It's hard to believe but we're nearing the halfway point of the 2021 NFL season. With only 13 teams having posted above .500 records to date the stakes are especially high entering Sunday's action.
Here's a quick look around the league at two teams that are on the rise and two that are on their way down in this week's edition of 'Stock Rising and Falling'.
I'm hesitant to include the Falcons in this category as their last two wins have come against the likes of the Jets and Dolphins. However, the runway is clear for Atlanta to keep rolling as hosts the reeling Panthers this week. We've finally seen veteran QB Matt Ryan find some chemistry with much-hyped rookie TE Kyle Pitts and it should only be a matter of time before WR Calvin Ridley rounds back into form. Ridley has found it tough sledding in the post-Julio Jones era but I would anticipate Ryan force-feeding him a little more in the weeks to come. Defensively, the Falcons haven't had to be great but the good news is, they won't face a truly elite offensive opponent until Week 10 when they travel to Dallas to face the Cowboys.
The Colts got off to a slow start this season but that was to be expected as they faced a brutal early schedule that included games against the (then healthy) Seahawks, Rams, Titans and Ravens in the first four weeks. They've turned the corner since, posting consecutive wins over the Texans and 49ers and now comes a true statement game against the division-rival Titans on Sunday in Indy. I've never been all that high on QB Carson Wentz but there's no denying he's put the team on his back lately, throwing eight touchdown passes while running for another without tossing a single interception in the last four games. He gets another mouth-watering matchup against the Titans defense this week and I would anticipate head coach Frank Reich coming up with an aggressive offensive gameplan to take advantage of that unit being on a bit of a heater.
I question what type of spot the Dolphins are in mentally after last Sunday's demoralizing last-second loss against the Falcons. Credit Miami for battling back and taking the lead late in that game, but it couldn't make it stand up as its defense once again dropped the proverbial ball. Of course, defense was supposed to be the strength of the Fins but that simply hasn't been the case. Now Miami faces the unenviable task of traveling to Buffalo to face a Bills squad that will be in a foul mood following a Monday night loss against the Titans (which was followed by a bye week). The good news is that relief should come in the form of five of Miami's next six games coming against the Texans, Jets (twice), Panthers and Giants.
San Francisco 49ers
Is it another lost season in Santa Clara? It certainly appears headed that way after the 49ers fell in a rain-soaked primetime game against the Colts last Sunday. Rookie QB Trey Lance is still banged-up while Jimmy Garroppolo looks like anything but the answer under center. While injuries have certainly played a role in the 49ers struggles this season, there are other issues lying beneath the surface. We've seen the wide receiving corps fail to make plays at key points while the running backs just haven't been afforded nearly the time and space we've seen them enjoy in recent years. San Fran's defense is healthier than it was during a disastrous 2020 campaign but it hasn't made much of a different as opponents are routinely marching up and down the field on them. Maybe the Niners right the ship in a favored role in Chicago this Sunday but sitting at 2-4 the path to the playoffs is anything but clear.