The 2021 NFL regular season is in the books and it truly has been a campaign for the ages. With 14 teams remaining on the road to Super Bowl 56 in Los Angeles, it really does feel like the most wide-open of races. While those 14 continue to dream of glory, the remaining teams are already into planning for 2022. The NFL wheel keeps on turning.
Don’t let last week’s loss to Detroit fool you. The Packers were resting up ready for the playoff battles ahead. Battles they hope will end with Aaron Rodgers lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy for a second time. Rodgers and the Packers have been close before, but this feels like a real shot at Super Bowl glory.
The Bucs have been ravaged with injuries this season and yet they, along with the Packers, have won an NFL-high 13 games during the regular season. What else can be said about Tom Brady? He threw for 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns in 2021, aged 44! We’ll never see his likes again and an eighth ring is possible.
They let Houston back into what had been a one-sided contest in Week 18, but Tennessee got the job done and now they get healthier and stronger. Receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones get some rest, while Derrick Henry returns to lead a backfield that coped very well indeed while he was out for half the season.
The Chiefs are always going to score their points, they just have to be more patient than ever when doing so. But I have a few concerns. Offensively, are Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce going to be fit? Defensively, KC gave up 415 through the air to Cincinnati in Week 17 and 191 on the ground to the Broncos in Week 18.
Matthew Stafford was brought to LA to be a difference-maker, and he tied a team record with 41 touchdown passes to rank second in the NFL. But Stafford has also turned the ball over 15 times in his last nine games and tied for the NFL lead with 17 picks on the year. Which Stafford shows up in the playoffs?
The Bengals are hunting down a first playoff win since the 1990 campaign. That was a fact we rolled out early and often during postseason matches featuring Andy Dalton at quarterback. It feels so different this time around with Joe Burrow at the helm. Cincy have the firepower to scare the entire AFC playoff field.
I’m not sure how many complete games the Buffalo Bills have played in 2021 but they have ridiculous talent and that has been enough to secure 11 regular season wins. Josh Allen is always going to be Buffalo’s start but the running game – led by Devin Singletary – has picked up in the last couple of weeks.
Dak Prescott will hope to keep his Week 18 form rolling into the playoffs after he threw a team record five touchdown strikes against Philadelphia’s backups. But it’s going to take more than the league’s number one offense to get past San Francisco. Dallas’ opportunistic defense is also going to need to shine.
A second half that was filled with creativity and physicality saw the 49ers take up a deserved spot in the NFC playoffs. San Francisco have gone 7-2 since mid-November and that kind of form means they have to be taken seriously in the postseason. Jimmy G and Kyle Shanahan will want to lay some ghosts to rest.
That beeping you can hear is the Cardinals reversing into the playoffs as losers of four of their last five. At least they can take solace in the fact they are playing on the road in the postseason. Arizona are 8-1 away from home this season. That feels like a clutching of straws for a team heading in the wrong direction.
When the Patriots beat Buffalo to secure their seventh win in a row, it felt like entire the world was ready to fall at the feet of Bill Belichick. Well, apparently not. Save the wear and tear on your knees. New England have lost three of four since with their only win coming at home against Jacksonville. What’s next?
Interim head coach Rich Bisaccia has done such a good job keeping the Raiders together that team owner Mark Davis just needs to remove the ‘interim.’ Daniel Carlson’s 47-yard field goal against the Chargers gave the Raiders their sixth walk-off win of 2021. They are far from perfect, but they are fun to watch.
I’m leaving the time out conversation for another day. Go back and watch Justin Herbert’s final drive in regulation, during which he completed one big throw after another, and tell me you’re not sad that the kid is missing out on the playoffs. LA will have many future opportunities with Herbert at the helm.
Team owner Jim Irsay called an immediate post-game meeting with head coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard and probably asked, “What now?” The Colts appear married to quarterback Carson Wentz for a few years and I don’t think he is good enough. Paging Andrew Luck… paging Mr Andrew Luck!
The Eagles got the better of Tom Brady in Super Bowl 52. Can they do the same again and upset the NFC apple cart on Sunday? Philadelphia’s NFL-best ground attack offers the best of hope of them picking up a first victory of this season against a team with a winning record. Even if they fail, this has been a solid year.
