The Schein Nine  

 

Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer in need of midseason momentum boost

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I am a firm believer in momentum in football. On the gridiron, once the metaphorical ball gets rolling, it can be tough to stop.

But of course, you need to get the ball rolling in the first place.

As we approach the midway point of the season, certain parties are in need of a mojo boost -- something to kick-start the engine of the momentum train, something to spur a second-half run. Here are nine players/teams/units that fit the bill:

1) Jay Cutler

The first half has been a bit of a nightmare. The Bears are underachieving and might be coming apart at the seams. Chicago is 3-4, with an unfathomable (and unacceptable) 0-3 record at Soldier Field. After the latest home loss, a 27-14 defeat to the Miami Dolphins, Bears players were reportedly yelling at each other and pointing fingers, with Brandon Marshall leading the charge.

Chicago has the Patriots in New England on Sunday. The Pats lost Jerod Mayo for the season a couple weeks ago, and in their first game without the stud linebacker, the defense did not look good at all, yielding 423 yards of offense (including a whopping 218 on the ground) to the New York Jets. And now the Boston Globe is reporting that star defensive end Chandler Jones will miss a month with a hip injury.

No more excuses for the Bears. Cutler, Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and Co. have to take advantage of the hand they've been dealt this weekend -- and get this offense in gear for the second half of the season.

Cutler got PAID in January, and rightly so, based on his potential under Marc Trestman. But it's officially go-time, with the season on the brink.

2) Detroit Lions' offense

Detroit's top-ranked defense is legit, powered by a fantastic D-line.

What's truly amazing about the Lions' improbable 5-2 start and first-place standing in the NFC North is that Matthew Stafford has been ordinary and Calvin Johnson has been injured.

That said, we did see some encouraging signs from No. 9 this past Sunday. Stafford's toughness and execution was remarkable as he brought the Lions back from the dead against New Orleans, eking out a 24-23 win by throwing two touchdown passes in the final four minutes. Despite inconsistent play throughout the first half of the season, Stafford has developed a great rapport with newbie Golden Tate, who racked up 10 catches for 154 yards (and one massive touchdown) against the Saints. Meanwhile, Stafford's favorite target, Johnson, is trying to work back from an ankle injury.

Whether the Lions have Megatron or not for this Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons in London, Detroit should be able to put some points on the board. The Falcons have made a habit of getting crushed of late, giving up an average of just under 32 points per game in their current four-game losing streak. The defense is decimated; the overall confidence level is waning. I wrote about Mike Smith's tenuous status on Monday, explaining why a change is needed.

Everyone seemingly gets right against this Falcons defense. If the Lions follow suit, their confidence could be overflowing at the midway point of the season.

3) Seattle Seahawks' defense

The bullies have been out-bullied. They were pushed around by Dallas. Then they lost to a team quarterbacked by Austin Davis.

Arizona is 5-1. San Francisco is a half-game ahead of Seattle in the standings, and the 49ers should only get better in the second half when NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis get healthy and Aldon Smith returns from suspension.

Seattle travels to Carolina this Sunday. The Panthers don't have many viable weapons around Cam Newton. If the Super Bowl champs are going to get their act together, it has to start with domination on defense.

4) Carson Palmer

OK, so this one's a little different. Palmer's a guy who must keep momentum going as he faces a big spot against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Palmer has played incredibly well since coming back from injury, responding well to backup Drew Stanton stepping up in his absence. While I've never been a Palmer fan, what with his knack for turning the ball over, I can't deny his current groove. Palmer is 10-2 in his last 12 games for the Cardinals. In that stretch, he's completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 278 yards a game, with 22 touchdowns against 10 interceptions -- and a sparkling 97.8 passer rating.

The fascinating backdrop to Sunday's matchup between two 5-1 teams is that it has tie-breaker potential, whether it's for seeding or a bye or even a wild-card slot.

Tuesday, I talked to Michael Floyd on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," and the Cardinals receiver raved about the team's confidence, largely crediting head coach Bruce Arians. Palmer, Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown have good matchups in the passing attack against Philly's defense.

The Cardinals have a bit of an air of invincibility to them right now. A win takes it to another level. If they lose, and Palmer coughs it up, it represents a setback.

(For the record, I do like Arizona on Sunday.)

5) Buffalo Bills' defense

Buffalo is 4-3, thanks to a dose of Kyle Orton magic. Honestly, I didn't even know he still had a wand.

Orton has won two of his three starts for the Bills this season. He's added a veteran presence and, most importantly, maximized rookie freak Sammy Watkins.

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But now C.J. Spiller's on IR-recall and Fred Jackson is on the shelf for a few weeks. This will affect Orton's balance. Thus, the Bills' defense takes on more responsibility.

I think Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, Preston Brown and Marcell Dareus will be up for the challenge. They should smother the Jets, even with the game being played in MetLife Stadium.

The Bills have a great chance to be 5-3 at the midway point and really build momentum for a wild-card run. Handle success well and beat the 1-6 Jets. I believe it happens.

6) Pittsburgh Steelers

A win is a win is a win. You never minimize a victory in the NFL.

Having said that, the biggest takeaway from the Steelers' Monday Night triumph over Houston was the Texans' second-quarter implosion.

Now Pittsburgh hosts the Indianapolis Colts, who've won five straight games. The Steelers could use a win against a great team. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening Sunday.

7) Brian Hoyer

One week ago, the Browns were sitting pretty in the wild-card race, with a 3-2 record and what seemed like a highly manageable three-game stretch on the horizon. Then Cleveland handed the Jacksonville Jaguars their first win of the season. Totally unacceptable. I thought the Browns could handle prosperity. Instead, they lost by 18 points to a league doormat.

Hoyer suffered his worst game of the season, completing just 16 of his 41 passes, with an interception and zero touchdowns. Predictably, the cries for Johnny Football are getting louder. Imagine if Hoyer loses at home to the winless Raiders ...

8) New Orleans Saints' offense

I give the much-maligned Saints defense no chance against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense on Sunday. With that out of the way, let's focus on the underwhelming offense.

Drew Brees has had a subpar season by his standards. His ill-timed pick in Detroit keyed the aforementioned Lions comeback. Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Brees isn't getting much help from the offensive line.

Despite having just two wins through six games, New Orleans is not dead in the water, because the NFC South is awful. That said, the time is now. This offense needs to get going, and it will have an opportunity to do so Sunday night. While the Packers' defense played well against Carolina last week, it's not a great unit.

9) Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals are a mess. They were destroyed in New England, logged an unacceptable 37-37 tie at home against Carolina and then got blown off the field 27-0 in Indianapolis. Not the best three-week span for a purported contender ...

I love the Ravens in Cincinnati on Sunday. Prove me wrong, Bengals. Win at home. Get momentum going into the second half.

This is kind of a gigantic spot for Cincy.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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