What Went Wrong For Every Eliminated NFL Team

Jan 20th 2023

Hayden WinksJosh Norris

Josh Norris (NFC) and Hayden Winks (AFC) go team-by-team to blurb what went wrong in 2022 for every eliminated NFL team, with notes on if these issues are fixable heading into the 2023 NFL offseason. Teams are ordered by 2022 NFL Draft order.

1. Chicago Bears

Justin Fields is the best athlete on the field whenever he touches it. The team tanked defensively by trading away an aging veteran in Robert Quinn and a player they were not going to pay $20 million per year in Roquan Smith. Byron Pringle was literally the WR Bears brass brought in over the offseason to help the offense. It was objectively a shit situation, yet Fields gave us awesome moments. But do not mistake that for perfection - Fields still has a ways to go, namely as a passer. If you look at EPA + completion percent over expectation, Fields ranks 25th among all QBs. Only Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Mac Jones, Carson Wentz, Davis Mills, Zach Wilson and Baker Mayfield ranked lower. The good news? If you add together the $100 million in cap space plus the No. 1 overall pick and draft capital associated with that… this is going to be the largest investment of resources in NFL history. Could Ryan Poles consider a QB at No. 1 overall to reset the rookie contract window? The root of that decision begins and ends with his own personal evaluation of Fields versus the incoming group of rookies. (For the record, I vote no).

2. Houston Texans

Things are back to where they were last offseason: No franchise QB. No head coach. That's not a surprise with this hell tier ownership group. Aside from a No. 2 ranking in special teams DVOA, there's nothing to collectively point to as a positive here. Despite being the 4th healthiest team, Houston was 19th in EPA allowed on defense and 32nd on offense. Davis Mills will likely be replaced by a rookie QB (Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud), but who that rookie will be surrounded by is to be determined, with Brandin Cooks immediately back in trade rumors and John Metchie hoping to return from chemotherapy. Dameon Pierce ran hard at times, but the Texans ultimately were 32nd in success rate on short yardage carries and 30th in EPA per carry behind an iffy offensive line aside from LT Laremy Tunsil, who could be the highest-paid OT soon. The high-point (for me at least) was unfairly-fired coach Lovie Smith's Week 18 two-point conversion walk-off to screw the McNair's out of their prized 1st overall pick. In all likelihood, the Texans will have a top-5 pick in this exercise next year.

3. Arizona Cardinals

Reflecting on 2022, it feels like the Cardinals’ awful season was completely foreshadowed at last year’s Combine. Kyler Murray’s public statement through his agent… the same agent who represents Kliff Kingsbury. Steve Keim receiving an extension. Kingsbury, and ultimately Kyler receiving one as well… then Kliff letting Kyler call plays during practice to show “this shit ain’t easy.” Does any of this sound normal? Now, Murray will enter 2023 coming off a serious injury with James Conner and Zach Ertz - two giant investments last offseason - another year older and DeAndre Hopkins likely headed out the door. So what is next? New GM Monti Ossenfort needs to design an actual process when building a roster, which would be a vast departure from Steve Keim’s tendency of falling in love with positionless players.

4. Indianapolis Colts

Preseason favorites for the AFC South, Indy face-planted all the way to No. 32 in point differential. Whoever brought in Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan in back-to-back offseasons is to blame here, but interim coach Jeff Saturday was not going to save this dumpster fire. Everything about the team was conservative: 4th down aggressiveness (24th), aDOT (32nd), play action rate (30th). But the true surprise was a bad offensive line and ground game, leading Jonathan Taylor to fantasy's Bust Of The Year honors; Indy was 30th in EPA per carry and 28th in adjusted sack rate. Where do they go from here? Swing for the fences at QB (Rodgers, a rookie, etc), look outside the building at head coach, and hope the Colts' No. 12 EPA defense doesn't regress before the Jaguars start running away with AFC South titles.

5. Denver Broncos (traded to SEA)

The season was over when the home crowd was loudly chanting down the play clock to help an ailing head coach and quarterback. That was Week 2 against the Texans. And things got worse from there. On top of finishing 31st in injury luck, fired coach Nathaniel Hackett's team was 32nd in penalties and 29th in special teams DVOA. Russell Wilson looked less athletic and, more importantly, not on the same page with anyone not named Jerry Jeudy. Russ's career-worst season ended with near-bottom rankings in EPA per dropback (25th), deep catch rate (24th), and adjusted sack rate (30th). With Javonte Williams tearing his ACL, MCL, and PCL, the Broncos' ground game was somehow worse than the passing, ranking 28th in EPA per carry and 31st in short-yardage success rate. Within the flames of an all-time collapse, there are two positives in Denver: a No. 5 EPA allowed defense and an ownership group with Walmart cash. Expect a big name at head coach (Jim Harbaugh?) and hopefully some injury luck next year. Neither get Wilson back to pre-Denver highs, sadly.

6. Los Angeles Rams (traded to DET)

When going all in goes all wrong. A team going from winning the Super Bowl to a bottom six win-loss record shows just how fragile rosters are. "F them picks" bring in players like Matthew Stafford, Jalen Ramsey and Von Miller (2021 title push) - but it can also destroy your depth, and that manifested itself after crippling offensive line injuries. Even with that said... one Super Bowl likely was worth it. So what is next? Fixing the offensive line with a potential shoestring budget and no first-round pick in order to keep an aging quarterback upright. Sean McVay, Cooper Kupp and Stafford are returning, but could another shock move be on the horizon? A Jalen Ramsey trade? It's not that the Rams do not have draft picks, it is that they mostly fall in the "quantity" pile (Day 3) instead of quality.

7. Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders had an All-Pro WR and RB, yet finished 15th in EPA per play and 26th in winning percentage. A 4-9 record in one score games screams bad luck, but multiple people deserve some blame here. The Davante Adams trade encompasses it all. The Raiders have stars like the 1,516-yard receiver, but the roster was overrated by decision makers. Maxx Crosby is a fringe All Pro talent. The rest of the defense is not (29th in EPA allowed). Josh Jacobs was the cost-adjusted fantasy MVP. The rest of the offense lacked consistency (30th in penalties, 26th in red zone touchdown rate, 25th in turnover rate). Derek Carr missed more throws than he did in 2021, and Josh McDaniels was too conservative for my liking. Those two likely won't be reunited, given Carr's late-season benching and completely tradable/releasable contract. Perhaps McDaniels gets re-familiarized with Jimmy Garoppolo or a certain 46-year-old QB out of Michigan.

8. Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons are seemingly taking the long view when creating an identity. Their defense has sucked for two seasons (enter new DC Ryan Nielsen from the Saints) with only a few building blocks on that side of the ball. Arthur Smith has created two drastically different offensive styles in two seasons, which even flipped again with Desmond Ridder at quarterback as the Falcons' percentage of deep passes cut in half with the rookie at quarterback in comparison to Marcus Mariota. That kind of offensive malleability shows that Arthur Smith is willing to cater the offense to his starting quarterback's strengths... but now he's going on year three without a quarterback to build an offense around long term. Time might be running out. That has to feel uncomfortable. Drake London is extremely promising, Tyler Allgeier likely solidified a large chunk of the team's 2023 RB opportunities and Kyle Pitts has shown great moments - with the entire football collective understanding he still has more untapped potential. This offseason, the Falcons have the second most cap space to spend.

9. Carolina Panthers

The quarterback position has been woefully mismanaged over the years. Patience and a long-term two-year plan with Teddy Bridgewater instantly turned into "Replace Teddy at all costs"... which then resulted in trading more than a second-round pick for Sam Darnold, who also lasted just one season before being unseated by Baker Mayfield, before Baker played so poorly that the team pivoted directly back to Darnold to close the season. Frank Reich must nail the most important position in sports, because the rest of the roster has enough talent to win a weak division. On a positive note, the Panthers' investments in the offensive line finally paid off - Ickey, Moton, Corbett and Brady Christensen look like starters... but late-season injuries to the final two leave some questions heading into next season.

10. New Orleans Saints (traded to PHI)

From our seats on the outside, the Saints have been all in for years. No team kicks the salary cap and draft pick can down the road more than New Orleans, and the 2022 season was their worst result so far with Dennis Allen displaying questionable in-game management to boot. Rather than reset last offseason, all local beat writers suggested the Saints felt they were still in their window to win, with their roster moves reflecting that. The franchise's brain trust could not have been more wrong. Marcus Davenport's imminent departure is a microcosm of all of this... a player who the Saints traded an extra first-round pick for with minimal results, who will now leave and potentially achieve his best NFL moments for another team. The Saints will look a whole lot different next season, with questions surrounding Alvin Kamara and the unquestioned end of the road for Michael Thomas. On the bright side, Chris Olave just posted one of the un-flashiest 1,000 yard rookie seasons ever and the Saints will again roster a very talented offensive line. But with Sean Payton likely not getting a head coaching job this cycle (meaning the Saints will not receive draft picks in a trade) and the team currently $58 million OVER the 2023 salary cap, an unpredictable offseason looms.

