, on the other hand, will get an important win to stay ahead of the 2-1 Lions and 1-2 but presumably threatening Packers. They’ve won two of their games with fourth-quarter comebacks, so things have been iffy in Chicago as well, but the nice thing about being 3-0 is they can’t take those wins away from you.