It’s impossible for any NFL front office to build a perfect roster in the salary-cap era. All 32 teams have a weakness, and over the course of a season opposing teams will find that sore spot and pick on it. As good as the Bengals were last postseason, the clear weaknesses on their roster were offensive line and cornerback Eli Apple. The Rams struggled for most of Super Bowl LVI, but their pass rush dominated the interior of Cincinnati’s line in the second half, and Cooper Kupp beat an isolated Apple for the championship-winning touchdown.
Let’s run through the league’s top playoff contenders and identify their Achilles’ heel heading into the preseason. Those weaknesses will change as each team begins to deal with injuries; we’ve already seen one Super Bowl contender develop a much bigger problem at a key position because of a serious training camp injury. What looks like a weakness now might be a strength by January, and vice versa.
Picking the “top playoff contenders” can be thorny business, so I’ve chosen to let ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) take the heat on this one. Since 14 teams make the playoffs, I’m going with the 14 FPI believes have the best chance of advancing. Some notable teams are left out of the mix as a result, so if you’re a fan of the Bengals, Patriots, Saints, Titans or 49ers, direct your nasty messages to the algorithm.
I’ll start with the teams whose issues are the least likely to sink the ship before working my way to the most vexing problems. As a result, I’ll start with the team FPI projects as the most likely to make the playoffs:
Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN’s FPI: 74.8%
Achilles’ heel: Guard
The league’s best roster on paper doesn’t have many holes. The Bills aren’t quite as deep as they were in years past, owing to the contracts they’ve had to pay to stars Josh Allen, Matt Milano and Tre’Davious White. They have missed on a couple of draft picks, although not as many as most teams. You could maybe point toward cornerback, where they will have White coming back from a torn left ACL and rookie first-round pick Kaiir Elam penciled in to start, but even that seems like a position they’ll have solved by midseason.
Instead, I’ll look up front, where there are more questions than answers. Dion Dawkins is locked in at left tackle, while veteran center Mitch Morse returns after what should have been a Pro Bowl season. No issues there. Spencer Brown, a third-round pick last year, took over the right tackle job during his rookie season and forced the organization to push Daryl Williams inside before cutting Williams. Stats LLC credited Brown with just a half-sack allowed in 2021, and any further development would give Buffalo an excellent pair of tackles on the edge.
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Guard, on the other hand, could be a problem. The Bills have options, but each of their choices has questions. Rodger Saffold was signed away from the Titans in free agency, but he is 34 and suffered injuries in a car crash before camp began. On the right side, they are expected to open the season with Ryan Bates, who had just one career start before taking every snap over the final five games last season. The Bears signed him to a four-year, $17 million offer sheet this offseason, and the Bills matched the deal with the plan of keeping Bates installed as the starter.
Buffalo has other options. Ike Boettger started 17 games from 2020 to 2021, although he’s beginning camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after tearing his left Achilles in December. Cody Ford, a second-round pick in 2019 and one of the rare misses for general manager Brandon Beane, can either play as the team’s swing tackle or settle in at guard. Journeyman David Quessenberry and Greg Van Roten, both of whom were starters on other rosters a year ago, will compete for playing time. Both of these guys would likely be Week 1 starters in other places if healthy. Only by Buffalo’s lofty standards would guard be considered an issue.
Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN’s FPI: 65.8%
Achilles’ heel: Running back
You could make a clear case the most pressing concern for the Rams right now is Matthew Stafford‘s elbow, given that the quarterback is dealing with tendinitis before the season even begins. The backup is John Wolford, who has posted a 51.3 passer rating on his first 42 NFL attempts. You have to figure the Rams would make a move for someone if Stafford’s injury doesn’t improve, but the most notable quarterback left on the market is Jimmy Garoppolo, and the 49ers are not likely to be desperate to help their divisional rival.
Aside from quarterback, running back is a meaningful concern for Los Angeles. The track record of running backs returning from Achilles tears is spotty at best, and while Cam Akers should be commended for his efforts to get back on the field last season, he was a disaster during the Rams’ run toward a Super Bowl title. He ran for just six first downs on 67 carries and fumbled twice during what ended up as a narrow win over the Bucs in the NFC divisional round. Coach Sean McVay clearly believes in the third-year back, who assumed the main role after his return, but Akers might never again look like the back who seemed to be on the verge of a breakout before his injury.
