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Eagles, Browns among slumping NFL teams set to break out

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Is there anything better than snapping a skid?

Losing one game is bad enough in a league where the extreme short-term view tends to prevail, but losing multiple in a row can make it feel like your season is on the brink. As the Cowboys, Rams, Jaguars, and Titans were reminded in Week 7, ending such a losing streak has a way of instantly deleting any bad mojo that might have accumulated in the preceding weeks, providing a reinvigorating boost.

(The Chiefs also broke a two-game losing streak in Week 7, but they lost Patrick Mahomes to a knee injury in the process, which surely tainted the experience, even if he's potentially on track to return sooner than expected.)

Which of the 10 teams currently nursing losing streaks of two or more games will be the next to break out of their malaise and resuscitate their season? Below, I've broken down each team's situation, ordering them from most likely to break out to the least.

Note that this is not necessarily meant to be a simple prediction of who will snap their slump first; I'm more interested in assessing who can still salvage their season than I am in immediate results.

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1

EAGLES (3-4; 2L)

Things might look dire for the Eagles, who dropped to 3-4 against Dallas in Week 7, but they've been down this road before. Specifically, last season, when they started 3-4 and didn't climb more than a game above .500 until Week 17, qualified for the playoffs at 9-7, then proceeded to narrowly miss out on a repeat trip to the NFC title game. That resiliency should serve this team well, in terms of pushing away doomsday thoughts following consecutive road losses to the Vikings and Cowboys. That said, Doug Pederson must address Philly's slow starts (the Eagles were outscored 51-17 by Minnesota and Dallas in the first two quarters) if this team is to have any hopes of mounting another postseason run. It would be great if DeSean Jackson -- whose absence has impacted the deep game and trickled down to the rest of the offense -- could get healthy. Failing that, you can expect general manager Howie Roseman to be active as always at the trade deadline. After a tough few upcoming games ( at Buffalo, vs. New England and vs. Seattle), the Dolphins, Giants and Redskins will provide a respite.

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2

BROWNS (2-4; 2L)

The Week 7 bye came at an ideal time for a Browns team reeling from a 2-4 start and all the criticism that comes from failing to meet the sky-high expectations set for and by this organization. The respectable defense will get a significant boost from the returns to health of starting corners Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams. On offense, Kareem Hunt (returning from suspension in Week 10) will help Nick Chubb (enjoying a standout season) take pressure off Baker Mayfield, provided the Browns coaches continue to emphasize the run, like they have in their past three games. Odell Beckham, meanwhile, will continue to improve his chemistry with Mayfield. The Patriots present a daunting Week 8 obstacle, and I'm not expecting Cleveland to break out of its slump this week, but after that, the schedule is conducive to Cleveland making a late playoff push, with only two of their remaining opponents (Buffalo and Baltimore) currently sitting above .500. It will help if GM John Dorsey can address the offensive line, which is a glaring weakness on this team, via the trade market.

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3

LIONS (2-3-1; 3L)

This season has been defined by a series of near wins, most glaringly a tie against Arizona in which Detroit surrendered an 18-point lead and a road loss to Green Bay in which a controversial penalty helped put the Packers in position to win on the game's final play. Injuries also continue to hurt the Lions, with running back Kerryon Johnson landing on IR and key players being limited at every level of a defense that is well-coached but undermanned. That said, Detroit has a franchise quarterback (Matthew Stafford) and a schedule that provides a plausible path for rising out of the NFC North basement and into a playoff berth. Of the Lions' six remaining non-divisional opponents, only Dallas (4-3) currently has a winning record. Plus, Detroit will get another shot at Minnesota and Green Bay, while the Bears could be even more vulnerable by the time they come around on the Lions' calendar.

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4

CHARGERS (2-5; 3L)

The Chargers have already lost more games than they did in the 2018 season, and they're three games behind the Chiefs in the AFC West. Much depends on the status of injured Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. If he were to miss significant time and Kansas City struggled, the Chargers would have a window of opportunity to push them down the stretch. Of course, recent news that Mahomes was already practicing in a limited capacity less than one week after going down might diminish those hopes. Still, both Chargers- Chiefs games have yet to be played. The close nature of the Chargers' losses thus far -- all coming by one score or less -- is frustrating, but it also suggests this team is better than its record. I still have faith that Melvin Gordon can rebound as he shakes off the rust from his holdout, and if safety Derwin James could make it back, the defense would get a huge boost. Here's an interesting stat to consider: In Anthony Lynn's two previous years as head coach, the Chargers went 12-4 in the second half.

