NFL

You Will Hear About 2-0 or 0-2 Teams This Week, But How Your Team Played Is What Matters

You’ll hear lots of references to how frequently or infrequently a team makes the playoffs when they start 2-0 or 0-2. For example, since the league went to the current 8 division format in 2002, there were 79 teams that started 2-0, and conversely, 79 teams that started 0-2. 58.2% of the teams that started 2-0 eventually made the playoffs, while only 10.1% of the teams that started 0-2 made it. (41.5% of 1-1 teams made it).

This isn’t a coin flip situation where we just randomly went heads or tails, and the unlucky 0-2 team is suddenly far less likely to make the playoffs because they happened to lose those two games and will narrowly miss out on crucial tiebreakers they lost in the first two games. No, the reason most 0-2 teams miss the playoffs is because they stink.

I went through all the 0-2 starters to see what would happen if we magically bequethed upon them two undeserved victories, but kept the underlying performance of the team in the remaining 14 games the same. You want to know how many of those 71 teams that started 0-2 and then missed the playofffs would have made the playoffs if we had magically given them a 2-0 record instead? 

Eleven. Eleven of Seventy-One. And that assumes we give them a 2-0 record with all the tiebreakers that came with those wins, and not just a 1-1 record. So, the problem with the 0-2 start is not just the losses, it’s what they represent. Similarly, the biggest thing with the 2-0 start is if it really does represent a team that is playing well and likely to continue.

Later, I’m going to go through both the 2-0 teams that missed the playoffs since 2002, and the 0-2 starters that made it, to see what they shared. For now, I can sum it up by saying that the better you play, as measured by how you play and accounting for who you play, the better off you are going forward.

The problem with the 0-2 start is not the mark in the column, it’s the play on the field. Four divisions are currently led by a 1-1 team. That means that over half (pending the outcome of tonight’s game) of the 0-2 teams are only 1 game out of the division lead, and nobody is more than 2 games out, often with all the head to head games against division leaders remaining. Kansas City is only 1 game behind San Diego, Oakland, and Denver, and hasn’t lost to any of them yet. From that perspective, they are fine. The issue is that the Chiefs are likely to keep losing based on the evidence of getting blown out twice, not that they happen to have the maximum 2 losses in the column now.

[photo via Getty]

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