The biggest story lines from the Raiders schedule in 2022

Photo Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

The 2022 NFL schedule was released this week. With that comes record predictions, ticket-purchasing, and more storylines than anyone can keep track of.  The Raiders schedule is no different. It showcases a matchup against the reigning Super Bowl champions, a revenge game 50 years in the making, and more AFC West matchups than your heart can handle. So, let’s look at three of the biggest storylines to keep track of in 2022.

Week 1: Las Vegas Raiders @ Los Angeles Chargers

It’s the game you’ve been waiting all offseason for. The Raiders will head to SoFi Stadium for their first game of the season to try and take down Justin Herbert and a revamped Charger’s defense.

As you may remember, the Raiders beat the Chargers in the last regular season game of the 2021 season, sending the Silver and Black to the playoffs, and ending the Bolts season without a second thought. Los Angeles has spent the duration of the offseason trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Since the two teams last met, they have added numerous Pro-Bowlers to their defense including J.C. Jackson, Kyle Van Noy, and former Raider, Khalil Mack.

Mack, who spent the first four seasons of his career with the Raiders, was traded to Los Angeles this offseason. He is infamously known for being a player Raider Nation saw leading the team to their next Super Bowl win. That is, until the former regime sent him off to Chicago. Since leaving Oakland, Mack’s statistics have declined. However, his game-changing talent and sure-fire want for revenge is still cause for concern in Las Vegas.

On top of being a revenge game for many reasons, the Raiders second home is in Los Angeles. It’s not uncommon for Raider Nation to take over SoFi stadium and make it their own, adding fuel to the fire.

Week 15: New England Patriots @ Las Vegas Raiders

While there are numerous storylines in between Week 1 and Week 15, the Patriots vs. Raiders game is what everyone will be looking forward to. Head coach Josh McDaniels will lead his new team out proudly (we hope), as he takes on the man that taught him everything he knows.

Before being hired as the Raiders head coach in January, McDaniels spent 13 seasons with the Patriots. He served as everything from their offensive assistant to their offensive coordinator, learning the ins and outs of coaching from one of the best in the business, Bill Belichick.

McDaniels was joined in Las Vegas by new general manager, Dave Ziegler, who also spent the previous seasons in New England. McDaniels and Ziegler wasted no time in bringing their favorite former Patriots to Sin City, making Week 15 even more meaningful.

Las Vegas has added six players this offseason who played for the New England Patriots including running back Brandon Bolden, tight end Jacob Hollister, fullback Jakob Johnson, and quarterback Jarett Stidham, among others. Along with players, McDaniels also hired several former New England coaches to his staff.

The sheer volume of Raiders that have played or coached for the Patriots is something that doesn’t go unnoticed, making Week 15 a must win game for the Silver and Black.

Week 16: Las Vegas Raiders @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Fifty years in the making, the Raiders will return to the scene of the “Immaculate Reception” one day after its half-century anniversary. If you’ve been a Raiders fan for a while, or have ever known a Raiders fan, its likely you know exactly what play we’re talking about. If not, you can read up on the controversial play, here.

No matter how much time passes, it will never be clear what happened that day. You’ll get a different story from every player, and every referee working that game. The Raiders are three Lombardi trophies better off than they were that day in Pittsburgh, but they’ll never forget. And they’ll be sure to remind the Steelers of that in December.

The Raiders schedule is tough, with a lot valuable storylines in 2022. If they want to return to the playoffs for a second consecutive year, they’ll have to prove each and every week why they deserve to be there.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 Draft Grades

Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 NFL Draft
Photo Credit: David Becker/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers begin a new chapter in 2022. Not only are they moving on from franchise quarterback and future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger, but the 2022 NFL Draft was also the final one for general manager Kevin Colbert. As one of the best general managers in the NFL for the last two decades, it seems only fitting that Colbert received the honor of shepherding Pittsburgh into a new era. Therefore, let’s dive into the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 draft grades.

Round 1, #20: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh

Many expected the Pittsburgh Steelers to use their first selection on a quarterback. The question was which ones would be available at #20 overall. However, an unpredicted situation occurred when the Steelers came on the clock. No quarterbacks had been taken, and Pittsburgh could take whichever one they pleased. Keeping with the theme of surprises, they selected Kenny Pickett. 

At face value, Pickett seems like a natural fit for the Steelers. He is obviously very familiar with the city and the team. Many regarded Pickett as one of the more pro-ready quarterbacks in this year’s draft class. However, his biggest drawback was his perceived lack of upside. In an ideal world, Pickett ends up somewhere in the Kirk Cousins/Ryan Tannehill range.

This begs the following question: is that player worth a first-round pick? Furthermore, when the next quarterback was not selected for more than 50 picks, could the Steelers have gotten their quarterback, or a quarterback, in the second or third rounds?

Nevertheless, I will be rooting for Pickett. Regardless of what you think of the value of the pick or his standing in the quarterback class, it is exceptionally cool that Pickett will be staying in Pittsburgh. As Mike Tomlin said, the Steelers scoured the country looking at quarterback prospects; but at the end of the day, they went with the guy from next door. They made significant efforts to surround him with an improved offensive line and a diverse arsenal of weapons.

If Pickett beats out Mitch Trubisky for the starting gig, he should be able to pilot this offense more effectively than the reanimated corpse of Ben Roethlisberger that was under center the last two years. 

Grade: B

Round 2, #52: George Pickens, WR, Georgia

From an on-field talent and team fit perspective, this might be the best pick in the entire 2022 NFL Draft. George Pickens was on a trajectory toward being an early first-round pick after a stellar true freshman season in 2019. But injuries and poor quarterback play robbed him of his 2020 and 2021 seasons.

When he was healthy and on the field for the Dawgs, Pickens was an absolute monster. His best ability was getting vertical and making spectacular catches downfield and in the air. He only had two drops on 139 career targets and improved as a contested-catch receiver. 

The Steelers have spent multiple second-round picks on wide receivers they wanted to use as vertical threats. But James Washington struggled to develop chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger and find a role in the offense. Chase Claypool started off hot but cooled off significantly in 2021; the offense sputtered around him, but Claypool also struggled to win in contested-catch situations. Pittsburgh has not had a true vertical receiving threat since Martavis Bryant, someone who Pickens compares relatively favorably to in terms of skill set and play style. 

Obviously, the Steelers are famous for their ability to identify talented wide receivers on the second and third days of the NFL Draft. Claypool, Washington, and Bryant are among their more recent finds. But Diontae Johnson, Juju Smith-Schuster, Sammie Coates, and Markus Wheaton are also among their more recent finds.

While not all of these players became superstars — some of them even failing to complete their second contracts — they were at least competent NFL receivers, something the Steelers desperately needed. Furthermore, a receiver that makes contested catches outside his frame is something that can help a young quarterback who lacks great arm strength. 

Grade: A+

Round 3, #84: DeMarvin Leal, DE, Texas A&M

When healthy, the Steelers have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Of course, the issue during the 2021 season was staying healthy. Stephon Tuitt missed the entire season after rehabbing his knee injury was delayed by his brother’s untimely demise. Tyson Alualu missed almost the entire season with a broken ankle. This forced the Steelers to turn to free agents off the street and practice squad players on the defensive line.

Even with Alualu and Tuitt returning to the lineup this season, some predicted that the Steelers would use an early pick on a new nose tackle. Therefore, selecting a hybrid defensive end / outside linebacker in the third round came as a surprise. 

DeMarvin Leal came into the 2021 season with a massive amount of hype, considered a first-round lock, and arguably the best interior defensive lineman in the class. But his play took a significant drop relative to his 2020 performance. He struggled to consistently defend the run and couldn’t settle into a positional role. Leal also tested quite poorly at Texas A&M’s pro day, although so did every other player at the pro day, so there may have been a confounding factor at play. 

Nevertheless, getting Leal in the mid-late third round is excellent value. Leal still needs to develop as a player and round out his skill set. On the Steelers’ defensive line, he can be brought along slowly as an apprentice to Cam Heyward.

If everyone on the roster is healthy and available, Leal would be the fourth or fifth option, which indicates excellent depth. He can be used as a dynamic matchup nightmare in specific situations. By the end of his rookie deal, Leal should be able to receive the torch from Cam Heyward as a leader along the defensive line. 

Grade: A

READ MORE: 2022 NFL Draft Live Tracker, Analysis, Grades
Round 4, #138: Calvin Austin III, WR, Memphis

Typically, the Steelers like to double-dip at one position in any given draft. Last year, they selected offensive linemen in consecutive rounds. In 2019, they picked an inside linebacker in the first and sixth rounds.

Going into the 2022 draft, many expected the Steelers to take a wide receiver, but not many predicted they would double-dip at the position. But the board fell tremendously for the Steelers at their compensatory selection in the fourth round, landing them Memphis wide receiver and return specialist, Calvin Austin III. 

Calvin Austin III exploded onto the scene with his performance at the Senior Bowl, consistently getting open during practices and making spectacular catches downfield. He then followed it up with an outstanding Scouting Combine performance, with elite testing numbers across the board.

But Austin is more than just a practice phenom or workout warrior. He put up over 1000 receiving yards each of the last two seasons for Memphis, helping him finish in the top-five across most career receiving categories for the Tigers. 

Furthermore, the stories emerging post-draft concerning Austin have validated the Steelers’ selection. Firstly, according to Peter King, Pittsburgh stole Austin from their division rival, the Baltimore Ravens, who would have taken Austin had the Steelers not. Secondly, the fourth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Sauce Gardner, name-dropped Austin as one of his most difficult match-ups in an interview with Chris Simms of Pro Football Talk.

