NFL Teams Whose Seasons Could Go Down the Drain Quickly After Week 3
And just like that, the month of September is over for 88 percent of the NFL's 32 teams.
Yes, it was a short month in the longest ever NFL season, but we're already on the brink of being able to bury some teams. The two New York squads, for example, are a combined 0-6. The 0-3 Jacksonville Jaguars also look uncompetitive, and it's hard to see the feisty but deeply flawed Detroit Lions recovering from their 0-3 start.
But those teams weren't expected to be part of the playoff picture in 2021. The squads listed in this piece absolutely were. And while none of them can be counted out of the Super Bowl or playoff equations this early, it's time to start worrying about each of 'em after tough Week 3 losses.
Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2)
We probably shouldn't be floored by the fact the Pittsburgh Steelers have lost their first two home games and have scored 17 or fewer offensive points in each of their first three outings. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger just isn't the player he used to be now that he's 39, and his supporting cast is a shell of its former self after the offensive line and defense lost several key pieces in the 2021 offseason.
Still, most high schoolers in Pittsburgh weren't alive the last time the Steelers posted a losing record. They're always in contention, and a lot of us figured that'd be the case again this year simply because Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin, T.J. Watt and Co. have the track record.
But two-score losses to the Las Vegas Raiders and Cincinnati Bengals in back-to-back home games? That's a terrible omen, especially considering they needed some unsustainable special-teams heroics to beat the Buffalo Bills in Week 1.
Week 3 marked their most lopsided loss to the Bengals since 1995.
The Steelers could easily be 0-3. The defense was already down a bunch of bite before Watt got hurt, and the offense is a mess. That doesn't bode well for an upcoming stretch against the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and Cleveland Browns.
I'm sure they'll put it together occasionally on either side of the ball and dig deep for some wins, but it's beginning to look as though they'll be closer to Cincinnati's range than Cleveland's or Baltimore's in 2021.
Seattle Seahawks (1-2)
The Seattle Seahawks are a veteran team with a superstar quarterback in his prime. They can absolutely bounce back from a 1-2 start. In fact, they did exactly that before posting winning records in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
The problem is the NFC West looks absolutely jacked, with the Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers a combined 8-1 out of the gate.
Seattle continues to put too much on Russell Wilson's shoulders in a division with almost no margin for error, and it's fair to wonder if it has the talent in the trenches to keep up regardless of Wilson's heroics.
It's also the way the Seahawks are losing. Blowing a home game in front of the 12th Man? Falling by a double-digit margin to a Minnesota Vikings team you haven't lost to since 2009? That one featured a scoreless second half as Wilson tried to carry the entire team. It was not good, and it's got them on track to be underdogs in San Francisco in Week 4 (and possibly even at home against the cruising Rams in Week 5).
If they don't find a way to win at least win and maybe even both of those games, they'll be playing catchup in the division all season.
Indianapolis Colts (0-3)
The Indianapolis Colts are 0-3 for the first time in a decade. The offensive line is far from where it used to be, new quarterback Carson Wentz is already in rough shape, and they're already behind the Tennessee Titans in the tiebreaker following a dud Week 3 loss to their top AFC South rival.
The Jaguars and Houston Texans are unlikely to factor in, but an early 2.5-game gap between Indy and Tennessee in the South will be extremely hard for the Colts to overcome.
That's a shame, because they have so much talent on both sides of the ball. They're a well-coached and well-managed team, and there was some hope that Wentz would rebound from an abysmal 2020 season now that he's been reunited with his former offensive coordinator, Frank Reich. But it's been a Murphy's Law-type start for the Colts, who may now be without key players Quenton Nelson and Kwity Paye for some time due to ankle and hamstring injuries, respectively.
Not ideal considering that two of their next four games come in Baltimore and San Francisco.
They're looking a 2-5 start right in the eye, and the AFC South isn't likely to send multiple teams to the playoffs.
Chicago Bears (1-2)
The Chicago Bears might not have entered 2021 with Seattle-level expectations in the NFC, but they were a playoff team last year, the defense is loaded with talent, and the presence of rookie quarterback Justin Fields created some excitement this summer in the Windy City.
And while they did manage to beat the Bengals in a close Week 2 affair at Soldier Field, two September blowout losses at the hands of the Rams and Browns might indicate it'll be a long year in Chicago.
Fields was utterly overwhelmed while taking nine sacks and completing just six passes in his first career start Sunday in Cleveland. It was one of the most ineffective NFL offensive performances in years, with Chicago picking up just six first downs and gaining just 47 yards of total offense (the lowest total for an NFL team since 2004).
Regular starter (for now) Andy Dalton could continue to miss time due to a knee injury, but he's unlikely to carry this team deep anyway. Soon, they'll hit a stretch against the Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 49ers, Steelers and Ravens. Before that's over, we'll likely conclude this will be a retooling year for the Bears.
Kansas City Chiefs (1-2)
It's not quite panic time for Patrick Mahomes and the two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs. They've overcome worse than a 1-2 start, but the reality is they easily could have been 0-3 if the Browns could keep the wheels on the track in a close Week 1 contest at Arrowhead.
Plus, the AFC West is really bringing it this year. The Raiders and Denver Broncos are a combined 6-0, putting them both two games up on Kansas City. And after beating the Chiefs at Arrowhead on Sunday, the rising Los Angeles Chargers are essentially 1.5 games up on K.C. as well.
The Chiefs have an especially large target on their back right now. Everybody brings their A-game, and every opponent is extremely aggressive against them. That makes it tough when you're adjusting to a new-look offensive line and you have exploitable flaws on defense.
Now, after a potentially tricky road game against the Philadelphia Eagles, they'll have three consecutive games against 2020 playoff teams (Buffalo, Washington and Tennessee).
At the very least, the AFC West will not be a walk in the park for Mahomes and Co. in 2021.
New England Patriots (1-2)
Following an offseason spending spree, the widely held expectation was that the New England Patriots would be a contender again after a year under the radar to kick off the post-Tom Brady era.
But New England has now opened the season with back-to-back home losses following a messy Week 3 defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Saints, and there's a very good chance that record at Gillette Stadium becomes 0-3 when Brady and the Buccaneers come to Foxborough next Sunday night.
A 1-3 start and a potential three-game deficit in the AFC East would be difficult to rebound from. Throw in that they'd already have three home games in the books, and Bill Belichick's squad would be in big trouble entering what should at least be a lighter stretch against the Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets.
But if the Pats perform in those games the way they did in that ugly three-turnover, 15-point loss to the flawed Saints, nothing will come easy.
They're already pretty clear underdogs in the AFC East.