Which NFL teams can hold a solid 2022 extension through 2023? 8 units to watch

It’s an annual theme when NFL players clear out their belongings on locker room cleanup day once a team’s season is over: “Momentum for Next Season.”

Teams like the Lions or Steelers miss the postseason, but finish the regular season with a hot streak. The franchises are hoping to build on the successes achieved late in the year and continue that into the following season. Is that possible even given the only team he has TRUE Momentum leaving the season will be the Super Bowl champions? And even then, there is the “Super Bowl” stigma that sometimes hovers over the reigning champ.

It may seem a cliche often, but facts like roster turnover and injuries in the league really do bring a ‘fresh team’ element into every dressing room and coaching staff every season.

So, in my last study, I picked one side of a team in each department that I believed in Can Continuing the success late in the 2022 season (weeks 14-18) and maintaining or improving on that in 2023. I’ve tried to avoid some of the obvious things, and some of them might surprise you.

(Note: All statistics provided by TruMedia unless otherwise stated.)

Patriots protect the offensive line

New England’s offense is likely to have noticeably less momentum this season than any team in the AFC East. That could be the biggest part of the list, especially given teammate Chad Graf’s predictions earlier this summer. But… traffic protection wasn’t a big concern for the Patriots, statistically speaking, by the end of the year.

The New England front five surrendered with a compression ratio of just 25.5 percent, ranking second in the league in the final five weeks. The unit allowed six sacks during the period as well, which ranks seventh all-time. Both of the Patriots’ starting inside linemen have allowed better-than-league-average pass pressure rates in the last five weeks:

  • Left guard Cole Strange: 2.7 percent (League average position: 4.3 percent)
  • David Andrews Center: 2.7 percent (Mean: 3.5 percent)
  • Right guard Mike Onwino: 3.3 percent (4.3 percent average)

Onwenu may not be ready for Week 1 given ankle surgery that sidelined him for the entire season. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the best guards in the league. I bet it will be ready, but that is not a guarantee.

Tackles can be hot spots as left tackle Trent Brown has a 7.0 Compression Ratio, seventh worst among left tackles in Weeks 14-18. Evidence is that Riley Reef is the start of the first week in the right tackle, but this place may be in flux.

However, midfielder Mack Jones should also help with the equation. His average throwing time was the fourth fastest among qualified passers, averaging 2.53 seconds. He averaged 2.65 seconds to throw in Weeks 1-13, which is the 17th best.

And a little training can help. The Patriots now have a qualified offensive coordinator in Bill O’Brien and a true offensive line coach in Adrian Klim.

Offense will take center stage for the Bengals with Joe Burrow, Jamar Chase, Joe Mixon and Ty Higgins in the mix. But Cincinnati’s defense ranked among the best overall units in the league last season:

  • Expected points added per game: 0.16 (third)
  • EPA per drive: 0.92 (third)
  • EPA per lunge: 0.19 (V)
  • EPA per pass: 0.11 (seventh)

The Bengals maintained continuity along the defensive line and at linebacker. The secondary will present a different look with Dax Hill and Nick Scott sliding to safety after the departures of Jesse Bates and Von Bell. But Cincinnati made Hill a 2022 first-round pick knowing he would miss the safety and signed Scott after his first season as a starter with the Rams last season.

Cincinnati also used its first three 2023 draft picks on defensemen: Miles Murphy, cornerback D.J. Turner and safety Jordan Battle. The Bengals aren’t just building an offense in Cincinnati.

You live well when your defense leads the NFL in these categories over the last five games:

  • EPA per play: 0.20 (first)
  • EPA per drive: 1.17 (first)

Jacksonville also ranked third in EPA assists per pass at 0.19 (third) and sixth in points per game allowed (15.6) and EPA per rush (0.16).

The above averages were a significant improvement from weeks 1 to 13:

  • EPA per play: -0.05 (twenty-seventh)
  • EPA per drive: -0.29 (twenty-seventh)
  • EPA per lunge: 0.06 (tenth)
  • EPA per pass: -0.13 (twenty-seventh)
  • Points allowed per game: 22.7 (23rd place)

Edge rusher Josh Allen recorded an average of 18.2 percent pressure and four sacks in the last five weeks after an average of 13.8 percent and three sacks in Weeks 1-13. Jaguar, on the other hand, can only scratch the surface with 2022 No. 1 pick Travon Walker. Walker watched his compression ratio jump to 13.3 percent in Weeks 14-18 after an average of just 8.4 percent in Weeks 1-13.

Fullback Foyesade Oluokun ranks second among all defensemen with 20 steals in the past five weeks. Only Roquan Smith of the Ravens has produced more. Defensive fullback Rayshawn Jenkins is tied for second among defensive backs with 14 such games, while Darius Williams has collected 10 (tied for 13th) in the period. Tyson Campbell also received mixed ratings of 42.4, 18.7, and 58.3 in Weeks 16, 17, and the Wild Card round, respectively.

This may come out of left field. maybe deep left field.

The Broncos ranked third in EPA per dash at 0.08 in Weeks 14-18. This may be a flimsy metric to stick to for this exercise. It’s more about seeing a bit of success in a lost season and how this year’s team will have the tools to build a stable-to-good fast offense.

