Which 0-2 NFL Teams Have Best Playoff Odds? Are the Bengals Already Buried?
Via Getty Images. Pictured: Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow.
We're just two weeks into the new NFL season, but already nine 0-2 teams are staring deep into the abyss of a potentially lost season.
Since the NFL expanded to seven playoff teams in each conference in 2020, just one of 23 teams (4.3%) that started 0-2 went on to make the playoffs. That was last year's Bengals, and they're the only 0-2 team to make the postseason since 2018.
Going back a little longer to 1990, only 31 of 270 teams (11.5%) started 0-2 and still made the playoffs, and only three went on to win the Super Bowl.
That probably sounds ominous for your favorite 0-2 squad, but at least they still have a chance. The 2018 Texans are the only team since the 2002 expansion and realignment to start 0-3 and make the playoffs, and the 1992 Chargers are the only 0-4 team in league history to bounce back to make the postseason.
In other words, it's now or never for these 0-2 teams. And with nine squads at 0-2, history says we probably get ONE potential 0-2 comeback to make the postseason — if that. So which team will it be?
Let's go through all nine 0-2 teams, consider what we know so far and the schedule to come, and imagine a postseason scenario. We'll rank them from least to most likely and recommend bets along the way.
Tier V — Start Making Funeral Arrangements
9. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals never really had playoff hopes to start the season, and though we're feeling better about Arizona after two close losses, those were also two of the most winnable games on the schedule. Dallas and San Francisco are up next, so Arizona is now staring 0-4 right in the face.
Credit Jonathan Gannon for getting his guys to try hard, but the talent deficit is just too great. Even a return later this season from Kyler Murray would probably be too late.
Verdict: I won't stop you from nibbling the outrageously long division odds, but it's a pass.
8. Carolina Panthers
- Playoff odds: +700 (DraftKings)
- Division odds: +2200 (DraftKings)
It's been a pretty rocky start for Bryce Young and this Panthers offense. Before a touchdown against prevent defense on the final drive of Monday Night Football, Carolina had managed just 19 points on 22 drives for the season. Young was at 4.0 yards per attempt before that final drive, with just 92 yards.
That's not gonna get it done, and it's a carryover from what we saw in the preseason when this offensive line barely even gave the offense a chance. Carolina added a handful of weapons for Young this offseason, but the truth is that Miles Sanders, Adam Thielen, D.J. Chark and Hayden Hurst just don't move the needle. There's no juice.
Carolina's defense is sneaky talented, but the Panthers face the most uphill battle of any team on this list. Both losses came inside the division, and all three other NFC South teams are now 2-0. The NFC also has seven 2-0 squads, which means Carolina is already a full two games behind every possible playoff path. Aaron Schatz and FTN give the Panthers just a 4.9% shot at the playoffs and 0.5% at the division.
7. Chicago Bears
The best thing I can say about the Bears is that they somehow rank above two teams, thanks solely to playing in the NFC's worst division.
Still, it's been ugly. Justin Fields has shown little progress, and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy looks totally lost. There's little reason right now to believe Fields, Getsy or Matt Eberflus will be here next year, and Chicago looks headed back to the top of the draft.
Lavonte David on the Pick 6: “they ran the same play, same formation. Everyone knew what was coming”
This isn’t an exaggeration either. The Bears actually tried to run the same play 3 times in a row from the same formation pic.twitter.com/s8NGyXab5g
— Slot Guys Matter (@T3Jab) September 18, 2023
The Bears have lost 12 straight and allowed at least 25 points in all of them, the longest streak in NFL history. That streak will probably be 13 after a visit to Kansas City on Sunday, and 0-3 is a death knell.
The only good news for the Bears is that it's genuinely difficult to imagine Chicago being this bad the rest of the season, and the rest of the schedule after this week has loads of winnable games. If you still believe in Fields, consider sprinkling what should be super long odds on a winnable division after the Chiefs game.
FTN gives the Bears a 17 times better shot at the No. 1 draft pick (25.7%) than making the playoffs (1.5%).
