NFLTR Review: Ten 0-2 Teams Whose Seasons Are Over & One That Can Still Recover

     

Hope springs eternal for every NFL team in the summer.

But the fall is where dreams are crushed.

Whether it was injuries or season-wounding losses, Week 2 separated out a chunk of teams for which 2020 just isn’t their year. Welcome to Week 2’s edition of NFLTR Review: 

  • 11 teams are 0-2. History says 10 of them are already out of contention
  • Complete casualty count from an injury-riddled weekend
  • Unsung heroes for the Chiefs
  • Bengals’ big problems

Season On The Brink

Since the NFL entered its current 32-team alignment, starting 0-2 has been a fatal blow about 90 percent of the time for NFL teams. Despite adding a seventh playoff team, it appears that’s still the case according to research by Justis Mosqueda of the Setting the Edge podcast

Starting 0-2 still gives teams just an 11 percent chance to make the postseason based on history. With 11 teams in that bucket as of the start of Week 3, that means statistically 10 of them are done and just don’t know it yet, while the odds are one lucky team can still bring its season back from the brink.

When trying to forecast which team will play the “Cinderella” role, a few groups stand out:

Time To Focus On The Draft

There’s a lot of football still left to play but it’s hard not to see these four teams contending for position at the top of the draft next April. 

If there was a team as beat up as the Jets entering Week 2, it was the opposing 49ers, and it only got worse Sunday as San Francisco lost Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Raheem Mostert, Jimmy Garoppolo and Tevin Coleman to injuries during the game. It didn’t matter. Mostert was in the game long enough to house an 80-yard touchdown, while the 49ers backup defensive linemen decimated the Jets front.

Through two weeks the Jets look like the worst team in football and it’s not particularly close. The most interesting thing about this team the rest of the way is whether they’ll stay bad enough to get the No. 1 pick and the rights to Trevor Lawrence

The Broncos are another team the injury bug has sunk its teeth deeply into. Already missing elite pass rusher Von Miller and No. 1 corner A.J. Bouye heading into Sunday’s game, Denver lost starting quarterback Drew Lock to a shoulder injury and No. 1 WR Courtland Sutton to a blown out knee. Sutton is on the shelf until 2021, while Lock should be able to come back before the halfway mark of the season. Still, the bottom for this team has completely fallen out and they’re looking at a top-10 or top-five pick barring something truly miraculous. 

As for the Panthers, it looked like it was shaping up to be an ugly Sunday after the Bucs went up 21-0 in the first half. But credit to Carolina for clawing back into the game for the second straight week. The Panthers have the same record as the Jets but they’ve looked much more competitive under HC Matt Rhule. They went score for score with a Raiders team that just toppled the Saints and held Tom Brady to 19 yards passing in the second half. A similar arc to last year’s Dolphins — who went 0-7 to start before going 5-4 down the stretch — could be in the making for the Panthers, especially when (or if) Christian McCaffrey comes back. 

Joe Burrow has had his share of rookie mistakes but the poise he’s shown at quarterback has stuck out. The Bengals just don’t have the team around him right now, which isn’t surprising given they had the No. 1 pick last year. The offensive line has been bad, A.J. Green looks about as rusty as you’d expect for someone who hasn’t played and barely practiced for two years and the defensive additions this offseason have yet to be reflected in the team’s performance. All of those factors should improve by varying degrees this year but not enough for a playoff berth to be any kind of realistic goal. 

Maybe Next Year

The Dolphins were seen as a potential dark horse playoff contender in 2020 after they won five games last year instead of the zero many people expected while they were “tanking.” But the first two weeks of 2020 have made it clear the rebuild is ongoing in Miami. The defense is still struggling despite a plethora of offseason additions. The Patriots ran all over it in Week 1 and the Bills shredded it through the air in Week 2.

Based on last year, HC Brian Flores will adjust as the season goes on. And Thursday night’s showing against Jacksonville was encouraging and nearly triples their playoff chances to 31 percent as a 1-2 team. But the Dolphins still appear to be a year away from seriously threatening based on their two games against divisional opponents. 

The Giants looked like they were on the verge of earning a reputation as a tough out in Week 1, giving the Steelers a decent test. But the injury to Saquon Barkley is a monumental blow, putting the burden of producing on offense squarely on Daniel Jones’ shoulders. Veteran receiver Sterling Shepard also left with an injury and landed on injured reserve.

Given Jones still hasn’t shaken the turnover monkey off his back, that could make for some growing pains, especially because the defense still has some major holes, particularly in the secondary. James Bradberry has played like a No. 1 corner so far, but Corey Ballentine has been targeted and exposed through two games and was benched last week. There’s a decent chance new head coach Joe Judge could be waiting deep into October to notch his first win

DEFCON 1

All five of these teams expected to contend for playoff berths, division titles and more this year. All of them find those dreams hanging on by a thread. But if one team is going to turn it around, odds are it will come from this group. 

