The NFL’s race for the bottom


Tribune News Service

Many consider Justin Fields to be the Bears long-term answer at quarterback. However, the Bears are still missing plenty of key pieces that will be needed before they can be a consistent playoff contender.

DREW HILL, Opinion Columnist

In the Aug. 29 edition of the Northern Iowan, there was an article about the upcoming NFL season. The article focused on teams contending for a championship. This article, on the other hand, will preview the teams still in the rebuilding process.

The Houston Texans wound up with the third overall draft pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and addressed a weakness in pass defense with defensive back Derek Stingley. Third round pick Davis Mills showed promise, but the supporting cast is still not up to the level of other teams in the AFC. For such a young team, there will be growing pains along the way, and expecting a large improvement from last year’s 4-13 team seems like a long shot.

The New York Jets went 4-13 last year, but a strong draft showing gives hope. However, Zach Wilson’s rookie year was extremely rough, as he threw 11 interceptions to just nine touchdowns and averaged just 179.5 passing yards per game. He has also had injury trouble. He missed four games last season and was injured during the preseason, so he will likely miss games this season as well.

The Giants are in a similar position. A good draft has given rise to optimism, but the results from previous seasons leave room for doubt. Quarterback Daniel Jones has played for three seasons and seen his passing touchdowns decrease each year, as well as his interceptions. The running back is Saquon Barkley, who had an elite rookie season, but has dealt with injuries and effectiveness ever since. The Giants look likely to struggle and will simply continue to add to its young talent.

The Lions also had a strong draft showing. However, their situation is different than other rebuilding teams in that they are led by mediocre veteran Jared Goff at quarterback. While the team may see improvement, it seems likely the team may look to add a quarterback in the 2023 draft. The Chicago Bears may have their long-term solution at quarterback in second-year player Justin Fields. However, he may struggle to produce with the cast around him. The offensive line looks porous, meaning Fields may not have time to make plays. The only proven receiver is Darnell Mooney, meaning other teams can key in on stopping him. The defense lost key pieces in Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, and may not be as stout as usual. It looks to be a rough start for the new coaching staff.

The Seattle Seahawks will have their first season without long-time quarterback Russell Wilson since 2011. To replace him, the Seahawks will move forward with an uninspiring quarterback duo of Drew Lock and Geno Smith. There are proven weapons in the pass game, but the offensive line has struggled for several seasons, and the defense has lost most of its pieces from the Legion of Boom days.

Many prognosticators are predicting a breakout season for the Jacksonville Jaguars. They brought back promising young quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and added new head coach Doug Pederson to go along with several free agent and draft additions, highlighted by number one overall pick Travon Walker. However, even if Lawrence has a breakout season, the Jaguars may still struggle to perform well enough to return to the playoffs with a largely unproven cast.

The Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, and Washington Commanders are all in a state of flux in their quarterback situations. The Panthers are led by Baker Mayfield, who was traded from the Cleveland Browns after struggling through an injury last season. They drafted Matt Corral in the third round, but Corral has been placed on injured reserve, ending his season. The Falcons also have a third-round rookie in Desmond Ridder, but will start the season with Marcus Mariota, who has been a backup the past two seasons. The Commanders traded for Carson Wentz, who had been traded in the previous offseason as well after disappointing in both seasons. The last time any of these three teams had a winning record was 2017, and that seems unlikely to change this year.

While a couple of these teams may break out and return to the playoffs, most of them will be featured in the 2023 NFL Draft’s top ten. Perhaps they can add the missing piece that will catapult them back to the top of the standings.

The 2022 NFL season will begin Thursday, Sept. 8, when the reigning Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams host the Buffalo Bills, one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl coming into this season. The game will be aired on NBC.

There will be a full slate of week one games on Sunday, Sept. 11. Games will begin at noon, and a matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys will finish the day at 7:20 p.m. on NBC.

Opening week will conclude with a Monday Night Football matchup between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. The game will begin at 7:15 p.m. and will air on ESPN.