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Sports

What lies ahead for eliminated playoff teams

| Thursday, January 20, 2022

As the divisional round has already been covered by the excellent John Kalemkerian, I thought it might be interesting to look at the teams who fell a little short of the mark. 

These teams are worth paying attention to — they made the playoffs, after all — but they are likely to be forgotten as we advance to the next round of the postseason. 

 

AFC

Las Vegas Raiders

Record: 10-7

Finish: 19-26 loss to the Bengals

Flaw: I honestly do not think anything “went wrong” with the Raiders in the playoffs anyway. They, of course, lost head coach Jon Gruden early in the season when his emails containing multiple racial slurs and other offensive messages were leaked to the media. 

After that, the Raiders lost Henry Ruggs III to a DUI arrest after a high-speed crash that resulted in the other driver’s death. Making it to the playoffs is a testament to the organization. 

Needs: Besides the obvious lack of a full-time head coach, the Raiders need a general manager. In addition (according to the Draft Network), the Raiders need an interior defensive and offensive linemen, a cornerback and a wide receiver.

Draft Pick: 22nd. The mock drafts I consulted were split down the middle between CB and WR. I would lean towards a wide receiver to replace the depth lost, but I understand either.

2022 Projection: I honestly still see the Raiders as a playoff contender, but right now, nothing beyond the wildcard round. 

New England Patriots

Record: 10-7

Finish: 17-47 loss to the Bills

Flaw: By Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, the Patriots defense was ranked No. 4 in the NFL, so as per usual, Belichick had that side of the ball squared away. And offensively, New England was ranked No. 9, so what gives? 

I think the main reason is Mac Jones. Not that he has had a bad season by any means; I see him winning OPOY this season. He was just a rookie QB in his first-ever playoff game. He was on the road, against one of the few teams to be ranked higher defensively, playing against Josh Allen, who simply played unconsciously. You can’t win them all.

Needs: The Draft Network currently has the Patriots needing a cornerback, safety and linebacker. They also need an offensive lineman. However, the most critical need will be pivotal to Mac Jones’ growth: a wide receiver.

Draft Pick: 21st. In three out of the four mock drafts I consulted, the Patriots took CB Kaiir Elam or CB Ahmad Gardner. 

2022 Projection: They made a play for the division crown and came up just a hair short. I expect to see this team in the playoff and potentially hosting in the first round. 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Record: 9-7-1

Finish: 21-42 loss to the Chiefs 

Flaw: Ben Roethlisberger. As much as I respect the greatness of what is undoubtedly a HOF career (off-the-field issues aside), this is not Big Ben of yesteryear. This is a different Roethlisberger who felt like a liability and was one of the reasons the Steelers struggled this season.

While great at times, the defense was No. 14 in DVOA and took a step back from last year. It just was not enough to buoy the offense like it was last year.

Needs: I feel anyone could figure this out, but the most significant need is a QB. After that comes an offensive lineman and a cornerback. 

Draft Pick: 20th. According to the CBS mock drafts I look at, the Steelers are in the market to draft either QB Desmond Ridder or Malik Willis out of Liberty.

2022 Projection: Unless the Steelers acquire a big name at QB, they could genuinely finish No. 3 or No. 4 in the division. I think the odds are good the Steelers draft a QB and prepare for a reload. The Bengals feel like a future powerhouse, and I expect the Ravens to rebound. 

 

NFC

Dallas Cowboys

Record: 12-5, NFC East Champions

Finish: 17-23 loss to the 49ers

Flaw: Coming into the season, I anticipated a dominant offense and a defense that had marginally improved. I am a fanalyst for a reason. 

The Cowboys Offensive DVOA is No. 6 in the NFL, but that feels a little inflated. The Cowboys were great in streaks, but once they got to the 49ers, they genuinely could not get out of their own way.

Needs: I know people are clamoring for the firing of Mike McCarthy, but I would retain him. I like to give a coach three years to develop, and is finishing as division champs that horrible? Positionally, they need an edge rusher, safety and an interior defensive lineman. 

Draft Pick: 24th. I expect Dallas to improve its secondary, but the mock drafts I have looked at have them going for a wide receiver, which I am not a fan of. 

2022 Projection: Division champions. While the Eagles are good, we saw how far away they are from being a legit contender. Washington is an improving franchise, but I doubt they are a division contender. The Giants (lol).

Arizona Cardinals

Record: 11-6

Finish: 11-34 loss to the Rams

Flaw: Injuries, primarily. The lack of DeAndre Hopkins is a game-changer for the Cardinals’ offense. They are a different team without him, and it showed once he became injured down the stretch.

Needs: A cornerback, an edge rusher and a running back. I would expect the Cardinals to take someone in the secondary to help shore up their defense.

Draft Pick: 23rd

2022 Projection: It is nearly impossible to say, but I guess a wildcard team again. There will be three good NFC West teams if Seattle blows it up. If they don’t, there are four.

Philadelphia Eagles

Record: 9-8

Finish: 15-31 loss to the Buccaneers

Flaw: Youth and the lack of a passing game. 

The Eagles were a young and fun team, and they were an incredible run team. They were a top-three rushing team despite not having a signature back. However, the run game was not there against Tampa Bay, and the Buccaneers’ offense put up 14 points in the first quarter. Down 14 for their playoff lives, they couldn’t do what they do best, and the Eagles were flightless. 

Needs: An edge rusher, cornerback and interior defensive lineman. 

Draft Pick: No. 15, No. 16, and No. 19 (15 and 16 coming via Miami and the Colts, respectively). The Eagles have enough picks to address all of their defensive needs, which I expect them to do. I could see an offensive tackle, but I expect them to draft defensively. 

2022 Projection: A better wildcard team.

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About Thomas Zwiller

Thomas is a sophomore currently in attendance at Holy Cross College, studying Business and Theology He is from Saint Joseph MI, and went to high school at Saint Joe SB, playing both varsity football and hockey. Feel free to contact him about all things NFL and NBA.

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