11. Tennessee Titans

The franchise turning point? When A.J. Brown (8-119-2) out played Treylon Burks (1-25-1) in a 35-10 road win. GMs don't survive these decisions, especially when the team is 32nd in injury luck. The Titans were especially hit hard in the secondary and at pass rush, leading to the 28th-ranked passing EPA defense. If not for elite defensive tackle and linebacker play (1st in rushing EPA allowed), the Titans would be picking much higher. These draft picks will likely be spent on offense. Both Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry are tradable depending on how deep into this rebuild coach Mike Vrabel wants to go. I'd vote all the way down to the studs. Find a non-Malik Willis quarterback, address the No. 29 adjusted sack rate offensive line, hope injury luck improves on defense, and let Vrabel get back to maximizing his personnel. Oh, one more thing: Hope the Jaguars don't separate from the AFC South in the meantime.

12. Cleveland Browns (traded to HOU)

When Deshaun Watson took over in Week 13, the Browns were 4-7, not because of offense but because of the defense. On the year, Cleveland was 32nd in rushing EPA allowed and 16th in adjusted sack rate despite having All-Pro EDGE Myles Garrett. Ultimately, DC Joe Woods wasn't able to survive that, but of course, the defense isn't the real concern right now. That's their $230M guaranteed quarterback. The one who was 31st out of 37 qualifiers in EPA per dropback in the same offense NFL journeyman Jacoby Brissett ranked 11th in. Watson had Amari Cooper, David Njoku, and PFF's No. 6 offensive line, but his eyes wandered and he looked generally uncomfortable aside from a few athletic plays. Coach Kevin Stefanski has one year to get him back on track, or the former coach of the year will be the next fall guy ... and it goes without saying, Nick Chubb had 1,525 rushing yards on his 5th-straight YPC season. Pretty, pretty good.

13. New York Jets

Coach Robert Saleh had his side of the ball rolling. DROY Sauce Gardner and a fierce pass rush led the No. 7 EPA defense, but a good defense can't mask an anemic offense. Zach Wilson (-0.09 EPA per dropback), Joe Flacco (-0.10), Mike White (-0.02). It didn't matter. But the good news for Jets fans is that those names won't matter moving forward, as New York will find a new quarterback and play-caller after respected OC Mike LaFleur parted ways. The new faces will be tasked with getting Elijah Moore and the No. 24 rushing EPA ground game going again, but it's an attractive destination for both vacancies. Despite the sour taste of a 1-7 post-bye week record and a 31-possession scoreless streak to close out the year, the Jets did at least find stars in OROY candidate Garrett Wilson and potential bellcow Breece Hall (torn ACL) this past draft. Expect the Jets to be mocked as a wild card team in 2023 predictions once they bring in a veteran quarterback. A Garoppolo-level quarterback should send this 29th-ranked passing EPA offense to potentially fringe top-12 levels quickly. When healthy, the weapons and offensive line are that good.

14. New England Patriots

Even the greatest coach of all time couldn't overcome putting a career defensive mind at OC and a career special-teams coach as the assistant OC. Put simply, the offense didn't have a strength. New England was 27th in short-yardage rushing, 22nd in passing EPA, 25th in adjusted sack rate, 28th in plays, and last in 4th-down aggressiveness. Mac Jones regressed behind an offensive line that looked good on paper, and OC Matt Patricia didn't help him with play action (28th) or with avoiding pressure. Jones will be largely written off already, but the Patriots pass-catchers were bottom five and will nearly be entirely replaced this offseason -- I smell a DeAndre Hopkins trade. ... While the offense and 32nd-ranked special teams were unwatchable, it's inarguable that Bill Belichick still very much has it defensively. New England was 2nd in EPA allowed, 1st in passing EPA allowed, and 5th in adjusted sack rate. Matthew Judon was very clearly their MVP.

15. Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers did not play at a back-to-back MVP level. Frustrations with the offense, a lack of trust in young pass catchers and the defense failing to translate on paper talent to on-field results. It was not until Christian Watson emerged as this era's Martavis Bryant did Green Bay look competitive. However, after a final day loss to the Lions and failing to make the playoffs, it appears that Aaron Rodgers' days as a Packer are over and the team will roll with Jordan Love. The Packers do have two of the most versatile OL in the league in Elgton Jenkins and Zach Tom, plenty of building blocks defensively and a playcaller with a résumé of success. The NFC North is now far more competitive with the overachieving Vikings and newly crowned underdog Detroit Lions, but I would not count out the Packers' chances in 2023.

16. Washington Commanders

Scott Turner's firing feels like a scapegoat for the team relying on Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke as viable starting quarterbacks. Turner was far from perfect, namely failing to connect his playcalling and set up the opposition to lose, but I have a sneaking suspicion this will turn into a "grass is not always greener" scenario for Commander fans. Regardless, the building blocks are in place at receiver with Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson. The defense should get Chase Young back, while free agent Da'Ron Payne will receive a massive pay day. Just like with nearly half of the league, the Commanders will fail to compete next season without figuring out their quarterback situation.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers

Mike Tomlin is now 16-0 in avoiding a losing season as the Steel Curtain's head coach. He did so despite ranking 25th in point differential with the 8th-worst injury luck this time around. Tomlin can't will this team much longer, however. He needs the offense to improve ... Now. OC Matt Canada ran a frustrating dink-and-dunk offense that was 29th in play action rate and 25th in neutral pass rate. Was that a Canada or Kenny Pickett problem though? The rookie didn't wow anyone physically or statistically (26th in passing EPA), but his offensive line and play design didn't help. To me, Pickett's strengths are mobility and accuracy -- that's a start -- so perhaps there's a path to a decent offense with Pat Freiermuth, George Pickens, and Najee Harris all growing on their rookie deals. Hopefully another play caller gets a try here before the Steelers age out on defense, where they were 24th in passing EPA allowed thanks to key injuries.

18. Detroit Lions

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

20. Seattle Seahawks

21. Miami Dolphins (Forfeited Pick)

This was the most exciting one dimensional team of the 2022 season. Coach Mike McDaniel won over our hearts with charisma and a nasty over-the-middle pass scheme, ultimately leading the Dolphins to the 3rd-most 20+ yard passes and the No. 8 passing EPA. They used the 2nd-most play action, had the 2nd-highest aDOT, and maximized the speed of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Before defenses began jamming these receivers at the line of scrimmage and before Tua Tagovailoa was down for the season with his likely 3rd concussion of the season, Miami was in the AFC Championship mix. But this wasn't a well-rounded team. The Dolphins were 26th in EPA allowed, 28th in penalties, 28th in special teams DVOA, and 18th in short-yardage run success rate. If Tua wasn't letting Tyreek and Waddle run under downfield throws, this team was in trouble. Of course, that leads into their biggest offseason discussion: Tua's health. What happens if he suffers another concussion? What if it's another one of his leg injuries? Do they have to make a bigger investment into a backup? All fair (and uncomfortable) questions for the front office. Hopefully Tua can stay protected because he's an easy guy to root for and because this is a must-watch offense when McDaniel is in his bag.

22. Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers will Charger, but even the biggest Arby's nihilist couldn't have predicted a 27-0 blown lead to the Jaguars to end a year littered with adversity. Los Angeles lost key players (LT Rashawn Slater, EDGE Joey Bosa, CB J.C. Jackson, WR Keenan Allen, etc.) for months at a time, but no two injuries deserved more under the microscope attention than the meaningless Week 18 setbacks. After re-aggravating his groin, Bosa wasn't himself against Jacksonville, and more importantly, Mike Williams (back) didn't suit up. The latter played into the Chargers' biggest achilles heel of 2022: downfield passing scheme. Potentially soon-to-be fired OC Joe Lombardi hid Justin Herbert's elite in-pocket talent with the No. 31 average depth of throw, instead opting for short throws to receiving talent that's not known for their yards after the catch ability. Herbert desperately needed speed on the perimeter all year long. The ground game was mediocre, too. Austin Ekeler was fantastic as a receiver and scored a lot of touchdowns, but the Chargers were 30th in big play runs and 21st in short-yardage success rate. A big-bodied complement for Ekeler would be nice (not for fantasy but for real life). Coach Brandon Staley's defense was on brand. They were 6th in passing EPA allowed despite Bosa and Jackson's missed time (that's quite impressive), but they were 27th against the run. That's a sacrifice you can be willing to make early in the rebuild, though at some point it can't be such an obvious weakness. Ultimately, the Chargers are a new offensive coordinator and speedy first-round receiver from being in the mix.

23. Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens had a +75 point differential in Lamar Jackson's 11 healthy games. They averaged a sturdy 25 points per game, even with Rashod Bateman and Mark Andrews battling injuries. But once Lamar's PCL was damaged, things went south. Tyler Huntley didn't live up to 2021 expectations, ultimately fumbling an upset chance in Cincy. That's the storyline of their entire season and the entire upcoming offseason. Does Lamar want to be a Raven? Will the front office give into Lamar's guaranteed money demands? The rest is null. Assuming he returns (not a safe assumption), the Ravens need to find better receiving talent. They were 30th in deep ball catch rate and 31st in 20+ yard passes, despite having the 9th-highest average depth of target on the 4th-highest play action rate. Even the Ravens' No. 2 rushing EPA offense can't overcome those passing numbers. Defensively, there's another nice foundation built around speedy LB Roquan Smith and an aggressive secondary, one that gave up too many big plays early in the year but settled down late following the Smith trade. If Lamar is in a Ravens uniform next year, they'll be competing with the Bengals for a division win. Unfortunately, getting him in one will be a bumpy road.

24. Minnesota Vikings

25. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars arrived one year early, and nobody is complaining. Coach Doug Pederson is an aggressive, quality schemer who adapts his stuff to his personnel, a group that will be adding Calvin Ridley out wide next year. Pederson deserves a ton of credit for undoing the Urban Meyer stank, but make no mistake about it, this is a Trevor Lawrence team, city, and Duuval County. He threw 18 more TDs and 4 fewer INTs in year two, ultimately finishing 10th in EPA/dropback and 4th (!!!) in success rate. There aren't any plays left out of the playbook with Lawrence, who can both hit Cover 2 hole shots and run the ball. More importantly, his mental game seems to be rapidly developing. He had the 3rd-quickest time to throw and 3rd-best adjusted sack rate. Christian Kirk (65 YD/G) and Zay Jones (51 YD/G) had career seasons in 2022 and should be more efficient in their true roles as No. 2 and No. 3 WRs next to Ridley next year. Evan Engram and Travis Etienne provided schemed-up pop underneath despite their limitations and a No. 30 team run-blocking PFF grade, the last of which is the biggest offensive concern. Defensively, Jacksonville was 17th in success rate allowed, but there are reasons for optimism if 2022 1st overall pick Travon Walker can develop pass rush moves. Jacksonville was 29th in adjusted sack rate, while being 5th-best in rushing EPA allowed. That's on par with Walker's pre-draft profile. In a cringy AFC South, the Jaguars don't need Walker or the defense to be world beaters to reach the playoffs, but if Walker and Ridley play to their potential, an AFC South championship is the least of their 2023 goals. This team reminds me of the young Bengals.

26. New York Giants

27. Dallas Cowboys

28. Buffalo Bills

It's hard to say a 13-3 season with the 2nd-most points scored on offense and 2nd-fewest points allowed on defense is a disappointment, but this is what the 2022-23 season feels like after getting drilled in the mouth by the Bengals at home in the Divisional Round. Josh Allen regressed some -- his turnover worthy play rate went from 3.2% last year to 4.2% this year (31st) and he took far more more sacks -- but the Bills' biggest exposed weakness was Allen's surrounding talent. Buffalo was 21st in adjusted sack rate on defense despite spending a 1st- or 2nd-round pick on three edge rushers, one defensive tackle, and one corner over the last four drafts. They've also spent multiple Day 2 draft picks on running backs but have been unable to run the ball when it matters because of PFF's No. 28 team run-blocking grade. To get over the hump, the Bills may have to dodge their defensive line plans and just surround Allen with the most talented offense they can. It can't be Allen's creativity and Stefon Diggs' route running bailing out a sub-par supporting cast, that's simply not enough in a playoff environment, especially in snowy Buffalo. Moving forward, there's room to upgrade WR2, slot WR, RB, and the interior offensive line. If that means sacrificing some defensive pieces to make it happen, then so be it. More mid-tier defensive prospects won't be elevating this roster ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow. Live and die by Allen, and hope those previous defensive line investments begin to show signs of life.