Embarrassing losses in back-to-back home games was certainly not the way the Cincinnati Bengals had envisioned the opening of the 2017 season.
And many people, fans and commentators alike, are already jumping off the Bengals’ band wagon, writing the season off as lost. But not so fast - there may be a glimmer of hope, albeit a small one.
Since the NFL went to the current playoff format in 1990, only 12 percent (27 of 221) of NFL teams that started the season at 0-2 were able to recover enough to make the playoffs.
But the odds may be even worse for the Bengals. Of the 27 teams that did make the playoffs after an 0-2 start, only the 2003 Philadelphia Eagles saw both of its losses come at home. And only five of those 27 teams were shutout as part of that 0-2 start. The 2003 Eagles were the only team that had the shutout come at home.
Finally, only eight teams lost at home by at least 20 points during their 0-2 start and still made the playoffs, including the 2002 Steelers, the 1998 Cardinals, the 1993 Steelers, the 1990 Houston Oilers and the 1990 Saints.
But recent history has shown that there is still a chance, and the latest example of that is the Miami Dolphins, who accomplished the feat just last year. The Texans and Seahawks did it in 2015; Indianapolis made the playoffs after an 0-2 start in 2014, and the Carolina Panthers did it in 2013.
In addition to the Bengals, seven other teams have gotten off to 0-2 starts this year. While the Browns, Jets, Bears, Colts and Bills aren't really surprise members of that inauspicious club, the other two teams are. The Saints and the Chargers are also winless in their first two contests.
Whatever slim odds the Bengals may have of recovering in time to make the playoffs this year will take an even bigger hit if they lose to the Packers this weekend, as almost every eager prognosticator expects them to do.
Since 1990, 150 teams have started the season 0-3. Of that group, only three teams have qualified for the playoffs, with the most recent coming in 1998.
San Diego began the year at 0-3 in 1992 and slipped to 0-4 after a 27-0 thrashing at the hands of the Oilers. But the Chargers stormed into the playoffs after winning 11 of their last 12 games and even recorded a shutout of the Chiefs in the first round of the playoffs before being eliminated by the Dolphins the following week. Two seasons later, San Diego went to the Super Bowl.
The 1995 Detroit Lions also stated at 0-3 after being outscored by a combined 16 points. Two times during those first three games the Lions lost by a field goal. Detroit continued to struggle and stood at only 3-6 through nine games. But the Lions recovered in time to win their last seven games in a row before losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the playoffs.
Doug Flutie’s Buffalo Bills team was the last to go from an 0-3 start to the playoffs. The Bills started to turn it around after three straight victories with quarterback Rob Johnson directing the offense, but turned the reigns over to Flutie after the sixth game of the season, a 17-16 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Flutie guided Buffalo to a 7-3 record and a place in the playoffs, where the Bills lost to the Miami Dolphins in the first round.
If any team is set up to be able to make a serious run at a playoff berth even after a slow start, it is the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincinnati features a perennial top-10 defense, led by Vontaze Burfict, who is set to come off of his three-game suspension next week.
And the Bengals’ offense has the potential to be one of the most explosive in the league, although early results have certainly not borne that out. Cincinnati features one of the top receivers in the league in A.J. Green and has a tight end in Tyler Eifert who, when healthy, is also one of the league’s best.
The Bengals also feature a talented running back corps led by Joe Mixon and Giovanni Bernard. Jeremy Hill is always a threat to score if and when Cincinnati gets close to the goal line. And the addition of the speedy John Ross could potentially open up this offense in ways that we have not seen since the departures of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu to free agency after the 2015 season.
So, Bengals’ fans, all is not lost - at least not yet. As Bengals safety George Iloka said in an interview for The Flying Pigskin podcast, "Nothing has been written in stone yet."