Starting 0-2 and Week 2 Elimination Games
The NFL is not just. We know that teams that win an unsustainable amount of close games one year almost always lose more games the next year, and vice versa. Basically, it is easy to pin down whose record is over-inflated or under-inflated, in terms of what is meaningful for projecting future games. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that a 16-game regular season sample just isn’t long enough for the league to “regress to the mean.” In the end, what matters in singular seasons is simple documentation. Joe Flacco, Eli Manning and Nick Foles have recently played out of character in playoff runs which earned them rings, only for them to fail to repeat the same level of success the following regular season. No numbers, just or unjust, can take those rings away from them, though. They happened, which is all that matters when looking backwards.
At the same time, not every cookie crumbles in a positive way. In fact, because of the NFL’s very small sample of regular season games and their playoff structure, you can essentially write off a quarter of the league’s chances to make the playoffs just two weeks into the regular season.
Since 2009, only 6 of 77 teams which started the season with a 0-2 record (8.5 percent) made it to the playoffs. That also means that 94.4% percent of playoff teams (102 of 108) avoided starting the season off with back-to-back losses. While it may seem superficial, or even disappointing, that a season can basically be over after an eight-day span, that is the nature of the NFL’s structure.
Because only about a third of the league makes the playoff, with the playoff standard essentially being a 10-6 record, going 0-2 means having to win 10 of your next 14 games for a playoff spot. Going 10-4 in 14 games is a goal that most teams would fall short of, let alone the types of teams that begin the season with a 0-2 record. This is one reason why this trend, despite it being a small sample, is a juggernaut.
For example, the 2017 regular season brought us nine 0-2 teams: the Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers. The only team out of the group that made the playoffs was the Saints, who finished the year with an 11-3 run. Even the Chargers, who went 9-5, did not post a record that could even punch them a ticket in a weak AFC wildcard race. The other seven teams combined for a 30-68 record after Week 2, with none of them finishing the season with a winning record.
2017 was basically a microcosm of what 0-2 means in the NFL. Out of a group of about 10 teams, there is going to be one team that everything completely breaks the right way for, allowing them to make the playoffs. Chances are there is another team in the striking range of the postseason, but the unrealistic standard of a 10-4 finish keeps them just out of it. The rest the group is likely made up of poor teams which would have missed the playoff no matter what their record was the first two weeks of the year. Nevertheless, their 0-2 record was a signal not to take them seriously as a playoff contender. Of course, there are exceptions, but these are few and far between.
Heading into Week 2 of the 2018 regular season, that is an important note to keep in mind. As it stands today, with the Monday Night Football games yet to be played, there are four games that amount to elimination games, within the perspective of what a 0-2 record means in the NFL.
Houston Texans @ Tennessee Titans
The Texans lost to New England on Sunday after their offensive line was unable to handle much of anything. If you are looking for Trey Flowers teaching tape, find a replay of that one. On the other side, the Titans played the longest game in NFL history against the Miami Dolphins, due to weather delays. They also managed to lose their starting quarterback, Marcus Mariota, which could have a huge influence on this loser leaves town match between two trendy preseason picks to win the AFC South.
Los Angeles Chargers @ Buffalo Bills
The last time these teams played, Nathan Peterman threw 14 passes for 66 yards and five interceptions in a 54-24 Chargers victory. Since then, not much has changed. Los Angeles is still struggling against divisional opponents and Buffalo still has not decided to go all in on a quarterback.
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys
In Week 1, starting quarterbacks Eli Manning (Giants) and Dak Prescott (Cowboys) combined for 66 passes for 394 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. After both making the playoffs in 2016, the two squads were both left out last season, partially due to quarterback play. With both Philadelphia and Washington at 1-0, this game could make or break their seasons.
Seattle Seahawks @ Chicago Bears
In the first two weeks of the season, the Broncos have only lost 8 of their 60 post-merger games in Denver. The Seahawks merely became the newest victim to one of the NFL’s strongest trends. Unfortunately, Seattle will continue a road stretch by traveling to Chicago, after the Bears mismanaged a 20-point lead over Green Bay on Sunday Night Football, for this Monday Night Football matchup.
Depending on the results of Jets-Lions and Raiders-Rams this Monday, Detroit-San Francisco and/or Arizona-Los Angeles could be added to this list. Either way, this is an easy way to identify “gut check” games for teams on the brink of realistic elimination. If you are a gambler or in the prognostication business, you should treat a 0-2 record as a sign to more clearly identify who is or is not realistically in the running for the Super Bowl, conference, division or even wild-card race just two weeks into the season.
The NFL is not just. Maybe the Chargers were one of the best teams in the NFL last year, but they just had some unlucky breaks. All that mattered in 2017 was that they kicked off the year at 0-2, a death sentence with just an 8.5 percent playoff rate in recent years. If your team ends up going 0-2, ease your expectations and accept the small sample chaos that holds such a heavy weight is this beautiful sport.