Verdict: Pass, and there's honestly value on Chicago to Miss the playoffs at -900 (BetRivers).
Tier IV — Sorry, Not in the AFC
6. Denver Broncos
- Playoff odds: +450 (DraftKings)
- Division odds: +1500 (DraftKings)
The Broncos were the better team against the Raiders outside of the first and last six minutes, outscoring them 16-3. They were the better team for most of the first half against the Commanders, going up 21-3. By many metrics, the Broncos have one of the most consistently successful offenses in the NFL through two weeks.
But they're also 0-2.
Denver's -3 Point Differential is the best in the Super Bowl era for an 0-2 team, which… hooray? Everything about this team is damning with faint praise.
What hurts the most is that this was a soft early schedule, and those are two teams Denver could, maybe should, have beaten. A road trip to Miami will be difficult, but then it's winnable games against Justin Fields and Zach Wilson. The Broncos had a real chance at a 4-1 start.
But after that it's the Chiefs, Packers, Chiefs again, then Bills, and there are still two Chargers games late too.
The Broncos aren't as bad as they look, but they aren't good enough to give away winnable games against two of the softer opponents on their schedule either. I don't mind Denver to go over 6.5 wins if you're optimistic, but the postseason odds are priced too short in the loaded AFC.
5. New England Patriots
- Playoff odds: +390 (FanDuel)
- Division odds: +1500 (FanDuel)
The Patriots have the most defensible pair of losses of any 0-2 team. Philadelphia and Miami look like Super Bowl contenders, and New England was respectable and even competitive in both. Mac Jones looks more composed under Bill O'Brien and will only improve as the offensive line finds itself, and Bill Belichick and the talented defense will keep things close and give the Pats a chance in most games.
That's the problem, though. The schedule remains brutal even with those first two games out of the way, and competitive losses don't count in the win-loss column.
The Patriots still have six games left where they'll be significant underdogs. Even going 2-4 in those games means the Patriots would have to go 8-1 in the remaining toss-up games. It isn't impossible, but this isn't a team built to run away and hide from any opponent with the lack of weapons offensively, which leaves a low ceiling and too many toss-ups or worse.
The Patriots are better than their 0-2 record, but that feels like a sentence we'll have to update all season. The Patriots aren't dead, but they're not playable at this number. There will be plenty of chances to play them week-to-week if you believe.
Verdict: Pass, but look for opportunities to play a quality team week-to-week and consider the over 6.5 wins, a number Belichick has never been below since his debut season in 2000
Tier III — I Wish I Knew How to Quit You
4. Houston Texans
- Playoff odds: +1100 (DraftKings)
- Division odds: +2500 (Bet365)
Sigh… oh yes: we're doing this again.
Look, the Texans have been a disaster. There's no shame losing a Week 1 road game with a rookie quarterback and head coach in Baltimore, but getting blown out this week at home by the Colts and their own rookie (and then backup) quarterback was embarrassing.
It would be easy to just write the Texans off, but I think that would be a mistake.
You already know I was high on Houston coming into the season, but do you remember why? It's because I thought the Texans had the best offensive line and the best defense in the division. I still think that's possible, but it sure hasn't been the case through two weeks.
Houston's offensive line has been absolutely decimated by injuries. The Texans were down four starters on the offensive line this week, which is a disaster this early in the season. Houston was also missing its top-three safeties for a DeMeco Ryans defense based entirely around its safeties blitzing and wreaking havoc. Cluster injuries can doom any team, especially on the line or in the secondary.
There's good news on the horizon, though.
Free agent safety Jimmie Ward should debut this week, and his partner Jalen Pitre could return too, along with the team's best player, left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Second-round center Juice Scruggs looks set to debut in Week 4, and right tackle Tytus Howard should be back Week 5. Suddenly, the team's biggest early weaknesses could turn into key strengths and give this team a shot again.
