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NFL Panic Index 2017, Week 15: Browns’ quarterback curse is spreading

Carson Wentz isn’t the Browns’ quarterback, but he could have been. Here’s what you should be panicked about this week.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Browns have somehow managed to spread the Cleveland curse to two quarterbacks they didn’t even draft — Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson.

They could have drafted Wentz at No. 2 in 2016 if they hadn’t traded the pick away to the Eagles. And the Browns could have recovered from passing on Wentz and finally locked up a franchise quarterback if they’d taken Watson in April. Instead, they traded the pick to the Texans.

Wentz looked like the probable MVP until he went down with a torn ACL in Week 14 against the Rams. Houston got to enjoy just a few short weeks of record-setting quarterback play from the rookie before he tore his ACL in practice in November. We’ve got to place the blame somewhere, and we’re looking at you, Browns.

Now the Browns have rookie second-rounder DeShone Kizer, who has been thrust into a terrible situation. Draft analysts thought Kizer was too raw to start right away, but he did. Injuries — including a torn triceps for the best left tackle in the league, Joe Thomas — and a general lack of talent around him (until Josh Gordon came back, anyway) made Kizer’s first season a much steeper climb.

New general manager John Dorsey already has a clear first priority: find the team the franchise quarterback its been looking for since 1999.

Panic index: Dorsey can try. But Cleveland has a long and storied history of chewing quarterbacks up and spitting them out — even when they didn’t actually get drafted by the Browns.

2017 is the worst year for injuries

Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game. But it seems like this season has been particularly hellish in terms of injuries to popular players and key starters.

Andrew Luck’s season was over before it even began. Odell Beckham Jr., J.J. Watt, and Whitney Mercilus barely got to see the field this season. Watson would probably have been offensive rookie of the year if he hadn’t gone down with a torn ACL in practice. The Seahawks are missing Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman, and Kam Chancellor. And that’s not even close to a complete list. When you start running down the names, it’s staggering.

Wentz is the latest casualty. He tore his ACL Sunday against the Rams, effectively ending his MVP-caliber season and thrusting Nick Foles into the starting role for a team that may finish the season as the top seed in the NFC.

And the most terrifying injuries of the season have been to Bears tight end Zach Miller and Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier. Miller was so badly injured in Week 8 against the Saints that doctors weren’t certain at first that they could even save his leg. Thankfully, they did. Shazier suffered a spinal injury in Week 13 against the Bengals and initially appeared to have lost movement in his legs. He had to have surgery to stabilize the spine and remains hospitalized.

Panic index: Get 2017 all the way out of here. Let’s hope for a healthier 2018 across the NFL.

Russell Wilson might be doomed

Yes, Wilson is coming off a frustrating game in a loss to the Jaguars, throwing three picks and trying to do way too much to make anything happen to get the Seahawks a win. And yes, the Seahawks are out of the playoff picture, at least this week.

But Wilson is still having an MVP-type of season. He’s thrown more fourth-quarter touchdowns already this season than any quarterback ever. He leads his team in passing. He leads his team in rushing. He leads his team in touchdowns. He accounts for 85 percent of that entire offense.

So why are we concerned about Wilson? Believe it or not, it involves Jeff Fisher. Let’s check in and see how the last three quarterbacks who started for Fisher are doing now:

Goff has had a breakout season in his first year of not being coached by Fisher. Keenum, who looked CFL-bound when he played for the Rams last season, took over for an injured Sam Bradford earlier this year and has put together the best year, by far, of his career.

Nick Foles now has the responsibility of leading the 11-2 Eagles to the playoffs after Wentz tore his ACL on Sunday.

At this point, you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with Wilson. Well, let’s take a look at the quarterbacks who last started for Fisher who weren’t Goff, Keenum, or Foles. That was back in 2014: Shaun Hill and Austin Davis. Hill is currently unemployed, but Davis isn’t. In fact, he’s Wilson’s backup in Seattle.

Right now, it seems clear that something — an entity, a hex, a Demogorgon — is trying to make amends to the quarterbacks who had to survive Fisher in his way-too-many years of coaching in the NFL. Unfortunately for the other quarterbacks standing in the way, they have had to pay the price. Wilson could be next.

Panic index: It’s not that we really believe in curses, but we do believe in Fisher ruining a quarterback when he’s not even in the NFL anymore. For his sake, Wilson better double up on nanobubbles this month.

The Steelers and Patriots each have significant flaws to address before a massive showdown in Pittsburgh

The Steelers have won eight straight games, but only a handful of those victories have come easily. Pittsburgh has been guilty of falling behind early and playing to the level of its opponents in too-close-for-comfort wins over the Colts, Browns, and Bengals this fall — heaping pressure on Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulders for big fourth-quarter comebacks.

After allowing 15.2 points per game in the first five wins of that streak, the Steelers have given up 28.7 in their last three. Joe Flacco matched season highs in both yards passing and touchdowns in Baltimore’s upset bid Sunday — and if the 2017 version of Flacco can put Pittsburgh on its heels, just imagine what MVP candidate Tom Brady can do.

The Patriots had escaped similar drama in their own eight-game winning streak — until Monday night. New England’s offense stagnated in primetime, pairing an off night from Brady with a lackluster performance from its receivers in a 27-20 loss at Miami.. The self-inflicted loss of a suspended Rob Gronkowski played a role in the Hall of Fame quarterback’s Osweiler-ian night, but the blame for Week 14’s loss can be spread across the entire roster.

The New England secondary, thought to have put a putrid start in its rear view, allowed Jay Cutler to outplay Brady in a 269-yard, three-touchdown performance. That’s doesn’t inspire confidence with a quarterback coming off a 506-yard game waiting at Heinz Field.

The Pats can take some comfort in the fact Gronkowski returns Sunday, then get extremely nervous about his injury history and how bad the team’s passing game looked without him. The Steelers will have to hope their explosive offense is enough to paper over the defensive flaws that began to turn up even before Shazier’s season-ending injury.

Panic index: One team’s fatal flaw will likely cost it home-field advantage in the playoffs. The other will gain some major confidence headed into an easy final two weeks of the season.

The Saints are losing ground in the NFC South race

The 9-3 Saints entered Week 14 a game ahead of the 8-4 Carolina Panthers, and two ahead of the 7-5 Falcons. New Orleans lost Thursday to the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to bring the Falcons within a game, and the Panthers gutted out a 31-24 win against the Vikings.

To add to all of that, star running back Alvin Kamara suffered a concussion on the Saints’ very first drive of the game. They were a totally different team without him:

He’s expected to play this week as the Saints take on the Jets at home, but the injury certainly put a scare into New Orleans. They then get a rematch with the Falcons in New Orleans and finish the season with the Bucs on the road.

Panic index: The Saints hold the tiebreaker over the Panthers and control their own destiny. If they handle business and Kamara stays healthy, they should be fine. But they shouldn’t feel comfortable.

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