Zwiller: From Division champs to 1-2
Thomas Zwiller | Wednesday, September 29, 2021
At the start of the season, had you told me that the Jacksonville Jaguars would be 0-3, I would have believed you. I would not have believed you if you told me the Kansas City Chiefs went 1-2 in their first three games.
The Chiefs are not the only surprise of the season, of course. There are four division championship teams from last season who sit at 1-2: The Pittsburgh Steelers, the Chiefs, the Washington Football Team and the Seattle Seahawks now sit at 1-2.
Now, 1-2 is not a problem at all. The 2018 New England Patriots went 1-2, beating the Houston Texans and losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Detroit Lions. The 2018 Patriots went on to win their division and the Super Bowl.
However, these teams are not the 2018 Patriots; some will struggle to make the playoffs and win their division.
The Kansas City Chiefs
My level of concern for the Chiefs is the least, as I see their losses as the most surprising and the least likely to repeat.
Their first loss, of course, came against the Ravens, in which the Chiefs blew a late 11-point lead. However, the Chiefs almost had the game in hand.
The Chiefs were driving the field, with less than two minutes left in the game, and they had reached the Baltimore 32 with little problem.
And then Clyde Edward Helaire fumbled the ball, the Ravens recovered, and were able to run out the clock.
In the next game, the Chiefs lost to the Chargers 30-24. The main problem with the Chiefs was their four turnovers. While two were forced fumbles, the other two were interceptions. I simply do not see Patrick Mahomes throwing two interceptions again this season or in the same game with two fumbles.
So, I am not worried about the Chiefs; I legitimately think they can still win their division and make the playoffs. However, they likely are indeed out for the race for the first seed in the AFC.
The Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers started their season with a solid win over the Bills (23-16) before losing their next two games to the Raiders (26-17) and the Bengals (24-10).
If I am a Steelers fan, what scares me is that the Bengals and Raiders are essentially the same team. Both teams are solid on offense, but neither team is good on defense; at best, average.
The Steelers are pretty good on defense; Lineups.com ranks the Steelers the 12th best defensively. They rank No. 1 in rushing touchdowns, No. 5 in touchdowns and redzone touchdowns and sixth in first downs.
Their major problem is on offense. Lineups.com currently has them tied for 15th, which might be a little high (they rank third and seventh in pass attempts and completions).
One of their significant flaws is their lack of a run game. They rank 32nd in rushing yards, 31st in rushing attempts and 25th in rushing touchdowns and touchdowns.
Their second major problem is their redzone game. They rank 25th in redzone attempts, 26th in redzone percentage and, as a bonus, 26th in fourth-down percentage.
Unlike with the Chiefs, I do not feel confident in the Steelers. The Steelers simply do not have an offense, and I am skeptical of it improving drastically. I believed they would miss the playoffs at the start of the season, and the past few weeks have only confirmed my suspicions.
The Washington Football Team
The Football team feels like the most confusing of these teams, for simply the reason WHY they are bad. Last season, the Football Team was a Top-5 defense, and this season, Lineups.com has them ranked as the 29th overall defense.
They rank 31st in yards allowed, 29th in pass yards allowed and 25th in rush yards allowed. Washington is also are not performing well on third down; they rank 31st in 3rd down percentage.
Last season, the Football Team ranked second in passing yards allowed and 13th in rushing yards allowed. They ranked third on first down last year and sixth in third down percentage.
Why they have had such a dismal defensive performance is a column for another day, but the reason they won their division last year was their quality defense. And with the Cowboys looking like a complete team, Washington will miss the playoffs and fail to win their division.
The Seattle Seahawks
Coming into the season, I expected the Seahawks to finish third or fourth in their division, which is not slight to them. The NFC West has quickly become the most challenging division in the NFL.
What is surprising to me is how early they have fallen behind.
After a solid 28-16 win against the Colts, the Seahawks lost in overtime to the Titans and were subsequently blown out by the Minnesota Vikings.
Again, how the Seahawks lost to the Vikings and Titans is surprising. Last Season Seattle boasted a terrible passing defense, ranking 31st in passing yards, 32nd in passing attempts and 32nd in passing completions. In other words, Seattle was bad at defending the pass, and other teams knew it.
This season, the problem seems to have flipped somewhat. Seattle ranks 30th in rushing yards, 31st in rushing attempts and 18th in rushing touchdowns.
The Vikings and the Titans were incredibly good at running the ball last year; Tennessee and Minnesota ranked second and fifth in rushing yards, respectively. That ability to run the football appears to have translated over to this season for both squads. After some more games, Seattle could see their rushing defense have a return to the mean.
But the problem remains for the Seahawks; they have the worst defense in the NFC West. They now have the worst record in the NFC West. And they now have the worst odds of making the playoffs in the NFC West.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.