No NFL team wants to be in my annual column on squads that have started 0-2. The Giants launched a furious comeback from 21 points down to beat the Cardinals. The Broncos hit a Hail Mary with all zeros on the clock to set up a game-tying 2-point conversion against the Commanders, only to come up short. The Seahawks drove downfield on the opening drive of overtime against the Lions and scored a walk-off touchdown, even if it required a little hold of Aidan Hutchinson on the way. Teams don't want this sort of attention.
Starting 0-2, of course, means a team already is in a desperate situation before the weather has even begun to chill. Since 2002, roughly one in 10 teams has started 0-2 and advanced to the postseason. When the Bengals pulled off the feat last season, they became the first franchise to start 0-2 and make it to the postseason since 2018.
If a team loses again and drops to 0-3, though, desperate becomes hopeless. Since 2002, 99 teams have started 0-3. Just one of those teams (the 2018 Texans) has made it to the playoffs. The NFL now has a 14-team bracket, which would have added a second team (the 2013 Steelers) to the mix, but you get the idea. Starting 0-2 is bad. Starting 0-3 is all but unsurvivable.
As a result, the eight teams that started 0-2 these past two weeks are suddenly about to suit up for a playoff game in Week 3. Win and they can keep their season afloat. Lose and they're essentially out of the playoffs. In lieu of a warm vacation, they still have to keep suiting up for 14 more weeks of football.
Let's run through that list of eight 0-2 teams, discuss what has gone wrong and break down each team's chances of turning around its season. I'll start with the team that has the worst chance of becoming a contender and work my way down to the team that has the best chance of overcoming its slow start. That team was the Bengals in 2022. Are they back in that top spot again this season?
The Texans have not needed an excuse to be bad in recent years, but they have one amid their 0-2 start: injuries. During Sunday's loss to the Colts, they were without their starting safeties (Jalen Pitre and Jimmie Ward), both starting offensive tackles (Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard), their starting center (Juice Scruggs), and one of their two starting guards (Kenyon Green). During the game, they lost another safety (Eric Murray), while rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud played the entire game with a painful right shoulder injury. You can decide whether playing behind four backup linemen helped his shoulder improve.
Stroud already has taken 11 sacks in two weeks, which is an inauspicious start for a rookie quarterback in an organization that famously failed to protect its first franchise passer. Eleven sacks across a rookie's first two starts are the third most suffered by a quarterback since the turn of the century. No. 1 is former Houston passer David Carr, who took his 15 sacks on just 64 dropbacks in 2002. Stroud has dropped back 104 times for his sacks, but he plays in an era in which quarterbacks get taken down less often on the whole.