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NFL Teams At 0-1 Are In A Must-Win Situation If They Hope To Make Playoffs

INGLEWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: Head coach Mike McCarthy of the Dallas Cowboys follows the game from the sideline during the second half against Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Not many people would call a Week 2 NFL game a must-win but with just 16 games in a season, an 0-1 team is on high alert because going 0-2 great diminishes a team’s chance of making the postseason.

2020 could be a little more forgiving as the NFL now allows seven teams from each conference to make the playoffs, which is an increase of one. Regardless, an 0-2 start makes it really hard to make the postseason even with one more playoff spot.

The 12 team playoff field was established in 1990 and just 28 out of 223 teams went from 0-2 to make the playoffs and since 2002 when the league went to eight divisions, just 14 of 133 teams made the playoffs. The odds are not good.

The first matchup between 0-1 teams came on Thursday night football and it was the Cleveland Browns that were victorious over the Cincinnati Bengals. While the Browns are not considered to be a serious contender to make the playoffs, they are in a much better position compared to their Ohio counterparts to make it to the NFL postseason.

What Teams Are In Danger?

The games that are of the most interest within those 0-1 teams are the games that matchup vs. each other – making them do or die games. It is not impossible but it is really hard to make it to the postseason at 0-2.

There four games on Sunday that feature winless teams and the loser has just under a 15 percent chance of turning the season around to make the playoffs.

  • Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys
  • Minnesota Vikings at Indianapolis Colts
  • San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets
  • Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

KSL Sports Scott Mitchell was part of an even more of a rare feat when he was quarterbacking the Detroit Lions back in 1995. His team was 0-3 and they rebounded to finish 10-6 to make the postseason. He says 0-2 is very tough but not an impossible hole to dig out of.

“0-2 is not impossible. Thirteen percent of 0-2 teams make the playoffs. Right now, there are 16 teams that are 0-1,” Mitchell said. “So, there are going to be eight teams after this week that are open to those and eight of those teams. A quarter of the NFL is basically almost going to be eliminated, maybe one of those eight will make the playoffs.”

This has to come to quite the shock to a lot of fanbases, and the eight that are playing on Sunday very likely do not realize that if they lose the chances to hoist the Lombardi Trophy are basically out the door.

The NFL with so few games is not like Major League Baseball that plays 162 games and teams can lose 75 games and win their division. While fans may not be keenly aware of what an 0-2 start, players and coaches definitely know how big a deal it is if their team is 0-2.

“Players think about this and they pay attention to the standings. The reason they do in the NFL is that every game matters so much,” Mitchell said. “When you’re in basketball or baseball – I think that’s part of the appeal of football – there are no-load management games in the NFL.

“This is a great example of you where you have these teams that it’s literally the second game of the season and the emphasis and the value on this game is so important. If you’re going to just get to the playoffs, it’s not even talking about winning a Super Bowl but literally just getting to the playoffs.”

0-2 Means Pressure Is On

Players and coaches know what losing the first two games means to their chances. At this point, the team knows what is on the table and they can start tensing up, or they take on the pressure and battle through to start winning games. Regardless, there is a lot going on in the coaches and player’s mind trying to make sure they don’t go winless in their first two games.

“It’s mental because you start questioning yourself and when you question yourself, you start pressing, and that’s when you get into trouble,” Mitchell added. “You just really focus in on the fundamentals which actually have a have a bigger difference. So so, yeah, there’s the psychological side of it, and it’s a real thing because there’s so much pressure to win.”

Compare that to a team that is sitting at 3-1 or 4-0 in the early part of the season and the pressure is light as a feather with teams in a groove, playing well, winning games, and having their eyes on the prize of making it to the postseason.

The teams that are sitting at 0-1 likely feel the heaviness of 0-2 weighing on their shoulders, and after Week 1 there will at least be five winless teams and there could be as many as 12 after the first two weeks of the season.

Those future 0-2 teams will have a long road ahead of them if they want to turn their season around and get to the postseason, and luckily for them, there is that one extra playoff spot in each conference starting this year.

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