Must-Win Watch: Saints, Lions feeling the heat in Week 8
This weekend marks the halfway point of the NFL seasons for 11 teams — the rest will play their eighth games in Week 9. So, even though the calendar has yet to flip over to November, the window for talking about playoff possibility is now open.
And that means that some teams have their backs against the wall heading into Week 8.
Our new feature, the “Must-Win Watch,” picks out teams that are most in need of a victory this weekend, starting with the least desperate and working our way up.
Which teams have booked their fans a ticket to Panic Town?
• San Diego Chargers (3-3, at Cleveland): Had the Chargers not totally collapsed last week against Denver, this game barely would register a blip on the radar. Instead, with the improving Browns looking for their second win, San Diego has its work cut out to avoid a three-game skid.
Even a San Diego loss coupled with a Denver win this week would not bury the Chargers in the AFC West. But at 3-4 and with a road game in Denver still on the schedule, the Chargers would have their work cut out for them to scrap back into the division lead. Desperation level (out of 10): 2
• Arizona Cardinals (4-3, vs. San Francisco): Arizona started the year 4-0 but has lost three straight since, with both of its QBs (John Skelton, Kevin Kolb) suffering injuriesalong the way. If the Cardinals are going to draw a line in the sand, it needs to come this week.
Up next for Arizona are trips to Green Bay and Atlanta, sandwiching a bye. Any chance the Cardinals have to hang around in the NFC West hinges on their Monday night home game. Desperation level: 4
• Dallas Cowboys (3-3, vs. New York Giants): The Cowboys saved their season with a Week 7 win at Carolina. Now they have a shot to land a blow in the NFC East race. A loss would drop the Cowboys 2.5 games back in the division — though their Week 1 win over New York takes a tiny bit of the tiebreaker pressure off here. We saw in the NFC East last year that nothing is over until it’s over, but the Cowboys would prefer to close the gap this Sunday.
You can pair the Eagles in here, too — they’re 3-3 and hosting 6-0 Atlanta this week. The difference in that game vs. Dallas’ is that a loss within the division would hurt a lot more. Desperation level: 4.5
• New York Jets (3-4, vs. Miami): The bad news for the Jets is that they let a golden opportunity slip last Sunday in New England. The good news is that the Patriots look far from dominant right now … and the teams meet again on a Thursday night in Week 12, in New York.
Miami, though, currently sits between the Jets and Patriots in the AFC East, and New York does not want to go into its bye on a two-game losing streak, especially with a trip to Seattle awaiting after that off-week. Desperation level: 5
• Washington Redskins (3-4, at Pittsburgh): All that stuff about the Cowboys not wanting to fall further back in the NFC East? Yeah, the Redskins are already there. In a heartbeat, thanks to a late defensive implosion, Washington went from possibly being tied for first to sitting in last, two games back. That result makes Sunday in Pittsburgh critical — though, not easy, since a 3-3 Steelers team is also trying to claw its way back into the playoff picture. A loss would put the Redskins on the verge of planning for 2013. Desperation level: 7
• New Orleans Saints (2-4, at Denver): The Saints left themselves in a serious bind by starting the season 0-4. Back-to-back wins over San Diego and Tampa Bay have provided the Saints some life, though, and a win in Denver on Sunday night would really push New Orleans back into the thick of things.
Winning 12 in a row to close out the season probably is too much to ask of the Saints, but they’ll need a long streak if they’re going to get to double-digit wins. A loss in Denver would ratchet up the pressure to deliver that run immediately. Desperation level: 9
• Detroit Lions (2-4, vs. Seattle): What’s wrong with the Lions? That’s one of the front-and-center questions in the NFL after Detroit’s latest letdown, an ugly 13-7 loss in Chicago on Monday night. More specifically, everyone wants to know why the Lions’ offense and QB Matthew Stafford appear to be so out of sorts.
Whatever the Lions’ answers are, they’re running out of time to put them into practice. A loss Sunday to Seattle would give the Lions five on the season — or, just one fewer than they had in 2011 when they made the playoffs as a wild-card team. Detroit still plays Green Bay twice, travels to Minnesota, hosts Houston and closes with home games against Atlanta and Chicago. In other words, going 8-1 down the stretch after this one to get to 10-6 feels unlikely.
Of course, closing 7-2 given that schedule won’t be a walk in the park. But getting a W on Sunday would help. Desperation level: 10