Five Sundays into the 2022 NFL season, it's getting late early for a number of teams. In fact, it's over for the Matt Rhule-led Panthers.
Carolina fired the third-year head coach on Monday, the morning after his Panthers fell to 1-4 with a 22-point home loss to the 49ers. Rhule went just 11-27 (.289) in his tenure with Carolina, with a remarkable 1-27 record in games where the Panthers allowed 17-plus points.
Rhule's firing underscores that the NFL's a bottom-line business. The Panthers were roundly praised for snagging the former Baylor and Temple coach on a seven-year, $62 million contract three Januarys ago, but Rhule just couldn't settle the quarterback position in Carolina, the losses piled up at an alarming rate (SEE: nine of the past 10 games, dating back to last November), and a ballyhooed program builder received his walking papers five games into Year 3. Such is life in a parity-driven league dominated by win-now ideology.
Carolina, of course, isn't the only team that's off to a slow start in 2022. So, who's under the most pressure to shape up before the season completely goes off the rails?
From "Let Russ cook!" to "Is Russ cooked?" This is a wild development, but the sentiment is valid. One of the most hyped offseason acquisitions in recent memory appears disastrous in the early goings, as Russell Wilson looks nothing like the superstar who made nine Pro Bowls in his 10 seasons with the Seahawks. Currently owning career-low figures in completion percentage (59.4) and passer rating (82.8) while quarterbacking the NFL's second-worst scoring offense (15 ppg), Wilson already has the boo birds out in the Mile High City.
Now, Russ undergoing a procedure on his throwing shoulder Friday adds perspective to the 33-year-old looking dreadful in Denver's mind-numbing home defeat to Indianapolis on Thursday Night Football. But if Russ was compromised, it makes Nathaniel Hackett's ill-fated decision to throw late -- resulting in a soul-crushing end zone pick that gave the Colts new life -- even worse. Speaking of the Broncos' first-year head coach, he looks completely overwhelmed by game management and play calling. Honestly, it feels like this becomes more apparent with each passing week. Broncos fans are going to erupt if they see another shotgun formation on third- or fourth-and-short.
I loved the Hackett hire, but the young coach is trending toward one-and-done. Wilson, on the other hand, is the Broncos' long-term quarterback, for better or worse, thanks to the five-year, $245 million extension Denver handed the veteran just before his first season with the franchise kicked off. Look at the dead cap hits on Russ' deal through 2026!
The Broncos are currently mired in their longest playoff drought since the 1970s. This was supposed to be a season in which Denver not only broke the six-year dry spell, but seriously competed for the Lombardi Trophy. Now the team's just trying to keep its head above water. Can Hackett, Russ and Co. turn this season around before it fully gets away?
This isn't a Super Bowl hangover. It's just horrible offense. After scoring 19 points combined over the past two weeks, the Rams rank 29th in points and 26th in total offense. Consequently, Los Angeles is off to the worst start of the Sean McVay era at 2-3.
It's no secret what L.A.'s biggest problem is: an injury-riddled -- and outrageously porous -- offensive line. The Rams have the NFL's worst rushing attack, averaging just 62.4 ground yards per game. As a result, opponents are just pinning their ears back and teeing off on Matthew Stafford. The 34-year-old signal-caller has taken an NFL-high 21 sacks. In related news, Stafford has thrown an NFL-high seven picks. He greatly misses Odell Beckham Jr. and Van Jefferson. Is Allen Robinson even on this team?
Per NFL Research, the Rams have scored the fifth-fewest points ever by a reigning Super Bowl champion in the first five games of its title defense:
- 1981 Raiders: 63 points
- 1987 Giants: 69 points
- 1999 Broncos: 70 points
- 1991 Giants: 75 points
- 2022 Rams: 80 points
What do those first four teams have in common? They all missed the playoffs.
Washington might be the most nondescript team in the entire league. No juice. No feel. And nearly no wins, with that comeback Week 1 victory over Jacksonville deep in the rearview.
Carson Wentz is who we thought he was: a quarterback you can't win with. Sure, he'll score some fantasy points, but that game-losing interception in the final seconds of Sunday's defeat to Tennessee is just what Wentz does. Who remembers the horrible pick from Indianapolis' Week 18 debacle at Jacksonville this past January? I can't believe Washington gave up legitimate draft capital for this man's services. At this point, I'd rather see Taylor Heinicke chuck it around.
On the other side of the ball, the Commanders' defense just provided its best effort of the season. Not that that's saying much, as Washington still ranks 26th in scoring D (allowing 25.6 ppg) and dead last in takeaways (with one). Ron Rivera's seat has to be warming up.
