Once considered playoff contenders, it’s time to realize the 49ers, Bears, and Jets are in trouble. Early season failures and obstacles in the season’s second half will ultimately leave these teams at home come playoff time.
As we pass the halfway point of the NFL season, there are a number of teams that have already booked their offseason destinations. They know their season ends on Sunday, January 3rd. Conversely, a number of teams have also punched their tickets to the postseason. Somewhere in the middle lie the teams with uncertain futures. While a lot can happen in the second half of the season, things aren’t looking good for the 49ers, Bears, and Jets.
Entering the 2009 season, the San Francisco 49ers had hopes of capturing the NFC West and with it, their first playoff berth since 2002. After four games, the 49ers looked as if they were headed in that direction. They were 3-1 with all three wins against division opponents. The only loss came at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings on Brett Favre’s miraculous touchdown toss to Greg Lewis. Despite the heart-breaking loss, things looked good in San Francisco. Over the course of the next four weeks, the wheels came off the wagon. An embarrassing loss to the Falcons at home was followed by a bye week and two straight losses to the AFC South. The 49ers 3-1 record quickly turned into 3-4. Due to the tight competition in the NFC, a wildcard spot is unlikely. Therefore, a division title would be required to reach the postseason. The 49ers’ schedule over the next three weeks is not favorable. A nothing to lose Titans team won’t be an easy win, nor will conference games against the desperate Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. While it’s possible the 49ers come out of that three game stretch 2-1, it’s more likely they’ll enter week 12 at 4-6 or worse yet, 3-7. Losing four out of five early in the season will ultimately cost the 49ers a playoff spot unless the Cardinals completely fall apart (which is also entirely possible).
The Chicago Bears are the most disappointing team on this list. Jay Cutler’s arrival, teamed with a rejuvenated defense, fueled playoff expectations in the Windy City. Barring a drastic turnaround and help from NFC opponents, the Bears won’t be invited to the playoff party. Chicago is currently third in a division that may not even get a wildcard berth. Yes, it’s shocking, but the wildcards are likely to go to the NFC South and the NFC East. (The East may even claim both.) Currently, the Bears are 2-2 against the NFC with their two losses coming against opponents they now trail in tiebreakers. Those losses will hurt come playoff invitation time, so they’re already behind the eight-ball. If the tiebreaker situation isn’t bleak enough, seven of their final nine games are against playoff contenders. This could prove to be a huge advantage if the Bears are able to find a groove and pick up their play as beating teams above you in the standings is the quickest way to flip the script. Although, with an inconsistent quarterback and an anemic running attack, a string of victories against superior opponents is unlikely. Combine their offensive struggles with division games against the Vikings (twice) and Packers, and things don’t look promising in Chicago.
The Jets managed to go from a surprising team competing for a playoff spot to a disappointing team watching their playoff hopes slip away. Three impressive wins to start the season had the Jets tabbed as the NFL’s hottest commodity. Unfortunately, those three wins were quickly followed by three loses, two to division rivals. While most Jets fans would have gladly taken a 4-4 record if you had asked them in August, a .500 record is not enough for a team that displayed so much potential early in the season. With the Patriots regaining their form and the AFC wildcards almost certainly going to the North and maybe the South, the Jets will be left out of the playoffs, again. Looking at their remaining schedule, it would take an impressive effort for the Jets to finish 9-7. To possibly qualify for the playoffs with a 10-6 record would require wins against conference opponents like the Colts and Bengals, and division victories over the Patriots and Bills (tie breaking purposes). In addition to a tough schedule, New York will need to overcome the growing pains of an unpredictable rookie quarterback and two devastating injures (Kris Jenkins and Leon Washington). Yes, the Jets are in trouble. The playoffs will have to wait another year.