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Unpopular Opinions

Lions, Chargers among the unluckiest teams in the NFL in 2019

Listen, I don't try to live my life as a contrarian. That's not true -- I kind of do. I spend a lot of time in public houses and taverns, and I have a two-hour commute that allows me to hear a lot of the sports world's most popular opinions. Sometimes, I think it's best to take a look at the other side.

In this space, I articulate positions that are the opposite of what most people think -- unpopular opinions, if you will -- and explain why, well, my unpopular opinions are right and everyone else is wrong. Below, I shine the spotlight on five teams that have NOT been favored by fate.

The Detroit Lions deserved better.

Even for a team that is historically more snake-bitten than opponents of Jake the Snake Roberts (R.I.P., Macho Man), what happened on "Monday Night Football" seemed like a new low.

The Lions jumped ahead of the Packers early, on Matt Prater's field goal a few minutes into the first quarter, and did not trail until there were 2 second left, when Mason Crosby booted the game-winning kick for Green Bay. And, as you are surely aware, that *extremely narrow* loss came with its fair share of controversy, namely a pair of illegal-use-of-hands penalties that extended eventual scoring drives for the Packers, including the fateful final possession.

ESPN broadcaster Booger McFarland roasted the officiating, questioning whether the hand placement of Trey Flowers -- the recipient of both penalties -- merited a flag. Flowers didn't think he'd done anything wrong. Critics on social media -- including Lions legend Barry Sanders -- also chimed in.

NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent later came out and admitted that the second call was a mistake. But you could see how this still wouldn't ease the sting for Lions fans. It's like when your neighbor apologizes for drinking the last of the Stone Xocovezas that you stored in the fridge. Like, I appreciate the apology, but that beer is gone.

And no matter how you feel about how we got to the final conclusion of the game, you can honestly say there was some familiarity to the Lions once again losing on Monday night to the Packers. The Lions had a chance to take the lead in the NFC North, where they've finished in second place in three of the past five seasons; they haven't won a division title since 1993, when they captured the old NFC Central. The last time Detroit was in first in the NFC North after Week 4 in a season? Week 15 of 2016, which ended with the Packers surpassing them in Week 17. And then there's 2014, when the Lions jumped out to a 7-2 start, only to again fall behind the Packers in the division; they faltered in the playoffs thanks, in part, to a controversial non-call.


Monday's loss was the second consecutive close defeat for the Lions, following a 34-30 defeat at home to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4, when the Chiefs' Darrel Williams ran for the winning score with 23 seconds left, preventing Detroit -- which had played well enough to win -- from notching a signature victory over one of the better teams in the NFL. And let's not forget about Week 1. The Lions had an 18-point lead over the Cardinals before Kyler Murray rallied Arizona to force a tie, which could help edge Detroit into yet another non-first-place finish in a tight division.

So, yes, I feel comfortable in declaring the Detroit Lions to be the unluckiest team in the NFL.

But the Lions are not alone. There is plenty of unluckiness going around the NFL these days. Below are four other teams that I'd count among the unluckiest in the league.

Los Angeles Chargers

Game? It seems like every season is the same for the Chargers. Start slow. Endure a few key injuries. Throw in an inexplicable loss (or two). And then rally to win like eight of the last nine games to make a playoff push. We haven't gotten to that last step yet this season, but otherwise, 2019 is pretty much following the script exactly. There were the injuries to crucial pieces Derwin James, Melvin Ingram and Mike Pouncey, with James and Pouncey out for the season. The Chargers suffered back-to-back home losses to the previously winless Denver Broncos and a one-win Steelers squad playing with a third-string quarterback named after a water fowl.

To make matters worse, ever since running back Melvin Gordon ended a holdout that once seemed potentially debilitating, a ground game that actually played well without Gordon can't seem to run the ball, with L.A. struggling to find a way to incorporate Gordon back into the lineup. In the two games Gordon has played in (Week 5 and 6), the Chargers have rushed for 67 total yards combined. It's awkward. Like when you've moved on from an ex, but they have to move in for a few months to get back on their feet. (And really, if I'm the Chargers, I'm dealing Gordon as soon as possible. Not that the blame falls on him.)

The bad news is, the Chargers are going to Tennessee to face a Titans squad that is playing horribly and just benchedMarcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill. Which means the Chargers will, of course, lose. But the good news is, they head to Chicago the following week, where they will likely kick off their late-season surge in 28-degree weather.

New York Giants

It's been a wild couple of months for the Giants. They were lampooned for selecting Duke quarterback Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. And then, all of a sudden, Jones was put into the starting lineup, and he became Danny Dimes right before our very eyes. I hadn't seen a kid go from zero to hero on a scale like that since Ronald Miller paid that cheerleader Cindy Mancini to date him for a month.

But tragedy struck. And no, I'm not talking about Cindy blowing up Ronald's spot at that New Year's Eve party -- rather, Saquon Barkleysuffered an ankle injury in Jones' Week 3 debut. Barkley still hasn't returned to the field. So we didn't get to see what a fully operational Giants team could have done against the Patriots in Week 6.

Despite that, the Giants are just a game back in the NFC East, because the Cowboys (3-3) and Eagles (3-3) are treating the divisional crown like it's some sort of secondary prize that nobody wants. Like a Golden Globe award. And now Barkley seems to be close to returning, with four divisional games still on tap this season. So the Giants could lift themselves out of this group.

New York Jets

I might be stretching it a bit here. But hear me out. The Jets had a pretty good offseason, which isn't unusual for the Jets. They thrive in the months between the Super Bowl and September. And this year, they spent cash like a college kid who was just given their first credit card. The free-agency spree netted the Jets players like running back Le'Veon Bell and linebacker C.J. Mosley, who were supposed to help bolster second-year quarterback Sam Darnold's supporting cast.

And then Darnold got mono.


Now, it's not unusual for strange twists of fate to befall the Jets. But going 0-3 behind Trevor Siemian and Luke Falk while Darnold recovered from mono might have been the lowest of low points in Jets quarterbacking history, which is pretty significant, considering this team also once started Tim Tebow and endured the Butt Fumble. On top of that, Mosley was injured in Week 1 and has yet to return, first-round pick Quinnen Williams missed a pair of games, receiver Quincy Enunwa landed on injured reserve and tight end Chris Herndon, who finished second on the team in 2018 in catches and receiving yards, still hasn't played, thanks to a suspension (for violating the league's policy on substance abuse) and hamstring injury.

Good news, though: Darnold's spleen is great, and he just knocked off the Cowboys in his first game back. Mosley could return in Week 7. The schedule is actually setting up pretty nicely for the Jets in the coming weeks, and, well, they aren't the Dolphins.

Denver Broncos

I kind of liked what the Broncos were doing in the offseason. As I mentioned in my State of the Franchise piece on Denver, as the rest of the NFL was going for younger coaches and more mobile quarterbacks, the Broncos brought in Vic Fangio and Joe Flacco. Zig when they zag. I thought the Broncos could be good in 2019, though a quick gander at the early-season schedule had me a little skeptical. So their 0-4 start didn't catch me by surprise. That said, they did drop two winnable games during that stretch, including one at home against the Bears that featured officiating decisions that will have Broncos fans giving Lions fans a nod and a "Been there, dude."

But the team lost Bradley Chubb for the season to a torn ACL, and while Flacco has played well enough for them to win, it hasn't been enough. Now they have a "Thursday Night Football" game against the Chiefs, losers of two straight. A win puts Denver at 3-4 and back in the AFC West mix. A loss leaves the Broncos wondering which direction they are going to take.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @adamrank.

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