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The Schein Nine

NFL panic season: Ravens and Bills at risk of missing playoffs? Giants and Bears to initiate major changes?

PANIC. defines it as "a sudden overwhelming fear, with or without cause, that produces hysterical or irrational behavior, and that often spreads quickly through a group of persons or animals."

In the glorious, week-to-week roller coaster that is an NFL season, panic creeps in often -- especially down the home stretch, when teams are truly defined, for better or for worse. We're talkin' contenders, pretenders and dead-enders.

So, in the wake of the 14th Sunday of the 2021 season, let's spotlight those rocked on the panic meter -- and not just the teams with postseason aspirations, but also those struggling franchises that need a cleansing.


Baltimore Ravens
8-5 · 1st in AFC North

This team has been snakebit by injuries all season long. Shoot, J.K. DobbinsMarcus Peters and Gus Edwards each tore an ACL before the season even kicked off! But Sunday in Cleveland, Baltimore was hit where it hurts most, as Lamar Jackson was carted to the locker room with a sprained ankle early in the second quarter.

Yes, the Ravens still stormed back from a 24-3 deficit, falling just short of stealing the game in a 24-22 final. John Harbaugh and Eric DeCosta have established a special and unique culture, so that kind of fight -- with backup QB Tyler Huntley admirably amassing 315 total yards in relief -- shouldn't surprise anyone. And yes, the Ravens remain alone atop the division, thanks to the 49ers barely thwarting the Bengals' comeback bid. But if Jackson misses any time -- or just isn't his extraordinary self -- Baltimore could be buried by this remaining schedule:

Just a brutally challenging stretch to close out the regular season. That Week 18 bout could be Ben Roethlisberger's last game in a Steelers uniform. Think he'd be slightly motivated to go out with a win over the archrival Ravens?

Harbaugh said Monday that he "plans" to start Jackson against the Packers on Sunday. Baltimore NEEDS Lamar to be active and dynamic in the coming weeks. If not, a season that started at 5-1 could end with a thud. It's panic time in Charm City.

Cincinnati Bengals
7-6 · T-2nd in AFC North

Ugh. I love this Bengals team, with Joe Burrow's moxie leading the way. But Sunday's 26-23 OT loss to the 49ers was gut-wrenching.

Trailing 20-6 midway through the third quarter, Zac Taylor's team fought all the way back. Burrow, who just turned 25 last Friday, led Cincinnati on a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives to send the game to overtime. But on the opening drive of the extra period, Burrow took a third-down sack from his former Ohio State teammate, Nick Bosa, forcing the Bengals to settle for a field goal. The 49ers proceeded to end the game with a walk-off touchdown. Just crushing, to come all the way back ... only to suffer a second straight defeat.

These Bengals, now on the outside of the postseason field looking in, are too talented to miss the playoffs. They can't. Not after starting the season at 5-2, not after sweeping their longtime tormentors in Pittsburgh. This makes Sunday's game in Denver a must-win. After that, Cincinnati hosts Baltimore and Kansas City, before finishing the regular season in Cleveland. I don't care about improvements from last season -- Cincy has to snap a five-year postseason drought. The heat is on.

Washington Football Team
6-7 · T-2nd in NFC East

Move over, Joe Namath -- Mike McCarthy's the new guarantee guru! OK, that's a little strong, but McCarthy's Cowboys did deliver on their coach's promise and beat the Football Team. This snapped Washington's four-game winning streak, and now you have to wonder if the magic has run out.

Ron Rivera's team is on the road in three of its final four games. And despite the pluckiness displayed by Washington over the past month and a half, I just don't think they are good enough to be trusted, especially at quarterback. Not to mention, the team has been outscored by 58 points this season. Feels like its luck is up.

Buffalo Bills
7-6 · 2nd in AFC East

What a tremendous effort by Josh Allen, operating as a one-man comeback band in Tampa. Like the Ravens, the Bills faced a 24-3 first-half deficit on Sunday. And like the Ravens, the Bills stormed back, forcing overtime. But also like Baltimore, Buffalo ended up losing. Once again, Tom Brady did his thing and ultimately ripped the Bills' hearts out. Some questionable officiating down the stretch didn't help -- sure looked to me like Stefon Diggs was interfered with near the end of regulation -- and the Bills deserve plaudits for never saying die. But they've now dropped three of their past four games, painfully losing to Bill Belichick and Brady over the past fortnight.

I picked Buffalo to win the Super Bowl back in the preseason. The Bills are somehow still in the playoff picture, barely hanging on to the No. 7 seed, and they have a very manageable schedule down the stretch. Besides the trip to New England in two weeks, Buffalo has three home games against three sub-.500 teams: the PanthersFalcons and Jets. But Sean McDermott and Co. cannot overlook anyone. After all, these Bills lost to the lowly Jaguars a month ago.

This Buffalo team will be judged by what it does in the playoffs -- but of course, the Bills have to make the playoffs in the first place.

Las Vegas Raiders
6-7 · 4th in AFC West

Honestly, when it comes to the 2021 season, it feels like we're beyond PANIC TIME in Las Vegas. After Sunday's 48-9 beatdown in Kansas City -- the Raiders' most lopsided loss in the 62-year history of their rivalry with the Chiefs -- it feels like a once-promising season is flat-lining.

The Raiders hit their Week 8 bye in first place at 5-2, initially weathering Jon Gruden's shocking resignation. But then Henry Ruggs III was released following an arrest on a charge of DUI resulting in the death of another person. And then the injuries started to pile up, with star tight end Darren Waller (knee/back) missing the past two games. Consequently, Las Vegas has dropped five of six games since the bye, plummeting down to the No. 12 slot in the AFC playoff race.

The adversity has proven too great, and it appears the Raiders are on their way to missing the playoffs for the 18th time in 19 seasons. Which leads us to the bigger-picture concerns with this team. With Gruden out, Vegas will be taking a spin on the coaching carousel. But what does the future hold for GM Mike Mayock? How about QB Derek Carr, who has just one more year left on his current contract? Are the Silver and Black on the verge of another hard reset?


Carolina Panthers
5-8 · 4th in NFC South

Remember when the Panthers were 3-0? Remember the Stephon Gilmore trade? Remember when Joe Brady was viewed as an offensive genius?

Matt Rhule fired Brady two Sundays ago during Carolina's bye. Odd timing, to say the least. And the result this past Sunday -- a 29-21 loss to Atlanta -- wasn't better without him. Rhule's attempting to rotate two quarterbacks, but the truth is he doesn't even have one. Cam Newton's washed, as he has been for years, and P.J. Walker's rolling with a 2:8 TD-to-INT ratio in his two years with the Panthers. And don't get me started on the injured Sam Darnold.

Panthers owner David Tepper is a man of action. He's not going to just take a fourth straight losing season sitting down. The heat is on as the offseason approaches.

New York Giants
4-9 · 4th in NFC East

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported last month that GM Dave Gettleman is unlikely to return in 2022. No surprise to me. I first-guessed the hire back when it was made, and just prior to this season, predicted that 2021 would mark the end of an error for Big Blue. Once Gettleman officially exits the stage, the Giants need a general manager with no ties to the franchise, someone who can provide a fresh set of eyes and clean house. In no way, shape or form should second-year head coach Joe Judge's job be safe. What does he do well? I know the team has dealt with a number of injuries this season, but New York is not buttoned up at all. The G-Men just seem overmatched in every phase. What about Daniel Jones? This was a prove-it year for the former top-10 pick. And he's proven ... what exactly?

The Giants are 22-55 since 2017. This is far too proud a franchise to lose at such a staggering rate. Major changes should be coming.

Jacksonville Jaguars
2-11 · T-3rd in AFC South

Oh, boy. My colleague Tom Pelissero's reporting on Saturday underscored the sheer dysfunction in Jacksonville during Urban Meyer's first year in the NFL. And his team responded by ... completely laying an egg in a 20-0 loss at Tennessee. Meyer came into the NFL as a purported offensive guru. In Year 1, his Jaguars are averaging a measly 13.8 points per game, ranking 31st. In fact, over the past seven games, Jacksonville has managed to score a grand total of 64 points (9.1 ppg) -- that's the worst seven-game stretch in franchise history. And this franchise has had some underwhelming offenses, lemme tell ya. I just don't understand how this marriage can continue. Everyone's miserable. And the organization is at risk of spoiling its most valuable asset.

No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence threw four more interceptions on Sunday, tying him for the league lead with 14 on the season. He hasn't even hit double digits in touchdown passes, throwing only one over the past six games. Lawrence publicly calling out Meyer for benching James Robinson last week was a call for help to management. Will Shad Khan heed the call?

Chicago Bears
4-9 · 3rd in NFC North

Chicago losing to Green Bay on Sunday night? Yeah, that's not exactly a groundbreaking development. Aaron Rodgers owns them. But the loss dropped the Bears to 4-9, thus guaranteeing a losing season. And seven of those defeats have come by double digits.

Obviously, Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace's seats are on fire. The head coach-general manager combo made an aggressive move for Justin Fields in last April's draft, with many believing this could buy them more time on the job. Well, the rookie quarterback has shown enough promise -- including during Sunday night's loss at Lambeau Field -- that ownership can't risk throwing it away under lackluster leadership.

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