How Many Teams Have Made the NFL Playoffs After a 0–3 Start?

How rare is it to make the NFL playoffs after losing the first three games? What is the key to recovering from a 0–3 start?

Only six NFL teams that have started 0-3 made the playoffs in the Super Bowl era (since 1966). Usually, most teams that lose the first three games are bad and not legitimate candidates to reach the postseason. However, there are a few rare examples of teams finding their way to the playoffs after such a start.

One of the six teams was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the strike-shortened 1982 season. Tampa Bay finished 5-4 after a 0-3 start, but the playoffs were expanded from 10 to 16 teams because of the strike. Thus, we will not include the Buccaneers in our look at 0–3 teams to make the playoffs.

Which NFL Teams Have Made Playoffs After a 0–3 Start?

1981 New York Jets: Finished 10-5-1, qualified as AFC Wild Card team
1992 San Diego Chargers: Finished 11-5, won AFC West
1995 Detroit Lions: Finished 10-6, qualified as NFC Wild Card team
1998 Buffalo Bills: Finished 10-6, qualified as AFC Wild Card team
2018 Houston Texans: Finished 11-5, won AFC South

What Is the Common Thread Between the 5 Teams?

All five of the teams won at least five games in a row after starting 0-3. The 2018 Texans won nine straight games after losing the first three. The 1992 Chargers and the 1995 Lions each had seven-game win streaks during their respective seasons.

Four of the five teams did not lose consecutive games the rest of the season. The 1992 Chargers lost only one of the last 12 games. The 1995 Lions were the only team to lose consecutive games after a 0-3 start. Detroit lost six of the first nine games before winning the last seven.

MORE: NFL Standings

The quality of play in the first three games did not matter to these teams turning it around. The 1998 Bills lost the first three games by nine total points, and the 2018 Texans’ first three losses were by a combined 15 points. On the other hand, the 1981 Jets gave up 100 points in the first three games and lost two of the games by at least 28.

Only the 1992 Chargers won a playoff game out of the five teams we looked at. San Diego actually lost the first four games of the season.

Why 0-3 Teams Might Have a Better Playoff Chance?

The five teams that made the playoffs after a 0-3 start played in 16-game seasons. This year’s teams, however, have a 17th game to make up for the slow start.

There are also seven playoff spots per conference now. There were only 10  playoff teams (five in each conference) when the 1981 Jets made the postseason after a 0-3 start. The other teams that made the playoffs after losing the first three games had six spots per conference.

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