Which 0-2 NFL Teams Have Best Playoff Odds? Why Jets & Falcons Are Longshots Worth Betting
Grant Halverson/Getty Images. Pictured: Jets QB Zach Wilson (2)
We’re only two weeks into the season, but the seven 0-2 NFL teams are already staring deep into the abyss of a potentially lost season.
No NFL team that lost its first two games made the playoffs over the last two seasons, but 0-2 isn’t a complete death knell. About 12% of 0-2 teams have gone on to make the playoffs since the league expanded the playoffs to 12 teams in 1990, per USA Today. And while it didn’t help any team last season, the expansion to a 14-team playoff field should mean a softer cushion — one more week to climb out of that early hole.
With seven 0-2 teams this season, that means there’s a decent chance one of these early losers manages to turn things around and make the 2021 playoffs. So which teams are already burnt? And which ones still have a chance?
Let’s go through all seven teams. We’ll play close attention to the schedule and try to imagine a postseason scenario, starting with the team least-likely to get there and settling on the best bet on the board going forward.
Tier 4: Sorry, They’re Just Too Terrible
The best thing the Lions have going for them is that they have the least-bad losses of any 0-2 team. They lost to the 49ers and Packers, the latter of which was a road Monday night game. Many teams — maybe most teams — would be 0-2 with that schedule out of the gates against two teams expected to contend deep into the playoffs.
Unfortunately, Detroit’s schedule doesn’t get much better.
The NFC North plays the NFC West and AFC North this season, which means the Lions still have games left against the Ravens, Browns, Steelers, Rams, Seahawks and Cardinals. There’s another Packers game, of course, and the Vikings and Bears are never easy visits. A late trip to Denver looks daunting, too.
That’s 10 more games the Lions will be significant underdogs in, and remember, they’re already 0-2. They also have the league’s worst defensive DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. Detroit has no pass rush and an even worse secondary — a pretty rough combination in the modern passing era.
Jared Goff and an improved offensive line have kept the Lions a bit feistier than expected, but this feels more like a potential backdoor cover team than one that can contend in any real way for the playoffs. Remember, the Lions were behind 41-17 with two minutes left against the Niners and lost 35-17 to the Packers. When you trail your first two games by 24 and 18 points, it typically doesn’t portend good things.
If you still want to bet the Lions for whatever reason, go the division route. Maybe the Bears and Vikings are terrible, the Packers’ defense is as beatable as it looks so far, and the Lions win their remaining five NFC North games, find four other wins somewhere along the way, and steal a bad division at 9-8.
I really wanted to talk myself into the Jaguars after that Week 1 loss in Houston. It’s hard to start the year out worse than losing to a team some thought might go winless, so it’s the ultimate worst-to-first spot in a division that couldn’t be more wide open.
The problem is that the Jaguars look like a trainwreck. I’m way out on this Urban Meyer thing, and I’m starting to wonder if some of the veterans on that team might be soon, too.
Everything about Meyer reeks of a guy who just hasn’t found the right transition into the pros. Trevor Lawrence also looks mostly lost, spraying the ball all over the place with five interceptions so far, and the offensive line is a mess.
That loss to the Texans is doubly damaging because it’s a loss in what should’ve been Jacksonville’s second-easiest game of the year. The Jaguars haven’t been even remotely competitive in either game, and it’s not like the Broncos are world beaters. Jacksonville still has to play the entire NFC West, too, plus Buffalo. That’s another four losses at least, so we’re up to six already.
A bet on Jacksonville is a bet against the AFC South, and that’s reasonable. But the Jaguars already lost a division game, so they probably need to sweep the remaining five, hope no other team gets better, and find three other wins to backdoor an 8-9 berth in a horrendous division.
If you’re looking to bet on the Jags, the division angle is the play, but I don’t like anything about this team — not even in that division.
Tier 3: Nope, No Value Here
On one hand, the Giants look more bad than awful. On the other hand, these odds are already reflecting that, so there’s not much value here.
