Panic or Relax: Which NFL Teams Are in Serious Trouble?

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistOctober 19, 2019

Panic or Relax: Which NFL Teams Are in Serious Trouble?

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    While there is a lot of football left to be played, shaky starts have sparked concern for several franchises.

    Consider the Dallas Cowboys, who have lost three in a row heading into a pivotal NFC East matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles. A defeat could break Dallas' confidence—in the team, in its season and in head coach Jason Garrett.

    Should the Cowboys and other stumbling teams be reaching for the panic button? In some cases, yes. Other teams should relax and continue grinding away.

    We'll be focusing on teams that have lost at least two straight games and that have at least two victories on their resumes. For the one- and zero-win teams, the time to panic has already passed.

    Teams are listed in alphabetical order.

Cleveland Browns

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Record: 2-4

    Streak: 2L

    Inconsistent play-calling and poor decision-making by new head coach Freddie Kitchens have cost the Cleveland Browns this season. However, first-year man Kitchens isn't the main reason why they should be worried.

    A bigger issue is the lack of cohesion on offense and Baker Mayfield's tendency to turn the ball over. Mayfield does not appear to trust his offensive line, and that has led to 16 sacks, 11 interceptions and a lost fumble. It may also be why the Browns are reportedly shuffling that unit.

    According to Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com, the team may have already benched starting left tackle Greg Robinson.

    The Browns are two games behind the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North and have matchups against the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills after their Week 7 bye. The prospect of falling to 2-7 is real.

    Verdict: Panic

Dallas Cowboys

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    Record: 3-3

    Streak: 3L

    That Dallas lost to the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers isn't troubling. The team's third consecutive loss against the New York Jets was.

    To be fair, Dallas was without starting tackles La'el Collins and Tyron Smith, and Amari Cooper had to leave because of a quad injury. The team needed to lean on its defense, and the unit allowed New York to jump out to a 21-6 halftime lead.

    Quarterback Dak Prescott has been up and down. He has a passer rating of 102.9 this season but hasn't topped 90 in any of the losses—and the Cowboys may not have Cooper against the Eagles.

    Things don't get a whole lot easier moving forward. After the Eagles, Dallas has its bye in Week 8 and then takes on the New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions, Patriots and Bills.

    So yes, a loss to Philadelphia could hurt the Cowboys' NFC East chances.

    Verdict: Panic

Detroit Lions

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Record: 2-2-1

    Streak: 2L

    Thanks in part to some questionable officiating, the Lions dropped their second game this past Monday. Several players were understandably upset.

    "It is what it is," safety Tracy Walker said after the game, per Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com. "Disappointed. Hurt. We had that game."

    While the frustration is palpable, the Lions shouldn't let it turn into discouragement. They have lost close games to two likely playoff teams—the Packers and Kansas City Chiefs—and they are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball.

    Yes, the 2-2-1 record isn't ideal when the Packers, Vikings and Chicago Bears all have winning records. And it's important that Detroit comes out of Week 7 with a win over division-rival Minnesota. If it does, it'll be right back in the NFC North race with a pair of winnable games against the Giants and Oakland Raiders on the upcoming schedule.

    If the Lions can finish drives and eliminate chunk plays on defense—and take games out of the officials' hands in the process—they will be fine.

    Verdict: Relax

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Record: 2-4

    Streak: 2L

    Let's start with the negatives. The Jacksonville Jaguars have lost two in a row. They're struggling to finish drives—they're averaging 19.5 points per game (23rd in the league)—and they just traded away star cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

    On the positive side, Jacksonville has a promising rookie quarterback in Gardner Minshew II (nine touchdowns, two interceptions, 97.5 passer rating) and an upcoming schedule that should provide the chance to get back on track.

    With games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Jets in the next two weeks, Jacksonville should be back to .500 before its divisional rematch with the Houston Texans in Week 9.

    While the Texans are emerging as AFC South front-runners, they have five divisional games remaining—including one this week against the Indianapolis Colts.

    Does Jacksonville need a little help? Probably, but it has every opportunity to climb back into the divisional race—and parting with Ramsey, who hasn't played since Week 3, may help galvanize the team.

    Verdict: Relax

Los Angeles Chargers

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Record: 2-4

    Streak: 2L

    Last Sunday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was the sort of game that could rattle the Los Angeles Chargers. They were dominated in the trenches and physically outmatched by a team playing with third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges, who now has one win to his credit.

