As the 2021 NFL season edges toward the midway point, teams who find themselves losing ground in the playoff race are running out of room for error. Even with the advent of the additional week of the season, several teams who had hoped to make a run at the playoffs have seen their prospects of postseason football quickly diminish.
Turnarounds can happen in a hurry, but there will come a point of no return for those who find themselves behind the eight ball, and for some, that may come this weekend.
Regardless of their record, you would be hard-pressed to find an NFL team ready to pack it up this early in the season. But, for five teams who had sights set on contention in 2021, their Week 8 game represents one that is an absolute must-win if they are to seriously challenge for a chance to play postseason football this season.
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5. Seattle Seahawks (+12000)
The Seahawks were hoping Geno Smith could keep them in the heart of the playoff hunt with Russell Wilson on the sidelines due to his finger injury. Instead, they find themselves very much on the outside looking in, even when Wilson returns. With a 2-5 record in an incredibly tough division, the Seahawks are on life support right now.
It is hoped Wilson may be able to return in time for Week 10 when Seattle faces the Green Bay Packers. Yet the Seahawks' chances of Wilson leading them to an improbable turnaround may be sunk should Smith fall short again when the Seahawks host the 1-5 Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
Losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Saints in Wilson's absence were not unexpected, however, the Jaguars have a defense that Smith should be able to exploit more consistently. Trevor Lawrence is displaying encouraging progress for Jacksonville, but a win for the Jaguars in Seattle would still be a stunner and one that could prompt talk about the futures of Wilson and head coach Pete Carroll.
Wilson's injury may not just hurt Seattle this year, but if things continue to go horribly, then it may be time to start thinking about a rebuild.
4. Denver Broncos (+13000)
Denver has faded badly after a promising start to the campaign. With Teddy Bridgewater under center, his limitations have quickly surfaced as the Broncos have dropped four straight to fall to 3-4, only managing to score 20 points once in that run.
The Broncos have the opportunity to stop their slide against the Washington Football Team. Washington is 2-5 and saw its playoff hopes quickly diminish, with the defensive prowess Ron Rivera's team displayed last season conspicuous by its absence in 2021.
A home game against a defense ranked 25th in the league in yards per play allowed may be just the tonic for Bridgewater and the Broncos. If they fail to capitalize on the chance to get back on track, there is unlikely to be a realistic route to the postseason for a team in a division also boasting the Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers.
A loss here, and it will be time to ask serious questions about Vic Fangio's status as head coach.
3. Carolina Panthers (+18000)
Darnold was benched as the Panthers slumped to a dismal 25-3 loss to the Giants, which has been followed by reports of Carolina being in the mix for Deshaun Watson. The Darnold trade that appeared astute now looks like a complete miscue and it seems the Panthers recognize that.
His long-term future with Carolina is up in the air at best, but in the immediate term the Panthers do not have a viable alternative and he can help keep their season alive as they face the suddenly surging Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Carolina is certainly not dead at 3-4 in an NFC where the Wild Card race, at this early stage, is extremely crowded.
However, if Darnold cannot bounce back from the lowest point of his season so far and a defense that excels at creating negative plays is unable to slow down Matt Ryan and the Falcons, then it may soon be time to start thinking about 2022.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (+1300)
Clear doubts over whether the Chiefs can make the postseason have emerged as their defense continues to struggle and their offense is increasingly hamstrung by drops and turnovers. A primetime game at home against the 2-5 New York Giants should serve as at least a temporary cure for the Chiefs' problems and keep them very much in the mix at 4-4.
However, should they suffer a stunning defeat and drop to 3-5, with games against the Green Bay Packers, Las Vegas Raiders, and Dallas Cowboys on the horizon, it could serve as a death sentence to the Chiefs' hopes of reaching the playoffs and having a chance to regain the Lombardi Trophy.
Week 8 games have rarely taken on such significance for Kansas City in recent years, however, Monday night's game against the G-Men stands as their most important game of the season to date.
1. San Francisco 49ers (+6500)
Thinking about 2022 is still not on the mind of Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers head coach said Monday that Jimmy Garoppolo would remain the starting quarterback against the Chicago Bears despite an insipid performance in their "Sunday Night Football" loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Shanahan has insisted it was too early in the season to play rookies like third overall pick Trey Lance for the sake of experience when the Niners still have a chance to make the postseason.
Only one game out of the last Wild Card spot at 2-4, Shanahan's desire not to give up on the season is more understandable than his bewildering commitment to Garoppolo. If San Francisco is serious about contending for the playoffs, then Garoppolo needs to be a lot better this week against the Bears. Another bad performance and the calls for Lance to take over when he is healthy will only grow louder.
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