NFL teams to make playoffs after 0-3 starts: Bengals looking to avoid perilous road back to postseason

A season ago, the Bengals became the 39th team since the merger to reach the NFL playoffs after starting 0-2. The road to a third straight playoff berth for Cincinnati already requires becoming the 40th to do so. But the Bengals are a loss away from an even more daunting challenge.

The NFL season having 17 games means that teams have time to make up for a slow start to the season, but it can typically help only so much. The Bengals have dropped games to the Browns and Ravens to drop to 0-2 to start the second straight season.

Cincinnati faces the Rams on “Monday Night Football” in a game that is looking increasingly dangerous. Los Angeles has looked better than expected to begin the 2023 campaign, and Joe Burrow’s calf injury has kept him questionable up until the start of the game. Even if he plays, he will certainly not be at 100 percent health.

A loss to the Rams on Monday would make the Bengals the fifth team this season to fall to 0-3, joining the Vikings, Broncos, Bears and Panthers. None of those four teams came into the 2023 season with the same lofty expectations of Cincinnati, which has made the AFC championship in back-to-back years.

MORE: Latest injury updates on Burrow for ‘Monday Night Football’

There have been 356 teams in NFL history begin the season 0-3, according to Stathead. Of those, only six have made the playoffs. How did those six improbably turn around the season? Sporting News dives into the history.

NFL teams to make playoffs after 0-3 start

1981 Jets

Expectations were limited for the Jets coming into 1981. New York had gone 4-12 the year prior and entered the 1982 season with +5000 odds, tied for the eighth-lowest in the league. And the season got off to a dreadful start. The Jets were blown out 31-0 by the Bills, fell 31-30 to the Bengals and were blown out again 38-10 by the Steelers.

But in Week 4, the Jets bounced back in a big way, routing the Oilers 33-17 to get back on track. New York tied with the Dolphins at 28 and won two more games, beating the Patriots 28-24 and the Bills 33-14 before losing 19-3 to the Seahawks to fall to 3-4-1.

From there, the Jets were nearly unstoppable. New York rattled off five straight wins to vaulted up to 8-4-1. Though it lost to the Seahawks again, New York went right back to its winning ways after that defeat, beating the Browns 14-13 and routing the Packers 28-3.

The Jets wound up reaching the playoffs after finishing second in the AFC East at 10-5-1, and earning a matchup at home against the third-place Bills, who went 10-6, in the wild-card round. It looked like the early season Jets were going to be showing up, with the Bills running up to a 31-13 lead in the fourth quarter. New York made it more respectable by the end, but still lost 31-27, ending its season.

MORE: Will the Jets bench Zach Wilson? Exploring QB options behind embattled starter

1982 Buccaneers

All teams were impacted by the strike-shortened 1982 season. The Buccaneers might be one of the teams that benefitted from the gap in the middle.

Tampa Bay lost the first two games of the season, both by one score, to the Vikings and Redskins before the campaign was put on hold. When the season resumed in Week 11, the Buccaneers lost one more, dropping to the Cowboys 14-9.

One-score game luck always has a way of turning at some point, and after three straight one-score losses, the Buccaneers rattled off two straight one-score wins over the Dolphins and Saints before losing by 15 to the Jets. Tampa Bay ended the season with three more one-score wins, edging the Bills, Lions and the Bears, the final game coming in overtime, to punch its ticket to the playoffs at 5-4 with a third-place finish in the NFC West.

The Buccaneers might have sneaked into the playoffs at the end, but they were swiftly bumped out, losing on the road 30-17 in the wild-card round. It only got worse the next season for Tampa Bay, with the team going 2-14. Turns out, it’s even more difficult to make the playoffs after starting the season with nine straight losses.

MORE: Is Baker Mayfield this season’s Geno Smith?

1992 Chargers

The Chargers began the 1991 season by losing five straight games, and eight of the first nine games overall. San Diego could not turn things around, ultimately finishing 4-12 to end the season. And it did not look much better to start the following season.

San Diego started the season losing four straight, including being outscored 50-6 over the last two games of that losing streak. It won against the Seahawks in Week 5 to snap the losing streak right before the bye week.

