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Which NFL teams will recover from 0 -2, and which teams won't?

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Written by Conor Corr in Sports Illustrated before the Dolphins won on Thursday...

Who Will Bounce Back From 0-2... and Who Won't?

Not all winless teams are created equal. A breakdown of the 11 NFL teams that dropped their first two games in 2020, and what's next for each...
CONOR ORR
SEP 23, 2020
 
 
Heading into this weekend, there are 11 winless teams in the NFL: the Jets, Dolphins, Bengals, Texans, Giants, Eagles, Vikings, Lions, Falcons, Panthers and Broncos. Some of this was by design. Some of this was due to the unprecedented nature of the offseason and the truncated training camp. Some of this was because teams have had brutal schedules to start the season. 

Parsing all of this is valuable because it helps separate the truly bad from a team that might be making a run in November or December. While there were no 0-2 teams to make the playoffs in 2019—typically a team starting 0-2 has about a 12 percent chance of reaching the postseason—the expanded playoff field should make life a little more interesting. As we argued at the time, the additional playoff spot could award a team that started cold and is coming together at the right moment.

So with that in mind, let’s dig in…

* * *

JETS

Why are they 0-2?
The Jets started the season with the 26th-ranked offensive performance according to DVOA rankings and followed that with a 13-point performance against a 49ers team that was missing arguably its four best defensive players, and lost Jimmy Garoppolo for a half. Sam Darnold is fine; however the personnel on offense doesn’t allow for a ton of vertical attempts. For the past two years, this has looked like an old, pro-style offense lacking a modern flare. Perhaps that’s because the receiving corps are depleted, and no one is winning many routes. Darnold is a minus-five in his completion percentage vs. expected completion percentage and the entire right side of his offensive line has been perforated with regularity. 

Will they bounce back? 
In short, no. I think the Jets underestimated the totality of this rebuild and have been trying to microwave certain parts of the changeover to avoid public scrutiny (which they would have inevitably received anyway). They’ve lost good players, failed to retain others and have been ravaged by injury. The question now is how they’ll map out the near future. The general manager is early into a six-year deal. The head coach is on less secure footing. While the typical Jets move would be to make a panic change, what’s best for Sam Darnold should be taken into consideration. 

* * *

DOLPHINS

Why are they 0-2?
The Dolphins had the unenviable task of being the first team to face the Cam Newton-led Patriots, which meant guessing what Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels might do with the first real change under center in 20 years. In that game, the defense uncharacteristically lost the edge a few too many times, leading to a few Newton touchdowns. In Week 2, already banged up, they ran into a Bills team that is simply rolling. They were in it for a majority of the afternoon, with a 61 percent chance of winning deep in the game with a three-point lead. They led in time of possession and put up 28 first downs against a good defense.

Will they bounce back? 
Yes. The Ryan Fitzpatrick experience has not yet peaked. Fitzpatrick is actually playing a little better than he should be, but the Dolphins are struggling to break open the running game. The Dolphins are doing the right things, including running as many play-action snaps in two weeks as the play-action evangelist himself, Kevin Stefanski (17). When they inevitably transition to Tua Tagovailoa, they should be able to call more plays that involve a direct running threat. For example, the Dolphins have called nine RPOs over the first two games of the season. 

* * *

BENGALS

Why are they 0-2?
At the moment the Bengals have (maybe) one building block on the offensive line. None of their five starters have a cumulative Pro Football Focus grade above 68 this season and Joe Burrow has been under pressure on one in every five of his backdrops. He is attempting tight-window throws on one in every five passes and his expected completion percentage given the situation is below 60 to begin with, meaning that he’s not loaded with receivers who are busting coverage (or has not been running plays that are creating adequate mismatches). 

Will they bounce back? 
Yes and no. I’m not sure where anyone’s expectations for the Bengals were this season, but Burrow is keeping them in games and making tough throws. While it’s often a fool’s errand to assume after two games that a quarterback has it, Burrow seems comfortable in the chaos, and the Bengals have been very much alive in each of their first two games despite the severe mismatch in personnel. 

* * *

TEXANS

Why are they 0-2?
The Texans opened the season with the Chiefs and Ravens, and while a team that wants to be considered good should be beating good teams, this is without a doubt the most brutal stretch of games someone could be handed after an offseason with limited practice time and no preseason games. The Texans seem to be experimenting a little bit on offense, allowing Deshaun Watson to dissect offenses like he’s capable of doing. However, the loss of DeAndre Hopkins is palpable (Houston is 7 of 19 on third-down conversions this year, which is one of the worst percentages in football, almost six percent below their 2019 average). 