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5

BEARS (3-3; 2L)

Chicago's playoff-caliber defense is being held back by its black-hole offense, as coach Matt Nagy and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky are well aware. The Bears must get back to running the football rather than letting that aspect of the game be an afterthought, as it was in their loss to New Orleans on Sunday, when Chicago threw 54 times against just seven runs. I would suspect that the team might regret trading away Jordan Howard this offseason, as rookie David Montgomery has not lived up to my expectations. The bottom line is, the Bears have to hope Trubisky can show the earmarks of becoming the franchise QB they thought he could be when GM Ryan Pace drafted him over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in 2017. Along with, well, everyone else, I'm worried about Trubisky. He only started 13 games in college, which put him behind the eight ball to begin with. Cowboys coach Tom Landry once told me you can make a quarterback better but you can't really teach better accuracy, and that is also obviously a concern with Trubisky.

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6

BUCCANEERS (2-4; 2L)

B.A. (as Bruce Arians likes to be called) would love to make a playoff run in his first season as the Bucs' head coach, but let's be realistic: This season is all about evaluating whether or not Jameis Winston is a franchise quarterback. (Unrelated side note: I just picked Winston up for my fantasy team to cover the QB position for me while Patrick Mahomes is out and Lamar Jackson is on a bye.) As I see it, the results of that evaluation have been mixed so far, which is consistent with the story of Winston's first four NFL seasons. The former No. 1 overall pick posted a passer rating of 100 or better in four straight games before committing six turnovers in his disastrous Week 6 outing against Carolina. Winston's 10 picks rank second in the NFL behind Baker Mayfield, who at least has the excuse of being a second-year pro. Winston isn't the Bucs' only problem; the offensive line has allowed 25 sacks, at least two per game, while the running game ranks 21st and the defense ranks 30th in points allowed (30.8 per game). All that said, this is the kind of team with an explosive passing game that could get hot as players acclimate to the new offensive and defensive schemes installed by the new staff this offseason.

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7

GIANTS (2-5; 3L)

After starting 0-2, the Giants tried to salvage their season by naming rookie Daniel Jones the starting quarterback in Week 3. And though the No. 6 overall pick started strong, he quickly crashed back to Earth, with deficiencies in recognizing the blitz, difficulty making the right read and a tendency to force passes coming to the fore. Of course, it's not like he's had the best support, with a raft of injuries to his skill players ( Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard) and a defense that ranks 28th in yards and 27th in points allowed. The Giants could theoretically get hot in the back half of the season, with just two of their remaining opponents (the Cowboys and Packers) currently above .500. But I really don't see this team going anywhere in 2019.

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8

FALCONS (1-6; 5L)

The best thing one could say about the Falcons at this point is that they do have the talent to make a run. It's just that they've shown no signs of being ready to do so in 2019. While Matt Ryan has been hitting his statistical marks, Atlanta has regressed across the board after changing offensive and defensive coordinators this offseason -- and now Ryan is dealing with an ankle sprain. The Falcons entered this season with high expectations, but at this point, I think they'd be lucky to win two more. Dan Quinn's eventual firing is considered a matter of when, not if -- his only hope is for Atlanta to go on an improbable run of success against a strong remaining slate.

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9

BENGALS (0-7; 7L)

The only thing separating Cincinnati and Miami right now is that the Bengals did not arrive at this spot by intentionally jettisoning talented players from the roster. Instead, Cincinnati constructed a disaster of a squad peppered with highly-paid older players ( Andy Dalton, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap) who appear to be past their prime. Talented young running back Joe Mixon, who led the AFC in rushing in 2018, is withering on the vine while moving one year closer to escaping via free agency. The offensive line and linebacker group, meanwhile, have been a wreck. This team will probably take a look at rookie QB Ryan Finley sooner rather than later. The Bengals have said they won't trade veteran receiver A.J. Green, who has not suited up for meaningful action in nearly a calendar year, but it's hard to believe he won't end up elsewhere before the trade deadline. Barring a miraculous change in fortune, a new quarterback will be headed to the Queen City via a top-five pick in 2020.

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10

DOLPHINS (0-6; 6L)

In engineering a talent fire sale, team management appeared to have constructed the Dolphins to lose, and the team was outright embarrassed early this season. And yet, somehow, Miami has been increasingly respectable in recent games, looking like a viable threat to win before falling apart in the second half. If the Dolphins want to maximize their draft in 2020, going 0-16 would be ideal. As for this season, this team is not built to still be playing in January, so why bother offering false optimism here? At least the organization appears to have a plan. The crucial next step will be executing that plan by picking the right players in the draft.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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