It was an ugly Week 7. The Cardinals lost Carson Palmer, the Browns lost their seventh straight game (and Joe Thomas) and the Broncos and Colts lost their 20-plus-year shutout streaks. But if your team is under .500, don't fret just yet.
NFL Nation reporters offer reasons for hope for every team following Week 7.
The most encouraging thing for the Cowboys going forward would be to know they would have Ezekiel Elliott for the rest of the season, but they won’t know that for sure for a week if not longer. But the play of the offensive line is the biggest reason for the Cowboys to have hope whether Elliott is carrying the ball or Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden or Rod Smith. After Elliott ran for 85 yards on 13 carries in the fourth quarter against Green Bay, the Cowboys ran 43 times for 265 yards and three touchdowns against San Francisco. If the line can continue to be as dominant as they have been in their last five quarters, the Cowboys can still be a factor in the NFC.
Just think, only two teams have a worse record than the Giants (1-6) right now. Only the two winless teams — San Francisco and Cleveland — are worse. The Giants are in the running for Saquon Barkley or a top QB. Either would fit well for the future of the franchise.
The Bears have hope because their defense is one of the best in the NFC. Sunday's 17-3 win against Carolina was the Bears' best defensive performance of the John Fox era with five sacks, three takeaways and two defensive touchdowns -- both by rookie safety Eddie Jackson. The Bears proved they can still win even when the offense struggles. As long as Chicago's defense holds up, the Bears could make the second half of the season interesting in the NFC North.
The NFC North is a muddled division and that's a good thing for the Lions. Detroit has an in-pocket win against Minnesota on the road and a reasonable schedule after Week 9 at Green Bay. This gives Detroit a path to the playoffs -- and possibly its first division title since 1993. Of course, to do this, the Lions have to figure out their own issues, particularly on offense.
Well, maybe Aaron Rodgers will be back. That may be the best thing you can say about the Packers after their first game without the two-time NFL MVP quarterback. But if Brett Hundley can’t manage to win a couple of games – and Sunday’s loss to the Saints looked like a prime spot to get one -- then the Packers may be so far out of it that by the time Rodgers’ broken collarbone heals, it won’t be worth putting him back on the field. As Adam Schefter reported on Sunday morning, there’s a chance Rodgers could return after eight weeks. But will it be too late to save their season?
The Vikings are one step closer to finishing the second quarter of the season at 4-0, thanks in large part to their schedule. Minnesota plays the winless Browns in London next Sunday and has a bye in Week 9. Being 6-2 would be a huge bonus for the Vikings to control their own destiny in the second half. It also doesn't hurt that they have the only player to log a sack in seven straight games this season (Everson Griffen) and the No. 3 run defense in the NFL, a unit that has played a major part in securing five wins.
Despite the Falcons dropping their third straight vs. the Patriots on Sunday night, they still have a playoff chance just because they play in the NFC South. No team in the division looks dominant thus far this season, with the Saints currently leading the way at 4-2. Losses by both the Panthers (4-3) and Buccaneers (2-4) during the early games Sunday was just another testament to how wide open the NFC South race is, and Tampa Bay was supposed to be the team ready to challenge the Falcons for the crown. We'll see how things look when the Falcons take on the Panthers in their first division game -- a road matchup in Week 9.
As badly as the Panthers have played the past two games they're still 4-3 and in the thick of the race for the NFC South title. As many mistakes as quarterback Cam Newton has made the past two weeks the Panthers still are a play or two from having a chance to win both games. Newton traditionally has been better the second half of the season, and he's as apt to go on a hot streak as he is his current bad streak.
Sean Payton wasn’t interested in making any sweeping statements about his team after the Saints’ first four-game win streak since 2013. But he was clearly impressed by the resilience they showed after falling behind 14-7 on a cold, wet, sloppy afternoon in Lambeau Field on Sunday – and sees signs that this team could be different from the past three 7-9 seasons. “We very easily could’ve lost a game like this with some of the mistakes,” Payton said. “But there’s a little bit of resiliency that I’m proud of – especially in the second half of this game.”
The Bucs may be 2-4, but the play of rookie O.J. Howard today really added a new dimension in Dirk Koetter's play-calling and the chemistry with Jameis Winston is starting to show. Howard became just the seventh rookie tight end in the last 10 years to record a multi-touchdown game.
In what's turning out to be a second-straight mediocre season for the Cardinals, there's a beacon of hope glimmering in the distance. Outside linebacker Chandler Jones got his eighth sack on Sunday against the Rams. He's by far Arizona's first half defensive MVP, especially on a defense that's allowed more than 30 points in four of its seven games this season. Jones sits among the league-leaders in sacks, showing the Cardinals that he was worth every penny of the $82.5 million deal they gave him.
It's been a long time since Rams fans could feel this hopeful. They're coming off a dominant performance against the division-rival Cardinals and are 5-2 for the first time since 2003, with all three phases clicking. Todd Gurley is back to his dominant ways, on the ground and through the air, and Jared Goff looks significantly improved as a second-year quarterback. Their defense, meanwhile, has allowed only 39 points over the last 14 quarters, including zero on Sunday. They went 4-12 in 2016, their first year in L.A., but now they suddenly look like a legitimate playoff contender under Sean McVay.
Hope is a relative term for the 49ers right now, especially after a string of close losses turned into a blowout defeat Sunday. But if there's a silver lining in their 0-7 start, it's this: they remain in contention for the top pick in the 2018 NFL draft and are poised to have more than $90 million in cap space in the offseason. This team has been close to wins on multiple occasions but still lacks difference makers. Those have to come in the offseason.
