We are past the halfway point in the 2022 NFL season. With that same teams have shown they are true contenders for the playoffs while others have shown that this just isn’t their year. TWSN NFL analysts Marissa Myers and Steve Rivera look at both the AFC and NFC playoff picture and distinguish which teams fall where.
Tier One- Contenders: Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins
While the Buffalo Bills currently sit in second in the AFC East with a 7-3 record, it would be hard not seeing them make the playoffs. Josh Allen will turn things around and continue to give opposing defenses headaches with how he can create plays through the air and ground. The key for the Bills is to get healthy on defense. They currently have the 10th best defense, allowing only 3,274 yards and will be getting Kaiir Elam and Tre’Davious White back to help. With those players getting healthy and still one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL, the Bills remain contenders.
A key to being considered a playoff team is being complete, the Bengals are that. Exclude the first two games of the season when Joe Burrow was working his way back from an appendectomy, and he has completed 200-of-283 passes for 2,353 yards, 19 touchdowns, and only four interceptions. Before the bye week, the run game with Joe Mixon finally got going as he had 153 yards and five total touchdowns. Even when Mixon left the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a concussion the run game still functioned with Samaje Perine. Being able to be diverse like that on offense is huge. Add on the fact that they have the ninth-best defense allowing only 3,274 total yards and 19 total touchdowns, they are playing complimentary football which will take them far.
The Titans sit atop the AFC South with a 7-3 record, and it is hard to see anyone else dethroning them. They are a physical football team, with Derrick Henry leading the way, and Ryan Tannehill doing enough in the passing game to get them by. On defense, the physicality continues as they lead the NFL in pressures with 106, which they have also turned into 30 sacks. Their pass defense is shaky, but again, they all but have the AFC South wrapped up already.
With the Chiefs sweeping the Chargers, and an offense on a roll, they will be difficult to stop. Much like the Titans, the AFC West is seemingly already the Chiefs. The offense is hard to keep pace with as Patrick Mahomes is playing at his best while also having a wide array of playmakers at his disposal to keep opposing defenses guessing. They haven’t shown anything that wouldn’t make them contenders.
After some defensive slip ups to start the season leading to their three losses, the Ravens defense has turned things around. With the addition of Roquan Smith now as well, the unit will only continue to improve. The Ravens currently are the top team in the AFC North with a 7-3 record, and the rest of the season their opponents have a combined record of 26-45. This Ravens team as they continue to get healthy are to be considered playoff contenders.
The last team to be considered a true contender is the Miami Dolphins, who currently lead the AFC East with a 7-3 record. The offense Mike McDaniel brought to Miami has helped Tua Tagovailoa improve and be able to lead the offense consistently. Tyreek Hill has been a huge factor in helping Tagovailoa as well with being able to adjust to passes in certain situations. The concern for the Dolphins is their offensive line that has allowed 91 pressures. That is going to be a concern when facing some of the top-tier pass rushes in the playoffs, but until then, with the offense they currently have, they are contenders.
Tier Two- Hopefuls: New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots
This season has seen some crazy upsets, one of these teams could get that final spot in the playoffs or another wild card spot. The Chargers have the talent on paper, they just need to get healthy. With the return of Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, that will provide a boost for the offense, and the defense will get Joey Bosa back in time to try to make the push.
The Jets have turned things around quickly this season and have pulled off upset wins over the Dolphins and Bills. They’ve done so with their stout young defense led by Ahmad Gardner, Jordan Whitehead, Quincy Williams, and Jermaine Johnson among some names allowing only 18.6 points per game. With how the defense has played, it has led to them winning games. The Jets fall in the hopeful spot because of the offense. Zach Wilson has looked rough this season, and if they are to make it, their playoff hopes rely on the defense staying consistent.
The Patriots are a bit tricky, similar to the Jets, it has been the defense leading the way. There has seemed to be a lack of connection between Mac Jones and the type of offense the Patriots want to run passing wise. The offensive line also has not been great, allowing 21 sacks. Still, they sit in position to take a potential playoff spot due to their ground game with Rhamondre Stevenson and a defense that has 36 sacks with Matthew Judon accounting for 13. Having a defense and run game to rely on could be something that helps the Patriots make a push.
The Colts are interesting because despite a coaching change, they aren’t completely out of the race yet. After bringing in Jeff Saturday as the interim head coach, the offense as a whole looks better. In the first game the offensive line kept Matt Ryan upright and only allowed one sack, while also helping the run game get going with Jonathan Taylor. They were even able to keep things close with the Philadelphia Eagles in a 17-16 loss. If they can continue to work in sync and secure five more wins, they could put themselves into the last playoff spot.
