Published: Jan 10, 2023 at 08:49 AM
The 2022 regular season has, at long last, reached its conclusion. Now it gets really fun.
The postseason promises drama, and eventual immortality for one team. But before any of that, let’s take one last look at the league of 32. Next week, we’ll cut down our breakdown to only cover teams who qualified for the postseason. That means this is goodbye to 18 others, including the Lions, a top-10 squad that couldn’t find a seat when the NFL’s game of playoff musical chairs came to an end.
Then there’s the 49ers, who lost their top two quarterbacks yet still hit the playoffs as our top team, riding a double-digit win streak to boot. It’s been a different type of year in the NFL.
Let’s keep the weird coming.
Don’t forget to check out the NFL Power Rankings Podcast with Dan Hanzus and Colleen Wolfe. New episodes every Tuesday all season long.
Previous rank: No. 1
The Niners fell short in their goal of snagging the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but everything else has lined up beautifully for Kyle Shanahan’s team, which will take a 10-game winning streak into its Super Wild Card Weekend matchup with the Seahawks. Brock Purdy has elevated the quarterback game since replacing Jimmy Garoppolo (one of the wildest developments of the 2022 season), while Sunday’s win over the Cardinals saw the return of two more electric playmakers: wide receiver Deebo Samuel and running back Elijah Mitchell. The Eagles have the bye and home-field advantage, but it’s the Niners who profile as the team most likely to come out of the NFC.
Previous rank: No. 3
There will be no coin flip. The Bengals capped an emotional week with a 27-16 win over the Ravens that ensured Sunday night’s playoff grudge match against Baltimore will take place at Paycor Stadium. Zac Taylor’s battle-tested squad will enter the postseason on an eight-game winning streak and in excellent position to return to the Super Bowl for the second straight year. Much of that is tied, of course, to Joe Burrow, the superstar quarterback who offered a postgame reminder of his bottomless levels of charisma when asked about Cincinnati’s championship window. “The window’s my whole career,” Burrow replied. “And everybody we have in that locker room, all the coaches we have, things are gonna change year to year, but our window is always open.” You gonna bet against that guy?
Previous rank: No. 4
The Chiefs took care of business on Saturday, easing past the Raiders to clinch the AFC’s No. 1 seed for the third time in five seasons. Patrick Mahomes will enter the playoffs coming off another outstanding regular season that will almost certainly lead to his second league MVP award. Mahomes led the NFL in touchdown passes (41), passing yards (5,250) and QBR (77.6) — a triple crown of sorts for the game’s most important position. The fact that he remained a dominant force after losing a future Hall of Fame wide receiver in Tyreek Hill via offseason trade only reinforces the understanding of Mahomes’ generational greatness. Kansas City has never won less than 12 games in his five years as a starter. A third trip to the Super Bowl could be next.
Previous rank: No. 5
The Eagles did what they needed to do Sunday, beating a Giants team resting all their key starters and finally clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC. It sounds like Philadelphia needs all the extra rest it can get ahead of the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Jalen Hurts returned after a two-week absence and made it through the game, though postgame comments from Nick Sirianni were a bit alarming. “We didn’t feel like there was more risk [of further injury], but I know he was hurting and he was hurting bad,” the coach acknowledged. If Hurts was “hurting bad” after two weeks off, is there any promise he’ll be significantly better on the other side of the bye? The Eagles’ Super Bowl hopes might rest on their quarterback’s ability to attack defenses without reservations.
Previous rank: No. 6
That’s how you go into the playoffs? Cowboys fans are ringing alarm bells after their team finished an uninspired close to the regular season with a lifeless 26-6 loss to the Commanders. Thanks to a win by Philadelphia that kept the No. 1 seed and NFC East title out of Dallas’ reach, the game didn’t end up meaning anything in terms of playoff positioning — the fifth-seeded Cowboys will visit the fourth-seeded Bucs on Monday night — but it’s fair to wonder if Dallas will be able to flip the switch on both sides of the ball. Any course correction starts with Dak Prescott, who needs to clean up his turnover-prone ways after a 14-for-37 performance against Washington that included his third pick-six in four weeks. Meanwhile, another one-and-done in the playoffs could put Mike McCarthy on the hot seat. The pressure is building in Big D.
Previous rank: No. 7
The Chargers were locked into the fifth seed in the AFC ahead of their regular-season finale, but Brandon Staley opted to roll with his starters anyway. It was a decision ripe for second-guessing, especially after star wide receiver Mike Williams was carted to the locker room with a back injury in the second quarter. “These aren’t easy decisions,” the coach said after the loss to the Broncos. “They’re not easy decisions and hindsight is perfect for everybody on the outside, but these games are not easy to manage. They’re not, because you don’t have that many players, and we did it to the best of our ability.” It’s worth noting that Staley appeared to have support from his locker room, and Williams is expected to play against the Jaguars. This should all be forgotten by the weekend.
