The Schein Nine  

 

Vikings, Packers, Eagles have ample reason for full-blown panic

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Is it hot in here, or is that just the Los Angeles Rams' executive suite?

Nine weeks are in the books. NFL teams have a body of work. And for some, it's officially time to panic.

In this edition of the Schein Nine, we spotlight nine teams potentially in the throes of panic, ranking them by cause for concern (most to least) and breaking them into three categories:

FULL-SCALE PANIC

1) Minnesota Vikings

The wheels have fallen off. And you had to see this coming over the last few weeks, even before Sunday's debacle against Detroit. This is why I never took the cheese on the Vikings being a juggernaut.

Injuries to the starting quarterback, All-Pro running back and numerous offensive linemen have driven the Viking ship off the edge of the Earth. Norv Turner's midseason resignation was startling and problematic. Norv has been one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL over the last three decades and had worked wonders early this season, despite having been dealt quite a challenging hand.

Sunday, four days after Turner's stunning exit, Minnesota experienced the low point of its season thus far. (And that's saying something, considering the Vikes had been steamrolled by the Bears on "Monday Night Football" just six days prior.)

Minnesota blew a fourth-quarter lead -- at home -- after going ahead 16-13 with 23 second left. Mike Zimmer's defense allowed Matthew Stafford to put his team in position to tie the game, courtesy of a 58-yard bomb off the leg of Matt Prater. And then Stafford, who continues to play his best in crunch time, shredded the Vikings' defense in the opening drive of overtime. Golden Tate ended the game with a 28-yard catch-and-backpedal-and-run touchdown that left multiple would-be tacklers in its wake.

The bloom is off the rose in Minnesota. The Vikings just dropped their third straight game, suffering their first loss ever at the beautiful new U.S. Bank Stadium. And while they remain in first place by a half game at 5-3, the 5-4 Lions are breathing down their necks.

The panic meter is off the charts in Minnesota. But there is good news ...

2) Green Bay Packers

P-A-N-I-C.

No, my guy Aaron Rodgers can't say R-E-L-A-X after a home loss to the inferior Colts. I long held out belief that the Packers eventually would emerge as the cream of the NFC North crop. But injuries have hit and Ted Thompson's paper-thin roster just can't handle it.

Every time you think that the Packers are about to go on a run this season, they stall. The Colts -- who had just been blown away by a Nick Foles-led Chiefs team in Indianapolis -- stormed Lambeau, returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and never relinquished the lead. The final score of 31-26 doesn't tell the whole story, as Indianapolis led 31-13 midway through the fourth quarter. Yes, Rodgers led a furious comeback attempt in the final nine minutes, but it was too little, too late. In the postgame, Rodgers called out his team for the "unacceptable" effort, especially as it pertained to the slow start.

"I don't understand it -- this is what we get paid to do, is to bring it every week," Rodgers told the assembled press. "I hope the guys would say that I bring it every week. I mean, I love this game and I bring the energy. I'm not a 'rah-rah' guy, but I'm a focused, enthusiastic player. And I just ... I don't know what the lack of juice was. You kind of felt it over the entire sideline. We didn't have the same kind of enthusiasm and encouragement that we had the previous two weeks. So we gotta look deep in the mirror there, 'cause that's just not acceptable."

It's a bad brew in Wisconsin right now.

3) Philadelphia Eagles

The panic meter is on red. And it should be.

I love Carson Wentz. He's going to be a star in this league. But he's still a rookie and didn't play well in a 28-23 loss to the Giants that dropped Philly to 4-4. (Don't forget: The Eagles were one of the NFL's big stories through September, starting at 3-0 with fine quarterback play and a stifling defense.)

OK, I'm certainly not gonna put all of this on the first-year signal caller. Frankly, I blame offensive tackle Lane Johnson, who is in the midst of a 10-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs. His absence has derailed the Wentz Wagon -- and the Eagles' season. And the aformentioned defense has given up 57 points in the past two weeks (yielding a whopping 460 yards of offense to the Cowboys in the Week 8 loss).

