NFL Teams on the Verge of a Disaster Season Entering Week 3

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistSeptember 25, 2021

NFL Teams on the Verge of a Disaster Season Entering Week 3

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Not every NFL team is off to a hot start in 2021. 

    Some teams that stumbled out of the gates can make a recovery. The Seattle Seahawks are in a precarious position given their 1-1 record in a division where every other team is undefeated, but they do have future Hall of Famer Russell Wilson under center, so disaster is unlikely. 

    This isn't the case for every team off to a poor start. For certain teams, one more loss could spell doom. Teams that had noteworthy rebuilding plans go up in smoke so early in the season could be headed for more than on-field drama. 

    Here's a look at the teams flirting with disaster as they enter a pivotal Week 3. 

Detroit Lions

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions probably weren't expecting an 0-2 or even 0-3 start when they hired Dan Campbell as head coach this offseason. 

    But a Week 1, 41-33 loss to San Francisco and a 35-17 loss to Green Bay in Week 2 have the Lions in a hole. The slow start adds to some ongoing frustration for the Lions, which haven't finished a season above .500 since 2017. 

    New quarterback Jared Goff has completed 68.8 percent of his passes, but he's only thrown five touchdowns with two interceptions. The defense has allowed 38.0 points per game—the second-worst mark in the league—and has generated just four sacks. The team has already openly admitted it's looking to trade Jamie Collins Sr. for the right price.

    Granted, one could argue the Lions knew 2021 could be rocky. The Goff trade was an immediate step backward with Matthew Stafford going to Los Angeles, though it did include the acquisition multiple first-round picks for what could be a long-term rebuild.

    But with Lamar Jackson and the Ravens next on the schedule, a likely 0-3 start puts even more pressure on Campbell, whose hiring was questionable to begin with. Prior to earning the job in Detroit, Campbell had 11 years of experience coaching in the NFL, but he had only been a head coach in an interim role (Miami in 2015) and never served as a coordinator.

    Teams have become increasingly impatient with coaches over the years, and a disastrous start trending in this direction could mean more drama in Detroit.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    It's hard to imagine many expected the Jacksonville Jaguars to be a serious threat in 2021. A rare AFC title-game run in 2017 represents the only time the franchise has been above. 500 since 2007, and hiring Urban Meyer—a first-time NFL coach out of the college ranks—was as divisive as it gets

    Two games in, Meyer's Jaguars are 0-2, and the organization has already issued a sappy public apology to fans that instantly went viral—but not reasons the Jags were hoping for.

    Not that the Jaguars were totally unjustified in issuing the apology. In Week 1, the team stunningly went to Houston and lost to the Texans, the team that felt most like the league's most significant rebuilder in the preseason. And Jacksonville went down hard, 37-21. Meyer's crew followed that up with a 23-13 loss to the Denver Broncos. 

    Along the way, No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence has completed just half of his 84 attempts with four touchdowns and five interceptions. The defense is one of seven units to allow an average of 30 or more points so far. A minus-26 point differential is tied for the third-worst mark in the league.

    A controversial hire in the first place, Meyer recently told Denver coach Vic Fangio that coaching at the NFL level feels like facing Alabama each week. That will ring true in Week 3 when MVP contender Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals come to town and again in Week 5 when Tennessee rolls through. An 0-3 mark—which could easily balloon to 0-6 by the Week 7 bye—could quickly push things nuclear in Jacksonville. 

Cincinnati Bengals

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    David Banks/Associated Press

    Zac Taylor and the Cincinnati Bengals don't have long to prove the three-year rebuilding plan will work. 

    Cincinnati spent huge money on rebuilding the defense over the past two years, paying big for foundational blocks like defensive tackle D.J. Reader, corner Trae Waynes and edge Trey Hendrickson. That's starting to show up on the stat sheet even though Waynes (hamstring) has yet to play at all, as the unit has six sacks over two games (after just 17 over 16 games last year) and is tied for 10th by allowing an average of just 22 points per contest. 