These two stories indicate how valuable this selection was. While Austin will most likely not be an immediate starter, he can make an immediate impact on special teams and carve out a niche role on offense. 

Grade: A+

Round 6, #208: Connor Heyward, FB/TE, Michigan State

This pick was more of a meme than anything. I’m sure thousands of Steelers fans thought they were geniuses for mocking Connor Heyward to the team with one of these final three picks. Call Kevin Colbert Dom Toretto because for the Steelers, family is everything.

This gives Pittsburgh four sets of brothers on their roster. Interestingly, only one of those pairs are on the same side of the ball (Carlos and Khalil Davis are both defensive tackles). Connor Heyward is a fun pick, as he a former running back that switched to fullback and eventually tight end. He was also an All-Big Ten kick returner earlier in his career before bulking up. 

Even though most picks after 200 don’t matter very much, I don’t love this selection. Even though Heyward will be listed as a tight end, at 5’11” and 233 pounds, he is essentially a fullback. The Steelers already have a fullback who is the brother of a star defensive player in Derek Watt. Watt is entering a contract year and will turn 30 by next season. But I have to imagine the Steelers will be one of the few, if not the only, teams to keep two fullbacks on the active roster.

Even though Heyward is very versatile, I just don’t see the point of drafting and rostering a second fullback. I’m sure he will make the team and will have some fun plays; I just don’t love the process behind it. 

Grade: C

Round 7, #225: Mark Robinson, ILB, Mississippi

The Pittsburgh Steelers love drafting linebackers. They have drafted at least one linebacker every year since 2009. Granted, this covers off-ball linebackers and edge defenders, but they still value spending draft capital on inside linebackers.

Mark Robinson was a late visit for Pittsburgh, and these kinds of visits should set off alarm bells for fans. Robinson is essentially Vince Williams’ brain/spirit in Devin Bush’s body. He’s a converted running back who walked on at Ole Miss and earned a starting role quickly, despite switching positions. 

With all that being said, this pick comes off as redundant and unnecessary. The Steelers currently have seven inside linebackers on their roster, several of whom have very similar skill-sets to Johnson. At least three of those players are already significant contributors on special teams, along with safety-linebacker hybrid Miles Killebrew.

It seems unlikely that Robinson will even make the roster, leading to the question: why use a draft pick on a practice squad player? They could have used more depth at cornerback, running back, tight end, or outside linebacker. Again, seventh-round picks are almost equivalent to throwaways, so it’s not an awful pick, but it could have been better. 

Grade: C

Round 7, #241: Chris Oladokun, QB, South Dakota State

Like Robinson, Chris Oladokun visited the Steelers in the pre-draft process and stuck out like a relatively sore thumb. As with most of their late-round picks, Pittsburgh reached on a guy they had a personal connection with. This was also telegraphed by Kevin Colbert’s and Mike Tomlin’s comments in the pre-draft process, indicating that they carry four quarterbacks into training camp.

As for the player, Chris Oladokun is a productive, yet undersized, FCS quarterback with a strong arm and good athleticism. He will be their practice squad or scout team version of divisional rivals Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson. 

Regardless, I can’t look positively on this pick because it wastes scarce resources. Granted, seventh-round picks, especially late ones, generally do not matter. But using one on a fourth quarterback whose entire role will be a scout team replica on a practice squad is ridiculous in my opinion.

This is only made worse by the fact that the quarterback finished his career at his second FCS school and third overall. There were still plenty of valuable players on the board who would be able to help this team in a much more meaningful way than a fourth quarterback who will only get a helmet on game day if two of the other quarterbacks are injured.

Even if the Steelers felt that Oladokun would not be available or acquirable as an undrafted free agent, his skill set is not special enough to warrant using a draft pick on him, no matter how late. 

Grade: D

Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 Draft Grades: Overall

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2022 NFL Draft seeking a franchise quarterback, offensive weapons to surround him with, and depth pieces on defense. From a bird’s eye view, they accomplished these goals. They added two dynamic receivers to the offense, found some developmental players on defense, and added a quarterback with their first-round pick.

However, they left a significant amount of value on the board. One could write an entirely separate article on whether Kenny Pickett was the right quarterback to take in the first round; another perhaps on whether they should have taken one in the first round at all. Finally, they squandered their late-round picks on redundant or unnecessary positions.

However, at the end of the day, they solved their primary needs. Even though Pickett may be relatively uninspiring, he has a high floor and should make the offense competent. Furthermore, the picks where they reached were not especially valuable. Therefore, Kevin Colbert’s final draft grades out as good, but not great.

Overall Grade: B

The Myth of the Second Round Quarterback

The 2022 NFL Draft is behind us, and it reveals a modern scouting trend at the league’s most important position.

