It's a challenging juncture: being winless after the first two games in the NFL. Does this foreshadow a dire fate? Not necessarily, though history paints a daunting picture. Since 1990, when the playoff quota expanded to include 12 teams, only about 11.5% of teams that started 0-2 clinched a postseason slot.
Intriguingly, despite the playoff bracket welcoming 14 teams from 2020 onward, that figure hasn't seen a proportionate rise.
2023's NFL Underdogs Unveiled
Let’s look at the backdrop of 2023: After Carolina's recent loss, nine teams stare at an 0-2 statistic.
Taking a leaf out of history, odds are at least one among them will brave the storm and secure a playoff spot. Which team could break the mold? Here’s a deep dive, ranking their potential, from least to most likely: 9.
Houston Texans: The rookie QB, C.J. Stroud, battles challenges, especially with an offensive line in disarray. First-year head coach DeMeco Ryans strives to uplift the defense, but surmounting the AFC hierarchy seems a tall order.
8. Carolina Panthers: A duo of divisional defeats leaves them trailing three undefeated NFC South contenders. Rookie QB Bryce Young might find better times ahead, though meaningful strides seem reserved for 2024. 7. Arizona Cardinals: Despite missing Kyler Murray, they were close to a 2-0 record.
But with upcoming clashes against the undefeated Cowboys and 49ers, the Cardinals are seemingly on course for 0-4. Murray's return remains uncertain post-ACL tear. 6. Chicago Bears: The 2022 season saw them at the bottom with a 3-14 record.
Despite off-season moves, two games in and QB Justin Fields hints at a slump. Moreover, head coach Matt Eberflus could be grappling with deeper-rooted team issues. 5. Minnesota Vikings: A stellar 11-0 in close games in 2022 seems to be waning.
While being a stone’s throw from 2-0, looming trades and expiring contracts may further jumble their roster. 4. Denver Broncos: Facing two home losses and a challenging upcoming schedule, they might find a silver lining with AFC contenders like the Jets and Browns facing significant injuries.
3. New England Patriots: Echoing a similar scenario to the Broncos, the Pats, however, have a historical beacon of hope. Their 0-2 start in 2001 culminated in a Super Bowl win. 2. Los Angeles Chargers: Led by QB Justin Herbert, the Chargers display impressive skill.
Their unique record—being winless after scoring 50+ points sans turnovers—points towards bigger issues during HC Brandon Staley’s tenure. Their forthcoming game against Minnesota carries heightened stakes.
1. Cincinnati Bengals: Tackling offensive woes and Joe Burrow’s injury setbacks, the Bengals, surprisingly, are no strangers to such adversity. Their 0-2 start in 2022 led them to win the AFC North. With other divisional contenders nursing injuries, their prospects remain intriguing.
In this unpredictable realm of the NFL, the game's landscape can shift dramatically week to week. While history offers us patterns, the tenacity of these teams may yet surprise us in the unfolding 2023 season.