Panthers, Broncos among winless teams with best playoff shot

It's early in the 2019 NFL season. But for those teams that still haven't won a game, it's getting late fast.

Since 1990, just 12.5 percent of teams to go winless through Week 2 went on to make the playoffs, and a much smaller percentage (1.25) went on to win the Super Bowl.

However, the nine winless teams in the 2019 standings don't have to look too far back to see not just one be three examples of early stragglers who wound up forcing their way into the postseason: the 2018 Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks and the 2017 New Orleans Saints.

Which of today's winless squads have the best chance to make the playoffs? I realize this sets me up to potentially be proven wrong in January, but to be honest, this is one of the least inspiring lineups of 0-2 or 0-1-1 squads I can remember seeing, and I have trouble expecting any of them to reach the playoffs.

1) Carolina Panthers

Things look dire for the Panthers. But it's not like they were blown out in their two losses, which came by 3 points and 6 points, respectively. Ron Rivera will feel more comfortable calling plays on defense when Bruce Irvin returns to health and provides the kind of flexibility Rivera sought in overhauling the defense this offseason. Cam Newton has struggled (56.2 percent completion rate, 0:1 TD-to-INT ratio, minus-2 rushing yards on the season) and is dealing with a foot injury that has his Week 3 status up in the air -- and yet, the 2015 MVP has earned the benefit of the doubt to work though his current slump. With Drew Brees' thumb injury destabilizing the Saints, the NFC South is in turmoil, opening up a potential window for the Panthers to make some noise. That said, this ranking is predicated on the assumption that Newton will return to form. If he doesn't, or if he has to miss extended time, Carolina's playoff chances will grow exceedingly dim.

2) Denver Broncos

Had a controversial roughing the passer call against Bradley Chubb gone their way against the Bears, the Broncos would be 1-1 rather than winless. Now Denver is in an 0-2 hole in the AFC West, which seems like a yawning chasm in the same division as the 2-0 Kansas City Chiefs and 1-1 Los Angeles Chargers. Returns from injury by linebacker Todd Davis and cornerback Bryce Callahan should provide a boost to a defense that is not yet playing to its potential while working to master new head coach Vic Fangio's scheme.

3) Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers' trade this week with the Dolphins for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick reflects their win-now attitude even after losing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the season with an elbow injury on Sunday. If fill-in Mason Rudolph's encouraging play (12 of 19 for 112 yards, two TDs and a pick) in Sunday's loss to the Seahawks is a harbinger of what's to come, Pittsburgh will get enough production from the QB spot to win -- provided the defense raises its game, which the continued future employment of defensive coordinator Keith Butler probably hinges on. Of course, the road to the playoffs is complicated by the presence of the 2-0 Ravens and 1-1 Browns in the AFC North.

4) Washington Redskins

Surprisingly, quarterback is not the main problem in Washington, with Case Keenum (7.4 yards per attempt, 5:0 TD-to-INT ratio, 111.2 passer rating in 2019) doing a solid job running the offense. The issue for the Redskins is a too-leaky defense, especially in the secondary, where it's apparent that an aging Josh Norman has seen better days -- per Next Gen Stats, Norman's passer rating allowed on passes when he's the nearest defender has skyrocketed in 2019, jumping from 92.6 last season to 145.0. The Cowboys and Eagles loom as major obstacles in the NFC East.

5) New York Giants

It isn't Eli Manning's fault that the Giants' pass-rush-less defense leaks like a sieve (28th in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed), or that the receiver corps has been decimated by injuries, the trade of Odell Beckham Jr. and Golden Tate's suspension. Regardless, this season is now all about new rookie starter Daniel Jones' development at quarterback. And while Jones will probably take his lumps, as all rookie quarterbacks do, I think he actually gives this team a chance to win this year, because he's faster and more mobile than Manning and presents a running threat. The good thing for him is, New York uses an offensive system that is very similar to the one he ran at Duke. Regardless of what happens in the immediate future, the Giants were smart to essentially get started on the 2020 season in 2019.

6) Arizona Cardinals

No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray joins Cam Newton as the only quarterbacks to throw for 300-plus yards in each of their first two career starts. Murray and Kliff Kingsbury are running an offense that has scored on nine of its last 16 possessions after a poor first three quarters of the season against the Lions. The Cardinals must improve in the red zone, where they rank 31st on offense, and the defense was exposed by the Ravens and quarterback Lamar Jacksonin Week 2, though that unit should get better when cornerback Patrick Peterson returns from suspension. Ultimately, I'd be more bullish about Arizona's playoff chances if the Cardinals did not play in the NFC West, which already features three 2-0 teams.

7) Cincinnati Bengals

Who are the real Bengals? Are they the team that almost upset the Seahawks in Seattle in Week 1? Or are they the team that was thoroughly embarrassed at home in Week 2 by the San Francisco 49ers? The answer is likely closer to the latter, because the defense can be physically overmatched, and the offensive line has been gutted by injury. After a promising season opener in which he threw for 400 yards against a good Seahawks defense, Dalton couldn't keep San Francisco's defense from essentially controlling the game. He makes too many big mistakes for a team with such a slim margin for error to succeed.

8) New York Jets

With the Jets' next four games coming against the Patriots (twice), Eagles and Cowboys, it seems likely that they won't have a legitimate shot to notch their first win of the 2019 season until Week 8 against the Jaguars. Simply put, New York will have no shot this season until quarterback Sam Darnold, who is out indefinitely after contracting mononucleosis, gets back on the field. Luckily for Gang Green, Darnold seems to be targeting a Week 5 return.

9) Miami Dolphins

In the end, Miami might end up dismantling itself to set up a brighter future at a level unmatched by another team in sports history. The Dolphins argue that they are doing what they can to fast-track success, but whatever happens in 2020 and beyond, this team is not in position to offer much on-field resistance to opponents in 2019, especially after shedding Laremy Tunsil, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Kenny Stills in recent weeks.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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