Which NFL teams can survive 0-2 start to 2022 season? Ranking all five by playoff viability

No team has overcome an 0-2 start to reach postseason since NFL expanded to 14-team playoff field. Can one of this year's winless clubs buck history?

Nate Davis
USA TODAY

Every NFL team still has 15 games left to play in the 2022 regular season.

However for five of them, it's already pretty much lights out – no matter how the coaches and players for those winless clubs might want to spin it.

"0-2 is tough, but it’s no panic," said Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. "We’ve lost two games in a row before, we lost two games in a row several times last year. Lot of football left to be played."

Definitely a lot of football left to be played, Joey B. It's also almost definitely time for you to panic.

This will be the league's third season featuring the 14-team playoff format. You might think the extra spots would allow for greater margin of error for clubs plagued by a slow start. 

You'd be wrong.

The Bengals and Raiders met in the 2021 playoffs, Cincinnati emerging victorious in the wild-card round.

Not a single squad in 2020 or 2021 reached postseason after starting 0-2. In fact, 2018 was the last time any overcame the 0-2 hurdle, the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks pulling it off then. 

A broader sample size provides slightly more hope. Since 1990, when the playoff field expanded from 10 entries to 12, 11.3% of teams have survived the 0-2 bugaboo. Far fewer – only three (or 1.1%) – have surmounted a two-loss premiere well enough to win the Super Bowl: the 1993 Dallas Cowboys (Emmitt Smith held out the first two games), 2001 New England Patriots (Tom Brady became their starter in Week 3) and 2007 New York Giants, who improbably knocked off the 18-0 Pats in Super Bowl 42.

"Can’t make it out to be more than it is," said Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill following Monday night's 41-7 drubbing from the Buffalo Bills.

"But have to be urgent in getting things turned around. We have no time to waste."

The Titans are seemingly out of time, but let's assess the likelihood – from least to most – that they or any of the four other 0-2 teams rebound all the way into the 2022 playoff bracket:

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5. Carolina Panthers

Glass still wet: They've lost their first two games courtesy of 58- and 56-yard field goals in the fourth quarter by the Browns and Giants, respectively. And DE Brian Burns, RB Christian McCaffrey and WR DJ Moore are among the league's best at their positions. Glass just about dry: Coach Matt Rhule is on the hottest of seats, his NFL record 10-25 two games into his third season, with scant evidence he or his team are ready to turn the corner. QB Baker Mayfield has only been on the roster for three months and is still adapting to a new offense, city and locker room. And after dropping two winnable games, Carolina's next five are against teams that had winning records in 2021, including the Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers – all among the final four teams in last season's NFC playoff field.

4. Atlanta Falcons

Like the Panthers, they've been outscored by a collective five points this season, though the Falcons' setbacks were arguably more frustrating. They squandered a 26-10 fourth-quarter lead to the New Orleans Saints (in Atlanta) on opening weekend, then nearly came all the way back from a 28-3 second-half hole against the Rams on Sunday before falling just short in a 31-27 defeat. Coach Arthur Smith has displayed an ability to get the most from a middling-at-best roster – though he's gotten barely any production from highly touted TE Kyle Pitts – yet may have a budding star on his hands in rookie WR Drake London. The Falcons have a reasonable chance to get back to. 500, their next two games against the Seahawks and Cleveland Browns, but then their schedule really ramps up. And given the probability rookie QB Desmond Ridder will need to be evaluated eventually – well, pretty clear where this season seems headed.

3. Las Vegas Raiders

They displayed impressive resilience, overcoming tragedy and Jon Gruden's humiliating downfall, to reach the playoffs in 2021. Owner Mark Davis was certainly hoping the additions of coach Josh McDaniels, All-Pro WR Davante Adams and pass rusher Chandler Jones would portend even greater heights for the Silver and Black in 2022 – and maybe that will still come to pass. The Raiders lost a close one on the road to a highly regarded LA Chargers squad in Week 1 and, though they seemed to have Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals in the bag after crafting a 20-0 lead that carried well into the third quarter, Las Vegas won't be the first team to go bust when Kyler Murray is dealing on the other side of the table. Still, QB Derek Carr must raise his level from the first two weeks and rekindle his Fresno State magic with Adams, and this team has to overcome the shaky personnel manning its trenches. Vegas better find a hot hand quickly because it's unlikely to have many more mulligans in a division as tough as the AFC West.

2. Tennessee Titans

AFC South champions the past two seasons and the conference's No. 1 seed in 2021, they're fresh off that 34-point loss to Buffalo, the worst of coach Mike Vrabel's tenure. 0-2 for the first time since 2012, the Titans currently sit at the bottom of their division, which is saying something given the current state of affairs in the AFC South. The offseason trade of WR A.J. Brown has gutted the passing game, leaving RB Derrick Henry (career worst, by more than a yard, 3.1 yards per carry) running into brick walls. OLB Harold Landry, who led Tennessee with 12 sacks in 2021, is lost to a torn ACL, and the Titans were further beaten up physically by the Bills on Monday. However, a lot of teams are going to get blown out by Buffalo this year, and the disarray plaguing the Titans' division – only Jacksonville currently has a win – suggest Tennessee might find a path back to postseason.

1. Cincinnati Bengals

If any team is going to do a 180, it's got to be this one, right? The Bengals are the first AFC team this century to begin a season 0-2 on the heels of a Super Bowl berth – so they're obviously struggling yet also have the talent to make a run. Last year's Achilles' heel, the offensive line, has carried over even though there are four new starters in front of Burrow, who's already been sacked a league-high 13 times after suffering 70 (playoffs included) last season. Yet it must be noted he didn't get the opportunity to adapt to the revamped blocking in preseason after being sidelined and sapped by a training camp appendectomy. The Bengals have also lost both of their contests by three points, on the wrong end of a game-ending field goal both times, including an overtime defeat to Pittsburgh in Week 1. But the talent on this roster, particularly the offensive weaponry, is formidable. So Burrow's probably right – hold off on that panic button ... though the klaxons will blare if Cincinnati stumbles against the Jets for a second straight year.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.