Tier Three- No Chance: Las Vegas Raiders, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars
With how top-heavy the divisions are for these teams, it is hard to see them making a push. For the Raiders sitting at 3-7 with games still yet to be played against the Chargers, Chiefs, Patriots, and San Francisco 49ers it doesn’t look great. For the Broncos they have the third-best defense in the NFL allowing only 3,021 yards with stellar play from Justin Simmons and Patrick Surtain II. It is their offense though that has let the team down, leading to them falling out of potential playoff contention.
Both the Browns and Steelers are in a similar spot, as they don’t have the offensive consistency from their quarterbacks to keep them in games. In a division with both the Bengals and Ravens along with more consistent offenses on the teams in the tiers above, it is hard to see them getting in.
The Jaguars have shown many encouraging signs at points this season, but they still need improvement before they find themselves back in the playoffs. Trevor Lawrence is making better decisions with the ball, they figured out the run game with Travis Etienne, and they have a young defense that can get after quarterbacks. They are a team with potential but their schedule featuring the Ravens, Titans, Dallas Cowboys, and Jets still is tough, and what keeps them from reaching the playoffs.
There hasn’t been any teams eliminated yet, but the Houston Texans sitting at a 1-7-1 record seem to already be definitively out. They have their run game going with Dameon Pierce, but need more than that to keep pace with the high-powered offenses.
Tier One- Contenders: Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers.
The Philadelphia Eagles are built for a postseason run that can lead to Glendale, Arizona for Super Bowl LVII. Sitting at 9-1 overall and 2-1 in the NFC East, the playoffs are an absolute lock. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is the straw that stirs the drink. In 2022, he’s posting MVP type numbers, already passing for 2,407 yards with 15 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Consistency is what has the Eagles humming, with a completion percentage of 68.3% and a rating of 106.5. Philadelphia is solid up and down the roster and on both sides of the football.
Finally, fans in the Metroplex have hope beyond the hype of carnival barker in-chief Jerry Jones. The media darlings of the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys, sitting at 7-3 overall and 2-1 in the NFC East, are putting together a season where the playoffs are a potential reality in 2022. Dak Prescott, who has been up and down in Dallas, has found a groove, making the playoffs a real possibility. Prescott and wide receiver CeeDee Lamb are a potent offensive combination. This season, Prescott has thrown for 1,132 yards, with his main target Lamb raking up 751 yards. On defense, Donovan Wilson has recorded 66 tackles, with 49 being solo efforts. Trevon Diggs has had three interceptions.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Gold Coast is witnessing in real time the end of a career for quarterback Tom Brady. The legend is keeping the Buccaneers postseason hopes alive by finding a rhythm that was missing for the bulk of the season. After beating the Seattle Seahawks in Munich, Germany, “Tommy Terrific” has his team at 5-5 overall and 2-1 in the division. As usual, it’s Brady doing the heavy lifting when it counts. In 2022, his numbers are less “garden variety” and more along the lines of what you’d expect. To date, the GOAT has 2,805 yards passing, a 66.0% completion percentage, 12 touchdowns with only two interceptions, for a solid rating of 91.9. Receiver Mike Evans has been Brady’s go-to guy, as he’s caught 49 passes on 76 targets and three touchdowns.
With the NFC North a one trick pony in 2022, the Minnesota Vikings have proven a contender that is finally catching on. Credit Kirk Cousins for finally looking like a quarterback who has Minnesota an absolute bona fide contender. Cousins has had a steady reputation of being good but not great, and the skills to start anywhere in the NFL. He has the leader of the North sitting pretty at 8-2 and perfect 3-0 in the division. The one caveat? The NFC North is bad. The Green Bay Packers implode from week to week, and both the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears are only learning how to win. The Vikings are also a team who can go toe-to-toe with any of the division leaders and win. Their glide path for the balance of this season has them a top-tier team to the postseason.
The San Francisco 49ers are a lock in the NFC West, despite what is happening in Seattle. General manager John Lynch, who has tried desperately to rid himself of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to any takers needs him now, and Garoppolo has responded. The 49ers are sitting at 5-4 and 3-0 in the division, behind the hot hand being played by the Seahawks, who are 6-4 and 2-1 respectively. Garoppolo is having a solid season: 1,931 passing yards, a completion rating of 66.8%, and 11 touchdowns against only four interceptions. He headlines an offense that is potent with recently acquired running back Christian McCaffrey, a dual-threat rushing and catching the football. Along with receiver Brandon Aiyuk who is averaging 12.9 yards per catch for 567 yards and four touchdowns. To round this team off, the top-ranked defense is stellar, especially against the run. Heading into Week 11, the 49ers held opponents to 82.7 rushing yards per game. Against the pass, the pass rush ranks fifth in pressure rate, 25.2%.
