IF YOU’RE A fan of the Saints, Bears, Browns, Colts, Jets, Giants, Bengals or Chargers, there’s a real chance your team rule themselves out of the playoffs this weekend.
Sure, mathematically they could still have a record anywhere from 9-7 to 13-3 and still make the postseason, but history is not on their side.
Indeed, since 1980, 168 teams have started the season 0-3 and only five — 1981 Jets, 1982 Buccaneers*, 1992 Chargers, 1995 Lions and 1998 Bills — have gone on to make the playoffs.
*The Bucs reached the postseason almost exclusively because of an eight-week players’ strike which shortened the regular season to nine games, resulting in a 16-team postseason tournament.
So while 0-2 is not an insurmountable hole to find yourself in — 12% of teams that lose their opening pair of games still play meaningful football in January — fall to 0-3, like the 49ers did on Thursday night, and your chances of reaching the playoffs are just 2.97%
For the teams going into the weekend 2-0, securing three wins from three will get you into the playoffs more than 77% of the time but it is no guarantee of postseason football either. Last year, the Patriots, Broncos, Ravens, Eagles and Vikings all started 3-0 but only New England made the playoffs and, of course, won the whole thing.
Sunday – 2.30pm
Baltimore Ravens (-3.5) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (London)
The first London game of the season sees Jacksonville hoping to bounce back from a bad divisional loss to the Titans against a Ravens team sitting at 2-0 following games with two of the worst teams in the league, the Bengals and Browns.
Verdict: Jacksonville against the spread.
Sunday – 6pm
Denver Broncos (-3) @ Buffalo Bills
The Bills, as they showed by running Carolina close last weekend, are certainly not tanking the way many expected. Denver is coming off a big win over the Cowboys, proving their defence is more than capable against both the run and the pass.
Verdict: Broncos to cover.
New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers (-5.5)
This could be the last season we see Drew Brees and Sean Payton together in New Orleans. While the defence has been as bad as previous years, the offence has taken a step back, ranking eighth in Football Outsiders offensive DVOA. The Panthers offence might not be scoring, but they’ve one of the best defences in football at the moment.
Verdict: Panthers to cover.
Pittsburgh Steelers (-7.5) @ Chicago Bears
Speaking of good defences, the Steelers have held their opponents to less than two touchdowns per game to date and will look to do so again this weekend against a Bears side averaging 12 points through two games. Is this the week the much-vaunted Pittsburgh offence finally clicks?
Verdict: Steelers to cover.
Atlanta Falcons (-3) @ Detroit Lions
A battle of two undefeated teams in Detroit. The Falcons are coming off a relatively easy win over the Green Bay Packers while the Lions had plenty in hand over the Giants on Monday night. Having a day less to prepare for this game could be crucial.
Verdict: Falcons to cover.
Cleveland Browns (-1.5) @ Indianapolis Colts
Having Kevin Hogan come in to play quarterback because your starter is suffering from a migraine in the middle of a game is far from ideal but pretty much sums up the Browns season so far. The Colts defence looked okay last week against the Cardinals and Jacoby Brissett has had another week to learn the playbook.
Verdict: Colts against the spread.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Minnesota Vikings (-2)
At time of writing, we still don’t know if Sam Bradford’s knee has recovered sufficiently to play in this game. That could be the winning and losing of it. The Bucs were impressive in their delayed season opener but the Vikings are a different prospect with their starting quarterback.
Verdict: Vikings to cover (if, as expected, Bradford plays).
Houston Texans @ New England Patriots (-14.5)
Per Pro Football Focus, no offensive line in football has given up as many pressures on their quarterback (44) this season as the Houston Texans but they did play New England really close the last time the pair met. If Patriots fans were worried about a declining Tom Brady following their week one loss to the Chiefs, he set matters straight with 447 yards and three touchdowns last week.
Verdict: I don’t like this line at all. Texans against the spread.
Miami Dolphins (-6) @ New York Jets
The Dolphins were lucky to come out of LA with a win last weekend — thanks kickers — while the Jets were well and truly dispatched by the Raiders. Jay Cutler didn’t look like a quarterback who took the summer off to prepare for life in the broadcast booth so I’m not sure Met Life Stadium will provide much in the way of home comforts for Gang Green.
Verdict: Dolphins to cover.
New York Giants @ Philadelphia Eagles (-6)
Let’s not beat around the bush, the Giants — particularly on offence — have been atrocious so far, one of the worst teams in the NFL. That the head coach is willing to throw his two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback under the bus is not a good sign. The Eagles played better than the result of last week’s loss to the Chiefs showed.
Verdict: Eagles to cover.
Sunday – 9.05pm
Seattle Seahawks @ Tennessee Titans (-3)
This, potentially, has could be the game of the weekend if — and admittedly it’s a big if — the Seattle offensive line can finally get their act together. The Titans showed last week against the Jaguars exactly what will happen if they don’t.
Verdict: Titans to cover.
Sunday – 9.25pm
Cincinnati Bengals @ Green Bay Packers (-8)
In his NFL career, Aaron Rodgers has only failed to beat two teams. Both of them play in this game. The Bengals and Packers have worries over their offensive line but only one of them have the aforementioned Rodgers. That will be enough.
Verdict: Packers to cover.
Kansas City Chiefs (-3) @ LA Chargers
The Kansas City Chiefs look like the best team in football at the moment and they have a real chance to all but end the playoff hopes of a divisional rival this weekend when they travel to LA. The Chargers keep giving up fourth quarter leads and will hope Younghoe Koo has a better day at the office than he has the opening two weeks.
Verdict: Chiefs to cover.
Monday – 1.30am
Oakland Raiders (-3) @ Washington
The Raiders won their opening pair of games for the first time since 2002 — a year they went on to play in the Super Bowl — and have looked like one of the best offences in football through those two weeks. Washington’s 26th ranked defence will need to create turnovers to win this one.
Verdict: Raiders to cover.
Tuesday – 1.3oam
Dallas Cowboys (-3) @ Arizona Cardinals
It’s not so much the Cowboys’ loss to the Broncos that raised eyebrows last weekend, rather the manner of it. Zeke Elliott had the first sub-50 yard rushing game of his career and Dak Prescott could have had another four interceptions on top of the two he recorded. The Cardinals eventually overcame the Colts but they did not look good doing it.
Verdict: Cowboys to cover.
Check out the latest episode of the Irish NFL Podcast, sponsored by The42: