The Biggest Busts of the First Half of 2020 NFL Season
The first half of the 2020 NFL season has featured surprises and breakout teams, but it has also had its fair share of disappointments.
Some star players have failed to live up to their production from recent seasons. Injuries can play a factor in that drop-off, but others have seen their roles reduced because of young talent at their positions, while others are just not meeting preseason expectations.
At the same time, some teams that had playoff aspirations have fallen apart in the first eight weeks of the season. Several teams are well behind the pace of the projected win totals oddsmakers gave them heading into the season, creating quarterback drama among a handful of squads.
There have been all kinds of disappointments through the first half of the 2020 season, but let's take a look at four players and four teams using the criteria listed above.
New England Patriots
After two decades of dominance, the New England Patriots have had their worst start to a season since 2000 with a 2-5 record. Sitting at third in the AFC East, they're in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
Replacing a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady wasn't going to be easy. However, picking up former MVP Cam Newton on a one-year deal worth only $1.75 million gave the Patriots a potentially capable replacement under center. Head coach Bill Belichick praised Newton's work ethic in training camp, giving Patriots fans hope that their new quarterback could lead the team to another division title.
Instead, things have gone wrong in a hurry. The Patriots have lost four straight games, and the offense has struggled to find the end zone. The Pats rank 29th in the league with only 19.4 points per game.
A lack of playmakers has been a real issue for the offense. Julian Edelman has had a quiet year, but now that his season may be over, an underperforming cast of receivers in N'Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd must try to turn things around. The Patriots are averaging the third-most rushing yards, but defenses have shut down the passing game, as New England quarterbacks have posted a combined 67.0 passer rating.
Belichick admitted that a big reason for the team's struggles has been their salary-cap issues, stating that the Patriots "sold out and won three Super Bowls." Still, considering the Patriots were projected to win 8.5 games in the regular season, fans were hoping for a better start than this.
Preston Smith, Edge, Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers have struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, coming in 31st as just 17.1 percent of dropbacks result in pressure. There are a number of reasons for the inefficient pass rush, but the lack of production from Preston Smith has played a big factor.
Smith had a career year in 2019 with the Packers, picking up 56 combined tackles, 12 sacks and an interception. However, the production hasn't been there through seven games this year, as he has recorded just 15 combined tackles and only half a sack.
While sacks tend to get more attention, pressures are also an important stat to measure the effectiveness of an edge-rusher. Unfortunately for Smith, those numbers have also taken a significant drop-off. After registering 34 quarterback pressures last season, he sits at just five in 2020.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has drawn plenty of criticism for the defense's struggles this year, but it's not like Smith has a different role. Both Pettine and Smith have said the 27-year-old's role is similar to what it was in 2019.
Defensively, the Packers are starting to get exposed, as Dalvin Cook showed Sunday with 226 total yards and four touchdowns. If they want to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender, it will be up to Smith and the rest of the defense to turn things around.
San Francisco 49ers
Less than nine months after playing in the Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers are seeing their playoff hopes slip away.
The 49ers are in last place in the NFC West at 4-4. While a .500 record halfway through the season still gives San Francisco a chance at making the playoffs, injuries and a brutal remaining schedule will make it hard to do so.
Two more names were added to an increasingly large list of players on injured reserve this week with Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle expected to miss significant time. Backup quarterback Nick Mullens will try to lead the team to a playoff spot against the third-hardest remaining schedule in the league.
Expectations were high for the 49ers heading into the season. Oddsmakers set San Francisco's projected win total at 10.5 with only the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens projected to win more games.
A playoff appearance doesn't look likely, though, even with the expanded playoff format. Football Outsiders gives the 49ers just a 21.3 percent chance of making the postseason, a 21.0 percent drop from last week.
The good news is they should be healthy and ready to compete again in 2021. Still, for a team that was one win away from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy last year, this season has been a disappointment.
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
When healthy, A.J. Green has been the top weapon for the Cincinnati Bengals since being drafted in 2011. That hasn't been the case this year, even with talented No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow under center.
In eight games, Green has caught 31 passes for 316 yards and zero touchdowns. The lack of scoring is uncharacteristic for Green, who has only had one season with fewer than six receiving touchdowns. Even last year, when he played in just nine games, he had 46 receptions for 694 yards and six scores.
While Green has struggled, Burrow has started to get more comfortable with other receivers on the Bengals roster. Rookie Tee Higgins in particular has established himself as a top receiver for Burrow, catching 33 passes for 488 yards and three touchdowns. His eight receptions of at least 20 yards are tied for 12th in the league.
Trade rumors surrounded Green prior to the trade deadline, but the Bengals weren't able to find any suitors. His franchise tag, which resulted in an $18.1 million contract this season, likely made it hard to draw much interest given his lack of production.
