The Schein Nine  

 

Raiders, Texans headline NFL teams with early reason to panic

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What a wild NFL Sunday, overflowing with drama and eye-popping upsets.

In the wake of such madness -- and with three Sundays now in the books -- which teams find themselves at an early crossroads? Where is there cause for concern? And who should have their finger squarely on the panic button?

Allow me to rank the most precarious positions Schein Nine style, from run-out-in-the-streets-and-engage-in-a-full-scale-freak-out to take-a-deep-breath-and-calm-down.

1) Oakland Raiders (0-3)

Sure, you can blame Derek Carr for his brutal and ill-timed red-zone interception. With the Raiders trailing 21-17 in Miami and three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Carr took the snap on first-and-10 from the Dolphins' 13. As the pocket collapsed, Carr lofted a ball into the end zone ... but Xavien Howard had smothering coverage on Martavis Bryant and proceeded to high-point the ball for a back-breaking pick. Killer play, but the true culprit for the Raiders' winlessness is the man in charge.

Oakland's 0-3 start is all on Jon Gruden. For the third straight week, the Raiders went into halftime with a lead. And for the third straight week, the Raiders ended the game with a loss. This team simply cannot close. That's on the coach, and that's on the lack of closers on the roster. Funny, Oakland used to employ one of the best defensive closers in the game. What happened to that guy?

Trading Khalil Mack was always an absurd, soul-crushing concept. You never trade a pre-eminent pass rusher in his prime. Gruden and Co. clearly should've signed Mack to the lucrative extension he deserved. The team dealt its best player and now it looks gutted. Oakland's defense ranks last in the NFL in sacks (3) and takeaways (1). Shoot, Mack has four sacks, three forced fumbles and a pick all by himself.

Panic is off the charts in Oakland. Meanwhile, Mack's Bears sit alone atop a highly competitive NFC North at 2-1. Raider Nation is going to cast an aching eye toward the new Monster of the Midway for many, many days to come. This is going to be a topic forever. Trading Mack was an all-time horrendous, unforgivable move. A gaffe that soured Gruden's first season back in Oakland before it even began.

2) Houston Texans (0-3)

This is an undeniable and unfathomable mess. 0-3? A home loss to the previously inept Giants? This is pathetic and cannot happen.

Coming into this season, the rightful expectation for Bill O'Brien's team was a return to the playoffs. So, what has buried them in this hole at the bottom of the AFC South? Well, there's plenty of blame to go around. Deshaun Watson was better on Sunday, but he still hasn't been the game changer we saw during his majestic -- albeit abbreviated -- rookie season. The offensive line is offensive, having yielded an NFL-worst 33 QB hits. The defense finally got a vintage J.J. Watt performance on Sunday (eight tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble), but the unit is far from dominant as a whole.

Houston's disappointing home defeat came on a day when the Jaguars lost -- what a waste. This was supposed to be the turnaround game. Instead, could it prove to be an early nail in the coffin on what was widely anticipated to be a bounceback season?

3) San Francisco 49ers (1-2)

I love Jimmy Garoppolo. I love Kyle Shanahan. As a quarterback/play caller pairing, it's perfect. And that's why I'm genuinely depressed by Jimmy G's knee injury. The 49ers are 1-2, but let's be honest: It feels like their season is over.

So, why is San Francisco not sitting at the very top of this list? Well, I felt it was right to give them a top-three slot -- you know, a place on the panic podium. But even if this season's cooked, the truth is that the Niners were always in the midst of a rebuilding process anyway. In Year 2 of the Shanahan/John Lynch era, San Francisco was still at least one offseason away from contending. Shanahan and Lynch inherited a pretty bare cupboard. Yes, with Jimmy G under center, the Niners could've been ahead of schedule. That possibility appears inexistent now. But Garoppolo, Shanahan and Lynch front a futures stock that still has value.

4) Dallas Cowboys (1-2)

The Cowboys are 1-2 and panic is sky high. Yes, Sunday's setback came in Seattle, but these aren't your older brother's Seahawks: Seattle's O-line is dreadful; new play caller Brian Schottenheimer has spent much of his debut season under fire; the running back position is inexperienced; Doug Baldwin is hurt; the defense is a shell of the group that had a sensational six-year run. And Seattle smoked Dallas. Don't let the final score of 24-13 fool you -- it wasn't even that close.

