Panic Meter for Struggling NFL Teams

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistOctober 9, 2019

Panic Meter for Struggling NFL Teams

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    A sense of panic has understandably swept over the NFL after five weeks of play. 

    Hype has dulled. Offseason positivity has waned. Reality has set in. And it sure doesn't hurt that there are eight teams with one or no wins outright with a quarter of the season in the books. 

    Yet, even for some of the struggling teams, there is a chance at redemption. Maybe injured players will return or slow starts can morph into something else. A mixture of favorable scheduling here and there doesn't hurt either. 

    We'll exclude the eight teams without more than one win for obvious reasons, but these struggling teams below are worth a closer look. A verdict of "don't panic" means there are still reasons for hope, whereas a "panic" verdict suggests they might as well be among those teams with nothing in the win column.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Verdict: Don't Panic

    The panic surrounding the Minnesota Vikings—largely best summed up by the Stefon Diggs situation—can go ahead and fade. 

    A .500 start highlighted by a miserable passing game has turned into a 3-2 mark. And while a winning record is nice, the 0-2 start in the NFC North is a problem, considering the Vikings still remain in last place there. 

    Yet there are signs of hope. 

    Mostly, thank last week's 28-10 win on the road over the New York Giants. Kirk Cousins completed 22 of his 27 attempts with 306 yards and two touchdowns, and Dalvin Cook did what he normally does, running for 132 yards. The 2-3 Giants aren't an overly terrible team either, and it was the first time this season that Cousins managed more than one passing score. 

    The division is still possible, considering the team's two losses came by 10 or fewer points. Starting with three of five on the road is tough for any team, and the schedule still has cupcakes like Washington and Denver, so if the running game keeps going strong and the passing attack can build on this momentum, the Vikings aren't dead in the water just yet. 

Los Angeles Chargers

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Verdict: Panic

    The schedule wasn't kind to Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers to start the year. Games against Indianapolis, Detroit and Houston helped explain the 2-2 start, with a stat-padding game against Miami to even things out. 

    Then the team dropped a 20-13 result to the Denver Broncos, permitting a rival's first win of the season.

    At this point, even Rivers might not be able to carry this Chargers squad to the playoffs. He's completing 68.6 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and four interceptions, but it hasn't been enough to compensate for a hobbled defense.

    And the schedule doesn't get any easier. In the AFC West, the Chargers still have to play Kansas City twice. Ditto for Oakland, which is surprisingly 3-2. There's another game against Denver as well as games against Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota and Jacksonville. 

    Missing names like Russell Okung, Derwin James and others, the Chargers picked a bad time to stumble out of the gates and suffer from the injury bug given the state of the division and conference. 

Los Angeles Rams

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Verdict: Don't Panic

    The Los Angeles Rams are going to be just fine. 

    It is easy to throw around suggestions that a Super Bowl hangover is real for Sean McVay's squad. And yet, while the team rides a two-game skid right now, its record remains 3-2 with a plus-12 point differential. 

    The last two weeks haven't looked great. Going down 55-40 to Tampa Bay was worthy of a few turned heads. Following it up with a one-point loss in Seattle isn't anything to overreact to, though—especially when the short turnaround for a Thursday game tends to produce some wonky results. 

    The reality is simple.

    Jared Goff is managing games with his seven touchdowns and seven interceptions and at least not causing his team to lose. His 32-touchdown upside from a year ago could always return. The running game is working as expected.

    The biggest point of concern is the defense coughing up nearly 30 points per game. But the Rams still picked up wins in Cleveland and Carolina, not to mention the blowout win against a New Orleans Saints team that lost Drew Brees

    Given the schedule and roster turnover, this wasn't going to be the same team that started last year rattling off eight wins. But the schedule opens up from here with simple games against Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Arizona twice and even winnable games against San Francisco. Contention is very much still on the table, especially if the defense patches up a few problems in the process. 

Cleveland Browns

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    Verdict: Panic

    The Cleveland Browns were never going to live up to the hype. 

    But that hype was unreasonable. The promising start for Baker Mayfield last year, the Odell Beckham Jr. move, the stockpiling of picks and changing of coaches—it goes on and on and opened up right into a 43-13 loss to start the season. 

    But things have predictably evened out since then. The Browns lost to a better Rams team but beat up on the New York Jets. In the guessing game that is the AFC North, they took down Baltimore 40-25 and followed that up Monday night with a brutal 31-3 loss to San Francisco. 

    Mayfield was always going to need some time to get up to speed after shocking defenses last year and working through a vanilla preseason when his guys were always open. He's still got a strong running game behind him, and the defense is emerging while putting up good pressure numbers with 16 sacks. 

    Unfortunately, the Browns faithful can't feel confident in the schedule. Over their next four games, the Browns have to deal with Seattle, New England and Buffalo as well as a road game against a Denver defense that's fourth in both total yards allowed per game and passing yards allowed per game.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Verdict: Don't panic 

    There was a smooth sense of confidence from the Indianapolis Colts after the Andrew Luck retirement, largely because the team believed so much in Jacoby Brissett. So much so, in fact, they gave him an extension. 

    Fast forward five weeks, and the Colts are 3-2 after stunning most onlookers by taking down the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night. 

    Brissett has held his own, mostly. He's thrown for 1,062 yards with 10 touchdowns against three interceptions. But an overtime loss to a 2-3 Chargers team and letting Oakland come to town and get a win were setbacks the Colts couldn't afford and muddied the outlook a bit. 

    The win against the Chiefs showed the Colts are a top AFC power right now even if it doesn't get a ton easier the rest of the way. Every team in the AFC South has at least two wins, and it was only last year the Luck-led Colts split with Jacksonville and Houston. One could argue both teams are better this year, and Tennessee presents a threat too. 

    Stuck in a division and conference where missteps are deadly after the setback under center, the Colts don't have an easy path to contention that could normally be waved off with a suggestion of Luck putting the team on his back—but it seems they won't need him to do so.