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The NFL's Most Dangerous Losing Teams to Watch in the 2nd Half

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2021

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf listens while quarterback Russell Wilson talks on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, in Seattle. The Rams won 26-17. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

In any given week, a team at the bottom of the standings can pull off an upset, but a few squads that struggled early could make a push for a playoff berth in January. 

As we head into the second half of the season, top contenders should beware some sub-.500 teams capable of putting together strong performances around Thanksgiving. 

Several games into the term, a new coaching staff may have found its team's winning formula, a star player could provide a boost after recovering from an injury or a squad that lost some nail-biters might change its late-game fortunes with better execution in critical moments.

With a focus on borderline playoff hopefuls, let's take a look at the most dangerous teams to watch through the remaining nine weeks of the campaign.

        

Indianapolis Colts (4-5)

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Colts quarterback Carson Wentz handing off to running back Jonathan Taylor
Colts quarterback Carson Wentz handing off to running back Jonathan TaylorWilfredo Lee/Associated Press

The Indianapolis Colts don't have a victory against a team with a winning record. Yet, they've won three of their last four games and went into overtime with the top two AFC squads in the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens. 

The Colts had double-digit leads on the Titans and Ravens, so they can compete with the best in their conference, but a defense that ranked top 10 in points and yards allowed last year must find its way. 

Earlier in the season, All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard talked about feeling the effects of an offseason ankle surgery. Still, he leads the league in forced fumbles (four) and may slowly get back to 100 percent, which would be a boost for the defense. Along with All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and cornerback Kenny Moore II, Leonard could help turn things around on that side of the ball.

Aside from a middling defense that's high on talent but short on results, the Colts need oft-injured quarterback Carson Wentz to stay healthy. If he's on the field, Indianapolis has a chance to win any game. Despite a couple of costly turnovers in a Week 8 loss to the Titans, the sixth-year signal-caller has bounced back from an awful 2020 campaign (16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions) with 17 touchdowns and just three interceptions. 

While running back Jonathan Taylor handles a heavy workload on the ground, Wentz's connection with budding second-year wideout Michael Pittman Jr. carries the passing attack. If wideout T.Y. Hilton can shake off the injury bug, he would provide a much-needed deep-threat component to the offense.

With health on their side and better close-out performances on defense, the Colts could move up from 12th in the AFC to the sixth or seventh seed. They have matchups against the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders, which may come with wild-card seeding implications.

        

Seattle Seahawks (3-5) 

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson
Seahawks quarterback Russell WilsonSteph Chambers/Getty Images

Quarterback Russell Wilson could come back to save the Seattle Seahawks' season. 

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Wilson received clearance to play in Week 10 against the Green Bay Packers, who may not have quarterback Aaron Rodgers (reserve/COVID-19 list).

The Seahawks have only missed the playoffs once (2017) with Wilson as their starting signal-caller. Though they started the term 2-3 with him, he played at a high level, throwing for 10 touchdowns and just one interception with a 72 percent completion rate. In a quarterback-driven league, Seattle can make a run with one of the league's best at the position.

Wilson may come back with some help, too. The Seahawks designated lead running back Chris Carson for a return from injured reserve. With both playmakers potentially back in the fold, Seattle would likely see a noteworthy boost in its 19th-ranked scoring offense that's accumulated the fourth-fewest yards.

Nonetheless, the defense must do its part. The unit ranks tied for eighth in scoring but gives up the second-most yards.

Last year, Carlos Dunlap provided a spark to the pass rush after the Seahawks acquired him from the Cincinnati Bengals. This season, the club didn't make any trade-deadline moves to bolster the defense.

However, edge-rusher Darrell Taylor has flashed in seven games, logging 16 tackles (13 solo), three for loss and four sacks. Safety Jamal Adams, who led the team in sacks (9.5) last season, must elevate his play to strengthen a pass defense that's allowing the fifth-most yards.

With help on the way and some capable pass-rushers, don't count the Seahawks out of the playoff race.

          

Philadelphia Eagles (3-6)

Football: Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts (1) in action vs Los Angeles Chargers at Lincoln Financial Field. Philadelphia, PA 11/7/2021 CREDIT: Erick W. Rasco (Photo by Erick W. Rasco/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images) (Set Number: X163859 TK1)
Erick W. Rasco/Getty Images

With three losses in the last four weeks, the Philadelphia Eagles are an unassuming dangerous team, but they may have discovered an effective blueprint for their offense.

At the beginning of the campaign, quarterback Jalen Hurts had a lot on his plate. He adjusted to a new scheme under offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and threw at least 35 times in four of the first five weeks. The second-year signal-caller has also played a big role in the run game, leading the Eagles in carries (83), rushing yards (494) and touchdowns on the ground (five). 

Over the past two contests, the Eagles have played well with more carries for their running backs. In Miles Sanders' absence (sprained ankle), Jordan Howard and Boston Scott have led the charge in the rushing attack. The former emerged as the lead ball-carrier in Week 9 against the Los Angeles Chargers.

The NFL doesn't award moral victories, though Hurts had an efficient Week 9 performance against the Chargers, completing 11 of 17 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown with a 115.3 quarterback rating, which is his second-highest mark of the season. 

If the Eagles continue to run the ball effectively, Hurts may see bigger windows in the passing game as linebackers and safeties load the box. As a result, wideout DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert could rack up receiving yards when they have favorable one-on-one matchups downfield. 

With a solid defensive front that features Josh Sweat, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave and Derek Barnett, Philadelphia has the personnel to win at the line of scrimmage, which helps the defensive backs in coverage.

In five of their last six games, the Eagles will play teams with a losing record. With a solid offensive identity, they can string together victories in a late-season run.

       

Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.

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