Tuesday, September 22

0-2 in the NFL: What it Really Means

With the first two weeks of the NFL season in the books, the pundits are out in force to point out that teams that lose their opening two games have a very small percent chance of making the playoffs. Until last season, they enjoyed using the “Since 2000...” stat, but with three teams making the playoffs after losing two straight to open the season and with the Giants as the then reigning champions, despite an 0-2 start, many have switched back to “Since 1990...” representing the expansion of the league from 14 to 16 games and from ten to twelve teams in the playoffs.

So here are the stats:
Since 2000, only nine of 79 teams that began the season 0-2, made the playoffs.
Since 1990, only 22 of 160 teams that began the season 0-2, made the playoffs.

Annually, these stats have suggested that good teams have had a less than 15% chance to make the playoffs if they get off to a slow start. This is a bit of a red herring, however, because they include the often futile efforts of teams like the Rams, Browns, Lions and Bengals, as well as four expansion teams. With this in mind, let's take a look at the true impact of going 0-2.

Of the 160 teams that have started 0-2 since 1990, 44 (27.5%) won six or less games both the year prior and the year they started winless (Think Shula/Coslet era Bengals, Kotite's Jets, or Mornhinweg's Lions). These are bad teams that serve only to negatively skew the perceived chance that good teams have to make the playoffs after a slow start. More than half, 92, weren't above .500 in either the year before or during the 0-2 season. While some were decent teams, their statistical merit when considering the chances for teams such as the 0-2 Panthers, Dolphins and Titans (all playoff teams from a year ago), is negligible.

What we're left with are 68 teams that were over .500 either the year before or the year they began 0-2. So of these 68 nearly a third, 22, made the playoffs and of the 43 teams that made the playoffs prior to their 0-2 start, nine (20.9%) made the playoffs the following season. This stat, however isn't without it's own skewing. More than a handful of these teams had to deal severe injuries, retirements, etc. that lead to a dramatic decrease in their record (four or more additional losses). A quick glance reveals at least 10 teams that had significant changes that severely hurt the team's ability to make the playoffs.

Some examples:

1992 Jets – Contract dispute with quarterback Ken O'Brien ushers in the Browning Nagle era.
1994 Oilers – Departure of Warren Moon leaves the team in the less than capable hands of Billy Joe Tolliver, Bucky Richardson and Cody Carlson.
1996 Falcons – Sideline tirade after week 3 leads to Jeff George being waived and 36 year-old Bobby Hebert taking over.
1998 Lions – Replaced quarterback Scott Mitchell with rookie Charlie Batch.
1999 Falcons – Jamal Anderson blows out his knee leaving Ken Oxendine as the team's leading rusher.
1999 Jets – Vinny Testaverde tears his achilles' tendon week one, beginning the Ray Lucas and Rick Mirer era.
1999 Broncos – John Elway retires and Terrell Davis tears up his knee.
2001 Vikings – Robert Smith retires after four straight 1,000 yeard years, leaving rookie Michael Bennett to carry the workload.
2004 Chiefs – Priest Holmes suffers (effective) career-ending neck injury after 8 games while on pace to break single-season touchdown record.
2005 Packers – Injuries to leading rusher Ahman Green and leading receiver Javon Walker.

While the Titans saw a defensive tackle walk in free agency and the Panthers lost one due to injury, the cores of all three winless playoff teams from a year ago remain intact. Removing the ten teams that had substantial changes from consideration means nine of 33 playoff teams that started 0-2 the year after, still managed to make the playoffs. If we deduct 10 from the 68 “good teams” that went 0-2, 22 of 58 (38%) made the playoffs following this “death blow” beginning to the season. Going 0-2 certainly hurts a team's chance to make the playoffs, particularly in a conference like this year's NFC where there is tremendous balance, but more often than not it's the tougher schedule over 16 weeks and perhaps having some free agents being poached that has much more impact. An 0-2 start is not optimal, but it certainly doesn't mean the season's over, particularly for good teams.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Nice post! As a Panthers fan, I'm not ready to give up on them, but we need a big game Monday and strong work during the Bye.

/fingers crossed