NFL Teams, Players with Most to Lose in Week 2
It's common to see overreactions following Week 1 of any given NFL season.
Certain fanbases already have a finger on the panic button. In some cases, there's cause for concern if the team doesn't respond to a flat regular-season start.
Last year, the New Orleans Saints became the 10th team since 2007 to start 0-2 and make the playoffs, according to Joe Osborne of OddsShark. Despite the Saints' turnaround, only 10.9 percent of teams that started 0-2 since 2007 made the playoffs in the same year.
Multiple teams with playoff or Super Bowl aspirations go into Week 2 facing those bleak postseason odds pending a loss. The Saints could fall back into the same predicament, and one of their NFC South brethren might join them.
Meanwhile, some players are already feeling pressure from backups threatening to seize their starting spot. It's never too early for a team to make a change at the quarterback position—just look at this year's Buffalo Bills—especially if it has a top-10 overall pick waiting to take over the huddle.
Which teams need a win most in Week 2? Which players' short- or long-term job security is in jeopardy? Let's dive in.
QB Sam Bradford, Arizona Cardinals
Prior to Sunday, quarterback Sam Bradford's last snap under center came in Week 5 of the 2017 season.
Unfortunately for the Arizona Cardinals, the 30-year-old seemed out of sync after his extended layoff.
Bradford went 20-of-34 for 153 yards and an interception in the Cardinals' 24-6 loss to the Washington Redskins. Arizona went three-and-out in two out of its four drives during the first half. The Redskins led 21-0 at halftime, and the Cardinals passing offense couldn't generate enough momentum to overcome the deficit.
Bradford's start to the 2018 season pales in comparison to his opening-week performance with the Minnesota Vikings last year, when he carved up the Saints defense for 346 yards and three touchdowns.
During the offseason, Bradford's health—specifically the condition of his knee—became a storyline to monitor. He came up short at State Farm Stadium on Sunday, which may have Cardinals fans already thinking about what rookie Josh Rosen can do with the offense.
Rosen didn't play in the last two preseason games because of a thumb injury. However, another sluggish performance from Bradford could push the UCLA product closer to starting under center.
The Atlanta Falcons started the year with a disappointing 18-12 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. There's no shame in coming up short against the reigning champions, but the offense continued to struggle in the red zone, scoring one touchdown out of five trips inside Philly's 20-yard line.
The fashion in which Atlanta lost brings just as much concern as the potential to go 0-2.
According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Falcons scored on 49.1 percent of their red-zone trips in 2017, which ranked 23rd in the NFL. They worked on those scenarios during the offseason, per Ledbetter, but they didn't reap positive results against the Eagles.
The Falcons entered the 2018 season with Super Bowl aspirations. Last year, they finished 10-6 and won a playoff game. During the offseason, they extended contracts for core players such as Ryan, offensive tackle Jake Matthews and safety Ricardo Allen.
But if the Falcons lose Sunday to the Carolina Panthers, who limited the Dallas Cowboys to 232 offensive yards and didn't allow a score until the fourth quarter, their playoff hopes will be on life support.
Whether it's Ryan playing better or offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian putting together a more effective game plan (specifically in the red zone), the Falcons must figure out a way to capitalize on their offensive opportunities against a formidable defense. Another loss would tone down the Super Bowl talk in Atlanta.
QB Tyrod Taylor, Cleveland Browns
Following his team's 21-21 tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson addressed questions about quarterback Tyrod Taylor's job security Monday.
"He's the quarterback," Jackson said in reference to Taylor. "... His job is to get the offense to play the best it can play, but it takes more than just him. ... It's the offensive unit as a whole that's gotta play better."
Despite Jackson's vote of confidence in Taylor, the NFL is a week-to-week league, especially for a quarterback who's trying to hold off the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Against Pittsburgh, Taylor went 15-of-40 for 197 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Though windy, wet weather likely hampered his production, the Steelers sacked him seven times as well.
To continue staving off Baker Mayfield, Taylor must bounce back by feeding wideouts Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon, who's now listed as a starter on the depth chart.
Taylor doesn't necessarily need to beat the Saints in Week 2 to keep his job, but he should aim to complete at least 50 percent of his passes and throw for more than 200 yards.
In Week 1, Dallas didn't put its first points on the board until midway through the fourth quarter. Despite cutting Carolina's lead to one possession late in the game, quarterback Dak Prescott accumulated only 170 yards through the air. The Panthers also sacked him six times.