The Lions had the worst record of every team in this group aside from Cincinnati but given it was the third year of HC Matt Patricia‘s tenure, expectations were higher in Detroit. However, it’s been disappointment after disappointment. The defense has given up big leads in both their losses and hasn’t appeared to improve at all from last season. Injuries at cornerback are a factor but the team is struggling to execute Patricia’s man coverage-heavy scheme and the pass rush isn’t taking pressure off the secondary. Detroit is last against the run, while the offense has yet to really find its stride to compensate for the leaky defense.

With games against the Saints and Cardinals coming up, Detroit is staring at a possible 0-4 record going into the bye. Some reporters on the beat have written that could be the final straw for Patricia’s tenure with the Lions. Even if he’s not fired, Patricia would need a stupendous turnaround to avoid meeting the same fate on Black Monday.  

The Vikings approached 2020 like they were reloading instead of rebuilding after an exodus of prominent players this offseason. That continued in training camp when Minnesota dealt a second-round pick for DE Yannick Ngakoue. But reality has punched the Vikings in the face like a runaway hot air balloon. The cornerbacks are young and have played like it. The interior of both offensive and defensive lines aren’t strong. They’re replacing WR Stefon Diggs. And Kirk Cousins hasn’t yet risen above the issues to be a part of the solution.

The Vikings are rebuilding whether they want to be or not. The question is how far will they fall and what will the repercussions be? 7-9 isn’t where the team brass thought it would be two weeks ago but they might be happy to land there by the end of the year. 

Like Minnesota, Houston was set to go through its own share of transition after revamping its receiving corps and undergoing some key changes on defense, most notably losing nose tackle D.J. Reader. While the Texans have missed Reader against the run, ranking second-worst at nearly 200 yards per game in an admittedly small sample, they have fallen victim to the schedule more than anything.

Back-to-back games against the Chiefs and Ravens could be the hardest two-game stretch any team faces this season, and it doesn’t ease up much with the Steelers on deck this week. The odds of making the playoffs after an 0-3 start drop to just six percent. A home tilt against the Vikings is a great opportunity to get into the win column but it’d be an uphill battle for Houston the rest of the season. 

The Eagles might be the most perplexing of the 0-2 teams. Issues on the offensive line — they’re currently down three starters — have played a major role. Philadelphia gave up eight sacks in its Week 1 loss to Washington. But the line kept Carson Wentz clean this past week and he still struggled. The defense has also not been good through two weeks, giving up 27 to Washington and being taken apart by the Rams for 37 points. 

As bad as the funk has been to start the season, the Eagles have too much talent between Wentz and the defense not to rebound. But once again the schedule makes things difficult. There’s a potential get-right game in Week 3 against the Bengals followed by a three-game run against the 49ers, Steelers and Ravens. Philadelphia also plays the Cowboys twice and against the Seahawks, Packers, Saints and Cardinals. Assuming the Eagles sweep the Giants and get wins against the Bengals, Browns and Washington, they likely have to find four wins out of the other nine games to have a shot at the postseason. 

There was a 99.9 percent chance I was going to be writing about Dallas in this final slot instead of the Falcons until about 2:52 remaining in the game. Then the Cowboys pulled off a miracle, scoring a touchdown, recovering an onside kick and driving for the game-winning field goal in a 40-39 win.

Atlanta hasn’t collapsed this epically since yielding a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl, and they did it in an even more embarrassing fashion by apparently not knowing the rules on an onside kick. Through two games, the defense has also thrown it back to the first half of last season with its performance. But the good news for Atlanta is the schedule is about to go soft. Aside from a Monday night game in Green Bay, the Falcons face the Panthers twice, the Bears, Vikings, Lions and the Broncos before a bye in Week 10. 

A 6-1 record over the next two months is completely within reach, which would put the Falcons at 6-3 headed into the final stretch of their schedule which toughens considerably with the rest of their division and the AFC West on the slate. Atlanta’s offense has shown it can keep pace with just about anyone, if HC Dan Quinn can fix the defense the Falcons can absolutely turn this season around and save his job again. 

Counting Casualties

While the NFL largely avoided the widely-feared wave of injuries in Week 1, it struck with extreme malice this past week. A final tally of all the players who landed on injured reserve in the aftermath of Week 2: 

The count is 29 players and it’s filled with stars, starters and key contributors. Some of these players like McCaffrey and Scherff should be able to return at some point. Others like Bosa, Barr, Sutton and Barkley will have to wait until 2021 to resume their playing careers. 

