With 17 games in total this season, Week Nine’s fixtures marked the passing of the halfway mark in the 2021/22 NFL season.
Here’s an overview of some of the most notable headlines around the league as we approach the home stretch of an exciting season.
The Playoff Picture and Super Bowl Contenders
The Cardinals are currently the top team in the NFL, at 8-1. NFC West rivals Rams are close behind at 7-2, however, a record shared by the NFC North’s Packers.
Last year’s Super Bowl winners, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have two losses and sit atop the NFC South. NFC East leaders Dallas Cowboys also only have two losses.
The Saints (5-3), Falcons (4-4), and Vikings (3-5) are teams to look for as Wild Card favourites. With Russell Wilson returning for the 3-5 Seahawks, Seattle can reignite their playoff hopes.
Across to the AFC, the Titans lead the way at 7-2 in a weak AFC South.
The Ravens are top of the AFC North at 6-2, though the division has proved volatile and inconsistent.
Not long ago, the Bengals were leading, before embarrassing defeats to the Jets and Browns.
The AFC West is tight – every team has five wins. The Chargers lead through a tiebreaker.
The AFC East has two teams on five wins, the 5-3 Bills and 5-4 Patriots.
The NFL is ever-changing, and a leading team could lose it all in a matter of weeks
The shortlist for potential Wild Card teams is far longer in the AFC than the NFC. Teams to look for include the Patriots (5-4), Raiders (5-3), Chiefs (5-4), Broncos (5-4), Steelers (5-3), Browns (5-4), Bengals (5-4) and the Colts (4-5).
Until the playoffs arrive, it is always hard to predict who will be in the Super Bowl. The early contenders from the NFC include the Cardinals, Buccaneers, Packers and Rams. For the AFC, keep an eye out for the Titans, Ravens and Bills.
With that said, the NFL is ever-changing, and a leading team could lose it all in a matter of weeks – no one is guaranteed anything as it stands.
The Lions have been the basement dwellers of the league since Week One. They are winless in eight weeks of football.
In a similar situation are the Texans. After a surprising win in Week One, they have failed to win eight straight, leaving them at 1-8.
The Jets, Dolphins, Jaguars and Football Team are all at two wins respectively. The Dolphins in particularly have massively underperformed given their double-digit win season in 2020.
This segment would be incomplete without the underwhelming Chiefs. At 5-4, the Chiefs’ playoff hopes are alive but, before the season, many fans and pundits expected more.
Having been to the Super Bowl in consecutive years, it seems their luck has run out. Their defence has been woeful, and Patrick Mahomes has been reckless with the ball.
Standout Performers (Contenders for Individual Awards)
Quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, and Matthew Stafford are among the MVP (Most Valuable Player) favourites as it stands. Of those candidates, only Brady and Stafford have not missed a game for their team.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is also in the MVP mix, though it is most likely he will win the Comeback Player of the Year (CPOY) award after last year’s season-ending ankle injury.
Any of the quarterbacks in the MVP race could win the 2022 Offensive Player of the Year (OPOY) award, although the league has tended to favour running backs and wide receivers.
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp is certainly the name to watch. Kupp leads the league in receiving yards and touchdowns. If he is crowned the OPOY, Stafford would be unlikely to win MVP.
Given Lamar Jackson’s rushing ability, it would not be surprising to see the Ravens quarterback win the OPOY. Jonathan Taylor, Colts running back, is another to watch given how he has been trending of late.
The Rams’ disruptive lineman Aaron Donald was last year’s Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY). He is in the running again alongside Cowboys athletic cornerback Trevon Diggs, Browns pass-rusher Myles Garrett and Steelers linebacker TJ Watt.
Names to watch with regards to the Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY) award include Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts and Steelers running back Najee Harris.
The favourites for the Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY) award are Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons, Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain, Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. and Ravens lineman Odafe Oweh.
Key Injuries (so far…)
Titans’ Henry sustained a foot injury in an AFC showdown against the Colts. He is suspected to be out for the best part of the remaining regular season.
New Cardinals signing defensive end JJ Watt has been placed on the Injured Reserve after tearing his labrum and rotator cuff – significant injuries. He is not expected to return until at least the start of the postseason.