The Cowboys looked inept on offense, and it's likely to take some time before Prescott clicks with the new faces in the receiving corps. Dallas' notable additions at wideout, Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup and Deonte Thompson, combined for five catches and 56 yards.
The New York Giants don't have a pass rush that measures up to Carolina's group. Edge-rusher Olivier Vernon hasn't practiced because of an ankle injury, so Prescott's mobility should allow him to evade pocket pressure Sunday.
However, an offensive line without All-Pro center Travis Frederick (who's sidelined due to Guillain-Barre syndrome) and a rookie at left guard in Connor Williams could adversely affect the ground attack. The Giants may opt to load the box and dare Prescott to win the game with his arm.
If the Cowboys lose to the Giants, they'd drop to 0-2 and would be the only winless team in a tough NFC East division. A lack of an offensive identity could become the storyline amid Dallas' slow start.
There's no silver lining for the Detroit Lions after their 48-17 loss to the New York Jets on Monday. In fact, NFL Network's Mike Garafolo heard some Lions players griping about new head coach Matt Patricia's rules and intense practices.
Garafolo cautioned against labeling Patricia a failure one game into the regular season. However, the approval rating for the first-time head coach could drop quickly with another embarrassing loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
The Jets scored in every way imaginable against the Lions—through the air, on the ground, off of a turnover and on special teams. Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions. Detroit completely fell apart in the third quarter, allowing 31 unanswered points.
It's unrealistic to put Patricia on the hot seat after one game, but if the Lions aren't more competitive in San Francisco, he could lose a big portion of the locker room. That would be difficult for a new regime to overcome so early in the season.
Los Angeles Chargers
Heading into the season, USA Today's Nate Davis picked the Los Angeles Chargers to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIII. This squad is widely viewed as a playoff contender, but it could start 0-2 if it doesn't take care of business against rookie quarterback Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills in Week 2.
Last year, the Chargers fielded the No. 3 passing defense in yards and touchdowns allowed. In Week 1, they gave up four passing scores to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who was making his second NFL start.
Is Mahomes that good, or did the Chiefs catch the Chargers napping last week? Perhaps the absence of star pass-rusher Joey Bosa allowed the 22-year-old signal-caller enough time to dissect the secondary? Whatever the case, Kansas City looked strong enough to win a third consecutive AFC West title.
The Chargers' playoff hopes would take a tremendous hit if they lose to the Bills, who looked like the NFL's worst team in Week 1. Allen has a big arm with the ability to stretch defenses, which could make Buffalo more potent on offense than it was during its 47-3 shellacking against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Chargers can't afford to fall asleep on another unproven starter under center.
New Orleans Saints
In the most shocking Week 1 outcome, the Saints lost 48-40 at home to the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After winning the NFC South title with an 11-5 record last season, the Saints came into the year with Super Bowl aspirations, as The MMQB's Albert Breer noted. But consecutive home losses to two teams with low expectations would change our view of the Saints going forward.
According to OddsShark, the Buccaneers and Browns have projected win totals of 6.5 and 5.5, respectively. New Orleans is listed at 9.5.
The Saints also started 0-2 last season, but they lost to two playoff teams in the Vikings and New England Patriots. A pair of losses to teams that could finish fourth in their respective divisions should set off some alarms in New Orleans.
If the Browns win, it would be their first victory since Week 16 of the 2016 campaign. With New Orleans in a division that sent three teams to the postseason in 2017, another 0-2 start may prove difficult to overcome.
RB Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Though the Steelers and Browns tied 21-21 in Week 1, Pittsburgh's coaching staff should be thrilled with how running back James Conner fared.
With Le'Veon Bell continuing to hold out, Conner ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries and caught five passes for 57 yards. The second-year ball-carrier doesn't have Bell's electric talent, but he put his dual-threat capabilities on display against Cleveland.
Conner's performance both made the Steelers offensive line look great and Bell seem expendable. Pittsburgh's front line features two All-Pro players in center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro along with Pro Bowl left tackle Alejandro Villanueva.
Pittsburgh may not miss Bell if Conner flirts with another 200 yards from scrimmage, which doesn't bode well for the sixth-year running back's long-term future with the Steelers.
The Steelers are likely to move on from Bell, who's set to become a free agent after this season. He's looking for a top-dollar salary at his position, but the front office could instead embrace Conner, who has an $844,572 cap hit in 2019, per Spotrac.
In doing so, Pittsburgh would save a significant amount of money and maintain comparable production out of its backfield.