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NFL

The next Bengals? Five NFL teams that could make a surprise run in 2022

The Cincinnati Bengals fell just short Sunday of winning their first Super Bowl title, but that doesn’t take away from what was one of the most surprising postseason runs in NFL history.

Plenty of teams will be looking at the Bengals as a blueprint of sorts for how to build their rosters as they turn their attention toward the draft and free agency. Finding another Joe Burrow or Ja’Marr Chase is nearly impossible, but some teams are in better shape than others to capture lightning in a bottle like Cincinnati, which went from 4-11-1 and last place in the AFC North to conference champions.

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Here are five teams that could go on a Bengals-like run in 2022:

Jacksonville Jaguars

2021 record, finish: 3-14, last in AFC South

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Super Bowl 57 odds: 125-to-1 (via Caesars Sportsbook)

Reason for optimism: Quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The 2021 No. 1 overall pick has been a star since high school, when he was the top-ranked recruit in the country. Then he won a national championship as a true freshman to kick-start a record-setting career at Clemson. He struggled as a rookie, throwing a league-leading 17 interceptions while getting little help from his offensive line and wide receivers, but he’s still the same elite prospect that was considered one of the best to enter the league since Andrew Luck. With 11 draft picks, including No. 1 overall, plus nearly $60 million in salary cap space, the Jaguars have the resources to get Lawrence the help he needs to succeed. Not to mention, replacing Urban Meyer with former Super Bowl champion Doug Pederson might be the biggest head coaching upgrade of the offseason.

Reason for skepticism: A porous defense. The Jags’ unit finished 31st in Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings, ahead of only the New York Jets. Outside of edge rusher Josh Allen and cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Tyson Campbell, there aren’t many building blocks here. The Bengals brought in seven new starters in 2021 to help fix one of the league’s worst defenses. Jacksonville might need a similar overhaul to compete for a playoff spot in 2022.

If new Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy can unlock quarterback Justin Fields' dual-threat abilities, Chicago should be much better next season.

Chicago Bears

2021 record, finish: 6-11, third in NFC North

Super Bowl 57 odds: 80-to-1

Reason for optimism: A new approach. After firing coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace, the Bears hired Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and longtime Kansas City Chiefs executive Ryan Poles to lead the franchise. Eberflus brought in Green Bay Packers passing game coordinator Luke Getsy, who made it clear he wants to build his offense around young quarterback Justin Fields’ strengths. If Getsy can unlock the former Ohio State star’s dual-threat abilities, something Nagy never figured out during his tenure, the Bears’ offense should be much better than the unit that finished 26th in DVOA last season.

Reason for skepticism: Too many holes to fill. The Bears enter the offseason with their top wide receiver (Allen Robinson), top defensive lineman (Akiem Hicks) and two of their starting offensive linemen (left tackle Jason Peters and right guard James Daniels) set to hit free agency. Rebuilding through the draft will be difficult, with Chicago owning just two top-100 picks (Nos. 39 and 71) after trading up to select Fields at No. 11 overall last year. It’s going to be difficult for the Bears to restock their receiver corps and upgrade their offensive line in one offseason, not to mention fix a defense that took a big step backward in 2021.

Washington Commanders

2021 record, finish: 7-10, third in NFC East

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Super Bowl 57 odds: 60-to-1

Reason for optimism: A solid roster. Defensive end Chase Young and wide receiver Terry McLaurin are the headliners, but there’s plenty of talent on this team. Jonathan Allen is one of the best interior defenders in the league, cornerback Kendall Fuller is coming off a Pro Bowl-worthy season and rookie Samuel Cosmi looked like a cornerstone piece at right tackle. Speedy wide receiver Curtis Samuel is set to return after missing nearly the entire 2021 season, adding a crucial big-play threat on offense. A young, deep offensive line played much better than expected, too, though it could lose Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff in free agency.

Reason for skepticism: Uncertainty at quarterback. A one-year deal for veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick provided just 16 snaps, while Taylor Heinicke’s extended audition as the starter ended in disappointment. If Washington makes a big play for a veteran like Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr or even Russell Wilson, it could contend in a watered-down NFC. There’s also a chance that a quarterback the Commanders decide to pick in the first round — Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett, Sam Howell or Matt Corral — turns into an overnight sensation.

Giants quarterback Daniel Jones has shown enough potential in his first two seasons that a mini-leap under new coach Brian Daboll isn’t inconceivable.

New York Giants

2021 record, finish: 4-13, last in NFC East

Super Bowl 57 odds: 100-to-1

Reason for optimism: Brian Daboll. The new Giants coach worked wonders with Josh Allen as the offensive coordinator in Buffalo, helping turn the raw, inaccurate passer into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Daniel Jones isn’t as talented as Allen, but the former No. 6 overall pick has shown enough potential in his first two seasons that a mini-leap under Daboll isn’t inconceivable. With star running back Saquon Barkley another year removed from a torn ACL and wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney returning — plus whoever the Giants add with the No. 5 and No. 7 overall picks — there should be enough talent here for Jones and Daboll to work with.

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Reason for skepticism: The offensive line. Burrow proved he could overcome poor protection and still lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl, but Jones has never shown the same level of pocket awareness or field vision as the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner. For Jones to have any chance of improving, the Giants need to get better in the trenches, particularly on the interior. New York’s offensive line ended the 2021 season ranked 30th by Pro Football Focus, ahead of only the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins.

New York Jets

2021 record, finish: 4-13, last in AFC East

Super Bowl 57 odds: 200-to-1

Reason for optimism: A healthier roster. Defensive end Carl Lawson missed the entire 2021 season with a torn Achilles tendon, wide receiver Corey Davis missed eight games with a groin injury and rookie wide receiver Elijah Moore, a second-round pick, missed five games with a quad injury. Left tackle Mekhi Becton, the 11th overall pick in 2020, played just 48 snaps before suffering a season-ending knee injury. If all four can stay healthy in 2022, that would make a huge difference for a roster in desperate need of playmakers.

Reason for skepticism: Zach Wilson. The No. 2 overall pick entered the league with plenty of hype after a breakout season at BYU, but he failed to meet expectations as a rookie. Wilson ranked 34th of 37 qualifying quarterbacks in PFF grading and, according to RBSDM.com, was by far the worst among 31 quarterbacks who played a minimum of 300 snaps in expected points added per play, a measure of efficiency that accounts for situational factors such as down, distance and field position. After such a disappointing first season, it’s hard to envision a Burrow-like leap for the Jets’ franchise quarterback.


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