Will they bounce back? 
Maybe. Houston’s schedule is absolutely brutal, with coming games against the Steelers this weekend and the Vikings the week after, a team that will also not remain winless for long. They’ll get the Jaguars twice in a four-week span starting on Oct. 11, but there aren’t many games that seem imminently winnable. Watson seems to be struggling to develop rapport with a dependable wide receiver who runs deeper routes. Jordan Akins leads the team in catches with nine while Brandin Cooks leads the team in total targets with 13 (with only seven catches). 

* * *

GIANTS

Why are they 0-2?
The Giants are 0-2 because a few years ago in a fit of desperation they signed a bunch of players to insane free agent contracts and clogged their salary cap tables. In the years since, they have struggled to build a team out of the general manager’s desired vision, which hinged greatly on weekly transcendent performances from a running back. That running back is now out for the season. 

Will they bounce back? 
No. The Giants had sold Saquon Barkley as the guy who would make the quarterback and the offensive line better. Without him, the team has to find stability at the running back slot while expediting the development of an offensive line that continues to underperform despite some noteworthy star power. 

* * *

EAGLES

Why are they 0-2?
How’s this for weird? Lane Johnson is winning 100 percent of his pass blocks this season, as has rookie fourth-round pick Jack Driscoll. Nate Herbig is winning on 96 percent of his pass blocks, which is one of the best among NFL guards. Jason Kelce is winning on 96 percent of his blocks, which is top 10 for the center position. Carson Wentz is being pressured at the lowest rate of his career (about three percent below his 2018 and ’19 averages). So the answer, to me, seems obvious. Carson Wentz is playing like one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. Pro Football Focus has him 33rd among 34 qualifying starters. In fairness, Wentz has never had a receiver drop rate (more than 8 percent) this bad. But his bad throw percentage (more than one in every five passes is ill-advised) has never been this bad, either. 

Will they bounce back? 
Yes, with an injection of confidence. Not only do the Eagles have one of the better performances in pass block win rate, but their defensive line, notably Malik Jackson, are winning on the defensive side of the ball at a superb rate. At some point, the tires will get out of the mud and the wheels will start spinning. This team is too talented and familiar with one another to fall apart like this. 

* * *

VIKINGS

Why are they 0-2?
The Vikings’ front seven has been dreadful thus far in 2020. Minnesota is in the bottom four defensively in rushing yards allowed, passing yards allowed (dead last), total yards allowed and total points allowed. The interior offensive line has struggled as well, meaning that Dalvin Cook is less successful per attempt and the Vikings are forced to get out of what they do best. Kirk Cousins has run just 10 play-action passes this season after logging 130 over 16 games for the Vikings last year. 

Will they bounce back? 
No. Mike Zimmer rarely has teams that bottom out and his defensive woes tend to get fixed over time. Similarly, Kirk Cousins is a good quarterback who is playing better than numbers suggest at the moment. That said, this schedule is nothing short of dreadful. After losses to the Packers and Colts to start the season, in comes the 2-0 Titans, a road game against the winless but still talented Texans, a road game against the 2-0 Seahawks and a home game against the Falcons, who are top five in nearly every important passing category, as well as total points and total yards. 

* * *

LIONS

Why are they 0-2?
The Lions have had injury issues but after folding down the stretch in a stunning loss to the division rival Bears, they were torpedoed in the running game by Packers. That 0-2 divisional pit is going to be difficult to climb out of, especially if the Bears can maintain some stability. The Lions have just two sacks on the season and eight total quarterback hits, while only four players on defense have logged a tackle for loss. 

Will they bounce back? 
Maybe. I’m not ready to count out Detroit, especially with Kenny Golladay’s return imminent. This should open up the Lions’ offense enough to make them competitive once their schedule softens up. After their Week 5 bye, the Lions get Jacksonville, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Washington and Carolina in a row. This is a good place to stack some wins together.

* * *

FALCONS

Why are they 0-2?
Explaining the Falcons to someone from outer space, starting with the third quarter of Super Bowl LI to now, would be one of the most difficult tasks a tenured sportswriter could ever get saddled with. There is talent. There is stability. Grady Jarrett is penetrating the backfield at least once every four downs, according to ESPN. Jarrett and Tyeler Davidson are among the best run stoppers in the league through two weeks (in games where they faced the Seahawks and Ezekiel Elliott), also according to ESPN. Calvin Ridley has developed into a 1a caliber receiver and is adequately strong-arming teams rolling their coverage toward Julio Jones. Matt Ryan is hitting on almost 70 percent of his passes with a very low bad-throw percentage. So of course they’re winless, right? 

