Every NFL team has questions. Contending clubs are worried about health issues, roster weaknesses, and upcoming opponents, while rebuilding squads are focused on developing young players or looking ahead to potential offseason problems.
Let’s run through the league and assess the most significant question facing each NFL team. We’ll start in Arizona, where the Cardinals’ head coach is facing pressure after a lackluster start.
The Biggest Second-Half Question for Every NFL Team
Will Kliff Kingsbury make it through the season?
Kingsbury’s seat is scorching hot following Arizona’s Week 9 loss to the Rams. The Cardinals are now 3-6 and largely eliminated from the playoff race, and Kingsbury is the odds-on favorite to be the next head coach fired. Unless Kyler Murray and Co. can begin to display some offensive cohesion, Kingsbury could be let go before the year is out.
Will Desmond Ridder play this season?
No one expected much from the Falcons this season, but Arthur Smith’s team has stayed competitive and beaten a few impressive clubs, including the Seahawks and 49ers, along the way.
Marcus Mariota has largely done what’s asked of him. But if Atlanta loses a few more games and exits the playoff picture, they’ll likely want to take a look at Ridder, the 74th overall pick in this year’s draft. The Falcons need to assess Ridder before deciding whether to go after another quarterback in 2023.
Who is Lamar Jackson throwing to?
With Rashod Bateman out for the year and tight end Mark Andrews nursing a shoulder injury, the Ravens leaned into the run game against the Saints this past Monday night. Baltimore posted 40 rush attempts against just 22 passes in their win over New Orleans. That could be the Ravens’ strategy moving forward, especially if Andrews can’t immediately return after the bye.
How serious is Josh Allen’s elbow injury?
Allen didn’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday, and it looks like Case Keenum will get the start against the Vikings on Sunday. The AFC playoff picture will obviously get shaken up if Allen is forced to miss multiple weeks, but even a one-game absence could be seismic, as any Bills loss will give the Chiefs a chance to move up the conference standings.
When will the head coaching search begin?
Now that the trade deadline dust has settled, the Panthers are just playing out the season. Sure, Carolina would like to see development from young players such as left tackle Ikem Ekwonu and cornerback Jaycee Horn, but most Panthers fans are likely fast-forwarding to the impending coaching search. At present, Carolina looks like a more attractive job than Indy, the only other club that’s fired its head coach thus far.
Where does Justin Fields go from here?
Fields has looked reborn over Chicago’s past two games. The Bears’ coaching staff has seemingly figured out how to deploy the 2021 first-rounder, and he responded with seven total touchdowns in two weeks. With deadline acquisition Chase Claypool now in town, can Fields ascend to become one of the NFL’s better quarterbacks by season’s end?
What is Ja’Marr Chase’s injury outlook?
Chase is dealing with a hip injury, but the fact that the Bengals didn’t place him on injured reserve means they think he can return without missing at least four games. Cincinnati’s reasoning may not go beyond “he’s built different,” but it’s an optimistic stance nonetheless. The Bengals managed offensive fireworks without Chase in Week 9, but they won’t play the Panthers every week.
Can the Browns make the playoffs with Deshaun Watson?
Watson, currently under suspension due to multiple sexual assault allegations, is due back in Week 13. Cleveland hasn’t bottomed out with Jacoby Brissett under center, but at 3-5, the Browns are on the fringes of playoff contention. They’ll likely need to win at least two of their next three to be in a position to make a late run with Watson, but none of the games — against the Dolphins, Bills, and Bucs — will be easy.
Will Tony Pollard get more run?
Starting in place of Ezekiel Elliott in Week 8, Tony Pollard proved what most of us already knew — he’s the most explosive back on the Cowboys’ roster. Pollard took 14 carries for 131 yards and three touchdowns, including a 54-yard score in the fourth quarter. Jerry Jones has already reaffirmed his commitment to Zeke, but Pollard gives Dallas’ offense a clear boost.
Can Russell Wilson and the Broncos’ offense turn things around?
Wilson and Nathaniel Hackett’s first season in Denver has been a nightmare through nine weeks. Instead of competing for a playoff spot, the Broncos sold off pieces at the trade deadline.
Denver ranks 30th in points per game and is brutal inside the 20 — their 35% red-zone scoring rate is dead last in the league. Wilson is contractually tied to the Broncos, but Hackett could be gone if the offense doesn’t improve.
Will the Lions see any improvement on defense?
It will be difficult for Dan Campbell to continually project a tough-guy image if his team’s defense can’t stop anyone. The Lions are last in the NFL in expected points added per play on defense, and they’d given up at least 24 points in every game until Week 9. Detroit surely wants to see young defensive pieces like Aidan Hutchinson, Jeff Okudah, and Malcolm Rodriguez take command over the back half of the season.