Pete Carroll's 'Hawks deserve credit, no doubt. But the Cowboys had so much mind-numbing, self-induced harm. Turnovers. Coaching mistakes. Dak Prescott was bad, Dallas' offensive line was worse. I begged the 'Boys to trade for Earl Thomas -- and so did Earl Thomas himself! Instead, he spent Sunday picking off Dak Prescott (twice).

The Big D currently stands for depressing -- especially now that Sean Lee has been sidelined by yet another soft-tissue injury.

5) New England Patriots (1-2)

Looking at New England's schedule back in August, I thought the Patriots would start the year at 2-2. But I certainly didn't anticipate back-to-back double-digit losses, including one to the Lions. I didn't see Tom Brady following up a loss in Jacksonville with a measly 133 yards passing in Detroit. Or three three-and-outs to start Sunday night's game. Or the Lions doubling up New England in time of possession.

Sure, Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon should significantly upgrade the receiving corps going forward. But overall, this roster isn't a classic Patriots roster. The feel isn't that of a classic Patriots team. I always acknowledge New England's upside -- it's the Super Bowl -- but I said during the preseason that I didn't think this team was going to make the AFC title game. I wanted to see how they handled early adversity. And this is even more adversity than I was prepared for.

6) Atlanta Falcons (1-2)

When Matt Ryan plays like he did on Sunday (26 of 35 for 374 yards, five touchdowns and zero picks), you should win. In fact, every team has won with a quarterback playing that well. Seriously. Ryan's 141.8 passer rating is the highest mark for a QB in a loss during the Super Bowl era, per NFL Research (minimum 25 attempts).

Real costly defeat for Atlanta, seeing how it come to the archrival Saints at home. The Falcons, who entered this season as purported Super Bowl contenders, are in the NFC South cellar. And the defense has already been decimated by injuries, with Ricardo Allen joining Deion Jones and Keanu Neal on injured reserve. The only thing keeping morale up is the fact that both of Atlanta's losses have been tight contests against viable opponents.

7) Arizona Cardinals (0-3)

Arizona is 0-3. The first two weeks were stuffed with horrendous football, as the Cardinals were outscored 58-6. On Sunday, though, the Cards actually jumped out to a 14-0 lead on frisky Chicago. Unfortunately, Sam Bradford completely went in the tank after the hot start. Over Bradford's final six possessions at the helm, Arizona gained a grand total of 69 yards, with the QB turning the ball over in the final three drives of that span. The only thing more disconcerting than Bradford's play is Steve Wilks' handling of the QB position. I begged the Cardinals to start the season with Josh Rosen under center. They didn't. I thought they should opt for the rookie after two embarrassing losses to start the season. They didn't. But then, with Arizona trailing by two late in the fourth quarter, that's when Wilks calls for the kid? Bizarre and unfair timing. Predictably, Chicago held on and won.

Here's the plus side, though: It's Rosen time the rest of the way, which counters most panic for a team that most didn't expect to make the playoffs in the first place. Now Rosen can give Arizona a jolt -- and something to build on for 2019 and beyond.

8) Minnesota Vikings (1-1-1)

No, really -- what on Earth was that?!?! The Vikings getting absolutely bludgeon by the Bills -- in Minnesota? Easily the most shocking result of the weekend. Were the Vikes still steaming over the Green Bay tie? Looking ahead to the Rams showdown on Thursday night? No excuse. None. It's one thing to lose, but to not even compete? Led by raw rookie quarterback Josh Allen, the Bills completely outclassed the Vikings in their own building.

Now the Vikings have to travel to face the undefeated Rams in Los Angeles on a short week. Thus, Minnesota could easily be 1-2-1 in just a matter of days, with a trip to Philadelphia looming in Week 5.

Minnesota is still loaded. But so is the rest of the NFC. Which is why you want home playoff games. And hey, you need to make the postseason in the first place.

9) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1)

OK, you can still make the case that the Jaguars are one of the best teams in the NFL. Leonard Fournette missed Sunday's loss to Tennessee, a game in which Jacksonville's defense yielded just 233 yards and three field goals.

But here's where the panic comes in: Blake Bortles.

Last week, Bortles played one of the best games of his career against the Patriots in a huge win. And on Sunday, he looked like Blake Bortles. Disconcerting volatility, to say the least.

The Jags are a Super Bowl team with a Super Bowl defense and Super Bowl coaching staff. But with the quarterback, you just don't know.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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