By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s Week 2 in the NFL. If you’re not panicking, are you even living?
Certainly, the 2021 season got off to a proper start for a number of teams that hold Super Bowl dreams. In some cases — Rams, Cardinals, Seahawks — it was thorough and nearly flawless. In other cases — Bucs, Chiefs, 49ers — it was a little bit choppy. But the 1-0 that stands next to those team’s names in the standings is what matters most.
But then … then there are the 0-1 teams. While we expected a Week 1 loss and many more for some teams — Falcons, Jets, Jaguars … Football Team — there was a fair number of surprises on that opening Sunday that presents some interesting scenarios for the forthcoming weekend.
Surely, a whole lot of teams have started their seasons with a loss while still going on to make the playoffs. Here in New England, we can think of three seasons where the Patriots started the year with a loss but still won the Super Bowl. A Week 1 loss, no matter how ugly it may look (31-0 in Buffalo, anyone?), really doesn’t matter much.
But an 0-2 start? An 0-2 start is a problem.
As of 2020, 88 percent of teams that started the year 0-2 ended up failing to make the playoffs. Of last year’s 11 teams to start 0-2, none of them made the playoffs.
You start the year 0-2 … you’re climbing uphill the rest of the way. And you need some breaks. And maybe to exist in a dreadful division. It’s not great.
(There are rumors that the 2007 New York Giants started their season 0-2. Our research team is on the case and we’ll be getting an answer on that one in four to six weeks. We thank you for your patience. Some people are also saying the 2001 Patriots started 0-2. But that was different.)
With that in mind, what would we even be doing here if we didn’t take a peek at the panic scale to see just how *MUST-WIN* the must-win games are for the high-profile 0-1 teams in Week 2.
PANIC METER: HIGH
Green Bay Packers
These are unique situations, hence their placement in the “HIGH” category. No other team is the Dallas Cowboys, so no other team faces the pressure for glory quite like “America’s Team.” While it’s undeniably true that the Cowboys have not advanced beyond the divisional round since 1995, and while it’s also true that the Cowboys are just 4-10 in the playoffs since their last Super Bowl, and while we can also truthfully state that the Cowboys have only won their division five times since the Y2K scare … championship expectations remain thrust upon that team from the owner on down.
The Cowboys’ schedule does soften up for a few weeks after this week, so they could reasonably climb to 3-2 even if they do lose to the Chargers this weekend. But the pandemonium that would surround the team after an 0-2 start is probably something they’re all trying to avoid.
And then there’s Green Bay. On the one hand, Aaron Rodgers boo-hooed his way through the offseason, got absolutely nothing out of it, and then played for a lifeless team in Jacksonville against the Saints. It was the Week 1 dud to end all Week 1 duds.
While Rodgers did have an equal stinker last year, in the midst of an unbelievable MVP campaign, he can’t afford to be anything less than great this weekend to change the entire feeling of the organization. Considering that shot at redemption will come on national television against the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football, he’ll probably be all right. But after last week, when Rodgers was outshined by Jameis Winston, the football world remains on alert to see if the Packers’ season will end before it really begins. (That might have been true all summer, to be fair.)
PANIC METER: MEDIUM-HIGH
On the one hand, you could throw a lot from the Ravens’ hilarious Monday night loss out the window. It was Week 1, Lamar Jackson was sloppy with the football, the game ended but then restarted, the Raiders’ kicker got lost — it was a classic late-night haze in Vegas. The Ravens weren’t the first people to suffer through such an episode, and they won’t be the last.
On the other hand … the Ravens now have a short week to get over that embarrassment … while preparing for … the Kansas City Chiefs.
The team that just let Derek Carr throw for 435 yards while leading multiple game-winning drives in the same contest now has to deal with Patrick Mahomes. That is a problem.
PANIC METER: MEDIUM
The Browns and Bills will likely be OK. Likely. The thing is … they’re the Browns and the Bills. While it’s not a knock on the teams or their fans or anything like that, the fact of the matter is that the football gods determined long ago that some places cannot have nice things. Cleveland and Buffalo are at the top of that list.
So while there’s no logical reason to believe doom is impending for the Bills or the Browns … you can never be too sure that it isn’t.
Buffalo is going to Miami. Not a gimme at all.
Cleveland, on the other hand, will host Houston. Now that’s a soft landing.
PANIC LEVEL: LOW
New England Patriots
You’d expect better than a faceplant from a Mike Vrabel-coached team. Even if the Titans don’t win every week, you at least expect a day of hell for the opponent. Instead, the roles were reversed in Week 1, and the Cardinals spanked the Titans all afternoon long.
That may not be great for the long-term outlook of the Titans … but it might not matter in terms of making the playoffs. Which team, exactly, do the Titans have to worry about in the AFC South? The Colts are the best of the three remaining teams, which says a lot more about the Jaguars and Texans than it does about the Colts. The Titans can win that division with their eyes closed, so they can start this year 0-3 if they want and still dance their way to a divisional crown.
The Patriots? Well you can take that bit about “throwing out a lot from Week 1” from the Ravens’ loss and apply it to the Patriots. The difference is that instead of having to deal with the Chiefs, the Patriots get the … Jets. If they lose to the Jets, then we can light our hair on fire and start getting crazy with the Patriots takes. But a one-point loss to a divisional opponent that even Tom Brady always struggled against, in a game where the running backs fumbled twice and even the best punter in America was bad? Come on, now. That’s no reason for panic.
Now, panic with some picks.
(Home team in CAPS; Wednesday lines)
WASHINGTON (-3.5) over New York Giants
Major “Bet Against Taylor Heinicke At Your Own Risk” vibes here. I’m not that kind of a risk taker!
