We’re nearing the halfway point of the 2022 NFL season, and we’re seeing a league full of bad teams and even worse football.
The NFL loves to trumpet its parity. This year, we’re watching mediocrity.
Out of the 32 clubs fighting for the Super Bowl — in theory, anyway — maybe five have a real case. And five might be too big of an estimate.
Through seven weeks, the only unbeaten is the Philadelphia Eagles. The Buffalo Bills are clearly the AFC’s best. The Kansas City Chiefs won’t be counted out by anybody.
After that? Perhaps you believe in the San Francisco 49ers or Cincinnati Bengals. Maybe you can talk yourself into someone else, but whoever you present, they have serious flaws. The Dallas Cowboys? The Green Bay Packers? The five-win Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets or New York Giants? Maybe.
The NFL is designed to pull teams towards the middle. The draft order rewards the worst teams and penalizes the best. The schedule has first-place finishers play each other while last-place teams get to square off. The salary cap ensures there’s no financial advantage for being in a big market, and no downside of being in a smaller one.
All those reasons are why NFL dynasties are the most impressive of any sport. It’s near impossible to be great for more than a few seasons. This year, it seems it’s impossible to be great for more than a few drives.
Of the 32 teams, 15 have either three or four wins. Of them, most appear to be destined to finish 8-9 or 9-8. If you love tiebreaker scenarios come December and January, this year should provide some all-time excitement.
However, if you love quality, this season has largely been a snooze.
With the Eagles and Bills both on a bye week and the Chiefs and 49ers playing in the late window, the early games were almost unwatchable. It was bad football from one game to the next, whether it was Aaron Rodgers once again struggling to connect, or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offense looking as though it just discovered the sport.
So what’s the reason for the lack of high-end play around the NFL in 2022? Theories abound.
Maybe teams should start playing their starters in the preseason a bit more, although that seems more of a September cause and not an October effect. Maybe the defenses have started to catch up to offenses, playing a litany of shell coverages and mucking the games up.
My best guess? Maybe the coaching is poor. Outside of a few, the coaching appears lousy. There aren’t enough teams creating yardage, but rather relying on stale plays and stolen concepts.
To that end, we’ve watched Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, a man with a limitless arm, asked to almost exclusively throw short. We’ve watched the Denver Broncos and that travesty. We’ve watched the Arizona Cardinals struggle to gain any offensive continuity, and we’ve watched the Packers consistently sit in soft zone coverage, allowing one open completion after the next. The Buccaneers haven’t seen an early-down run they don’t love.
Regardless of the reasons, the reality is clear. The NFL has three top-tier teams.
Everybody else is fighting to prove they’re a worthy challenger.
Thus far, very few, if any, have come close.
Top 10 players who could be trade candidates
1. Brian Burns, EDGE, Carolina Panthers
2. Bradley Chubb, EDGE, Denver Broncos
3. Da’Ron Payne, DT, Washington Commanders
4. D.J. Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers
5. Mike Gesicki, TE, Miami Dolphins
6. Marcus Davenport, EDGE, New Orleans Saints
7. Kareem Hunt, RB, Cleveland Browns
8. Melvin Gordon, RB, Denver Broncos
9. William Jackson III, CB, Washington Commanders
10. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Denver Broncos
"“Played good again. Played the way we needed him to play.”"
– New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll on fourth-year quarterback Daniel Jones
Daboll has done a phenomenal job with the Giants, but his work with Jones has been the capstone on his efforts. Jones accumulated 309 total yards and a touchdown in the heart-stopping 23-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars to run New York’s record to 6-1.
While Jones hasn’t been prolific, he’s also avoiding turnovers. Unlike past years, Jones is taking care of the ball, throwing only two interceptions through seven games. The result is Big Blue pushing for only its second postseason berth in a decade.
The Dallas Cowboys own the distinction for scoring the fewest points as a playoff victor, beating the Detroit Lions by a 5-0 score in the 1970 Divisional round.
Info learned this week
1. Ravens beat Browns, but the problems persist for Baltimore
The Baltimore Ravens finally held onto a double-digit lead. But it wasn’t easy.
In fact, despite a 23-13 lead against the offensively-limited Cleveland Browns, Baltimore allowed a touchdown in the fourth quarter to close the gap. Then, running back Justise Hill fumbled with Baltimore driving to, at the minimum, extend to a 26-20 advantage.
On Cleveland’s final drive, the Browns threw the go-ahead touchdown, only to have it called back on an unnecessary offensive pass interference marker against Amari Cooper. Two plays later, the Browns were whistled for a controversial false start, which had it gone the other way, would have given Cleveland a first down with two minutes left at Baltimore’s 33-yard line.
Instead, the Browns saw their desperation 61-yard field goal attempt be blocked.
Ultimately, Baltimore won. The Ravens are 4-3, tied with the Bengals atop the AFC North. The Ravens now get the Buccaneers on Thursday night, which suddenly seems an envious situation. Yet the defense needed serious help to avoid another meltdown. The offense was poor, only averaging 3.6 yards per carry while Lamar Jackson threw for a paltry 120 yards.
On Sunday, the Ravens were good enough. But against anybody decent, it wouldn’t be.
2. Chiefs put full arsenal on display in demolition of Niners’ defense
Going into Sunday, the 49ers had allowed 79 points over six games. Against the Chiefs, they surrendered 44 points and 529 total yards.
Facing the league’s best defense in yards allowed per play (4.2), Kansas City totaled 9.1. Patrick Mahomes also threw for 12.4 yards per attempt, almost double San Francisco’s previous average (6.3). All told, it was a bonanza for Kansas City, which saw JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling each eclipse 100 receiving yards, while Travis Kelce went for 98 on National Tight Ends Day.
Despite a litany of new additions and moving parts to the offense, Kansas City might be more dangerous than ever. The Chiefs already have three 40-point outbursts this season, and are averaging a league-high 31.9 points per game. Mahomes is on pace for more than 5,200 passing yards, while Kelce, Smith-Schuster and Valdes-Scantling are pacing for a combined 3,340 receiving yards between the trio.
This all despite playing three defenses which were ranked in the top-five before playing the Chiefs.
For Kansas City, it was a showcase of what could potentially be a weekly occurrence after the bye.
3. Packers, Bucs are in real trouble after Sunday’s action
It’s time to sound every alarm in Green Bay and Tampa Bay.
At 3-2, the Buccaneers were supposed to get fat on two bad opponents in the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers. Instead, they became the biggest favorite to lose in two consecutive weeks, falling 20-18 in Pittsburgh before being pasted 21-3 by the Panthers on Sunday afternoon in Charlotte.
Tom Brady looks demoralized, the offensive line isn’t holding up, the defense is getting gashed in the run game and the coaching appears overwhelmed. At 3-4, the Buccaneers are somehow in first place of the NFC South, but Tampa Bay can’t feel anything close to good about itself. Facing an actively-tanking Panthers team, the Bucs averaged 4.9 yards per play, were 2-of-12 on third down and amassed 5.5 yards per attempt. Ugliness, all around.
Meanwhile, the Packers got a seemingly good draw on Sunday with the beat-up Washington Commanders in front of fans either indifferent, angry or wearing cheeseheads.
Still, Green Bay lost 23-21. The Packers couldn’t get a big stop late, and Aaron Rodgers did virtually nothing all afternoon, throwing for 194 yards on 5.5 YPA.
At 3-4, the Packers have lost three straight and trail the Vikings by 2.5 games in the NFC North, with a loss to Minnesota in Week 1. There’s a temptation to believe Green Bay will get things right, but based on the lacking offensive personnel, a leaky front line and a defense that can’t force incompletions, the problems are very real.
4. Broncos loss to Jets shows plenty about the direction Denver must go
Brett Rypien. Russell Wilson. Doesn’t matter for the Broncos.
That’s perhaps the worst news for 2-5 Denver, who fell 16-9 to the Jets on Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High. Wilson and Rypien got the same output from the offense. It wasn’t better, but it wasn’t worse, either. It’s a bad look for Wilson — what hasn’t been this year? — and equally brutal for head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who is getting nothing from his offense regardless of who is taking snaps.
For the Broncos, the course of action moving forward is clear: sell.
It’s time for Denver to take and make calls about edge rusher Bradley Chubb, receiver Jerry Jeudy, running back Melvin Gordon and others. The Broncos should be trying to recoup some of the draft capital they sent out in the trade for Wilson.
At this point, that’s the only salvageable part of this miserable and disappointing campaign.
5. Patriots-Bears could see Bill Belichick reach unthinkable milestone
How long did George Halas coach the Chicago Bears? His first season was the NFL’s inaugural campaign of 1920. His last season was after the advent of the Super Bowl.
In his coaching career, Halas amassed 324 victories. And if the New England Patriots beat the Bears on Monday night, Bill Belichick passes him for second on the all-time list, behind only Don Shula.
Belichick’s career is made more incredible considering how it began. With the Browns, Belichick went 36-44 across five seasons before being fired, making a single playoff appearance. Then, in his first year with New England, the Patriots were 5-11. It seemed Belichick could be out quickly in Foxboro, starting 0-2 the following season. Then, Tom Brady arrived, and everything changed.
Now, Belichick is arguably the greatest coach the NFL has ever seen, and he could climb another rung of the ladder against Halas’ creation.
The Arizona Cardinals won on Thursday night, while simultaneously showcasing their issues.
In the second quarter, Amazon’s cameras showed quarterback Kyler Murray yelling at head coach Kliff Kingsbury, including a word or two which aren’t printable.
Now, let’s be clear. Players and coaches argue all the time. Sometimes it becomes a story, sometimes not. But when the participants are Murray and Kingsbury, two men under heavy scrutiny after signing lucrative extensions this offseason, it’s going to get noticed.
The notable portion of this is Murray laying into Kingsbury without a second thought — while the team was driving to tie the score before halftime. It wasn’t created from the frustration of another bad night. The moment came from somewhere else, which is a red flag.
At 3-4, the Cardinals remain firmly in the mix for the NFC playoffs, but it’s not difficult, or unfair, to wonder whether the heat is reaching uncomfortable temperatures in the desert.
Inside the league
Sometimes, teams are masterful at using the media to further a narrative. Sometimes, not so much. The Panthers fall into the latter category.
Over the weekend, reports came out of Carolina turning down multiple first-round picks for edge rusher Brian Burns. For starters, if you believe that is true, understand everyone with the Panthers front office should be fired. Burns is a fine player on a rookie contract, but he’s a one-time Pro Bowler who has never enjoyed double-digit sacks in a season.
Furthermore, this is clearly posturing to make some general manager believe his only chance is to somehow top that fictional offer. Nobody in their right mind will do so. If Carolina trades Burns, it’ll be for less than two firsts, or it’s an all-time fleecing.
And, if you’re the Panthers, you only trade Burns unless you get a phenomenal package as you did with All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey. Carolina got four picks from San Francisco for the 26-year-old, who while great, is also injury-prone and expensive. He’s easier to ship out than Burns, who is younger, cheaper and plays a premium position.
Carolina could jettison some significant talent over the next eight days, but none of it will bring back two first-round picks. Not if sanity prevails, anyway.
BetSided’s best bet
Seahawks -2 vs. Giants
Are the New York Giants going to make me eat crow for the second straight week?
In Week 7, I backed the Jaguars at home against a Giants team that is now 5-1 in single possession matchups this season, and 6-1 overall.
But maybe we truly undervalued the talent still on this Seahawks roster.
Geno Smith continues to ball out, Kenneth Walker III is a beast, and now New York heads out on the road from complete opposite ends of the country; flying from Jacksonville to New York, and then out to Seattle.
This line is already on the move, so grab the Seahawks before they go to -3.
The Colts, Ravens and Browns will forever, inextricably, be linked.
In 1984, the Baltimore Colts famously packed up and shipped out on Mayflower trucks under the cloak of darkness, headed for Indianapolis. Eleven years later, looking for a new stadium deal, Browns owner Art Modell became exhausted and did the unthinkable. He left Cleveland for Baltimore, leaving behind the team’s history to start anew.
Of course, this left a gaping hole in the hearts of Clevelanders, who waited three, long football-less seasons before getting a new team in 1999.
Without the Colts’ relocation, the Ravens never exist, and the Browns perhaps own the 2000 Super Bowl ring that now resides in Baltimore.
Give credit to the Tennessee Titans.
At 0-2, everybody was burying last year’s No. 1 AFC seed. The Titans seemed cooked after losing 41-7 on Monday Night Football to the Bills. Left tackle Taylor Lewan was lost for the year, and Tennessee was already without star receiver A.J. Brown after the offseason trade to Philadelphia.
Fast forward one month, and Tennessee is 4-2 with a season sweep of the Colts. The Titans are clearly the favorite to win another AFC South title, giving them a home playoff game.
It’s a credit to head coach Mike Vrabel, who undoubtedly heard the outside noise along with his team and kept focused on the task. Tennessee has a lackluster group of weapons, a middling quarterback and yet looks to be headed for four consecutive playoff berths.
The Titans might be limited, but they deserve kudos for hanging tough and showing their mettle.