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NFL Panic Index 2018: Should the Chiefs be worried about the playoffs?

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Playoff ghosts in KC, a cooked Eagles team, Kirk Cousins in primetime, the Raiders winning, and the Chargers losing ... here’s what you should be worried about this week.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs came up just short in the best NFL game we’ve probably ever seen. They fell behind early against the Rams and then roared back on the bionic arm of Patrick Mahomes. The two teams exchanged the lead four times in the fourth quarter alone, and despite a valiant effort, the Chiefs couldn’t quite pull it out in the end.

If it sounds familiar, it’s because something similar happened to the Chiefs earlier this season when they lost by the same margin, after a comeback, on the road, to the Patriots.

Those are the Chiefs’ only two losses so far this season. They’re 9-2, losing by a total of six points to two of the best teams in the NFL. They’re still in line for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye. There’s a lot to feel good about.

Except we know how this ends.

The Chiefs ride a hot streak into the playoffs, with visions of Lombardi Trophies dancing in their heads. Then they crash and burn.

The Chiefs have won one playoff game in the past 25 seasons — in Houston against the Brian Hoyer-led Texans. In that time, they’ve lost in the postseason 10 times, six of those coming at home. Their two most recent: a two-point loss to the Steelers at home, and a one-point loss to the Titans at home.

If not for the existence of the Lions and Bengals, the Chiefs would be the NFL’s poster child for playoff futility.

They’re right on schedule for the same thing to happen this year, too. Kansas City has the easiest path to the top seed in the AFC, which would guarantee that Arrowhead Stadium would host a Divisional Round game. Yes, both of the Chiefs’ losses came on the road this year. But their best wins have also come on the road, against the Chargers and Steelers.

Considering the Chiefs’ playoff history, and the fact they have yet to beat a team with a winning record at home this season, this is all setting up for a very familiar, and depressing, January in Kansas City.

Panic index: Let’s revisit Chiefs-Rams for a sec. Even though we forgot how to breathe for a dangerous amount of minutes while watching that game, it was exhilarating knowing we were watching the present — and future — of the NFL.

Don’t let the past keep you from enjoying how fun the Chiefs are right now. Worry about January when it comes, but even then, these are not the same old Chiefs.

The Eagles are cooked

Sunday was a statement from New Orleans on two fronts. It read “Drew Brees for MVP” and “these Eagles are mere pretenders to the crown.” The Saints reduced the Super Bowl 52 champs to a pile of ashes, then urinated all over it with a picture perfect fourth-and-7 deep ball in a game they already led 38-7.

Philadelphia wound up losing, 48-7, making Sunday the worst loss a defending Super Bowl champion has ever seen. It was the first time Carson Wentz has been held to single digits as the club’s starting quarterback. The Eagles are 4-6 and being in danger of being the first team to win a league title and follow that up with a losing record since Jon Gruden’s Buccaneers did it in 2003.

Malcolm Jenkins responded to Brees’ blowout dime to Alvin Kamara by flipping off Sean Payton, his former coach. Carson Wentz put the loss on his shoulders despite not playing on the side of the ball that gave up 48 points Sunday.

“I’ve played a lot of football games in my career and this is one of the worst losses I’ve ever been a part of,” Wentz said. “It’s frustrating all the way around ... We have to be better and it starts with me.”

Coach Doug Pederson said his team wanted to use those frustrations to fuel a midseason rally back in October. But Philly is 2-3 since he tried to turn Stefan Wisniewski’s benching into a motivational tool and aimlessly drifting into the void. A tough backend of the schedule looms, and it’s possible the Eagles don’t just miss the playoffs but also lose 10 games along the way.

Panic index: Wentz, with the exception of Sunday’s three-interception performance, has been playing at an MVP level. The NFC East is even more of a mess now that Washington is without a starting quarterback. But the Eagles still have road games against the Cowboys and Rams coming up, and they might need a perfect finish to sneak into the playoffs. That seems unlikely, even for the defending champs.

Kirk Cousins disappears under the big lights

The idea when the Vikings signed Cousins was to contend for a Super Bowl. He joined a team with one of the NFL’s best defense and the skill position players that promised to make Minnesota a juggernaut.

But it might be time to wonder if Cousins can actually win a game that matters.

Cousins has a career record of 30-26-2 as a starter on Sundays and a 26-18-1 record in games that kickoff at 1 p.m. ET. But he’s 0-6 on Mondays, 1-5 on Thursdays, and 4-12 on primetime kickoffs.

His latest disappointing performance was a 25-20 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football. He threw for 262 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. Don’t let the score or his stats fool you, though, Cousins was much worse.

His pair of interceptions crushed the Vikings’ chances at keeping up with the Bears:

Cousins finished with two touchdowns by racking up some yardage and scores in garbage time, but Minnesota was never in a position to actually win. That wasn’t entirely on Cousins, but for $84 million guaranteed, you expect more.

The Vikings are still very much in the postseason race, but is this a quarterback who can really be trusted to win games in January?

Panic index: Losing in primetime makes a little sense, because that’s usually when you’ll meet some stiff competition. Earlier this season, the Vikings lost 38-31 to the Rams on Thursday Night Football and 30-20 to the Saints on Sunday Night Football. Those are arguably the two best teams in football and Cousins was fine in both games.

Still, the Vikings need more from Cousins than they got against the Bears, but there’s still reason to be optimistic that he can do enough to get playoff wins.

The Chargers had a very Charger-y loss

The Los Angeles Chargers lost to the Denver Broncos, 23-22. The Chargers out-gained the Broncos 479 yards to 325 yards, converted nine of their 15 third down conversions, averaged 8.3 yards per pass ... and still managed to lose.

They thoroughly outplayed the Broncos in just about every facet of the game, but couldn’t put the game away in the end. They did lose the turnover battle (they had two turnovers to zero for the Broncos), but they were so much more productive with the ball than Denver, that it’s hard to make sense of just how they lost the game.

It felt like a loss that the Chargers seemed to grow out of, yet the silly losses from games they should win still haunted this team in Week 11.

Panic index: It’s probably too soon to panic about this loss. It’s not like the Chargers have a great shot of catching the Chiefs for No. 1 in the division, even if they had won that game. They’re still on track for the fifth seed in the AFC and that’s not going to change unless they can finish the season undefeated.

The Raiders can’t even tank right

It’s safe to say that Jon Gruden’s first season back with the Raiders has been, um, bad. His arguing with his starting quarterback, chasing off veteran players, trading away the rest, and getting personnel advice from a guy best know for tweeting bad takes.

The one hope has been that it’s all just the pain of rebuilding the team (a team that was 12-4 two years ago, but whatever). Those five first-round draft picks over the next two years are more than just the chance to bring in blue chip talent, they’re a totem for better days. Tanking this season was just part of the process, which fans thought they could trust.

Nope. Wouldn’t ya know it, the Raiders had to go and stumble their way into a win last week against the equally hapless Cardinals. And with that, they fell from the very top of the draft order to the second spot.

Win another game, and their earliest pick in the first round just might end up low enough for Grudes to justify drafting a tight end or, god forbid, a fullback.

Panic index: Ha, ha, don’t worry. Broken clocks are right twice a day, and not even coach of the ‘90s Jon Gruden can lose every week. Their schedule gets harder down the stretch, with games against the Ravens, Bengals, Steelers, Broncos and two more against the Chiefs. The only way they’ll win another one is if the Chiefs are resting their starters in Week 17, and even that’s a tall order.

What you should really be worried about are the players Gruden and his Twitter Rasputin are going to take with those picks.