The historical significance of starting 2-0

The Tennessee Titans are 2-0 for the first time since, as you’ve likely heard by now, 2008. That was the last time Tennessee won the AFC South, posting a 13-3 record that season and earning a first-round bye.

From a historical perspective, starting 2-0 gives teams a significant leg up in the playoff hunt. That is a no-brainer on the surface, but looking at the numbers reveals just how important a 2-0 start can be.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, teams who start 2-0 have a nearly 2 in 3 shot of making the playoffs. That’s partly because teams who start 2-0 are usually good, hence winning their first two games. By contrast, teams who don’t win early are usually not as good. That much is obvious.

This calculation is based on the previous years’ playoff format. Beginning in 2020, an extra team from each conference will qualify for postseason play. The 62% number of the last 30 years is undoubtedly too low for the new tournament configuration.

Right now, the Titans are joined by the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals, and Los Angeles Rams as the league’s 2-0 teams. On Sunday night, one of the Seattle Seahawks or New England Patriots will join that group, as will the winner of the Las Vegas Raiders and New Orleans Saints matchup on Monday.

That’s 11 undefeated teams with 14 total making the playoffs. It’s natural to think the majority of this year’s playoff field will come from the above grouping.

Looking inside the division, the Titans hold the sole first place position after today’s win. They hold the tiebreaker over Jacksonville, who holds a tiebreaker over Indianapolis with both at 1-1. Houston remains winless now at 0-2 after losing to Baltimore.

If the new playoff format improves the odds of 2-0 teams, of course it also improves the odds (and lowers the gap) for 1-1 and 0-2 teams. Houston has had an especially tough start to the season facing the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs followed by the team with 2019’s best regular season record, so they are likely not indicative of most 0-2 teams throughout NFL history.

The Titans’ two victories both came down to game-winning field goal tries, but they all count the same in the record book. The Titans are in a much better position through two weeks this season than they have been at any point in the last 12 years.

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