Previous rank: No. 10
Don’t feel sorry for the Lions. They aren’t a part of the postseason, but Dan Campbell’s team got everything else it could have asked for out of the 2022 season. Sunday night’s 20-16 win over the Packers knocked a longtime bully out of playoff position and served as a beautiful conclusion to a hugely encouraging year. “Look, certainly I don’t want to hear that anymore, the ‘Same Old Lions.’ That’s what all this is about,” Campbell said after the emotional win. “There’s so many things and it all comes with winning, but yeah, I wanted to be part of building a brand-new brand.” Campbell has done just that, and he deserves serious consideration in the Coach of the Year discussion as a result.
Previous rank: No. 11
All the hand-wringing about the Vikings can officially cease. You can take them seriously the way you would most 13-4 division winners … or you can disregard their success as the product of a fluke regular season. The truth is that none of it matters anymore. The postseason has a way of shaking out the pretenders from the contenders, and it all starts for Minnesota on Sunday against the Giants. The Vikings could be one-and-done disappointments, or they could deliver elite playoff drama across multiple rounds. They’re a hard team to get a handle on, which makes them a great team to have around. Our own version of a Knives Out Mystery.
Previous rank: No. 13
Brian Daboll made the easy decision to sit most of his starters in a meaningless Week 18 finale against the Eagles. It puts the Giants in a healthy, rested place for Sunday’s rematch with the Vikings in the Wild Card Round. Minnesota takes a gaudy 13-4 record into the showdown, but a tightly contested matchup on Christmas Eve (the Vikings beat Big Blue on a last-second, 61-yard field goal) showed how close these teams actually are from a talent standpoint. This season is already a success for a New York team that appeared closer to the No. 1 overall pick than the playoffs in training camp. Knocking off the Vikings would qualify as a major organizational conquest.
Previous rank: No. 9
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: The Packers lost a huge game in their building in January. For all the success that has marked the bulk of the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay, season-crushing stumbles like we saw on Sunday night against the Lions are undeniably part of the story. As for Rodgers, it remains to be seen what his future holds. The 39-year-old certainly looked like a quarterback pondering his future as he exited the field on Sunday. “It’s a little raw right now,” Rodgers said after the loss. “I want to take the emotion out of it and have conversations and see where the organization is at and see how I feel after some time’s passed.” The dance begins once again.
Previous rank: No. 14
Mike Tomlin just doesn’t do losing seasons. The venerable head coach did it yet again, digging out of a 3-7 hole in November to finish 9-8, a wonderful achievement given the evolving state of the roster and the rookie quarterback who started the bulk of the games. The furious close to the regular season fell just short of a playoff bid, but Pittsburgh has the look of a team that could be ready to seriously contend as soon as next year. As for that rookie QB: Kenny Pickett showed considerable growth over the second half of the season. His rise and the return of All-Pro game-wrecker T.J. Watt on defense were the two biggest reasons for the team’s surge. Neither player is going anywhere.
Previous rank: No. 12
John Harbaugh opted for a more cautious approach to Week 18, resting Tyler Huntley and other starters in a loss to the Bengals that means Baltimore will be back at Paycor Stadium for Sunday night’s playoff grudge match between the rivals. The decision to keep Huntley out of harm’s way provides a clear indication the return of Lamar Jackson is far from certain ahead of this weekend. Jackson hasn’t played or practiced since suffering a knee injury on Dec. 4 — Baltimore has scored four total touchdowns in the five games he’s missed. “He wants to play,” Harbaugh said Monday. “There’s no doubt. That’s my feeling.”
Previous rank: No. 15
The Bucs will host a playoff game on Monday night against a Cowboys team that feels vulnerable after a sluggish end to the regular season. Still, facts are facts: The Bucs enter the postseason as the only team with a losing record, and Sunday’s loss to the Falcons was frustratingly on brand for a group seemingly allergic to building any level of momentum. In fairness, Tom Brady was pulled from the game with four minutes to play in the first half; had the G.O.A.T. played all four quarters, we’re probably not talking about the first losing season of his 23-year career. The playoffs represent a clean slate for a team that could benefit from one.
Previous rank: No. 16
It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but the Seahawks have nothing to apologize for. Pete Carroll’s team — viewed by most pundits as an afterthought in the wake of the blockbuster trade of Russell Wilson — punched their ticket to the postseason with an overtime win over the Rams, coupled with a Packers loss to the Lions on Sunday Night Football. Geno Smith threw his 30th touchdown pass of the season in the finale, and now the veteran gets his first taste of postseason action nearly 10 years into a winding career. Drawing the mighty Niners in the first round is about as tough as it gets, but Seattle has been upending expectations all year. Why stop now?