Green Bay Packers
Is it possible for Aaron Rodgers to become even more frustrated?
Rodgers often wears his emotion on his sleeve, and his discontent with Green Bay’s offense and receivers seems to be nearing an all-time high. Trusted friend Randall Cobb is already on IR, while rookie Romeo Doubs — the only receiver who’d been consistently contributing — is dealing with a high ankle sprain. If solutions are coming for the Packers, they aren’t readily obvious.
How will Houston’s rookie class perform over the second half?
Dameon Pierce might win Offensive Rookie of the Year, but the other members of the Texans’ 2022 draft class still have a lot to prove. Although Derek Stingley Jr., Kenyon Green, and Jalen Pitre have all shown flashes, more work must be done. Meanwhile, third-round linebacker Christian Harris has already become a full-time player after returning from a hamstring injury in Week 7.
How will Jeff Saturday perform as head coach?
Saturday’s hiring in Indianapolis doesn’t make much sense and serves as a slap in the face to coaches who have ground through the NFL lifestyle while waiting for their chance. Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least curious about how Saturday will manage games and expectations to close the year.
What will the perception of Trevor Lawrence be at the end of the season?
The Jaguars have cooled off after their hot start, and Lawrence has been up and down, too. But the No. 1 overall pick in 2021 has already shown significant improvement over his Urban Meyer-led rookie season, improving his completion, touchdown, interception, and sack rate through nine weeks.
Lawrence is quietly 13th in EPA + CPOE composite on the season, and if he continues developing, he’ll look like a true franchise quarterback by year’s end.
Kansas City Chiefs
Can Patrick Mahomes win his second MVP?
After eight weeks, Allen and Mahomes were neck-and-neck for the MVP award, but Allen’s injury has propelled Mahomes into the catbird seat. If Allen is out for multiple weeks, Mahomes’ primary adversaries will become Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Geno Smith, and Lamar Jackson. That’s still stiff competition, but Mahomes will be the easy favorite.
Las Vegas Raiders
Can the Raiders make good on their Davante Adams investment?
While Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown have helped elevate their new quarterbacks after being traded in the offseason, Adams hasn’t had the same effect on Derek Carr and the Raiders. While the Dolphins and Eagles rank first and third, respectively, in EPA per dropback, Las Vegas sits at 11th.
Adams is tied for the NFL lead with seven touchdown receptions and ranks ninth in yardage, so he hasn’t been a disaster. But it feels like Josh McDaniels is still getting used to coaching a WR1, something he hadn’t had in New England since the Randy Moss days. With Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller now on IR, McDaniels won’t get a chance to work with his full offense anytime soon.
Los Angeles Chargers
When will the Chargers get their key players back from injury?
Currently slotted into the seventh seed in the AFC, the Chargers will be fighting for a playoff spot all season long. Hopefully, some of their most talented players will return to help by the end of the year.
Mike Williams and Keenan Allen should be back in the next several weeks, Joey Bosa by December, and Rashawn Slater could return at the tail end of the campaign or for the postseason.
Los Angeles Rams
Are there any solutions for the Rams’ offense?
The Rams are tied with the Steelers for the worst yards per play in the NFL — not exactly what we expected from the Super Bowl champions. With offensive line issues galore, and a lack of effective weapons outside of Cooper Kupp, it’s tough to see how things get better in Los Angeles.
Can rookie running back Kyren Williams make that much of a difference when he returns? Would Odell Beckham Jr. turn this offense around?
Can Miami’s defense catch up with its offense?
Mike McDaniel has turned the Dolphins’ offense into a behemoth. Tua Tagovailoa is an MVP candidate, Tyreek Hill is having a historic season, and Jaylen Waddle isn’t too shabby, either.
But Miami’s defense is hemorrhaging points and yardage nearly every week. If Josh Boyer’s unit — which now includes trade acquisition Bradley Chubb — can’t turn things around, the Dolphins might not be able to seriously compete in the AFC playoffs.
Can the Vikings beat good teams?
The Vikings are 7-1 and riding high in the NFC, but they’ve only beaten one team that currently has a winning record: the Dolphins in Week 6, who were playing a combination of backups Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson at quarterback.
Minnesota now faces a critical four-game stretch against the Bills, Cowboys, Patriots, and Jets that will give us a little more insight into their true abilities. Luckily for the Vikings, it looks like they’ll get another No. 2 signal-caller if Allen can’t start for Buffalo.
New England Patriots
Will the quarterback shuffle continue?
Mac Jones has started the last two games for the Patriots. While he earned the win in both games, Jones didn’t really contribute to the effort, posting QBRs below 35 in both contests.
