Most 3-0 NFL Teams Likely Headed to Postseason
by Mike Hayes - 09/29/2006
Numbers don't lie. This year, the numbers tell us that the playoff fate of many teams is decided by the fourth week of the NFL season.
Since the playoffs were expanded to 12 teams in 1990, 76 percent of the teams - 62-of- 82 -- that started the season with three consecutive wins went on to make the playoffs. Last year each of the four teams that opened with a 3-0 mark, including three eventual division winners, qualified for postseason play.
Even more telling is the fact that over that same time less than two percent of the teams, a mere 3-of-204, that started the season 0-3 qualified for the postseason.
As a result, Carolina, Washington, Miami and Green Bay were able to breathe a sigh of relief last week by posting their first wins of the season. Ironically, each defeated a team that had also entered the game 0-2, thus providing the Bucs, Texans, Titans and Lions with an almost certain football-free January.
In Baltimore, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Chicago and Seattle, season ticket holders can start checking their mail for their playoff ticket invoice thanks to week three victories that have them on the right side of history. The Chargers, who entered last week's bye at 2-0, will find themselves among this group with a win at Baltimore Sunday.
While statistics do indicate that teams that start the season at 3-0 are likely headed to the postseason, they also tell us that one-in-four won't. Therefore, one or more of the above mentioned unbeatens could find themselves on the outside looking in come January.
The Ravens and Saints have to be considered the surprises among the league's undefeated teams and the most likely to fall into the 24 percent that fail to reach the playoffs after getting out of the gate with three consecutive wins.
Baltimore looked like a playoff caliber team in outscoring the Bucs and Raiders 55-6 over the first two weeks and as a result were made a 6.5 point road favorite at Cleveland in week three.
After trailing most of the game they escaped with a 15-14 victory. A win is a win in the NFL, especially on the road, so it's tough to knock the effort regardless of the margin of victory. With Steve McNair at QB the Ravens are much improved over last season. They do have a tough schedule that includes division opponents Pittsburgh and Cincinnati as well as Atlanta, KC, Buffalo, New Orleans and Carolina.
We should learn a lot more about the Ravens and their postseason chances this week as they find themselves a 2.5 point home dog to the Chargers.
We should also learn a lot about the Saints this week. This team has made the playoffs just five times in 39 seasons. They are 8.5-point dogs at Carolina. Their schedule is pretty soft so a sixth trip to the playoffs is a possibility.
It's hard to imagine a scenario in which the 3-0 Colts, Bengals, Bears or Seahawks do not qualify for the playoffs. It's even more difficult to make a case for any of the current 0-3 teams to defy the odds and join the 1992 Chargers, 1995 Lions and 1998 Bills as the only teams to overcome 0-3 starts to reach the postseason.
The 1992 Chargers actually started the season at 0-4, but finished the season on an 11-1 run to win the AFC West. After a 17-0 victory over division runner-up Kansas City in the first round of the playoffs their season ended in a 31-0 blowout loss at the hands of the Dolphins.
The 1995 Lions not only started the season at 0-3, but were actually 3-6 before ending the season on a seven game win streak to finish a game behind the Packers and qualify for a wild card berth.
The win streak ended with a 58-37 first-round loss to the Eagles.
The 1998 Bills started 0-3 but finished at 10-6 and qualified for a wild card berth. They dropped a first-round match-up to Miami.
The Texans, Titans, Browns, Bucs and Lions find themselves among this year's crop of winless teams after three weeks of play. The Chiefs could avoid joining this bunch with a win against the 49ers Sunday as can the Raiders who would need to beat the above mentioned Browns at home.
The best of the lot is likely Tampa Bay, who in losing to Carolina 26-24 last week kept the Panthers out of this bunch. With a very, very large question mark at the QB position it is hard to believe the Bucs can rebound.
The Browns might not be as bad as the record looks but the schedule is stacked against them thanks mostly to divisional games against the Steelers and Bengals.
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