Last year, I whipped up a formula to find similar teams to those that started 0-2, and had the Saints as the most likely to rebound based on their poor defensive start. They did win more than any other team that started 0-2, still finishing at 7-9 at the end of the year.
I return with a similar formula, but also added an 8th category, offensive yards per pass. I then looked at the standard deviation among all 0-2 teams since 1990 in each category to come up with the scores in each. Thus, I could see just how extreme a -8 turnover margin is, compared to getting outrushed by an opponent by 200 combined yards in the first two games.
We know that since 1990, only 22 of 190 teams that started 0-2 reached the postseason (11.6%). While much is made of the 0-2 start, the truth is most of those teams would have failed to reach the postseason had they had their record magically changed to 2-0 in a bizarro world where the first two weeks saw losses awarded as wins. The 0-2 start was just a start to a bad season.
By looking at similar teams, though, we can see those that have a better chance to buck the trends and make a run, or at least get to respectability. In reverse order, here are the eight teams that have started with two losses, sorted by fewest to most future wins by the similar teams. Wins are weighted so that the most similar counts for more.
I’m going to make a prediction. We have not had a team start 0-2 and reach the postseason since 2008, when three teams did it (Miami, Minnesota, and San Diego). It will happen this year–though it won’t be the Jaguars.
#8 JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (3.9 Wins, 1 playoff comparable in #10 1993 Pittsburgh)
The Jaguars’ group of comparable teams is populated with horrible teams with two exceptions: the 2006 Panthers and the 1993 Steelers. Both those teams were coming off playoff appearances, but started slow offensively. Pittsburgh was shutout in its second game by the Rams. I don’t see this Jaguars team rebounding to score 79 points over its next two games, like those Steelers did.
Four of the teams won 2 or fewer games, and this Jaguars team is a lot more similar to the 1992 Seahawks horrible quarterback situation, or the dysfunction of the Jets in Rich Kotite’s last year.
#7 CAROLINA PANTHERS (4.9 Wins, 0 playoff comparables)
The Panthers have lost two close games, so it is kind of surprising to see them here so low, and with no similar playoff teams. Their most similar team, by the way, is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from this year, so you will see a lot of cross over between the two lists.
The three most similar teams to Carolina all won 7 games. I think that seems right, but certainly won’t be enough to save Ron Rivera’s job if another bad start means just missing the postseason again.
#6 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (5.2 Wins, 0 playoff comparables)
Tampa Bay and Carolina have both lost two close games in defensive struggles when the offense got outgained. Despite the close losses, the similar teams do not show great promise. Most were not horrible, but none could break through to the postseason. Two of them, the 2000 Steelers and 2005 Chargers, did win 9 games but were frozen out of the playoffs in tough conferences. With a loaded NFC, that fate could await Tampa even if they turn it around in close games.
The Washington Redskins have been gouged on defense through two games. Two teams that fit that profile rebounded to make runs all the way to a championship game, with the Giants rallying from a rough defensive start to win a Super Bowl. At the other end, two teams with the worst defenses in the league show up, including 0-16 Detroit. In the middle are a bunch of 5-7 win teams that were good offensively, but continued to struggle defensively, including last year’s Saints.
I looked at RG III and the Redskins struggles yesterday, and I believe the offense will get it going soon. Whether they will join those other 5-7 win teams or surge to a winning record depends on the defense figuring out how to hold teams under 30 points.
Nothing says young Michael Vick like young Christian Ponder. By the numbers, the Vikings have scored a lot of points in two losses. What the similarities are not picking up is that a chunk of that came on more unsustainable plays predictively, like Robison’s 61 yard fumble return and a kickoff return for touchdown.
As a result, I don’t value Minnesota as highly as this projection going forward. Another crazy note, The Minnesota Vikings, despite reaching the playoffs last season, have now been an underdog in eleven straight games according to Chase Stuart. That should end this weekend, at home, against the next team on the list.
The Cleveland Browns have started 0-2 seven previous times since the franchise began again in 1999. Same old Browns. Interestingly, though, they show up with more playoff comparables than any other 0-2 team.
What in the Sam Hill is going on here? Well, the similarity scores see a team that is not getting outrushed besides losing, not getting out gained, and holding teams with good defense. Cleveland is giving up only 2.0 yards per carry through the first two weeks. Add in that they get Josh Gordon, their best receiver, back from suspension, and top pick Barkevious Mingo has yet to play, and well, it is crazy, but if crazy happens . . .
Of course, Emmitt Smith is not walking through that running back door, like he did after a holdout when the Cowboys started 0-2. The 1990 Oilers are a better comp, a team that had a pass heavy offense that had 10 turnovers in the first two games, which erased their strong edge in yards gained.
#1 PITTSBURGH STEELERS (7.9 Wins, 2 playoff comparables in #4 2001 Patriots and #8 2006 Chiefs)
The Pittsburgh Steelers have looked offensively inept, cannot run the ball, and have created no turnovers. We know that they have a lot of pride and history of success, but this looks like the end of the run.
So how surprising is it that the first four comparable teams to Pittsburgh won more than they lost for the rest of the year, and the first six all won at least half the remaining games? Pittsburgh’s comparables averaged a pretty incredible (for a group of teams that started 0-2) 7.9 wins the rest of the year.
[photos via USA Today Sports Images]