Only 10 teams since 2002 have rebounded from an 0-2 start to post a winning record for the season, with 7 of those teams reaching the playoffs. I went through those 10 teams and how their season started to see which among the current teams might be a candidate to bounce back. A few things stood out about those teams.
- They played difficult opening schedules with 15 of the 20 opponents finishing the year with a winning record. All of them lost to at least one team that would go on to a winning record, and 8 of the 10 faced at least one eventual playoff team (3 of them played two playoff teams to open). Only 2004 Buffalo and 2006 Kansas City did not play a playoff team in the first two games.
- They played in close games, and if they didn’t it was because of bad turnover margins.
- They gave up an above average number of points, with 7 of the 10 allowing 48 or more points in the two games. The average result was a 25.0 to 14.6 loss.
In addition, because offense tends to be more consistent than defense, teams that struggle defensively but can move the ball profile as more likely to rebound.
With that in mind, let’s talk about the one team that actually profiles as the most likely to surge to the playoffs. Do your best to set aside pre-conceived notions.
This team has lost two close games where they had 2nd half leads. They have played what appears to be an above average schedule, playing a leading Super Bowl contender and another team that is near average. They have a -3 turnover margin, which has negated a yardage advantage, and they have a whopping 21 more first downs than their opponent through 2 games. They have passed for over 800 yards, but have given up big plays on defense.
Now, I know people are writing them off because they have a rookie quarterback and were the worst team in the league last year, but Carolina, by far, fits the profile of teams that have surged to the playoffs. Eight other teams have lost the first two games despite averaging over 300 passing yards since 1978–only Dallas last year ended up with a losing record over the rest of the season (6-8). Those eight teams also averaged 3.6 interceptions (right in line with Newton’s 4 through the first two games). They went on to win 61.6% of their remaining games. Three of the eight made the playoffs, and a fourth, Washington in 1989, went 10-6 in the final year before playoffs expanded to 12 teams.
The offensive environment is more passing friendly in 2011, but still, Carolina this year has blown even those teams out of the water. The only other one over 700 passing yards in an 0-2 start was the 1994 New England Patriots, interestingly also quarterbacked by a 22-year old first overall pick, Drew Bledsoe. They went 10-6 and made the playoffs.
I talked about how Carolina’s record the previous two years before 2010 suggests they were a better bounce back candidate anyway, but I didn’t expect the passing game to be this productive this early. Many people expect Cam Newton to struggle now. I expect him to experience some ups and downs, but I expect just as much growth as I do decline as defenses figure him out. He’s going to figure them out too. That was evident just over the course of the Green Bay game, where he threw some bad picks and adjusted to what the defense did afterward. I know it seems improbable, but I like the Carolina Panthers over their 4.5 win total now more than I even did earlier, despite the 0-2 start. Going 7-7 or better to finish wouldn’t surprise me.
The rest of the 0-2 teams in order of likelihood to surprise:
2. Miami Dolphins. They have played two likely playoff teams, including the leading Super Bowl contender, and lost by a combined 24 points. They missed field goals, they struggled in the red zone. They will bounce back, but have too difficult a schedule still to make a run.
3. St. Louis Rams. They’ve lost to the Eagles and Giants, and were competitive with the Giants but the biggest factor for the Rams is that they are only 1 game out in a weak division. 8-8 with two games against the NFC East out of the way, and all games against the West remaining, is doable.
4. Minnesota. They had leads in both losses, including on the road at San Diego. The offense has been dreadful in the second half, and really lacks speed on the outside to take pressure off the running game. Because they have been close, they can bounce back, but the schedule doesn’t get much easier with the 6 games against the NFC North remaining.
5. Indianapolis. They only rank this high because the Chiefs and Seahawks are worse, but they don’t really look like a bounceback candidate.
6. Kansas City. The silver lining is that they have a -7 turnover margin and that stuff tends to rebound. Of course, the playoff teams that had such a bad turnover margin when starting 0-2 tended to be outscored by 30 to 40 points over two games, not 79. The offense is a mess and the two best players are both out for the year. They won’t lose every game by 30+ when the turnovers stop, but they’ll still lose plenty by double digits.
7. Seattle. So, Tarvaris Jackson is not the answer, and now the injury news with new signings Sidney Rice and Robert Gallery is not good. This team will only win a handful of games because of the division they play in, but nothing about them looks like a team that can rebound.
[photo via Getty]