Every year you have NFL teams failing to reach the expectations fans have for them in the offseason, while others start off slow and end up going on a run. Just last season you had two teams, who were coming off conference championship game appearances, miss the playoffs entirely in the Vikings and Jaguars. On the other hand, you had two AFC South teams in the Texans and Colts meeting in a matchup of 0-3 teams early on in the season, but then both putting together impressive stretches to finish with double-digit wins.
Because of that, I looked around the league for teams that have been disappointing so far and pointed out one squad, who I think still has hope to turn things around and another one, whose season is already over to me. I only picked teams at or below .500 record to do so of course. Three of these four were playoff teams last year, while another one might have just been the most hyped group in the entire league over the summer.
Philadelphia Eagles – There is still hope
Nobody outside of Philadelphia is more annoyed by the Eagles’ 3-4 start than me. I had them representing the NFC in the Super Bowl and Carson Wentz battling it out with Patrick Mahomes for league MVP honors, but right now I only see them having a shot at the postseason by winning the East with how stacked the NFC is. With that being said, I wouldn’t rule them to do that at all, even with four losses in conference play and after laying an egg in Dallas.
This team still has one of the biggest quarterback talents in the league, there is no reason the O-line shouldn’t take a step up after getting embarrassed by their divisional rival and they will get their one true deep threat in DeSean Jackson back eventually. What I really want to see is less pressure on the quarterback by getting back to pounding people with the ground game and then creating easy opportunities off play-action and the RPO attack. Defensively I was most disappointed with the way Ezekiel Elliott just rumbled through guys, since that run D had been their strength. They are incredibly banged up at defensive tackle with Malik Jackson and Timmy Jernigan out, while Fletcher Cox simply hasn’t looked like himself. The same could be said about the secondary, but more importantly I just think they have to figure out who they should put out there and Jim Schwartz needs to stop playing as much man-coverage and play according to their personnel.
With that being said, I still have hope for this team to turn their season around. They have a tough matchup against Bills Mafia up in Buffalo this weekend, but with how much of a mess the Bears are, they should be a game below .500 as they enter their bye week. After that we will see what this team is made of with the Patriots and Seahawks coming to town, but if they win one of those two games, they could easily end up winning seven of their final eight games. A trip to South Beach should definitely get them right and then they finish up with four divisional games and a chance to draw even in the head-to-head comparison between them and Dallas at Lincoln Financial Field. That Cowboys schedule looks a whole lot tougher with only one NFC North matchup in the books and a trip to Foxborough on the horizon. The biggest concern for me right now is all that talk about leadership questions and internal rumors.
Chicago Bears – The season is over
This is a team I projected to miss the playoffs, but I didn’t think it would be because they rushed for under 20 yards and gave up 36 points at home to a Saints team without Drew Brees. For a group that bolstered the premiere defense in the NFL and finished last season with a 12-4 record, you have to question their identity and how they could turn things around when they probably are the worst team in the NFC North at this moment.
After losing a 10-3 game against Green Bay in the season-opener, the Bears rattled off three straight wins over the Broncos, Redskins and Vikings. It looked like I would be wrong on this team, because of how they pulled out a rabbit late at Denver, with how dominant they looked in a rout over Washington and making that Vikings offense look like a mess, while completely bottling up the league’s leading rusher Dalvin Cook. They were travelling overseas to play the Raiders in London for that Khalil Mack revenge game, but really got dominated up front on both sides of the ball. Then they came off their bye week and the offense was an absolute joke, with the final score looking much better than it actually was, as Mitch Trubisky and company actually didn’t score until 2:30 left in the game. Trubisky won’t find any success throwing the ball ahead of the sticks, they just ran the ball seven times despite having a guy in David Montgomery, who I thought would win Offensive Rookie of the Year, and the offensive line has been a disaster, now without Kyle Long for the rest of the year. Even the defense has taken a step back after that dominant performance against Minnesota, because of the loss of Akiem Hicks and just being on the field too much.