The NFL draft has come and gone, and there were plenty of surprises, notably at the quarterback position. Among them, not a single quarterback was picked in the second round.

After Kenny Pickett was drafted by the Steelers at 20, the next QB didn’t go until 54 picks later, even though there were several who analysts believed were capable of going in round two.

There’s just one small problem: second round quarterbacks don’t exist.

I know it sounds like an odd — or maybe blatantly false — statement, but there is a case to be made. The success rate on round two signal-callers is pretty horrendous, and it all seems to lead to this one conclusion.

In order to come to that conclusion, however, there are a variety of different criteria. First, the types of quarterbacks and draftable skills. Second, the structure, and third, the history of these picks. Those three, when looked at together, bring a pretty shocking revelation that made me conjure up that statement above.

Drafting a Quarterback

Teams who find themselves drafting quarterbacks highly may be in a variety of spots, but there are three that are the most typical:

  1. One of the league’s worst teams, holding a high draft pick.
  2. Middling franchise, looking to make a change.
  3. Top of the league, finding the protégé for an older (on the verge of retirement) leader.

When teams find themselves in any of these positions, they must find the traits they value in a quarterback. Among those are arm talent, rushing ability, composure, ability to read the field, and more. However, there are two categories that those fall into, which, for the sake of the argument are production and potential.

To put it simply, teams judge what a quarterback is right now versus what he could be in a few years.

Scenario one

The top guys usually have a combination of both. Trevor Lawrence, who went number one to the Jaguars last year, combined national championships and Heisman ballot appearances with a 6’6″ frame and a cannon of an arm. Thus, he went to a team that I would place in the first set of criteria. The Jaguars were easily one of the worst teams in the NFL, and thus received a generational talent.

Scenario Two

Those with one of the two traits, however, have a wide range of options. For a team that’s just good enough to be picking outside of the quarterback window, they might be willing to take a chance on a potentially huge swing in their franchises history. Kenny Pickett is a prime example of this. While he doesn’t have the strongest arm or the highest ceiling, his production last season was hard to ignore. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who were 9-7-1 last year, decided that he was worth it at 20.

Kenny Pickett goes 20th overall.

Following that pick, there were other quarterbacks on the board, who, like Pickett, possessed one of the two main traits. Malik Willis, who some suspected may go as high as number two overall, had one of the highest ceilings in the draft, however, if he wasn’t going to go in the first, it seemed he wasn’t getting drafted until later on day 2.

scenario threE

Teams that fall in the third category (such as the Packers in 2020) have a tough decision. While they could take their chances on a high-potential pick like Jordan Love, it makes the most sense to maximize their championship window. Green Bay took that chance in 2020, and passed up elite talent because of it. Now, teams have learned from that mistake, while quarterbacks brunt the blow to their draft position.

Thus, Malik Willis, Matt Corral, Desmond Ridder, and all of the quarterbacks who many expected to go in round one, are now available in the dreaded first half of day two.

The Structure of the Second Round

On the typical draft boards, teams have a wide range of grades on prospects. It’s common to see someone who’s viewed as a top prospect by one team be a day two pick for someone else. Due to this disparity, many “first round talents” fall into the beginning of day two.

These players are quickly scooped up in what makes up roughly 25 percent of the round. This leaves the last 24 picks for guys truly viewed as round two prospects, which doesn’t leave much room for quarterbacks.

If a team would have believed in someone enough to draft them with those first eight picks, it’s unlikely he would have slipped to begin with. Teams rarely risk the opportunity of missing out their guy. This is why it’s common to see teams move up to 32. They guarantee themselves the player they want with an extra year of team control.

Lamar Jackson was drafted 32 overall.

If a team wasn’t willing to take that chance, it’s unlikely they viewed them very highly. That idea is exactly what makes the second round the worst for the quarterback. Would a team take a player who, at the most important position in the sport, they aren’t fully invested in or comfortable with — especially when there is still high-end talent on the board?

The last 24

Once you find your way out of those first eight picks, it becomes time for teams to ask themselves that question. As this draft has shown, the answer has been a resounding “no.” The later picks, which are usually the teams competing for playoff spots, would rather choose someone who can contribute right away. Bubble teams are always looking for their next big acquisition, and their philosophy is that is can come then.

Quarterbacks, as a result, usually fall by the wayside. However, there are some instances where they are picked. The results of which are rather interesting.

Modern History of the Second Round Quarterback

Over the last 20 years, there have been 20 quarterbacks selected in the second round. 20 different times, teams have weighed the ideas of production and potential, and in the last two decades, have determined it’s time to take a quarterback who likely only had one of those traits.

A list of second round quarterback selections of the last 20 years.

Of those, the results are typically a failure of epic proportions. Kellen Clemens, Deshone Kizer, Drew Stanton, Chad Henne, Brian Brohm, John Beck, Jimmy Clausen, and Geno Smith all have more career interceptions than touchdowns, while Christian Hackenberg and Kyle Trask (who’s only in his second season) never played a recorded snap.