Previous rank: No. 20
The Dolphins are back in the playoffs thanks to a defense that carried the day during a time of continued uncertainty at the quarterback position. The 11-6 win over the Jets means the Fins will get another crack at the Bills, less than a month after Miami took the AFC East champs to the limit in Orchard Park. That game featured a strong performance from Tua Tagovailoa, but it remains uncertain if the starter will get back on the field this season. Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said Monday that Tagovailoa has not yet been cleared for any football activity after entering the concussion protocol Dec. 26. Asking journeyman Teddy Bridgewater or rookie Skylar Thompson to win a playoff game in Western New York profiles as science fiction.
Previous rank: No. 18
The Panthers enter another offseason hoping to find a long-term solution at quarterback, but the first order of business is settling on a head coach. Steve Wilks earned positive reviews for his work in the interim role and is set to interview formally for the full-time position Tuesday. Wilks would be a sensible hire, but Scott Fitterer sure sounded like a GM looking to bring in someone from the outside during his meeting with the media on Monday. “This is a division that we can take over,” Fitterer said while offering his opinion why the Panthers’ job is attractive. “That opportunity is there. It’s up to us to do it. I think they see that.”
Previous rank: No. 17
A strange, disappointing season reached its conclusion with a frustrating loss to the Bills which included two crushing special teams meltdowns that yielded 14 Buffalo points. It was a fitting end: All season, we witnessed breakdowns in areas of the New England operation that had traditionally been airtight. Bill Belichick will be back for a 24th season, but significant changes could be coming — both on the roster and on the coaching staff. “Nobody’s satisfied with that. That’s not our goal. We need to improve on that,” the legendary coach said Monday of the 8-9 finish. “So that’s all of us — accountability everywhere, starting with me, the coaching staff, players, each unit. They are all things that we will address, and that process will start probably later today.”
Previous rank: No. 22
The Commanders have yet to finish with a winning record in Ron Rivera’s three seasons on the sideline, but the team did clinch a .500 mark with a surprisingly one-sided win over the Cowboys in their finale. Sam Howell‘s first NFL pass went for a touchdown, but it was the Washington defense that powered this win, allowing a single touchdown and harassing Dak Prescott into one of the worst statistical performances of his career. Washington enters the offseason with uncertainty at multiple levels of the operation, as well as obvious questions about the quarterback position. The next few months will be pivotal for the organization’s future.
Previous rank: No. 19
In an ideal world, Jarrett Stidham balls out for a second straight week, and his late-season audition sends the Raiders into the offseason filled with optimism for the young passer. In reality, Stidham was merely OK in a season-ending loss to the Chiefs. Perhaps that’s for the best. Stidham didn’t get enough live reps for the team to make any meaningful long-term decisions at quarterback, anyway; the Raiders are best served to act aggressively in a potential post-Derek Carr world. Speaking of which, exploring trade partners for the erstwhile starter is the first big order of business. Despite apparently losing the faith of his own team, Carr has the potential to fetch a strong return in a deal.
Previous rank: No. 25
The Titans put up a valiant fight in Week 18, outplaying the favored Jaguars for 55 minutes before a disastrous turnover created the touchdown that served as the difference in a 20-16 defeat. While it’s obviously painful to lose a game and a division in such a dramatic manner, this is also a diminished team that was never going to make much noise in the playoffs. “We didn’t do a good enough job — we lost too many games,” coach Mike Vrabel said Monday. “That self-reflection, nobody would evaluate that they did a good enough job because we didn’t win. … The short answer is: It wasn’t good enough.” Changes are inevitable, and they began Monday with the announcement that offensive coordinator Todd Downing and three other assistants had been let go.
Previous rank: No. 21
The bottom fell out on the Jets in December and January, the resulting six-game losing streak sullying a season that was shaping up as a major stepping-stone campaign for the eternally star-crossed franchise. The good news is that there are some legitimate pieces on the roster to build around, even as Gang Green continues to wander through the quarterback wilderness. That position can be addressed this offseason, but the team should start by taking care of one of its own. Pro Bowl defensive lineman Quinnen Williams told reporters on Monday he expects to have a new deal by April. The Jets have had a poor track record in recent years when it comes to keeping their home-grown stars happy. That trend needs to stop here.
Previous rank: No. 23
A frustrating season ended with one final setback, a 10-7 defeat to the Panthers that clinched the Saints’ first double-digit-loss season since 2005. Though the team has yet to make anything official, head coach Dennis Allen told the media he is working under the expectation he’ll be back on the sideline in 2023. “I don’t think there’s any need to discuss that any further,” Allen said on his job status. “And I’m certainly going forward with that anticipation, that’s the indication that I’ve been given. And I’m excited about it. Look, again, 7-10’s not where we want to be. But we’re not as far off as maybe some might think.” If Allen survives, he’ll presumably enter his second season on a hot seat.
