Avoiding the dreaded 0-2 start is paramount in the NFL. The numbers tell the story.
Since the 12-team playoffs began in 1990, 265 teams began a season 0-2. Only 30 of those teams advanced to the postseason (11.3%), showcasing how hard it is for 0-2 teams to make the playoffs. Even in an expanded field with 14 teams now making the postseason, none of the seven teams that started the season 0-2 made the playoffs last year.
For five teams in 2022, their season could be declared over. The Cincinnati Bengals, Las Vegas Raiders, Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers, and Atlanta Falcons all started the year 0-2 — three of those teams reached the playoffs last season.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, 63% of teams (165 of 262) that started 2-0 advanced to the postseason since 1990. Six teams have an inside track to the playoffs in 2022 after starting 2-0: The Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Four of those six teams qualified for the playoffs last year and plenty of legitimate chances at a Super Bowl title.
Which of the winless teams still have a chance? What undefeated teams are just fools gold?
Tale of the tape for the 0-2 teams
The Bengals have lost both their games by a game-winning field goal, rallying back from double digit second-half deficits in both losses. Fast starts would help Cincinnati avoid these heartbreaking scenarios, yet the Bengals continue to show they aren’t an easy out for any team.
A bigger concern for Cincinnati is an offensive line that has allowed 13 sacks in two games against two very good defenses that held the Bengals high-powered offense to 20 or fewer points in both contests. Joe Burrow is also guilty for holding the ball too long and the Bengals coaching staff needs to get the short passing game going and stop going for the jugular with chunk plays.
The Bengals don’t have an easy schedule, but this is a talented enough roster to get back in the mix — especially in a wide open AFC North.
Las Vegas Raiders
One of the four teams appeared as if they were going to struggle in the AFC West, and that’s the Raiders in the early going. Las Vegas has lost both its games by one score, but one was blowing a 20-point halftime in one of the biggest collapses in franchise history.
The offense has been good enough, yet is wildly inconsistent over the course of the game. As for the defense, the secondary has given up a lot of passing yards because the highly-paid pass rushing tandem of Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones hasn’t been getting to the quarterback enough and finishing games. The offensive line allowing seven sacks in two games isn’t great either, even though the unit was significantly better in Week 2.
The Raiders have a must-win game against the Titans this week, then face the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs right after. This could get ugly if Vegas doesn’t develop more consistency on offense and defense.
Last year’s No. 1 seed in the AFC looks like a shell of themselves. Derrick Henry has gone five straight games without 100 rushing yards (longest streak since 2019) and five straight games below four yards per carry (longest streak since 2017-2018), looking like a shell of the player before the foot injury last year.
Ryan Tannehill hasn’t been much better, as his 77.8 passer rating is fourth worst in the NFL for quarterbacks with a minimum of 50 pass attempts. His quarterback rating has dropped every season since becoming Tennessee’s starter in 2019. The Titans aren’t helping on either side of the ball, ranking 28th in points scored and 30th in points allowed. They’re also 30th in the NFL in yards per carry and 30th in yards per carry allowed.
Tennessee only has a chance because they are in the AFC South, the worst division in football. The Titans have a must-win game against the Raiders before facing the Indianapolis Colts in two of their next three games.
The Panthers just keep finding ways to lose, as their nine-game losing streak is the longest in the NFL (dating back to last year). Baker Mayfield hasn’t been the spark the offense needed, as Carolina is 28th in total yards and 30th in passing yards. Part of Mayfield’s struggles are credited to the questionable offensive game plan of Matt Rhule and Ben McAdoo.
Carolina doesn’t have a takeaway yet, but the Panthers are ninth in the league in yards allowed. The unit has 25 pressures (10th in NFL), but only four sacks — making the takeaways even more paramount.
Both of Carolina’s losses are by a total of five points, so the Panthers aren’t dead yet. They need to win against the New Orleans Saints this week as four playoff teams from last year await them on the schedule from Weeks 4 through 7. Remember, the first two weeks were winnable games for Carolina.
The Falcons have a plan to get a top draft pick in 2023 anyway, which explains why Marcus Mariota is the starting quarterback in the first place. Matt Ryan’s $40.525 million dead cap hit significantly hurt any opportunity Atlanta had at making the roster better.
The Falcons have still been in both their games and blew a large fourth-quarter lead to the Saints in Week 1. The offensive line has been much better than expected and Drake London looks like a star in the making. Atlanta is a resilient group that just doesn’t have the talent level and depth to consistently win games in 2022.