McVay doesn’t seem to have the same affection for Darrell Henderson Jr., who dealt with knee and quad injuries along with COVID-19 during the second half of last season. He only has been handed the ball for more than 20 carries in a game once, something Akers has done five times in what amounts to 10 games as the team’s starting back. Henderson has a role in the offense, but if Akers isn’t up to lead duties, it seems unlikely McVay would hand Henderson a significant workload.
What would the Rams do? Rookie fifth-round pick Kyren Williams could be in the mix, but it’s more likely they would head outside the organization for help. In the past, McVay’s offense has coaxed big numbers out of C.J. Anderson and revitalized Sony Michel‘s career. In a league in which there are more talented backs than opportunities, the Rams would be able to make things work with D’Ernest Johnson (Browns) or Zack Moss (Bills). And if Michel he gets cut at the end of camp by the Dolphins, L.A. could even reunite with him.
Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN’s FPI: 70.2%
Achilles’ heel: Kicker
The Cowboys led the league in points scored in spite of their kicking last season. Greg Zuerlein hit just under 83% of his field goals and failed on six of his 48 extra point tries, leading a cap-strapped team to cut him. It was no surprise the organization tried to find a cheaper solution at the position, especially given that it once landed on a longtime kicker in undrafted free agency by signing Dan Bailey in 2011.
Team owner Jerry Jones & Co. were probably hoping for something similar when they added Jonathan Garibay out of Texas Tech. Garibay only attempted 27 total field goals for the Red Raiders, but he went 15-of-16 on those tries a year ago and was 49-of-50 on extra points. So far, that hasn’t translated to pro success, as he has reportedly struggled during camp, particularly during moments in which the Cowboys have asked him to kick on short notice to simulate clutch situations.
Not great. Dallas brought in competition to compete with Garibay in 32-year-old journeyman Lirim Hajrullahu, who made his NFL debut with Dallas a year ago. Hajrullahu went 8-for-8 on extra points and 4-for-5 on field goals during his time with the Panthers, and he hit 83.3% of his field goals during a six-year run in the CFL, but the choices here are between two unproven players. This feels like a situation Jones will be evaluating after every missed kick.
Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN’s FPI: 52.4%
Achilles’ heel: Linebackers and safeties
General manager Howie Roseman and the Eagles front office made major strides to address their defense this offseason. Along with bringing back Fletcher Cox, Derek Barnett and Anthony Harris, they signed edge rusher Haason Reddick and cornerback James Bradberry to take over starting jobs at two key positions. They also used their first-round pick on massive tackle Jordan Davis and a third-round selection on his Georgia teammate Nakobe Dean, who was regarded as a first-round talent before falling because of his pre-draft medicals.
It’s clear how the Eagles want to build their defense. Roseman has emphasized deep, talented defensive lines for the entirety of his two runs in charge of personnel. The Eagles emphasized safety during their 2017 Super Bowl run, but after trading for Darius Slay in 2020, they seemed to shift toward spending at cornerback at the expense of safety. Off-ball linebacker has continuously been a position on which the organization has chosen to save money.
Teams were able to pick apart Philadelphia’s linebackers and safeties a year ago. The Eagles ranked 29th in QBR allowed on throws targeting tight ends, with opposing quarterbacks completing a league-high 77% of their passes to the position. They ranked 23rd in QBR allowed on throws between the hashes and 29th in QBR allowed on passes 20 or more yards downfield. A passive, two-deep scheme kept teams from throwing downfield very often — only the Bills faced fewer deep passes than Philly a year ago — but teams were efficient attacking the middle of the field and operating downfield.
The Eagles made thoughtful additions at linebacker and safety this offseason, but they each come with question marks. Dean, a brilliant defender in college, reportedly dealt with a pectoral injury during the pre-draft process and enters the league with questions about his speed. Kyzir White, who joined the team from the Chargers, languished in the market before signing a one-year, $3 million deal. White wasn’t a solution for Los Angeles, which runs a similar defensive scheme and had its own issues stopping the run effectively at linebacker a year ago.
Safety Jaquiski Tartt spent three months in free agency before signing a one-year, $1.2 million deal with the Eagles. Tartt’s versatility and range make him a valuable player when healthy, but he hasn’t played a single full season as a pro. Fellow veteran Anthony Harris hasn’t looked like a star away from Harrison Smith, his former safety partner in Minnesota. Marcus Epps was more impressive on 498 defensive snaps a year ago and, alongside Avonte Maddox, represents the only meaningful young players in the Philadelphia secondary.
