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Six Teams That Should Be Worse in the NFL’s Second Half

Whether it's a tough schedule ahead or injury issues, some teams are destined to falter in the back half of the 2021 regular season.
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Unfortunately, we cannot all be Rams fans. The general managers of our favorite teams are not sitting on the edge of their office chairs monitoring the NFL rumor mill like a Bloomberg terminal, prepared to pounce on every discarded star and future Hall of Famer like a deranged day trader. We will not have a collection of stars to sort through on every play and, thus, the second half of the season feels a little bit mysterious.

Some teams will get better, as we noted in a separate column yesterday. But some teams will inevitably get worse. It may not be “worse” in the sense that a team on course for the playoffs will miss the postseason. It could just mean that a team running smoothly now has a limp in their gait. But some teams could also plummet, be it because of a difficult schedule, mounting injuries or opponents hitting their respective bye weeks and figuring their scheme out.

That’s the lot we’re here to sort through. If these next few teams are stocks, I’m selling in the short term:

Ben-Roethlisberger

Pittsburgh Steelers

Current record: 5–3
Projected second-half record: 4–5
Final record: 9–8

So it may not get much worse for the Steelers. Mike Tomlin will still finish with a winning record. Ben Roethlisberger can retire with the knowledge that he almost backed a team into the playoffs. The problem with Roethlisberger bowing out in the postseason is his remaining schedule. The Steelers have the Titans, the Ravens (twice) the Chargers, the Chiefs the Browns and the Bengals left on their schedule. The Lions and Vikings are on there too, but not nearly enough of a chaser before they dig into the meat of their schedule. It would be difficult to imagine the Steelers traversing this slate with a quarterback who currently owns the second-worst play-by-play success rate of any passer in the NFL. While I think there’s a chance Najee Harris’s development will create enough defensive focus to allow offensive coordinator Matt Canada to deploy his full arsenal of backfield window dressings, the Ravens and Browns are among the best run-defending teams in the NFL. The Chargers, currently the worst run defense in the NFL according to DVOA rankings, should also rise to the mean, presenting more challenges for Pittsburgh.

Carolina Panthers

Current record: 4–5
Projected second-half record: 3–5
Final record: 7–10

Carolina is going to try and break in a Cam Newton offense over the final eight games of the season with games against the top three defenses in the NFL (at least in the eyes of Football Outsiders’ excellent Defensive Value Over Average metric). They’ll get the Buccaneers twice. Good luck with that. While the Panthers certainly outplayed our beginning of the season projections by starting the year 3–0, our thoughts on Carolina as a whole came to fruition. Sam Darnold would be figured out. The team, as a whole, is not healthy enough, or does not have enough of an identity to overcome any serious injury problems. I don’t think this necessitates moving on from the Matt Rhule experiment, especially given the fact that he has two of the best coordinators in the NFL. That said, the Panthers do not have the firepower to make a run at the No. 7 seed as their Newton signing might suggest. The bulk of the work is ahead of them, which includes an offseason they’ll spend trying to hammer down the quarterback position long term.

Kansas City Chiefs

Current record: 5–4
Projected second-half record: 5–3
Final record: 10–7

This Chiefs' season will still likely end in a trip to the playoffs, but it’s going to be a slog to get there. Kansas City currently has the highest winning percentage among remaining opponents, though that statistic is a little bit deceiving given that it includes the Raiders and Broncos twice—two teams that will probably finish close to, or below .500. Still, it is obvious that something isn’t right with the Chiefs' offense, which is a strange thing to say about a unit that boasts the second-highest QB success rate in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes’s elite athletic gifts have developed a bit of hero ball culture in Kansas City (which you can actually see acted out by some of Reid’s disciples coaching other NFL teams). This seems to have forced Mahomes to run exclusively on those gifts and not on an ability to simply win a down with ball placement on a simple scheme design. It reminds me of a less serious version of what happened in Baker Mayfield’s Freddie Kitchens season, where both quarterbacks are starting to drift or bail earlier and earlier, giving themselves more challenging throws. Could that be solved over the course of a season? Absolutely. Could Mahomes be reborn into a less theatrical machine of efficiency? No doubt. But Kansas City has lost most of the matchup edges that they’ve enjoyed during Mahomes’s first few seasons, which will complicate some of his forced developments.

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Indianapolis Colts

Current record: 4–5
Projected second-half record: 3–5
Final record: 7–10

The Colts’ second-half slate is brutal, with dates against the Cardinals, Buccaneers, Bills and the surging Patriots. Carson Wentz has struggled against top defenses this year, developing most of his statistical profile in games against the Jets, Dolphins, Texans and 49ers. There are still these beautiful, Wentz-ian moments, like we saw late in their overtime loss to the Titans on Halloween, but of late, those moments have been bookended by some boneheaded interceptions. The Wentz acquisition was still a good one, he’s played as an above average quarterback this season but has failed to distinguish himself from that Garoppolo-Cousins-Mayfield-Jones herd. Unless he does that, the Colts’ budding set of skill position players are destined for solid individual seasons but not much in terms of team-wide success.

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Baltimore Ravens

Current record: 6–2
Projected second-half record: 5–4
Final record: 11–6

Not much has changed for the Ravens since they pinballed through the early season. Lamar Jackson remains one of the most successful down to down quarterbacks in the NFL and has proven that he can win against any defense. The Ravens are waiting for the rest of the operation to click into place. It’s been odd to see Baltimore as a ho-hum defensive unit (currently 25th in weighted DVOA). They’re giving up more passing yards per attempt than all but three other teams in the NFL. While that number may be in line for a statistical correction, dates against Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Burrow and a healing Baker Mayfield will make that more difficult. Baltimore will remain in the AFC North driver’s seat, but they won’t reach the playoffs without taking some serious dents.

Las Vegas Raiders

Current record: 5–3
Projected second-half record: 3–6
Final record: 8–9

Las Vegas is reeling as an organization after taking yet another blow to their emotional stability. While it would be a uniquely Raider-esque thing to do, surviving all of these once-in-a-decade happenings to reach the playoffs with an interim head coach, we need to examine this realistically. Vegas still has the Cowboys, Chargers, Chiefs (twice), Browns, Broncos and Bengals on their schedule. The only game you’d view as instantly winnable on paper is an early-December slate against the Washington Football Team. With all due respect to interim head coach Rich Bisaccia and offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who have been more than admirable in their efforts to keep this train rolling, they would need to orchestrate one of the most unexpected second halves in recent history while missing a significant element to their offensive scheme. 

More NFL Coverage:

The Lions Are 0–8. Dan Campbell Can Work With That.
Seriously, What’s the Deal With These Taunting Penalties?
Business of Football: Aaron Rodgers Criticism, Roger Goodell’s Salary
Midseason Review: First-Half Surprises, Second-Half Stories, Super Bowl Predictions

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