Predicting NFL teams most likely to improve in 2022

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This is one of my favorite weeks every year, as I’m starting my annual look into the NFL teams most likely to improve or decline during the upcoming season. It’s time to take a closer look into what happened a year ago and use history to help project the most surprising teams in 2022.

Heading into last season, despite their 1-5-1 record in games decided by seven points or fewer, the Bengals narrowly missed out on the list of teams most likely to improve. Given that this column identified the 2017 Eagles and 2019 49ers as major improvers before they made their own runs to the Super Bowl, not including the Bengals was disappointing.

The good news is the five teams mentioned in last year’s column all improved, gaining an average of 2.9 wins per 17 games on their 2020 records. (The move from 16 to 17 games means that many of the stats mentioned in this column are a little more torturous to discuss than they were before.) The 49ers and Eagles both went from last place to the playoffs, while the Broncos, Falcons and Jaguars each made smaller strides.

In all, 20 of the 25 teams mentioned in this piece over the past five seasons have improved the following season, rising by an average of 3.1 wins per 17 games. I’ll hit my five favorites for 2022 below, including teams at the top and bottom of the league. I’ll even include an honorable mention for a team that undoubtedly would have been included in this list if it had merely avoided a foolish mistake this offseason. On Wednesday, I’ll hit the five teams most likely to decline.

As is the case every year, this list relies on statistical measures of performance that have a track record of predicting improvement or decline in the following season(s). Let’s start with a team with Super Bowl aspirations:

Jump to a team:
Bills | Broncos
Jaguars | Lions | Ravens

The Bills are a perfect example of how luck and small sample events can play a dramatic role on a team’s record from year to year. Here’s where they ranked in a number of key categories between 2020 and 2021. I won’t include their win-loss record, but using the data below, would you guess they had a better record last season or in 2020?

The 2020 Bills went 13-3. The 2021 Bills, who were markedly better on a play-by-play and drive-by-drive basis across the board while playing an easier schedule, lost three more games. What changed is how they performed in games decided by seven points or fewer. The 2020 Bills went 4-1 in those close games, which helped get them onto last year’s list as one of the teams most likely to decline.

The 2021 Bills went 0-5 in those same games. Their performance in one-score games didn’t regress to the mean; it regressed all the way past the mean. It’s almost impossible to be as good as they were in 2021 without winning the close ones. Since 1989, only one other team posted a winning record while failing to win a single game by seven points or fewer, when the Super Bowl-winning Rams went 0-3 in those contests in 1999. (They proceeded to win the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl by a combined 12 points.)

Buffalo, of course, famously did not win a close game in the postseason. After blowing out the Patriots in the wild-card round, it lost an instant classic to the Chiefs despite taking back the lead twice inside the final two minutes. Josh Allen & Co. didn’t get a chance to touch the ball in overtime, leading to complaints their season came down to a coin flip.

If the Bills had been able to pull out the closest of those five one-score games during the regular season, they might not have needed overtime at all. They were forced to play in Kansas City in the divisional round because they lost from a dominant position against Tennessee. Trailing 34-31 with 22 seconds to go, they sent Allen out on a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak to try to win the game from the 3-yard line, only for Allen to be stopped by Jeffery Simmons. Allen otherwise has gone 13-of-14 on fourth-and-1 situations, with an aborted snap against the Jets as the only other blemish on his record. This was bad timing (and a great play by Simmons) as opposed to something meaningful about Allen being unable to perform in important moments, as we saw with his incredible play against the Chiefs in the fourth quarter during the postseason.

If we’re looking for other reasons the Bills might post a better record in 2022, an improved season from Allen is high on the list. He looked like the best player on the field during his two near-perfect postseason performances, but those most recent memories mask what had been a frustrating season.

Allen continued to be an impactful runner, but after an incredible breakout season in 2020, his completion percentage, yards per attempt, interception rate and passer rating were all at or below league average last regular season. Weather was a concern at times, most memorably in the whipping winds against the Patriots in November, but Allen averaged 5.6 yards per attempt and threw two picks in a loss at lowly Jacksonville. He threw for 120 yards and three picks against the Falcons in a game in which Matt Ryan, playing against the league’s best defense, averaged 8.6 yards per attempt. Allen won’t be as dominant as he was during that postseason run, but he’ll be better than the guy we saw struggle at times during the regular season.

