It’s not too early for overreactions if the overreactions are supported by analytics. After a string of losses to playoff-hopeful teams in Week 1, Week 2 could be pivotal to their postseason success—if they can make it to the postseason with another L.
Statistics show that only 8.1% of teams that went 0-2 to start the season since 2009 made the playoffs. Since the NFL expanded the playoff field to 14 teams this season, the percentage increased slightly—jumping to 10.1% using data from 2009-2019 under the new rules—but still shows the difficulty of playing in the postseason with consecutive losses to begin the year.
These aren’t true elimination games, but it’s pretty darn close for some. For others, particularly those with star quarterbacks and feasible playoff expectations, Week 2 will mean a lot more than just another game. Here are four remaining games that could possibly end a team’s season before it truly begins.
San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets
The NFC’s No. 1 seed could be in trouble and not just after this matchup. The San Francisco 49ers’ division just got more competitive. The Seattle Seahawks are seemingly letting quarterback Russell Wilson cook, and the Arizona Cardinals are already reaping the rewards of the offseason trade for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. This puts the 49ers, who lost 24-20 to the Cardinals in Week 1, facing a must-win game Sunday. Luckily for them, it’ll be against the New York Jets. New York struggled against the Buffalo Bills and was handed a loss of its own. The Jets will face one of the NFL’s best defensive units and a much, much better quarterback. If the 49ers can’t win in New York, there’ll be bigger concerns than a 0-2 start.
Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons
This should be a much better matchup than the aforementioned game, and both teams have their own motivations entering Sunday. The visiting Dallas Cowboys will need to come back from a narrow 20-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams while quarterback Dak Prescott continues to play for a big contract extension. Prescott, who is on the franchise tag this season, has yet to get Dallas past the divisional round of the playoffs; the Cowboys have missed the postseason altogether in two of his four seasons. They didn’t live up to the preseason hype and Prescott will have to do more against this Atlanta defense if he wants a top quarterback contract that’s been awarded to his counterparts.
Minnesota Vikings at Indianapolis Colts
While the Indianapolis Colts want to make the most of their time with quarterback Philip Rivers, the more concerning storyline here is Kirk Cousins. The Minnesota Vikings quarterback is the most overpaid passer since Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff, and to prove he’s worth the $96 million over the next three years, he’ll need to come away from this game with a win. The Vikings were unable to come back from a first-half deficit against the Green Bay Packers, and when Cousins was able to get going, it was too little too late. His window is still wide open while Rivers’ is closing. He’s never had much success in the postseason during his time with the Los Angeles Chargers and serves as a bridge until the Colts secure their quarterback of the future. But, a veteran talent like Rivers should also be able to at least get to the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Carolina Panthers
Tom Brady has never lost a Week 2 game after losing the season opener. Brady hasn’t missed the playoffs (aside from the year he tore his ACL early) since the 2002 season with the New England Patriots. Now, with Brady under center in Tampa Bay, things look much, much different. It will, of course, take some time for him to get acclimated to this new offense after the Week 1 loss showed more hiccups than originally anticipated; after all, it took Brady time to settle in while playing for the Patriots and he was there two decades. One of the greatest quarterbacks of all time should be able to overcome the odds even if the rebuilding Carolina Panthers hand him another loss. But if that’s the case, again, the Buccaneers would have more to worry about than their immediate playoff future.