By Steve Silverman
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At the conclusion of training camp, the NFL season tends to look like a sprint.
Every team has 16 games to play over a 17-week span, and it seems like the key to success is a hot start. After all, fans of baseball, basketball and hockey look at 16 games and know it’s just a small fraction of what they are used to seeing.
But hot starts don’t mean a thing in the NFL if a team doesn’t have staying power. Talent, ability, teamwork, motivation, strategy and health are all telling factors, and winning games in September and early October won’t help a team win in November and December if there are problems that can no longer be hidden.
The Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks all started strong this season but have struggled in recent weeks. Here’s a look at each of those teams and what it would take to get back on track.
The Bills appeared to be on their way to the postseason for the first time in 18 years after beating the Raiders 34-14 in Week 8 and improving their record to 5-2.
Since then, the Bills have lost three straight games, including a 54-24 embarrassment at the hands of the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. The Bills are 5-5 and on the road to nowhere.
The problem lies with rookie head coach Sean McDermott, who has no faith in quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Even when the Bills were winning, McDermott wanted Taylor to manage the game and not take risks.
Taylor excels at throwing on the move and getting outside the pocket. He is less effective as a drop-back passer. Instead of giving him more plays in which he can play to his strength, McDermott decided to bench Taylor in place of untested rookie Nathan Peterman, who threw five interceptions in one half against the Chargers.
McDermott needs to give the ball back to Taylor, let him make plays on the run and show the team that the coach has faith in the quarterback. McDermott, however, may not be ready to do that in Week 12 against Kansas City.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs went into Foxborough on opening night and kicked the Patriots’ butt and served notice that they were one of the best teams in the league. If that wasn’t enough, they handed the Philadelphia Eagles their only defeat up to this point in Week 2.
Kasnsas City got off to a 5-0 start, and there was talk about the Chiefs returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1970, when quarterback Len Dawson led them past the Vikings.
Since then, the Chiefs have lost four of five games, and their most recent defeat was a galling 12-9 loss to the broken Giants.
The Chiefs are still in first place in the AFC West — and actually have a two-game lead in the disappointing division. There is time to get the season back on track, but quarterback Alex Smith must regain his early-season form and the Chiefs need running back Kareem Hunt, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce to make big plays once again.
Everything went right for the Cowboys in 2016, when they were the top seed in the NFC with a 13-3 record. While they couldn’t beat the Green Bay Packers in the divisional playoffs, the future looked bright for Dallas with Dak Prescott at quarterback and Ezekiel Elliott at running back.
The Cowboys got off to a 5-3 start, but Elliott could not avoid serving his six-game suspension at that point. Dallas has lost their last two games badly to the Falcons and Eagles and, at 5-5, are out of the playoff structure right now.
Prescott has been under fire and struggled badly the last two weeks, and his offensive line is missing left tackle Tyron Smith. As a result, the Falcons sacked Prescott eight times, and the Eagles intercepted him three times.
While it’s not all on the quarterback, Prescott must find a way to recover on Thanksgiving Day against the Chargers and in the coming weeks.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers were on a roll with a 4-1 start to the season when they went to Minnesota for a Week 6 confrontation with the Vikings. That’s when Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr picked up Aaron Rodgers and dumped the Packers quarterback on his shoulder.
The maneuver broke Rodgers’ collarbone, and it meant that backup Brett Hundley had to take over under center and fill in for the most talented QB in the league.
Hundley led the Packers to a Week 10 victory over the Bears, but he has struggled badly in his other four games. In addition to the shortcoming at quarterback, injuries at running back and problems on the offensive line have hurt Green Bay.
The defense has been decent, but this unit does not make enough big plays to help the beaten-up offense.
The 5-5 Packers have six games remaining, and four of them look like difficult challenges. A return to the playoffs appears quite improbable at this point.
The Seahawks are 6-4 and may be able to get back on track rather quickly. They got off to a 5-2 start, but they have dropped two of their last three games, as the Legion of Boom has been devastated. Cornerback Richard Sherman is out for the season, while safety Kam Chancellor is sidelined for a while with a neck injury.
The Seahawks could not slow down the Falcons’ offense Monday night, and the Russell Wilson-led comeback fell short when Blair Walsh’s game-tying field-goal attempt did not have enough juice to get over the crossbar.
Wilson is playing at an MVP level, and the receiving crew of Doug Baldwin, Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett and tight end Jimmy Graham should give the Seahawks an excellent shot to earn a playoff spot in the final six weeks of the season.
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