The Bills also might be able to count on a step forward from their special teams, which slipped from fourth in the league in DVOA in 2020 to 19th a year ago. Matt Haack ranked as the worst punter in the league by Puntalytics’s metrics. A blocked punt in the opener cost the Bills in a narrow loss to the Steelers, and they ranked 31st in net yards gained per punt. They responded by using a draft pick on “Punt God” Matt Araiza, who boomed a kick 82 yards for a touchback during his first preseason appearance. Haack was released on Monday, which means this is Araiza’s job and Buffalo should be better punting in 2022.

When I talk about punter as a likely place to improve, you know the Bills don’t have many problems on their roster. This is an organization with an excellent recent track record of drafting and developing young talent. It wouldn’t be a surprise if we saw wide receiver Gabriel Davis and offensive linemen Ryan Bates and Spencer Brown take leaps forward in their first full seasons as starters.

And while the Bills were forced to shed veterans for cap purposes this offseason, I’m not sure they’re going to actually be much worse. Emmanuel Sanders, Cole Beasley, Star Lotulelei and Daryl Williams are all still free agents. Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes signed modest deals with the Texans. Jon Feliciano signed a one-year deal with the Giants. Those players played meaningful roles over the past couple of seasons when healthy, but the most prominent player the Bills lost is cornerback Taron Johnson.

They used those savings to import guard Rodger Saffold and future Hall of Fame edge rusher Von Miller, the latter of whom was dominant during the postseason. Miller posted an absurd 41.5% pass rush win rate (PRWR) during the Rams’ march to the Super Bowl, racking up 4.5 sacks and forcing 15 incomplete passes. The Bills might not love the Miller deal in a year or two, but he still has enough in the tank to be a difference-maker in 2022.

I’m more concerned about the departure of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who helped mold Allen from a meme into a superstar. The schedule will be tougher, with the Bills projected to face the league’s 11th-toughest slate, per the Football Outsiders Almanac. It will be tough to ask the defense to improve beyond its first-place ranking in both points allowed and DVOA. I’m not sure Buffalo actually will play better on a snap-by-snap basis than it did in 2021. I just think it will get better results.


Let’s go from one end of the competitiveness spectrum to the other. The Lions were one of the the hard-luck stories of the 2021 season. Seemingly every week, they played their opponents tough into the fourth quarter, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion. Coach Dan Campbell would talk about how close his team was in his postgame news conference, and the cycle would repeat. They started 0-10-1 before finally winning three of their last six, including a victory over a Packers team benching its starters in Week 18.

While Detroit won only three games, its point differential suggests it should have been more successful. It was outscored by about 8.4 points per game. Its Pythagorean expectation, which takes into account points scored and points allowed, suggests the Lions should have won 5.1 games. Giving them a half-win for their tie with the Steelers, they underperformed their Pythagorean expectation by 1.6 wins.

Longtime readers of this column are familiar with the Pythagorean expectation, because it’s the easiest way to find teams that are likely to improve or decline. Let’s take the teams that underperformed their Pythagorean expectation by one to two wins in a given year. Between 1989 and 2019, when the league played under a 16-game schedule, there were 152 such teams.

The following year, those teams improved by an average of 2.1 wins. One hundred and 17 of the 152 teams — nearly 77% of the group — won more games during the subsequent season. If we just focus on teams that underperformed their point differential and failed to win more than 25% of their games — as Detroit did a year ago — the improvements are even more significant: 40 of those 43 teams improved, winning an average of 3.7 more games during the subsequent season.

The Lions went 2-5-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer, with one of the two wins coming against Jordan Love and Green Bay in Week 18. Let’s review what happened in the other six games:

  • In Week 3, they had a 17-16 lead on the Ravens with 1:04 to go, only for the Ravens to convert a fourth-and-19 throw to Sammy Watkins before Justin Tucker bounced in a kick from 66 yards, which stands as the longest field goal in NFL history.

  • In Week 5, they scored a touchdown with 37 seconds left to go and successfully converted a 2-pointer to go up 17-16. The Vikings picked up 46 yards on three pass plays before Greg Joseph hit a 54-yarder to win the game. It’s one thing to get beat by the best kicker in the game, but to lose a game to a Vikings kicker? Under Mike Zimmer?

  • In Week 10, after their bye, they went to overtime with the Steelers. After Diontae Johnson fumbled on the second possession, Detroit kicker Ryan Santoso was set up for a would-be game winner from 48 yards out, only to miss his attempt. The game finished as a 19-19 tie, and Santoso’s miss eventually was enough to push the Steelers into the postseason.

