Analysis

Five Sleeper Playoff Teams For 2022

Justin Herbert

Los Angeles Chargers

It starts with the quarterback Justin Herbert. Herbert is a truly special quarterback, and we know that the Chargers will be aggressive with him under center, going for it on fourth downs and pushing the envelope. The team is built better than last year when they were minutes away from a playoff berth.  

They spent a first-round pick on Zion Johnson, a talented player who will step in at right guard, to shore up their offensive line that already featured Rashawn Slater and Corey Linsley. Keeping Mike Williams was a priority, as he formed an excellent wide receiver duo with Keenan Allen, and they brought him back. 

LA also added key defensive additions in Khalil Mack, Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson to fix their defensive line. They signed J.C. Jackson in free agency to give them a playmaker at corner and drafted safety J.T. Woods to give them another talented coverage player in their safety room. 

The biggest thing for the Chargers is staying healthy. They’ve seemingly always had a key injury come at the wrong time every season. With their defensive additions, they should be in line to make the playoffs this season.

Denver Broncos

Denver made arguably the biggest move of the offseason by acquiring Russell Wilson. It’s a move that can immediately put them into playoff contention. Wilson throwing to that receiver room of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, and K.J. Hamler gives Denver a dangerous passing offense. They pair that with a run game led by Javonte Williams, and that offense can be superb if the offensive line can hold up.

Defensively, they added Randy Gregory into a front with a lot of young players looking to prove themselves. Dre’Mont Jones, Bradley Chubb and D.J. Jones with Gregory can give Denver a formidable defensive front. Their secondary with Patrick Surtain II and Justin Simmons gives Denver some playmakers that can really hamper opposing quarterbacks, which is important in a division with Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and Derek Carr. An underrated linebacker corps led by the physical Josey Jewell should help their run defense. 

The addition of Wilson raises the ceiling of Denver tremendously. If they can stay healthy, they are an immediate playoff contender, but they have a tough road going through the AFC West. 

Washington Commanders

A new-look offense in Washington could spark a hunt for the playoffs. The NFC East is wide-open at this stage. Carson Wentz is enough of an upgrade over Taylor Heinecke that he could put this Commanders team right into the thick of the NFC race. The Commanders went 7-10 last season with a defense that had injuries to Chase Young and Jon Bostic and an offense that ran almost entirely through Terry McLaurin.

Now with first-rounder Jahan Dotson joining McLaurin at receiver, players like Chase Roullier, Logan Thomas, and Curtis Samuel getting healthy and the addition of new talents like Brian Robinson, Andrew Norwell and Cole Turner, the offense could ascend to the top of the NFC. 

Washington’s defense is still one of the most talented in the conference. Anchored by a defensive line led by Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Montez Sweat, Young and their second-round rookie Phidarian Mathis, this is a unit built to stop the run. Young and Sweat are two elite athletes at the position, and Young is one of the best young pass-rushers in the game. When he gets healthy, this unit is going to be a problem for NFC coaches. 

If the secondary can improve from what it showed last year, and hopefully an improved pass-rush will help there, then Washington has the defense to put them in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt. With a potentially explosive offense, the Commanders feel like a team poised to take the next step.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins’ offense has drawn a lot of attention under their new Head Coach Mike McDaniel, leaving their defense underrated. Up front, Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis are a physical duo. They have a talented group of pass rushers in Emmanuel Ogbah, Jaelan Phillips, Melvin Ingram, Andrew Van Ginkel and Zach Seiler, who can really get after and harass the quarterback. The Dolphins boast a talented secondary with Xavien Howard and Byron Jones at corner and an ascending talent at safety in Jevon Holland. Their defense is going to give opposing offenses trouble all season long.

Their offense might be just as potent as their defense. They added Tyreek Hill, Cedrick Wilson and Trent Sherfield to a receiving room with Jaylen Waddle already on board, giving them a diverse and explosive group at wide receiver. Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert and Sony Michel come in at running back to give them a good combination of power and speed in their run game. Perhaps the most important thing is their additions along the offensive line. The Dolphins added Terron Armstead from New Orleans, one of the best tackles in the game, and Connor Williams from Dallas, who adds a versatile talent to the interior of their offensive line. 

All of these moves were built to further Tua Tagovailoa’s development as a quarterback. With Mike McDaniel at the helm calling a similar offense to what Kyle Shanahan has run in San Francisco, Tagovailoa should have a breakout season. If the offensive line can hold up protecting him, and they can stay healthy, they’ll be in the playoff hunt. 

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers drew a lot of scrutiny with the recent trade for QB Baker Mayfield. However, he’s a year removed from taking the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs and winning their first playoff game in decades. Mayfield was injured last year, but his talent is evident, and he still flashed while hurt. 

The offense has the playmakers to help Mayfield succeed. Christian McCaffrey, when healthy, is one of the best offensive weapons in the NFL. Outside, the team has DJ Moore, Robbie Anderson and second-round pick Terrace Marshall. With a change of scenery going into the NFC South, there’s plenty of optimism for Mayfield.

Their defensive line led by Brian Burns and Derrick Brown can be a force. Burns is a 10-sack plus pass-rusher, and Brown is a plus run-defender in the middle. Matt Ioannidis is an underrated interior rusher coming off a 34-pressure season. Jaycee Horn comes back from injury, looking to lead the secondary.  They finished 18th in DVOA vs the pass last season. With a new signal-caller in town, Carolina could make some noise this season.    

Head coach Matt Rhule is likely on the hot seat, so making the playoffs could save his job.

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