NFL teams that start off the season with a 3-0 record aren’t guaranteed a playoff berth. In each of the last five years, at least one club that was undefeated through three weeks wound up staying home in January.
Last season, the Atlanta Falcons won their first five contests before losing nine of their last 12 to fall out of the playoff picture. Their seemingly prolific offense disappeared, only scoring more than 21 points once from Oct. 15 through the end of the year.
In 2014, the Philadelphia Eagles, who are currently 3-0, missed out on the postseason after a perfect start. The Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins both accomplished this infamous feat in 2013, with the Arizona Cardinals (2012) and Buffalo Bills (2011) doing it in each of the previous two years.
That recent history says at least one of the league’s five undefeated teams is in line for a season-shattering losing streak. The likelihood of this happening is ranked below:
1) Baltimore Ravens
After losing an array of close games in 2015, the football gods appear to be back on the Ravens’ side this year. They’ve beaten all three of their opponents -- a hapless group that includes the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, and Jacksonville Jaguars -- by just a combined 13 points.
That doesn’t bode well for Baltimore’s chances to sustain this streak. The Ravens have the worst point differential of any 3-0 club since the 2004 Jaguars, who finished the season 9-7. An opportunistic defense that’s already recorded five interceptions -- including two on the last play on the game over the last two weeks -- can’t be expected to carry them to January.
2) Philadelphia Eagles
On paper, the Eagles look like a team that can last. They’ve gotten excellent quarterback play and have one of the best defenses in the league. But if they’re going to sustain this start, they’ll be going against history.
Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz is playing like a Pro Bowler through three weeks. He’s completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 769 yards with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. But it’s worth noting that his success has come against bad defenses. The Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers are all in the bottom half of the league in terms of yards allowed -- with the Browns and Steelers ranking 26th and 28th, respectively. Before Wentz can be counted on to lead the Eagles to January, he must prove he can play well against more competent secondaries.
In addition to inexperience at quarterback, the Eagles also have a rookie head coach, longtime offense coordinator Doug Pederson. This is where the history comes in. As Five Thirty Eight points out, from 1990-2015, 14 first-year head coaches began the season with a 3-0 record. They only made the playoffs 57 percent of the time.
3) Minnesota Vikings
If it weren’t for the Denver Broncos’ success last season, the Vikings would probably be higher on this list. Denver showed that a dominant defense can still carry a team in today’s offense-heavy era.
So far, Minnesota’s defense has been excellent. The Vikings lead the league with 15 sacks and brought down reigning MVP Cam Newton on eight occasions last week. They beat Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers the previous Sunday, holding the future Hall of Famer to just 213 passing yards.
But it’s difficult to ignore the Vikings’ offensive futility. With Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson, and left tackle Matt Kalil out, they’ve only gained 796 yards of total offense. Sam Bradford has been good under center, but his 107.8 QB rating is more than 20 points higher than his career average of 81.6. The sample size isn’t large enough to say the six-year veteran has suddenly turned the corner.
4) Denver Broncos
Once again, the Broncos have a great defense. But unlike last year, they’re also getting competent quarterback play.
Trevor Siemian turned in his best performance of the season last week, throwing for 312 yards and four touchdowns against the Cincinnati Bengals. His 95.9 QB rating through the first three games may come down, but the 2015 seventh-round pick looks like a legitimate NFL starter, at the least.
One of the other big reasons why the defending Super Bowl champions appear to be a lock to make the playoffs is their favorable schedule the rest of the way. Four of their seven remaining road games are against the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, Tennessee Titans, and Jaguars.
5) New England Patriots
Heading into the season, the Patriots were just looking to survive without Tom Brady. But instead, they’ve excelled, despite losing Jimmy Garoppolo to injury and playing a rookie QB in Week 3.
Jacoby Brissett will start for the Patriots again Sunday and aim to replicate his turnover-free performance against the Texans last week. He didn’t light up the scoreboard by any stretch, only throwing for 103 yards on 19 pass attempts. But Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels devised a smart game plan and were able to protect Brissett by running the ball 39 times.
With Brady set to return from his DeflateGate suspension in Week 5, the Patriots are sitting pretty. Their two-game lead in the AFC East doesn’t appear to be in any jeopardy.