Although there are still two months left in the 2021 NFL season, a good percentage of teams are already facing long odds of making the playoffs. Their fanbases are already dreaming of next season, when the slates are wiped clean and hope springs anew.
Some of these down-and-out clubs have a real shot at turning things around in 2022.
Whether that's because they are flush with cap space to lure free agents, sitting on the draft capital to acquire several talented prospects or have young players ready to take on expanded roles, things are looking up for several basement-dwelling organizations.
With that in mind, here are the teams most likely to make a leap next season.
All stats and records accurate as of Sunday, November 14.
New York Giants
The Giants came into 2021 with designs on winning an NFC East title after finishing just a game back in the division last season.
The G-Men are sitting at 3-6, well off the rival Cowboys' 6-2 pace for the divisional crown. While New York still has a realistic chance at grabbing a wild-card spot in the top-heavy NFC, the club lacks the talent to compete for a Super Bowl.
That could change next year, when the Giants roster should be much healthier and can potentially avoid another rash of injuries.
Star running back Saquon Barkley has been sidelined for a month after suffering an ankle sprain in Week 5, the latest injury woe for the 24-year-old who missed all but two games in 2020 with a torn ACL.
Even before spraining his ankle, Barkley was struggling to find running lanes and produce at a high level. It certainly didn't help that the team lost a pair of Week 1 offensive line starters early on, with Shane Lemieux and Nick Gates both going down for the season. Their absences have made an already-thin O-line unit critically short on depth.
Big Blue's receiving corps has been one of the league's most snakebitten as well. Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard and Kadarius Toney have all missed time at various points, leaving the cupboard bare for quarterback Daniel Jones.
If this offense can stay healthy, it still has the potential to be among the NFL's best. Jones has played well despite the lack of weapons surrounding him and looks like he still may be a franchise QB.
Jones has improved his ball security despite playing behind a ramshackle line, cutting his interception rate down to 1.7 percent from 2.2 percent last year and 2.6 percent as a rookie. He's also taking sacks on a career-best 6.1 percent of his drop backs, down from 9.1 percent in 2020.
These protection issues have helped hone his ability to make things happen on the run. The third-year QB has punched in two rushing touchdowns—tying his career-high—and is on pace for nearly 500 rushing yards with eight games left to play.
With contracts like Evan Engram's and Jabrill Peppers' coming off the books, Big Blue will have some cap space to augment the offensive trenches and other weak areas on the roster.
Factor in a whopping five picks over the first two days of the 2022 draft—which can be used on prospects or traded for an impact veteran—and you have the recipe for a reloaded Giants squad making some noise next season.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have been among the league's most disappointing teams. After getting ravaged by injuries and missing the playoffs last year, San Francisco was a prime candidate to bounce back in 2021.
With a 3-5 record over the first half of the campaign, that return to prominence has come up well short. The 49ers are hardly a contender for the NFC West title after losing five of their past six games.
Left tackle Trent Williams told reporters the team hasn't been living up to its talent level: "I think a lot of us looked at this roster and kind of saw where it stacked up with the NFL. And it did stack up near the top."
Quarterback Trey Lance may not be able to jolt this team back into contention this year, but getting him ready to take over on a full-time basis in 2022 should be one of San Francisco's top priorities.