The other options aren’t great either. Tavaris Jackson, Brock Osweiler, and Kevin Kolb all showed some flashes, but never lived up to their selection.

Five of the remaining six are polarizing. Jalen Hurts has shown flashes, but fell apart in the playoffs. Drew Lock is still young, but was just traded by the Broncos and has been shaky. Jimmy Garoppolo was able to succeed in the Kyle Shanahan offense, but was just replaced and hasn’t shown an ability to transcend the system. Andy Dalton is a similar story, having rough stints in limited playoff appearances. Lastly, Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance, but has been out of the league for the better half of the last decade.

This leaves Derek Carr, who, while having only one playoff appearance and zero playoff wins, has safely cemented a spot as the Raiders quarterback for eight years. He has made three Pro Bowls, and has continued to improve. Thus making him the only second round quarterback selected in the last 20 years who can safely be called a hit.

The Bottom Line on the Second Round Quarterback

The 2022 NFL Draft was a prime example of a philosophy at work. After a quarterback goes in the first round, teams have learned from mistakes of the past. Rather than picking signal callers with clear holes in their game in the following round, they’ve gone for contributors at other positions.

Several teams would love to have the next Derek Carr, but with that comes the chance of Brian Brohm or Deshone Kizer. Just like every other selection, the second round has it’s fair share of bust potential. However, it seems that the combination of quarterback traits, draft tendencies, and a simple history lesson will tell you that it simply isn’t the same.

General managers across the league will continue to take swings on quarterbacks, but when doing so, it’s important to look at the most glaring fact:

Second round quarterbacks don’t exist.

The Steelers win-now mentality will be tested in stacked AFC

Pittsburgh Steelers GM Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin
Photo Credit: Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers are entering a new era of uncertainty, and the AFC will be harder to navigate than ever. How will they respond?

The Steelers haven’t felt the sting of a losing season since 2003. That doesn’t seem possible given the amount of parity the NFL experiences on a yearly basis. When you go from one Hall of Fame coach (Bill Cowher) to a potential one in Mike Tomlin, it should be no surprise.

Even with a broken-down version of Ben Roethlisberger and injuries to the vaunted defense, Pittsburgh still finished 9-7-1 and snuck into the postseason. They were no match for the mighty Kansas City Chiefs, but most teams aren’t. With Ben gone and GM Kevin Colbert entering his final draft, it should be time to focus on the future.

That isn’t what the Steelers do, however.

A team that rarely spends money in free agency spent over $70 million on outside free agents this off-season. Most of that was to fortify their offensive line, signing guard James Daniels and center Mason Cole. They addressed quarterback as well by signing Mitchell Trubisky to a two-year prove-it deal.

Those aren’t moves you make if you aren’t focused on being competitive in 2022. The Trubisky move could easily not work out, but I doubt he is worse than Ben last season. The defense, if healthy, has top-five potential. Najee Harris should have the chance to flourish with an improved offensive line. OC Matt Canada will have the freedom to truly show if he is the guy.

Under normal circumstances, I would be optimistic about the moves Pittsburgh has made. This off-season has been anything but normal, however.

The AFC goes nuclear as Steelers enter new era

First, it was Russell Wilson to the Broncos in the biggest trade in league history. Then, the Chargers went all in by securing the pieces on defense they desperately needed. Not wanting to be outdone, the Raiders traded for Packers star wide receiver Davantae Adams, reuniting with college teammate Derek Carr.

That was just what happened in the AFC West. The Dolphins secured major upgrades to their offensive line with deals for Connor Williams and Terron Armstead. They then followed it up with a massive trade for the Chiefs Tyreek Hill. The Bills signed Von Miller to a massive deal, then recently locked down Stefon Diggs for the future.

The Steelers were even outdone by the rest of their division, with the Browns becoming the team willing to gamble on quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Ravens brought in the to safety on the market in Marcus Williams. The Bengals signed much-needed help up front in guard Alex Cappa, center Ted Karras, and tackle La’el Collins.

There are even more moves I could talk about, but you get the picture. The AFC is shaping up to be an absolute gauntlet over the next few seasons. The Steelers are in real danger of falling far behind. Their win-now mentality is what has allowed them to always be in the mix, but even staying in the playoff hunt will be hard to ask of this team now. They seem to know that, which is why they are seemingly locked in on taking their quarterback of the future this year.

Should they be?

To QB, or not to QB

Everything the Steelers have done this draft process points to one goal: finding their next franchise quarterback. This quarterback class is widely considered to be mediocre, with very little consensus on who the top guy is. It seems like the Steelers are most interested in Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, but who their guy is doesn’t really matter. What matters is whether it’s the right time to be drafting a quarterback who you hope can be the next long-term starter.

