The 2022 NFL season will crest its midpoint this weekend … so to speak. The conclusion of Week 9 marks the halfway benchmark of the new-ish 18-week regular season even if teams now play an odd number of games.
And what an odd first half – a tsunami of trades, presumed contenders playing like pretenders, superstars that appear to be suddenly fading before us, and as much uncertainty, parity and drama as ever. Seventy-one (of 123) games have been decided by one score (8 or fewer points), most ever through eight weeks of a season.
It’s added up to some interesting observations and lessons gleaned from all 32 teams. Here’s one takeaway from each (listed alphabetically):
TRADE DEADLINE WINNERS, LOSERS:Bills, Packers miss out on upgrades as Dolphins load up
BIGGEST MIDSEASON DISAPPOINTMENTS:Including struggling quarterbacks and sputtering offenses
Follow every game: Live NFL Scores
WEEK 9 POWER RANKINGS:Which team is No. 1 as 2022 season nears midpoint?
1. Arizona Cardinals (3-5)
NFL teams are often cognizant of breaking tendencies while self scouting. However, the Cards surely weren’t gunning for the NFC West basement after going a combined 12-4 through eight games over the previous two years. Time to break more tendencies given they’ve gone an aggregate 9-18 over their final nine games the past three years under coach Kliff Kingsbury.
2. Atlanta Falcons (4-4)
They’re probably not going to produce a single Pro Bowler, yet they’re leading the NFC South (for what that’s worth). Still, tip of the cap to second-year coach Arthur Smith, who draws up fantastic game plans and still finds time to booze with his linemen.
3. Baltimore Ravens (5-3)
QB Lamar Jackson’s fourth-quarter struggles – including five of his seven turnovers and a 60.2 passer rating – have mirrored the team’s. Get those ironed out, and Baltimore ought to win the AFC North while his inevitable payday shouldn’t be hindered.
4. Buffalo Bills (6-1)
As good as advertised. Their record is the AFC’s best, the +105 point differential is 27 more than the league’s next-best team (Eagles), and QB Josh Allen is on the MVP short list. It is worth wondering if Buffalo was too conservative at the trade deadline, particularly as it pertains to a ground game that’s been average at best for years while overly reliant on Allen.
5. Carolina Panthers (2-6)
They (probably) don’t have a head coach or long-term quarterback (probably) in the building. But if owner David Tepper can find the right leader, and GM Scott Fitterer can leverage his newfound draft capital into a franchise passer, this otherwise potential-laden team could be a serious worst-to-first candidate in 2023.
6. Chicago Bears (3-5)
Just maybe Justin Fields is emerging as the best quarterback from the 2021 draft. He’s certainly accomplishing the most with the least, and that definitively includes Houston counterpart Davis Mills. And after doing virtually nothing to help Fields during the offseason, it seems like Chicago’s new regime is starting to fall for him.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (4-4)
The offensive line may look different, but it isn’t necessarily fixed. Joe Burrow remains the AFC’s most-sacked quarterback (29), and Cincinnati can’t run the ball (3.5 yards per carry). The good news is they had the same issues last year, and a win over Carolina on Sunday means a second straight 5-4 start.
8. Cleveland Browns (3-5)
We’ve questioned the Jacoby Brissett Band-Aid plan since June, and this crew has largely proven it’s not good enough to get by with a game manager. With the Dolphins, Bills and Bucs next on the schedule, Cleveland fans shouldn’t expect much better than a 4-7 start when QB Deshaun Watson’s suspension ends before Week 13.
9. Dallas Cowboys (6-2)
RB Tony Pollard is their best offensive weapon. No back in the league tops his 6.2 yards per carry, and last Sunday was an illustration of what this offense can be with his explosive talent consistently featured.
10. Denver Broncos (3-5)
Rookie defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero could be the latest star birthed from the Sean McVay coaching tree. Evero has been so good, his unit has kept this club viable despite the positions it’s been put in by rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett and the Russell Wilson Experience. Time to find out now how Evero adjusts without the services of OLB Bradley Chubb.
11. Detroit Lions (1-6)
Their defense is the league’s worst by a solid margin. Yet it may ascend in the near future on the backs of a Wolverine (DE Aidan Hutchinson) and a Buckeye (CB Jeffrey Okudah), who have been Detroit’s most reliable defenders in a lost season.
12. Green Bay Packers (3-5)
Maybe some of those MVP votes the past two years should have been allocated to departed WR Davante Adams? Aaron Rodgers hasn’t adapted to his new reality nearly as well as Patrick Mahomes, and the Pack are already on life support as a result.
13. Houston Texans (1-5-1)
Rookie RB Dameon Pierce may be their best player – which is simultaneously good news … and indicative of how stuck this beached franchise remains.
14. Indianapolis Colts (3-4-1)
This offensive line seemingly turned mortal – even brittle – overnight, accelerating QB Matt Ryan’s demise and giving RB Jonathan Taylor too few opportunities to accelerate.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6)
Still waiting for the only No. 1 overall picks in franchise history (QB Trevor Lawrence, OLB Travon Walker) to take off. However, their secondary first-round picks the past two years (RB Travis Etienne, LB Devin Lloyd) may be emerging as the Jags’ best players.
