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NFL Panic Index 2018: All our Super Bowl favorites are in trouble

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Plus, are the Cowboys a disaster? Is Andrew Luck done? Lots of stuff to worry about this week.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Before the season began, us NFL experts here at SB Nation decided to make our foolproof predictions for 2018. Seven of us picked who we thought would win Super Bowl 53, and we wound up with six different teams: the Steelers, Patriots, Saints, Vikings, Falcons, and Jaguars.

It’s not like those were BAD picks, but some of us might want a do-over, especially after a week in which not a lot around the NFL made sense.

Only two of our Super Bowl picks are coming off wins this week, and those same two teams — the Saints and Steelers — just barely escaped getting beat by the Browns this season. The non-Baker Mayfield Browns, to be clear. They’ve got other issues too, namely defenses that are surrendering 30-plus points a game.

The other four all took one on the chin. Let’s quickly break down the varying degrees of humiliation, from “telling the Chick-fil-A drive-thru worker ‘you too’ when she says to enjoy your meal” to diarrheaing your pants in public:

  • The Falcons blew a late lead (yeah, you’re shocked) and lost a heartbreaker to the rival Saints. They also lost Ricardo Allen, who was perhaps their last healthy defender.
  • The Jaguars lost an all-field goal everything 9-6 game to a Titans team that started Blaine Gabbert and then had to put in Marcus Mariota, who might not even have feeling in his throwing arm.
  • The Patriots were manhandled by the previously winless Lions and are 1-2 for the first time since 2012 and two games back — of the undefeated Dolphins! — in the AFC East for the first time since a decade before that.
  • The Vikings got run out of their own stadium by Josh Allen and the Bills, one of the biggest upsets we’ve seen in recent NFL history.

Ooof.

Panic index: Sometimes, you just have to embrace the chaos and know that it won’t last. These are all still potentially good teams and it’s way to soon to write any off despite their respective weaknesses.

The Saints and Jaguars are in great shape at 2-1. The Steelers and Vikings are just two of 17 teams in the Super Bowl era to start 1-1-1 and guess what? Three of those teams went to the Super Bowl. The 1974 Steelers even won the whole thing.

The news is slightly worse for the Falcons and Patriots. Only four teams have ever started 1-2 and gone on to win the Super Bowl: 2007 Giants, 2001 Patriots, 1993 Cowboys, and 1981 49ers. But it can be done.

And we still know better than to ever count out the Patriots until there’s a body. Just ask the Falcons.

The 49ers’ postseason hopes now rest on 13 games of C.J. Beathard

When San Francisco won its final five games of the season behind Jimmy Garoppolo, it made the 49ers a chic postseason pick. But Garoppolo will miss the rest of the season thanks to a torn ACL, and now the club’s playoff hopes are about as shredded as their starting quarterback’s knee ligaments.

Stepping into the void Garoppolo left behind is Beathard, who doesn’t inspire confidence. San Francisco selected the young passer in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, but it didn’t take long for the team to determine he wasn’t the future of the franchise. The Iowa alum made only two starts for the Niners before general manager John Lynch declared it prudent to free Garoppolo from Tom Brady’s shadow. He’d make three more before being swapped out for the new acquisition entirely.

Beathard’s history is unimpressive, even going back to his college days. He averaged just 148 passing yards per game as a senior in the Hawkeyes’ conservative offense and tallied a 4:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio in six games as a rookie. He’s still got room to grow — a 288-yard performance against the Giants in his lone win of 2017 showed off some potential — but San Francisco’s postseason aspirations suffered a major downgrade in the switch to Beathard.

Panic index: The 49ers currently roster one of the league’s co-leading rushers in Matt Breida, who should be capable of taking some of the pressure from Beathard’s shoulders. But the San Francisco defense is allowing nearly 30 points per game, and now the team is going to have to count on Beathard to lead it to a handful of shootout victories in order to make a playoff run. There isn’t much evidence to suggest he’s the kind of quarterback who can get them there.

The Cowboys are a disaster

Dallas has been good on defense, even if they haven’t forced nearly enough turnovers. But goodness gracious is the Cowboys offense bad or what?