There are positive signs. Will Anderson looks outstanding, and the Texans rank seventh in Pressure Rate. C.J. Stroud put up 384 yards and two scores this week, and Nico Collins looks like a real weapon at receiver. The Texans should see positive regression after going 1-of-7 in the red zone.
The other positive sign is the same one we bet on before the season — the division looks totally up for grabs. Jacksonville's offense has been very disappointing, and Houston is only a game back in the easiest division in football, with a trip to Jacksonville Sunday and a chance to shake things up in a hurry.
It's a tough month ahead with the Steelers, Falcons and Saints up next, so the Texans might just be buried before they ever get healthy. If they do survive this early stretch and get to even 2-4, the schedule turns winnable in a hurry. Difficult Bengals and Jets games look easier now, and two late games against the Titans could come against Malik Willis or Will Levis.
The Texans are +350 on the moneyline in Jacksonville Sunday. If they win, they could be tied for the division lead — and we're getting +2500 division odds, just 3.8% implied.
Remember, the Jaguars started 2-6 last year before winning this moribund division. The AFC South is crying out for a sleeper. If Tunsil, Pitre and Ward are good to go, we have to give this team one more chance. No half measures or Make Playoffs bets. The division was always the path.
Verdict: Bet on Texans injury regression by playing Houston at +2500 to upset Jacksonville Sunday and come back to win the AFC South
Tier II — Maybe, But You Can't Bet the Number
3. Minnesota Vikings
- Playoff odds: +260 (DraftKings)
- Division odds: +500 (DraftKings)
The teams in this section, the Vikings and Chargers, play each other in a Loser-Leaves-Town game Sunday, and they're both talented enough to make a run at the playoffs. Unfortunately they're also unpredictable, likely dead at 0-3 with a loss Sunday, and priced far too short to bother.
The Vikings could easily be 2-0. Kirk Cousins is playing well, and Justin Jefferson can take over any game. They've lost a pair of one-score games with terrible fumble luck, with opponents recovering all seven fumbles so far, and the home loss against the Bucs was one of the easiest spots on the schedule. The playoff path at this point is probably going 3-1 or 4-0 against the Packers and Lions and winning the division.
This feels like a team in transition, especially on defense. Brian Flores is a smart coordinator, but his system doesn't always work without the right personnel. His defense ranked dead last his first year in Miami, and this unit might be trending in that direction. They're blitzing just under 50% of all dropbacks but very rarely getting home, constantly exposing a young secondary lacking talent.
Between the tough schedule, the outmatched defense, and the Kirk Cousins of it all, it's too much to ask. FTN gives the Vikings just a 6.0% chance at the division and 10.2% at the playoffs. At -245 to miss (on FanDuel) implying 29% instead, the numbers say to fade Minnesota.
Verdict: It's possible, but the odds are wildly mispriced. Bet Minnesota to miss the playoffs instead at -245 (FanDuel).
2. Los Angeles Chargers
- Playoff odds: +172 (FanDuel)
- Division odds: +490 (FanDuel)
Doesn't it feel like we've watched this exact Chargers season play out 10 times in a row already?
They win us over with on-paper expectations before the season, blow a few winnable games early, pull a big upset over the Chiefs or another giant, make a late run to get everyone believing again, then Charger one more time to fall short again.
We've seen this movie before; this thing has more sequels than Star Wars.
Week 1 was encouraging enough, with a revitalized run game in Kellen Moore's new offense and a close loss to what could be a great Miami team. But then Week 2 brought the same no-longer-working run-heavy script minus Austin Ekeler against a great run defense, and a leaky pass defense that turned Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill into MVP and OPOY favorites made Ryan Tannehill a 10.3 yards-per-attempt guy too.
The Chargers just don't deserve our trust. They can't defend the run, which leaves them vulnerable against lesser teams like Tennessee who can pound the ball and keep Justin Herbert on the sidelines. Now they can't stop the pass either, leaving them susceptible to being carved up by top quarterbacks. There's still no evidence that Moore has unlocked that level of greatness from Herbert either.
