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8 NFL playoff hopefuls with the biggest risk of falling into the dreaded 0-2 hole

No NFL team in the last three years has made the playoffs after beginning a season 0-2. It’s not that it’s impossible – 30 teams have done it in the last 32 years – but it’s highly improbable. In a league where literally every game matters, dropping two out the gate usually spells doom for how the rest of the season will go.

Overall, 265 teams have started 0-2 since 1990, according to Stathead. The 30 that made the playoffs represent just 11% of those teams. That number is down to 9% in the Super Bowl era (since 1966). Only three teams have ever gone on to win a Super Bowl after starting 0-2. The last of them was the New York Giants in 2007. Since then, the 11 teams to make the playoffs after an 0-2 start have gone a combined 5-11 in the postseason with just one reaching a conference championship game.

Teams that start 0-2 simply don’t make the playoffs, and if they do, they don’t go very far. After Thursday’s schedule release, here’s a look at the playoff hopefuls you may want to fade based on how big their risk is to start 0-2.

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Miami Dolphins

Jan 2, 2022; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) during the second half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Playoff odds: Yes +140 / No -170

Miami likely would’ve started last season 0-2 if not for a fourth-quarter fumble by the Patriots in Week 1. But the Dolphins were still a great example of how hard it is to dig out of an early-season hole. They won eight of their last nine games and still missed the playoffs thanks to a 1-7 start.

Now the Dolphins enter this season with plenty of hype after adding big names like Tyreek Hill in the offseason. But they open play against the Pats again before visiting the Ravens in Week 2. If that Tagovaiola-to-Hill connection isn’t clicking on all cylinders by the end of training camp, they could be facing another narrow postseason elimination come season’s end.

Minnesota Vikings

Playoff odds: Yes +105 / No -130

Minnesota has been playing below .500 football the last two years, but they have a quarterback making $35 million and weapons on offense that a coordinator would give a leg to have. It’s playoffs or bust for the Vikings, but they first have to play the Green Bay Packers at home in Week 1 before going on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 – both playoff teams from a season ago. If they drop both games, it won’t be a good sign of things to come.

Arizona Cardinals

Jan 2, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) runs the ball in the third quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Playoff odds: Yes +100 / No -120

The first of these teams to have actually made the playoffs last year, the Cardinals have somewhat tempered expectations this season because of how bad they looked in that Wild Card game. And also because of the DeAndre Hopkins suspension. Add their early-season schedule to the list of reasons to be cautious with Arizona. They host the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1 before making the short trip to Las Vegas to play the Raiders.

Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs

Raiders playoff odds: Yes +150 / No -200

Chargers playoff odds: Yes -170/ No +130

Chiefs playoff odds: Yes -220/ No +170

I’m lumping these division rivals together because all of them can’t start 0-2. Somebody has to win when they play each other. But at least one of them might drop two games.

The Chargers play both the Raiders and Chiefs, going on the road for the latter of those games. And as mentioned above, the Raiders and Chiefs each play the Cardinals as their other games to open the season. If I had to pick the team I’m least worried about, it’s the Chiefs. I don’t see them losing the opener to the Cardinals. But the rest of their early-season schedule is brutal.

Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) looks on after throwing an incomplete pass, turning the ball over on downs to the San Francisco 49ers during a wild card NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022, in Arlington, Texas. San Francisco won 23-17. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Playoff odds: Yes -310 / No +200

This is where we get into some outstanding value on these picks, because I think there’s a realistic chance Dallas does miss the playoffs at +200 odds. The scheduling powers that be did them no favors, and that includes a brutal opening two weeks against the 2020 Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 2021 AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals. Sure, they get to host both games, but Jerry’s World is every team’s world. If they drop these two games, they’ll be hoping the rest of the NFC East hasn’t dramatically improved.

Buffalo Bills

Playoff odds: Yes -500 / No +350

Buffalo missing the playoffs is the outcome I least expect, but the Bills can absolutely start the season 0-2 after games against the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans. I would bet on Buffalo to beat Tennessee at home in Week 2, but the Titans have a way of winning when people least expect them to. I’m still not entirely sure how they won the AFC’s top seed last season.

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