  • In Week 11, a Lions team starting backup quarterback Tim Boyle came within three points of the heavily favored Browns at home, as they were stuffed on a third-and-1 and kicked a 43-yard field goal to make it 13-10 with 9:11 to go. Neither team scored again the rest of the way.

  • In Week 12, they led the Bears by a point deep into the fourth quarter, only for Andy Dalton to roll off a 17-play, eight-plus-minute drive. Cairo Santos hit a chip shot at the whistle for the Lions to lose their third game of the year on the final kick of the contest.

  • In Week 13, they finally win at the end of a game, as they blew another lead with 1:54 to go, only for Amon-Ra St. Brown to catch a touchdown pass on the final snap to beat the Vikings.

  • In Week 16, with Boyle again at quarterback, they got the ball back down 20-16 after a Falcons fumble with 2:18 to go and drove into the red zone. With 39 seconds to go, Boyle threw an interception to Foyesade Oluokun to end the game.

In a slightly different universe, the Lions could have been 5-3 in those same games. Their defense wasn’t great and certainly needed to play better in those key moments, but their opponents made sloppy mistakes and weren’t punished in the same way. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn’s unit also faced the second-toughest slate of opposing offenses in football, which didn’t help their chances.

The Lions also were the league’s third-most injured team by adjusted games lost. Two of those close losses came under Boyle, who was the league’s third-worst-starting quarterback a year ago, trailing only the Giants duo of Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm. Campbell was frustrated with Jared Goff at times in 2021, but the former Rams starter was much better than Boyle, who returns as the team’s primary backup.

I’m optimistic the Lions will field a more talented team this season. Some of those players given opportunities a year ago emerged as valuable contributors, including defensive end Charles Harris, wide receiver Amani Oruwariye and St. Brown, who had 560 receiving yards and five touchdowns over the final six games of the season. St. Brown and first-round offensive tackle Penei Sewell were the notable standouts from their rookie class, as they fielded the league’s youngest team by snap-weighted age. ESPN has age and snap data going back through 2007, and last year’s Lions were the seventh-youngest team over the past 15 seasons.

I don’t think the Lions are a particularly controversial choice for this list. It might be fair to question what would qualify as a significant improvement for them. With the NFC getting the ninth home game this season and Detroit projected to face the league’s seventh-easiest schedule by Football Outsiders, it should have no trouble getting to five wins. It would likely take seven or more for Campbell & Co. to feel like they’re on track to compete for a postseason berth in 2023.


For the first half of the season, it felt like the Ravens were a candidate to appear on the list of teams most likely to decline in 2022. They started the season 8-3 by going 6-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer, including that dramatic win over the Lions in Week 3. They lived dangerously in wins over the Chiefs (after a late Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumble), Colts (after Rodrigo Blankenship missed a would-be game winner at the end of regulation) and Bears (scoring a touchdown with 22 seconds to go). Baltimore was a classic example of a team that just knew how to win.

And then, just as quickly, things fell apart. The Ravens lost their final six games, in part because quarterback Lamar Jackson suffered a right ankle injury and missed the better part of five weeks. Five of those six losses came by three points or fewer, including two losses on failed 2-point conversions against the Packers and Steelers. After Week 12, Baltimore had a 91.3% shot of making it to the postseason, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). The best way to realize that 8.7% long shot is to lose every remaining game.

In the end, the Ravens were about as lucky as we would have expected. They went 6-6 in those one-score games. The Pythagorean expectation projects they “should” have won 8.4 games, which is close to their actual total. They got a spectacular season from Tucker by even his lofty standards as part of the league’s best special teams unit, which benefited from the fifth-most “hidden points” in football. They recovered the seventh-highest rate of fumbles. By some measures we commonly use on this side of the divide, they don’t belong on the list of teams likely to improve.

They’re here for two reasons. One is that the 2021 Ravens only vaguely resemble the team you’ll see this season. John Harbaugh’s team underwent a catastrophic streak of injuries. By adjusted games lost, they were the most-injured team in the history of the statistic. At running back and defensive back, they were down to veterans signed off the street (or, as fired defensive coordinator Don Martindale put it, from DoorDash) by the time December rolled around. Jackson missed the final month. Ronnie Stanley, the team’s best lineman, played one game before reaggravating his left ankle injury. Just six of Baltimore’s projected starters heading into the year started all 17 games.