16. Kansas City Chiefs (5-2)
The anti-Packers. K.C. is the only team in the league averaging more than 30 points per game (31.9) despite the absence of WR Tyreek Hill. Perhaps a needed reminder of the greatness of HC Andy Reid, who’s consistently evolved to achieve excellence over the past quarter century – and confirmation his quarterback is equally special regardless of his circumstances.
17. Las Vegas Raiders (2-5)
Yep, the Adams-Derek Carr connection in the NFL isn’t quite what it was at Fresno State … and Carr’s reliance on Adams has surprisingly reduced Pro Bowl pass catchers Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller to bit players.
18. Los Angeles Chargers (4-3)
Their infamous bad luck is real. As for coach Brandon Staley, he continues to doggedly adhere to his analytics … even if they seem far less predictive than the Bolts’ near-perennial bad fortune.
19. Los Angeles Rams (3-4)
“Eff them picks” can be a Super Bowl-winning strategy … when injuries don’t expose an alarming lack of depth for a team so heavily cap-invested in its stars. Unable to pull another Pro Bowler out of the trade deadline hat, we’ll see how McVay and GM Les Snead adjust to their current situation.
20. Miami Dolphins (5-3)
QB Tua Tagovailoa has turned the corner under rookie coach Mike McDaniel – so much so that the team has started cashing out draft picks for the likes of Chubb and RB Jeff Wilson as the focus shifts from roster building to chasing a Lombardi Trophy.
21. Minnesota Vikings (6-1)
Lost in the debate regarding how good this team is or isn’t has been the resurgence of OLB Za’Darius Smith. The league co-leader with 8½ sacks, he deserves serious consideration for Comeback Player of the Year – and even Defensive POY – after a bad back limited him to two games in 2021.
22. New England Patriots (4-4)
Bill Belichick continues to struggle managing quarterbacks – an issue that’s been evident since he was the head coach in Cleveland but was masked for two decades by one Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr.
23. New Orleans Saints (3-5)
What to make of a team led in rushing TDs by a “tight end” (Taysom Hill), paced in receptions by a rookie (Chris Olave), amid a low-key lineup switch to QB Andy Dalton, who lords over an offense that’s surrendered four TDs to the opposition? Well, in the NFC South, circa 2022, that kind of formula puts you one game off the lead.
24. New York Giants (6-2)
Brian Daboll may be the coach of the year, GM Joe Schoen essentially admitting Tuesday that this team’s record isn’t necessarily reflective of its talent. Major decisions ahead with QB Daniel Jones and RB Saquon Barkley headed for free agency in a few months.
25. New York Jets (5-3)
Their highly acclaimed draft class has largely exceeded its hype, so much so that the season-ending knee injury to RB Breece Hall may prove a death blow to this offense. That’s also retrained the spotlight on second-year QB Zach Wilson and the state of his progression after a horrible showing in Week 8, the team’s first game without Hall. But, in large part, what seems like a perpetual rebuild finally seems on track.
26. Philadelphia Eagles (7-0)
The notion they could go 17-0 seems a bit silly on the surface … and yet, the Iggles are likely to be prohibitive favorites in all of their remaining games with the exception of their Christmas Eve date in Dallas. GM Howie Roseman should be the runaway choice for league executive of the year, his trade for WR A.J. Brown perhaps overshadowing other deft moves such as the acquisitions of OLB Haason Reddick and CB James Bradberry.
27. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6)
They may have to re-enter the quarterback market in 2023. No team has a worse collective passer rating (73.9), and rookie Kenny Pickett – in fairness, he’s only played five games – has been a turnover machine with eight interceptions and a 4.8% INT rate, second worst in the league. If this team continues to careen toward a top-five pick, it will have to thoroughly evaluate next spring’s projected bumper crop of passers.
28. San Francisco 49ers (4-4)
The best move of the summer might have been holding on to QB Jimmy Garoppolo. The best move of October – for our money – was landing RB Christian McCaffrey, particularly given it came at the expense of a rival like the Rams. If the Niners get fully healthy, they might well be the last NFC team you’d want to face come January.
29. Seattle Seahawks (5-3)
Ten years and four teams into his career, and QB Geno Smith (NFC-leading 107.2 passer rating) has shockingly emerged into a frontline starter for a first-place team. And with only two teams with winning records presently left on the schedule, decent odds he could be taking his first playoff snaps at season’s end.
30. Tennessee Titans (5-2)
They’ve risen back to the top of the AFC South as the rest of the division implodes around them. However, their wideouts have produced all of 658 receiving yards, 1 fewer than Brown has for Philadelphia. Still a very dubious trade.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5)
After last Thursday’s loss to the Ravens, the Bucs’ third in a row, QB Tom Brady was asked his plans for the mini bye as he and the reigning division champions look to salvage their season. He didn’t reveal that he’d be finalizing his divorce the next morning. It’s not a situation to make light of but will be fascinating to see if TB12 and Co. stabilize given the distractions that have swirled around the 45-year-old, seemingly for the past nine months.
32. Washington Commanders (4-4)
Give them credit for perseverance even while stuck in the basement of the league’s best division. QB2 Taylor Heinicke has stepped in to engineer consecutive wins, DE Chase Young’s return seems imminent, and the owner might even be reaching for a burgundy-and-gold parachute that might bring the stability – and requisite stadium – that’s been lacking in the nation’s capital for more than two decades. HTTC.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
Story Credit: usatoday.com