Using our Betting Odds Calculator, the Giants are an implied 13.2% to make the playoffs and 9.5% to win the division. Those odds reflect the perception of an expected soft division, but I’m not sure they ought to.
Dallas’ offense looks healthy and really good, and the Cowboys may have the softest schedule in the league now that they got two tough road trips out of the way. The Eagles are also looking healthy and better than expected. And Washington just beat the Giants.
New York is already in a hole, and the NFC East may not be so wide open.
The Giants should probably be 1-1, but they blew a winnable game to Washington, and they looked pretty lifeless in a Week 1 loss to Denver.
The Falcons and Saints up next are a chance to right the ship, and the Giants really need to win both of those and get back to 2-2 because it gets ugly after that. The following six games come against the Cowboys, Rams, Panthers, Chiefs, Raiders and Bucs. Three of those teams have top-three Super Bowl odds, and there’s a couple surprise 2-0 teams, too. If New York can somehow get through that stretch at something like 4-6, the back seven is winnable — but they might be dead on arrival by that point.
What’s the reason to believe? It has to be a bet on Daniel Jones, Joe Judge and a talented defense that overachieved last year.
Jones has not been terrible the first two weeks, but still makes a couple big mistakes every game and doesn’t have much margin for error on this team. Judge has made a couple laughably bad in-game management decisions already and still appears in over his head. And that supposedly good defense ranks 27th in defensive DVOA so far against meh competition.
The Giants offense has actually been decent so far, but that might actually be a bad thing. Even if the defense improves, it might be offset by some expected offensive regression.
The path here is pretty murky and would probably have to be the same one Washington took last season: Theoretical Dallas and Philly injuries leave both clearly better rosters in shambles, and the Giants ride a top defense while scoring just enough to get to an ugly 8-9 division win. James Bradberry and Adoree’ Jackson, when healthy, could be one of the top cornerback pairs in the NFL. And maybe the Giants find some pass rush. But is this a top-five defense? I don’t see it, thus I don’t see the path.
If you do want to bet the Giants, you should wait awhile, probably until right after a Monday night game in Kansas City on Nov. 1 that looks like an ugly blowout loss. At that point, the Giants might be 3-5 or 2-6 but approaching a soft closing stretch, and you’ll have a better idea of whether Dallas or Philly still look healthy in the division.
I’ll pass, though.
There’s little question that the Vikings are the most talented team on this list.
Dalvin Cook is one of the league’s finest running backs. Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are a terrific receiver pair. Kirk Cousins is better than he gets credit for. And Danielle Hunter and the retooled defense look, on paper, like one of the league’s most talented. Mike Zimmer also has a strong history of turning that defensive talent into production in time. Until last season’s meltdown, the Vikings had finished top seven in defensive DVOA in four straight years under Zimmer.
But there’s one huge glaring problem: The schedule.
The Vikings lost to the Bengals and Cardinals — those were the two easiest non-division games on the entire schedule, even on the road. Minnesota is better at home and has eight home games left, but this is a brutal remaining slate. The Vikings’ next two games are against the Seahawks and Browns, so Minnesota could easily be 0-4 and buried soon.
Let’s say the Vikings survive those two then beat the Lions. That makes Minnesota 3-2! Not bad. Now check out the next six games: At Carolina, vs. Dallas, at Baltimore, at Chargers, vs, Green Bay, then at San Francisco. Holy cow. That is a brutal six-game stretch against likely playoff teams, four of which are on the road. And the Vikings still face the Steelers, Rams and Packers down the stretch, too.
Minnesota looks likely to be an underdog in at least 10 remaining games. The Vikings probably need to win half of those.
Sure, the Vikings should be 2-0 right now. Per EDJ Sports, there’s only a 1.3% chance that they’d be 0-2 instead, given the advantageous spots they were in late in both games. But guess what? There are no wins for “should.” Minnesota is 0-2, and those two losses may be damning, no matter how much the Vikings turn things around.
