Two games aren’t enough to define an NFL team. But it’s close. Or at least that’s what recent history tells us.
Football is full of underdog stories, but since 1990, only 31 of the 270 teams that started a season 0-2 have ended up making the playoffs. That’s just under 11.5%. In other words, it’s not impossible, but also unlikely. It’s the cold reality of a sport with a 17-game schedule, where every win — and every loss — can make or break future playoff seedings.
Through two weeks of the 2023 season, nine of the NFL’s 32 teams have failed to achieve a victory. But their fans no longer need a reason to rant. So let’s turn instead to the ingredients that could allow these teams to overturn the odds and become the next big underdog story. Here’s a reason for optimism for each of the 0-2 teams heading into Week 3:
Phew. It’s hard to start the list, to be honest. The biggest X-factor of their season was going to be Justin Fields’ progression (or lack thereof) as a passer, and the early returns aren’t pretty. Their best secondary pieces are also demolished. But guess what? The NFC North remains a breeze. The Lions (1-1) have just given up 30 points in the second half in a defeat against Seattle. The Packers (1-1) blew a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Falcons. And the Vikings (0-2) keep turning the ball over.
For one thing, They’ve been here before, starting 0-2 last year, only to advance to the AFC title game. It’s clear that star quarterback Joe Burrow is rusty after missing all summer with a calf injury, and now that he’s aggravated it, the uncertain O-line will be under even more pressure to staying up. But we also saw a bit of the Burrow brand touch late against the Ravens in Week 2, when Tee Higgins had two scores to close things with their AFC North rivals.
This hasn’t been translated to a full game yet, but Russell Wilson really looks more like himself. Then again, if he had returned to the Seahawks’ peak form, Denver might not have let an 18-point lead slip away to the Commanders. But the QB’s deep ball was sharp, and if not for an uncalled penalty on the final play against Washington, he might have been crowned a hometown hero for the 50-yard Hail Mary touchdown that set up a potential overtime-inducing score.
Besides the fact that they are still in play for the No. 1 pick in the 2024 draft? They are more disjointed and/or more entertaining than expected. First a near-victory against the Commanders in week one, then a 21-point lead against the Giants? We can’t say that Jonathan Gannon’s team is boring. Josh Dobbs and James Conner actually looked like they could steal Sunday’s game early on, and the oft-overlooked linebacker Dennis Gardeck is becoming something of a wrecking ball on their “D.”
This sounds morbid, and we say this with all due respect to Brandon Staley, but maybe they’ll finally realize a coaching reset might help. There’s no reason why a team with this much talent at prime positions should consistently botch situational football. LA is now 19-18 since Staley took over, including in the playoff game where they blew a 27-0 lead. An in-season change wouldn’t necessarily fix everything, but somewhere, somehow, quarterback Justin Herbert and Co. need a fire lit under them.
Unfortunately, neither the presence of Frank Reich as head coach nor the intangible assets of Bryce Young as the new face of the franchise make up for the fact that they are sorely lacking in inspiration and talent to play on offense. But at least their young quarterback is making progress. After a two-pick debut against the Falcons, Young hung on against a much tougher Saints defense in Week 2, threatening a last-minute comeback with one-on-one plays on the ground and in the tunes.
Even with a slow, injury-riddled offensive staff, they faced two legitimate contenders up close, resulting in perhaps the most impressive 0-2 record of any winless team. Of course, at the end of the day, wins are wins, and they have zero. But the Eagles and Dolphins are arguably among the NFL’s best heavyweights at full speed, and New England fought back in close games with both, displaying a typically physical “D” and a more resilient Mac Jones at QB. The question is: can they finally get off to a good start?
This season was never going to be about contending for an AFC South title; it would still be their rookie QB. And guess what? CJ Stroud looks the part. He took his lumps in a Week 1 loss to the Ravens, then, even with a banged up shoulder behind a banged up line, continued to struggle to develop on-field chemistry with Nico Collins and Tank Dell against the Colts. Houston has work to do to give him a real supporting cast, but we see that the physical and mental tools are there.
If the struggling offensive line doesn’t recover soon, Kirk Cousins won’t be able to feed Justin Jefferson at all. But for now you can at least enjoy this this team remains aggressive, and is actually more aggressive than they were as a 13-4 division winner when you take into account Brian Flores’ approach on “D”. Even with a poor line and slow running game, Kevin O’Connell let Cousins have a say on his pass catchers making plays. And even though the defensive personnel is in transition, Flores knows how to attack and confuse.