Picking a QB in the first round is a big decision. So many teams have swung and missed at that position and set themselves back for years. The Steelers luckily haven’t had to make that decision in a very long time, and I believe they should continue that streak this year. They would be better off using this draft to fill out the roster and look towards 2023 to find their next franchise guy.

The best-case scenario for the Steelers this season is to remain competitive and use this year as a showcase for players like Mitch Trubisky, Chase Claypool, Alex Highsmith, and the offensive line as a whole. Find out who deserves to be here long term, give whatever rookies they draft some chances, and prepare to make a run at one of the top quarterbacks next draft.

The bottom line for the Steelers

I don’t see the Steelers sneaking into the playoffs like they did last year, but they have surprised me before. How they approach the draft will say a lot about how competitive they believe they can be. If they draft for need, it’s safe to assume they are hopeful for next season. If they take high-upside guys who may need some time to develop, it likely means they have an eye towards 2023 and beyond.

No matter what happens the rest of the off-season, Steelers fans should brace themselves. It’s hard to imagine, but they could be staring down their first losing season in nearly two decades. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but if it happens it may be for the best.

Week 17 NFL Power Rankings

Jay Biggerstaff – USA Today Sports

The Week 17 NFL Power Rankings are still showing signs of craziness, considering some of the movement we’re seeing from last week. But, ultimately the playoff picture is starting to solidify. We’re starting to see teams that should make their marks in January start to separate themselves from the pack. And, we’re starting to see teams that will fall apart down the stretch start to show us why.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13)

Last week: 32

The Jacksonville Jaguars proved they belong in the basement of the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings this week by losing to the next worst team in the NFL. It was briefly a back-and-forth affair in the first quarter. But, the Jags were unable to take advantage of the Jets’ numerous mistakes. I don’t think interim coach Darrell Bevell is endearing himself much to the front office right now.

31. New York Jets (4-11)

Last Week: 31

On the flip side, the Jets proved they’re NOT the worst team in the NFL this week by outlasting the despondent Jaguars. The Jets took their first lead of the game on a 52-yard touchdown run by Zach Wilson that was really cool. But, they had to struggle for that win and never really felt like they had firm control.

30. New York Giants (4-11)

Last Week: 30

Someone go console the football fans in Jersey. The Jets are… the Jets, and the Giants appear totally rudderless. It was kind of cool to see Jake Fromm get his first NFL start. But, he turned out to be just as much of a disaster as Mike Glennon as he finnished with a 19.5 passer rating. Yikes. Mike Glennon ended up playing the savior role and, honestly, didn’t look much better. As bad as Daniel Jones was, this is a new level of Hell.

29. Detroit Lions (2-12-1)

Last Week: 29

The Detroit Lions came OH SO CLOSE to a winning streak in 2021! It feels unfair that we were forced to watch Tim Boyle ruin it with a goalline interception at the death. I won’t kill the Lions too badly in the Week 17 Power Rankings, though. It feels like Jared Goff would have won this game, and there’s no accounting for COVID.

28. Carolina Panthers (5-10)

Last Week: 28

The Carolina Panthers look broken. Luckily for them, everyone else in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings bottom 5 looks more broken than them. Cam Newton was bad again. But, Sam Darnold returned to the field and looked serviceable. Fifth year option serviceable? No. But, Cam has looked completely washed since he’s settled in with the Panthers. So, might as well start Darnold the rest of the season to see if he can give you any reason to trust him for another year.

27. Seattle Seahawks (5-10)

Last Week: 24

What the hell happened to the Seahawks man? Russell Wilson was unspectacular, but efficient. Plus, the Seahawks running game absolutely sliced through the Bears this week! But, their defense fell apart when it mattered and the offense kept shooting itself in the foot on the final drive. I can’t do anything but lay into them in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings for that.

26. Chicago Bears (5-10)

Last Week: 27

Barely beating a lost Seahawks team to improve to 5-10 isn’t exactly the most inspiring storyline of all time. But, they did win. I can’t imagine there’s anything the Bears can do at this point to save Matt Nagy’s job. But, perhaps they can string a few wins together at the end of the year to give the next regime something to build off of?

25. Washington Football Team (6-9)

Last Week: 23

Remember that brief time a few weeks ago when Washington looked as hot as anyone and might somehow find a way to wrestle the division away from Dallas? Yeah…. All that nonsense seems like a really abstract joke now. Washington continues their freefall in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings after giving up the largest point total of any team this season. 

24. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1)

Last Week: 22

Somehow, despite a new 17 game schedule, the Pittsburgh Steelers feel like they’re well on their way to a .500 season. That said, I feel like tying the Lions should take at least .001 points off that record. .499 seems like a more accurate representation of their season this year. They certainly didn’t look like a dead average team this week against the Chiefs. Their offense is broken and their defense is exploitable.