There’s a scenario in which Dean looks like the superstar we saw last year, Tartt stays mostly healthy and everything is fine. If the pass rush takes a step forward, the front four can cover for the weaknesses up the middle. More realistically, though, I would expect the Eagles to deal with injury issues and inconsistent play at off-ball linebacker and safety this season.
Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN’s FPI: 55.5%
Achilles’ heel: Linebacker
After major offseason additions at quarterback (Russell Wilson) and edge rusher (Randy Gregory), the Broncos addressed their biggest weaknesses on either side of the ball. One position that is clearly still concerning general manager George Paton, though, is off-ball linebacker, where they are still shopping for veterans. Denver brought in former Browns and Jags defender Joe Schobert for a visit, and Paton reportedly attempted to re-sign one of his former chargers in Anthony Barr before the longtime Vikings linebacker joined the Cowboys.
Until the Broncos add another player to the mix, they have one starting job locked down with Josey Jewell, who missed most of 2021 with a pectoral injury. Jewell isn’t a superstar, and he can be picked on a bit in coverage, but he’s a competent three-down linebacker. If he’s on the field for 17 games, the Broncos should be happy with one of their starters.
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The other spot is the one I suspect Paton is trying to improve. Denver let Alexander Johnson and Kenny Young leave this offseason and moved Baron Browning back to the edge, leaving a hole in the lineup. It signed Alex Singleton, who was forced onto the field out of desperation in Philadelphia. He’s best as a special teams player and backup linebacker. He’ll be competing with Jonas Griffith, who started the final four games of the season.
Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN’s FPI: 52.6%
Achilles’ heel: Pass rush
Injuries reduced the Ravens to a pale imitation of their usual selves across the 2021 season. Thankfully, many of those players are back. Key contributors such as Lamar Jackson, Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Ronnie Stanley and J.K. Dobbins should be able to suit up more often, which would alleviate some of the issues we saw with pass protection and tackling last season.
When it comes to two key positions, though, Baltimore is relying heavily on a 2021 first-round pick to step up and be a cornerstone in his second season. At wide receiver, the Ravens will promote Rashod Bateman to the No. 1 spot after trading away Marquise Brown. Devin Duvernay, James Proche and Tylan Wallace will compete for regular reps as the No. 2 wideout, which doesn’t inspire much hope if Bateman struggles or gets injured. The Ravens do have Mark Andrews, of course, and the star tight end supplements what would otherwise be one of the league’s least impressive wideout groups on paper.
With the pass rush, the Ravens will lean on fellow 2021 first-rounder Odafe Oweh, who had five sacks and 15 quarterback knockdowns as a rookie. Former reserve linebacker Tyus Bowser led the team with seven sacks a year ago, but most of those were of the cleanup or coverage variety. Bowser created 27 initial pressures, per ESPN Stats & Information, a solid number but not otherworldly. No other player on the roster had more than two sacks.
Oweh had 34 initial pressures, and the Ravens will count on him to improve that number in a larger role. He could be joined by rookie second-round pick David Ojabo, but the edge rusher is expected to miss most of 2022 after tearing his left Achilles tendon during his pro day. Otherwise, Baltimore will be forced to rely on Bowser and veteran Justin Houston, who has seen his sack totals drop from 11 in 2019 to 4.5 last season. So much rides on an Oweh breakout for the league’s 28th-ranked defense by DVOA a year ago.
Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN’s FPI: 56.7%
Achilles’ heel: Wide receiver
Leaving quarterback aside because of Deshaun Watson‘s uncertain status — the NFL is appealing his six-game suspension, seeking a tougher penalty under its personal conduct policy — the Browns have to worry about whether their signal-callers will have viable receiving options. The organization hopes for a breakout season from tight end David Njoku, who signed a significant extension after getting franchise-tagged, and running back Kareem Hunt should return to a pass-catching role after missing most of 2021 with calf and ankle injuries.
At wide receiver, though, the Browns have concerns. I liked the price when Cleveland traded for Amari Cooper on what amounted to a salary dump, but it’s fair to note Cooper’s numbers have fallen off over the past couple of seasons. He doesn’t miss any games, and his toughness is a virtue, but he has had plenty of contests over the past three seasons in which he has been operating at less than 100%. After averaging 2.37 yards per route run in 2019, he has dropped off to 1.91 in 2020 and 1.73 a year ago. He might be best as a 1A or even a second receiver in a great offense as opposed to being the true No. 1 we saw after his trade from the Raiders to the Cowboys in 2018.