Previous rank: No. 24
The Browns are changing leadership on defense. Cleveland announced Monday that it has parted ways with Joe Woods, who had been the team’s defensive coordinator since Kevin Stefanski took over as head coach in 2020. The unit improved in the final weeks of the season, but it still was a liability in too many games, especially against the run. The Browns were fifth in the league in passing defense (196.2 yards allowed per game) but just 25th against the run (135.2 yards allowed per game). The team has requested interviews with Patriots defensive assistant Jerod Mayo and Steelers defensive assistant Brian Flores for their DC vacancy.
Previous rank: No. 27
Happy trails to defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who announced he will end his coaching career after 50 years following Sunday’s win over the Bucs. It’s the third time Pees has announced his retirement, but the 73-year-old thinks this one will stick. “Right now, my ego and my heart tell me to stay,” he said. “But my mind and my body tell me that it’s time.” On the other side of the ball, let’s give some love to Tyler Allgeier, the rookie running back who went over 1,000 yards on the ground without a single fumble this season. The Falcons enter the offseason with pieces to build around on offense.
Previous rank: No. 28
The Broncos ended a disappointing season on a positive note, beating the Chargers in Jerry Rosburg’s final game as interim coach. Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes in the victory, a productive game that capped an otherwise grim debut year in Denver. Finding a coach and offensive scheme that will allow Wilson to reach (or at least approach) his former heights is the No. 1 goal of the organization in 2023. It’s a delicate balance, however: The Broncos need to put the QB in the best position to improve while not falling into the trap of making Wilson the sun that the rest of the team orbits around.
Previous rank: No. 26
When Baker Mayfield badly underthrew Van Jefferson in overtime, it marked the beginning of the end of the Rams’ bid to upset the Seahawks in Sunday’s regular-season finale. Did the loss also mark the end of Sean McVay’s celebrated tenure in Los Angeles? On Monday, the head coach told reporters he’s weighing his options. “I think what I’d like to do is be able to take the appropriate time,” McVay said. “Never gone through anything like this, but you want to make sure that you’re considerate of the people that are affected.” McVay sure sounds like a coach who’s ready to take a sabbatical from the sidelines. If it happens, an offseason of massive change might be ahead for the Super Bowl LVI champs.
Previous rank: No. 31
The Texans had the No. 1 overall pick in their back pocket. Then things got weird: A desperation fourth-and-20 heave-turned touchdown, a two-point conversion, a final defensive stand. Almost impossibly, the Texans exited Lucas Oil Stadium as 32-31 victors, gift-wrapping the first pick to the Bears in the process. The comeback showed gumption from a competitive-spirit standpoint, but it didn’t do much for the majority of Texans fans, who likely just wanted their team to be on the draft clock after a miserable season. Lovie Smith was fired hours after the unlikely win, the second straight year the Texans gave their head coach just one season before showing him the door. It’s something any prospective candidate needs to consider.
Previous rank: No. 30
The Cardinals are starting over. The team fired head coach Kliff Kingsbury on Monday while announcing that general manager Steve Keim — who took an indefinite health-related absence last month — has also decided to step away from his position to focus on his health. The franchise reset comes just 10 months after Arizona signed the two men to multiyear contract extensions. Ownership must now identify new leadership that better aligns with franchise QB Kyler Murray, also a question mark after the serious knee injury that required reconstructive surgery last week. You won’t find another team in the league that feels this unsettled.
Previous rank: No. 29
One day we might look back at the Bears’ 10-game losing streak to end the 2022 season as the most impactful thing to happen to the franchise since the “Super Bowl Shuffle.” The Texans’ wild comeback win over the Colts moved Chicago into the draft’s pole position, giving the Bears incredible leverage as they continue their rebuild. With a young franchise quarterback already in the building, the Bears can use the No. 1 pick on a prospect they fall in love with or sell the pick to a QB-desperate organization for a king’s bounty. This is how super rosters are born.
Previous rank: No. 32
It’s finally over. The Colts can finally move forward after a disastrous 2022 season. That likely starts with a new head coach, though we hesitate to be too sure of anything connected to a franchise that has become among the most unpredictable in the sport. On Monday, interim Jeff Saturday expressed his interest in keeping the job, explaining to reporters what they saw from the Colts during the seven-game losing streak that closed the season is not representative of how the team would operate with him in a full-time role. “It’ll be a different direction and a different vision that I’m carrying through,” he said, “one that’s my own that I can go implement and move forward with.” We’ll find out soon enough if Jim Irsay is buying what Saturday is trying to sell.