Will they bounce back? 
I am tempted to say yes, mostly because I picked them to make the playoffs. They have an advantageous portion of their schedule coming up, though this team’s challenge has always been in navigating the more nebulous peaks and valleys of a season. 

* * *

PANTHERS

Why are they 0-2?
The Panthers are 0-2 because they are in a muddled rebuild. They played an apparently good Raiders team tough Week 1 and were still presentable for when Tampa Bay came back in Week 2 and unleashed all hell. 

Will they bounce back? 
No, but it’s uncertain if they really want to. Should Carolina play their cards right, they’ll emerge with a handful of high draft selections and (possibly) the quarterback of the future at the same time when Tom Brady and Drew Brees are retiring and Matt Ryan is on his 91st offensive coordinator, creeping toward his 40s. That sounds like a plan, no?

* * *

BRONCOS

Why are they 0-2?
The Broncos are 0-2 because sometimes life is unfair. You can lose the opener on a field goal with 20 seconds to play and then lose your quarterback the next week with a serious injury to his throwing shoulder. The hope is that John Elway stays the course and lets things play out. In year two, it seemed Vic Fangio had the foundation laid for the Broncos to make some noise in a division they had no business being competitive in. Noah Fant is a rising star and the offense looked salvageable despite the fact that their line was still among the most glaring underperformers in the NFL. 

Will they bounce back? 
Yes. Lock is out for at least three weeks, which means the Broncos juggle between Jeff Driskell and Blake Bortles until then. If it’s truly only three weeks, the injury occurred at roughly the best time. Denver has Miami and the Jets on their schedule over the next month and might be able to stay afloat until Lock returns. Will the horde of gamblers who took the over on Denver before the season started finish the year satisfied? Probably not. Will Denver finish the season providing the same optimism they did in 2019? Possibly.

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Interesting.  This guy nailed it.

 I think the Jets underestimated the totality of this rebuild and have been trying to microwave certain parts of the changeover to avoid public scrutiny (which they would have inevitably received anyway). 

I believe this is exactly what happened to JD - he passed on, traded away or let go the good players and signed a bunch of  back-up level talent on short deals - in the hopes that no one would notice he was rebuilding.  Most fans fell for it throughout the entire off-season.  New must be better!  They are learning the reality now.  

I just think he underestimated how sh--ty of a team he was really putting out there.

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13 hours ago, FidelioJet said:

Interesting.  This guy nailed it.

 I think the Jets underestimated the totality of this rebuild and have been trying to microwave certain parts of the changeover to avoid public scrutiny (which they would have inevitably received anyway). 

I believe this is exactly what happened to JD - he passed on, traded away or let go the good players and signed a bunch of  back-up level talent on short deals - in the hopes that no one would notice he was rebuilding.  Most fans fell for it throughout the entire off-season.  New must be better!  They are learning the reality now.  

I just think he underestimated how sh--ty of a team he was really putting out there.

The obvious cock up was Robbie.

We would have had to overpay to keep the pain-in-the-butt to remain here instead of signing with his college coach... I can't imagine Douglas would not like a do over.

Breshad Perriman as replacement? Lightening in a bottle twice? Insane thinking.

The overlooked alarming move was signing Pierre Desir to start.

It was delusional to think that he might return to form at the age of 30. What cornerback starts returning to the glory of past years at the age of 30?

Yes Douglas had a plan, I get it, but he failed by not having a more acceptable short term product.  Adams was beginning to act weird in the off season, drafting Ashtyn Davies was smart but surely you had to realize the possibility of Adams talking himself off the Jets and with that fall off in safety play, we would need a minimum of one quality corner?

The fall out has been disastrous and will likely cost some of the coaches their jobs.

We can only hope that Douglas learns from this poop fest.

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Only the Texans (-31) have been outscored more than the Jets (-28) so far this season.  But at least Houston has the excuse of having faced the Chiefs and Ravens back to back.  They'll bounce back.  We won't.

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9 minutes ago, Jetsfan80 said:

Only the Texans (-31) have been outscored more than the Jets (-28) so far this season.  But at least Houston has the excuse of having faced the Chiefs and Ravens back to back.  They'll bounce back.  We won't.

God you’re so pessimistic. Maybe you should try to root for your team sometimes.

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Broncos and Giants are scary, they could actually end up worse than the Jets if that’s even possible.

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3 minutes ago, HtownJet said:

Broncos and Giants are scary, they could actually end up worse than the Jets if that’s even possible.

Very difficult to see how that happens. Jets have the worst QB, least talent, and crappiest HC in the league.

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