Thanksgiving 2022: One thing every NFL team can be thankful for this season

Thanksgiving is here, and every NFL team has reason to be grateful. Yes, that’s right, all 32 of them! Some are clearly better positioned for success than others. Some, in fact, may well see playoff hopes virtually dashed this holiday weekend. But this day is about appreciation, and if you look closely enough, there’s at least a morsel of promise in every NFL city.

Here’s one thing each team can be thankful for in 2022:

Greg Dortch looks like a real up-and-comer. On a team overstuffed with aging and often-injured veterans, the 24-year-old former undrafted wide receiver has been a safe outlet when on the field.

Arthur Smith knows how to build a ground game. The Falcons are more competitive than they should be largely because everyone carrying the ball, from Cordarrelle Patterson to rookie Tyler Allgeier, finds open lanes in his system.

Lamar Jackson’s legs are in full form. A year after injuries plagued the star quarterback, his athleticism has single-handedly kept the Ravens’ offense afloat, pairing with a restocked defense to maintain playoff hopes.

Stefon Diggs has improved with age. Josh Allen’s presence as the guy delivering the ball is certainly atop the list of Buffalo blessings, but his No. 1 target remains one of the NFL’s most reliable route-runners and physical players going on 30.

The front seven has a promising future. Their defense doesn’t technically register as a top unit, but a number of individual parts (ie Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, Frankie Luvu) have confirmed themselves as building blocks.

Justin Fields is definitely something. The second-year QB still needs time and more help to grow as a passer, but, boy, has he exploded as a playmaker on the ground. May team brass surround him with adequate weapons in 2023.

Joe Burrow is still that dude. No Ja’Marr Chase? No Joe Mixon? The Bengals can usually count on smooth sailing as long as their guy is under center; few QBs right now are throwing prettier touch passes at every level of the field.

Amari Cooper has been worth the gamble. Cleveland essentially only gave up a fifth-round pick for the ex-Cowboys WR, remember, and while the Browns have struggled overall, he’s produced against superior opponents, especially in the red zone.

Dak Prescott is hitting his stride at the right time. After a long layoff due to injury, the QB has settled in as a crackerjack distributor for Dallas’ speedy weapons. He’s still gotta prove he can win a big game, but the needle is pointing up.

The defense is intact. Russell Wilson and Nathaniel Hackett’s sour pairing has clogged the local headlines, but that hasn’t stopped Patrick Surtain II and Co. from somehow giving that duo a chance in every single game this year.

Dan Campbell’s offense can compete in multiple ways. Which is a big thing to say, considering they’ve battled injuries and often played catch-up. On the ground (Jamaal Williams) and through the air (Amon-Ra St. Brown), they’ve been fighters.

Christian Watson has the makings of a star. His emergence may have been too little, too late to salvage a shoddy setup for Aaron Rodgers, but the rookie has been a tantalizing combo of size and speed during his recent breakout.

Dameon Pierce is a bulldozer. The rookie running back is the main reason Houston managed to keep so many games close in the first half of the year, giving whoever takes over at QB in 2023 a true tackle-shedding partner.

The WR corps looks set for the future. Acquiring a longer-term QB is paramount, but the young trio of Michael Pittman Jr., Alec Pierce and Parris Campbell has been surprisingly potent, especially considering the team’s other turmoil.

Trevor Lawrence is in a much better place. The QB still has room to grow, but he’s not only more comfortable under Doug Pederson, but two of his top weapons in Travis Etienne and Christian Kirk appear to be just entering their prime.

Patrick Mahomes is a cure-all. Too obvious, maybe, but how can Chiefs fans be more thankful for anything else than No. 15, whose chemistry with Travis Kelce and unfazed creativity have Kansas City poised for yet another title run?

Max Crosby is a disruptor. A year after exploding with 30 QB hits, the edge rusher is up to nine sacks in 10 games, giving steady juice to a Raiders defense that’s taken its fair share of lumps in Josh McDaniels’ first year.

Austin Ekeler is still automatic. Employing Justin Herbert, you’d like to see more from them overall. But Ekeler is such a reliable utility man (971 scrimmage yards in 10 games) that their offense can never be counted out.

The Lombardi Trophy still belongs to them, for now. The hellscape that has been their 2022 campaign is a partial consequence of what they paid to secure 2021’s title run. Depth is now depleted, but at least the Rams reigned supreme a year ago.

Their new setup has unlocked Tua Tagovailoa. We don’t yet know the young QB’s ceiling, but he’s been a significantly more confident passer with Mike McDaniel calling plays and both Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle streaking downfield.

Kevin O’Connell has changed the vibes. A playoff berth may or may not be their ceiling, as usual, but the first-year coach has brought a refreshing offensively geared approach to one of the game’s top groups of skill players. His team has resolved.

Bill Belichick can overcome a barren QB situation. Neither Mac Jones nor Bailey Zappe has invoked hearty support for a run-dependent offense, but Belichick’s old-school “D” has kept New England feisty all year.

Chris Olave is the real deal. Michael Thomas looks as if he’s on the way out, and the Saints still need to figure out a QB beyond 2022, but at least they’ve got a No. 1 wideout on their hands. Only nine others have more receiving yards than the rookie.

Brian Daboll knows how to maximize his personnel. The Giants weren’t positioned to contend this year, but Daboll’s fiery leadership has allowed New York to at least play spoiler. Imagine if he can get his hands on a game-changing signal-caller.

Robert Saleh’s defense has taken shape. Upgraded at every level this offseason, the unit has bona fide young stars in Quinnen Williams and Sauce Gardner, and it is responsible for propelling an offensively challenged playoff hopeful.

Jalen Hurts is a different animal. Not only in terms of his unshakeable aura, but compared to his 2021 self. Besides remaining a physical threat with his legs, he’s taken major strides as a downfield thrower, confirming his franchise-QB upside.

They’ve found their next great WR. Or at least it appears so, with George Pickens flashing Pro Bowl-caliber traits in an otherwise plodding attack. Pittsburgh’s track record of drafting and developing wideouts is unmatched.

Jimmy Garoppolo has been even better than advertised. Back in the saddle after Trey Lance’s injury, the vet has looked especially comfortable operating with improved weaponry and a stingy “D,” threatening another deep postseason run.

Geno Smith is no longer the Geno Smith of old. He’s been an entirely new machine as Russell Wilson’s successor, operating with authority to headline Pete Carroll’s surprise contender and make their 2023 QB plans particularly interesting.

Rachaad White may help restore their offense. Tom Brady seems to be getting some swagger back after a rough start, but the rookie’s emergence in the backfield could be a game-changer as he complements Leonard Fournette.

Derrick Henry is back. The bruiser isn’t leading the NFL in yards per carry, partly because he just gets so many of them, but healthy after an injury-shortened 2021, he’s once again powering a division-title run alongside Ryan Tannehill.

Terry McLaurin is breaking out. We’ve always known the Ohio State product had WR1 abilities, but he’s been especially critical to the team’s success this year, even with both Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke taking snaps at QB.

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