Atlanta isn’t supposed to win this year. The 0-2 start was expected, but the Falcons have an opportunity to get a win this week against the Seattle Seahawks.
Sizing up the 2-0 teams
The Bills are just annihilating their opponents through the first two games, proving they’re the best team in the NFL. Buffalo has outscored its opponents by 55 points, the only team in the league to outscore its opponents by 30 after the first two weeks. The Bills lead the NFL in scoring, are third in total yards, and third in yards per play. They’re also the only team in the league to convert 60% of their third down attempts.
Buffalo is second in points allowed, first in rushing yards allowed, and second in passing yards allowed. The Bills are just as good on defense as they are on offense, beating the defending Super Bowl champions and the No. 1 seed in the AFC from last year in convincing fashion.
They’re Super Bowl contenders. Expect to see them deep into January.
Miami has quite the impressive start, having a thrilling comeback win over the Baltimore Ravens to get to 2-0 and showcasing how dynamic the offense will be all year. Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle will be a problem for opposing defenses all season, especially with Tua Tagovailoa emerging as one of the best passing quarterbacks in the league through two weeks.
Miami’s defense makes plays, but will get a strong test with Buffalo’s offense this week. The Dolphins have the makings of a playoff team and a potential contender in the AFC East — pending how they fare against the Bills this week.
Of the seven playoff teams that the AFC will take, Miami seems to have one of those spots based on how well their offense is playing and the timely plays of their defense.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have never had a season in which they won fewer than 12 games with Andy Reid as head coach and Patrick Mahomes as quarterback. Kansas City is always a Super Bowl contender with that duo and have proven as such through the first two games.
Kansas City has a daunting schedule coming up with Tampa Bay in Week 4 and Buffalo in Week 6, but the Chiefs have an offense capable of the challenge. The Chiefs are second in the NFL in scoring and first in passing touchdowns, with Mahomes playing at his typical high level. The defense is also making the plays that have Kansas City as Buffalo’s biggest threat in the AFC.
Or does the AFC still go through Kansas City?
The Eagles being 2-0 isn’t a surprise given the opponents they faced over the first two games. How they are 2-0 is why the Eagles are being considered a Super Bowl contender in the NFC. Jalen Hurts has been playing at an MVP level thus far, leading the NFL in total offense and yards per attempt — while being tied for first in rushing touchdowns.
Philadelphia has arguably the best offensive line in the game and the top rushing attack. Combined with Hurts being one of the most dangerous players in football, the Eagles have an offense that can challenge any team in the conference. The defense has playmakers across the board too, including a revamped secondary that is forcing game-changing turnovers.
With the league’s easiest schedule the rest of the way, the Eagles are set up to go to the playoffs again and are the favorites in the NFC East.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay’s offense hasn’t been at the level the league is accustomed to seeing, but the Buccaneers still have Tom Brady to lead the way. They’ll eventually get better as the season goes on.
The defense is one of the best in the NFL, leading the NFL in points allowed. The 13 points allowed is the third-fewest through two games in franchise history. The Buccaneers are the only team in the league with 10 sacks and fifth in the league in pressures with 31. Opposing quarterbacks have just a 54.6 rating when facing the Buccaneers, second worst in the NFL.
Tampa Bay is the best team in the NFC South and finally beat the New Orleans Saints with Brady at QB. They’re a playoff team, but need to figure things out on offense to be a Super Bowl contender. Fortunately, they have Tom Brady.
New York Giants
The Giants are the surprise 2-0 team of the NFL, shocking the Tennessee Titans in Week 1 then rallying to beat the Carolina Panthers in the second half (both 0-2 teams by the way). Brian Daboll has turned around the culture in New York, as the Giants have a pulse on offense and a defense that has allowed a league-best 54.8% completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks.
New York still doesn’t get pressure on the quarterback, but also hasn’t had Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari the first two games. The defense is still ninth in points allowed and 12th in yards allowed, much better than last year. Their 22% third-down conversion rate is also the best in the league.
The defense is clearly carrying the offense, which is averaging just 20 points a game (good enough for 15th in the NFL). Saquon Barkley is leading the league in rushing and the offensive line is better at the tackle position. Daboll’s creative play calling has set the Giants up for a chance to win games, which they’ve taken advantage of.
Is the winning sustainable? New York has winnable games against Dallas and Chicago over the next two weeks and has a favorable schedule for most of the year. The Giants aren’t one of the best teams in the NFL, but they have an opportunity to be respectable.
New York certainly isn’t an easy out.