Friday, September 19, 2008

What’s The Big Deal About Starting 0-2?

Every year there are several really good NFL teams that stumble out of the gate, losing their first two games. This year, the Chargers, Seahawks and Vikings, all mentioned as bound for the playoffs in most of the preseason predictions, have suffered this frustrating start. In the Vikings’ case, it has already led to the starting quarterback being replaced. The poor QB barely had time to be picked in anyone’s Fantasy League before he was benched.

What follows such a dismal start are predictions of gloom by the sports media, citing the curious statistic that only a small percentage of teams that start 0-2 ever make it to the playoffs. That statistic is suspect, simply because the fact of the matter is, many of the teams that start 0-2 just keep on losing, so of course they don’t end up in the postseason. The 0-2 start is merely the truly bad team’s way of prepping the fans for the 3-13 debacle the season is going to end up being. This is much more merciful than winning your first two games, getting your fans all hyped up, and then losing the next ten games.

We should also keep in mind that the NFL season is a war of attrition. Even terrific teams destined to go deep into the playoffs lose two consecutive games at some point in the season. All it takes is a few unfortunate injuries, or running into two opponents that are on a hot streak. If you look back at playoff teams’ records after the season is concluded, you will often find that they win 4, lose 2, win 5 more, drop another couple of games, and when all’s said and done, they wind up 11-5.

The best advice for the fans of the current 0-2 teams is, RELAX. The Chargers got off to a similarly slow start last year and ended up very strong. There’s no reason to think they won’t equal or surpass last year’s record. Sometimes it seems that there are teams that don’t play their best football in September, for reasons that are difficult to identify. Their offense might not click right away. The spotty playing time starters get in the preseason may not prepare them to work well as a unit once the season starts.

One of the under discussed factors in the NFL is the relative strength of the team you are playing that week, not how they look on paper, but where the team is right at that moment, both mentally and physically. Suppose you’re facing a team that just played, and lost, a brutal game to a division rival on a Monday night. That team’s energy might be depleted when they play you, giving you somewhat of an advantage. Or they might come into your stadium as mad a hornets. Over the course of the season, these weekly situational factors might play a key role in the outcome of 4-5 of your games.

So, an 0-2 start is not so frightful after all. Of course, if you lose that third game...

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