What an 0-2 Start Means for the Saints, Chiefs and Colts
Two weeks into the season is a bit soon to be crowning any Super Bowl Champion, and it's also pretty early to be declaring which teams have no playoff hopes.
And despite the common saying - "It's a marathon, not a sprint" - three teams who made the playoffs last year (the New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs, and Indianapolis Colts) are still winless two games into the season.
With 14 games left to play, there are plenty of chances to win, but only 23 of 198 teams that started 0-2 made the playoffs since 1990. That's just an 11.6% chance, based on blind history, to make a return trip to the playoffs.
But these were successful teams last year, not a recurring basement-dwellers, so just how much of a chance do these teams have to make the playoffs, and what went wrong in the first place?
Let's see what the numbers say.
New Orleans Saints
Saints make playoffs at 0-2: 33.3%
Saints make playoffs at 0-3: 22.3%
Saints make playoffs at 1-2: 37.8%
Saints fans can exhale - a little.
As it stands, the Saints still have a pretty decent chance of making the playoffs, considering they're still winless, already have a divisional loss against the Atlanta Falcons, and are seeing the Carolina Panthers sitting atop the division with a 2-0 record.
The Saints lost two games by a combined five points, and their offense is still one of the best. After Week 2, they ranked third in the league in Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play behind the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos. NEP indicates how successful a team is at putting itself into scoring position and scoring points compared to the average team, or what is "expected" from a team. It can also be adjusted to account for schedule strength.
Drew Brees has not been the same just yet, as he ranks just 11th in Passing NEP out of the 35 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 15 drop backs and just 14th on a per-play basis.
On a more promising note, the Saints are the second-best rushing team in the league, based on Adjusted Rushing NEP per play. In the first two weeks, the Saints added 0.29 points per rush. The Seahawks added 0.33. All the way in third and fourth are the two opponents the Saints have faced so far this year: both the Cleveland Browns and Falcons have an Adjusted Rushing NEP per play of 0.18.
That's kind of the issue with the Saints right now.
New Orleans ranks 30th defensively so far this season - 29th against the pass and 30th against the run.
But those defensive woes aren't too much to overcome. Right now, the Saints rank sixth in nERD with a score of 5.20. nERD gauges how many points a team is expected to win by over an average opponent. Even more reassuring to Saints fans: they draw a 92.68% comparison to the Super Bowl champion 2010 Green Bay Packers.
With a win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Saints jump their playoff odds to 37.8%
Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs make playoffs at 0-2: 12.6%
Chiefs make playoffs at 0-3: 7.0%
Chiefs make playoffs at 1-2: 18.8%
Less hopeful are the numbers for the Chiefs. They're not much higher than the 11.6% chance of all 0-2 teams to make the playoffs since 1990.
Like the Saints, the Chiefs defense has not been very successful. They rank 27th defensively - 32nd against the pass, and 20th against the run - on a per play basis.
Kansas City finished 2013 with the third-best passing Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per Play allowing -0.05 points per pass (meaning opposing teams lost points while trying to pass on them last year).
They're allowing 0.40 points per pass so far this year.
The offense isn't clicking either. The team ranks 24th according to NEP, having scored a total of 27 points through two games. Their key to success, Jamaal Charles, was overlooked in Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans and exited the team's Week 2 contest against the Broncos. Charles recorded a Total NEP of 68.59 last year, tops among all running backs.
Their 22nd-ranked nERD score (-1.47) isn't promising, and they draw recent comparables to the 2010 St. Louis Rams (92.81%) and the 2012 New York Jets (92.80%). The Rams finished 7-9 in 2010, and the Jets were 6-10 in 2012.
If the Chiefs beat the Miami Dolphins, who currently rank 16th in nERD, their odds of the playoffs climb to a still-scary 19%. But an 0-3 start would be dire for the team's playoff hopes, giving them just a 7.0% chance to clinch a postseason appearance.
Colts make playoffs at 0-2: 14.4%
Colts make playoffs at 0-3: 8.4%
Colts make playoffs at 1-2: 17.0%
The NFL schedule-makers did not give the Colts any favors by providing matchups against the Broncos and the Philadelphia Eagles, both top-five teams according to nERD, to open the year.
The Colts are a middle-of-the-pack scoring team currently and rank 15th on a per play basis according to NEP. Their rushing unit is just 27th in the league, losing 0.10 points per every rush when adjusted for schedule. Led by Andrew Luck, though, the Colts are the fourth-best passing team in the league.
Luck personally ranks seventh in Passing NEP of the quarterbacks with at least 15 drop backs, but is 13th on a per-drop-back-basis.
Before dismissing the running game entirely, though, it must be said that it's a tale of two backs. Of the 43 running backs with at least 15 rushes, Trent Richardson ranks 40th in Rushing NEP. Per-carry, he's 39th.
Ahmad Bradshaw, on the other hand, has a Rushing NEP per Play of 0.11, which is 12th best among the 43 qualified rushers. Overall, Bradshaw is 13th in Rushing NEP. Additionally, Bradshaw's receiving ability has given him the highest Total NEP of any running back through two weeks of football.
The Colts, though, still rank last defensively, are 31st against the pass, and are 26th against the run. The inefficiencies of the defense has so far rendered the team's 51 total points relatively useless because they didn't account for any wins. With a nERD of -4.33, the Colts are just the 29th-best team in football through two weeks and makes them 96.06% comparable to the 8-7-1 Packers of last year.
Despite not having a team inside the top 16 in nERD inside the division, the Colts can't afford to lose another one. Even with a victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars this week, a 1-2 Colts team would have only a 17.0% chance of making the playoffs.