The 2022 NFL season is nearly here. Every fan deserves to be excited, for "any given Sunday" always proves true. Unfortunately, the reality is also that not every team will be a contender. Some clubs, like the Bills and Buccaneers, have so much star power in their lineups that a title run would not be surprising. But what about the teams with lots of hurdles ahead?
Here are six teams that could be in for the bumpiest 2022 schedules:
Justin Fields has the dual-threat dynamism to extend plays and drives. The David Montgomery-Darnell Mooney combo should help. But the biggest issues have been glaring all offseason: Fields' line looks like one of the iffiest in the NFL, and his receiving corps is chock-full of banged-up backups. New coach Matt Eberflus figures to keep their defense feisty, especially with Roquan Smith sticking around, but the recipe for success in 2022 is not low-scoring affairs.
If you win games in the trenches, then Cleveland is set up nicely. Their starting five on offense is one of the sturdiest in the league, and the Myles Garrett-Jadeveon Clowney pairing off the edges on "D" is one of the most imposing. But there's a reason they gave up so much to land Deshaun Watson: QB play matters, and they're poised to get passable production there, at best, for 64% of their schedule in a tough division. Interim No. 1 Jacoby Brissett can lean on the run, but what happens in a shootout?
Saying goodbye to Matt Ryan after 14 years was understandable, but their abrupt execution of the split left a lot to be desired. It's not like Atlanta doesn't have a few intriguing pieces, from Kyle Pitts at tight end to A.J. Terrell at corner. But a few standouts don't make a cohesive team. The pass rush is lacking, as per usual. The O-line is considered a deteriorating unit. And Marcus Mariota, who hasn't been a healthy or efficient starter in over a half-decade, will open as the commander of the ship.
Their new regime basically admitted this offseason that its dire financial state wouldn't permit a thorough restocking until 2023, which explains why an aging, banged-up Tyrod Taylor is their only alternative to Daniel Jones, who is perpetually auditioning for the QB job amid depleted supporting casts. New coach Brian Daboll should be able to play around with the athleticism of Jones and Saquon Barkley behind an improved line, but two key spots -- WR and CB -- remain grave concerns.
We'll happily re-admit Bill Belichick's genius if he helps Mac Jones back to the playoffs, but New England is betting that its own recycled staff members will be better for the QB's development than, say, coaches with an offensive background. With a disciplined "D," they should be tough outs as always, and the offensive weaponry is solid considering the depth at receiver and tight end. But in a division where the Bills and Dolphins boast more explosive upside, the old-school ground-and-pound approach doesn't seem as dangerous. In this case, "bumpy" may just mean another unpretty road to a wild-card berth.
The one that needs no explanation. QB Davis Mills is respected for his veteran-esque poise in bad circumstances, and new coach Lovie Smith is respected for his industry-tested character. Rookie Dameon Pierce may also bring juice to what figures to be a heavy run game. But they've relied heavily on free-agent leftovers for years, and it shows, especially on "D," where older reserves like Jerry Hughes and Christian Kirksey will be asked to start at premium positions. Smith, meanwhile, hasn't coached a winning team since 2012, making him a curious figurehead for a rebuild presumably geared toward unearthing young talent.