Which leading NFL contender is most in danger of going into a tailspin?

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Many of the NFL's top contenders have gotten a midseason wake-up call.

Six of the league's eight current division leaders have suffered a defeat in the last two weeks. The chaos has sent a clear message: In a league in which every franchise has at least two losses through 10 weeks, the so-called front-runners can't take anything for granted, especially with a horde of teams not far back in the playoff hunt. And winning a division and securing a game at home doesn't guarantee postseason success, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' run from NFC wild card to Super Bowl champs last year illustrated.

With all that in mind, we asked USA TODAY Sports' NFL reporters and columnists:

Which leading contender is most in danger of going into a tailspin?

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp reacts after an incomplete pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Nov. 15, 2021.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp reacts after an incomplete pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Nov. 15, 2021.

Their answers:

Jarrett Bell

Baltimore. It's the inconsistency that has to concern Ravens coach John Harbaugh. It's possible that Baltimore (6-3), leading the AFC North, can jump off from here and roll deep into the playoffs. We've seen it before. But what we've not seen is a Ravens team that has flirted so often with disaster while leading the division pack.

Think about some of the big, quality wins. It took monumental comebacks for the Ravens to beat Kansas City and Indianapolis. As was the case against Indy, it took an overtime nail-biter to get past Minnesota. And to top lowly Detroit, it took a last-minute rally and a record-breaking field goal at the buzzer from Justin Tucker. Great the Ravens have demonstrated so much resilience that is in their DNA, spearheaded by the remarkable Lamar Jackson. But those aforementioned W's could have easily been deflating L's...much like the Week 1 tumble at Las Vegas.

Part of the Ravens' tradition is tough, stingy defense that would make Ray Lewis proud. But this current defense, which can dial up blitzes with the best of them and has a big-play presence, has been too shaky when needing to clamp down. Also, Jackson's health and availability (this week, he missed practice time again) is an X-factor that won't allow comfort, albeit that's true with so many marquee quarterbacks. Then again, he's also a serious MVP contender, which is why there's always hope.

Then there's the schedule. The teeth of slate is coming, which includes five games down the stretch against division opponents. Of course, those matchups – two against Pittsburgh, two against Cleveland and a trip to Cincinnati – will ultimately determine if there's a division crown in the works. And a couple other contenders, Green Bay and NFC L.A., are also on the docket. The Ravens are still gritty and resourceful, with an amazing game-changing playmaker in Jackson. That gives them a chance chase postseason glory. But given the inconsistency and the contributing factor of injuries, it won't be easy. It's downright dangerous.

Jori Epstein

The Rams won’t tailspin out of playoff contention. But their reputation in a crowded NFC will take a hit as they travel to dangerous Green Bay and Arizona teams in the next month. The bad taste of losing to San Francisco will fester through this bye week before games against back-and-out-to-prove-something quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Kyler Murray prove too much for a team that has prioritized star power at the expense of depth and Odell Beckham Jr. struggling to adapt a larger role than he expected in the wake of receiver Robert Woods’ season-ending ACL tear. Add in the defense’s susceptibility to third-down conversions (allowing 42.9%, seventh worst), and head coach Sean McVay won’t have sufficient time to execute his game plan as tough road environments continue to hit with December games at Minnesota and Baltimore. The road to the Super Bowl will end in Los Angeles, but no longer will it run through there.

Mike Freeman

The answer is easily the Titans. It’s not close. This is team that’s dependent on Derrick Henry and Henry is, well, out for the year. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is good but he’s not capable of carrying that offense by himself like Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes. At least for an extended period. The one area where I could be wrong is that Titans defense is coagulating into a special group. But ultimately it’s an offensive league and the Titans don’t have enough without Henry.

Mike Jones

The Arizona Cardinals. They got off to an impressive start, but based on last season and how the team really fizzled midway through the year after Kyler Murray got banged up, one of the biggest questions surrounding them this season involved his durability and the byproduct of that. This year feels like a repeat. Impressive start (7-0), then they have their first loss, and then Murray gets hurt and his team has gone 1-1 with him sidelined. Are they about to go on another dive? It’s his ankle, and that impacts his mobility, which is a huge part of his game. So, it’s realistic to wonder if Murray can regain the same dynamic form upon his return. If he isn’t right, then the Cardinals don’t have much of a chance.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Which top NFL contenders are most in danger of going into a tailspin?