It’s often said that every game counts the same as any other in the bigger picture of the NFL standings, but the reality is that a team that starts 0-2 is a longshot at best to make the playoffs.
There are exceptions to the rule, but the numbers rarely lie and, since 2007, the numbers for 0-2 teams are truly bleak, making today’s game between the 0-1 Vikings and the 0-1 Lions even more critical, just as much for the winner as the loser.
Considering the recent history, the must-win tag on this game is legitimate:
2014 – Seven teams started 0-2 (Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Oakland, New Orleans, New York Giants and Tampa Bay). Of those, only the Colts made the playoffs.
2013 – Eight teams started 0-2 (Carolina, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Minnesota, New York Giants, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Washington). Of them, only Carolina made the playoffs.
2012 – Six teams started 0-2 (Cleveland, Jacksonville, Kansas City, New Orleans, Oakland and Tennessee). None of them made the playoffs.
2011 – Seven teams started 0-2 (Carolina, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Miami, Minnesota, St. Louis and Seattle). None of them made the playoffs.
2010 – Eight teams started 0-2 (Buffalo, Carolina, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, St. Louis and San Francisco). None of them made the playoffs.
2009 – Nine teams started 0-2 (Carolina, Cleveland, Detroit, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Miami, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Tennessee). None of them made the playoffs.
2008 – A whopping 11 teams started 0-2 (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Miami, Minnesota, St. Louis, San Diego and Seattle). Of those, two made the playoffs – the Vikings and San Diego, which made it with a record of 8-8.
2007 – Ten teams started 0-2 (Atlanta, Buffalo, Kansas City, Miami, New Orleans, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland, Philadelphia and St. Louis). Of them, only the Giants made the playoffs, but they went from 0-2 to being the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs and eventually beat the then-undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl.
If anything, the 2007 Giants showed that starting 0-2 isn’t a death sentence, but it’s about as bad as it gets. Even including the three playoff teams from 2007-08, the odds of making the playoffs with a 0-2 start is a brutal 8 percent.
Even worse is that, since 2009, 45 teams have started 0-2. They have combined to send just two teams to the playoffs – Indianapolis last year and Carolina in 2013.
The percentage since 2009 of making the playoffs with a 0-2 start? An anemic 4.4 percent. The other 95.6 percent have found themselves at home watching wild card playoff weekend.
The Chicken Little types who claim the sky is falling are starting to use the must-win for the 16 teams that lost in Week 1, including the NFC champion Seahawks and 2014 playoff teams in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Detroit. There are a lot of teams in the same boat as the Vikings.
Maybe someone in the 2015 season will help to start to reverse the trend of being effectively dead in the water after starting 0-2. Still, when the numbers come into play, even the hard-core metric types have to agree that the chances of an 0-2 team making the playoffs are hideous.
Maybe it is time to start calling today’s game with Detroit a must-win because it is … if the Vikings intend to be playing in mid-January.