I had the Chargers in 13 coin-flip games heading into the season, by far the most of any team. They played and lost two of them already, like usual. Could they win a bunch of the other coin flips? Sure! But they've already hit tails twice and face a brutal schedule ahead with the Cowboys, Ravens, Bills, and Chiefs (twice), among others, with no discernible home-field advantage, which is even negative at times.
The Chargers are a futures no-zone, too talented to fade with confidence but too untrustworthy to bet on. If you want to bet the Chargers, it has to be a direct bet against the 1-1 Chiefs, specifically the offense that's started so slowly. If you want to bet against Patrick Mahomes to get your money in on this capricious team, well, it's your money, not mine. I personally think Brandon Staley's in trouble.
The Chargers are NFL purgatory. They're not really dead, but were they ever truly alive?
Tier I — Is the Super Bowl Dream Already Dead?
1. Cincinnati Bengals
- Playoff odds: -110 (FanDuel)
- Division odds: +475 (DraftKings)
The Bengals opened the season as a trendy Super Bowl pick, but that dream is already in serious danger.
Cincinnati isn't just 0-2. The Bengals are 0-2 against AFC North foes and are already in a huge hole in the NFL's most competitive division. This team overcame an 0-2 start to make the playoffs a year ago, the only squad to do so since 2018, but last year's team didn't have a hobbled Joe Burrow.
Burrow simply doesn't look right. He had his worst game as a pro in the rainy opener against Cleveland, then followed it up with another dud against the Ravens. Burrow ranks 29th of 32 quarterbacks in EPA +CPOE, and he's dead last in that metric on early downs.
Burrow's ADOT is minuscule with just 2.8 Completed Air Yards per attempt and an ugly 59.6% Expected Completion Rate per Next Gen Stats. Burrow isn't capable of driving the ball down the field right now, but he's not accurate on the short stuff either.
There were some positive signs in the second half against Baltimore as Burrow finally seemed to be settling in, but then he appeared to tweak the calf injury on his final throw, and it's telling that the Week 3 line plummeted from Bengals -6.5 to now -1.5 at some books as we await news on an injury Burrow's been nursing since July.
It's possible Burrow could miss at least a game, maybe four if he heads to the IR and rests six weeks through the bye in Week 7. That would leave Jake Browning and his one career pass attempt at quarterback. Cincinnati has a winnable next four games against the Rams, Titans, Cardinals and Seahawks, but can they survive without Burrow, or with a hobbled version of him?
The schedule after the bye is brutal. The Bengals face the 49ers, Bills, Ravens, Jaguars, Chiefs, Browns and Steelers (twice). Cincinnati is capable of winning any of those games at its best but might need to finish 7-4 or better against that schedule just to get to 10 wins and sneak in as a wildcard that then has to win three road games just to make the Super Bowl.
That Bengals Super Bowl ticket you're holding is already all but dead, even for this team.
The playoff dream might already be in serious danger too. FTN projects the Bengals at 8.0 wins, and even a full win above that number probably isn't enough in the AFC.
Cincinnati is already buried in the division. FTN gives the Bengals 27.6% shot at the playoffs, and I think that number can only drop as we await what can only really be negative Burrow news.
Even with Burrow, this offense has scored only 20 points in two games. The 0-2 hole hasn't killed the Bengals yet, but that and the Burrow injury might have dug too big an early hole to escape.
Have you heard the old riddle about the worm who falls in a 10-foot hole and musters up all his courage to climb halfway out of the hole each day? How many days does it take for the worm to finally escape?
The answer, of course, is that it never actually does. It spends the rest of its life chasing, never quite able to dig its way out of that hole it found itself in early, and I fear that may be Cincinnati's 2023 fate, too.
I can't bet the Bengals to make the playoffs, and I'll take it a step further. I bet Cincinnati to miss the playoffs at +275 entering the season, and I'm doubling down and betting it again at -110 on FanDuel. There's just no way this team has a 50-50 prospect of making the postseason. Joe Burrow's gonna have to take my money.
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