And really, Sunday's loss was largely on Doug Pederson. Twice in the second quarter, the first-year head coach eschewed a field goal ... only to get stuffed on fourth-and-short. Think those six points could've come in handy in a five-point loss? Way too aggressive. And running the read option with Wentz? That's amateur hour.

In the wide-open NFC, that's a terrible loss to a division rival -- allowing the Giants, hardly a juggernaut, to improve to 5-3. And while I loved the Wentz draft pick, I was dubious on the Pederson hire. His in-game decisions confirm my skepticism.

ALARMING ... BUT PREDICTABLY SO

4) Los Angeles Rams

In the first episode of "Hard Knocks" back in August, Jeff Fisher famously ranted about being done with the 7-9 garbage. Except he used a different word than garbage. And he might not even hit 7-9, with Los Angeles running the losing streak to four on Sunday.

The Rams (3-5) wrongly gave up everything to get the top pick in the draft and wrongly picked Jared Goff over Carson Wentz. And Goff has yet to see the field in the regular season. And Case Keenum is dreadful. And star running back Todd Gurley has become a non-factor.

And how Jeff Fisher holds a job, I will never know.

5) New York Jets

In the wake of a 27-23 loss at Miami -- a defeat that dropped the Jets to 3-6 -- one thing is abundantly clear: The season is over.

Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson, two of the key cogs on a previously celebrated D-line, are missing quarters for disciplinary reasons. The special teams are anything but. The coaching is hardly inspiring.

Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a jump ball in the end zone -- to two Dolphins. Oh, and that was after he was picked by a 335-pound defensive tackle. There is no good reason for Fitzpatrick to play quarterback ever again for the Jets. The Fitzmagic act is over. See what else you have in Bryce Petty and Co.

It's over for Gang Green. A sixth straight playoff-free season is happening.

6) San Francisco 49ers

I don't want to overstate the Niners' most recent grotesque loss, but perhaps San Francisco should fold the franchise and sell ice cream.

The Niners are devoid of talent. They can't stop the run. They don't employ a legit NFL quarterback. And it was always backwards and irresponsible that the team fired the great Jim Harbaugh because he couldn't play nice in the sand box with some coworkers. Remember when the Niners were a consistent Super Bowl contender? It was only a few years back. Seems like a century ago. Meanwhile, Harbaugh has Michigan in the thick of the national title hunt. Interesting.

The panic meter is in the abyss, on planet delusional.

7) Jacksonville Jaguars

Gus Bradley is 14-42. Great guy, bad coach. You can fire the offensive coordinator or bring in a quarterback guru to work with Blake Bortles on mechanics, but it's all akin to putting lipstick on a pig.

These Jaguars were offseason darlings. After Sunday's loss to Kansas City, they're 2-6 and one of the biggest disappointments in football. Jacksonville needs a major makeover, starting with a new coach. But does a legit head-coaching candidate want to hitch his wagon to Bortles?

8) Cleveland Browns

They are winless and, having passed on Wentz in April's draft, clueless. There's no panic. Just sadness -- a factory of it.

Looking at the remaining schedule, you have to consider 0-16 a distinct possibility.

Hopefully LeBron winning a title (and being in position to win another one) and the Indians' amazing overachievement eases the pain.

If the Browns ever win a game, will J.R. Smith take his shirt off?

DOWN, CERTAINLY NOT OUT

9) Pittsburgh Steelers

For a while, it looked like the Steelers would win the AFC North going away and could be in position to be the team that loses by 17 to the Patriots in Foxborough on Championship Sunday.

Now? Pittsburgh looks lost.

Was Ben Roethlisberger truly ready to return from surgery? It didn't look like it in Sunday's loss at Baltimore. The weapons on offense were neutralized, the defense gave up big plays (what's new?) and the Ravens won this heated rivalry game yet again. John Harbaugh's team has now taken the last four games between these two teams -- and six of the past seven.

I still think the Steelers will win the division, so the panic meter isn't off the charts here. But for the time being, it appears Mike Tomlin has lost his grip on this team, which has underachieved thus far in 2016. And if Ben isn't healthy or being asked to do too much ...

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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