One of the worst movie cliches is the unkillable villain who keeps coming back to terrorize the main characters, despite being stabbed and shot and drowned and set on fire. The NFL has a few teams like that, as we’re reminded every year around this time.
Remember when the Patriots were 2-2 and looked like they forgot how to play defense? Well, they’ve now won eight in a row and haven’t given up 20 points in a game since.
Or how about the Steelers, who lost to the Bears once this season (YES, THAT HAPPENED) and are riding a seven-game winning streak. Those last two wins, by the way, came on game-winning field goals as time expired, naturally.
Then there’s the Seahawks, who weren’t even in the playoff picture a week ago. But right on schedule, they got their annual statement win, this time over the previously one-loss Eagles. Seattle is now the No. 5 seed in the NFC. With another win over the Rams, the Seahawks could take the NFC West.
And don’t forget about the Packers. They’re just 6-6, but Aaron Rodgers is poised to come back from a broken collarbone in Week 15, maybe giving him enough time to save the day in Green Bay.
No team has officially clinched a postseason berth yet, but those all sound like familiar — and tired — storylines. We know how this movie ends in January: the Steelers vs. Patriots in one bracket; in the other, the Packers vs. an NFC South team, or the Seahawks vs. an NFC South team, or the Packers. vs. the Seahawks.
Sure, a few teams, including the Jaguars, Vikings, Eagles, and Saints, are ready to crash the party. But it’s hard to feel optimistic for the hard-luck teams trying to sneak into the playoff picture, like the Chargers or Bills, because we know we’re just going to get stuck with the dishwater teams no one wants to watch (looking at you, Ravens and Titans).
Panic index: If the season ended today, only four teams from last year’s playoff group would return: the Steelers, Patriots, Seahawks, and Chiefs. There will be fresh blood and that alone is reason to believe this year’s playoffs won’t follow the same script.
Are the Eagles ready for the playoffs?
Being 10-2 is nothing to be ashamed of for the Eagles. Even with last Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks, they have a lock on the NFC East title and are still tied for the top of the NFC standings, and the kind of schedule that gives them a leg up for home-field advantage come January.
But that schedule is also a concern. Of those 10 wins, only one came against a team currently holding down a playoff spot, the Panthers. The beat the Chargers too back in Week 4, before the Bolts went on their current surge.
Both of Philadelphia’s losses came against likely playoff teams. While the Chiefs have slumped since then, getting beat by a banged up Seahawks team should be more than slightly concerning.
This week, they play the Rams in Los Angeles. A loss there would raise legitimate doubts about whether they belong among the NFC’s best.
Panic index: Two straight losses to contending teams, and the sky might as well be falling. You can also expect questions about Doug Pederson’s ability to take this team deep into the playoffs.
Giants will make another uninspiring hire
The last time the Giants were in the market for a head coach, the final decision came down to Ben McAdoo and Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith. Now that McAdoo’s been fired after just under two full seasons as New York’s head coach, some familiar names are back in the mix for the job.
Never mind that Smith’s Buccaneers are dead last in the league in sacks and 31st in yards allowed per game. Reports suggest that he’ll be considered for the role. Smith had plenty of regular-season success as the head coach of the Falcons, but went 1-4 in postseason play.
Interim Giants head coach Steve Spagnuolo is also in the running. The Giants’ defense was top 10 in the NFL in total yards allowed per game last season. But they’ve regressed to dead last this year under Spagnuolo’s leadership.
Oh, and remember when Spags was the head coach of the Rams? He was fired after going 10-38 over three seasons.
Panic Index: The usual head coach candidate suspects, like Josh McDaniels, will also be considered. But considering how far the Giants have to go to be competitive again, they might have trouble landing anyone dynamic enough to turn the team around quickly.
Blaine Gabbert could be the Cardinals’ starter next year
“He’s a veteran quarterback who is learning for the first time,” Arians laughed. “That’s exactly what he is. He’s spent one spring and three games in this offense. There are always things that happen that you just have to know from being in your offense. He’s not there yet.”
In three starts this season, Gabbert is 1-2, completing just under 60 percent of his passes for 719 yards, six touchdowns, and five interceptions. It’s pretty much on par with the 46 other NFL games he’s played in, but the Cardinals are willing to see if this is somehow the time.
Gabbert started his career in Jacksonville with the Jaguars, where he won five of his 27 starts in three years. After that, he spent three years with the 49ers, where he lost his job to Colin Kaepernick in 2016 after being named the starter.
Simply put, at 28 years old, Gabbert is what he is at this point.
Panic index: Gabbert probably won’t perform well with a Cardinals offense that is lacking enough weapons. Just hope that they draft somebody, Cardinals fans.
Steelers going into Sunday night game shorthanded
The Steelers are coming out of a Monday Night Football game in which they lost linebacker Ryan Shazier to a spinal injury. For the time being, it appears that Shazier will be out as we await an update on his status.
Offensively, the team will be missing JuJu Smith-Schuster for his hit on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Smith-Schuster delivered this cheap shot to Burfict, that had Antonio Brown yelling “karma” in the locker room at the end of the game:
The past two Steelers games have come against an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers team that nearly went to overtime, and a 17-point comeback against the Bengals for yet another Chris Boswell-sealed win. Shazier and Smith-Schuster aren’t monumental losses, but they’re certainly big enough to where Steelers fans could be a tad bit concerned going into a rivalry game against the Ravens.
Panic index: As long as Shazier is in good health moving forward, nothing else really matters. If they were to somehow lose this game, they’d still be 10-3 with a two-game lead over the Ravens with three games to go — one of those would be against the Browns.
It doesn’t even matter if the Broncos haven’t given up
"If you watch our football games, I always watch [the] last five to 10 plays, I show the guys those plays, I show the guys flying around, that's proof that guys are still playing to win,” Joseph said, via ESPN’s Jeff Legwold. “... The guys we put on the field are trying to win football games and no one has given up."
Guys may still be playing hard. But this Broncos team has too many issues to overcome with a little effort on the field.
The revolving door of Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, and then Siemian again at quarterback is a glaring concern, but it’s far from the Broncos’ only problem. The defense is still effective at limiting yardage through the air and on the ground. But they’re ranked next-to-last in the league for points allowed with 26.2. And the Broncos’ stagnant offense is managing just over 17 points per game.
Panic index: Does it even matter if it looks like players are still playing to win? The Broncos haven’t won a game since Week 4 against the Raiders. It’s clearly not working.