    That the Chargers' home stadium appeared to be filled primarily with opposing fans had to be disconcerting as well.

    They have struggled to run the ball (80.2 yards per contest) and defend the run (120.5 yards per game).

    Injuries to Derwin James, Melvin Ingram and Russell Okung have obviously played a role in the struggles—though there's a chance that Okung could return this week against the Tennessee Titans.

    If the Chargers cannot win against Tennessee, their season may be at an end. Their next five opponents are Chicago, Green Bay, Oakland, Kansas City and Denver.

    Verdict: Panic

Los Angeles Rams

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Record: 3-3

    Streak: 3L

    The trade for Ramsey may indicate the Los Angeles Rams are already in panic mode.

    "It seems like they gave up a lot for him," San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said, per Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.

    Indeed, the Rams parted with a pair of first-round picks and a fourth-rounder. The move came after they dealt Marcus Peters to the Baltimore Ravens and placed Aqib Talib on injured reserve.

    Ramsey is a premier talent, but he isn't going to fix all of L.A.'s woes. The Rams have lost three straight because they're struggling to establish the run—they're averaging just 98.3 rushing yards per game—and because their defense is playing like a middle-of-the-pack unit.

    They are also allowing the eighth-most points per game (25.7).

    Is Ramsey a major upgrade over Peters and Talib? Possibly, but he isn't likely to help the run defense or produce the offensive rhythm L.A. has been lacking.

    With the running game faltering, head coach Sean McVay hasn't been able to keep defenses off-balance. Teams are forcing quarterback Jared Goff to beat them, and Goff (11 turnovers, 80.8 passer rating) is failing to deliver.

    The biggest problem, though, is the Rams are looking up at both the 49ers (5-0) and Seattle Seahawks (5-1) in the NFC West.

    Verdict: Panic

New York Giants

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Record: 2-4

    Streak: 2L

    Even at 2-4, the Giants remain in the NFC East race. That has a lot to do with the mediocrity of the Cowboys and Eagles, though.

    Fortunately, New York has a chance to stop its slide this week against the Arizona Cardinals with the return of tight end Evan Engram and running back Saquon Barkley, who has been out since Week 3.

    "I feel pretty good," Barkley said, per ESPN's Jordan Raanan. "Taking it day by day."

    The Giants have been getting mostly positive play out of quarterback Daniel Jones, though he has had his fair share of rookie mistakes. If New York can finally get Jones, Engram, Barkley, Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate on the field at the same time, it will have the makings of a dangerous offense.

    No one is running away with the NFC East, so the Giants should have every reason to believe they can stay in the race.

    Verdict: Relax

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Alastair Grant/Associated Press

    Record: 2-4

    Streak: 2L

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have shown flashes this season—like during their 55-40 win over the Rams—but two big problem areas have held them back.

    The first issue has been a dreadful pass defense that is virtually invisible when the front cannot generate pressure. No team has given up more passing yards per game (304.5).

    The bigger issue has been Jameis Winston. While he has played well at times, he's struggled with turnovers, decision-making and pocket awareness, and he has a tendency to try to play hero ball.

    "The biggest thing is holding on to the ball and getting sacked," head coach Bruce Arians said, per Bailey Adams of SB Nation. "First of all, you don't want him to get hurt. When you make one guy miss, or you scramble to the side of the field [and] there are no receivers, throw it away. It's very simple."

    Winston turned the ball over six times in the Week 6 loss to the Carolina Panthers, and the Buccaneers defense doesn't have enough talent to overcome his inconsistency.

    Tampa is not out of the NFC South race yet, but these two issues are going to sink the team.

    Verdict: Panic

Tennessee Titans

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    Record: 2-4

    Streak: 2L

    The Titans are already in panic mode. Last week, they benched 2015 second overall pick Marcus Mariota in favor of Ryan Tannehill, but making a quarterback change won't save Tennessee.

    "I think he has all the pieces, but it is a collective effort," Titans pass-rusher Cameron Wake said, per Jim Wyatt of the team's official website. "I don't think any one player is going to be a solution to a lot of pieces that has to play better."

    Inconsistency has plagued the Titans. They've had blowout wins against the Browns and Atlanta Falcons, and they've been embarrassed by the likes of Jacksonville and Denver.

    As is the case with the Jags, Tennessee can get back in the AFC South race. However, the switch to Tannehill is an act of desperation, and if it doesn't work, there will be no salvaging the season.

    Verdict: Panic