NFL
September 30, 2021

Panic Meter for NFL's Most Disappointing Teams in 2021

With the first full month of football almost in the books, we've already seen several teams jump out to unexpected starts.

Several teams such as the Las Vegas Raiders, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, and Carolina Panthers have been much better than anyone had thought. However, Super Bowl hopefuls such as the Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, and Washington Football have severely disappointed.

Today, we will be breaking down each of the NFL's most disappointing performers in terms of where they're at on Lines'  Panic Meter. With one being not at all panicked to 10 being a full-blown meltdown. Each of these five teams must feel some level of urgency before they're out of the race for the playoffs.

Let's dive into which teams should start to panic as Week 4 nears.

Kansas City Chiefs: 4/10 

At 1-2, the Kansas City Chiefs should be moderately panicking right now. The fact they're at the bottom of the AFC West with a minus-three point differential isn't the worst thing in the world as they've played three strong conference contenders. There's still plenty of time to erase a two-game lead by teams that are questionable as to whether they can continue at this rate (Broncos and Raiders), but it's not as if the Chiefs are a perfect roster simply having bad luck.

The lack of a pass rush and athletic linebacking core is haunting this defense. A solid offensive game plan from the Browns, Ravens, and Chargers had this team on the verge of losing in three straight contests to open the season. 

While it's true the Chiefs often beat themselves with offensive mistakes, those mishaps are happening because the playmaking personnel is limited. Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been disappointing, and the team signed Josh Gordon this week in hopes of upgrading at WR2. More help is needed, and you can expect they will be active all season long. 

The Chiefs should sign veterans Jamie Collins and John Brown for more immediate help. They shouldn't act desperate but it's clear their margin for error is as small as ever in the Patrick Mahomes era.

Washington Football Team: 6/10

Washington sits in a strange purgatory in the NFC East. Clearly not performing to their potential on either side of the ball, a strong panic is not far from reality. After all, Taylor Heinicke quickly took over the starting quarterback job after 38-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick injured his hip in Week 1.

Heinicke has been mediocre and really offers little upside beyond that. This team needs a jolt of consistency to a higher degree from the position. Barring a trade for Jimmy Garoppolo or Matt Ryan, it's hard to imagine either Heinicke or Fitzpatrick helping a contender get to where they should be. 

Really though, this franchise should be panicking about the awful defensive secondary. Broken coverages have been way too common for a Ron Rivera-led defense. The front-seven has been good but not as dominant as expected. Thankfully, the division is still one of the weakest in the NFL, and they have plenty of time to wade in the middle of the mediocre ocean.

We expected Washington to be more reliable and know their identity. Their splendid but young cast of offensive playmakers has yet to emerge. As a whole, this team must do better.

Seattle Seahawks: 7/10

Much like the Chiefs are experiencing, sometimes it's the competition around a team that causes early anxiety. The Seahawks have to deal with arguably the best NFC division around them, including a Super Bowl contender in the Rams, and the 3-0 Cardinals. Seattle is objectively a mediocre team with a minus-four point differential but feel so much further from their peers as the rest have stood out.

Allowing more than 30 points in back-to-back losses has led the Seahawks to a moment of truth way earlier than anybody in Seattle had hoped. The offense has been one of the most efficient at creating points per drive but they simply don't have the playmaking on the defense to complement their explosive offense. The loss of Shaquill Griffin in the secondary has proven devastating to a unit that was already suspect for much of 2020.

In the next month, the Seahawks play the 49ers, Rams, and Saints. Failing to win at least two of those games could mean this team is done by the trade deadline if their NFC West competitors continue to soar above them. If the worst-case happens, could they dare entertain a Russell Wilson trade this season or in the offseason?

Those are the conversations that are right around the corner for Seattle.

Pittsburgh Steelers: 9/10

Being only one game back in the AFC North isn't too bad, right? It is for the Steelers who will have to overtake two of the best rosters in the NFL in the Ravens and Browns while the upstart Bengals have proven to be dangerous as well.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, creates little fear in anyone. Their foolish decision to draft Najee Harris in the first round over rebuilding their offensive line has failed the team. Now, Ben Roethlisberger is likely more suited to sit on the bench than actually start, given the team's horrible line play and his inability to move in the pocket or throw downfield.

The defense has been OK but still has taken a step back. The secondary hasn't been as effective forcing turnovers as last year. T.J. Watt has missed some time as well and the unit really can't sustain elite play without him.

The answer for Pittsburgh isn't clear. Turning to Dwayne Haskins would help the team's potential but likely harm their floor each week as Haskins is still not mentally ready for the role.

Their biggest hope is internal growth from the line and self-improvement by Big Ben.

Indianapolis Colts: 10/10

Imagine trading no less than two second-round picks for Carson Wentz and hinging your career and franchise to the injury-prone and overrated quarterback. Wentz compounds many of the issues the Colts' surrounding cast presents. The line hasn't been good but Wentz's own lack of awareness and anticipation has been even more of a glaring issue.

The defense has also taken another step backward as the team sits at 0-3. Colts general manager Chris Ballard failed to add upgrades in a weak secondary, and the pass rush has been disappointing. It's time for Ballard to hear criticism for missing so many draft picks and not spending his cap space wisely.

There's not a whole lot the Colts can do except continue to dumb the offense down and get the right side of their line blocking better. The Titans have a stranglehold on this division once again, and the Colts' future looks incredibly murky.

Photo: Getty Images