By RALPH VACCHIANO
There is always time for a miracle, but miracles don’t happen often. That’s why, for seven NFL teams, they’re really already facing a must-win game this week.
It’s not an elimination game yet, but it might as well be considering the overwhelming historical evidence. Since the NFL expanded to a 12-team playoff field in 1990, only three teams have ever started 0-3 and made the playoffs. The last one was the Buffalo Bills … way back in 1998.
So yes, it’s gotten late pretty early in St. Louis, Indianapolis, Seattle, Miami, Minnesota, Carolina and especially in Kansas City. Below is a quick look at the dire situations of all seven 0-2 teams, ranked in order of their chances for survival.
1. Minnesota Vikings
They’ve suffered two narrow defeats in the first two games and gotten two ugly performances from QB Donovan McNabb. If he gets going and figures out the offense, this team has some potential. They also have Adrian Peterson, and with the best running back in the NFL they can’t be counted out. McNabb will get it going, too, and he has some dangerous weapons, such as Percy Harvin. In the next three weeks they’ve got the Lions and Cardinals at home and a trip to Kansas City – three winnable games.
Chances of survival: Good. Too much talent to fade away.
2. Indianapolis Colts
There remains a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, and Kerry Collins is a strong-armed, savvy veteran quarterback. But their hopes for survival absolutely hinge on when or if Peyton Manning (neck) returns. He’s not on injured reserve, so they’re at least hopeful to see him this season. What they need is to simply win a couple of games to stay afloat. That’s possible, if Collins can get the offense even a little in gear. It’s hard not to wonder, though, why the Colts waited so long to sign him. It seemed clear Manning wasn’t going to be ready for the opener. Maybe bringing a quarterback in a few weeks earlier would’ve given the team a better chance.
Chances of survival: Good, but only if the cavalry (Manning) returns before October is over.
3. Seattle Seahawks
They’ve gotten a good performance so far from underrated QB Tarvaris Jackson, but absolutely nothing from Marshawn Lynch, who looked so good in the playoffs last year. If he gets going, the Seahawks will have an offense. Better for them, they’ve got their next two games at home in one of the toughest buildings in the NFL for road teams to play. In a weak division that they won with a 7-9 record last year, simply winning at home could be enough. The Cardinals, Falcons, and Bengals are their next three home opponents. They need to win two.
Chances of survival: Decent, thanks to their location, noisy stadium, and crummy division.
4. Miami Dolphins
Of all these 0-2 teams, they are the most likely to actually be better than they’ve shown. Their problem mostly is they ran into two offensive juggernauts in the first two weeks – the Patriots and the Texans. Their defense looked better against Texans, which at least is a positive sign. But in a tough division with the Patriots and Jets and the surprisingly 2-0 Buffalo Bills, they need to get even better quickly. That also goes for quarterback Chad Henne, who has the weapons in Brandon Marshall and Reggie Bush, and no excuses.
Chances of survival: Minimal, because their division is tough, especially if the Bills are for real.
5. St. Louis Rams
They were only a 7-9 team last year and now they’re down a top receiver (Danny Amendola) and running back (Steven Jackson). Worse for them, they face Baltimore and Washington next, followed by trips to Dallas and Green Bay, and a home game against the Saints. The schedule, as it looks now, is just brutal. There’s potential on this team and in the weak NFC West anything can happen, but they may be too young and too shorthanded to dig out of a big, early hole.
Chances of survival: Minimal, due to their injuries and a dangerous schedule.
6. Carolina Panthers
There may be no more surprising story in the NFL than Cam-a-palooza – the incredible first two weeks of rookie quarterback Cam Newton. Even his biggest supporters never figured he’d throw for 422 and 432 in his first NFL start. And while that has sparked dreams of the playoffs in Carolina, the reality is it’s unlikely to continue. Rookie quarterbacks struggle and he will inevitably have his ups and downs. It’s not that he’s not good or potentially great. It’s just that adjusting to the NFL takes time. And if they’re already 0-2 and he’s got a handful of struggles coming, it makes the playoffs seem even further away – though perhaps not any further than 2012.
Chances of survival: Slim, unless Newton can defy all NFL logic and go where no rookie QB has gone before.
7. Kansas City Chiefs
OK, there is a more shocking story than Cam-a-palooza. It’s the complete meltdown of the defending AFC West champs. From 10 wins a year ago, they’ve been outscored 89-10 in the first two games to the Bills and the Lions – not exactly the Patriots and the Packers. Quarterback Matt Cassel (one touchdown, four interceptions) looks terrible. Running back Jamaal Charles is out for the season. They have to be shell-shocked by the shellacking they took in their first two games, and now they’re shorthanded too? This team is very likely already done.
Chances of survival: None. It’s over. And it’s ugly.