If Minnesota has a path, it almost certainly has to come by dominating the division. The Bears and Lions look terrible, and the Packers defense sure appears beatable. If the Vikings go perfect in the division, that’s six wins that would also knock the Packers down a peg. Maybe 10 wins takes the NFC North, so now the Vikings need only four other Ws.
But remember, we already counted the Lions and Bears games as wins, so it’s still hard to find four more. Plus it requires the Vikes to sweep the Packers, something Minnesota has done only once in the past decade.
I won’t close the book on this team, but with implied odds at 32.8% to make the playoffs, it’s absolutely a no bet. If you believe in Minnesota, you’re far better off playing game-by-game as often as they’ll be an underdog. But there’s no value here. Minnesota might be cooked.
Tier 2: So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance…
If you’re looking for the safest bet on the board, you just found it.
Here’s the case, and it’s a pretty easy one. First, the AFC South looks horrendous, maybe even worse than expected somehow. And second, the Colts have the best roster in the division — the best defense by far — the best coach and maybe even the best offense.
The Colts lost to the Seahawks and Rams. Indy was competitive in both games, so those aren’t exactly damning losses against two likely playoff contenders. But those were losses nonetheless, and both were at home, so that means only seven home games left. One of those is against the Bucs, and there are still tricky road trips to Buffalo and San Francisco, too.
The case against Indianapolis is also really easy to make, and that’s the problem. The Colts might not have a quarterback. Carson Wentz is already (still? always?) hurt, and Indianapolis is about to play three straight road games at Tennessee, Miami and Baltimore.
They might luck into a Tua Tagovailoa-less Dolphins squad in Week 4, but that could be offset by a hobbled or backup QB of their own. A loss in Tennessee this week would also be particularly damaging since the division is the biggest reason to buy in.
Even a division loss this week is not the end, though. If the Colts can survive this road trip and escape 2-3, they still get seven home games and five division games, four of which are against the terrible Texans and Jaguars. Sweep those four, beat Tennessee and we’re at six wins — and might need only nine in this division.
God bless the Texans and Jags.
This is doable, but it’s also not the time to play. The odds drop precipitously unless the Colts win in Tennessee this week, maybe without their QB. Otherwise you can wait, and the better time to play might be on Halloween when the Colts play the Titans again, that time at home. The Colts could be 3-4 or even 2-5 then but still in the mix in the division, and likely with longer odds.
There’s not much upside to play now because it’s a direct bet on Wentz’s health and Indy winning on this road trip. The smarter play is waiting this out, seeing if the Colts can weather the storm and get healthy and playing the back-half in a bad division.
The division is definitely the angle here, so you definitely want to play the division odds, not playoff odds.
VERDICT: Wait and play the division odds later if things look good
The Jets look atrocious.
Zach Wilson is struggling in a huge way. He has no pocket presence so far and isn’t getting any help from an offensive line missing Mekhi Becton. He’s also struggling to read defenses and spraying throws all over the field. Add in one of the least-talented pass defenses in the league, and it’s hard to find much to like about the Jets.
If you believe in the Jets, though, it starts with head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LeFleur.
Saleh is already paying dividends on defense. The Jets surprisingly rank 17th in defensive DVOA, right at league average. The competition isn’t exactly overwhelming — the Panthers and Patriots are far better on defense than offense — but it’s a start.
Becton is expected to be out a month or two. If his return moves quickly, and rookie Alijah Vera-Tucker steps up, maybe the line improves as the season goes along. Wilson can’t really play much worse, and LaFleur showed an ability in the preseason to scheme up good plays to get the ball out quick into the hands of capable Jets playmakers.
Are we squinting? Yeah, a little bit, but look at those odds, implied 5.9% at making the playoffs and just 1.5% at the division. Are we sure this division is that out of reach? Buffalo’s offense has underwhelmed, and the Bills are one Josh Allen injury away from disaster. And it’s not like New England or Miami are going to run away and hide.
