In the NFL, 0-3 teams almost never make the playoffs, which puts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a pretty bad position right now. Not all is lost, however. The New York Times names three teams that made the playoffs after starting 0-3 since the NFL expanded to a 12-team playoff format in 1990: the 1992 San Diego Chargers, the 1995 Detroit Lions and the 1998 Buffalo Bills. The Bucs share a few similarities with each of those teams.
The college coach in his second year
The 1992 Chargers were led by Bobby Ross, a second-year head coach who had gone 4-12 the season before and who had come over from Georgia Tech the year before. The Chargers managed to start 0-4 -- and they weren't small losses. Not a single one-score loss among the 0-4 scores.
The Chargers turned that around with a win over the Seahawks, who were fielding one of the worst offenses in NFL history. That's not so surprising, but the fact that they lost just one game after their week six bye is -- and that one loss was by just two points to a pretty good Kansas City Chiefs team. The Chargers regularly dismantled their opponents with a dominant defense and an emergent offense after the bye week.
If there's any team that looks like the 2013 Buccaneers, it's those 1992 Chargers. The bye week re-energized the Chargers and the Buccaneers hope that their week five bye can give them some relief and a chance to regroup.
Close losses, a great running back and a good pass defense
The 1995 Detroit Lions started out 0-3 with two close losses and one by 10 points. They then faced the Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers -- and surprisingly beat them at home, before the bye week gave them a bit of relief. Even after the bye week they struggled, landing a 3-6 record in week 10.
And then everything changed. The Lions wouldn't lose a game for the rest of the season and would find themselves with a Wild Card on the back of Scott Mitchell and Barry Sanders, who put together a dominant season while their defense struggled.
The early bye and close losses early in the season are the obvious similarities with this year's Buccaneers. But the surprising thing here is that the Lions didn't really get going until week 11 of the regular season, ironically with a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even if the Bucs continue to lose, a few wins could keep enough hope alive.
About that early bye week
You know, that's a recurring feature. All three of these teams had a week 6 bye or earlier -- the 1998 Buffalo Bills got their week of rest during week four after a tough last-second 33-34 loss to the St. Louis Rams. They'd lost all three of their games by one score, and seemingly couldn't get over the hump -- and then they promptly won sseven of their next eight games after the bye week.
The Bills had a balanced team, though the offense was slightly better than the defense. Antowain Smith and Eric Moulds were the real stars of that offense, and Wade Phillips defenses tend to be pretty good anyway. Of course, that season will mostly be known for the fact that the Bills benched the talented but inconsistent Rob Johnson for a 36-year-old Doug Flutie, who then produced far worse statistics -- but did start in seven of the team's ten wins. Anyone up for starting Dan Orlovsky?
The fourth team
There's a fourth 0-3 team that made the playoffs from before 1990. That team? The 1982 Tampa Bay Buccaneers started out losing their first three games in the strike-shortened season before they won five of their last six games to make it to the playoffs. Quarterback Doug Williams was in the final year of his contract, and the offense as a whole struggled, but the defense put up a terrific performance to earn a playoff berth.
Can the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defy the odds and get themselves a playoff spot? The 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers share a few similarities with each of those teams, so it's far from impossible.It may not be likely, but the season isn't over yet, and far crazier things have happened in the NFL than an 0-3 team going on a winning streak.