With Green poised to enter free agency after this season, the seven-time Pro Bowler could be playing for a new team in 2021. A fresh start might be exactly what he needs to start playing like his old self.
Even with a convincing win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings are sitting in last place in the NFC North with a 2-5 record. That's less than ideal for a team projected to win 8.5 games this year.
At times the Vikings have looked like a playoff-caliber team. However, the inconsistent play from Kirk Cousins has made it harder to string together wins. The 32-year-old has the second-most interceptions in the league with 10, yet he also ranks second in the league with 8.7 yards per pass attempt.
While the offense has been turning the ball over, the defense has struggled to make up for it with takeaways of their own. The Vikings rank 29th with a minus-six turnover differential while also being one of four teams in the league to allow more than 30 points per game.
At the halfway point of the season, the Vikings are prepping for what could be an interesting offseason. Cousins is under contract through 2022, and the team won't have much flexibility in free agency to build around him. It is projected to be over the salary cap by more than $5 million for 2021.
Drafting young talent will be Minnesota's best bet at competing in the NFC North again in 2021. However, if Cousins continues to turn the ball over, then the Vikings might also want to consider drafting their quarterback of the future.
Mark Ingram II, RB, Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens are 5-2 and in great position for another postseason appearance. While the offense is still putting up points, Mark Ingram II is seeing a reduced role compared to his dominant 2019 season.
Ingram made his third Pro Bowl last season after running for 1,018 yards while averaging 5.0 yards per carry. It was also his career-best year for scoring, rushing for 10 touchdowns and adding five through the air.
The 30-year-old has seen a big dip in production this season. In six games, he's rushed only 50 times for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Age might be playing a factor in Ingram's production, as is an ankle injury that sidelined him for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
However, the biggest reason for Ingram's dip in production has been the committee approach the Ravens have taken at the position. Gus Edwards split carries last season with Ingram, but rookie J.K. Dobbins has started to carve out his own role in the running game. Although Dobbins has carried the ball just 40 times, he is outrushing Ingram with 267 yards and two touchdowns.
Ingram is more of a bust from a fantasy perspective than in actual on-field play, but the drop in production is substantial. Ingram was the 23rd running back taken in standard fantasy leagues, according to FantasyPros, but is currently the 48th-highest-scoring running back in ESPN's non-PPR leagues.
A crowded backfield is making it hard for Ingram to repeat the impact he had in 2019. There's time for him to turn things around, but the Ravens would be wise to start giving Dobbins an increased workload to keep Ingram fresh for a potential playoff run.
Expectations are always high for the Dallas Cowboys, and this year was no exception with the team projected to win 9.5 games. Heading into the season, fans had reason to be excited with a new offensive-minded head coach in Mike McCarthy and a first-round wide receiver in CeeDee Lamb.
Instead, things have gone wrong quickly. With a 2-6 record, the Cowboys sit at third place in an NFC East division that has a combined record of just 8-22-1. Losing starting quarterback Dak Prescott to a serious ankle injury has made things much harder, but there were warning signs early that this might not be their year.
Before Prescott went down in Week 5, the Cowboys had won just one of their first four games. That win only came thanks to an epic collapse by the Atlanta Falcons, who blew a 15-point lead with less than eight minutes remaining.
Some losses have stung more than others, but the two most recent to the Washington Football Team and Philadelphia Eagles have knocked the Cowboys from the top of the division. Without Prescott under center, the offense has mustered all of 22 points over the last three games combined.
Things won't get much easier as the Cowboys take on the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. Football Outsiders gives the Cowboys just an 8 percent chance at making the playoffs, and a fourth straight loss could make it almost impossible for them to sneak into the postseason.
Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
The pressure has been on Carson Wentz since the Philadelphia Eagles drafted his potential successor in Jalen Hurts in April. Rather than elevate his game to relieve that pressure, Wentz is in the midst of his worst season since he was a rookie in 2016.
Through eight games, he is posting career-worst numbers in completion percentage (58.4) and passer rating (73.2). He is also tied for a career-worst mark with 6.2 yards per pass attempt and leads the NFL with 12 interceptions thrown.
Wentz doesn't deserve all of the blame for these struggles. Injuries have hit the Eagles at wide receiver, tight end and on the offensive line. Zach Ertz, DeSean Jackson and Andre Dillard are all on injured reserve, while Lane Johnson and Miles Sanders are questionable to play Sunday against the New York Giants.
Despite the injuries, this is a massive regression for a 27-year-old quarterback who has shown promise when healthy. Just last season, Wentz played in all 16 games and passed for over 4,000 yards for the first time in his career. He threw for 27 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, posting a solid 93.1 passer rating.
There are already calls by national media outlets to bench Wentz for Hurts, but head coach Doug Pederson has stated the former Pro Bowl quarterback is still Philadelphia's starter. If things keep going south, however, it would be in the team's best interests to see if Hurts could provide a much-needed spark.