Honestly, though, no matter what happens in this game, how embarrassing for the New York Giants to be facing a team with a quarterback with two career starts and as many interceptions as touchdowns on a short week while still being underdogs. Maybe they’ll win, which will make it all slightly less embarrassing. But the damage has been done.
Cincinnati (+2.5) over CHICAGO
If the Bengals win this game, then they technically will have won four of their last five games. The Bengals! So hot right now.
New Orleans (-3.5) over CAROLINA
None of us had “Jameis Winston Being Good” in our budgets for 2021. Look, we can make some room, but it’s going to be a real pain in the buns.
CLEVELAND (-12.5) over Houston
Very nice for Houston to get its first and potentially only win of the year last week. Congrats to the first-place Texans on the achievement.
Las Vegas (+5.5) over PITTSBURGH
The Steelers had 252 yards of offense last week. They scored one offensive touchdown. Laying 5.5 points against a team that’s going to score some points is a bit much.
Buffalo (-3.5) over MIAMI
I had the Bills in the panic zone earlier, and this won’t be easy. But for now, we can still believe that the Bills are the type of team that responds well to a challenging situation.
That Miami team is fun, though. This might be your primo game in the 1 p.m. window, which hasn’t been said about a Bills-Dolphins game in … a very long time.
Los Angeles Rams (-3.5) over INDIANAPOLIS
I do advise to stay from the Colts until we’re given a reason to do otherwise. (That kind of rhymed, almost.)
San Francisco (-3.5) over PHILADELPHIA
It’s the Mistake Line of the Week. Take it and run away like you stole something. Only 3.5? Because the Eagles beat the … Falcons?? Okay.
New England (-6) over NEW YORK JETS
The New York Jets are bad.
Denver (-6) over JACKSONVILLE
The Jacksonville Jaguars are VERY bad.
Congrats to the organization for these memes, though:
— Jacksonville Jaguars (@Jaguars) September 15, 2021
ARIZONA (-3.5) over Minnesota
Tennessee (+5) over SEATTLE
You always have to be cautious for a Week 1 overreaction. Are the Cardinals going to win by a thousand every week? No. Are the Titans going to lose by a thousand every week? No. (Probably not.)
In that sense, a home Cardinals victory over Minnesota seems safe, and it seems like something we would’ve foreseen even before the Week 1 results. Whereas … the Titans probably weren’t in line to get five points in Seattle until they got shellacked last week. (I know that such things can be discovered via research. But shush.)
TAMPA BAY (-12) over Atlanta
I’m actually more concerned with this one than I should be. The Buccaneers played last week looking like a team that watched a whole lot of celebratory NFL Films videos and read a whole lot of headlines that talked about “bringing it back” for a repeat. Because the fumbles, the penalties, the defense … it was all problematic.
They looked like a team that needs Tom Brady to start screaming at them on the sidelines again. The poor guy might have thought he’d get a break from that. Alas, a perfectionist’s work is never done, particularly when that perfectionist is an absolute psychopath about winning football games.
Throw in the fact that the Bucs randomly fell behind the Falcons 17-0 in Atlanta last year before winning by four and I’ve got some MISGIVINGS!
But, as ever, I believe in the futility of the Falcons. Don’t fail me now, birds. Don’t fail me now.
Dallas (+3.5) over LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Look. If Dak Prescott is going to be Joe Montana every week, I’m going to have to take the Cowboys with points every time the opportunity arises.
The DeMarcus Lawrence injury is concerning though. That one’s just not fair.
BALTIMORE (+3.5) over Kansas City
This is stressful!
Perhaps I’m living in the past, and I’m still expecting the 2019 Ravens to show up in full force. Maybe I’m blindly ignoring the Ravens team that got blown out by Kansas City last September, the same Ravens team that lost three straight midseason and then mustered just three points in their sad playoff loss in Buffalo. Maybe I’m a fool!
But isn’t there some level of pride left in that organization? After spending Monday night stepping on rakes in front of a national audience … aren’t there enough people in that building inspired to show it was a fluke? Inspired to make the first full-stadium experience in Baltimore be a good one? Inspired to beat Mahomes and Co. in another nationally televised game?
Maybe I’m way off, and that version of the Ravens is long gone, burned off by the Titans on that memorable January night. But for now, I choose to believe there’s still some pride in Baltimore.
(I have been watching a lot of “The Wire” though so maybe I’m farther off than I realize.)
GREEN BAY (-11.5) over Detroit
The narrative where the Packers are cooked and are about to enter a miserable season from hell is a fun one. I would watch the heck out of that TV show.
I just don’t think we’re gonna get it. Check your local listings, but I do believe we’re getting the standard, back-on-track, still-good Packers show that we were supposed to get. It was merely delayed a week.
I think about last year. While last year was last year, Rodgers had one of the best quarterbacking seasons ever. That being said, he had a dreadful day in Tampa in Week 6. His passer rating was 35.4, third-worst of his career. Worse than last week’s debacle.
He came back the next with a four-touchdown, no-interception performance against Houston, with a 132.4 rating. When the Packers lost to the Vikings last year, they came back with a 17-point win over the Niners; Rodgers once again threw four TDs with no picks. And when they lost to the Colts later in the year, they won the next week, against Chicago, by 16 points. Aaron Rodgers? You guessed it: Four touchdowns, zero interceptions.
So while morale may be unmistakably different this year, and while Rodgers’ hairstyle flat-out stinks, recent history shows that teams tend to be in big, big trouble when Rodgers and the Packers are coming off a loss.
Last week: 10-5-1