We are officially at the halfway mark of the NFL season, and with nearly 60% of the league within one game of a .500 record, parity in football remains alive and well. It's been a thrilling first half of the year, and as we enter November, the best and most exciting time is yet to come.
When it comes to football, I am an optimist. That usually manifests itself with me eagerly expecting players to make leaps of progress with the start of a new year. I begin a new football season with the promise in my heart that a team's offseason additions are going to work out. But expectations lead to hope, and hope is the cruelest mistress.
Today we'll take a look at the top 5 biggest disappointments of the first half of the NFL season. If a player or a team is on this list, they have failed to reach my expectations. And like a parent who feels helpless ... I'm not sad, I'm just disappointed.
5. The Putrid Performance of the Indianapolis Colts Offensive Line
The Colts and their running game have been one of the feel-good stories of the last several seasons. It started with the "Run The Damn Ball" hats sported by members of the team in 2019. It carried along, peaking last year when running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for 5.5 yards a carry and over 1,800 yards. The offensive line was so dominant in 2021 that Taylor was a legitimate MVP candidate and the Colts were a popular pick to create problems in the AFC playoffs. But that was before a historic late-season collapse by then-quarterback Carson Wentz left them on the outside looking in.
To rectify that issue, the Colts brought in QB Matt Ryan this past offseason. The recipe was there: a strong defense coupled with a great offensive line and a veteran quarterback. But the wheels have fallen off.
The Colts are ranked 29th of 32 teams in rushing yards per game this year. In a season marred by injuries, Taylor has rushed for 100 yards in only one game and has just one touchdown.
It goes beyond the run game. The Colts' offensive line has allowed 26 sacks this year, good for third most in the league, after allowing only 32 all of last season. Indianapolis leads the league in fumbles, after Ryan dropped the ball 11 times in just seven games. And his replacement at QB, Sam Ehlinger, put the ball on the ground in his first NFL start.
A team that had been built on making few mistakes — while dominating the game with offensive line stars such as Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly — has performed so poorly that many are speculating that Ryan has taken his last snap in the NFL, while others are calling for head coach Frank Reich's job.
4. Jameis Winston and Michael Thomas Have Hardly Played Together for the Saints
Many were eager to see what Jameis Winston could do in 2022 after his first season under center for the Saints was cut short by injury after just seven games. In 2021, Winston seemed to get the interception issues that plagued his career under control, throwing 14 touchdowns to just three picks before getting hurt. Under new head coach Dennis Allen, the expectation was that Winston would return to 2021 form this season.
Meanwhile, Michael Thomas set the NFL record for receptions in a single year with 149 in 2019, but injuries caused Thomas to be limited in 2020 and miss the entire 2021 season. Reports out of camp were strong this year for the Saints' passing attack, with Thomas entering the season healthy and alongside new addition Jarvis Landry.
The season started out with a bang for both players. Winston led a 16-point fourth-quarter comeback, complete with two touchdowns to Thomas, as the Saints topped the Falcons by a point. This would prove to be the peak for both players this season, as the pair would only get to play another game and a half together.
Thomas left Week 3's loss to the Panthers with a toe injury. Thomas was placed on IR this week, will have surgery on his foot, and will likely miss the rest of the year. This marks the third straight lost season for the 29-year-old receiver.
Winston played hurt and put up subpar performances in Weeks 2 and 3. He missed the next several games due to injuries and then was subsequently benched for journeyman quarterback Andy Dalton.
A Saints offense with so much potential and many dynamic players is now a one-man show with running back Alvin Kamara and a low ceiling. Despite being just a game out of the top spot of the NFC South, the Saints' season seems all but over.
3. The Jacksonville Jaguars are Just the Same Old Jaguars
The maturation of tons of high draft picks, combined with a declining AFC South, made the Jaguars a popular bet to surpass their projected season win total of 6.5 games. How naive must all those bettors feel now. They should have known better.
The Jags looked strong despite blowing a lead in their Week 1 loss to the Commanders. The following two weeks, they went on to blank the Colts 24-0 and dominate the Chargers on the road by four touchdowns. New coach Doug Pederson looked like just the man to unlock the potential of former No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence, and Jacksonville was putting the tumultuous Urban Meyer regime behind them. Then, in the infamous words of Rob Schneider's character in "The Waterboy," "Oh, no! We suck again!"
Jacksonville has lost its last five games, including a demoralizing home loss in which it put up only 6 points against the lowly Texans. Their inability to win close games late remains the same as it has been for much of the last 20 years; and while running back Travis Etienne looks like a young star, you can't help but feel that the Jaguars might find some way to ruin that, too.
With the Titans trending in the exact opposite direction, winning their last five, it feels as if the Jaguars are again out of playoff contention before Thanksgiving. Lawrence's performance has left a lot to be desired, and that leads us to our next topic.
