2022 NFL outlook for Steelers, Patriots and the 4 other wild-card weekend losers

NFL wild-card weekend came and went and swept away six teams in the first season with the new expanded playoff. Most lost to superior clubs, while others made their own crippling mistakes or were perhaps the victim of bad officiating.

Now, these six teams head into the offseason looking for answers about why their postseason ended with a first-round exit. Some solutions will be easier to solve, while others may have a hard time returning to the postseason after the NFL's first 18-week season. Free agency and the draft offer prime chances to correct past mistakes, but that alone won't be enough to deliver another trip to the playoffs.

Here's a quick breakdown of each team's outlook for 2022 and how likely, according to Yahoo Sports, they are to return to the playoffs:

Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders’ 2022 potential will hinge solely on who franchise owner Mark Davis taps as the team’s next head coach and general manager. The offensive core of Derek Carr, Josh Jacobs, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow is sound and the defense can be good with Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue on the line, but the crux of the Raiders’ chances to return to the playoffs will rely on the new regime’s ability to build around those pieces — or perhaps find a new quarterback to build around, possibly by trading Carr. Las Vegas needs more weapons on both sides of the ball to stave off the Chargers and Chiefs in the AFC West if it wants to stay competitive next season.

Chance to return to the playoffs: 40%

New England Patriots

New England surprised many by returning to the playoffs after missing them last year in the team’s first post-Tom Brady season, and with a rookie quarterback under center as well. The defense will remain the Patriots’ biggest asset going into 2022, but only if Bill Belichick can keep unrestricted free agents like cornerback J.C. Jackson and linebacker D’Onta Hightower. It will be hard for the Patriots to keep up with the Bills on both sides of the ball, but New England should continue to be good enough to keep pace with wild-card teams if it can keep its best players around for another year.

Chance to return to the playoffs: 60%

Philadelphia Eagles

A late-season surge propelled the Eagles to the postseason in Nick Sirianni’s first year as head coach, but Philadelphia didn’t look like a playoff team against the Buccaneers on wild-card weekend. The key to the Eagles’ future is Jalen Hurts. If the offense is centered on him, then Philadelphia needs to lean into that idea and build around him. It worked at times in 2021 but not enough to put up a fight against the Buccaneers. Playing in the NFC East armed with three first-round draft picks, though, makes the Eagles’ path back to the playoffs easier.

Chance to return to the playoffs: 50%

Dallas Cowboys

Oh, Dallas. This was supposed to be the year. Again. The Cowboys should be back in the playoffs next year unless something catastrophic happens, but will have some important decisions to make that could alter their outlook for next season. For one, the coaching staff could be completely different if Kellen Moore and/or Dan Quinn get head coaching jobs. Dallas will have a lot of roster moves to make to get under the salary cap, too, which will lead to tough calls on veteran contracts or not re-signing impending free agents.

Chance to return to the playoffs: 60%

The six NFL wild-card round losers, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, are already looking ahead to next season. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
The six NFL wild-card round losers, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, are already looking ahead to next season. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Pittsburgh Steelers

Unless Pittsburgh lands a veteran quarterback or Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t retire, the Steelers are the least-likely team on this list to return to the playoffs. That’s mostly because they shouldn’t have made it this year to begin with. Besides the uncertainty at quarterback, the Steelers also have issues on the offensive line and at linebacker. The surging Bengals, plus two teams that could rebound big in the Ravens and Browns, make life harder in the division, too.

Chance to return to the playoffs: 10%

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals are a perfect example of a team that got too good too quickly before it was ready to make the leap. Arizona looked like the best team in the league until Week 8, when injuries and inexperience set in and the Cardinals lost six of their final 10 games of the regular season. Kyler Murray struggled down the stretch after starting the season as an MVP candidate, and the defense allowed at least 22 points in the final seven games of the season (including the playoffs). Arizona will be back in 2022, but head coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim will need to tweak some things to avoid another late-season meltdown.

Chance to return to the playoffs: 90%