Slow starts in the NFL can have disastrous consequences. Since the league expanded its playoff field to 12 teams in 1990, just 28 of 223 teams (13 percent) during that time have recovered from an 0-2 start to make the playoffs. Since 2002, when the league expanded to 32 teams and reorganized into eight divisions, the rate of teams making the playoffs after an 0-2 start is even lower (14 of 133, or 11 percent). Overall, teams starting 0-2 average less than six wins for the season, with almost two-thirds (61 percent) winning six games or fewer.
That’s not an encouraging sign for the Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks. After Week 2, each team has less than a 5 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Seattle Seahawks (projected 2018 record: 6-10)
Seattle has losses against the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears, the latter an uninspiring 24-17 defeat on “Monday Night Football.” The Seahawks' Russell Wilson was sacked five times in the first half and six times total in the game, and he threw a pick-six, his first since his rookie season. And those sacks? The game charters at Pro Football Focus put all but one of them on Wilson. Otherwise, Seattle’s offensive line gets good marks for its pass-blocking; it ranks eighth in the NFL heading into Week 3.
The line’s run-blocking, on the other hand, is dismal. PFF has Seattle ranked fourth to last, and its rushers have just 138 yards. Just 29 of those yards occurred after contact, per Sports Info Solutions, indicating pretty much nothing is working on offense.
Perhaps the defense, which has allowed 1.8 points per drive (15th in the NFL), will improve after the return of linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. If so, maybe the Seahawks can make a run at a wild card.
Houston Texans (projected 2018 record: 6-10)
Quarterback Deshaun Watson was an MVP candidate in 2017 before a torn right anterior cruciate ligament cut his season short. Before the injury, Watson was the most valuable passer per ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating (83.5), meaning his performance was good enough for the team to win better than 83 percent of its games he played in. In 2018, he ranks 23rd with a QBR of 44.0.
The Texans' defense also is struggling, allowing more than two points per drive (ninth-most) despite forcing opponents to go three-and-out more than a third of the time (39 percent, eighth). At least J.J. Watt has returned; the 2012 defensive player of the year has been credited with six pressures and five stops at or behind the line of scrimmage, making him the sixth-highest-rated defensive end in the NFL.
Buffalo Bills (projected 2018 record: 5-11)
Based on the down, distance and field position of each pass and rush attempt, we would expect the Bills to have 51 points through two games. Instead they have 23, and they’re scoring less than one point per drive. Only Arizona is worse.
And here’s the good news for Buffalo’s defense: It can’t get any worse. The Bills are allowing a league-high three points per drive in addition to a whopping 90 percent conversion rate in the red zone.
New York Giants (projected 2018 record: 5-11)
It might be time to move on from Eli Manning. The 37-year-old has a high completion rate, 69 percent, but a career-low 4.8 adjusted net yards per pass, an updated form of the more well-known passer rating. His QBR is also in its third year of decline, indicating his performance is 2018 is good enough to win just 33 percent of his games played, which roughly translates to a 5-11 record over a full season.
Big Blue’s defense, on the other hand, is playing well. PFF ranks its secondary and pass rush as the 12th-best in the league, resulting in a below-average adjusted net yards (5.5) and passer rating against (81.6).
Detroit Lions (projected 2018 record: 5-11)
Detroit’s offense has sputtered (nine fewer points than expected), and Matthew Stafford ranks 29th of 32 qualified passers in QBR thanks to a league-leading four interceptions. But that’s not even the team’s biggest concern: The holes in the defense have been big enough to drive a truck through.
The Lions' run defense is allowing 5.6 yards per carry, second-most in the NFL, with 3.1 yards per carry occurring after contact. Defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois and linebackers Christian Jones and Jarrad Davis have received low, negative grades from PFF for their run defense.
Oakland Raiders (projected 2018 record: 5-11)
Oakland’s pass rush has suffered mightily after trading 2017 defensive player of the year Khalil Mack to the Bears before the season. Raiders defenders have been credited with 17 total sacks, hits and hurries, just four more than Mack has for his new team.
On offense, Jon Gruden’s system relies on quarterback Derek Carr connecting on short and intermediate routes in addition to getting the ball out as quickly as possible, but that hasn’t worked out. On throws when Carr holds the ball for 2.5 seconds or less, he is 42 for 50 (84 percent) with four interceptions and a 74.3 passer rating. When he holds the ball for longer than that, his passer rating jumps to 115.7. If Carr can get comfortable throwing the ball more quickly, as he did last season (96.5 passer rating), the Raiders could crawl their way back to contention.
Arizona Cardinals (projected 2018 record: 4-12)
Division leaders a few years ago, Arizona is being outscored by 16.4 points per game after adjusting for strength of schedule. If that level of mediocrity is sustained, it would be the second-worst campaign in franchise history, slightly behind the 1944 squad, a team created with the wartime merger of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Cardinals.
Using more traditional metrics, the 2018 Cardinals rank last or second to last in net yards per pass (3.6), scoring rate (5 percent of drives end in points), yards per drive (17.5), points per drive (0.4), first downs allowed (54), net yards per pass allowed (8.8), average time per drive allowed (3:37), plays allowed per drive (7.2) and yards allowed per drive (43).
Read more NFL coverage: