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The 2022 NFL season has been the league’s most competitive season ever. In fact, 158 games have been within one score in the fourth quarter, the most-such games through the first 14 weeks in NFL history. With so little separation in the standings between most of the league with only four games to play, there are plenty of key questions left to be answered before the start of the playoffs.
Here’s a look at 10 of the biggest questions around the league, and what may lie ahead for the rest of the 2022 season and beyond.
While Aaron Rodgers once called his football future a “beautiful mystery,” the back-to-back reigning NFL MVP has 58.3 million reasons to return to the Green Bay Packers in 2023. His three-year extension worth $150 million that he signed last offseason has a guaranteed option for that large sum of $58.3 million.
It would be wild to see him walk away from that money as well as a shot at continuing to play with a rapidly developing Christian Watson, the receiver the Packers selected with the 34th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The 6-4, 208-pound wideout, who ran 4.36 40-yard dash at the combine, has caught seven receiving touchdowns in the last four games, tied for the sixth most in the NFL this season.
With the Packers off to a 5-8 start — Green Bay’s worst record through 13 games since 2008 when Rodgers first became the starter — there’s a strong chance the four-time NFL MVP doesn’t want to go out on the sour note that is the 2022 season. Expect Rodgers back at Lambeau Field in 2023.
The reality of coaching in the NFL is only 14 of 32 teams make the playoffs, so there are at least 18 unhappy ownership groups every year without beginning to count playoff teams feeling like they’ve hit a ceiling. In each of the last 10 seasons, there have been at least five new head coaches, with the last coaching cycle’s nine being the most in that span. Here’s a look at a few head coaches who will most likely be sweating out the first few days of their offseason.
Jeff Saturday (Colts): Saturday knew he was coaching for his job after coming off the set of ESPN’s television studios to replace the fired Frank Reich as Indy’s interim head coach. The former Colts center, who was a six-time Pro Bowler, two-time First-Team All-Pro and Super Bowl XLI champion, has a lot of street cred built up in the organization, but some of his game management tactics have raised eyebrows. Indianapolis has lost three in a row since his debut win against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Nathaniel Hackett (Broncos): The Broncos are the NFL’s most disappointing team. They’re 3-10, already eliminated from playoff contention and have the league’s lowest scoring offense at 14.9 points per game. Russell Wilson’s passer rating has dropped 18.1 points from 2021 (103.1 to 85.0), the fourth-largest decline by any player in his 1st season with a team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger (minimum 300 attempts each season). Hackett could be a dead man walking as far as his job security goes.
Kliff Kingsbury (Cardinals): Kingsbury is in a similar position to Hackett. His highly-compensated franchise quarterback, Kyler Murray, has been down and out this year when he has played. The team has gone 4-9 with plenty of offensive struggles. The quarterback openly ripped into Kingsbury’s offense, saying “schematically, we were kind of f—–” when talking about a fourth-and-1 interception he threw early in a 25-24 loss against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 12.
Even though the Cardinals signed Kingsbury to a contract extension, tying him to the Cardinals through the 2027 season, don’t be surprised if Murray, the quarterback with $190 million in guaranteed money (the second most in the NFL behind only Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson), throws his weight around to help pick a coach he prefers. Sean Payton on Line 1?
New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas can take a victory lap regarding his 2022 NFL Draft class. His first two selections in the most recent draft were fourth overall pick cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, the odds-on favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year at -500, and 10th overall pick wide receiver Garrett Wilson, the odds-on favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year at +150. Both have played significant roles in Gang Green’s rise this season. They’re 7-6 and neck-and-neck with the Patriots and Chargers for the AFC’s final playoff spot.
New York’s defense is allowing 11.0 fewer points per game (18.7) than they did in 2021 (29.7), when they were the worst scoring defense in the NFL. Gardner’s play has made him one of the top five cornerbacks in the entire league. He has the best Pro Football Focus coverage grade (88.7), and the most pass breakups (13) in the NFL this season.
Wilson’s 868 receiving yards are the most by a rookie in Jets history, breaking the record of 844 set by former first overall pick Keyshawn Johnson in 1996. However, Wilson has someone gaining on him in the race for Offensive Rookie of the Year: Green Bay Packers wide receiver Christian Watson. He leads all rookies and ranks tied for sixth in the entire league with seven receiving touchdowns, all of which have come in the last four games. The race between Wilson and Watson will be one of the season’s captivating subplots over the last four weeks.
Tom Brady’s NFL-record streak of 13 straight seasons making the playoffs from 2009-21 isn’t coming to an end in 2022. He also went down with a knee injury to start the 2008 season, which marked the only time he missed the playoffs since 2003. Yes, there’s a chance the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could choke away their NFC South division lead to the Carolina Panthers or Atlanta Falcons, both at 5-8 and one game back of the 6-7 Buccaneers, but, come on, it’s Tom Brady. He didn’t un-retire to miss the playoffs.
The Bucs have a tough matchup this week against Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals, but their final three — against the Kyler Murray-less Arizona Cardinals, Sam Darnold’s Carolina Panthers and rookie Desmond Ridder’s Atlanta Falcons — should allow them to sneak back into the playoffs as the NFL’s worst division champion.
Brady finalized a divorce this past October with his wife of 13 years, international supermodel Giselle Bündchen, with one of the biggest reasons being her frustration from his football retirement ending after 40 days, according to People. It would be more stunning for him to hang it up for good than it would be for him to hit free agency and play for a new team. Brady has dominated the game of football with seven Super Bowl wins, five Super Bowl MVPs, 15 Pro Bowl appearances, 88,105 passing yards and 641 passing touchdowns. The only thing left that could be on his career to-do list is to play for his hometown San Francisco 49ers. There may be an opening for Brady to slide in for a year with Trey Lance coming off a season-ending broken ankle and Jimmy Garoppolo set to become a free agent.
If the New York Giants find a way to blow a 7-2 start to the season and miss the playoffs in Brian Daboll’s first season as head coach, that would likely confirm 2022 as Daniel Jones’ last year with the G-Men. The former sixth overall pick in 2019 was former general manager Dave Gettleman’s guy, something that was made clear when new general manager Joe Schoen declined Jones’ fifth-year contract option.
New York hasn’t won a game since Week 10 against the Houston Texans, the worst team in the NFL, and are 0-3-1 since Week 11. In that span, the offense scored more than 21 points just once, which was last week in their 48-22 blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Giants face a must-win game this week on “Sunday Night Football” against the Washington Commanders. A loss would crack open the door for other teams’ playoff hopes. Unfortunately for New York, Jones is 0-9 in his career in prime-time games with more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (12). Those nine straight losses represent the longest prime-time losing streak to begin a career since at least 1950.
Two weeks ago, the Miami Dolphins were surfing with an 8-3 record and holding first place in the AFC East while averaging the sixth-most points per game in the NFL (25.6) as quarterback Tua Tagovailoa put up NFL MVP numbers. However, the waves have come crashing down in Weeks 13 and 14 following consecutive road losses to the 49ers, 33-17, and Chargers, 23-17.
Tagovailoa’s MVP candidacy has fallen into a ditch as his passer rating has declined from the best in the NFL (115.7 from Weeks 1-12) to bottom 10 in the entire league (73.1 since Week 13, 26th in NFL).The biggest shift in the Dolphins’ last two games has been the way opponents have decided to defend them. Through Tagovailoa’s first nine starts, teams only showed a two-high safety look, one that’s designed to limit deep passes downfield (41% of the time), but now they’re seeing it more than half the time (61%). In tandem with the two-high look has been zone coverage on early downs to limit deep shots downfield and then going with a heavy dose of press-man coverage, 85% of the time, on third down.
The Dolphins’ playoff hopes are alive with a 62.1% to see the postseason, according to SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh. If head coach Mike McDaniel can figure out ways to help Tagovailoa beat the coverage they’ve been facing the last two weeks, there isn’t any reason why the Dolphins can’t break through in 2022 and snap their five-season playoff drought, the third-longest active streak in the league.
Expect the Los Angeles Chargers and their superstar quarterback Justin Herbert to be playing postseason football for the first time in Herbert’s three-year career. Over the last three games, quarterback Justin Herbert has completed 70% of his passes, averaging 325.5 passing yards per game while throwing five touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Chargers also finally have both of their top wide receivers — Keenan Allen and Mike Williams — healthy, so those numbers should climb against what stands as the second-easiest remaining schedule in football: vs. the 7-6 Titans in Week 15, at the 4-8-1 Colts in Week 16, vs. the 4-9 Rams in Week 17 and at the 3-10 in Broncos in Week 18.
The Tennessee Titans are the only team they will face with a winning record the rest of the way, but the Titans have lost three in a row while allowing the most passing touchdowns and second-most passing yards in the NFL in that span. Herbert should cook them before continuing to dominate against three teams who should be packing it for the year in the Colts, Rams, and Broncos.
Patrick Mahomes leads the NFL in passing yards (4,160) and passing touchdowns (33) this year, all while playing in his first season without now-Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill, his former WR1. Yet Mahomes is on pace to throw for 5,440 yards this season, which would be the third most in NFL history in a season, trailing only Hall of Famer Peyton Manning’s 2013 NFL MVP season (5,477) and Drew Brees’ 2011 season (5,476) in 2011.
Mahomes will face three teams that have been like his punching bags in the last four games: at the Texans in Week 15, vs. the Broncos in Week 16 and at the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 18. In order for Mahomes to break Manning’s record, he needs to average 330 passing yards per game over the last four, which would be only 10 more yards than his current league-leading mark of 320 passing yards per game. Mahomes will have ample opportunity to break the single-season passing yards record.
The Philadelphia Eagles, the owners of the best record in the NFL at 12-1, are cruising toward their best regular season ever, needing just two more wins to break their single-season wins record of 13, which was done in 2004 and 2017. Both of those seasons ended in the Super Bowl, with 2017 culminating in their first Super Bowl title. The Eagles have the top scoring offense, averaging 29.7 points per game, and they have won consecutive games by 25 or more points against teams with winning records, making them the fifth team to do so since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Two of the previous four won the Super Bowl in the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 1996 Packers.
Only half of the Eagles’ remaining four games are against teams with winning records, but the Christmas Eve game at the 10-3 Dallas Cowboys in Week 16 is the only game left that could seriously pose a challenge. The other three games are at the 3-10 Chicago Bears in Week 15, vs. the 4-9 New Orleans Saints in Week 17, and vs. the 7-5-1 New York Giants in Week 18.
Philadelphia won the previous Week 6 meeting 26-17, and it led to the Cowboys defense having a total reset. Dak Prescott will be the Dallas starter this time around instead of Cooper Rush. If the Eagles can frustrate the Cowboys defense once again, they won’t be losing another regular-season game. Ranking third in the NFL in total offense (392 yards per game), and second in total defense (297 yards allowed per game), the Eagles are the NFL’s most complete team, making it very possible they also won’t lose another game through the entirety of the 2022 season.
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10 questions for stretch run of NFL regular season: Tom Brady to extend playoff streak? Miami to salvage year? – CBS Sports