For a while, it seemed like everyone trashing Dak Prescott was an overreaction, but now he’s at five consecutive starts without topping 200 passing yards. If he can’t get to 200 against the Lions and the streak reaches six in a row, he’d be the first since Nick Foles in 2015 and Tim Tebow in 2011 to be that unproductive for that long.

Prescott’s putting up Brock Osweiler numbers, the vaunted Dallas offensive line looks like a shell of its former self, and Ezekiel Elliott is — for some reason — getting less than 20 touches per game.

The Cowboys defense better start forcing turnovers, because it seems like they have just as good a chance at scoring points as the offense.

Panic index: Giving Elliott the ball more and getting the play-action going can help Prescott. It’s the reason why the Cowboys scored enough to beat the Giants in Week 2, even if it wasn’t exactly a prolific day either. Getting the Dallas offense back to 2016 levels of productivity will probably take some offseason work, but there can still be better days ahead for the Cowboys offense in 2018.

Andrew Luck couldn’t save the Colts

Luck’s return to the field after missing all of the 2017 season started with a bang. The veteran quarterback threw for 319 yards in a Week 1 loss to Cincinnati, then came back to lead his club to an affirming victory over Washington in Week 2. But his performance beyond the box score raised some red flags; he threw three interceptions in those first two games despite a conservative game plan. And “conservative” might be underselling it — at 5.5 yards per throw, only one quarterback in the league threw downfield less to start the season.

Those troubles boiled to the surface on Sunday, and it cost Indianapolis a winnable game against the defending Super Bowl champions. Luck threw 40 passes against the Eagles, gaining a meager 164 yards in the process. He didn’t complete a pass of more than eight yards until the second half. Only five of his passes went for double-digit yardage — and three were screen passes.

Those issues bled through in what could have been a game-winning drive, as Luck’s inability to make plays downfield behind a slipshod offensive line led to a comeback-extinguishing sack on fourth-and-3 from the Philadelphia four-yard line. He wouldn’t even get the chance to launch a last-ditch Hail Mary after the Colts got the ball back with 39 seconds left — that honor went to backup Jacoby Brissett for a 60-yard heave.

Luck knows he can do better — and he also says he knows he can make those deep throws going forward:

Panic index: The Brissett substitution isn’t an issue — even Luck admits the backup has the stronger arm. But the Indianapolis offense is a major problem, especially considering the team’s new head coach is the offensive guru who turned Nick Foles into a Super Bowl MVP. Luck is throwing the ball downfield less than every starter in the league but Marcus Mariota and his yards-per-attempt number is a full half-yard less than Brock Osweiler’s regretful 2016 campaign. Part of the problem is a lack of skill players, sure — but the clock’s ticking on Luck to revert from this poor man’s Blaine Gabbert impression.

The Vikings got blown out by the Bills

Yeah, that one still doesn't make much sense. Buffalo beat the Vikings on the road with rather ease by a score of 27-6 after entering the game as 16.5 point underdogs.

The Vikings defense didn't stand much of chance after Kirk Cousins was strip sacked twice, giving the Bills short fields to work with. For the first quarter in a half, rookie quarterback Josh Allen made good use of the great field position, leading the Bills to a 24-0 lead in just over a quarter of play. Minnesota's defense settled in the game after that, but it was too big of a deficit for them to overcome.

Kirk Cousins had a game to forget against Buffalo. Outside of the strip sacks, Cousins was wildly inaccurate with the football — especially in the first quarter. Cousins was able to move the ball in the fourth quarter a bit when Buffalo took their foot off the gas, but it was too little, too late.

Minnesota also has a serious pass protection issue. They gave up four sacks, five quarterback hits, and countless pressures. It's fair to say that this Vikings team is greatly underachieving after the lofty Super Bowl expectations put upon them in the preseason and the offseason.

Panic index: It's fair for Vikings fans to worry after their start to the season. Tying with the Packers last week doesn't look nearly as good after Green Bay’s beatdown in Washington on Sunday — this team just might not be as good as we thought it was. They have serious offensive lines issues and just got trounced by the worst team in the league. Hit the panic button.