23. Houston Texans (4-11)

Last Week: 26

Who knew that Davis Mills was the right choice for the Texans all along! For that matter, David Culley might actually be a pretty decent coach. This Texans team entered the 2021 season looking like a fully castrated organization considering the Watson drama and all the fallout of the Bill O’Brien era. But, they’re showing signs of life down the stretch. Who knows. Maybe the complete overhaul will yield a competitive team in a few years?

22. New Orleans Saints (7-8)

Last Week: 21

As bad as Taysom Hill has looked at points, Ian Book looked that much worse against the Dolphins. This game had all the simulated pressures of a playoff game. Both teams needed this one to stay on track to have a realistic shot to make the playoffs. There is still hope for the Saints to turn things around and sneak into that No. 7 spot. But, they’ll need to show some sign of life to win out against the Panthers and Falcons.

21. Atlanta Falcons (7-8)

Last Week: 25

I know barely beating the Lions despite flirting with another classic Falcons choke job isn’t exactly the most impressive win of all time. But, it’s still a win. If the Falcons can find some way to beat the Bills this week, their unlikely playoff dreams could stay alive. Is it likely? No. But, I’ve seen crazier comebacks.

20. Minnesota Vikings (7-8)

Last Week: 18

At a certain point, does giving the Vikings credit for keeping things close against a quality opponent matter? What really matters is finding a way to win those games, and the Vikings simply do not do that. They technically have a tiebreaker advantage over the Falcons and Saints for the top spot in the NFC playoff hunt. But, they’ll need to pull off another massive upset against the Packers in Lambeau to have a realistic chance to regain control of a playoff spot.

19. Denver Broncos (7-8)

Last Week: 17

It’s kind of sad, really. The Broncos got off to such a hot start in 2021. We all thought for sure they’d be in contention by the end of the year. But, as things currently stand, they’re one loss away from being eliminated from playoff contention. But, you’re never going to get where you want to go if you base your whole offensive identity on running the ball then gain 18 yards in a gotta have it game.

18. Cleveland Browns (7-8)

Last Week: 14

The Browns arguably don’t deserve to fall this far in the Week 16 NFL Power Rankings. After all, they fought hard and nearly found a way to win against a Packers team nobody gave them a chance against. For me, the reason they’re falling so far is because Baker Mayfield’s arm looks completely useless at this point. We all respect guys who can tough it out and play through the pain. But, sometimes it’s about making smart decisions, and the Browns did not make a smart one with Baker in 2021. Oddly enough, they still have a pretty realistic shot to win the AFC North. But, I don’t see how they beat the Bengals in Week 18 if his arm is this dead.

17. Baltimore Ravens (8-7)

Last Week: 15

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. In the Ravens’ defense, they can’t help the historically terrible luck they’ve had lately with injuries and COVID. But, it doesn’t change the fact that they look completely done. Lamar Jackson wasn’t playing up to his standards before the ankle injury. So, I’m struggling to see how they bounce back. If they don’t find some way to take down a hot Rams team this week, they’ll be eliminated from playoff contention. So, I have no choice but to continue dropping them drastically in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings.

16. Las Vegas Raiders (8-7)

Last Week: 20

Like Rocky, the Raiders didn’t hear no bell. At any point this season. Not after the slew of dramatic circumstances derailed their season. Not after losing five of six games in the middle of the season. Not even after getting absolutely demolished by the Chiefs twice in a span of five weeks. The Raiders still need a lot of help to squeak into the playoffs. But, they took care of what they could take care of this week by completing a season sweep of the Broncos.

15. Arizona Cardinals (10-5)

Last Week: 12

Speaking of mighty teams falling, the Cardinals were a mainstay at No. 1 this year. But, certainly not in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings! There’s no shame in losing to a Colts team that is as hot as anyone right now. But, for the Cardinals, it’s their third loss in a row. They haven’t won a game since the first week of December. They haven’t looked dominant since the first week of November and have now lost control of the AFC West.

14. Miami Dolphins (8-7)

Last Week: 19

The Miami Dolphins are officially a playoff favorite, everyone! They still have a pretty tough schedule to get through with the Titans and Patriots up the next two weeks. But, they’ve battled back from an abysmal start and would be in the playoffs if they started today. Granted, those wins came against a slew of the worst teams in the NFL. It’s not hard to bounce back from 1-7 when you’re playing teams like the Jets, Texans, Panthers, and Giants every week. But, give them credit for knocking off a Ravens team that hadn’t started collapsing yet. Also, a Saints team that was also desperate to keep their playoff hopes alive.

13. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7)

Last Week: 16

Yeah, it’s just the Giants. But, I thought the Eagles taking the Giants behind the woodshed was a good way for them to announce their presence. Jalen Hurts is playing efficient football and it has this Eagles team looking like a team ready to make some noise. There’s always that one team that sneaks into the playoffs and randomly becomes a tough out every year. Why not Philly?