And it was a different team that came out of the bye. The Chargers won three straight games against the Colts, Broncos and Colts before falling in a tight loss on the road to the Chiefs. The Chargers did not lose a game the rest of the regular season, and were particularly dominant down the stretch, winning all but two of their last seven games by at least two scores and outscoring opponents 94-38 in the final three games. The red-hot run pushed the Chargers to 11-5 and an AFC West win.

The playoffs was a tale of two teams. The Chargers dominated the Chiefs in San Diego by winning 17-0. They then went on to Miami to face the No. 1-seeded Dolphins, who had been on a bye. The well-rested Dolphins throttled the Chargers 31-0, though they would be eliminated in the conference championship 29-10 by the Bills the next week.

To date, the 1992 Chargers are the only NFL team to lose four straight games to start the season and reach the playoffs, which should give hope to whichever team winds up 0-4 in Week 4’s matchups of the Bears-Broncos and the Panthers-Vikings.

MORE: Week 4 NFL odds, lines, and point spreads

1995 Lions

The Lions reached the playoffs in 1994 after a middling 9-7 campaign, and were knocked out right away by the Packers. Detroit came into the 1995 season with limited expectations, with Super Bowl odds at +3500 and an over/under win total of 8.5.

And when the season began with an 0-3 start, it seemed the tempered expectations were reasonable. The Lions weren’t blown out, losing at worst by 10 points to the Vikings in Week 2, but the team did not appear to be clicking on offense, being held to 20 points or fewer in each contest.

The Lions picked up back-to-back wins against the 49ers and Browns, appearing to jumpstart the offense by scoring 27 and 38 points in the two games, before they fell in overtime to Washington. Detroit split its next two games before hosting the Buccaneers. That was when the Lions caught fire. Detroit won the game 27-24, and was unstoppable from there. The Lions rattled off seven consecutive wins, most in dominant fashion, outscoring their opponents 227-113.

Detroit finished the season at 10-6, second in the NFC Central and earning a trip to Philadelphia to face the Eagles in the wild-card round. And the offense that finished second in the NFL in points scored per game (27.3) had no problem scoring, racking up 37 points against the Eagles. The problem was that the Eagles, who averaged just 19.9 points per game, made the most of six Detroit turnovers and clicked on offense by scoring 58 to knock the Lions out of the playoffs.

1998 Bills

The 1990s were a tumultuous decade for the Bills. On the one hand, Buffalo reached the Super Bowl four straight years from 1989 to 1993. On the other, it lost each one of those Super Bowl appearances. Marv Levy took the Bills to the playoffs in 1995 and 1996, but the team dropped off in 1997, falling to 6-10, leading to Levy’s retirement.

In his first year as head coach, Wade Phillips saw his team get off to a slow start, losing each of the team’s first three games before reaching the bye week. But coming out of the bye, the Bills looked like a different squad, winning five straight against the 49ers, Colts, Jaguars, Panthers and Dolphins before losing to the Jets.

Buffalo went into a bit of a pattern from there, winning two straight followed by a loss twice, ultimately ending the season with a win against the Saints to move to 10-6 and placing third in the AFC East.

The Bills went on the road in the playoffs to face the Dolphins in the wild card round, and were knocked out, falling 24-17.

MORE: Top Week 4 Fantasy Pickups: De’Von Achane, Tank Dell lead rookie takeover

2018 Texans

In 2017, the Texans handed the ball to 12th overall pick Deshaun Watson. He led the team to a 3-4 start before tearing his ACL and ending his rookie season just seven games into his NFL career. But the team had him back healthy to start 2018, which game them hope for a turnaround.

It didn’t come right away. The Texans averaged 19.7 points per game, falling to the Patriots, Titans and Giants to start the season. Houston won back-to-back overtime contests against the Colts and Cowboys to kick off a nine-game winning streak and move up to 9-3.

The Texans alternated wins and losses the rest of the year, losing to the Colts, beating the Jets, falling to the Eagles and topping the Jaguars. 

That hot run powered the Texans to a 11-5 record and an AFC South crown, allowing the Texans to host the Colts in the wild-card round of the playoffs. The Texans’ late-season pattern of exchanging wins and losses continued in the playoffs, with Indianapolis edging out the Texans 21-7.

Share with your friends!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get The Latest Sports News
Straight to your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.