The nightmare scenario for the 2022 Bears is the one everyone from broadcasters and journalists to NFL analysts and fans outside of Chicago expect: They're going to play like an expansion team.
In many ways, they are like one, and in this scenario, they win just three games.
It's an offensive line with three or four new players. The secondary could be manned by three different players, in Tavon Young and rookies Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon. They're relying on cheaper, lesser known receivers alongside wide receiver Darnell Mooney, much the way expansion teams use spare players drafted from other teams.
They're coached by a new head coach, and quarterback Justin Fields gained very little from starting 10 games in a bad offense last year. So, expect him to struggle again with consistency.
The first key for every team defensively is how well it stops the run, and this is an issue for the Bears' front line with Justin Jones, Trevis Gipson and Angelo Blackson, all of whom are question marks in a 4-3 front against the run.
Robert Quinn hasn't exactly been a strong run stopper, so expect opponents to come in and mash the Bears' defensive front with old-style, power running.
The Bears' secondary is aiming for more takeaways and thinks its Cover-2 scheme supports it, because it's simple and helps players go faster. While this is true, it's also a more simple scheme for opposing quarterbacks to read.
The Bears have an easier schedule, but it's full of teams on their level. The Lions are rising and a year ahead of the Bears in a rebuild. The Giants, Falcons, Jets and Texans are among weaker teams the Bears could beat but also could lose against.
Expect them to handle three of the very weak opponents, like Houston, Atlanta and the Jets, or maybe the Lions once.
A 3-14 season would be the pits, but on the other hand, the Bears might wind up with one of the top three picks in the next draft.
The worse-case scenario for the Detroit Lions is an extremely slow start to the 2022 season.
With increased expectations, the team will win more games in head coach Dan Campbell's second season at the helm. The team, however, must also take advantage of a favorable schedule.
In 2022, Detroit has the fifth-easiest schedule, as a result of its 3-13-1 record in 2021. The team is scheduled to face the last-place teams from the AFC and NFC South divisions, too.
If Detroit struggles out of the gate, supporters will slowly begin to lose hope and begin to question if Campbell and Co. are just social media darlings.
In the first four weeks, Detroit takes on Philadelphia, Washington, Minnesota and Seattle. It is fairly reasonable to assume Detroit has an opportunity to win at least two games in the first month of the season.
Should the team start 1-3 or 0-4, it could spell the end of the honeymoon period for Detroit's new regime.
Supporters are looking for any reason to jump off the bandwagon, and a slow start would certainly increase the level of skepticism that typically permeates the organization.
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Winning at home to start the season against the Eagles would go a long way to instill confidence in the rebuild being headed in the right direction.
Tom Brady’s hoarding of Lombardi Trophies makes Aaron Rodgers seem like a failure with his one Super Bowl win more than a decade in the rear-view mirror. The 38-year-old is running out of time to get that coveted second ring.
On paper, the 2022 team is going to be really good. But, there are some potentially fatal flaws.
Following the trade of Davante Adams, Green Bay has one of the worst receiver corps in the NFL. It will be counting on Sammy Watkins to turn back the clock or one of the draft picks to turn ahead the clock.
David Bakhtiari, the team’s five-time All-Pro left tackle, suffered a torn ACL on New Year’s Eve 2020. He missed almost all of last season, including the team's playoff loss to the 49ers. The Packers expect him to be ready for training camp, but it’s worth wondering if he will ever return to form. If not, the Packers will have an average (or worse) left tackle, with cap charges of $29.1 million in 2023 and $33.1 million in 2024.
The defense could be fantastic, but what are the backup plans at outside linebacker, cornerback and safety? Last year’s backups to outside linebackers Rashan Gary and Preston Smith contributed next to nothing. Behind the cornerback trio of Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglas and Eric Stokes, the backups have broken up one pass in the NFL. The candidates to be the top backups to safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage didn’t play a single defensive snap in the NFL last year.
This is the ultimate worst-case scenario: Another season goes down the drain without Rodgers winning a championship, and he retires, leaving behind an asinine amount of dead money on the cap, while Bakhtiari’s career as a high-level player is over.
At this point, the Jordan Love era begins, the salary-cap credit card comes due and the Packers enter an extended rebuild.
The worst-case scenario for the Vikings is another losing season, consisting of six-eight wins, that ultimately throws the organization's future into question.
The Vikings replaced Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman this offseason with young, collaborative, analytics-friendly leaders in Kevin O'Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. And, the new duo had a chance to hit the reset button. It could've traded away aging, core players like Adam Thielen and Harrison Smith for draft picks and targeted a rookie quarterback to take over in 2023 when Kirk Cousins hits free agency.
That would've been an understandable approach, after the Vikings went 15-18 over the last two seasons under the previous regime.
Instead, they decided to run it back with this current core, in an effort to contend right away. That meant extending Cousins again, restructuring Thielen's and Smith's contracts for cap space and signing players like Za'Darius Smith.
What if it doesn't work out? Cousins is a career .500 quarterback. The offensive line is still a question mark, particularly on the interior. Dalvin Cook or Thielen or -- in a true worst-case scenario -- Cousins or Justin Jefferson could get hurt. There's no guarantee this offense is great in O'Connell's first year as a play-caller.
Defensively, losing Mike Zimmer might not be a good thing. How quickly will the Vikings' personnel effectively transition to an entirely new 3-4 scheme? Minnesota's only two proven pass rushers, Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith, are coming off major injuries. If either misses time, who's going to get to the quarterback?
Then, there's the secondary, which will likely have a rookie starter at safety, to go along with an iffy group of cornerbacks, led by post-prime Patrick Peterson and the inconsistent Cameron Dantzler.
Another losing season would lead to a lot of questions about the approach taken by the team this offseason, and could lead to a much different approach next offseason, perhaps involving a search for a new quarterback.