    But that doesn't change the Bengals' record or the fact that Joe Burrow continues to get crushed behind a bad offensive line. The Bengals are off to a 1-1 start, though the win required a field goal as overtime expired in Week 1 against a Minnesota team that is now 0-2. 

    Luck didn't shine on the Bengals in Week 2, as they went down 20-17 to the Chicago Bears in a game that Burrow threw three picks. Now they have to go to Pittsburgh in Week 3, which could mean 1-2, and then they have a brutally short turnaround to a Thursday night game against Jacksonville. Cincinnati will then have to deal with Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay in Week 5. 

    Admittedly, some of this isn't as dramatic as the other teams listed here—provided one doesn't look beyond this season. But poor offensive line play led to Burrow getting hurt in his 10th start last year. He had to limp off the field in Week 1 this year and has already suffered a ridiculous 10 sacks through two weeks. 

    On top of failing Burrow, Taylor is now 7-26-1. The Bengals aren't the type of team to fire a coach midseason, but there could be a short time before he starts losing the locker room if things don't turn around soon.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Don Montague/Associated Press

    It's always messy and wince-worthy when a team tries to straddle the line between contention and rebuild, especially when it probably shouldn't. 

    The Atlanta Falcons are the perfect example of that this year. The team let the Dan Quinn era drag on for far too long, went 7-9 twice before last year's four-win performance, then hired offensive guru Arthur Smith and drafted tight end Kyle Pitts fourth overall after trading away Julio Jones. They did all of that while keeping 36-year-old quarterback Matt Ryan

    An odd approach has led to an 0-2 start. Week 1 was a brutal 32-6 shellacking at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that went on to lose the next week. And the Falcons looked predictably outclassed in a 48-25 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2. 

    Through two games, the Falcons have allowed a league-worst 40 points per game with the league's worst point differential at minus-49. The ground game hasn't averaged four yards per carry and Ryan has thrown two scores with three picks, averaging just 5.7 yards per attempt (he averages 7.5 for his career). 

    One would think Smith has a pretty long leash given what he inherited and how the Falcons dealt with Quinn. But unlike it was during Smith's time in Tennessee, the play-calling has not been nearly good enough to utilize the rostered talent.

    If the team doesn't come up with a win or even look competitive again in Week 3 against the New York Giants (or ho-hum Washington and New York Jets teams in the following weeks before a bye), the Falcons will be one of the more interesting teams to watch for hot seats and trade-deadline movement. 

Indianapolis Colts

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    Zach Bolinger/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts hoped to at least remain steady after last year's 11-win season by acquiring Carson Wentz to start in the void left by Philip Rivers. 

    That plan is off to a not-so-hot start.

    Indianapolis opened the season with a 28-16 loss to the visiting Seattle Seahawks, though even that score is a bit deceiving considering the Colts add a score late with the game already decided. The Colts never led in a 27-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 2. 

    Normally, getting dropped by a pair of contenders to start the season wouldn't be the worst outcome. But Wentz has thrown only three touchdowns, turned the ball over twice and been sacked six times. Now he's dealing with sprains in both ankles that kept him from suiting up for practice until Friday, though he received a questionable tag and is a game-time decision

    That's especially problematic considering the Week 3 matchup is an encounter with the division-rival Tennessee Titans. Starting Jacob Eason or Brett Hundley is a brutal hint at an 0-3 start, and it's not encouraging from a season-long standpoint considering Wentz's recent injury history—he's played a full season once since 2016. 

    An 0-3 start, which could easily trend toward 0-4 or 0-5 with Miami and Baltimore on the schedule after Tennessee, would virtually eliminate playoff hopes and would be especially frustrating with the bumbling Texans ahead of the Colts in the division. 

    If the Wentz experiment totally implodes, especially after Wentz's irregular attendance during training camp, 2021 could be a lost year. To make matters worse, there's no bye-week relief until Week 14.