NFL Rumors: 5 Teams in Early Season Trouble
Tony Romo Feeling the Rush
Five NFL teams considered as playoff and Super Bowl contenders have not gotten off to the best of starts in 2012. They are the Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Cowboys and Jets sit at an uneasy 2-2. Detroit is 1-3. Pittsburgh finds themselves at 1-2. The Saints have yet to win a game and are 0-4.
What has happened to put these teams in their current predicament? And what must they do to get on track and make a post season run before it is too late? Is it already too late?
There are 12 weeks left in the NFL season. The Jets are in a tie for first in the AFC East. The Cowboys are a game behind the Philadelphia Eagles. The Steelers and Lions currently sit two games back in their divisions. Only the Saints seem out of contention for winning a division title. There is still hope for all of these teams to have successful seasons. Remember the New York Giants (who are 2-2) were all but out of the playoffs for three months last season.
So let's take a look at the current state of each team right now and what they need to do to get better. Let's speculate on where they will be by December when the games really begin to count. And let's see if they still have any chance of making a run at the Super Bowl.
Right now things may look bleak for their fans, but there is a lot of football left to play.
Demarco Murray versus Bears
Whether created by fans, the media or themselves, Dallas comes into every season with high expectations. They are always labeled as a team with tons of talent, but not enough discipline to win. Then they prove it almost every year.
This season seems to be no different. After an opening day win over the defending champion New York Giants, Dallas has struggled. They were hammered 27-7 by the Seattle Seahawks in week two. After a narrow victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the Cowboys were humiliated on national television by the Chicago Bears 34-18.
This leaves Dallas at 2-2 tied for second in the NFC East with the Giants and Washington Redskins. In all honesty this is not a bad situation. The Cowboys are only a game back of the Philadelphia Eagles and have to play them twice. They also have two games against Washington. Games within the division are crucial in that they have more value than others. If the Cowboys can somehow win four of their five remaining NFC East showdowns the resulting 5-1 record would be the division's best.
Having stated this, the Cowboys are going to have to play much better in order to make the playoffs. The offense has shown little if anything after week one. Quarterback Tony Romo was intercepted five times by the Bears. Two of them were returned for touchdowns. It is no secret that as Romo goes so does Dallas.
On the defensive side, the Cowboys secondary is still suspect. In week two they let a rookie quarterback in Russell Wilson beat them. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had his way on Monday night. Besides defensive end/linebacker DeMarcus Ware Dallas does not have anyone on defense that opponents fear.
There is still time for the Cowboys to get themselves together and make a playoff run. The key to their success will be winning those NFC East matchups. If they can beat the Redskins, Eagles and Giants they will be fine.
If not their season is over.
Detroit Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz
The Lions made the playoffs for the first time since 1999 last year. The 2011 season was though to be a breakout one for the franchise as they won 10 games. It was the first time Detroit had won double digit games since 1995.
Going into 2012, head coach Jim Schwartz had a talented team led by quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive linemen Nick Fairly and Ndamokung Suh. The Lions seemed to be ready to challenge the Green Bay Packers and Bears for NFC North supremacy.
An interesting thing about young teams that experience success for the first time is how they handle it. It is different when one is no longer an underdog. Everything changes from how opponents look at you to strength of schedule. It is not unusual for a young team to take a step back before moving forward.
Right now, the Lions really haven't taken a step back, but remained stagnant. One thing that has to be remembered is that Detroit won a lot of close games in 2011. Many of them were come from behind victories. This season they have not been able to break the habit of falling behind. Unlike last season the Lions have not been able to catch up.
Detroit did pull off a miracle and take the Tennessee Titans to overtime before losing 44-41. They were able to come from behind to beat the St. Louis Rams on opening day. However, Detroit could not catch the Minnesota Vikings or San Francisco 49ers.
Like Dallas, the Lions still have five division games left. If they can win four of them then they might have a chance. Right now this does not seem likely.
Detroit is having trouble moving the ball. Team are taking Johnson away from Stafford and forcing the Lions to beat them in other ways.
Also Detroit's special teams coverage is terrible. They have given up touchdowns on punt and kick returns in the same game two weeks in a row.
