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Is an 0-2 start still a death knell in a 17 game season?

This is sort of a pressing question for the Falcons because they’re, you know, 0-2.

Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda/Getty Images

The Falcons dropped to 0-2, as you well know. That result isn’t a surprise, because as soon as the team lost to the Eagles and we remembered the Buccaneers were on the schedule, it seemed like a likelihood. It’s still a very bad spot to be in.

The question for the Falcons isn’t “is the season over?” so much as it is “is any chance of pushing to the postseason over?” That’s sort of an academic question given that the Falcons have not looked remotely like a contender through the first couple of weeks, but I personally would like to not have to throw the season away and glumly watch this team flail around in early October, so let’s ask it anyways.

The bad news is that in the past 30 years, only about 12% of the teams who started 0-2 have made the playoffs that same season. That’s not 0%, but it tells you that hole’s pretty deep and you’d better be able to climb quickly, as SB Nation noted yesterday. But does the advent of the 17 game season change that?

In all likelihood, we’ll see at least a small bump in the number of teams making it, because if you get really hot after your sluggish start you’ll have one more game to push yourself into the playoff picture. The additional game means additional opportunity for a team that just got off to an awful start to make up ground, and that plus the expanded playoff format will conspire to push the number up. The simple fact of the matter, though, is that we don’t have any evidence to go off of just yet that indicates whether an additional game will make much of a difference. Teams that are 0-2 are often—but not always—pretty bad to begin with, and thus I don’t think you’re going to suddenly see an explosion in slow-starting squads getting into the postseason.

Last year, not a single 0-2 team ended up making the postseason with the expanded format, so our early indicators are again not encouraging. The Washington Football Team did something even more incredible than that last year, starting the season 1-5 and going 2-7 before “rallying” to get to 7-9 and winning the NFC East, but the Falcons won’t have the fortune of squeaking into the playoffs with a losing record in the NFC South.

Atlanta has done this twice before, starting 0-2 in both 1991 and 2002 before pushing their way into the playoffs. In both those years they actually won a playoff game, taking down New Orleans in one of my all-time favorite games back in ‘91 and toppling the Packers in ‘02. There’s precedent, which is at least a small comfort.

The 2021 Falcons, though? It’s not impossible but it sure as hell feels like a stretch already. The team dropped one of their rare, precious home games in spectacular fashion to the Eagles, and they only have six true home games remaining with 15 games to go. The Falcons have also not looked like a team that can punish contenders to this point outside of an admittedly impressive and furious rally to get within three of the Buccaneers yesterday, and the schedule still has plenty of intimidating opponents on it even if arguably the most difficult game on the schedule is now over and done with. They’ll have to drastically improve to have a real shot at it, and we’re definitely in the “seeing is believing” phase of the season already with that one. This feels very much like a team that’s going to need a whole season and another offseason, at minimum, to really figure things out.

In short, don’t pack that dirt down hard on the Falcons season just yet, but if your expectations weren’t already low in that regard you might want to lower them. History suggests these Falcons will have to be a rare bird indeed to wash away the stink of an 0-2 start and make the playoffs.