Those 2-0 teams couldn't be more different - NBC Sports

Those 2-0 teams couldn't be more different
Texans, 49ers true contenders, while Eagles, Cardinals lucky to have two wins
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EaglesÿMychal Kendricks has been part of a unit that's created turnovers that have helped Philly start 2-0.
September 21, 2012, 9:09 am

For the first time since 1997, just six NFL teams have started 2-0: Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers, and San Francisco 49ers.

With this group, it is unlikely we will be watching any "Path to Perfection" run late into the season, which has been very competitive thus far with a record 20 teams at 1-1.

You can split the six 2-0 teams into three categories:

  • The Texans and 49ers are Super Bowl-caliber. Both feature balance on both sides of the ball, and a track record of playoff success from last season.
  • The Falcons and Chargers have been past Super Bowl favorites, but have enjoyed little-to-no playoff success. They meet in San Diego this Sunday.
  • Then you have the Eagles and Cardinals, who also play each other this week. They have secured two of the most fortunate 2-0 starts in NFL history.

So. Philadelphia at Arizona. Worst 2-0 matchup ever?

Dating back to last season, Arizona is tied for the league's best record in its last 11 games (9-2). If that's not enough, guess which team has the longest active winning streak? Yep. Philadelphia has won their last six games.

So why does this matchup have such a foul smell to it? Let's review how they reached this point.

Philadelphia leads the league in offensive yards (942), first downs (51) and has the best defensive passer rating (35.1). That is a potent combo, and yet it just became the first team in NFL history to open the season with consecutive one-point victories.

Why have the Eagles cut it so close? They lead the league in giveaways with nine. That's five in Cleveland and four more last week in the 24-23 win over Baltimore. It is no fluke either. The Eagles had 38 turnovers last season, which were the second most in the league. Their style of offense is high-risk, high-reward.

The fact that they are 2-0 is astounding when given the facts.

  • The Eagles are the first team since the 1983 Los Angeles Rams to start 2-0 after turning the ball over at least four times in each game.
  • The Eagles are one of 13 teams since 1940 to have a turnover differential of -3 or worse and still start 2-0.
  • Michael Vick is the 51st quarterback since 1960 to throw at least six interceptions in his team's first two games. He is just the third - following AFL pass-happy legends Jack Kemp in 1964 and Daryle Lamonica in 1969 - to have a 2-0 record.

How have the Eagles actually won? Vick has led late game-winning touchdown drives of 91 yards at Cleveland and 80 yards against Baltimore. Vick is the 14th quarterback since 1960 to lead a fourth quarter comeback and game-winning drive in each of his team's first two games.

Cleveland's rookie linebacker L.J. Fort dropped a game-ending interception by Vick right before the touchdown, and the Ravens were hosed on a bad offensive pass interference penalty that would have given them a 27-17 lead with 5:29 left. Instead the Eagles come out on top with one-point victories.

The Cardinals know all about fortunate wins. They tied the NFL record with four overtime wins in 2011. They also tied the NFL record with eight wins in a season resulting from a game-winning score in the fourth quarter or overtime. Their last eight games have been decided by no more than seven points.

On Sunday, they picked up a signature win in New England. After looking like they would fall victim to another Tom Brady comeback, the defense held, preventing the Patriots from tying the game late on a two-point conversion.

What followed was a series of errors from both teams, with incredible momentum swings that made you think one team was going to win the game, only for something catastrophic to happen. After Ryan Williams fumbled the ball on a 3rd-and-13 run, the Patriots were in great position.

Having their touchdown wiped away by a Rob Gronkowski holding penalty, the Patriots relied on accurate kicker Stephen Gostkowski to win the game with a 42-yard field goal. He was wide left, and Arizona was 2-0.

In Week 1, the Cardinals had to come back in the fourth quarter to beat Seattle, and did so with Kevin Kolb coming off the bench to engineer the game-winning drive. With rookie Russell Wilson having an opportunity to be the hero, his fourth-down pass went through Braylon Edwards' hands with 0:18 left. Arizona won 20-16.

Hard to believe based on preseason expectation and regular season performance, but either the Cardinals or Eagles will be 3-0 after Sunday's game. Well, that is barring a tie, in which the last two NFL ties have involved Andy Reid (2008 Eagles at Bengals) and Michael Vick (2002 Falcons at Steelers).

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Though a repeat of history will be unlikely with these two teams; two mavericks who go against conventional wisdom and keep finding ways to win regardless of what goes wrong in the game.

Is one team's 2-0 record better than another team's 2-0 record?

Though it is just 12.5 percent of a team's season, can we glean any long-term success out of how well a team played on their way to a 2-0 start, or is a win really just a win?

The 12-team playoff format started in 1990. After collecting data on the 188 2-0 teams (including this year's six), the goal was to check differentials in scoring, yards and turnovers to see if we can find any differences in the team's final regular season record.

For reference, here are the results at season's end for all 2-0 teams since 1990.

As the table shows, teams that outscored their first two opponents by at least 20 points per game (scoring differential of at least 40) went on to win 66.4 percent of their regular season games. Teams that only outscored their opponents by no more than four points per game won 55.4 percent of their games, so there is something to be said about teams that won big early on their way to 2-0.

Ten points per game won 63.9 percent of their games, while the 2-0 teams who won by fewer than 10 points per game won 59.0 percent of their games.

Looking at how many more offensive yards a team gains compared to their opponents provides a similar result. The 2-0 teams who gained more than 150 yards per game (300 or more yards total) went on to win 67.6 percent of their games. It was only 57.5 percent for the 2-0 teams outgained by at least 70 yards.

The 11 teams outgained by over 150 yards finished a combined 89-87 (.506). No one was outgained more than the 2007 San Francisco 49ers (273 yards). After starting 2-0, they lost eight straight games and finished 5-11.

The 2012 Eagles (+407 yards) have the sixth best yardage differential of any 2-0 team since 1990, but of course their turnovers have led to the smallest scoring differential in NFL history for a 2-0 team. If they somehow control them, then look out.

The turnover differential results were surprising. Teams with a negative differential actually had the best combined record. Guess we can chalk it up to the random nature of turnovers.

Based on this data, it sure does appear starting 2-0 and playing well is a better sign for future success than just simply getting the win by any means necessary. Strength of opponent would paint a clearer picture, but that does little for the present. Here are the stats thus far on where the six 2-0 teams in 2012.

Clearly, the best 2-0 battle this week is Atlanta at San Diego. While many give Norv Turner and the Chargers grief for staggering out of the gate, they did start 4-1 last year and look good so far. We will learn quickly how much of that was a product of playing winless Oakland and Tennessee.

Atlanta is the trendy team after their Monday night performance against Peyton Manning and Denver, but the Falcons have historically been great in the dome and suspect on the road in the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era (since 2008).

Combine the big Monday night win - in a game that took forever - with a cross-country trip to the West Coast, and do not be surprised to see the Chargers prevail to a 3-0 start.

Meanwhile the Eagles or Cardinals could be staking their claim as the worst 3-0 team in NFL history should this year's game play out like last year's when the Cardinals came back to win 21-17.

Scott Kacsmar (@CaptainComeback) writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, Bleacher Report, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network. Data used in article was collected from Pro-Football-Reference.

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