(Mandatory Image Credit: Kirby Lee - USA Today Sports)
Written by: Joseph Yun
After nine weeks of the season, we’ve reached the midpoint of the 2022 campaign. It’s time to take a look at which teams are failing to meet their goals, are on their way to failure, or are outright doomed. Who will win the race for the top overall selection in April’s 2023 NFL Draft? Which team can attain the dubious honor of #CrashingforCJ or #BlowItUpforBryce? Can a team in the top ten pull itself by the bootstraps and rally during the second half of the season?
Note: All records reflect prior to the kickoff of Week 10's Thursday Night game.
1. Houston Texans (1-6-1)
Remaining Schedule: @ NYG, vs. Washington, @ MIA, vs. Cleveland, @ DAL, vs. KC, @ TEN, vs. Jacksonville, @ IND
Additional selections: 13th overall via Cleveland
- The Texans being up at the rare stratified air this high in the order was entirely expected. It’s a matter of how many losses they can pile up. Houston possesses the schedule loaded to the gills with the league’s power programs and rising teams. It could be entirely possible for the organization to go winless during this stretch. The race for the top pick could come down to the final week of the season with a less-than-daunting contest against the Colts. One game sure to be witnessed by many is the Deshaun Watson grudge match. An interesting dichotomy is to be had in that one as Houston needs to stay bad but the Browns owe them a first-round selection. This game could conceivably be between two teams locked in the top ten as the Browns face a nasty three-game gauntlet (@ Miami, @ Buffalo, home vs. Tampa) prior. It’s pretty much a given that the Texans will be selecting in the top three. Will they take a quarterback with this selection?
2. Carolina Panthers (2-7)
Remaining Schedule: vs. ATL, @ BAL, vs. Denver, @ SEA, vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Detroit, @ TB, @ NO
- It’s been a long and hard road for the Panthers this season, which has ended up costing Matt Rhule his job. A road that was completely foreseeable with the roster imbalance. A defense stocked with a talented core superior to their offensive counterparts. It’s hard to see where they can stockpile some wins with this schedule. Three key division contests remain with the Panthers could decide the fate of the race at the end. The back half of the slate features two games against fellow top-five contenders Pittsburgh and Detroit. Carolina is a heavy favorite to secure the rights to the first overall selection. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if they eke out a win or two, throwing them off the path of surefire top-three status.
3. Las Vegas Raiders (2-6)
Remaining Schedule: vs. IND, @ DEN, @ SEA, vs. LAC, @ LAR, vs. NE, @ Pittsburgh, vs. SF, vs. KC
- Well, this scene is quite familiar, isn’t it? A scene that Raiders owner Mark Davis did not envision. Josh McDaniels has led the storied franchise to ruin with impressively bad play. Such feats as blowing multiple double-digit leads. It might be a one-and-done season for the former Patriots offensive coordinator. The story about the Raiders’ offensive firepower or lack thereof has been well written so it won’t be rehashed here. The offensive malaise is shocking given the amount of talent at its disposal. Let’s just say the Raiders will have a difficult time getting back to a winning record. A schedule featuring the likes of a hot Seattle, power KC, and emerging San Francisco. It also features multiple teams dotted in the top five and 15 selections at this juncture.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6)
Remaining Schedule: vs. NO, vs. CIN, @ IND, @ ATL, vs. BAL, @ CAR, vs. Vegas, @ BAL, vs. Cleveland
- For decades, the Steelers have been the paragon franchise of the league. A blip on the radar breaking in a rookie quarterback and various youthful pieces or a sign that portends darker skies to come? The defense has been holding the line for the most part but the inconsistent offense has been missing for large chunks. Pittsburgh’s schedule is light on power hitters but potential land mines jockeying for draft positions late. Does Mike Tomlin have another magic trick in having his guys compete hard every week for a .500 ball club? They have another good three possible wins left on the bone. It would behoove the Steelers to be in play for a top-skill prospect on either side of the ball.
5. Detroit Lions (2-6)
Remaining Schedule: @ CHI, @ NYG, vs BUF, vs. Jacksonville, vs. MIN, @ NYJ, @ CAR, vs. CHI, @ GB
Additional selections: 12th overall via Los Angeles Rams
- It has been a season of what-ifs for the fun as-heck Lions. A high-powered offensive attack armed with an equally subpar defense is the theme of this team. The everyman’s head coach, Dan Campbell could be in a spot of trouble if they don’t turn it around in the second half. A beneficial plus is that the Rams are in a season-long tailspin themselves so Detroit could be with two high first-round selections. The good news is that the remaining schedule isn’t too heavy for the Lions to escape the clutches of another top-five selection.