The game management at the end of the Cardinals' loss to the Eagles was flat out deplorable. Arizona was giving the NFL's only remaining undefeated team a run for its money, but then Kyler Murray voluntarily slid short of a first down and mistakenly spiked the ball on third-and-1, forcing the Cardinals to attempt a game-tying field goal with a replacement kicker. Matt Ammendola predictably missed the 43-yarder, dropping Arizona back below .500. It was a mindboggling, goofy -- and yet depressingly predictable -- outcome for this football team.
The Cardinals have talent. They don't get it done in crunch time. That's on the highly paid, underachieving quarterback. And the recently extended, underachieving head coach. Arizona is 2-3 and on a road to nowhere.
Color me absolutely stunned that the Packers lost to the Giants in London. Not to take away from the brilliant job Brian Daboll is doing in his debut season with New York -- that man is a bona fide Coach of the Year candidate, with the G-Men shockingly at 4-1 -- but seeing the Packers blow a 17-3 lead was striking. One week after needing overtime to sneak by a Patriots team playing its third-string quarterback, Green Bay was supposed to make a statement across the pond. Instead, the Pack essentially packed it in at halftime, with the offense getting completely shut out after the break.
The Packers' vaunted defense couldn't hold a lead against a Giants offense operating with a gimpy Daniel Jones and without its top four receivers. Meanwhile, Green Bay's offense continues to struggle to put points on the board, with Aaron Rodgers clearly missing Davante Adams in the passing game. At this point, the Packers should lean more on their ground attack, which is something I thought I'd never say with No. 12 at quarterback.
It's been a bad brew in Titletown over the first five weeks. I want to still believe in these Packers, but there's very little tangible evidence right now that they are true Super Bowl contenders.
Sunday was a complete disaster. Heck, don't take my word for it -- just ask Lions head coach Dan Campbell.
"To me, it's about as bad as it gets," Campbell said postgame, via the team website. "This is the worst. This is where we are at. Sometimes it's going to get bad before it gets better. I believe we hit rock bottom, so now the only place to go is back up."
I hope Campbell's right, but I don't know. The Lions scored the most points in the NFL over the first four weeks of this season ... and inexplicably went 1-3. Then in Week 5, they were shut out 29-0. You can't make this stuff up.
Jared Goff again wilted against Bill Belichick's defense, with a bad red-zone pick in the first quarter and a fumble returned for a touchdown in the second quarter. Meanwhile, the Lions' defense -- which has been historically bad this season -- barely touched rookie QB Bailey Zappe in his first career start and gave up a whopping 161 yards rushing to Rhamondre Stevenson.
Everyone wanted to believe that these Lions would be different. Now they head into the bye week at 1-4 with a minus-30 point differential. Sure looks like the same old Lions.
Geno Smith has been stunningly sensational. And Seattle was en route to shutting up a lot of people, starting with me.
But then Pete Carroll's defense did what Pete Carroll's defense does of late: give up points in bunches.
Getting torched by the likes of Taysom Hill and Andy Dalton in a 39-32 loss at New Orleans was a reality check. The Seahawks' defense has allowed 34.5 points per game since Week 2 -- the worst mark in the NFL. And RB Rashaad Penny's broken fibula added injury to insult.
Yikes. Miami went from a toast-of-the-league 3-0 to a reeling 3-2 seemingly overnight.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is in concussion protocol. Same with backup Teddy Bridgewater. Did I mention LT Terron Armstead left Sunday's game with a nagging toe injury? Oh, and WR Tyreek Hill has a banged-up foot?
In fairness to Miami, the final score of 40-17 doesn't tell the entire story of Sunday's defeat to the Jets -- this was a two-point game in the fourth quarter. But it was still a division loss to a team that's suddenly looking like more of the AFC East up-and-comer.
Cincinnati is the last team listed here for a reason. I'm the least worried about this group.
Yes, like their Super Bowl LVI combatants in Los Angeles, the Bengals are off to a disappointing 2-3 start. But while the Rams have dropped three separate games by double digits, the Bengals' three losses have come by a combined eight points. Cincy has lost three times on the literal last play of the game; while gutting, that's certainly not as concerning as getting blown off the field. Consequently, Cincy's problems feel more fixable than L.A.'s, so Zac Taylor can put a much more positive spin on his sub-.500 record than Sean McVay.
That said, the reigning AFC champions still have concerns, specifically on the offensive side of the ball. Joe Mixon showed more juice in Sunday night's 19-17 loss at Baltimore, but Cincy's ground game still ranks 25th. Meanwhile, Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and the passing attack have underwhelmed -- and that's particularly distressing against a Ravens team that entered Sunday's game ranked dead last in pass defense.