Neither Jones nor rookie Bailey Zappe is a dynamic athlete, and New England is likely to stick with the first-round pick unless things really go off the rails. It’s hard to imagine a team competing for the postseason going through another QB change, but Bill Belichick won’t care about the optics if he does decide to go back to Zappe.
New Orleans Saints
Is this the last hurrah for the Saints?
The Saints sacrificed a lot of future draft capital to move up for Chris Olave and Trevor Penning, and — like usual — their salary cap situation is a mess. New Orleans could theoretically still make the playoffs. They currently have a 15% chance, according to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction model, and their odds will increase to 1-in-5 if they beat the Steelers on Sunday.
Still, this is a team projected to be $55 million over the cap in 2023. The Saints can keep pushing money into the future, but they’re going to hit a wall at some point, and it looks like it might be next offseason.
New York Giants
Will Daniel Jones force the Giants to franchise tag him?
Jones’ career as a starting quarterback looked all but over heading into 2022, but Brian Daboll, Mike Kafka, and Co. have revitalized the former first-round pick. Jones ranks 11th in EPA per play and fourth in rushing yards among quarterbacks.
Perhaps more importantly, he’s displayed far better ball security (just two interceptions and three fumbles). If he keeps playing like this, Jones will earn the franchise tender next season.
New York Jets
Will the Jets ever trust Zach Wilson?
Gang Green hasn’t asked Wilson to throw much this season. Since returning from injury in Week 4, he’s averaged only 27.8 attempts per game, 31st in the NFL. The Jets’ run game and defense have been so strong that they haven’t had to require Wilson to throw the ball, but that will change at some point, especially if New York makes the postseason.
Can the Eagles go undefeated?
The Eagles are 8-0 for the first time in franchise history, and they have a legitimate chance to go undefeated. A “legitimate chance” is still probably below 10%, but it’s not impossible! Philadelphia still has games against the Cowboys, Titans, and Giants (twice), and they’ll likely drop at least one of those contests. But until they do, every week will remain a must-watch.
How much will Kenny Pickett develop over the rest of the season?
Since taking over as Pittsburgh’s starter in Week 4, Pickett has posted just 3.19 adjusted net yards per attempt, by far the lowest mark in the league. No other quarterback is even below four yards.
It’s hard to blame Pickett too much. The Steelers have no running game and might field the worst offensive scheme in the league. At this point, it will be a surprise if OC Matt Canada returns in 2023.
San Francisco 49ers
Can Jimmy Garoppolo convince the 49ers to move on from Trey Lance?
San Francisco spent three first-round picks on Lance in 2021, but he barely played in his rookie campaign and then suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2 of this year. The 49ers were ready to get rid of Garoppolo even though he led them to two NFC Championship Games in three years, so it will likely take a Super Bowl victory for them to forget about Lance this time around.
Are the Seahawks Super Bowl contenders?
We’re halfway through the season, so it’s time to stop asking if Geno Smith and the Seahawks are for real. Seattle’s offense is firing on all cylinders, and their defense has taken dramatic leaps over the last few weeks.
The Seahawks are near locks for the playoffs, either via an NFC West title or a Wild Card slot, and you can squint and make an argument for Pete Carroll’s squad as the second-best team in the conference.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What happens to the Buccaneers’ run game?
Tom Brady and the Buccaneers’ offense have struggled to put up points this season, and while the passing game certainly has its issues, Tampa Bay’s rushing attack has been downright dreadful.
The Bucs are 32nd in rushing DVOA, and Leonard Fournette has the league’s fourth-worst rushing yards over expectation per attempt. Look for third-round rookie Rachaad White, who’s shown far more juice than Fournette and is a better receiver, to see more snaps down the stretch.
Can Derrick Henry stay healthy despite his massive workload?
After handling 300+ carries in both 2019 and 2020, Henry finally broke down midway through the 2021 campaign. Tennessee is unsurprisingly leaning on Henry again, especially while Ryan Tannehill is out with an ankle injury.
Even with Henry sidelined last year, the Titans still grabbed the AFC’s No. 1 seed — but they had A.J. Brown on their roster then. Managing Henry’s workload is a delicate balancing act, but Tennessee can’t afford to lose him again.
What does Washington’s quarterback situation look like?
Carson Wentz (finger) will be eligible to return from IR in Week 11, giving Taylor Heinicke at least one more week to prove he should retain Washington’s starting quarterback job. If the Commanders lose a few more games, though, they could give rookie fifth-rounder Sam Howell a chance under center. There’s no reason Washington shouldn’t see what Howell — at one point a contender to be drafted first overall in 2022 — has to offer.