Since 1990, just more than 15 percent of teams that start 0-2 end up making the playoffs. Which of this year’s 0-2 teams have the best chance of rebounding to make the postseason?
At this point, it’s fair to assume Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending elbow surgery will keep the Steelers out of the mix. Backup Mason Rudolph did some good things in a 28-26 home loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, showing command of the huddle, a strong-enough arm and decent mobility. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
But he’s not Big Ben. Not only that, but the team was already struggling to adjust without offensive stars Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. In the six quarters he played, Roethlisberger led Pittsburgh to just 13 points. The Steelers haven’t had a No. 2 wide receiver step up behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, with Donte Moncrief dropping five passes through two games. Running back James Conner was banged up in the Seahawks loss.
The Steelers go on the road to play the 2-0 San Francisco 49ers next week, followed by a home contest against the Bengals, a home game against the division-leading Baltimore Ravens and a game at the Los Angeles Chargers. You never want to rule out a team too early, but that’s a tough stretch to navigate with a backup quarterback.
“We understand the position we are in,” Coach Mike Tomlin said after the game, before the extent of Roethlisberger’s injury was known. “We understand the negativity that comes with it. We will get singularly focused and get better for our next opportunity. … But today, it was painful, as it should be.”
Like Pittsburgh, the Jaguars had an opportunity to contend in the wide-open AFC, and while rookie Gardner Minshew nearly led an upset over the Houston Texans on Sunday, they’re at risk of having a lost season without injured starter Nick Foles. They have a quick turnaround this week with a Thursday night home game against the Tennessee Titans.
As for the Panthers, Cam Newton simply doesn’t look right. He has had two shoulder surgeries in the past couple of years, and during the end of last season he couldn’t throw well downfield. He worked on his throwing mechanics during the offseason, but in the first two games he appeared limited, whether it’s the shoulder or a lingering leg injury.
Newton has lost his past eight starts. His physical playing style may have finally caught up to him. Carolina is on the road the next two weeks against the Arizona Cardinals and the Texans, making next week something of a must-win if the Panthers are to get back on track in the competitive NFC South. Of the teams starting 0-2, they might have the best shot at making a run to the postseason, but they’ll need to get things fixed quickly — and most of that depends on Newton returning to form.
More Week 2 takeaways
— This season could be defined by its backup quarterbacks. The most significant among them might be Teddy Bridgewater, who will fill in for the New Orleans Saints as long as Drew Brees is out. That could be six weeks, as he it is likely he’ll require thumb surgery.
Brees stayed in Los Angeles on Sunday and Monday to have a doctor to check on his injured right thumb, which he hit against Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald. It’s not out of the question for him to be sidelined until November. That could kill the Saints’ Super Bowl chances, and an upcoming two-game stretch at Seattle and at home against the Dallas Cowboys doesn’t make things any easier.
— Indianapolis Colts General Manager Chris Ballard showed he understands the value of a good backup quarterback. After Andrew Luck retired, he gave Jacoby Brissett a two-year, $30 million extension and signed Brian Hoyer to a contract worth $4 million per year. Brissett, who usually does a good job of protecting the ball, did enough Sunday to beat the Tennessee Titans, 19-17.
— This was a telling comment from New York Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins: “I can’t cover nobody for 10 seconds.” That was the predictable problem for the Giants when they traded edge rusher Olivier Vernon to the Cleveland Browns in the offseason. They have no pass rush, and they’re thin at wide receiver after also shipping Odell Beckham Jr. to Cleveland, too. This could be a rough season.
— With seven touchdown passes in two games, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes sure seems as though he will buck the trend of passers regressing following 50-touchdown seasons. I expected Mahomes’s touchdown total would be somewhere in the 30s, but he appears poised to throw at least into the 40s. The Chiefs’ offense was dynamic in Sunday’s win over the Oakland Raiders, even without the injured Tyreek Hill.
— Antonio Brown started well in his New England Patriots debut, catching four passes for 56 yards and a touchdown off eight targets. It remains to be seen whether he’ll face league discipline or spend time on the commissioner’s exempt list, but whenever he’s on the field, he’s a luxury for the Patriots, who through two weeks look like the NFL’s best team.
— It’s looking like the revenge of the rookie wide receivers so far. In the 2019 draft, receivers slipped within each round amid discussion of it being a weaker class. It doesn’t look that way through two games. Marquise Brown of the Ravens, Terry McLaurin of the Washington Redskins, DK Metcalf of the Seahawks and A.J. Brown of the Titans are among those who have starred so far. Marquise Brown is a great weapon for a dynamic Ravens offense.