The reality in the NFL is that teams generally can’t afford slow starts. Unlike in other sports, there just aren’t enough games to absorb an early stumble. The percentage of teams that lose their opener and go on to make the playoffs is low. It’s exponentially lower for 0-2 teams, and the odds are virtually non-existent at 0-3.
So there are seven teams, all 0-2, on the dangerous hot seat as they head into a “must-win” Week 3 showdown against somebody. Most of them probably already have no shot at making the playoffs. Anyone that loses next week definitely won’t.
So of the seven two-time losers, who has the best shot at pulling off a stunning turnaround and salvaging their season? Here’s a look at their chances in order of most likely to save their season all the way down to most likely to already be done:
New Orleans Saints (Next up: vs. Minnesota Vikings) – They were victimized by two surprising collapses and some shockingly bad performances by their once-respected defense. But it’s important to remember that both their first two losses were on the road (at Atlanta, at Cleveland). They still have the ability to score in bunches (they are 2nd in the NFL with 29 points per game and 3rd with 434.5 yards) and they still have all-pro quarterback Drew Brees and an assortment of weapons. Their return to the Superdome to face a Vikings team reeling from the Adrian Peterson mess should be one of the easiest bets of the year, and don’t be surprised if the Saints take off from there.
Indianapolis Colts (Next up: at Jacksonville Jaguars) – Whom did the Colts anger in the NFL office that they drew an opening game at Denver and a Week 2 game against the Philadelphia Eagles? That immediately put their thin defense, their powerful offense, and their come-from-behind abilities to the test. They nearly did pull things out in Denver, falling by a touchdown, and their defense coughed up the game against the Eagles. The Jaguars, Ravens and Texans are next, which should give Andrew Luck and his team a chance to get right back on track.
New York Giants (Next up: vs. Houston Texans) – They have looked absolutely terrible in the first two games, on offense and on defense. But here’s the thing: They spent $116 million in the offseason to improve the roster and they brought in a whole new offensive coaching staff. They are destined to be better than they were last year, but putting all the pieces together will take time. They don’t have that, of course, but they’ll buy themselves some if they can beat the Texans at home on Sunday. Eli Manning and the offense showed signs of life in a loss to Arizona, and in theory it will only get better from there.
Kansas City Chiefs (Next up: at Miami Dolphins) – Their offensive line has been terrible and their already shaky offense has paid the price, and that was before the loss of running back Jamaal Charles. And really, this was coming last season when the Chiefs faded as bad as anyone down the stretch. The problem now is the schedule does them no favors. The Dolphins look pretty good, they play the Patriots, then at San Francisco, then at San Diego. They may be the best of the remaining 0-2 teams, but forget about them turning this around during a stretch like that.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Next up: at Atlanta Falcons) – You were expecting more out of a Josh McCown led offense on a team where Jonathan Martin gets just nine carries in two games. Lovie Smith took over a rebuilding project in Tampa and it’s obviously going to take some time. Last week’s game against St. Louis was his best opportunity to get an early win. Now the Bucs hit the road for a three-game trip against the Falcons, Steelers and Saints? They just don’t have the horses on either side of the ball to keep up.
Oakland Raiders (Next up: at New England Patriots) – They had to know there were always going to be growing pains the moment they made a late switch to rookie quarterback Derek Carr. At that moment, the Raiders season ceased being about this year and started focusing on 2015. And back-to-back losses to two beatable opponents – the Jets and Texans – only cemented that fact. It won’t get any easier in future weeks with the Patriots, Dolphins, Chargers and Cardinals up next in order. And don’t forget they still have a home-and-away looming with the Denver Broncos, too.
Jacksonville Jaguars (Next up: vs. Indianapolis Colts) - There was a moment in their opener, when they led 17-0 at halftime against the Philadelphia Eagles, where it looked like everyone was wrong about the Jaguars and they had finally turned their fortunes around. In the six quarters since then, though, they were outscored by the Eagles and Washington Redskins 75-10. They stink on defense. They stink on offense. And they were blown out by two teams in a division (the NFC East) that might end up stinking too. Their 0-2 start could turn into 0-6 or worse in a blink of an eye. They should think about turning the show over to rookie quarterback Blake Bortles so they can focus on their future, because at this point it sure looks like they’ll be a contender again for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
—By Ralph Vacchiano