Tier Two- Hopefuls: New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks.
The most interesting thing about this season is the little daylight between these second-tier contenders and the top-tier teams. And the dramatic gap between New York, Atlanta, Seattle compared to everyone else who dropped off in the NFC.
The Giants have become more than just a nice story with some upside. While not on par with Philadelphia, they are tantalizingly close to Dallas. New York is in a dogfight in the NFC East. With a record of 7-3 overall and winless inside the division, they will get to take some shots as they will play at the Cowboys, at the Washington Commanders, and close out their 2022 campaign against the Eagles on the road. Add that to hosting Washington and Philadelphia in the next three weeks amidst a run of four straight games against the division, and Big Blue is a team as close to the top as they are the middle.
At 5-6 and 1-3 in the South, the Atlanta Falcons are still in the thick of things, especially with Tampa Bay not as strong as most thought they’d be at the onset of the 2022 season. Atlanta, who was a likely contender for the trash heap, has instead had a surprise with a rejuvenated Marcus Mariota. Mariota, now more of a journeyman quarterback than bona fide starter, has seemed to find a little something in the tank. He’s thrown for 1,878 yards with 13 touchdowns but seven interceptions. All that said, they are still a second-tier team in the NFC South. They have two big roadies at Washington and their division rival Tampa Bay.
If Cinderella exits, she has residence in the 306 area code also known as Seattle, Washington. It’s an amazing and unexpected rise to the top of the NFC West in a year where so much more was expected of both the Arizona Cardinals and especially the Los Angeles Rams. Still, three out of their last four games have them in a run where they have home games against three quality opponents: at home against San Francisco, on the road at Kansas City, and then back to Seattle for a very good New York Jets team. They wrap up with the hapless Rams at SoFi Stadium. At 6-4 for the season and 2-1 in the NFC West, it’s no lock, but they can keep up a pace that has them a championship dark horse with the 49ers.
Tier Three- No Chance: Washington Commanders, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams.
The Commanders are the best of these eight teams, who are long out of it in 2022. Fact is, they are in a jumble in the crowded NFC East behind the Eagles, Cowboys, and Giants. The hope was Carson Wentz could resurrect a career and a franchise. He’s done neither. Instead, Ron Rivera is sticking with Taylor Heinicke. At 6-5 and 1-2 in the NFC East, why not? He’s got something going in the nation’s capital, and for Washington something is better than nothing.
Detroit, Green Bay, and Chicago have seen three of the four teams who make up the NFC North drop off the radar. The Packers are dead in the water with Aaron Rodgers and a record of 4-7 going nowhere. The Lions are showing signs, but 4-6 just means another year of mediocre football in the Motor City. The Bears have shown little life, with an overall record of 3-8 and 0-3 for the North.
The New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers have quarterback issues needing a resolution for those two franchises to move out of the basement and back to respectability. Andy Dalton has steadied a rocky position, but Dalton is at the end of a career and not nearing an end. Baker Mayfield in Carolina has been underwhelming and shows no signs of living up to any of the potential he saw in himself. The Panthers hoped he’d be anything other than what the rumor mill said, but there is a reason he was made available and there weren’t any takers. Bottom line, the Panthers need to go back to work to find a quarterback, and Mayfield will go back to work to find a job, likely as a clipboard holder.
The NFC West has the defending Super Bowl champions in their own backyard. They also thought they had an up-and-coming dark horse contender. Heading into the Thanksgiving weekend, they have two turkeys in the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals. In Arizona, fans and the league are beginning to notice it’s not so much Kliff Kingsbury, but the inconsistent and reckless Kyler Murray. The Cardinals are nowhere with the former over-hyped Heisman Trophy winner, and they are no longer a contender for anything of consequence.
The worst is what’s happened in Los Angeles. The Rams went from the podium to being a raging five alarm dumpster fire. Simply put, they’ve quit. They have no fire on the field, and no sense of urgency to turn it around. They got fat and happy with a title, and then stopped trying. Aaron Donald looks like he’s already retired and is playing out the string, and Sean McVay has said he’d not be too far behind his All-Everything defensive star.