Forget new coach Sean Payton who had to “fix” Russell Wilson for a second. From 2017 to 2020, the Saints ranked second in the league in EPA per rusher under Payton, trailing only the Ravens. Now in Denver, Payton will be determined to create a consistent and effective running game.

That could certainly kick off the healthy Javonte Williams’ return to running back. Adding Samaje Perine as the No. 2 option would give Denver a reliable two-rounder.

Then comes the overhaul of the offensive line with the additions of goalkeeper Ben Powers and right tackle Mike McGlinchey. The unit will be directed by head coach Zach Streiff in his first year as the primary offensive line coach.

Eagles rush attack

The Eagles’ running game produced as much as any in the league last season, no matter what period, leading the NFL with a 0.10 EPA per rush rate. Philadelphia improved on that number by an average of 0.12 EPA per rush rate in Weeks 14-18.

Whether or not the Eagles are able to sustain this success may come down to the running back’s turnover rate. Miles Sanders is now the Carolina Panther. Sanders’ 0.04 EPA per rushing average in 2022 was the highest of any running back ranked in the top 20 in touchdowns, so you shouldn’t underestimate his loss.

But the Eagles still have a few things going for them (not kidding). Jalen Hurts is as dangerous as he gets when running football at the quarterback position. And the offensive line remains among the best in the league.

Jalen Hurts rushed for 18 touchdowns last season including touchdowns, the most by a QB in NFL history for a single season. (Mitchell Leaf/Getty Images)

Then come D’Andre Swift and Rashad Penny, both of whom were added by the Eagles this season.

Health cries out as the main sticking point with both of these backs. Penny has played 18 games in the past three seasons and Swift seems to miss a handful of games each year. But when it’s right, the two can produce to the best of their ability.

At Seattle, Penny led the NFL in 2021 with an average of 6.3 yards per carry and kept that close with a 6.1 YPC average last season. At Detroit, Swift averaged 5.7 yards per carry last year and ranked fifth in EPA per rush among 64 qualified running backs.

Green Bay won four of their last five games last season with a huge improvement in defense. That may have been lost for some people given the drama surrounding Aaron Rodgers. The Packers have allowed just 17.6 points per game in their last five games.

Here’s a look at how their EPA rates stack up in weeks 14-18:

  • EPA per play: 0.12 (sixth)
  • EPA per drive: 0.61 (sixth)
  • EPA per dash: 0.05 (twentieth)
  • EPA per pass: 0.11 (sixth)

And why does the Packers maintain this success? Rashan is underway. That is reason enough.

Green Bay’s defense has somehow managed to elevate their game after Gary tore his ACL midway through last season. Gary started participating in team training earlier this week for the first time since the injury. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the best attackers in the league, ranking second among eligible defenders in the past two seasons with a pressing rate of 18.9 percent. The Cowboys’ Micah Parsons was ranked No. 1.

Saints Defense

Another defensive effort that may have gone unnoticed by some, given the Saints’ 7-10 collapse last year, took place in New Orleans. The Saints have given up 18 or fewer points in each of their last six games, and have only allowed 10 points in each of their last three games.

Here’s a look at how their EPA rates stack up in weeks 14-18:

  • EPA per play: 0.18 (sec)
  • EPA per drive: 1.06 (sec)
  • EPA per dash: -0.00 (twenty-fifth)
  • EPA per pass: 0.34 (first)

The marked disparity in rushing versus passing made the unit’s success all the more apparent. New Orleans has made a concerted effort to bolster its defense this season with the addition of veteran defensive tackles Nathan Shepherd and Khalen Saunders, as well as 2023 first-round pick Brian Pressey.

Shepherd and Saunders have been two of the most efficient tacklers against the run over the past five weeks. Shepherd makes tackles on 19 percent of his shots defensed (24th among 182 eligible defensive tackles), while Saunders averages 20 percent (18th). Even the slightest increase in performance could make the Saints’ defense more formidable in 2023.

First Trade by Christian McCaffrey. Then discover Brooke Purdy. The pieces seemed to fall into place for the 49ers by the time December reached the playoffs before Purdy suffered a right elbow injury.

Here’s a look at how offensive EPA rates stack up in weeks 14-18:

  • EPA per play: 0.11 (first)
  • EPA per dip: 0.18 (sec)
  • EPA per lunge: 0.07 (V)

Every aspect of the 49ers offense has been in sync as they approach the Super Bowl. Purdy ranked second in the EPA per throwback (0.21) and first in passer rating (119.0) in the final five weeks. McCaffrey ranked eighth in EPA per rushing (0.10) and third in rushing yards (439) and tied for second in rushing TDs (four). George Kettle led all tight ends with seven TD receptions.

It will be down to Purdy overcoming injury and avoiding a major drop. Expecting Mahomes-type numbers from Purdy isn’t realistic. However, the Niners’ attack must continue with force. And what might seem odd is that backup Sam Darnold ranked third in the EPA for per drop (0.17) in Weeks 14-18 for Carolina. It’s as if Niners value scales!

(Top photo by Christian McCaffrey and Brooke Purdy: Steve Chambers/Getty Images)

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