Halfway through the 2022 season, NFL defenses finally seem to be starting to catch on.
After a five-year streak of hot quarterbacks lighting up scoreboards and leaving defenses with few answers, the pendulum has swung away from the offense for a change.
With star quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson showing signs of decline as they age, a new crop led by five 2021 first-round picks is slowly developing. And a defense geared toward limiting the big play in the passing game saw its offensive production drop significantly at the halfway mark.
The average of 21.8 points per game through nine weeks is the lowest at this stage of the season since 2010, when teams averaged 21.7 points per game. Scoring is down a whopping 3.5 points per game from this point two years ago when the offense peaked in partially empty stadiums due to the pandemic, and 1.6 points per game from last season.
While rushing production is at its highest level since 1987 thanks to a defense willing to give up yards on the ground, passing has been more difficult than it has been in years, with the NFL’s passer rating at 89.2, its lowest through nine weeks since 2017, and 6.12 yards after falling to the lowest level since 2006.
The drop in pass production has already led to 33 games where the winning team has scored 20 or fewer points, tied for the most nine weeks since 2007. There have also been just nine games this season when the losing team has scored at least 30 points, down from 21 at this point 2020
The lack of offense has helped keep games close, with an NFL record 72 games decided by seven points or less – the most ever in a nine week period. The average scoring margin of 9.4 points per game is the lowest in nine weeks in the Super Bowl era.
The slow-down hasn’t reached Miami, where new receiver Tyreek Hill is thriving under first-year coach Mike McDaniel at a record pace.
Hill has 1,104 receiving yards, the most by a player in nine games since Charley Hennigan had 1,122 for the Houston Oilers of the old AFL in 1961. The last NFL player with more was Raymond Berry with 1,147 for the Colts in 1960.
Hill could become the NFL’s first 2,000-yard receiver. He is on pace for 2,085 yards receiving – 121 more than Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson’s record of 1,964 in 2012. While Hill could benefit from the 17th game, his 16-game pace is just 1 yard shy of Johnson’s record.
Dolphins teammate Jaylen Waddle has 812 receiving yards, and their combined 1,916 yards are the most for a duo in the Super Bowl era.
It is rare in the eight division format starting in 2002 that an entire division is full of winners or losers.
Through nine weeks this season, the NFL has one of each.
All four teams in the AFC East have a winning record through nine weeks, the fifth time since 2002. That happened in both the AFC North and AFC West last season, as well as the AFC North in 2014 and the NFC East in 2008.
The NFC East has three winners, and Washington leads the way at 4-5. But the .727 combined winning percentage for the division is the highest in nine weeks since 2002.
The NFC South is at the other end of the spectrum, with no teams with winning records. The only other times that happened through nine weeks since 2002 were in the NFC East in 2020 and the AFC South in 2015.
The Eagles became the 29th team in the Super Bowl era to win their first eight games of a season as they try to join the 1972 Dolphins as the only teams with a perfect season.
Miami was one of eight 8-0 teams to win the Super Bowl, with New Orleans the last to do so in the 2009 season. Other champions were Dallas (1977), Chicago (1985), Giants (1990), Washington (1991), Denver (1998) and Indianapolis (2006).
Seven other 8-0 teams have gone to the Super Bowl and lost. The 49ers were the last to do so in 2019, along with the only undefeated regular season team since ’72. in the 2007 Patriots.
While all 28 made the playoffs, 10 of those teams didn’t win a postseason game, and the 2020 Steelers came in last in their playoff opener.
There have been 27 games this season when a team overcame deficits of at least 10 points to win or tie a game – the third-most in NFL history behind 31 in 1987 and 29 in 2020.
No team has been worse at protecting big leads than the Las Vegas Raiders.
For the third time this season, they lost a game they led by at least 17 points, as they blew a 20-0 lead at Arizona in Week 2, 17-0 over Kansas City in Week 5 and 17-0 over Jacksonville on Sunday.
Las Vegas joined the 2020 Chargers and 2003 Falcons as the only teams to lose three games in a season after leading by at least 17.
The Raiders have lost as many games after leading by at least 17 points in eight games under Josh McDaniels as coach as they did in 628 regular season and playoff games before his arrival. They were 106-3 (.972) when leading by at least 17 points since 1984 but are 1-3 under McDaniels this season.
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