No NFL team is safe on any given Sunday, but there’s certainly a pecking order. There are teams that stand above the rest, and others that are simply bad. But there’s a third crop of teams that have been particularly confusing through the first seven weeks of the season.
These teams have been erratic. One week they can look like contenders, and the next, we’re wondering how they got so bad. They also had lofty expectations coming into the season, which has come as a surprise for them to see the inconsistency.
The fans of these teams have had extreme highs and lows, but for NFL fans in general, it means that we really don’t know what’s going to happen week in and week out. That’s just one thing about football that keeps NFL fans coming back for more.
The Denver Broncos can’t put it all together
The Broncos rode a great defense all the way to the Super Bowl in Peyton Manning’s final year in 2015. They looked their best in Week 2 against the Cowboys in a 42-17 win. Not only did they get it done defensively, holding Ezekiel Elliott to 8 yards on nine carries, but Trevor Siemian looked like he found his game. He was 22-of-32 passing with 231 yards and four touchdowns against one pick.
As great as all that sounds, the past two weeks they’ve laid eggs against the Giants (who were previously winless) and on Sunday against the Chargers, who shut them out.
That doesn’t happen often to the Broncos; in fact, it’s been since November of 1992:
Longest Scoring Streaks in NFL History— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 22, 2017
49ers 420 1977-2004
Broncos 394 (ended today)
Colts 375 (ended today)
Their defense still did their part. Philip Rivers threw for less than 200 yards and had two touchdowns. The only other touchdown of the game came from a Travis Benjamin punt return. Of course, it doesn’t mean anything without offense.
We know that the Broncos — when the offense can at least get by — are one of the toughest outs in football. But they haven’t looked remotely close to that team in recent times.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are the biggest roller coaster in the NFL
And it’s not even close. They opened the season with an impressive, 29-7, win over the Texans. Then they got waxed by the Titans at home, 37-16. Baltimore met them in London, and the Jaguars won, 44-7. They then followed that up with an overtime loss to the Jets, a 30-9 win on the road in Pittsburgh, a 10-point loss to the Rams, and Sunday’s 27-0 shellacking of the Colts.
Of course, it’s always good when you’re doing things well that haven’t happened in a while. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Jags got their sixth shutout in franchise history and their first in 11 years. Defensively, Jags fans don’t have a whole lot to be upset about.
It was also the third straight week they scored a touchdown of 50 yards or more on the ground. They had just three of those the past seven seasons. On Sunday, that rushing touchdown came with Leonard Fournette out with an ankle injury. Even Blake Bortles had one heck of a half and finished the game with 330 yards — you just never know which Bortles you’re getting each Sunday.
The Jaguars seem more bad than good, and with some younger players on the team, it could perhaps explain some of the inconsistencies. But they have the two things that everyone swears you need to win in the postseason: a run game, and a defense.
We’re really not sure what the Carolina Panthers are
The Panthers have had some polarizing differences in their play this year as well. After getting blasted by the Saints at home, 34-13, that followed a 9-3 win against the Bills, it looked like the Panthers might not be so great this season. I mean, they couldn’t score on a Saints defense that’s been bad at best the past few seasons.
Then they followed it up with wins on the road against the Patriots and the Lions, both teams which have looked pretty good so far this season. Against the Lions, Cam Newton had one of the best games of his career, completing 26 of his 33 passes with 355 yards and a trio of touchdowns.
They had a close loss against a really good Eagles team after that, but then got embarrassed by the Bears on Sunday, 17-3. It came with a pair of 75-yard defensive touchdowns by Eddie Jackson — a fumble and interception returned for a score. What a weird way for them to lose the game.
The Panthers continue to drop close games and haven’t been on the right side of those this season. That’s a lot to ask of a team because the NFL is too competitive.
They might be the hardest team to read so far.
The Pittsburgh Steelers might finally be turning the corner
This team is something else. All off-the-field drama aside, they’ve shown us everything this season. They beat the Browns by just three in Week 1, lost to the Bears in overtime in Week 3, and got played at home 30-9 by the Jaguars in Week 5. Even in the two wins sprinkled in there, they didn’t look like themselves.
The past two weeks, however, they’ve showed up. Le’Veon Bell has also shown a resurgence. After not having a 100-yard game in the first three contests, Bell has had 144-, 179-, and 134-yard rushing games. He’s back to looking like the best running back in the NFL.
In the GIF below, Dre Kirkpatrick was his early struggle, but he’s handling it now:
Ben Roethlisberger — who questioned whether or not he still had it a few weeks ago — has recovered nicely. Sunday, he threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns, while Bell carried the load on offense.
They handed the Chiefs — who looked like the only certain thing in the NFL — their first loss last week. On Sunday, they handled the Bengals at home like many of us expected them to coming into the season.
The Dallas Cowboys haven’t quite finished games
The Cowboys have to be up there with the Steelers as the most surprising team on this list, although the questions surrounding Ezekiel Elliott’s status have changed that.
We know they’re playing with one of the best offensive lines the game of football has ever seen, but they haven’t pulled out some of those close wins like they did last season. They haven’t had particularly bad losses, but they haven’t looked impressive.
Sunday they won, thanks to that Dak and Zeke duo that destroyed teams so many times last season. Prescott threw for 234 yards and three touchdowns, while Elliott got behind that line and ran. He finished the game with 147 yards and two touchdowns. In the Cowboys’ three losses this season, Elliott either has not had a 100-yard rushing game, or a touchdown. They didn’t have to worry about that on Sunday. When Dak and Zeke are doing that, they’re hard to beat.
As of right now Elliott is playing, but the way his case has played out, there’s no telling how it’s going to go moving forward. The Cowboys and their fans probably shouldn’t worry about things yet, but they need to be winning the games that Elliott is going to be on the field for, especially when he produces like he did on Sunday.
These teams can still find consistency. The NFL season seems to go fast, but it really is a long season. Teams find out what necessary adjustments have to be made for them to put a winning product on the field each week.
It’s frustrating for these teams to have these highs and lows, without a doubt. But for NFL fans in general, it’s created an environment where we really don’t know what’s going to happen going into each week — as much as we think we know.
That’s what’s so great about the NFL. We strap in for a ride every Sunday, and it never lets us down.