With their current depth chart, the Browns have Cooper as their top wideout by a country mile. Donovan Peoples-Jones likely profiles as the No. 2, but he was mostly a low-event downfield receiver a year ago. Burner Anthony Schwartz runs a sub-4.3 40-yard dash, but he averaged less than a yard per route run during an inauspicious rookie season. General manager Andrew Berry used another third-round pick on David Bell, but he just returned to practice after being sidelined by a foot injury. Gadget player Jakeem Grant should figure in for a few snaps per game.
The Browns have nearly $49 million in cap space, so they have plenty of flexibility if they want to add a veteran receiver. It’s easy to link them to Will Fuller given the presence of his former Texans teammate Watson on the roster, but Fuller has barely been on the NFL radar after a lost 2021 campaign. The other prominent wide receiver left on the market is Odell Beckham Jr., who left Cleveland amid an ignominious breakup in November. This could be a position the Browns try to address after rosters are cut to 53 in a few weeks.
Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN’s FPI: 61.2%
Achilles’ heel: Wide receiver
You know a position is a problem when certain sorts of players get hyped up during training camp. The talk around Colts camp has revolved around a veteran running back (Nyheim Hines) lining up in the slot and how a fourth-year undrafted free agent (Ashton Dulin) could figure into a significant role. Neither of those storylines typically pay off during the regular season.
The Colts might be forced to turn to one of those two out of sheer desperation, because there’s little in the cupboard behind Michael Pittman Jr. Jack Doyle retired, leaving Mo Alie-Cox as the team’s primary receiving tight end. Jelani Woods, a 6-foot-7 rookie third-round pick, hasn’t looked great in camp and might not be ready for a meaningful role.
Fellow longtime Indianapolis wideout T.Y. Hilton is still a free agent, although the 32-year-old has seen his yards per route run drop in each of the past three seasons, from 2.64 in 2018 to just 1.56 a year ago. Zach Pascal, who was likely the least effective or imposing wide receiver in the league on a per-route basis, signed with the Eagles.
The opening battle is between a pair of second-round picks. Parris Campbell has had his career washed away by injuries, playing just 14% of Indianapolis’s offensive snaps over his first three seasons. Campbell played virtually all of his snaps in the slot during his brief run in 2020, then moved back outside a year ago. Alec Pierce, who was drafted in April, profiles strictly as an outside wideout.
If everyone is healthy, the Colts could run Campbell in the slot out of three-receiver sets and alternate Pierce and Campbell across from Pittman in two-wide looks. That would be fine, especially if Pierce emerges quickly as a useful player. In a nightmare scenario in which Pittman misses significant time, though, they might have no choice but to honor their preseason hype and give Dulin regular reps.
Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN’s FPI: 54.6%
Achilles’ heel: Cornerback
The Chiefs, the kings of playing it cheap at cornerback, went against their usual habit of acquiring dismissed first-round corners from other teams by using one of their own top picks at the position. Trent McDuffie, the No. 21 overall selection in April’s draft, will be given the opportunity to start as a rookie if he’s up to the task. The Chiefs will be happy if McDuffie matches the last notable cornerback they drafted with a high pick out of Washington: 2015 second-rounder Marcus Peters intercepted eight passes and was named Defensive Rookie of the Year for Kansas City.
Even if McDuffie is a Week 1 starter, the Chiefs have questions. L’Jarius Sneed probably needs to stay in the slot, where his 30 defeats were seven ahead of any other cornerback in the league. A former safety, Sneed’s physicality and tackling are a plus in the interior.
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The other outside corner spot would come down to a battle between Rashad Fenton, rookie fourth-round pick Joshua Williams and Lonnie Johnson Jr., a 2019 second-round pick who was acquired from the Texans (DeAndre Baker, a first-round pick by the Giants in 2019, was cut Sunday). Johnson’s most conspicuous NFL performance was getting walked around the field by Travis Kelce during the 2019 AFC playoffs, so it’s probably good they’re on the same team now.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Chiefs, who let Charvarius Ward leave in free agency this offseason, add a veteran cornerback at some point during the season.
Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN’s FPI: 54.4%
Achilles’ heel: Offensive line
Same as it ever was for the Vikings, who have seemingly been attempting to solidify their offensive line for most of the past decade. They certainly have invested plenty of picks into line help over the past few years, but the only upper-echelon starter they can count on is right tackle Brian O’Neill, who made it to his first Pro Bowl a year ago.
