For a handful of wandering NFL teams, the concept of reaching the playoffs is a comprehensive pipe dream.
Still, these beaten-up clubs matter down the stretch. Take them lightly and they’ll be certain to bite.
I’ve suffered through a lot of bad football as a lifelong Browns fan, but I look back fondly on the team’s bizarre journey in 2009.
An utterly lost cause at 1-11, Cleveland was the laughing stock of the AFC until embattled coach Eric Mangini flipped the switch over the final month of the campaign.
The turnaround began with a Thursday night stunner over the Steelers that saw Mangini unleash Josh Cribbs as a Wildcat wonder. The Browns also dropped Big Ben to the icy turf a whopping eight times in a 13-6 upset that sunk Pittsburgh to 6-7. When that Steelers squad ultimately missed the playoffs, their agitated fans pointed to that prime-time debacle as the seed of destruction.
The Browns, meanwhile, closed the season with four straight wins — dominating teams on the ground — to save Mangini’s job. Everything went to hell the following year, but you get the point: These junky teams can still spin chaos.
With that in mind, here are five losing clubs with a chance to play the spoiler role in Week 10:
THE 3-5 LIONS VISITING THE 5-3 BEARS: Watching Detroit’s loss to Seattle two weeks ago, I saw a Lions team that simply wasn’t the equal of the Seahawks. That was doubly the case in last Sunday’s 24-9 stumble in Minnesota. The Lions turned a pair of Vikings turnovers into a field goal and a hideous play that saw a scrambling Matthew Stafford wildly pitch the ball toward Kerryon Johnson, spawning a scoop-and-score for Minnesota DE Danielle Hunter. Two takeaways essentially resulting in negative-four points for Detroit. Did I mention the Lions also gave up an outrageous 10 sacks?
Detroit has issues, but this is also the squad that dominated the Patriots on "Sunday Night Football" and put up 30-plus points in wins over the Packers and Dolphins.
We mentioned the Bears in this space a week ago as a team that couldn’t afford to do what those Vikings did earlier this season: trip up against a deathly unwatchable Bills team. Chicago took care of business in grand fashion last Sunday and now has the chance to create separation in the North with two tilts against the Lions over the next three weeks sandwiched around a showdown with Minnesota.
You can look suspiciously at a five-win team that has piled up its three most recent victories over the Buccaneers, Jets and Bills, but Chicago systematically hammered those struggling clubs. I trust coach Matt Nagy to prevent a letdown, but the Lions always have a chance with Stafford at the controls.
Spoiler potential 1-10: 4.8
THE 2-6 CARDINALS VISITING THE 8-1 CHIEFS: We’ve seen it before: The Andy Reid-led Chiefs outfit that surges out of the gate, only to stumble down the stretch and ultimately fold the tent come January. Not this year’s team.
The Chiefs are light on defense, but so are plenty of playoff-bound teams in 2018. Kansas City’s offense covers all sins with a flock of game-changing assets who put opponents on their heels from wire to wire. It was interesting to watch the Browns attempt the old "Tecmo Bowl" trick of milking away the entire quarter with a run-heavy drive to keep Patrick Mahomes and friends off the field. That worked for Cleveland on a seven-plus-minute touchdown march in the first half, but the Chiefs came right back and scored with ease. You have to find a way to keep up.
Good luck to a wanting Cardinals roster that’s scored 20-plus points once all season while being held to 14 or fewer in four separate games. This is a disastrous offense with very little happening on the ground or through the air. The world is a magical place offering all sorts of unpredictable twists and turns, but asking for a Chiefs implosion here is a bit rich.
Spoiler potential 1-10: 1.1
THE 1-7 RAIDERS HOSTING THE 6-2 CHARGERS: The Chargers are the real spoiler here, having morphed into one of the AFC’s most balanced teams and a club that appears capable of hanging with the Chiefs and Patriots. Their two losses — against Kansas City and the Rams — came during the first three weeks of the season. Ancient history. Now the Bolts get the Raiders, Broncos and Cardinals before battling Pittsburgh in Week 13. It’s entirely possible Los Angeles could roll into that tussle with the Steelers as a 9-2 juggernaut in play for a bye in the AFC.
The Raiders, meanwhile, just dumped another core player in pass rusher Bruce Irvin. Granted, the quarterback chaser almost begged for it to happen by floating through recent appearances for Oakland.
In another world, the Raiders would roll into this tilt with Irvin and Khalil Mack, but Jon Gruden is piling up draft picks and peering ahead at Las Vegas. Today’s Silver and Black are a tangled wreck coming off one of the worst losses of the year after turning from-the-wilderness signal-caller Nick Mullens into a golden god in last Thursday’s 34-3 loss to the Niners.
While the Chargers grow more powerful every week, these Raiders are an affront to the senses.
Spoiler potential 1-10: 2.3
THE 2-6-1 BROWNS HOSTING THE 4-4 FALCONS: Cleveland finds itself in the thick of a rugged stretch of games. After a loss to Pittsburgh triggered the exodus of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the Gregg Williams-led Browns ran into the buzz saw that is the 2018 Chiefs. It gets no easier for this defense come Sunday, as another top-five offense rolls into town in the form of the Falcons.
With Matt Ryan playing at an MVP level, it’s fair to expect fireworks from Julio Jones against a banged-up Browns unit that just sent linebacker Christian Kirksey to injured reserve along with cover man E.J. Gaines. Kansas City offers unique challenges to any opponent, but it was concerning to see the Chiefs blister the Browns with passes to a wide-open Kareem Hunt in space. One can imagine Atlanta’s Tevin Coleman being used in similar fashion.
The presence of exciting rookies Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb gives the Browns hope on offense against a Falcons defense that has proven vulnerable. Atlanta just kept a lid on the Redskins, though, and now adds Irvin to a mix of pass rushers set to feast on Cleveland’s hideous left tackle combination of Desmond Harrison and Greg Robinson.
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Spoiler potential 1-10: 4.2
THE 3-5 BUCCANEERS HOSTING THE 5-3 REDSKINS: Tampa is catching Washington at the ideal time. The Redskins have worked over teams by playing good defense and pounding the ball on the ground. That task grows tougher after both starting guards — Shawn Lauvao and Brandon Scherff — were lost for the year. That’s just the start of it, as left tackle Trent Williams was sidelined following thumb surgery while right tackle Morgan Moses is playing through an MCL sprain. Have we mentioned that deep-threat Paul Richardson is also done for the season?
The Bucs own one of the league’s ugliest defenses, but the offense can put up points and yardage at a fever pitch. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a week-to-week proposition, but he’s caught fire in this attack on multiple occasions. With so many Redskins on the shelf, Tampa has a shot.
Spoiler potential 1-10: 5.8
Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @marcsesslernfl. Listen to Marc on the "Around The NFL Podcast" three times a week.
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