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Chris Canty says the pressure will continue to build on the Ravens to renew Lamar Jackson’s contract.

The Ravens will be healthier in 2022, if only by sheer chance. They already were down multiple starters at this point of training camp a year ago. It might not be a surprise that the prominent free agents they added this offseason have great track records of health. Tackle Morgan Moses hasn’t missed a game since 2014, while former Saints safety Marcus Williams has missed just four games across five pro seasons. Returning nose tackle Michael Pierce played 60 of 64 games during his first stint with the Ravens, although he opted out of the 2020 season and played only eight games a year ago with the Vikings.

Pierce and Williams are two of the additions I’m counting on for my other argument, which appeals to Baltimore’s organizational culture. I’m simply not willing to believe the Ravens will be as bad on defense in 2022 as they were in 2021. Between 1999 and 2020, they fielded a top-10 defense in DVOA 20 times in 23 years. They were ninth in that category in 2020, and while there were questions about the pass rush, no one projected them to fall apart on that side of the ball a year ago.

Owing in part to a devastating rash of injuries in the secondary, the Ravens finished 28th in defensive DVOA. The front seven held up — finishing fourth in rushing DVOA — but they were 30th against the pass. On tape, it was clear to see they simply couldn’t tackle in open space, which was borne out by the data, as they had the fifth-highest broken tackle rate on defense (per Football Outsiders data).

No team allowed more gains of 30-plus yards (33), 40-plus yards (18), or 50-plus yards (11). The latter figure is the most given up by any team over the past three seasons. When you blitz as often as Martindale’s defense demands and don’t have NFL-caliber defensive backs, you’re going to give up too many big plays. Now, Martindale has been replaced by former assistant Mike Macdonald. A secondary filled with players off the street will be replaced by three All-Pro candidates in Williams, Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, as well as first-round pick safety Kyle Hamilton.

This is certainly not a perfect roster. The Ravens are depending on second-year breakouts at wide receiver (Rashod Bateman) and on the edge (Odafe Oweh). The offensive line has questions, especially with Stanley’s ankle still preventing him from practicing. All the players they’re welcoming back are recovering from injuries. Patrick Queen, a first-round pick in 2020, has looked like a rare miss from the Baltimore front office. The 35-year-old Macdonald has one year of defensive playcalling under his belt.

As I look more and more at what we saw from Baltimore in 2021, though, my optimism about its chances grow. No, it wasn’t as good as its 8-3 record from the first half of the season. Even while surviving on fumes for the last six weeks of the year, though, the Ravens were much better than their 0-6 finish. I think they will win the AFC North.


I can hear what you’re saying. No, you don’t need to be a professional writer to suggest the team that replaced quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock with Russell Wilson is likely to win more games. This is not exactly a controversial selection.

This column is mostly concerned with quantitative evidence for why teams are likely to improve or decline, though, and even before the Wilson trade occurred, there were reasons to believe the Broncos were likely to be better this season. The Wilson deal raises their floor and their ceiling, but the Broncos were better than their 7-10 record.

Despite finishing three games below .500, Denver actually outscored its opposition by 13 points. Its Pythagorean expectation was that of an 8.9-win team, nearly two full wins ahead of where it finished. For reference, during the 16-game era between 1989 and 2019, teams that outscored their opposition by fewer than two points per game won an average of 8.6 games. Prorate that for a 17th game and you get … 9.1 wins, just ahead of what the model suggests for the Broncos.

Other models also felt like the Broncos got a bad rap. They finished 18th in overall team DVOA, just behind the Bengals (17th) and ahead of three other AFC playoff teams in the Titans (20th), Raiders (21st) and Steelers (23rd). FPI also had them as the 18th best in football, although ESPN’s model had the Titans up in 13th. Pro Football Reference‘s simple rating system pegged them for 19th. They finished with the 24th-best record in the league.

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Damien Woody believes the Broncos might lean on their ground attack, which will affect Russell Wilson’s fantasy numbers.

The Broncos ranked even higher after Week 14, when they blew out the Lions to make it to 7-6 in the AFC. What happened next led to coach Vic Fangio’s downfall. They lost Bridgewater to a concussion in the third quarter of the following week’s game against the Bengals, but after Lock went in and briefly led them to a lead, the current Seahawks quarterback had the ball ripped out of his hands inside the 10-yard line on a fourth-quarter fumble, costing the Broncos their best chance of topping the eventual AFC champs.

