Nearly every fan of the National Football League has heard the anecdote that starting the season 0-3 is the death knell for a team’s playoff hopes. Rightfully so.
Since 1990, nearly 150 teams have started 0-3 and only four of them have made the playoffs. However, dig a little deeper and get past the initial shock of that stark statistic and a slightly different picture emerges —based on one key factor.
The Denver Broncos have been devastated by injuries and had the misfortune of playing three really good football teams right out of the gate. The Broncos found themselves in the dreaded 0-3 hole, putting their hopes of reaching the playoffs in that near-impossible realm.
Near-impossible is the key phrase because some teams have done the impossible and they all had one thing in common.
Digging into the 0-3 teams since 1990, 80% of them were just bad football teams. Those teams finished below .500 and never reached .500 even once during the season, indicating they were cellar-dwellers from start to finish.
The Broncos, however, are not a bad football team. They've had some misfortune, but have shown that they can compete with some of the better teams in the league and beat the bad teams. This is important to remember.
There have been 30 teams that started 0-3 and climbed out of the cellar by reaching .500 at some point during the season. Let’s examine them because this is the key to the Broncos' slim playoff hopes.
Eight of those teams reached .500 at the 14th game played or later. Meaning, they were mostly out of the playoff race by that time and although they improved during the season, they were never really playoff contenders.
That leaves 22 teams that were not bad teams and made a push for the playoffs, even though they started with a three-game deficit. The key factor of the remaining 22 teams, was getting to .500 as soon as possible.
Of the teams that evened their record by the 8th game or less, two-thirds made the playoffs or narrowly missed in the final weeks of the season. Of the teams that got to .500 by their 10th or 12th game, only 50% made or challenged for a playoff spot during the final weeks of the season.
The 1995 Detroit Lions are the only team that started at 0-3 and didn’t reach .500 until their 12th game played, but still made the playoffs. In order to do so, the Lions finished the season with a seven-game winning streak.
This is why Week 9's road tilt at the Atlanta Falcons is a must-win for the Broncos. If the Broncos are able to claw their way to 4-4, history says they have a fighting chance to make the playoffs.
Denver's remaining schedule is not extremely difficult and the team will likely get Von Miller back, with others returning, to make that final push. Having an additional team in the NFL playoffs this season also helps.
But if Denver falls to 3-5, their playoff hopes are finished.