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NFL panic index, Week 7: Can the Bills really end their playoff drought?

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It also might be time to start worrying about the Bengals missing the playoffs, the Panthers secondary, the Falcons and more.

San Francisco 49ers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Fear not, Bills fans. No one is distressed about the idea of your team finally, finally ending the longest active postseason drought in North American sports. That would actually be pretty fantastic for a team that has found itself as the butt of jokes for decades.

But there’s one giant reason we’re at least a little uneasy about it happening: Rex Ryan’s ego.

The Bills started off the season in ominous fashion, dropping the first two games and putting Ryan on the hottest seat in the NFL. Since then (and after firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman), the Bills have reeled off four straight wins and are suddenly looking like one of the top teams in a mostly weak AFC.

Ryan is not modest to begin with, and he already beat the Patriots once this year. How obnoxious will he be if the Bills somehow end the Pats’ seven-year reign atop the AFC East?

Panic index: Braggadocios alert. Even if the Bills don’t win the division, Rex has a good shot at becoming the first coach since Wade Phillips to lead them to the playoffs.

Carson Wentz and the Eagles are in trouble without Lane Johnson

The Eagles learned Johnson, the No. 4 overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, was facing a 10-game suspension back on Aug. 9. His appeal was denied on Oct. 11, effectively removing him from the roster until Week 16. Philadelphia knew there was a very good chance it would be without its starting right tackle for the bulk of the season, yet only made one major move regarding its offensive line.

That’s when the Eagles traded backup tackle and occasional starter Dennis Kelly to Tennessee for wideout Dorial Green-Beckham. Kelly has appeared in each game for the Titans this season and earned his first start of the year last Sunday. Green-Beckham is Philadelphia’s fourth-most effective target, but now a slipshod offensive line is making sure he doesn’t have enough time to develop his routes downfield.

Consider Sunday’s showdown with Washington. Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz was sacked five times and hit six more times by a defense that rarely gave him time to properly set his feet. The result was Wentz’s least-effective day as a pro. He set career lows in completion rate (50 percent), passing yards (179), and quarterback rating (77.7).

Without Johnson, Philadelphia has to rely on an offensive line led by Jasons Kelce and Peters. Together, the two have combined for five false starts and five holding penalties through six games. Only three linemen in the league have drawn more flags than either.

Kelly may not have been the answer for this team, but he provided valuable depth for a team with little room for error at the position. Instead, the Eagles have had to rely on rookie fifth-round pick Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Against Washington, he was torched for 2.5 sacks in one quarter of play. If he can’t improve, Wentz will have to deal with the same ever-collapsing pocket problems that have hamstrung Andrew Luck in Indianapolis.

The Eagles are hurting without Lane Johnson. The worst part is they knew his suspension was coming and did nothing to brace for it.

Panic index: It’s only 10 games, right?

The Panthers screwed up by letting Josh Norman go

The Panthers went 15-1 last season and now they’re 1-5. If the season ended today, they’d have the second pick in the draft, with only the winless Browns ahead of them in the order. After a loss on Sunday to their NFC South rival the New Orleans Saints, things are looking particularly grim. Carolina was a preseason favorite to return to the Super Bowl, and that’s almost certainly not happening.

Cam Newton is not taking the Panthers’ decline well. Following Carolina’s 41-38 loss to the Saints, he fielded questions from the media with curt answers and then stormed out of the press conference.

Statistically, the Panthers offense isn’t bad. It ranks in the top 10 in every major offensive category. The defense, on the other hand, is a shadow of its former self. Drew Brees lit the Panthers up for 465 passing yards and four touchdowns last week. Just a couple of weeks ago, Julio Jones put up 300 receiving yards on the Panthers secondary.

If you’re wondering what’s made such a drastic difference for Carolina’s defense, the obvious answer is the departure of Josh Norman has been much more detrimental than the team may have expected. The Panthers pass defense was 22nd in yards allowed per game last season, but they led the league in turnovers.

Head coach Ron Rivera was asked this week if he believed the decision to rescind Norman’s franchise tag, which led to Norman signing with Washington as a free agent, was a factor in the team’s decline this season.