2. The Disappointing Sophomore Seasons for the 2021 Quarterback Class
The 2021 quarterback group was one of the most highly touted to come out of college in years. Eight quarterbacks were taken in the first three rounds of the draft, the most in history. Let's take a look at the list of QBs picked in 2021 who have taken meaningful NFL snaps.
- Trevor Lawrence
- Zach Wilson
- Trey Lance
- Justin Fields
- Mac Jones
- Davis Mills
- Sam Ehlinger
It's hard to feel truly great about the future of anyone on that list. Lawrence has yet to really put his stamp on the league; and while he hasn't played horribly, he isn't creating the game-changing impact that those in northern Florida were hoping for when the Jaguars selected the Clemson QB first overall. Lawrence leads the league in red zone interceptions, and his quarterback rating drops 15 points lower in the fourth quarter. In order for the Jaguars' outlook to change, those critical numbers have to change as well.
Of the teams led by the QBs on this list, only the Jets are above .500. However, you can make an argument that the Jets' performance is more in spite of Wilson than because of him. Wilson has thrown just three touchdowns in the five games he has started and is coming off a putrid three-interception performance against the arch-rival Patriots. And as NFL analyst Warren Sharp points out, despite having the longest time to throw in the NFL, Wilson is one of the least-efficient passers when holding on to the ball.
Fields has had a few moments that show his potential, including a huge road win on Monday Night Football over New England. But the Bears' unwillingness to pass frequently or in the red zone shows the limitations they believe Fields has. He sports a mediocre QB rating and has yet to pass for more than 208 yards in a game this season. It remains to be seen if Fields can be an effective enough passer in this league to win games for the Bears, or if he will face eight-man fronts for the rest of his career.
Jones and his struggles are well documented, complete with a brief yet passionate quarterback controversy in New England with rookie Bailey Zappe. Jones led the Patriots to 10 wins and a playoff berth as a rookie, but his patented accuracy and decision-making have both taken a step back in Year 2. Jones has thrown seven interceptions to just three TDs in five games this year, and the Patriots lead the league with 16 turnovers. If he can't turn it around, the debate about who should start for New England will begin again this offseason.
Mills has had flashes of potential that showed why the Houston Texans selected him in a third-round pick, but it hasn't translated into many wins. Mills inherited the worst scenario of any of the 2021 QBs; and while he has filled the void admirably, I don't think you'll find too many folks who believe he is the future of that franchise.
Lance's 2022 season was cut short by injury, and Ehlinger just had his first start in Week 8, so we have little to go on to predict the future of those two quarterbacks.
While all of these QBs will have plenty of chances to improve their performances and reach their potential, at this moment you can't convince me with 100 percent certainty that one of these guys is a perennial Pro Bowler and future elite QB. That's a tough look for one of the most lauded quarterback draft classes of all time.
1. The Lack of Fireworks in the AFC West
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The No. 1 biggest disappointment in the NFL this season is the lack of competition in the AFC West. Following an exciting offseason, this division had plenty of potential for a season of wire-to-wire suspense to see who would wear the crown. There was even a moment when I thought we could see four teams from one division make the NFL playoffs for the first time ever. How wildly wrong have I been. Instead, it remains the Kansas City Chiefs and everyone else.
The biggest splash of the offseason was the Broncos selling the farm to lure QB Russell Wilson from the Seahawks. The thought was that Wilson could pair with new head coach Nathaniel Hackett to create the same magic Hackett was able to generate with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. So far, that has been a complete failure. The Broncos are two games under .500 and are the second-lowest-scoring team in the NFL, averaging only 15 points a game. It has been such a disaster that the Broncos became sellers at the trade deadline, the exact opposite of the expectations for Wilson's first year in Denver.
The Las Vegas Raiders entered the 2022 season with a ton of buzz under new head coach Josh McDaniels. After the Raiders traded first and second-round picks to reunite quarterback Derek Carr with his college teammate, wide receiver Davante Adams, Raiders fans hoped that McDaniels could get the most out of an offense laden with stars to keep up in a shootout in the AFC West. Instead, the Raiders were just shut out by the lowly Saints, failing to even cross midfield until their backup quarterback entered the game. The 2-5 Raiders currently sit with a 14% chance to make the playoffs and just a 2% chance of winning the division. You know it's bad because those numbers actually seem too high.
The Chargers' big moves this offseason were the additions of cornerback J.C. Jackson and pass rusher Khalil Mack. The plan was that those players would partner with the likes of Joey Bosa, Asante Samuel Jr. and Derwin James to counter the division's potent offenses. Only James and Mack have been able to hold up their ends of the bargain. Bosa was injured in the third game of the season, and Jackson was underwhelming before ultimately joining Bosa on IR. The Chargers have been decimated by injuries, but even those who have been available have performed relatively disappointingly. Despite being only one game back, they've already lost once in Kansas City, and it's hard to picture this Chargers team challenging the Chiefs.
A division with so much potential for combat looks as if it is once again a warmup for the Chiefs before they eventually win the West and host a playoff game when the calendar changes to 2023 — just as they have every year since 2015. I should have known.
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