Lock’s run in 2021 was mostly a disaster. He filled in for most of a 23-7 loss to the Ravens, needing a garbage-time drive to top 5 yards per attempt. After Bridgewater was lost for the season, the Broncos lost all three of Lock’s subsequent starts, including a 17-13 nail-biter against the Raiders the following week, which basically ended their postseason hopes and opened the door for Vegas to make its late-season run.

With Bridgewater on the field, the Broncos averaged 0.06 offensive expected points added (EPA) per snap, which would have been 13th in the league over the full season and placed the them just ahead of the Bengals. Over 221 snaps with Lock on the field, they averaged minus-0.04 EPA per play, which would have come in at 26th and placed them behind the Lions.

Given that Denver lost three of its final four games by a total of 13 points, it’s fair to wonder whether it would have made the playoffs if Bridgewater had been able to play those final four games.

On the whole, the Broncos went 1-4 in games decided by seven points or fewer. Their other notable problem was falling on the football. Forcing fumbles is a skill, but recovering fumbles once they’re on the ground is almost entirely dependent on where and when the fumbles occur as opposed to any sort of observed talent from an offense or a defense. Fumble recovery rates from year to year are almost entirely random and have no predictive value beyond expecting them to regress toward the mean the following season.

The Broncos recovered just 37.5% of the fumbles in their games a year ago, which ranked 30th in the NFL. If we take the teams that recovered between 35% and 40% of the fumbles in their games since 1989 and see what happened the following season, we see that regression toward the mean. Those same teams recovered 49.3% of their fumbles the season after. For a defense that created just 19 takeaways a year ago, a few extra fumble recoveries could be enough to push Denver beyond where it was in 2020.

I will admit there are arguments against the Broncos having a Super Bowl ceiling. When Tom Brady was signed by the Buccaneers, I wrote that the Bucs had Super Bowl potential because their defense was secretly great. They had ranked fifth in the league by DVOA, but because their offense played fast, turned the ball over so often, handed them the worst average starting field position in football and faced the league’s toughest slate of opposing offenses, they had finished 29th in scoring defense. The following year, with a steadier offense, the Bucs shined on the defensive side of the ball.

The opposite might be true for the Broncos, who finished third in scoring defense a year ago but finished 20th in defensive DVOA. In this case, they faced just 162 drives, the fewest of any team. They were handed the league’s second-best average starting field position and mostly survived by winning in the red zone, which is an unsustainable way to play defense year after year.

On the other hand, Denver had the league’s third-most injured defense by adjusted games lost and was much worse on third down (26th by DVOA) than it was on first (19th) or second (12th). The Broncos should still field an effective defense in 2022, especially if edge rusher Randy Gregory, their biggest free agent addition, hits the ground running. There will be plenty of competition in the AFC West, but the combination of Wilson and a solid defense typically has been enough to project a playoff appearance.

Here’s where we throw in a sad rejoinder. If there’s any team that would have qualified for this list on paper at the end of the 2021 regular season, it would have been the Seattle Seahawks. The difference between the 2020 and 2021 Seahawks was mostly Wilson getting hurt and their performance in close games. In 2020, they outscored their opponents by 5.5 points per game and went 7-3 in games decided by seven points or fewer. In 2021, they outscored their opponents by 1.7 points per game and went 2-5 in games decided by seven points or fewer. They finished 2.2 wins below their Pythagorean expectation.

Even with the Wilson injury, the Seahawks finished the year as the league’s ninth-best team by DVOA. Nobody plays to win the DVOA trophy, but I’ll wrap up this section by contextualizing what could have been. The last time a team finished in the top 10 of the DVOA rankings while posting a losing record was in 2016, when the 7-9 Eagles finished sixth in DVOA. The following year, they were featured in this very column as the team that had the “… best stat-nerd case for jumping into the postseason in 2017.” They won the Super Bowl.

I can’t put the Seahawks on this list with Lock and Geno Smith as their starting quarterbacks.


No team has been more frustrating on this side of the column than the Jaguars, who were highlighted in 2017 as the most likely team in the league to improve. They made a stunning trip to the postseason. They were back on that side of the column again in 2018, only to collapse after a blowout victory over the Patriots. Back again in 2021, they only narrowly improved their record in coach Urban Meyer’s lone season at the helm, going from 1-15 to 3-14.

