In a tale of two seasons in 2015, the Kansas City Chiefs started 1-5 and finished 11-1, ending their season with a 27-20 Divisional Round to loss to the New England Patriots at Foxborough. Those Chiefs represent only the second team to reach the playoffs after starting out 1-5 or worse (the 1970 Bengals were the other). That should offer some consolation to fans of teams that have sputtered out of the gate this year.
Meanwhile, teams starting out 2-3 have reached the postseason 21 percent of the time while the number drops to 6 percent for those opening at 1-4. The Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both 1-3, will be fighting over those two paths on Monday night. Accordingly, we begin with the defending NFC Champions in a review of losing teams that are far from out of it.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY SportsMatt Kartozian
Carolina Panthers (1-3)
To rosy their outlook, the Panthers must power through the fog of the Super Bowl hangover and beat the Buccaneers with Derek Anderson at the helm while Cam Newton recovers from a concussion. Anderson is one of the better, more experienced backup QBs in the league. To date the Panthers have fallen to teams with a combined 13-2 record (Vikings, Broncos, Falcons), so it’s not like they’re getting rolled by powder puffs.
The Panthers’ secondary is somewhere between a liability and a disaster but the front seven is still stout and the offense has one more big weapon than it did last year in wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. If Carolina can topple the Bucs, Newton can return for Sunday’s road trip to New Orleans and to try to salvage .500 before licking their wounds during their Week 7 bye.
Getty ImagesBob Donnan
Cincinnati Bengals (2-3)
It’s not going to get easier for the Bengals in the immediate future with a date in New England upcoming, but despite what you witnessed in Dallas on Sunday, the Bengals still have a strong team on both sides of the ball and now have linebacker Vontaze Burfict back near full speed.
The offense has moved the ball well but is struggling to finish drives, too often settling for field goals instead of touchdowns. After losing both No. 2 and No. 3 wideouts Marvin Jones Jr. and Mohamed Sanu in the offseason, they desperately need 6-foot-6 tight end Tyler Eifert who’s recovering from back and ankle injuries and has a “chance” to make his debut in Week 6. Last season Eifert saw 16 targets in the red zone (second only to A.J. Green) and turned them into 12 catches for 11 touchdowns. The Bengals need Eifert back yesterday.
New York Giants (2-3)
Giants fans are disturbed by New York’s three consecutive losses, but consider the competition: at Minnesota and at Green Bay on a short week (after blowing a shot at home against their desperate division rival Redskins). Realistically that’s a pair of games you hope to split.
Although the Giants' $200 million free agent splurge on defense hasn’t improved its pass rush — still lifeless with a league-worst four sacks — overall the defense is allowing a middle-of-the-pack 21.6 points per game and has effectively stamped out opposing rushers at just 3.5 yards per carry. It’s the offense that’s been struggling most, in part due to disappointing play at both offensive tackle positions. Eli Manning has been feeling the pressure and the whole offense is out of rhythm. But enough talent is there on both sides and the schedule will lighten up a bit with home games against the Ravens and Eagles and "road game" against the Rams in London.
Associated PressMike Roemer
Indianapolis Colts (2-3)
The Colts will have to consistently score 28-plus points to make up for their lackluster defense, but that’s mostly been the case since the start of the Andrew Luck era. The offense experimented with an increased use of the no-huddle attack against the Bears on Sunday and moved the ball much more efficiently while hurrying up. The Jaguars brutalized their offensive line the week before and Luck took another five sacks on Sunday, so that remains a concern.
Meanwhile, Houston's offense sputtered badly against the Vikings in Week 5 and the Colts will get a crack at those AFC South-leading Texans in a matchup in Houston on Sunday night. The AFC South is ever an eminently winnable division and with both defensive end Kendall Langford (knee) and Vontae Davis (ankle) having shaken off some of the post-injury rust, they team is in a better position to seize the opportunity.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY SportsBrian Spurlock
Arizona Cardinals (2-3)
The Cardinals can exhale after plowing through the 49ers on Thursday night as Carson Palmer now has ample time to recover from a concussion and get ready for a Monday Night Football tilt against the New York Jets. The Cardinals and two backup guards will have to contend with a tough Jets D-Line, but there hasn’t been a more burnable secondary in the NFL this year — the Jets have allowed a league-worst 118.6 passer rating and 18 completions of 20-plus yards.
Last week the Cards offense fed the rock to David Johnson, who notched his first 100-yard rushing game of the season (157) and Arizona would probably do well to keep giving it to him and relying less on the long ball. The Cardinals still have some questions on defense, but fixing the offense will go a long way toward doing that.