The Seahawks have to feel excellent about the way their defense is playing. That group has rebounded from a rough performance in Week 3 and has only allowed 33 points over the last three games. They're also starting to take the ball away with more frequency and they're getting contributions from young players like Frank Clark, Jarran Reed and Shaquill Griffin. It's been enough to carry Seattle through its slow starts on offense.
Who thought the Bills -- or the Dolphins -- would be 4-2 and tied for the AFC East lead with the Patriots heading into New England’s Sunday night matchup? The Patriots were expected to runaway with the division this season, but some of their stumbles combined with a stronger-than-expected start for the Bills should give Buffalo's fans some hope that their 17-year playoff drought could end. Even if the Bills can't emerge with their first division title since 1995, they have a growing shot at a wild-card berth as the season approaches the halfway point.
At 4-2, the Dolphins are right in the thick of the AFC East and playoff race. Miami overcame a ton of adversity in the first two months of the season, including hurricane Irma, injuries to quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill and Jay Cutler and former offensive line coach Chris Foerster resigning under controversial circumstances. There is plenty of room for this team to improve and get better in November and December.
With the Patriots turning in their best defensive performance of the season against the Falcons, there is now hope that the team can play the type of complementary game necessary to be a championship team. Up to this point, there had been big questions about the D and whether it could hold up its end of the bargain. No longer.
At 3-4, the Jets are a playoff long shot, but they weren't expected to be in contention. Their definition of "hope" is different than other teams; they can derive hope in seeing the development of young players, namely rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye and second-year linebacker Darron Lee. That's how the season should be judged -- the progress of their young talent base.
The only way the Ravens can stop their season from unraveling is if their defense can return to their turnover-forcing ways. Baltimore's offense isn't suddenly going to get better. But the defense has proven it can change games. In three wins, the Ravens have forced 11 turnovers. In four losses, Baltimore has taken the ball away four times.
The Bengals are now several games behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North but the rest of the division hasn't exactly lit things up. They aren't out of it yet. Nothing went their way against the Steelers, but they've had several encouraging performances from their young defensive players this season. The Bengals will need to regroup before facing the struggling Colts.
It's not easy finding hope for a winless team, but the team's defense did provide some on Sunday. The Browns kept Tennessee out of the end zone and held Marcus Mariota and the Titans to 269 yards total offense. If wins come this season, it will be with defense like that and the offense somehow finding some rhythm.
On shaky ground two weeks ago, the Steelers have used resounding wins over Kansas City and Cincinnati to strengthen their case among AFC contenders. They have a two-and-a-half-game lead in the AFC North, Le'Veon Bell has become a force once again, and the defense is sacking quarterbacks consistently. They might be the conference's most complete team right now.
At 3-3, the Texans are still very much competing for the AFC South, thanks to rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson. Houston has been searching for a franchise quarterback, so regardless of what happens this season — and there's plenty to play for — more importantly, the Texans have hope for the future with Watson under center.
The Colts don't have their starting quarterback Andrew Luck. Chuck Pagano likely has a maximum of just nine games remaining as coach of the team. Their offensive line can't block. Their defense can't stop anybody. Receiver T.Y. Hilton is pointing fingers at others. But if there's a positive through this growing list of problems, the more the Colts lose, the better position they'll be in for a high draft pick, which will help the rebuilding process for general manager Chris Ballard, next spring.
The Jaguars' pass rush is on pace for a historic season. Only three teams have totaled 70 or more sacks and the Jaguars are on pace for 75. That would eclipse the current record of 72 held by the 1984 Chicago Bears. That's a ridiculous average of 4.7 sacks per game. The Jaguars had 10 sacks against the Colts and, per the NFL, are the first team to have 10 or more sacks in multiple games in a season since the '84 Bears.
The Titans are 4-3, tied for first place in the AFC South, relatively healthy with two starters expected to return after the bye week. After an up-and-down first seven games, the Titans are in great position. Tennessee's potential is apparent and it starts with Marcus Mariota, who can lead them to the playoffs.
The Broncos were shut out for the first time since the 1992 season Sunday – a 21-0 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers – they've lost three of their last four games and they haven't won on the road in two tries this season. And while several players called Sunday's loss "embarrassing'' they also said they still believe, despite how it all looked Sunday, they have time to find solutions. They know that means road trips to Kansas City and Philadelphia over the next two weeks, but as running back Jamaal Charles said: "We've just got to get back to work and get it right. We have a lot of games to play – division games – and it starts next Sunday.''
The Chiefs are getting strong play from quarterback Alex Smith like they didn't in his first four seasons in Kansas City. The Chiefs have also surrounded him with a solid supporting cast, including running back Kareem Hunt, tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs didn't quite score enough to beat the Raiders last Thursday but they're positioned to win some high-scoring games in the second half of the season. That's good news because given the recent play from their defense, they'll probably have to.
After starting the season 0-4, the Chargers have won three straight. And at 3-4, the Bolts still remain in the postseason conversation and therefore have reason for hope nearing the midpoint of this the 2017 campaign. Getting a win on the road next week against the defending Super Bowl Champs, the New England Patriots, would push the Chargers to .500 heading into the bye week.
The Raiders' white-knuckle 31-30 victory over the Chiefs Thursday night, and the way in which they did it via a dormant offense becoming explosive again and a defense given a jolt by NaVorro Bowman, gives them hope for the future. But if Oakland does not capitalize and run off a string of victories to truly get back in the AFC West race, beating the Chiefs in such feel-good fashion will mean nothing. And here come the Bills and Dolphins, with a week in Florida in between.