Six NFL Teams That Could Surprise in 2022 – For Better or Worse

Six NFL Teams That Could Surprise in 2022 – For Better or Worse

With two weeks of preseason action on the books, things are starting to take shape in the NFL – positively for some and quite ominous for others.

Every year, some teams seemingly appear out of nowhere and impose themselves on relevance. Meanwhile, it’s not uncommon to see the front-runners slip and fall short of expectations.

This year the numbers will be no different. Many people around the league already believe that teams like the Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles have a chance to advance after big-name acquisitions in the offseason. Meanwhile, there is some concern that the departure of Tyreek Hill and the simultaneous improvement of rivals AFC West could threaten the Kansas City Chiefs’ six-year reign at the top of their division.

But each year seems to offer some surprises. A few smart moves and a few strokes of luck put a squad or two on track for the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals. Meanwhile, misfortunes could end up getting in the way of early contenders.

Here’s a look at three teams that seemingly have a chance to become surprise threats, and three others that could be destined for unexpectedly disappointing campaigns.

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NFL Teams That Might Have Surprising Surges

Carolina Panthers

Matt Rhule needs this to happen the hard way, and Baker Mayfield does so well when he starts over at Carolina after the Cleveland Browns parted ways with the 2018 No. 1 pick after getting Deshaun Watson. Mayfield has always had a chip in his shoulder, but his motivation seems to be stronger than ever. He wants to prove the Browns wrong, and now that he’s healthy, he can help a team fight.

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In addition to improving the quarterback’s confidence and decision-making, he can bring an edge the Panthers need. Carolina certainly has the weapons on offense (Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, Robbie Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr.), but the unit needs to stay healthy and have the right facilitator to give them a chance. With the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints starting at quarterback and navigating uncertain territory as head coach (Atlanta’s Arthur Smith is still entering Year 2, and former defensive coordinator Dennis Allen replaces Sean Payton in New Orleans), the door is open. for Carolina to pursue a wildcard offer after three straight seasons of double-digit losses.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Things can’t get much worse than last year’s dysfunctional 3-14 campaign under Urban Meyer. And after the signing of Doug Pederson as head coach and an offseason dedicated to building a much more complete team through free agency and the draft, Jacksonville’s prospects for taking a dramatic leap forward look good.

Pederson and quarterback coach Mike McCoy should be very useful for 2021 first pick Trevor Lawrence, who often looked lost last season on a 12-touchdown, 17-interception record. An updated line should also help with the quarterback’s comfort level. As members of the AFC South — where the Titans are reshaping themselves to some degree, the Colts are still trying to pull it all together, and the Texans look set to be one of the top picks in the 2023 draft — the Jaguars have a sunny outlook.

Elandon Roberts #52 of the Miami Dolphins (R) celebrates with teammate Nik Needham #40 of the Miami Dolphins during the first quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders at Hard Rock Stadium on August 20, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Elandon Roberts #52 of the Miami Dolphins (R) celebrates with teammate Nik Needham #40 of the Miami Dolphins during the first quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders at Hard Rock Stadium on August 20, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Miami Dolphins

After a controversial end to the Brian Flores era, the Dolphins’ management followed the path of the young and creative offensive coordinator, appointing former San Francisco 49ers assistant offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel as head coach. The Dolphins are hoping Kyle Shanahan’s right-hand man can save Tua Tagovailoa’s career by grooming the quarterback for the first draft pick they saw him in 2020.

McDaniel runs a quarterback-friendly system, and investments in Tagovailoa’s supporting roster should also make the young quarterback’s life easier. If the Dolphins can field a productive offense that matches an already talented defense, Miami could find itself in the thick of things throughout the season. The Dolphins, of course, have two fearsome AFC East opponents (the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots Patriots) to worry about. But a suspicious offensive team in New England could lead to trouble in Year 2 for Mac Jones, setting the Dolphins up for this surprise bid.

NFL Teams That Can Disappoint

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tom Brady’s absence from midcamp was strange, but it’s not the most worrying element of preseason for Tampa Bay. That would be the disintegration of the offensive line. Between the offseason departures of guards Ali Marpet (retirement) and Alex Cappa (free agency), and the wave of injuries that have plagued Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen, starting offensive guard Aaron Stinnie and offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, the Bucs should be on red alert. Brady, who turned 45 earlier this month, is known for his quick release and pocket presence, but a patchwork line means he could find himself under the most pressure he’s experienced in quite some time, plus one run in the Super Bowl. may prove impossible for Tampa Bay.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers resolved the long-standing uncertainty that hung over their union with Aaron Rodgers, but after making their quarterback the highest-paid player in the NFL, they lost prime targets Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The revamped, youthful reception unit faced great difficulties this preseason and even drew public criticism from Rodgers.

The Packers dominated in three regular seasons under Matt FlaFleur (at 39-10 and winning the division each year), but fell short each postseason. But they can be involved in some offensive fights with a lack of proven and reliable targets. The lack of continuity and cohesion during this year of potential growing pains can be costly, particularly late in the season and postseason as Rodgers and Co. spent the last 12 seasons trying in vain to return to the Super Bowl.

Tennessee Titans

Did the Titans’ best chance at a Super Bowl appearance slip through their fingers with their divisional round loss to Cincinnati last winter? That could certainly be the case. Ryan Tannehill’s best offensive weapon is gone on wide receiver AJ Brown. Julio Jones, another leading wideout, also left this offseason. Salary cap restrictions made it difficult for the Titans to reload. Workhorse back Derrick Henry is back, but he missed nine games last season after breaking a bone in his foot, and it’s hard not to wonder when all that mileage he’s logged will catch up with him.

After two consecutive AFC South titles and three consecutive playoff appearances, the Titans must prepare to improve in Jacksonville and Indianapolis. It’s been a long season, but it looks like the Titans’ window of opportunity may be closing.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.

This article originally appeared in USA TODAY: NFL Surprise Teams: Could Dolphins, Panthers Defy the Odds in 2022?

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