Now that we’ve hit the midway point of the season, it’s time to reassess the things NFL fans have been panicking about in the past eight weeks.
Each week, we’ve tried to gauge which issues are worth sweating over, and which just need a nice warm bath and some relaxing music. Sometimes we hit the nail on the head, but other times, we were completely off the mark.
When Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo went down with a fractured bone in his back during the preseason and Dallas was forced to move forward with rookie Dak Prescott at quarterback, Cowboys fans hit the panic button. It was understandable. And the season didn’t get off to the best start when the Cowboys fell to 0-1 after a loss to one of their biggest rivals, the New York Giants. That dropped the Cowboys to 1-12 without Romo dating back to last season.
After Week 1, we told Dallas fans that their team might miss the playoffs, but at least Prescott gave them a bright future one day.
Well, one day was a week later, when the Cowboys picked up their first win of the season. They haven’t lost since. They are 6-1 and fully in control of the NFC East with a two-game lead over every other team in the division.
Instead of a steep learning curve, Prescott has been excellent, to the point that Dallas has a legitimate quarterback controversy on its hands once Tony Romo is fully healthy.
Panic index verdict: The future is now.
The Browns’ QB position is the most dangerous job in America
In Cleveland, they’ve had a quarterback situation of an entirely different sort — mainly, no one can stay healthy. After being forced to start their third quarterback in as many weeks, we told Browns fans not to get their hopes up.
That part, we were at least right about. The Browns are still winless.
But, when rookie Cody Kessler was thrust into the starting role, he did much better than expected. In five games, he’s completed 67 percent of his passes for 947 yards, four touchdowns, and just one pick.
Unfortunately, this is the Browns we’re talking about, and Kessler has had to deal with injuries of his own. First, a ribs injury caused him to leave a game, which put veteran Charlie Whitehurst under center, and then Whitehurst was injured, which meant wide receiver Terrelle Pryor had to take a few snaps.
Heading into the season, some of us dared to dream the impossible and believe in the possibility of a Browns turnaround. Robert Griffin III seemed like a great fit for new head coach Hue Jackson’s offense, and then Griffin landed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury he suffered in Week 1. Josh McCown suffered a collarbone injury the following week.
In total, Cleveland has been forced to play six different quarterbacks. The only Browns quarterback to stay healthy enough to contribute this season has been rookie Kevin Hogan, who was promoted from Cleveland’s practice squad out of absolute necessity.
With the inconsistency at quarterback and some obvious concerns along the offensive line, it’s not surprising that the Browns are 0-8. Cleveland fans certainly were panicking early in the season when quarterback after quarterback was injured, and they were right to do so.
Between the Cavs winning the NBA title and the Indians going to the World Series, it seems like all of Cleveland’s traditional bad sports luck has fallen to the poor sweet Browns.
Panic index verdict: Siiiiiiiiiigh. We’re still holding out hope for at least one win, though.
The Jaguars gave Gus Bradley a lifetime appointment
If losing to the Titans doesn’t get you fired, it’s basically a job for life. The Jaguars have more talent on the roster than they’ve had in a decade. Unfortunately, the results on the field are familiar. Bradley’s on track for a 4-12 season. The best he’s had as Jacksonville’s head coach is 5-11.
We said the Jaguars had their own Jeff Fisher, but hell, at least he can get to seven wins.
The Jags did fire offensive coordinator Greg Olson, which makes sense given how badly Blake Bortles has regressed this season. But that’s not going to fix stuff like Jalen Ramsey’s outbursts or the simple fact that Bradley is a deer in the headlights when it comes to finding answers for what’s wrong with his team.
Panic index verdict: Tom Coughlin, the franchise’s OG head coach, is available and fans are ready to hire him. That’s like calling up the person you used to date in high school 20 years later with a casual, “’sup.”
Jared Goff might be an actual ghost
The Rams traded up to select Jared Goff first overall in the 2016 draft, and instead of stepping into a starting role, he’s Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense as far as we can tell. That’s the best explanation for why Case Keenum remains the starter.
Keenum has thrown 10 interceptions and just eight touchdown passes, and while the Rams have somehow managed to get to a 3-4 record, there’s not much hope for this team for the rest of the season because of the weakness at the quarterback position.
If the Rams’ 3-1 start lulled you into thinking Los Angeles could make it work with Keenum under center, we tried to warn you ...
Panic index verdict: 7-9 bullshit, forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever
and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever.
The Falcons’ “inevitable slide” doesn’t seem to be inevitable
When the Falcons dropped a close game on the road to the Seattle Seahawks, fans got a bit nervous. When they lost the following week at home to the Chargers, there was full-blown panic. You see, everyone remembers Atlanta’s 2015 season, when the team jumped out to a 6-1 start and then lost six games in a row, finishing with a disappointing 8-8 record.
The Falcons bounced back, though, winning a tough one at home against the Green Bay Packers in Week 8. There’s ample evidence to suggest this Falcons team is more resilient than last year’s, and that “inevitable slide” isn’t going to happen for the Falcons.
Panic index verdict: There’s a lot of season left to play, but these are not the 2015 Falcons.
The Texans feast on cupcake teams
Following the Texans’ embarrassing 27-0 loss to the Patriots in Week 3, we questioned their ability to ever beat a top team. Since then, they have wins over the Titans, Colts, and Lions, with losses to the Vikings and Broncos. So, same old, same old.
Panic index verdict: They’ve still got that lead in the AFC South!
The Vikings are turning back into a pumpkin
After a surprising 5-0 start, the Vikings lost an ugly, turnover-filled game and we said not to worry.
Then they lost to the Bears. A Bears team that was kinda only starting Jay Cutler again because Brian Hoyer broke his arm.
And two days later, offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned, to the surprise of pretty much everyone.
Panic index verdict: Instead of R-E-L-A-X, it might be time for R-O-L-A-I-D-S.
The Eagles offensive line hasn’t crumbled into dust without Lane Johnson, but it’s still bad
Carson Wentz got smoked in his first game without Johnson holding down the right tackle position. Days after the lineman had his appeal for a PED suspension upheld, Washington battered the rookie quarterback to the tune of five sacks and seven more hits that left Wentz seeking verticality in a 27-20 defeat.
Johnson’s replacement, rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai, gave up 2.5 of those sacks in barely a quarter of play. With the fifth-round pick playing turnstile, it looked like Wentz’s rise would come to an abrupt halt thanks to a slipshod offensive line and its inability to protect him. It seemed like the Eagles were in real trouble.
Since then, the Eagles have managed to keep him upright, but not especially effectively.
Wentz hasn’t lived up to the early hype of his debut, and you can trace a big part of his struggles to the team’s blocking. In Philadelphia’s last two games — a win over Minnesota and an overtime loss to Dallas — Wentz has only been hit eight times and sacked thrice. However, that’s just as much of a reflection of offensive coordinator Frank Reich’s move to a more conservative game plan than any kind of O-line panacea. After averaging 7.6 yards per pass attempt in his first five games, that number has dropped to 4.8.
Wentz is getting rid of the ball faster in the face of more pressure, leading to incomplete routes, panicked passes, and a considerably less efficient quarterback than the Eagles had in the first four weeks of the season. Philadelphia can still be competitive with Wentz firing short routes and playing conservative in the face of ever-increasing pressure. It won’t, however, get the maximum return from its young ace until he has the time to set his feet and work through his route tree in the pocket.
Panic index verdict: At least the Eagles can still add a lineman before the trade deadline. Wait ...