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Ranking winless teams: Who rebounds? Who’s toast?

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The 2020 NFL season has barely begun — but it might already feel interminable to those teams still searching for their first win.

Then again, as one of the teams in my ranking of winless squads below can attest, going three weeks into the year without a victory does not necessarily spell doom.

Which winless squads are good enough to inspire hope for a turnaround? And which are in trouble? I’ve ranked every winless team below, from best to worst.

Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles


0-2-1

I can’t remember the last time a team finished a game in a tie and still gained ground in its division, as the Eagles did on Sunday. Philadelphia is obviously flawed, but the team’s troubles can largely be blamed on injuries that have decimated any sense of continuity in the cast of characters around Carson Wentz. With no dominant team yet emerging in the NFC East, the Eagles should remain in contention to win the division, provided they can pull off an upset or two in their next three games (at San Francisco, at Pittsburgh, vs. Baltimore) before beginning a stretch of three straight divisional contests (two against the Giants sandwiching a matchup with the Cowboys and a Week 9 bye). 

Houston Texans

The Texans became the first team in NFL history to open a season against the previous two MVP winners (Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson) and a Super Bowl-winning quarterback (Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger), and the result was a struggle for a defense seeking an identity under first-year coordinator Anthony Weaver — Houston ranks 29th in points allowed and 23rd in yards allowed entering Week 4. An anemic run game (66 yards per game), meanwhile, has placed too much stress on a passing attack that is still adjusting to life without DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans have displayed resiliency in the past — as I alluded to in my intro, Houston overcame an 0-3 start to win the AFC South back in 2018. The Texans will have a golden opportunity to jump-start their 2020 season against the Vikings, presuming the two teams play as scheduled after players on Minnesota’s last opponent, the Titans, tested positive for COVID-19.

Cincinnati Bengals

A handful of plays separate this winless Bengals squad from being undefeated, given that its two losses came to the Chargers and Browns by a combined eight points. Joe Burrow‘s career is off to an impressive start (64.5% completion rate, 273.7 passing yards per game, 5:1 TD-to-INT ratio, 89.0 passer rating), considering he didn’t have the luxury of going through a traditional NFL offseason or preseason because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cincinnati is still flawed defensively; giving up 181 rushing yards per game thus far does not bode well in the AFC North, where all three rivals boast strong running attacks. But the Bengals should get into the win column soon — perhaps even this Sunday at home against Jacksonville.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons “beat” astronomical odds to get to 0-3, becoming the first team in NFL history to blow two fourth-quarter leads of 15-plus points in consecutive games. Atlanta’s epic collapses against the Cowboys and Bears in Weeks 2 and 3 continued a pattern of being unable to seal the deal under head coach Dan Quinn, most famously represented by the 28-3 implosion in Super Bowl LI. I’m pulling for Quinn to instill a killer instinct in this club before it’s too late — but it’ll be tough to turn things around unless an injury-riddled defense finds some answers.

Minnesota Vikings

My pick to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LV is currently closer to choosing first in next year’s draft than it is to competing for the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy. Making the Vikings’ 0-3 hole even deeper is the fact that the Packers and Bears have started off 3-0. Minnesota’s offense showed signs of life Sunday after floundering in the season’s first two games, with Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson posting career-best efforts — in fact, the loss to the Titans marked the first time a team has ever had a receiver and running back each post 175-plus yards in the same game. The problem remains a defense that has allowed consecutive 100-yard rushing performances by Jonathan Taylor and Derrick Henry. Minnesota has also had trouble stopping opposing QBs, thanks to injuries up front and an ailing, inexperienced secondary. The team has a chance to start inching its way back into playoff contention in the near future, with winless Houston (Week 4) and Atlanta (Week 6) on the schedule ahead of a much-needed Week 7 bye — barring any schedule changes after players for the Vikings’ most recent opponents, the Titans, tested positive for COVID-19.

New York Giants

Getting dominated by an injury-decimated 49ers team on Sunday was the low point so far of Joe Judge’s first season as Giants head coach. Of particular concern are the struggles of second-year pro Daniel Jones at quarterback; Jones is completing just 60.2 percent of his passes, with a TD-to-INT ratio of 2:4. It doesn’t help that he’ll have to play the rest of the year without star running back Saquon Barkley. I think Jones will get it together under offensive coordinator Jason Garrett — the big question is whether that will happen in time for the team to compete in a division that is still wide open. 

Denver Broncos

One of the teams that promised to improve the most entering the season, the Broncos are reeling from a string of injuries that have knocked out their top pass rusher (Von Miller), top receiver (Courtland Sutton) and quarterback (Drew Lock), among a slew of other front-line players. Lock should return in a few weeks, but barring an unexpected turnaround, the Broncos are in line to secure their first five-season absence from the playoffs since 2006-2010. 

New York Jets

This is the NFL’s worst team — and it’s not even really close. The injury-strewn offense hasn’t reached the 300-yard mark in a single game this season. Third-year pro Sam Darnold’s play and mechanics, meanwhile, have disintegrated, putting too much strain on a defense devoid of playmakers following Jamal Adams‘ trade to the Seahawks and C.J. Mosley‘s decision to opt out. I like coach Adam Gase, but he might not have enough time left to turn the Jets around, unless the team quickly reverses course, potentially beginning with a Thursday Night Football matchup against the similarly winless Broncos.

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