It's the cold kiss of death in the NFL. You just can't -- and I mean CAN'T -- start 0-2. Unfortunately for the Raiders, Panthers, Falcons, Titans and Bengals, they have. According to SI.com, since 1970 only 38 of the 400 teams that have started a season 0-2 have made the playoffs. It hasn't happened since 2018. But on the other hand....*insert "Dumb and Dumber" GIF here.*
In my heart I am an optimist and I feel like, well somebody has to do it. We are here to bring hope to the forlorn and restore pride in the hearts of fans who are ready to throw in the towel. Maybe it will be your favorite team that defies the odds in 2022.
I examined the five 0-2 teams and ranked which has the best chance to make a run to the playoffs and why.
1. Las Vegas Raiders
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Beginning the season 0-2 is not what new head coach Josh McDaniels had in mind when he took the job in Vegas.
Las Vegas lost in brutal fashion last week after Kyler Murray and the Cardinals scored both a TD and two-point conversion to tie the game on the final plays of regulation. It seems almost unfathomable that the Raiders lost that game and are here at 0-2.
Vegas has all the firepower needed to win two-thirds of its remaining games, and that is likely what it will take to get into the postseason. My biggest concerns do not surround the offense. Derek Carr will continue to gel with new wideout Davante Adams and the whole team should improve their execution of McDaniels' intricate offensive scheme as the season progresses.
The main issue for Vegas right now is defense. Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby should be creating havoc for opposing offensive lines, but the Raiders have only one sack through two games. I expect their defense to get better as the season progresses and frankly it has to, given the quality of opposing quarterbacks in the AFC West.
2. Tennessee Titans
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Coming in second is the Raiders upcoming opponent, the Tennessee Titans. Yes, I realize it is pretty surprising to rank the Titans up this high especially after they blew a fourth-quarter lead to the Giants in Week 1 and were utterly destroyed by the Buffalo Bills on Monday night. There are two major reasons the Titans have hope for the future: the division and the coach.
The AFC South is in rough shape, with three winless teams (remember the Texans and Colts tied in Week 1). Despite their 0-2 record, the Titans are only one game back of the Jaguars with all their interdivisional games left to play. That's more than enough time for coach Mike Vrabel to right the ship.
Vrabel won coach of the year in 2021 after leading the Titans to the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs despite having a record 91 different players take a snap. The Titans did lose some talented players this offseason like A.J. Brown, but they are still a very deep and talented roster particularly on defense.
Let's be clear, the Titans are a strong contender for the Super Bowl. However, with that coach and that running back, no one in the AFC is going to be excited the first week of the playoffs to be traveling to Tennessee if they can squeak out of the AFC South.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
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The Bengals have to look in the mirror immediately and decide if they are the same team that held a fourth-quarter lead in the Super Bowl. So far in 2022, the way they have fallen apart has been catastrophic.
The biggest issue has been the Bengals offensive line, which features four new starters. The new starters were supposed to give this unit a significant upgrade after they allowed the third-most sacks in the league in 2021, but instead the Bengals have allowed Joe Burrow to be sacked a league-high 13 times.
If you're a Bengals fan you are hoping that answer is yes, because then it is fixable with time. However, as the troubling blocking trend continues despite the new faces we have to start pointing the finger at head coach Zac Taylor and his play calling. If the Bengals can't figure out a way to hold protection for Burrow, they have to start calling the game in a way that leaves more blockers in to protect their star asset, which will allow him to exploit defenses without being under duress.
The AFC North is lined with elite pass rushers who can exploit the Bengals' weakness we just discussed. You combine that with a tough schedule and the heavy competition in the AFC for Wild Card spots (even though there are three) and the outlook gets tough. Needless to say, there will be a lot of questions facing the Bengals front office if they miss the playoffs.
4. Carolina Panthers
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This has been a tough start to the season for the Carolina Panthers. First, Baker Mayfield couldn't get vindication in his revenge game against the Cleveland Browns in Week 1 despite leading a go-ahead drive late in the fourth quarter.
The NFC South seems like it will once again go through Tom Brady and the Bucs this year, and it just seems like the Panthers aren't quite good enough at anything to get over the hump. I question if Baker has what it takes to consistently have the Panthers scoring in the high 20s or more each week. They have the weapons on offense to have a better output but have yet to get wideout D.J. Moore going. Carolina needs to figure out what can make Baker explosive again, because he threw for less than 5 yards per pass on Sunday.
If they don't show promise soon, it could be a short stint in Carolina for Baker Mayfield (who is a free agent after this season) and Panthers coach Matt Rhule.
5. Atlanta Falcons
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A second team in the NFC South is 0-2, but with the Atlanta Falcons it feels a little more understandable. The Falcons are in a rebuilding process after trading their franchise quarterback of more than a decade in Matt Ryan. This season will be measured more in the strides of progress made by young players like Drake London, Kyle Pitts, A.J. Terrell and Chris Lindstrom. They have managed their cap well and seem to be putting together a strong defensive line and rushing attack that will keep them in football games.
In both opening losses, the Falcons were in the games in the fourth quarter, blowing a lead in one but mounting a valiant comeback attempt in the other.
This team clearly seems to buy in to each other and doesn't quit, but it's going to take a rash of injuries across the NFC South for the Dirty Birds to make a return to the playoffs. Until then, the team and its fans should make their main priority evaluating what they have in Marcus Mariota, rookie QB Desmond Ridder and the young receivers they have surrounded them with.
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