With five division games left there is still time for the Lions. Right now the magic of last season seems to be lost. It is rare that teams like Detroit get it back.
Saints Head Coach Aaron Kromer
The Saints are an unexpected 0-4. It was thought that the team would struggle without suspended head coach Sean Payton, but not this much. New Orleans has lost to Washington, the Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay. Except for the Packers game one would think that the Saints would have had an easy slate so far.
New Orleans looked out of sorts in week one against the Redskins. They gave up 40 points at home to rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. In week two the Panthers Cam Newton put up 35. Kansas City came from 17 down in the second half to beat the Saints in overtime. And Green Bay squeaked by them when a last second field goal went wide.
After four weeks New Orleans finds themselves in last place trailing NFC South rival Atlanta by four games. The Saints have only played one game within the division and have five left. The only way that they will have any chance to win the South is by winning them all. This includes beating Atlanta twice.
As for the playoffs, New Orleans has a long way to go in order to compete for a wildcard birth. With a schedule that still has the Falcons, Denver Broncos, Giants and Eagles on it the Saints could be out of the running by December. However victories over each of these teams would put them in the wildcard race.
The Saints have 12 games left to win 10. Right now hopes of accomplishing this seem to be slim and none. Slim seems to be heading for the door.
The Jets may be considered by some as the most disappointing team on this list. Others might say that the team is right where it belongs.
Like the Cowboys New York is 2-2. Like Dallas they scored an impressive opening day victory beating the Buffalo Bills 48-28. Even better than the Cowboys, the Jets are actually tied for first place in the AFC East with the New England Patriots.
Because of their style of play, teams like the Jets can go through periods where everything goes wrong only to get momentum and turn things around in a hurry. We saw them do this in 2009 and 2010 so counting New York out now is foolish.
However, if one goes by how they have played the last three weeks there is good reason for alarm. The Jets have not played good football and are lucky to be at .500. If not for two missed field goals in overtime the Dolphins would have beaten them.
The team did lose badly to Pittsburgh and the San Francisco 49ers. Neither game was close. The Steelers held New York to 10 points and San Francisco shut them out.
The Jets have also lost key personnel on offense and defense. Cornerback Darrelle Revis is lost for the season with a knee injury. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes injured his right foot on Sunday. Without maybe their best offensive and defensive players, New York is in a world of trouble.
Whether they will turn it around is anyone's guess. The team still has two games against the Patriots. They have done well against them. A victory in the first matchup could propel the Jets to greater heights. A loss could all but end their season.
If there is one thing we've learned about New York is don't count them out. Another is do not put faith in them either.
Ben Roethlisberger under heavy rush
The Steelers are coming off of consecutive 12 win seasons and playoff trips. As always they are expected to compete for the AFC North championship. Right now Pittsburgh has some work to do if they want to get that crown back from the Baltimore Ravens.
The Steelers find themselves at 1-2 after their bye week. They suffered losses to the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders on the road and beat the Jets at home.
Pittsburgh's biggest problems have been its defense and lack of a running game. Against Denver and Oakland the Steelers gave up over 30 points. These are unheard of numbers against a Dick Labeau unit. On the ground they have only been able to run the ball on the Jets.
The Steelers hope to get defensive stalwarts James Harrison and Troy Polamalu back for this Sunday's game against the Eagles. Harrison has not played a game this season and Polamalu one. With them in the lineup the defense should stabilize.
On offense running back Rashard Mendenhall hopes to return from a knee injury suffered in the last game of 2011. There is no question Pittsburgh has missed him, but the running game woes are more because of a patchwork offensive line.
One good thing for the Steelers is that they have yet to play a division opponent. With the Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals both sitting at 3-1 this is important. Pittsburgh still has to play both of them twice and could make up ground in the division this way. It won't be easy as the Steelers have shown no signs of being better than either team.
If any of these teams can get back on track quickly it is Pittsburgh. They know what it takes to win. However, a loss to Philadelphia could really put them behind in the AFC North race.
The Steelers still have time and the schedule on their side. However, they need to get healthy and play better to have any chance at the post season.