Other notable players who will miss time but avoided going on injured reserve include:

This Week In Football

  • Some players are just a magnet for certain types of coverage and Browns WR Odell Beckham is becoming a magnet for trade rumors. One team has already done an about-face after appearing to commit to Beckham and his tenure with the Browns has hardly been smooth. Still, Cleveland continues to insist it’s not looking to trade Beckham, which history shows us will continue to be true until it’s not. 
  • The Rams continued dishing out from the gravy train, signing WR Robert Woods to a four-year, $68 million extension on top of the two years he already had left on his deal. With fellow WR Cooper Kupp, TE Tyler Higbee and QB Jared Goff all signed long-term, along with RB Cam Akers and WR Van Jefferson on their rookie deals, Los Angeles has defined their skill positions for the next few seasons. 
  • The Bears also got in on the extension party with a three-year deal worth up to $18.25 million for RB Tarik Cohen. The deal doesn’t do anything crazy, it’s around market value for a scatback like Cohen, but it was notable given the impasse between the Bears and other players like…
  • Chicago’s No. 1 receiver Allen Robinson, who is playing out the final year of his deal. Robinson deleted all references to the Bears on his social media which prompted trade interest from other teams. None of the offers were that tempting to the Bears, though, so they went back to the negotiating table.
  • Robinson is seeking to cash in now that the receiver market has moved up in the $18-$20 million range but Chicago’s ability to franchise tag him next year hurts his leverage
  •  Chargers first-round QB Justin Herbert made his first start last week against the Chiefs and he’ll make his second this week against the Panthers. Herbert looked unlikely to see the field until the Chargers were out of the playoff hunt but an accident to starting QB Tyrod Taylor when his lung was inadvertently pierced during a pain-killing injection for broken ribs pushed the rookie into the lineup. 
  • With stud RB Saquon Barkley out for the year, the Giants turned to the best free-agent back on the market and signed Devonta Freeman to a one-year deal. Freeman turned down multiple offers waiting for a starting gig and it might have paid off, though Dion Lewis isn’t going anywhere. 

Nickels & Dimes

Ten quick-hit thoughts to close it out this week…

With seven teams per conference, it’s now possible for the first time in modern NFL history for an entire division to make the playoffs. And it just might happen this year…

Aaron Jones might not get $12 million a year from the Packers given there other free agents and potential replacements. But he absolutely deserves that at a minimum from someone if he tests free agency in 2021…

Back in August, I outlined what the blueprint for the Chiefs would need to be now that they’re paying Patrick Mahomes big bucks. One key for GM Brett Veach was hitting on mid-round draft picks, especially at cornerback and defensive line. So far, Veach has come through with fourth-round CB L’Jarius Sneed and fifth-round DL Mike Danna.

https://twitter.com/thecheckdown/status/1307806595804352513?s=20

Sneed has stepped into the starting lineup and acquitted himself well. Meanwhile, Danna is showing potential as a rotational player and softening the blow of former second-round DL Breeland Speaks busting. It’s early, but these are exactly the types of players the Chiefs will need to hit on to build their dynasty…

If you have to watch a Jets game, such as next Thursday’s primetime matchup in the Injury Bowl against the Broncos, do yourself a favor and watch just the left tackle. Offensive line play isn’t known for being sexy but watching 6-7, 370-pound Jets first-round LT Mekhi Becton toss the best athletes on the planet around like children sure is fun…

I’d say QB Cam Newton‘s shoulder is in pretty good shape based on this…

The major concern with Newton this offseason was ostensibly his health after two season-ending surgeries in two years. With both his shoulder and foot checking out, the discussion around his long-term future has started. It’s hard not to see him staying in New England right now, either on a long-term deal or the franchise tag…

This is admittedly just one (very bad) rep by the right side of Cincinnati’s offensive line: RT Bobby Hart and RG Fred Johnson. But you’re probably looking at Cincinnati’s top offseason priority right now…

The Bengals spent more than $100 million in free agency to improve their defense that ranked last against the run and 29th in yards per game last year. Through two games in 2020, Cincinnati ranks 22nd in yards per game and 30th against the run. Bengals DC Lou Anarumo might find himself offseason priority No. 2…

Because Vikings DE Yannick Ngakoue‘s second franchise tag will be 120 percent of his reduced 2020 tag, which dropped to $12 million from $17.788 million, Ngakoue actually ended up taking a potential $12 million pay cut just to get away from the Jaguars…

Check This Out

Insightful links from around the NFL media landscape.

  • As a younger NFL viewer, I remember former Raiders owner Al Davis becoming a punchline toward the end of his tenure due to his obsession with speed. It turns out Davis would have been a perfect fit for today’s NFL, as the Athletic’s Robert May looks at how the success of the Chiefs has everyone looking for their own speedy killer.
  • Also from the Athletic, Rams beat reporter Jourdan Rodrigue climbs inside the mind of Rams GM Les Snead to unpack how the team’s draft decisions are made. 
  • ESPN’s Seth Walder surveys the burgeoning world of NFL analytics personnel to find out who’s getting ahead and who’s falling behind. The results may surprise you.  
  • Lions QB Matthew Stafford details in a personal essay his own experience with racism this summer and how it changed him. 
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