Another key detrimental injury is Jameis Winston’s knee injury. The Saints quarterback will be out for the season and Trevor Siemian has been named the starter in New Orleans.
The Packers have been plagued by injuries, even if their record suggests otherwise. David Bakhtiari’s knee injury headlines a plethora of offensive line injuries for the Packers. The star left tackle should be back in the second half of the season.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield has only missed one game, but his shoulder injury has impacted his performance and could prove to end the Browns’ playoff hopes if it worsens.
Trade Deadline and Free Agency Roundup
The NFL trade deadline on 2 November was unspectacular as usual.
Despite all the speculation over the past year, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson failed to secure a move away from Houston. The disgruntled quarterback has been burdened by legal issues that have been lingering since the offseason. Teams have found it hard to commit to acquiring the signal-caller due to the unresolved manner of his legal issues.
Odell Beckham Jr. was another player who was looking to be traded. It seems he overestimated his own value, however, as the Browns have now waived him, making him a free agent.
The biggest trade leading up to the deadline was between the Rams and Broncos. The Rams pushed all their chips in, sending a second and third-round NFL Draft pick for all-time Broncos legend and former Super Bowl MVP, linebacker Von Miller. With Donald and Miller on the same line, the Rams improve one of the league’s best defensive units.
NFC West rivals Cardinals did some recruiting too. After losing tight end Maxx Williams to a season- ending injury, General Manager Steve Keim sent rookie cornerback Tay Gowan and a fifth-round pick to the Eagles for tight end Zach Ertz.
After losing running back Henry to a serious injury, the Titans signed future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson. The 36-year-old scored his first touchdown for the Titans on his debut, en route to beating the Rams 28-16 in Week Nine.
COVID-19 and Vaccinations Protocol
The NFL’s Covid-19 protocol has been controversial, though it has yet to make any significant headlines.
The league has introduced policies to encourage players and staff to all be vaccinated, though some have criticised the league for forcing people into taking the Covid vaccine, something that is viewed as a “personal choice” by many.
The league has said that it is more inclined to work with teams with a fully vaccinated roster when it comes to whether fixtures need to be rearranged or called off due to the pandemic.
The NFL’s Covid-19 protocol has been controversial
Alongside promoting the vaccine, the NFL has committed itself to regular testing of players as well as enforcing social distancing rules with regards to facility usage by unvaccinated players and staff.
One of the most notable headlines recently was that Rodgers would be absent from the next few Packers games after testing positive for coronavirus. It was leaked that he is unvaccinated against the virus, meaning his return to action will be much slower than that of a vaccinated player’s. His positive test came a week after teammate Davante Adams also tested positive.
NFL London 2021 and Beyond
This season’s NFL London was a booming success after a year’s hiatus.
The Jaguars continued their London agenda by hosting the Miami Dolphins. They came away with their first win of the season over the Dolphins courtesy of a last-minute field goal.
The Falcons hosted the other London fixture, and they triumphed over the Jets.
With the NFL continuing to pursue and enlarge its international expansion, NFL London will be returning next year as plans are slowly being finalised for Germany fixtures.
2022 NFL Draft: Some Key College Prospects
No teams are eliminated from the playoff race yet, but the likes of the Lions, Dolphins, Texans, Jaguars and Jets will be keeping a close eye on the college football landscape for the 2022 NFL Draft.
Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral has been the biggest riser on draft boards and is currently the QB1. Given how the stock of quarterbacks rises exponentially in the lead up to the draft, expect him to be taken within the top five, if not first. Other quarterbacks to keep an eye on include Liberty’s Malik Willis, Nevada’s Carson Strong and Kenny Pickett.
The “offensive weapons” of this class is nowhere near the quality of the 2020 or 2021 draft classes. Ohio State’s Chris Olave appears to be the top prospect thus far.
Defensively, there are a few top talents that have been talked about throughout their college career. Oregon pass-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux has been making headlines for a while now and he finally gets his chance. He is the top prospect of this draft alongside Louisianna State cornerback Derek Stingley.