Every year the NFL has some semblance of a "worst to first" team. Last year was an extreme example with the Cincinnati Bengals going to the Super Bowl, but that type of turnaround isn't anything new for the league. There's also the other end of the spectrum -- teams that take major steps back and fail to live up to expectations.
There's a few candidates heading into the 2022 NFL season, we just have to go below the surface if we're trying to predict a falloff, and that's something that's never easy of course
If we look at teams that have win totals of at least 9, meaning they'd be expected to finish over .500, here are three potential places to look:
Cincinnati Bengals (9.5 wins - FanDuel)
It starts with the Super Bowl curse. Well technically it's about losing the Super Bowl, so it's more of the hangover afterward, but either way, the Bengals already have that working against them this coming season.
The 49ers most recently went through that, going 6-10 in 2020 after a 13-3 year in 2019 but losing the final game of the year. The Rams went from 13 to 9 wins from 2018 to 2019, and the Panthers followed up a 15-1 year that ended with a Super Bowl loss with a 6-10 season.
Sure there's plenty of factors that played a part in these fall-offs, but the list goes farther back than just seven years ago.
Add that to the fact that Cincinnati plays in a stacked AFC, and arguably the second-best division in the NFL with the Ravens and potentially loaded Browns (depending on Deshaun Watson's status), not to mention a Steelers team that's still coached by Mike Tomlin, and you have a mix of one tough climb ahead.
Oh, they also have the third-toughest schedule coming into the season to work with too.
San Francisco 49ers (9.5 wins - FanDuel)
The biggest issue here is the quarterback situation in San Francisco. Is Jimmy G ever going to be traded? What about Trey Lance as a full-time starter? What if they're both on the roster still for training camp?
If you don't have the most important position in sports settled, your ceiling is always lower. Sure, the Niners went all the way to the NFC title game, but that was with their starting QB not throwing a single touchdown pass until that very game.
By all accounts, the team is clearly trying to clear the way for Lance to take over, but someone has to, you know, take Garrappolo off their hands first.
The 49ers are also tied for the fifth-toughest schedule this year at the moment, and play in a division that, minus the Seahawks, has two playoff teams from last season with one of them just so happening to be the defending Super Bowl champs in the Rams.
Miami Dolphins (9 wins - DraftKings)
I mean, all anyone ever seems to do is rip Tua Tagovailoa, yet we're looking at them as the second-best team in the AFC East? Sure, adding Tyreek Hill is great, but if he can't get the ball consistently he's just an overpaid decoy at that point.
Miami started off 1-7 last year before getting scorching hot, finishing on a 8-1 run, but that was under previous coach Brian Flores, so we have no idea whether they respond the same way under rookie head coach Mike McDaniel. Could they? Sure. Could they also regress back towards a middle road between 1-7 and 8-1? Absolutely.
Tua played well over his last eight games, throwing 9 TDs and 5 picks with a QB rating of 92.9. Solid numbers for sure. But, before all that winning, in games he was healthy for (which is another factor in this pick too), he played in just five games, going 1-4. HIs 7 TDs and 4 picks over that span aren't bad, but that was padded just a bit with a 4-touchdown game against the Falcons.
The key here is there are still a lot of unknowns with this Dolphins team, and with the ground swell of hype surrounding them, hitting that under for their win total isn't out of the question at all.