I’m willing to get hurt again, and it’s not just because the Jaguars have replaced Meyer with Doug Pederson, the guy who led that Eagles team to that stunning Super Bowl victory I just mentioned. Pederson wasn’t the most exciting hire of the offseason, but it’s easy to make the argument that Jacksonville would realize a massive gain by merely having a competent coach who doesn’t allegedly kick his own players in pregame warm-ups.

The Jaguars weren’t particularly bad in close games (2-4) and didn’t really underperform their expected win total (3.4). They did recover a league-low 33.3% of their fumbles, but I wouldn’t use that as my sole reason for putting them on this list. There’s another factor that has a strong track record of regressing toward the mean and driving improvement after a dismal season, and this team fits it better than any other.

Jacksonville posted a minus-20 turnover margin last season. No other team was within seven turnovers of Trevor Lawrence & Co. The Jags posted the fourth-most giveaways and created only nine takeaways on defense, which ranked dead last. Three of those came in a win over the Bills, which was last season’s ultimate reminder that anything can happen on a Sunday afternoon. The Jaguars held two teams below 20 points all season: the Bills in Week 9 and the Colts in a win-and-in playoff game in Week 18. Five of their nine takeaways came in those two victories.

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Mike Clay discusses why Trevor Lawrence needs to be on people’s fantasy radars for second-year quarterbacks.

The Jags forced 12 fumbles on defense but recovered only two. To put in context how rare that is, just one other team has recovered as few as two fumbles on the defensive side of the ball in a given season since 1991. The Jaguars recovering a mere 16.7% of the fumbles in their games on defense is also the second-lowest rate over that time frame, and while it’s tempting to chalk that up to dissatisfaction with Meyer, consider that the offense recovered a much more reasonable 42.9% of its dropped footballs.

The good news? Teams that post astronomical turnover rates almost always turn that around the following season. Let’s look at teams since 1989 that posted turnover margins of minus-16 or worse, since everyone before 2021 in that group was on a 16-game schedule. That’s a group of 58 teams, whose average turnover margin during the season in question was an even minus-20.

The following year, those same 58 teams posted an average turnover margin of plus-0.8. Yes, the worst teams at turning the ball over expect to post a positive turnover margin the following season. They improved their turnover margin by an average of more than 20 turnovers from year to year. And as you might suspect, they got much better in the process: Those teams won an average of 3.2 more games than they had the prior season.

Our most recent example just came up in this column. In 2020, the 5-11 Broncos posted a minus-16 turnover margin, owing in part to running out Lock, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien and wide receiver Kendall Hinton as starting quarterbacks throughout the campaign. They were projected as one of the five most likely teams in the league to improve heading into 2020, and while the Bridgewater injury cost them a playoff berth, they were 7-6 even after trading away franchise icon Von Miller. Their turnover margin was minus-1.

Posting even a competent turnover margin likely drives a significant improvement for the Jaguars. A year ago, when they either tied or won the turnover battle in their games, they went 3-2. You can probably do the math: When they lost the turnover battle, they went 0-12. Correlation isn’t necessarily causation here, as trailing teams can turn the ball over more easily when they have to throw late in the second half games, but you get the idea. We can feel pretty confident in projecting the Jags to win the turnover battle more often in 2022, and they were already a competent team when they pulled that off in 2021.

There are other reasons to be optimistic. Jacksonville faced a more difficult schedule than expected a year ago, finishing with the league’s 10th-toughest slate, per Football Outsiders. FO projects it to face the league’s sixth-easiest slate this season. The Jaguars do lose another home game for their annual trip to London, but they get six games against the AFC South, which doesn’t project to be a difficult division.

Of course, there’s one other factor beyond numbers suggesting that the Jaguars could take a sudden leap forward: a possible franchise quarterback. Lawrence was erratic and inconsistent in his rookie season, which owed to some combination of his own issues, the league’s highest drop rate and a dysfunctionally coached and operated offense.

We don’t have to think back far to consider a quarterback drafted No. 1 overall whose team went from worst to first in his second season. Joe Burrow was better as a rookie than Lawrence, and he had more coaching stability, but the Bengals’ stunning turnaround last season is yet another reminder of how a superstar quarterback can drastically change the floor and ceiling for a franchise. If Lawrence makes that leap in Year 2, the Jaguars might not remotely resemble that disappointing team.



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