Brian Flores had 19 regular season wins with the Miami Dolphins over the past two seasons. Bill Belichick had just 17 victories in the same span with New England. Flores got sacked on Monday. Belichick’s position could not be more solid. Stop me if you have heard this one before… the Dolphins are starting over.
The running game is in great shape with Alvin Kamara healthy again, the defense is very solid and Sean Payton is one of the best head coaches in the business. So, the priority has to be to find a wire-to-wire, year-to-year quarterback and to surround whoever that is with a few more passing game weapons.
Mike Tomlin is one heck of a head coach. He has instilled a culture of belief in Pittsburgh that means even in a season where they have looked awful at times, they have scrapped to nine wins and a spot in the AFC playoffs. Finding a suitable quarterback is the priority for 2022 as there is talent in lots of other places.
The Ravens lost their final six games, but they will be back. Five of those defeats were by a total of eight points and different two-point conversion outcomes against Pittsburgh and Green Bay would have meant a trip to the playoffs. A question to ponder in the offseason. How much did Lamar progress as a passer?
The winds of change are blowing through the Vikings and they are as icy as the Minneapolis weather. General manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer are gone. What happens now with expensive but productive quarterback Kirk Cousins? He was Spielman’s guy, for sure. What will the new regime do?
Baker Mayfield was quick to dismiss talk of him demanding a trade in this coming offseason and the Browns were equally fast to say they were planning to play their quarterback under the fifth year of his contract in 2022. What else are they going to say now? This story is not done yet. Stay tuned.
There is a growing belief that both head coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Russell Wilson are staying put. It’s amazing how quickly an atmosphere can change when you end the year with back-to-back wins. But we should not ignore a 7-10 record. There are quite a few things that needed fixing in Seattle in 2022.
The Broncos must have known the rest of the league was sat at home watching them on Saturday night as they gave Kansas City all they could handle. Denver couldn’t save Vic Fangio’s job, but they did serve up a reminder that they would be an attractive destination for an elite veteran quarterback.
The Falcons were playing out the slate in Week 18 and end the year with seven wins under new head coach, Arthur Smith. That’s not a bad return and is something to build on. There are some good young players on either side of the ball, such as tight end Kyle Pitts and emerging corner A.J. Terrell.
Washington rounded out a frustrating campaign with a win on Sunday and now the search must begin to find a reliable and productive quarterback. Welcome home, Kirk Cousins? There are enough other pieces in place with Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin on offense and a strong defense already on board.
The Bears have kicked off their search for a new general manager and head coach. Whoever comes on board, let’s hope they get a full season of Justin Fields to fully evaluate this young potential star. Chicago have some decent offensive weapons with Darnell Mooney coming along. Will they keep Allen Robinson?
Unless the Panthers have been holding the longest head coach deliberation period in NFL history, Matt Rhule appears to be safe; even though his team lost their final seven games after a 5-5 start. You can put the Panthers in the same bracket as Denver, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Washington – they need a QB!
I guess it depends on whether a late move is made to fire David Culley as head coach, but I wonder if the Texans give Davis Mills the football for the entire 2022 campaign? I don’t see why not. The rookie lit a spark under a fading team in the second half of this season and appears to be quite the gamer.
The good news for the Jets is that this lost season saw Zach Wilson settle down at quarterback. Before his knee injury, Wilson accounted for four total touchdowns and nine interceptions in six games. In his last seven games, he racked up nine total touchdowns and tossed just two picks, and none in the final five.
Three wins and a tie is not much to write home about, but there was a real worry for a while that these Lions were going 0-17. I’m not sure how much you can get out of Jared Goff in 2022 and beyond, but Detroit did find themselves a young star in rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. He is the real deal.
Trevor Lawrence put forth his best game of the season in Week 18 and it was enough to break the Colts’ hearts and to make us wonder what the future holds for the Jags. Whoever comes in as head coach and whoever is drafted or signed as a free agent, everything has to be done with Lawrence’s growth in mind.
“This ain’t no clown show,” insisted Joe Judge. Well, not anymore. Judge got fired this week and general manager Dave Gettleman retired before he was pushed. Neither is a surprise. The Giants were the worst team in football down the stretch, losing six straight and each by double digts. It was embarrassing.