NFL 2022 changes New players and milestones
Matt LaFleur is the dean of NFC North coaches.
Seasons under his belt as the top man with the Green Bay Packers: Three.
Such is the nature of the NFL, where the revolving door of coaches spins at dizzying speed.
Nearly a third of the league’s 32 teams switched head coaches this offseason with 10 clubs making a change. The only divisions that remained the same in that regard were the AFC North and NFC West.
There were two head-coaching changes in LaFleur’s division, with both Minnesota and Chicago opting for first-timers. The Vikings hired former Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, and the Bears went with a specialist from the other side of the ball, Matt Eberflus, former Indianapolis defensive coordinator.
Is it better to hire a first-time head coach with fresh ideas, or a seasoned one with previous NFL experience?
This year is split down the middle, with five newbies and five retreads.
The first-timers: Miami’s Mike McDaniel, Denver’s Nathaniel Hackett, the New York Giants’ Brian Daboll, Eberflus and O’Connell.
The head coaches getting another chance: Houston’s Lovie Smith, Jacksonville’s Doug Pederson, Las Vegas’ Josh McDaniels, New Orleans’ Dennis Allen and Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles.
Now, with the help of NFL Research, a spin around the league:
(Almost) everybody wins: In the 20 seasons since realignment, every team except Detroit and Cleveland has won at least one division title. Last season, four divisions were topped by new winners: AFC North (Cincinnati), NFC East (Dallas), NFC South (Tampa Bay) and NFC West (Rams).
New England won a league-high 16 division titles in the last 20 seasons, and made it to the playoffs 17 times. Green Bay is second with 12 titles and 15 playoff appearances.
The Chargers won five titles and got to the playoffs seven times, and the Rams won four and reached the playoffs six times.
In 17 of the last 19 seasons, at least one team has done a worst-to-first reversal, going from last place in one year to first place the next. It was the Cincinnati Bengals who accomplished that last season, and they made it all the way to the Super Bowl.
Whoa-maha: The best season-opening performance by a quarterback in the last decade? Peyton Manning’s 2013 debut with Denver, by far. He threw for 462 yards and seven touchdowns against Baltimore.
Strong starts: The Rams’ Sean McVay has never lost a season opener, going 5-0. But it doesn’t end there. The Rams are among eight teams over the last decade with a winning percentage of at least .618 during the first month of the season. Those teams are New England (.714), Kansas City (.706), Green Bay (.671), Denver (.636), Baltimore (.629), Dallas (.618), the Rams (.618) and Seattle (.618).
Bet on black: Last season, the Raiders became the second team to win four overtime games in a single season. Las Vegas has kicker Daniel Carlson to thank. He converted all five of his overtime field goal attempts — the most made field goals in overtime in any single season.
New overtime rules: After watching that 42-36 playoff thriller between Kansas City and Buffalo last season, in which the Chiefs scored a touchdown on the opening possession of the extra period and the Bills were denied a chance to touch the ball, the league felt it had to take action to make the system more fair.
In March, team owners voted to amend the overtime rules in the postseason to ensure both teams would have an opportunity to possess the ball in the extra period.
Since the last change to overtime, in 2010, 12 playoff games have been decided in an extra period. Of those 12, 10 were won by the team that won the overtime coin flip — and seven of those wins were decided on the opening possession.
“When you see that, that’s the type of thing that I think our coaches and everyone looked at,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “This is an issue in the postseason we should deal with.”
Under the previous system — which still will be in effect for the regular season — the team that gets the ball first can secure a victory by scoring a touchdown, as opposed to kicking a field goal. Now, in postseason games, after each team has a possession and providing the score remains tied, sudden death will decide the outcome.
Perfectly peculiar: This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Miami Dolphins’ “perfect” 17-0 season. To reach the Super Bowl that year, the Dolphins had to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game.
Seeing as the Dolphins were 15-0 heading into that game, why were they on the road?
Because in those days, the NFL alternated championship sites by divisions, and it was the AFC Central’s turn.
Quotes of note
- “I see Aaron Donald workout on my Instagram I’m like, ‘Damn, maybe I should have retired.’” — Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady on the Rams’ All-Pro defensive tackle (Dan Patrick Show)
- “It’s been a busy day of answering calls. The problem is they’re calling and texting the wrong person. They need to be texting and calling Melissa Whitworth and the kids, because they have final approval on whether I’m ever going to play football again.” — retired Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth (NFL on Prime)
- “I pull like crazy for the Chargers and I pull for Justin Herbert in particular, just because I think it’s awesome that I was able to be there for 16 years, hopefully he can be there for another 16. I always thought it’s cool you look at the Packers, you can say, ‘Who’s been their quarterback the last 40 years? [Brett] Favre and [Aaron] Rodgers.’ You don’t want it to go the Browns’ version, with 30 starters in the last 25 years. With Herbert, it was time for me to be done there, and then they nailed that pick.” — retired quarterback Philip Rivers (Crain & Company)
- “I’m one of those people that I don’t really want to ruffle the feathers too much here and there and I kind of want to just go with the flow. And that’s kind of the way the training camp was going and I was happy with it. And like I said, things worked out and I’m happy now.” — quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on re-signing with San Francisco as a backup
- Raiders receiver Davante Adams, formerly Rodgers’ favorite target in Green Bay, needs 115 catches to become the first player to reach that mark in three consecutive seasons. Should Adams reel in at least 10 touchdown catches, he would be the fourth receiver with at least 10 touchdown receptions in at least six of his first nine seasons. The other three are in the Hall of Fame: Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison and Randy Moss.
