IF PAST IS indeed prologue - I think Bronko Nagurski said that first - then there is indeed a lot at stake on Sunday when the Eagles play the Jets.
The number has been quoted often in recent days, that an NFL team that starts 0-2 has a 12 percent chance of making the playoffs. That's based on this math: Since 1990, when the NFL expanded the playoffs to 12 teams, 24 teams that started 0-2 made the playoffs out of 199 teams that started 0-2. So, there's that.
But this is the week where the numbers really get serious. After three games, some actual truths begin to get told.
* 3-0 teams have made the playoffs 76 percent of the time.
* 2-1 teams have made it 54 percent of the time.
* 1-2 teams have made it 26 percent of the time.
* 0-3 teams have made it 2 percent of the time.
That is what's at stake, the difference between a puncher's chance and Halley's Comet.
When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Because this is all happening at the beginning of the season, it gets an inordinate amount of attention, and that's fine. But when you look back on it, plenty of good teams lost back-to-back games during a season. It can happen for any number of reasons - tough stretch of the schedule, injuries, ennui, whatever. We've all seen it - the first loss is shrugged off, the second loss gets everybody's attention, and then the team's overall level of play picks up because of the obvious challenge.
But now think of this: How many good teams lose three straight games at any point during the season? Not many -- although, to be fair, it has happened more lately. The reason is that good teams accept that obvious challenge - and the inability to accept it very much defines most teams as, well, as not very good. The problem is not so much the math, then, but the truth that that math of three consecutive losses tells.