The Schein Nine  

 

Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans headline underachieving teams

Five weeks are in the books. The league is more wonderful and wacky than ever. It's incredibly entertaining, but if you root for a current underachiever, it's incredibly maddening.

Let's examine the nine biggest underachievers -- how they got here and, most especially, what lies ahead. I'm not including teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5), Carolina Panthers (1-3) or Dallas Cowboys (2-3), though, as they are exactly who I thought they were. (Thanks, Denny Green.) The teams that are included are ranked in order of disappointment, Schein Nine style.

Without further ado, nine teams that are anything but divine:

1) Atlanta Falcons (1-4)

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In the preseason, I picked them to win the Super Bowl. But these Falcons have been totally inept. Overall issues on the offensive line -- as displayed by an inability to run and pass protect on the edges -- have been a killer. And their struggles in the red zone have been well documented.

Yes, a plethora of injuries on offense and defense have been a factor, with Steven Jackson (whom I called this offseason's most important veteran acquisition) leading the way. Still, this team has had opportunities to win games, but it has come up small in losses to the New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots and New York Jets. In fact, all of the Falcons' four losses have come by seven points or fewer.

And they've also created their own bad luck. Mike Smith failed his team last Monday against the Jets when he didn't take the field goal at the end of the first half despite being down 17-7. It was a mind-boggling decision. Meanwhile, Roddy White hasn't been healthy all year and should've rested until he was ready. Now, with Atlanta already facing the sobering fact that star receiver Julio Jones is out for the season, White has added a fresh hamstring injury.

Yeah, this probably isn't the worst time for a bye in Atlanta. The schedule is manageable in the three weeks that immediately follow the break: vs. Tampa Bay, at Arizona, at Carolina. But it's tough to imagine the Falcons getting off the mat -- and out of such a deep hole -- with this hobbled crew. In fact, I think it is impossible, especially considering some of the matchups that loom in November/December: vs. Seattle, vs. New Orleans, at Green Bay, at San Francisco.

What many (myself included) thought would be the Falcons' dream season has turned into an absolute nightmare.

2) Houston Texans (2-3)

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Houston feels like its record is worse than 2-3, what with Matt Schaub's historic struggles (inexplicably tossing a pick-six in four consecutive weeks). The quarterback's confidence is zapped, and while Gary Kubiak is keeping him in the starting role, the Texans coach admitted it was "a tough decision."

That botched fourth quarter in the overtime loss to Seattle in Week 4 looms large. Now, it's not hyperbole to call this week's contest against St. Louis a must-win -- and potentially Schaub's last stand. After St. Louis, the Texans have tough games against the Chiefs and Colts. And this team is not making a run if Kubiak goes to the bullpen and tabs T.J. Yates the starter.

I won't call the Texans "done," but the odds are stacked against them. And with the talent on this roster, a playoff-free season would be a waste and a gigantic disappointment.

3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-4)

General manager Mark Dominik built his team to win this year. And entering the season, I thought Tampa Bay looked like a very solid 8-8 team. So far, the Bucs have been an unmitigated disaster, filled with controversy due to the Josh Freeman situation.

Of course, what's lost in all the Greg Schiano/Dominik bashing is that those two simply decided Freeman wasn't the answer. The duo concluded Freeman wasn't the player or leader the franchise needed, and it wasn't a rash decision. They pursued Carson Palmer, they drafted Mike Glennon and they smartly refused to extend Freeman. There was a reason I wrote twice in the preseason that Glennon would start sooner rather than later for Tampa.

Still, the Freeman ouster just didn't come soon enough. The situation got nasty, and the season went into a downward spiral that is beyond repair. Stick a fork in Tampa. And yes, Schiano's seat is warm.

4) New York Giants (0-5)

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Blame GM Jerry Reese. Before the season, I thought the Giants could win seven or eight games, because they had Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin, but this team was flawed going in.

Justin Tuck hasn't been a strong player since 2010. Jason Pierre-Paul had back surgery this summer and doesn't look like himself for the second straight year. The linebackers aren't legit starters. (New York just traded for Jon Beason, who had become an injury-riddled backup in Carolina.) The defensive backfield is weak. So is the offensive line. And yes, David Wilson has been a bust.

Oh, and Eli just played the worst game I've seen him play since his rookie year.

It was a bad brew. I feel terrible for Coughlin and am not quite sure why Reese doesn't get more blame. The Giants are done. Check the schedule. I'm trying to find wins.

5) Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4)

I'm not surprised Pittsburgh is bad -- I'm surprised the Steelers are this horrendous. I thought this team would beat the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings.

Steeler Nation was not happy with an offseason column I penned pointing out that Pittsburgh has no offensive line, no run game, no true replacement for Mike Wallace and an aging, overmatched defense that can't make the splash plays you've come to expect from a Dick LeBeau-led group. Well, it was the truth.

The Cleveland Browns and their legit defense are light years ahead of Pittsburgh this season.

Pittsburgh's line is so bad that the Steelers just traded for Arizona Cardinals bust Levi Brown. If Levi Brown is the answer, I'd love to know the question.

Pittsburgh is toast.

6) Washington Redskins (1-3)

Washington botched the Robert Griffin III situation all offseason. The second-year quarterback was too involved and too public. At the outset of this season, he clearly wasn't healthy enough to run the offense from last year and be the RGIII from Year 1.

And the D has been porous, too -- as in, dead last in total defense.

After Week 2, I wrote that "Operation Patience" had morphed into "Operation Panic." Now, I think Washington is ready for you to stick a fork in 'em. I think this team, as it's presently constituted, is beyond salvageable. But I also have to acknowledge how putrid the NFC East is in 2013.

The Redskins have a huge showdown with the 2-3 Cowboys on Sunday night. With games to follow against Chicago (home) and Denver (away), Washington can't lose to Dallas.

7) Minnesota Vikings (1-3)

It's about much more than the Vikings' record. It's that their defense has regressed, currently ranking 30th overall. It's that Christian Ponder has regressed, posting a 65.9 passer rating over three games before hitting the sideline with an injury.

Matt Cassel actually looked the part in London ... and then the Vikings signed Josh Freeman. I thought the move was curious, given everything that just played out with Freeman in Tampa.

The Vikings' next two games come against the Panthers and Giants. They need to win both. They should win both. If they don't, playing in the very competitive NFC North, they can't recover. Heck, even if the Vikes manage to improve to 3-3, I don't think they're better than the Packers, Bears or Lions.

8) St. Louis Rams (2-3)

I stand by my preseason statement that the Rams would win the NFC East if they played in that division. But I've been very disappointed in St. Louis. While last week brought a win over the hapless Jaguars, the Rams were destroyed by the 49ers in Week 4 (in front of their home fans, to boot).

For the sake of perspective, back in August, I thought the Rams were a nine-win team. They don't look like that at all right now, especially on offense. Sam Bradford has been too inconsistent. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's play calling is rightly under fire.

It's a big one at Houston this Sunday. A victory would be huge, as the Rams should be able to win at Carolina in Week 7 --  this team suddenly could be north of .500. But frankly, my confidence level is low -- unless Bradford and Schottenheimer somehow get the offense humming.

9) Green Bay Packers (2-2)

I thought they were the fourth-best team in pro football coming into this season, so they are somewhat disappointing to me at 2-2.

Clay Matthews' injury is very problematic, especially with a trip to Baltimore looming this week.

That said, I don't sweat Green Bay's slow start. Aaron Rodgers is still under center, and I still think the Packers win the NFC North.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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