The road ahead doesn’t look much easier however. I expect them to beat another struggling squad in the Chargers, but then they are going to Philly to play a desperate Eagles team, host a pissed off Detroit team and meet the Rams at the Colloseum, who are looking to go on a run after pushing all the chips into the middle of the table with that Jalen Ramsey trade. A matchup against the Giants might give them some confidence back, but that five-game stretch to end the season is just BRUTAL – at Detroit on Thanksgiving, versus the Cowboys on Thursday Night, at Green Bay, a Sunday night matchup against the Chiefs and then a week 17 trip to Minnesota, where they still haven’t forgotten about how the Bears kicked them out of the playoffs last year.
Cleveland Browns – There is still hope
Everybody is giving up on the Browns right now. They are coming off their bye week at 2-4 with a meeting against the undefeated Patriots at Foxborough in a primetime matchup at hand. Their quarterback has become everybody’s favorite target to criticize, people are questioning the hire of a coach who hadn’t even been a coordinator for a full season yet and all that talent has not paid off so far. Regardless of all that, I believe this team could go on a run and be really scary down the stretch.
First and foremost, it is the quality of that Browns roster that makes me think they are still in the hunt. When you have Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and a couple of other excellent young receivers to go with Kareem Hunt returning to spell Nick Chubb at running back, you might just have the most talented group of skill position players in all of football. Baker Mayfield is clearly having a sophomore slump, but if Freddy Kitchens understands that this offense has to go through the running game and play-action shots from understanding to provide those big plays in the passing game, I think Baker will look more like the 2018 version of himself. The biggest issue by far has been the offensive line, but with more focus on running the ball there will be less pressure on the guys up front and I just still believe they will trade for Trent Williams. Then I look at the defense and I see a front-four that can be as good as any in the league with Myles Garrett leading the way as a DPOY candidate, a young, fast core of linebackers and a secondary that is only coming together with everybody getting healthy.
Let’s be objective here – they probably won’t pull off the W in New England. Either way, that rest of the schedule is lining up for them to make a push for the playoffs. I know Denver is a tough place to play for a young signal-caller, but Baker already won there last year, and even though Buffalo has looked great so far, Cleveland will win one of those two matchups. After that they host the Big Ben-less Steelers on Sunday Night, get another unofficial bye against Miami, go to Pittsburgh, play the Bengals twice, go to Arizona to face a rookie QB and host Baltimore, who they already put 40 points on. Let’s say they are 3-5 at the midpoint of the season, I just don’t see them losing more than two games from that point on and at 9-7 they could easily sneak into a wildcard spot in the AFC, especially with three of their losses already being to NFC West teams.
Los Angeles Chargers – The season is over
Obviously at 2-5 it would be a tall task for anybody to make a run at the playoffs, but for a team that finished 12-4 last year and with most of their talent returning, usually I wouldn’t rule them out. However, this team has been a huge disappointment when you look at some of the areas they were supposed to improve in but didn’t and how they have gotten back to losing games in excruciating fashion, after pulling through in a bunch of close contests last year.
Overall, I think the Bolts have let chances to win three games slip out of their hands already. Philip Rivers threw away that Lions game when they were already in range for a game-tying field goal, but he forced the ball to a double-covered Keenan Allen, they turned the ball over twice inside the opposing two-yard line to give a 0-4 Broncos team their first victory and then they had one of the craziest finishes I have seen in a while against Tennesse last Sunday, where they allowed themselves to get into some trouble by running the ball with Melvin Gordon despite having no timeouts, instead of taking three shots to one of the top red-zone receiving corps. The Chargers’ interior run defense has been awful, the coverage has been susceptible without Derwin James playing split safety and in the slot, they are trying to force-feed Gordon even though Austin Ekeler had a monster start to the season and Rivers’ arm seems to have really fallen off, when you look at some of the early inaccuracies in this most recent matchup.
Looking at the schedule, I just don’t see them finishing the season with a better record than 6-10, which would be half of their win total from 2018. I know the Bears offense looks inept, but after all the comments about the lack of a run game, Matt Nagy will feel like he has to run it down the throat of this LA team. That trip is followed up with a red-hot Aaron Rodgers coming to town, then it will be the Black Hole hosting a divisional foe and potentially the reigning league MVP coming back just in time, before going on their bye. After that the Bolts have trips to Denver and Jacksonville on the horizon, they host the Vikings and Raiders and then finish up against Patrick Mahomes at Kansas City. As much as it pains me to see, because I think this team is up there with some of the very best purely based on talent, they might have already missed their window and with a top ten pick at hand potentially they might move on from Rivers.