Editor’s note: Follow all the NFL Week 3 action with USA TODAY Sports’ live coverage.
Being winless in the NFL after two weeks doesn’t necessarily mean you’re hopeless – but better expect your football faith to be severely tested.
Since the playoff field expanded to 12 teams in 1990, just 11.5% of teams (31 of 270) starting 0-2 have recovered to reach postseason. Yet the hurdle has only gotten higher recently. Since the start of the 2019 season, one team of 32 (3%) has survived an 0-2 rollout. You’d think with the Super Bowl bracket ballooning to 14 berths in 2020, the margin for error would expand, but apparently not so much.
However with the 2023 schedule producing nine 0-2 entries after Carolina joined their ranks Monday night, historical precedent suggests one of these clubs will persevere into the playoffs. Who might it be? Let’s rank their postseason viability from least likely to most, while conceding hopes this year should not spring eternal in several NFL towns:
9. Houston Texans
An offensive line in tatters has been bad news for rookie QB C.J. Stroud. And while there are signs of defensive improvement under first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans, it just doesn’t seem realistic to expect this team to navigate its way up the AFC’s seemingly steep hierarchy.
8. Carolina Panthers
They’ve lost a pair of divisional games and are looking up the NFC South standings at three clubs all sporting perfect 2-0 ledgers. There will be better days ahead for struggling rookie QB Bryce Young, but almost certainly none with meaningful ramifications before the 2024 campaign.
7. Arizona Cardinals
Even without injured QB Kyler Murray, they’re oh-so-close to being 2-0 – but blew a pair of fourth-quarter leads. The schedule serves up the undefeated Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers next, so you can pretty much lock the Cards into 0-4 … and still no telling when Murray might return from the ACL tear he suffered last season.
6. Chicago Bears
They had the league’s worst record (3-14) in 2022 and are already tracking toward another top-five draft selection. Free agency and the 2023 draft seemed to improve the talent nucleus here, but the whole has definitely been less than the sum of the parts through two weeks, QB Justin Fields showing worrying signs of regression. Worse, on top of his squad’s inability to execute, second-year head coach Matt Eberflus could be facing serious cultural issues.
5. Minnesota Vikings
What seemed an endless supply of pixie dust in 2022 – when the Vikes were 11-0 in one-score games on their way to the NFC North crown – has evidently expired, as did the tenures of several key veterans. The Vikings are just a few breaks from being 2-0 … yet Minnesota is also a team that could be further dismantled at the trade deadline, QB Kirk Cousins and OLB Danielle Hunter among the pending free agents.
4. Denver Broncos
Two losses at home. Great coach, albeit one in unfamiliar circumstances. Three of the next four on the road. Pretty tough division. They seemingly stand to benefit from AFC playoff hopefuls like the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns already suffering catastrophic injuries.
3. New England Patriots
Two losses at home. Great coach, albeit one in (still fairly) unfamiliar (post-Brady) circumstances. Three of the next four on the road. Very tough division. They seemingly stand to benefit from AFC playoff hopefuls like the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns already suffering catastrophic injuries. (Worth noting, the last time the Pats started 0-2 – in 2001 – they won the Super Bowl.)
2. Los Angeles Chargers
Talent isn’t the problem here, the depth chart teeming with it and headlined by QB Justin Herbert. The Bolts aren’t even playing that badly, the first team in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) winless through two games despite scoring 50+ points with no turnovers. Yet playing well enough to nearly win – and ultimately underachieving – has become a problematic theme during HC Brandon Staley’s three-season hitch. As for postseason prospects? Well, Sunday’s game at Minnesota may as well be a de facto playoff matchup for both clubs.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
The league’s worst offense and QB Joe Burrow’s balky calf have largely contributed to a second successive 0-2 start – and no guarantee Burrow will be available in Week 3. Yet the Bengals are that one team since 2019 that’s rebounded to qualify for postseason, winning the AFC North in 2022. And while Burrow’s lingering leg issue is an obvious concern, the division’s other teams appear to be contending with more lasting injury ramifications.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on X, formerly Twitter @ByNateDavis.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ranking 0-2 NFL teams by playoff odds: Do Bengals still have hope?