O’Neill is one of five linemen drafted in either the first or second round on the roster. Center Garrett Bradbury had his fifth-year option declined and is likely in his final year with the team. He might be pushed by veteran Chris Reed. Left guard Ezra Cleveland improved after moving from the right side last season, although replacement right guard Oli Udoh was whistled for a league-high 16 penalties a year ago, including nine holding calls. He’ll compete with rookie second-rounder Ed Ingram.
The key player is 2021 first-rounder Christian Darrisaw, who ranked 67th out of 68 tackles in pass block win rate a year ago across his 10 starts. Public perception of Darrisaw was more optimistic about his debut campaign. If he takes a step forward in Year 2 and becomes a solid left tackle, the Vikings can at least count on having solid pass protection on the edges. Anything more consistent in terms of interior protection would be a bonus.
Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN’s FPI: 60.6%
Achilles’ heel: Linebackers
The Chargers could have half a defense full of new starters after spending heavily to upgrade this offseason. Cornerback J.C. Jackson was the most prominent addition, but they also added legendary edge rusher Khalil Mack and defensive tackles Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson. Their biggest remaining question is at linebacker, where they couldn’t find reliable solutions to slow down opposing rushing attacks.
Their most reliable linebacker a year ago was Kyzir White, but it should be telling that Los Angeles let the 2018 fourth-round pick leave in free agency for a modest deal with the Eagles. The organization also traded up in 2020 for linebacker Kenneth Murray, but the No. 23 overall pick simply hasn’t been an effective pro. An ankle injury sapped Murray’s speed a year ago, and the team hasn’t been able to trust him in key moments. He is not guaranteed a starting job and began training camp on the PUP list.
The only guy who might have a clear path to a regular role is Drue Tranquill, who seemed to have the coaching staff’s trust before suffering a left ankle injury at the end of the season. He could be joined by free agent addition Troy Reeder, who played for coach Brandon Staley with the Rams and should see snaps on early downs. Kyle Van Noy could also figure in the rotation, but I’m not sure the former Patriots standout has been an effective pro without Bill Belichick involved in the equation. This is a group in which Staley might need to be very thoughtful with spotting snaps in particular situations.
Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN’s FPI: 59.4%
Achilles’ heel: Interior offensive line
The win-now Bucs are starting over at three spots when it comes to protecting Tom Brady. They can count on their two tackles in Tristan Wirfs and Donovan Smith, who return for Brady’s third season in Tampa. They won’t be joined by future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski, whose elite blocking will be missed as much as his abilities in the red zone. Since Gronk joined the league, Brady’s QBR has been nearly 14 points better when Gronkowski has been on the field with him.
Replacing Gronk is one thing, but the Bucs will have three new starters on the interior. Star guard Ali Marpet retired, while fellow guard Alex Cappa left for the Bengals in free agency. The Bucs traded for former Patriots standout Shaq Mason, who suspiciously didn’t cost much for a player leaving New England. Super Bowl starter Aaron Stinnie will get the first crack at replacing Marpet at left guard, but rookie second-rounder Luke Goedeke could win the job at some point during the season, especially if new coach Todd Bowles doesn’t share Bruce Arians’ aversion to rookies.
It seemed center was going to be settled when Ryan Jensen agreed to re-join the team in free agency, but he suffered a serious left knee injury during the first week of camp. It’s unclear whether Jensen will be able to return this season, leaving Tampa to rely on Nick Leverett and 2021 third-rounder Robert Hainsey, who have a combined 91 career offensive snaps to their names. (Brady, for what it’s worth, is somewhere north of 25,000 snaps when you include his 47 postseason appearances.)
There’s a clear replacement available in former Browns center JC Tretter, who was cut by Cleveland earlier this offseason. The Bucs could also shop in the market for veteran replacements at the end of camp. It’s difficult to imagine a team with their sort of short-term championship window running an inexperienced center out to protect Brady for an entire season. Even if they do add Tretter and get what they hope from Mason, they will be rebuilding their chemistry up front. It might take a couple of months for everyone to be on the same page, and that is assuming nobody else goes down injured.
Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN’s FPI: 70.7%
Achilles’ heel: Wide receiver
You’ve probably heard about this one before now! The Packers have a great one-two punch at running back with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers is coming off consecutive MVP seasons, but let’s look at their receivers:
Nominal No. 1 receiver Allen Lazard averaged 1.25 yards per route run and commanded targets on only 15.1% of his routes a year ago. Unsurprisingly, he has been more productive without Davante Adams on the field, averaging 2.44 yards per route run without Adams in the lineup over the past three seasons, but that’s on a total of just 169 routes, which isn’t a particularly large sample. Lazard already has built-in chemistry with Rodgers, but is that enough to make him a true top-tier receiver?
Sammy Watkins averaged a career-low 30.3 receiving yards per game with the Ravens a year ago. The oft-injured wideout sat out four games, bringing the 2014 first-rounder to 30 games missed over the past seven seasons. He also dropped five of his 48 targets, contributing to a subpar catch rate of 55.1%. Watkins already is dealing with a hamstring injury.
Longtime Green Bay standout Randall Cobb returned to the team at Rodgers’ behest last offseason. The veteran slot receiver is a reliable pair of hands and turned 21 of his 28 catches into first downs, but the Packers used him for just under 20 routes per contest a year ago. He was targeted a mere four times on passes 20 or more yards downfield, and three of those attempts were by backup Jordan Love. Cobb is mostly going to be an option on screens and slants.
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Amari Rodgers, a third-round pick last season, ran 40 routes all season, catching four passes for 45 yards. He primarily served as a kick and punt returner. Reports out of Packers camp suggested he showed up in better shape than he had as a rookie, which could lead him to push Cobb for snaps in the slot.
Rookie second-round pick Christian Watson started camp on the PUP list after undergoing knee surgery this summer. The Packers traded up to grab Watson with the No. 34 pick, suggesting they see the 23-year-old as a first-round talent, but he already was expected to need some time to adjust to stiffer competition after playing at FCS school North Dakota State. Even Jerry Rice needed most of his first season in 1985 to adjust after playing for Mississippi Valley State before breaking out with a 241-yard game in December. Watson might turn out to be the next great Packers receiver, but it would be a surprise if he is an instant star.
The guy getting the most hype at Packers camp right now is fellow rookie Romeo Doubs, who was drafted in the fourth round. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t exactly been shy about praising Doubs, comparing his big plays in camp to players who ended up as career receiving leaders for Green Bay.
Doubs might turn out to be a steal, but the odds are against any fourth-rounder making an immediate impact. Ninety wide receivers have been drafted in the fourth round since 2000, and not a single one has managed to top 1,000 yards in their rookie season. Just four drafted in the fourth round over that timeframe have topped 1,000 yards in any of their pro campaigns: Jerricho Cotchery, Brian Hartline, Brandon Lloyd and Brandon Marshall, with the latter pulling off the feat eight times.
The odds are against Doubs, but if there was ever an opportunity for a player to come out of nowhere and do something spectacular, it would be in a situation just like this one. Somebody will break out for the Packers. It could be Doubs or Lazard or maybe tight end Robert Tonyan, who returns after missing most of the 2021 season with a torn left ACL. Maybe they add Odell Beckham Jr. as the season goes along. We know Rodgers will be able to hold up his end of the bargain. Now, it’s on one or more of the Green Bay receivers to emerge.
Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN’s FPI: 53.9%
Achilles’ heel: Cornerback
After being lit up by the Rams in the wild-card round in January, the Cardinals still have major question marks on their roster. Offensive line is a legitimate concern in both the short- and long-term; four of their five starters will be free agents after the season. The line wasn’t able to consistently protect Kyler Murray during that 34-11 defeat.
Cornerback is an even bigger problem. Arizona let veteran starter Robert Alford leave after three injury-hit seasons with the franchise. Byron Murphy Jr. is great out of the slot, but it’s a stretch to think of him as a No. 1 corner on the outside. Marco Wilson, who started 13 games as a rookie fourth-round pick, was playing out of sheer necessity; he allowed a 120.8 passer rating during his debut season.
Alford remains a free agent, but he missed all of the 2019 and 2020 seasons via injury; even a return from him would leave Arizona with a thin group at one of the league’s most important positions. In a division with playmakers such as Cooper Kupp, Deebo Samuel, Allen Robinson, Brandon Aiyuk, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett all lining up at wide receiver, I can’t understand why the Cardinals have neglected to add more corners. With their pass rush likely to be diminished by the departure of Chandler Jones, it could be an even more obvious problem for Kliff Kingsbury’s team.