The Jets don’t play another division game until after the Week 6 bye. What if New York survives these next three weeks against the Broncos, Titans and Falcons? Then gets to the bye, welcomes Becton back and starts to figure things out in the second half?
The Jets offense has been shambolic so far, but it’s entirely possible that they’ve faced two of the league’s top defenses in Carolina and New England.
This week’s matchup against Denver won’t help, but the rest of the schedule is remarkably winnable. The Jets have a path to competitiveness in every game until the final two weeks, and if they’re actually competitive by then, maybe they can hang with the Bucs or Bills.
Look at the rest of the schedule. The Jets get to play the entire AFC South still. They get the NFC South too, winnable outside of Tampa. Five division games could be winnable.
What if the Jets go 4-1 in their remaining division games? If they do, it probably means the division is in play, so that’s the angle. Maybe 10 wins gets the job done in the AFC East. Could Saleh and LaFleur find five or six wins along the way with an improving defense, an offensive line that’ll be better later, and a rookie QB who can only go up from here?
Is it crazy? I know you think it’s crazy. It’s certainly not likely. But at +6600, I have to sprinkle the division odds and see if I roll snake eyes.
VERDICT: Sprinkle the longshot division odds
Tier 1: The Best Odds on the Board
I liked the Falcons as a sleeper coming into the season, but they haven’t woken up just yet. Atlanta lost by 26 as favorites in the opener, then by 23 in Week 2. Not great.
Dig a little deeper and there’s some reason for hope, though. That home opening loss was discouraging but not nearly as bad as it looked. The Falcons played the Eagles to a draw for most of the first half and only lost by so much because they were so inefficient.
Atlanta went 0-for-2 in the red zone, 3-for-14 on third down and 1-for-3 on fourth down. The Falcons drove well their first two drives but settled for short field goals, then couldn’t move the ball in the second half and set Philly up for some easy short-field scores.
The second loss wasn’t so bad, either. Atlanta was down just three in the fourth quarter on the road against the Super Bowl champs before things got away. A loss in Tampa is not only fine, it’s expected. That was the likeliest loss on the Falcons schedule. Atlanta hasn’t really lost much expected ground yet.
We also know the Falcons played the Eagles well for a half and the Bucs for three quarters, so that’s good news against tough defenses and talented teams. And the schedule is about to soften up in a hurry.
The next four games are against the Giants, Football Team, Jets and Dolphins. That’s a pretty easy path back to 3-3, maybe even 4-2. Atlanta still gets the Lions and Jaguars later, too, and there’s no reason the Falcons can’t win some of those four games against the Saints and Panthers.
The Falcons are talented enough to hang with almost any opponent. That means we need to win a bunch of coin-flip type games with the coin weighted slightly against us, which isn’t so terrible. Dean Pees actually has this defense looking more average than bad, so that’s a huge first step.
Arthur Smith’s offense is a work in progress but has its moments. His Tennessee teams were super efficient on third down and in the red zone. Atlanta hasn’t done that yet and that’s the big problem, but if that flips, the Falcons could surprise.
This is a very winnable schedule, especially over the next month, with two of the next three against teams on this list. If you see value in Atlanta, now is the time to play. The Falcons are implied 11.1% to make the playoffs, and that feels too low in a wildcard race that suddenly feels soft in the NFC where only the West division has serious contenders.
The division is a tough sell, even at +5000. It’s a direct bet against the Bucs, who have a super soft schedule and a 2.5-game lead on Atlanta already. Even at 2.0% implied, that’s probably a bridge too far. You’d need Tom Brady to turn into a complete pumpkin. Good luck with that.
A wildcard spot looks doable, though, and it starts with this next month of games. If Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts can get rolling, there’s still a path to nine or 10 wins.
At +800 or longer odds to make the playoffs, Atlanta is the best play on the board, and now is the time to bet the Falcons — if you have access to BetRivers, the Falcons are +1000 to make the playoffs there.
VERDICT: Bet on Falcons to make the playoffs