- If Buffalo’s Josh Allen runs for five or more touchdowns this season, he would join Cam Newton, who currently is the only quarterback with at least five rushing touchdowns in five consecutive seasons.
- The Chargers’ Keenan Allen is a 100-catch season away from joining Antonio Brown and Harrison as the only players with 100 receptions four seasons in a row.
- New England’s Bill Belichick, who ranks third all-time with 321 total (regular season and postseason) victories, needs four more to pass George Halas on that list. Belichick needs 10 wins to join Halas (318) and Miami’s Don Shula (328) as the only coaches with at least 300 regular-season victories.
- Should Brady throw for 5,000 yards, he would join Drew Brees as the only players in NFL history to record consecutive 5,000-yard seasons.
- If he throws for at least 4,338 yards, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow would surpass Jameis Winston (11,636) for third-most yards passing in his first three seasons. The leaders on that list both played in Indianapolis: Manning (12,287) and Andrew Luck (12,957).
- The Bengals Ja’Marr Chase needs 1,562 yards receiving to pass Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson (3,016) for the most yards by a receiver in his first two seasons.
- Herbert needs 30 touchdown passes to surpass Dan Marino (98) for the most by a player through his first three seasons.
- Should he make at least eight interceptions, Chargers cornerback J.C. Jackson would become the first player with at least eight picks in three consecutive seasons.
- Chargers running back Austin Ekeler needs just one touchdown reception to top James White (24) for the most touchdown catches by a running back in his first six seasons since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
- If Donald were to collect at least 12 sacks, he would be the fourth player since 1982 — when sacks became an official stat — with 110 sacks in his first nine seasons. The others are Jared Allen and DeMarcus Ware, each with 117, and Reggie White (137).
- The Rams’ Cooper Kupp has the chance to become the fourth player since 1970 to lead or tie the league in touchdown receptions in back-to-back seasons. The receivers who accomplished that are Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and Larry Fitzgerald.
- Green Bay’s Rodgers can become the first player to win three consecutive most valuable player awards and can tie Manning (five) for the most all time. Also, Rodgers can become the first player with at least 40 touchdown passes in four different seasons.
- The Rams’ Matthew Stafford needs 4,000 yards passing to become the seventh player with 10 such seasons. He would join Manning, Brady, Brees, Rivers, Rodgers and Matt Ryan.
Ground bound: The NFL might be a passing league, but being able to run the ball still counts for something. Last season, teams with a 100-yard rusher were 73-28-2, a winning percentage of .718. The rushing crown went to the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor, who had a league-high 10 100-yard games and finished with 1,811 yards. Indianapolis was 9-1 when he hit triple digits in rushing yards.
Going for two: The Chargers attempted an NFL-high 11 two-point conversions last season, making good on seven. They became the fourth team in league history to convert at least seven tries, joining the 2020 Minnesota Vikings (eight), 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers (eight) and 2020 Philadelphia Eagles (seven). Most effective in that department last season were the Detroit Lions, who converted five of six attempts.
Trading places: The most surprising and secretive move of the 2022 offseason was the Denver Broncos making a blockbuster deal with Seattle for quarterback Russell Wilson. But there were plenty of other major deals. Here are five of them:
- Chargers trade for Khalil Mack: Chicago traded the star edge rusher to the Chargers in exchange for draft picks. The move reunited Mack and Chargers coach Brandon Staley, his onetime linebackers coach with the Bears.
- Raiders sign Chandler Jones: Since 2012, Jones has collected an NFL-high 107 1/2 sacks. Las Vegas signed him on the first day of the new league year to a three-year deal worth $51 million.
- Raiders trade for Davante Adams: Las Vegas sent Green Bay picks in the first and second rounds for the star Packers receiver. Adams is on a Hall of Fame trajectory.
- Rams sign Bobby Wagner: Looking to further fortify the middle of their defense, the Rams signed the All-Pro linebacker to a five-year deal worth $50 million. Now, he’ll face his former Seattle Seahawks twice a season.
- Commanders trade for Carson Wentz: New team name and a fresh start at quarterback for Washington, which acquired the former No. 2 overall selections by sending a few draft picks to Indianapolis — two thirds and a seventh.