NFL Teams Headed in the Wrong Direction in 2022May 12, 2022
NFL Teams Headed in the Wrong Direction in 2022
Every team has a blank slate and plenty of hope going into the 2022 NFL season.
Some squads have reason to be optimistic after landing marquee veteran talent and drafting elite prospects this offseason. Others have suffered losses that could cost them dearly in 2022.
Several playoff teams parted ways with stars and lost other notable contributors while failing to land suitable replacements. These departures could make it difficult for these clubs to win as many games or go on as deep of a postseason run as they did last year.
Here, we'll highlight four teams that may be on the verge of a backslide by highlighting their 2021 record and their projected 2022 win total courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook. We'll then dive into why they are heading the wrong direction and poised for a regression this coming season.
2021 Record: 11-6
Projected 2022 Win Total: 9
The Arizona Cardinals started 10-2 last season before falling apart toward the end of the year and collapsing in the playoffs. That may carry over to the start of the 2022 campaign.
Quarterback Kyler Murray "is not expected to play" until he and the Cardinals come to terms on an extension, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. But even if the Cardinals do hammer out a long-term arrangement with Murray before Week 1, there will still be some tough sledding to open the year.
Star wideout DeAndre Hopkins was recently handed a six-game suspension for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing substances policy. Although injuries limited him to only 10 games last year, he still led the team with eight receiving touchdowns along with 42 receptions for 572 yards.
Arizona lost another key member of its receiving corps when Christian Kirk signed a massive contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency. The team will still have plenty of pass-catching options with Rondale Moore gearing up for his second season and Marquise Brown coming aboard in a draft-day trade, but Murray could struggle to get in sync with these receivers if he sits for out much of the offseason.
The defense also suffered a major blow when edge-rusher Chandler Jones signed with the Las Vegas Raiders in free agency. Jones made three Pro Bowls during his six-year stint in Arizona, including last year after he recorded 10.5 sacks and six forced fumbles along with 36 pressures.
In Jones' absence, J.J. Watt will have to shoulder an even bigger pass-rushing load for Arizona. Watt looked good for the seven games that he played last season, but the 33-year-old has played only in 55 of a possible 97 regular-season games since 2016.
The cornerback position is a concern as well. Byron Murphy, Jeff Gladney and Marco Wilson are the projected starters after the team failed to address the position with an early draft pick. For a team with aspirations of winning the NFC West and making a playoff run, the Cardinals' questionable secondary could be an Achilles heel.
2021 Record: 12-5
Projected 2022 Win Total: 10.5
The Dallas Cowboys posted a winning record and made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2018. Despite winning the NFC East, the Cowboys lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card Round and may not have done enough during the offseason to get over the hump this year.
Dallas lost a significant amount of talent in free agency or via trades, and it didn't add any major replacements. Wide receivers Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson, defensive end Randy Gregory and offensive tackles La'el Collins and Connor Williams were among the notable losses, while edge-rusher Dante Fowler was one of the only big additions.
The Cowboys did have a strong draft, adding offensive tackle Tyler Smith, edge-rusher Sam Williams and wideout Jalen Tolbert with their first three selections. Those three rookies will help fill some of the roster's biggest holes, but Dallas will have a lot riding on them in 2022.
The Cowboys' financial commitment to quarterback Dak Prescott is partially responsible for the lack of veteran signings this offseason. Prescott is gobbling up a significant chunk of cap space following the massive extension he signed last year, but he'll now have far fewer weapons in 2022 as a result.
Cooper and Wilson combined for 113 receptions on 165 targets for 1,467 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. While the team still has top wideout CeeDee Lamb and re-signed Michael Gallup this offseason, the latter missed nearly half of last season with a calf strain and then suffered a torn ACL in Week 17.
The Cowboys do have the benefit of playing in the relatively weak NFC East. But even if they get back to the postseason, they will likely struggle to advance again after losing more talent than they added this offseason.
Green Bay Packers
2021 Record: 13-4
Projected 2022 Win Total: 11
The Green Bay Packers have won 13 games in each of the past three seasons, but they appear poised for a regression in 2022. While they retained future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers on a long-term extension this offseason, he will now have to adjust to life without star wideout Davante Adams.
Adams, whom the Packers traded to the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason, was the intended target on nearly 30 percent of Rodgers' throws last year. Allen Lazard was the only other Packers wideout to eclipse an 11 percent target share from Rodgers last season. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Green Bay's third option, signed with the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason.
Christian Watson, whom Green Bay took at the top of the second round this year, should help reinforce the gutted receiving corps. However, the hulking 6'4", 208-pound North Dakota State product isn't likely to produce at the level of Adams right away.
Despite having pressing needs on offense, the Packers spent their two first-round picks on the other side of the ball. They selected linebacker Quay Walker and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt at No. 22 and 28, respectively, a pair of Georgia products who should bolster the defense.
That defense may have to carry the Packers for stretches this season. The squad ranked ninth in yards allowed last year and should be a top unit again in 2022, but it may be on the field more if Green Bay struggles offensively in the post-Adams era.
The Packers are under immense pressure to go on a deep playoff run this year. After coming up short in back-to-back NFC Championship Games, the team was eliminated in its postseason opener last season. Another early exit—or missing the playoffs entirely—could result in Rodgers electing to hang up his cleats.
CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora predicted that the future Hall of Famer will retire following a Green Bay backslide in 2022. While the 38-year-old is now on the books through 2026, a poor 2022 campaign could be Rodgers' NFL swan song.
2021 Record: 9-7-1
Projected 2022 Win Total: 7.5
The Pittsburgh Steelers have yet to have a losing season under head coach Mike Tomlin. However, that impressive run is in jeopardy going into the 2022 campaign with so much uncertainty at quarterback.
Although Ben Roethlisberger wasn't playing at a high level over his final few seasons, the veteran quarterback managed the game well enough and put the Steelers in a position to compete most weeks. That resulted in playoff berths in each of the past two years, a streak also likely to end this year.
The Steelers might have found Roethlisberger's long-term successor in first-round pick Kenny Pickett. The rookie is plenty familiar with Heinz Field after starting for the Pittsburgh Panthers over the past four seasons, and the pro-ready prospect should contend for a starting job this offseason.
Regardless of whether Pickett or veteran free-agent pickup Mitch Trubisky wins the starting gig, the Steelers' roughshod offensive line won't make things easy on them. Roethlisberger was pressured 120 times and took 38 sacks last year while having an average pocket time of only 2.1 seconds.
At the end of last season, Pro Football Focus ranked Pittsburgh's offensive line 26th overall while noting that the unit had its exposure to pass-rushers limited by Roethlisberger's lightning-quick release. Trai Turner, the highest-graded player on the Steelers line last year, left in free agency this offseason.
While Mason Cole and James Daniels should beef up the interior of the offensive trenches, Pittsburgh's quarterback will still be susceptible to edge-rushers in 2022.
The Steelers defense is also a question mark after the team did little to bolster it during the draft. Pittsburgh used two of its three picks on the first two days to reinforce the offense, only adding defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal with the No. 84 pick in that span.
Considering that the Steelers ranked 20th in points allowed and 24th in total defense last year despite recording a league-high 55 sacks, they could be headed for a major drop-off this season.
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