In recent memory, it’s rare for every playoff team from the previous season to return to the tournament the following year. Teams do not remain in playoff contention for various reasons such as critical departures on the roster, injuries, and younger players that are not quite up to speed on playing at the next level.
Today we will look at a few teams that were a part of the 2021 postseason and examine if they are a playoff team for 2022 or if regression could be on the horizon. When I say the word regression in this context, it does not necessarily mean that these teams will miss the playoffs in 2022. It could simply suggest that they are not performing at the levels that they were at the previous year.
Last Year’s Playoff Teams from Each Conference
NFC: Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, Dallas, Arizona, Philadelphia, San Francisco
AFC: Kansas City, Buffalo, Tennessee, New England, Las Vegas, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh
2021 Playoff Teams that Could Regress this Season: NFC
Green Bay Packers: 13-4
The Green Bay Packers entered the postseason for the third straight year with a seed no lower than 2. However, the result was the same. The team failed to advance to the Super Bowl despite having a back-to-back Most Valuable Player award winner in Aaron Rodgers under center. Rodgers ended all speculation about leaving Green Bay when he signed a three-year, $150 million-dollar contract. However, his most vital piece on offense, Davante Adams, had other plans when he expressed his aspirations of playing with his former college teammate Derek Carr.
Green Bay will attempt to fill Adams’s presence with Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard, Amari Rodgers, and rookie Christian Watson. I am not saying that Green Bay will miss the playoffs entirely in 2022, but they could take a significant step back as one of the NFC’s elite teams. Watson and Lazard will need to emerge fast for the Packers’ offense.
Dallas Cowboys: 12-5
The Dallas Cowboys returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2018, but their appearance ended with a familiar conclusion. Dallas was eliminated from contention despite having high expectations and playing in a weak division for the most part in 2021. In the offseason, the team witnessed key departures such as defensive end Randy Gregory, La’el Collins, and wide receiver Amari Cooper. In addition, according to reports, wideout Michael Gallup may not be ready for the start of the regular season. Gallup suffered a torn ACL towards the end of last year.
Therefore, 2022 could be the perfect year for Prescott to show that he can lead the Cowboys despite having a void of talent on offense. The narrative on Prescott is that he is the type of quarterback that needs elite talent to succeed. Also, the NFC East may have gotten tougher to dominate due to Washington and Philadelphia improving their roster.
Arizona Cardinals: 11-6
For consecutive weeks the Arizona Cardinals played like a team that was the class of the NFC. But they would eventually fall apart as the season progressed. The Cardinals dropped from being the number one seed in the NFC to the fifth seed in the conference. There has been reported conflict between quarterback Kyler Murray and the front office regarding a new contract with the franchise. In addition, Star receiver DeAndre Hopkins will miss the season’s first six games due to violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. To make up for the absence of Hopkins, the Cardinals acquired Marquise “Hollywood” Brown from the Baltimore Ravens.
The transaction took place on the night of the 2022 NFL Draft. Brown was a highly targeted receiver for Murray during his time with the Oklahoma Sooners. Under the watch of head coach Kliff Kingsbury, the Cardinals are known for getting off to fast starts. But can they repeat those tendencies this season without the presence of their best player on offense?
2021 Playoff Teams that Could Regress this Season: AFC
New England Patriots: 10-7
On a positive note, the Patriots qualified for the playoffs without the presence of the great Tom Brady. However, things remain the same regarding building an efficient roster on offense. New England exited the playoffs early after a 47-17 route by the Buffalo Bills. The blowout win by the Bills revealed the harsh reality of New England’s offense lacking playmakers. In addition, things may have taken a turn for the worse after the departure of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. The long-time Patriots OC is now the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. New England hired former assistants Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to become co-offensive coordinators. Based on the optics, the idea of having both Patricia and Judge as coordinators could go well or poorly.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 9-8
Mike Tomlin stamped his place as a future Hall of Fame head coach after the Pittsburgh Steelers advanced to the playoffs last season. I say that because there’s no way the Steelers should have been a playoff team in 2021, especially with a declining Ben Roethlisberger under center. But yet they overcame the struggles of an aging QB combined with a bad o-line and qualified for the postseason.
Roethlisberger retired at the end of the season after spending 18 seasons as the Steelers’ starting quarterback. Pittsburgh signed free agent Mitchell Trubisky as a stop-gap, but their franchise’s future will be Kenny Pickett. He was the 20th overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft. While the Steelers roster is talented on both sides of the football, efficient quarterback play may hold them back in 2022. So if you are a Steelers fan, you need to temper your expectations for now.
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