"That’s 20-20," Rivera said, via ESPN’s David Newton. "It’s called hindsight. I ain’t going there."

Rivera doesn’t have to articulate that the decision to move on from Norman has been a problem for the Panthers. It’s obvious.

With Norman gone, the Panthers are starting two rookies at corner after cutting Bene Benwikere as a result of his poor play against Jones. There’s a learning curve for Zack Sanchez and Daryl Worley, and Worley left Sunday’s game with a concussion, forcing the Panthers to sub in Teddy Williams, who didn’t even play college football.

New Orleans put up 523 yards of total offense, and 304 of those came in the first half. This came just two weeks after the Falcons managed 593 yards against Carolina.

The 2016 Panthers are not good, and it doesn’t seem to matter how well the offense plays. With the weakness of the secondary and the impact its had on the entire defense, there’s not much hope that they’ll get better this season.

Panic index: Carolina seemed like a preseason lock to at least win the NFC South, and now the Panthers have lost to every team in the division. Things are looking grim for the Panthers, and if you’re not already panicking, it’s time to start.

The Falcons have already started their inevitable slide

The Falcons are off to a strong start in 2016, but they got off to a strong start in 2015, too. Remember when Atlanta started last season 6-1 and then hit a six-game skid? This Sunday, the Falcons were 4-1 and coming off a big win against a good Broncos defense in Denver, and then they failed to look even remotely competitive against the Seahawks outside of the third quarter.

They only lost 26-24, and to a very good Seattle team, but some of the issues and mistakes that plagued the team last season when it all fell apart were evident again. Atlanta was heavily penalized, turned the ball over twice, including an interception at a critical time, and let Matt Ryan take sack after sack. There’s still plenty of season left, and Atlanta has given fans plenty of reasons to feel confident, but if Falcons fans are a little apprehensive after what we saw on Sunday, it’s understandable.

Panic index: This year’s Falcons look genuinely improved over last season, and the NFC South isn’t exactly the most competitive division this year. It’s Atlanta’s division to lose, and with just two losses, it’s definitely not time to worry about this team just yet.

Vincent Jackson placed on IR, and his future is uncertain

Vincent Jackson’s career may very well be over. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers put the 12-year vet on IR Tuesday, thanks to a knee injury he suffered against the Panthers. Jackson has spent the past five seasons in Tampa Bay, after spending seven seasons in San Diego.

Jackson’s play was already on the decline, and with a lack of consistency at quarterback the past five years, his regression has seemed even quicker than anyone might have expected. He failed to reach 1,000 yards receiving last year, and his best game this season came against the Arizona Cardinals, where he had four receptions for 44 yards. A knee injury to end his season for the soon-to-be 34-year-old could be a career-ender. He’s going to be a free agent this offseason, so the Bucs have no ties to him.

Panic index: Jackson’s had a nice, long career. He should probably start finding hobbies outside of football.

The Bengals might miss the playoffs

During the last five years, the Bengals have had a problem being good, but not great. They made the playoffs every year since 2011. That's an exceptionally high floor in the NFL. They've also won a grand total of zero playoff games during that time. Marvin Lewis has built a continual playoff contender, yet is constantly mentioned as being on the hot seat because the Bengals have been unable to take the next stop. Being good was fine, but it was time to be great.

Now, after a 2-4 start, Bengals fans would probably accept being just good in a heartbeat. Cincinnati hasn't played the easiest schedule, but thus far the gap between good and great is only growing. The biggest problem is on offense. The Bengals had the seventh-highest scoring offense last season. This year, they rank 29th. Cincinnati is scoring eight fewer points per game this season.

Cincinnati lost a lot of offensive talent in the offseason, however, an offense featuring Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard, and others should be a lot better than the No. 29 scoring offense in the NFL.

Panic index: Can we convince Hue Jackson, Mohamed Sanu, and Marvin Jones to come back to Cincinnati? No? Well, uhhh ... at least a slightly injured Tyler Eifert will be back soon.