The Hot Read: Patriots, Steelers Among Teams In Danger Of Squandering Promising Starts

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 17: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on while playing the Cleveland Browns on October 17 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Last season, the Broncos started 6-0, the Giants began the season 5-0 and the Steelers were 6-2 at the midpoint. All three ended up missing the playoffs. Should you need more convincing that omnipresent power ranking posts are reactionary pageview grabs, take a glance at this one from Week 6 last season and compare it to how the final standings shook out.

The coverage of the first half of any NFL season is predictably fraught with panic for teams that get off to a slower than expected start and a ho-hum "business as usual" approach for the teams doing well. Which is why the Cowboys-Vikings game two weeks ago was, despite being a pretty lackluster affair, perfectly timed for complete saturation of coverage: two high-profile teams, replete with star players and ample storylines, meeting with a chance to possibly right the ship at an early enough juncture of the season that the contest is still relevant.

The point being that while pundits approach an ongoing season with the idea that momentum dictates all; that once something is established as being successful, the possibility that fortunes could reserve course and fall flat is unthinkable, at least until it becomes readily apparent.

So which teams that have gotten off to promising starts are the most likely to fail to fulfill that promise by season's end? While there are obvious examples, such as the Bears who seem to have already begun their free fall, others aren't quite as clear. Here are several teams that might be vulnerable to a second half slide.

New England Patriots (5-1) - Being able to exploit another team's weaknesses should never have to be seen as a detriment to a team's success, but at some point, the Patriots are going to stop encountering teams willing to show their fatal flaws on a week to week basis. New England's defense still isn't instilling a lot of confidence that it could be a unit capable of carrying a contender and the offense looked mostly dreadful last week in San Diego. The Monday night win over Miami was due in large part because the Dolphins needed to make urgent fixes to their special teams scheme. And the Chargers proved repeatedly willing to shoot themselves in the foot last week. The Patriots will remain a good team, but they aren't likely to continue winning at the torrid pace they have been.

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1)- The Steelers aren't yet willing to accept that defensive end Aaron Smith is gone for the season and have left a roster spot open for him with the hopes Smith could return in time for the playoffs to start, the Steelers will likely be without the man who is widely considered the best defensive end for the 3-4 scheme in the NFL. The loss of Smith doesn't immediately swing Pittsburgh from stalwart to struggling, but it is a cause for concern. When Smith went down late in 2007 and early last season, it exacted a toll on Pittsburgh's tremendous defense. In both cases, there were other compounding factors, but the Steelers will have to make adjustments if they hope to maintain their station as one of the top contenders so far in this NFL season.

Houston Texans (4-2) - The Houston defense has been absolutely dreadful this season. Entering their bye last week, the Texans were tied with the Jaguars for having given up the most points in the league. While their offense is potent enough to the team will still be able to win its share of game, placing that much pressure on one half of the team means there will be more than a few weeks that Houston loses just because the offense isn't completely clicking. After getting off to a hot start, Houston fans seemed convinced that this was the year for the team's first playoff appearance, but with the Titans having an up year, unless the complete can complete a sweep of the Colts on Sunday, there's a fair chance they could narrowly miss a wild card spot again this season.

Kansas City Chiefs (4-2)- While the Chargers look like they have finally dug themselves a hole even they can't climb out of, let's not just hand the Chiefs the AFC West crown just yet. The Raiders looked mightily impressive in drubbing the Broncos in Denver last week. While that's just one victory and Oakland remains an unsure 3-4 team, the next two weeks will go a long way to determining how tight the division race will be the rest of the season. After hosting the winless but improving Bills this weekend, the Chiefs travel to Oakland in two weeks in a game that could either make for a close race in the stretch run or simply give the Chiefs a comfortable lead going into their final eight games.

Chicago Bears (4-3) - A paper tiger with a 3-0 start that owed much to a poorly written rule that negated a Calvin Johnson touchdown catch and the Packers committing a zillion penalties against them on Monday night, the Bears remain in first place in the NFC North despite losing three out of their last four. The only win in that stretch being a win over a hapless Panthers team in which Todd Collins was the winning quarterback with a 6.3 passer rating. The Packers rampant injuries and screw-ups have kept the division more competitive than was initially thought at the beginning of the year, but the Bears can't get away with playing the way they have and hope to compete the rest of the way.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2)- Despite Raheem Morris' claims, the Bucs aren't the best team in the NFC, the conference's stench of mediocrity this season notwithstanding. So far, Tampa has picked off the easy teams on its schedule and been mauled by the two team's with winning records they've faced. Assuming that trend continues, Tampa could conceivably finish 9-7, with five teams with winning records remaining on their schedule. Of course, that's putting a lot of confidence in an anemic defense that's currently 30th in the NFL in scoring.

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