12. Los Angeles Chargers (8-7)

Last Week: 9

The only reason the Chargers are ranked this high in the Week 17 Power Rankings is out of respect for what they’re capable of. But, getting blown out by the Texans in the middle of the playoff race? That’s hard to look past. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now because I think they’re better than the Broncos and Raiders. But, if they lose either of the next two weeks, things could get hairy quick.

11. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)

Last Week: 13

For most of 2021, whether or not the Bengals are talented has not been a question. Their problem has been consistency. Basically, the ability to STAY good. If they could find a way to string results together, we might be talking about this team as a top-5 unit. But, that’s not who they’ve been this year. They have a chance to completely re-write the narrative this week with the Kansas City Chiefs coming to town. But, they haven’t won three games in a row all season. Hence, why I’m hesitant to give them too much credit for their historic blowout win in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings.

10. San Francisco 49ers (8-7)

Last Week: 8

You could make the argument the 49ers don’t deserve to be this high in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings. After all, their season as a whole certainly isn’t ridiculously inspiring. But, they’ve won six of their last nine games and played the contending Titans close. I’m not going to knock them down too far for losing a close game against a good team.

9. Tennessee Titans (10-5)

Last Week: 11

For all the setbacks the Tennessee Titans have experienced in the last month and a half, they’re still good enough to win against good teams. Granted, the 49ers are the first good team they’ve beaten since Week 9 when they took down the LA Rams. But, they’ve shown some moxie lately and set themselves up extremely well early this season. They’ll coast into the playoffs. If Derrick Henry is able to return to the same level of play he left at, this Titans team will be tough to stop.

8. New England Patriots (9-6)

Last Week: 3

A big fall in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings for the former No. 1 team. Mac Jones looked awful when asked to throw more than three passes against the Bills this week. The Patriots’ slow start in 2021 meant they needed to dominante the whole rest of the way if they wanted to stay among the top echelon of NFL teams. Now, they’re back to the Wild Card race unless the Bills slip up.

7. Buffalo Bills (9-6)

Last Week: 10

The Bills caught their fall against the Patriots this week. They took that embarrassing loss a few weeks ago personally and are now back to looking like a team that can beat anyone. With two games remaining against the Falcons and Jets, it feels like the Bills being crowned AFC East champions this year is inevitable.

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4)

Last Week: 7

You know what would have been worse than losing to an identity-crisis riddled Saints team? Following that loss up with another loss to the moribund Panthers. Tom Brady and the Bucs put that Saints loss in the past and returned to their winning ways this week by completely annihilating a Panthers team that just wasn’t ready. With the Jets and a rematch against the Panthers filling out their remaining schedule, I doubt we’ll be analyzing a loss for them again this regular season.

5. Indianapolis Colts (9-6)

Last Week: 6

It’s a shame the Colts took so long to get going this year while the Titans got off to a blazing hot start. They have basically no chance to win the AFC South at this point because the Titans hold a season sweep over them. But, the late-bloomer Colts are clearly the best team in the AFC South right now. Without a doubt, they’re one of the best teams in the AFC after taking down the Cardinals.

4. Dallas Cowboys (11-4)

Last Week: 5

No team has scored 56 points in a single game in 2021. Wasn’t that Washington defense supposed to be really good this year? Well, first of all they haven’t quite lived up to that expectation. Also, not if Dak Prescott has anything to say about it. Dak followed up a rough few games with a career performance against Washington to prove once and for all that the Cowboys are a legit contender this year.

3. Los Angeles Rams (11-4)

Last Week: 5

When the Rams can win important games despite Matthew Stafford playing poorly, you know there’s something special going on. This is why Stafford wanted to leave Detroit. He wanted to go to a team where he can have the occasional off day and the entire thing wouldn’t fall apart. The Rams are made of championship caliber material. So Stafford is playing poorly? Big whoop. We’ll just get 131 yards out of Sony Michel and still drop 30 points.

2. Green Bay Packers (12-3)

Last Week: 1

Taking the Packers out of the top spot in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings was a tough call. Yes, they won. Yes, Aaron Rodgers played extremely well. Yes, they put up over 100 yards rushing on the day. Yes, they pulled in four interceptions and racked up five sacks. And yet, they still barely held on to beat a floundering Browns team. The Packers are nursing a slim lead for the No. 1 seed in the NFC despite lucking their way into wins against every AFC North team this year.

1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)

Last Week: 2

No team in the NFL looks more deserving of the top spot in the Week 17 NFL Power Rankings right now than the Kansas City Chiefs. While the Packers struggled to put away a destitute Browns squad, the Chiefs mopped the floor with a Steelers team the Packers also struggled to put away. I hesitated to buy into the “Chiefs are washed” narrative earlier this year. Why? Because they were always capable of randomly turning back into this. The defense is clicking and the offense, while a bit inconsistent, is getting the job done. Watch out.