6. Philadelphia Eagles via New Orleans (3-6)
Remaining Schedule: @ PIT, vs LAR, @ SF, @ TB, vs. ATL, @ CLE, @ PHI, vs. CAR
Additional selections: its own projected at 32
- Philadelphia owns the Saints’ first-round selection due to the trade they made prior to the 2022 draft. The Saints subsequently traded up with the Commanders to take Chris Olave and Trevor Penning. Meanwhile, the Eagles made another trade with the Titans for A.J. Brown with that traded first-round selection. After all that, the Saints are terrible enough to merit a potential high selection this season. They are wasting another year of a Super Bowl-caliber defense with an atrocious offense. Fortunately for the Saints, they have a fairly manageable schedule, including a road date against the owners of their first-rounder. New Orleans hosting the similarly bad Panthers in the finale could be massive in terms of draft placement. Also, Olave being pretty good as a rookie is a minor salve in what is becoming a lost season. Can the Saints finally figure it out on offense and vault themselves out of the top ten? The NFC South clearly isn’t the behemoth it once was so that helps.
7. Arizona Cardinals (3-6)
Remaining Schedule: @ LAR, vs SF, vs. LAC, vs. NE, @ DEN, vs. TB, @ ATL, @ SF
- Yeah it’s been a rough go of it for the Desert Fowl this season with no slowdown in sight. Getting to .500 will be a slog with three divisional games left. Games against the Chargers, Bucs, and a plucky Falcons squad are challenging. The only relief appears to be against underperforming Denver and New England. Coach Kliff Kingsbury is under immense pressure alongside enriched Kyler Murray. It’s probably safe to say that Kingsbury needs a strong finish or he will be relieved of his duties. Weirdly, they have trended with a win with two consecutive losses lately. Will they bounce out of the top ten or slide into the top five?
8. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6)
Remaining Schedule: @ KC, vs. BAL, @ DET, @ TEN, vs. DAL, @ NYJ, @ HOU, vs. TEN
- The Jaguars are trying to ascend from the failed Urban Meyer regime but the lack of talented depth is holding them back. The remaining games in November will be tough against KC and Baltimore. December will be a long road that features a possible two wins at best. Matches against fellow top ten contenders Detroit and Houston could shed a ton of light on their intentions. Sitting at eighth currently is an actual improvement over the past couple of years. Three straight against Tennessee, Dallas, and New York is brutal with each fighting for the playoff seeding. Could they play a spoiler against the Titans in week 18? Expect the Jaguars to be in firm contention for a top-five selection at the end.
9. Chicago Bears (3-6)
Remaining Schedule: vs DET, @ ATL, @ NYJ, vs GB, vs PHI, vs. BUF, @ DET, vs. MIN
- Chicago has risen off the mat as of late even if its record doesn’t reflect it. It appears that they finally got around to designing a system around Justin Fields’ strengths. Which is quite a turnaround from an offseason filled with measures not doing that. They traded away key pieces like Robert Quinn, Khalil Mack, and more recently, Roquan Smith. November is relatively manageable but December could be a bear. Three consecutive dates against the Packers, Eagles, and Bills will be a tough road. Ending with Detroit and likely North champion Minnesota could be tricky as well. It will be interesting to see which path Chicago takes in the draft given their lack of defensive star power or to build around Fields further. They might win a couple more games taking them out of the top ten entirely.
10. Green Bay Packers (3-6)
Remaining Schedule: vs. DAL, vs. TEN, @ PHI, @ CHI, vs. LAR, @ MIA, vs. MIN, vs. DET
- The Packers are free-falling down the standings and are assured of giving up their NFC North birthright. The remaining schedule is brutal with no layups in November. This team is heavily injured and Rodgers is yet to show any period of positivity. Losing top defensive star Rashan Gary to a torn ACL plus Eric Stokes’ gruesome leg injury doesn’t help. Romeo Doubs is also hurt along with fellow rookie receiver Christian Watson struggling along. December “lightens up” with a road trip to surging youngster Justin Fields followed by a bye week before going to Miami. January could bring good news with Minnesota potentially resting due to clinching the North at that point. The season-ender against Detroit could be for all the draft position marbles. This is a sentence not many people would even dream to write about in the Rodgers era. Could there be a temporary change of the guard to evaluate Jordan Love further? Any Given Sunday rule applies in TitleTown USA™ but it’s looking grim for the Pack.