2022 NFL Preview

Predicted records for each team included, followed by odds to win division and odds to win Super Bowl in parentheses. Odds courtesy of Caesars.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills — 13-4 (2-5, 6-1) — They're favored to win their first Lombardi Trophy ever. But they're 4-8 lifetime against Fat Boy, and they will have to show me that they can win a playoff game in Missouri.

Miami Dolphins — 10-7 (9-2, 35-1) — Their offensive gameplan will be obvious with their addition of running backs Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert and wide receiver Tyreek Hill to join fellow arch-speedster Jaylen Waddle. Even a repeat of last year's showing on defense gets them in the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

New England Patriots — 8-9 (5-1, 40-1) — A little bit of everything, but not enough of it. Appears destined to switch places with the Dolphins in the division standings for the second year in a row.

New York Jets — 5-12 (22-1, 150-1) — Incremental baby steps forward won't keep Robert Saleh off the hot seat for very long, especially in the market where he works. But he appears safe at least for now.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens — 12-5 (6-5, 18-1) — With the Bengals losing the Super Bowl last year (and thus subject to the dreaded Super Bowl Runner-Up Jinx this year), the Steelers losing Big Ben to retirement, and the Browns losing Deshaun Watson for 10 games to a suspension that most thought should have been a lot longer, the division has pretty much fallen into their laps. But Lamar Jackson, who has led the team in both passing and rushing the last three seasons, has something to prove in the playoffs, where he is 1-3.

Cincinnati Bengals — 9-8 (8-5, 20-1) — They got to the Super Bowl last year — and they're 20-1 to win it this year? A lot of people must believe in the Super Bowl Runner-Up Jinx.

Pittsburgh Steelers — 8-9 (11-1, 80-1) — The sooner Kenny Pickett is given the starting quarterback job, the higher they'll finish. But so far, Mike Tomlin is exercising his right to remain silent when it comes to naming his starter — and as he does, Najee Harris should rack up both the yards and the fantasy points. Defense must improve on its league-trailing 2021 ranking against the run — especially if Pickett doesn't start right away.

Cleveland Browns — 5-12 (9-2, 35-1) — Those who passed on Nick Chubb in fantasy will be glad they did: Opposing defenses are going to stack eight or even nine into the box to stop Chubb and make Jacoby Brissett (14-23 as a starter, 83.0 lifetime passer rating) beat them until Watson does come back.

AFC South

Tennessee Titans — 10-7 (9-5, 35-1) — Derrick Henry missed nine games with a broken foot a year ago — yet he still didn't miss a 1,000-yard season by much (937 yards). If something like that does not happen again, they're the team to beat in what figures to be the league's weakest division.

Indianapolis Colts — 8-9 (3-5, 25-1) — Matty Ice is 36-46 as a starter since his meltdown in Super Bowl LI. And can they count on 1,811 yards and 20 touchdowns (18 of them rushing) from Jonathan Taylor again this year?

Jacksonville Jaguars — 5-12 (6-1, 125-1) — Rather surprisingly, their Joe Thomas-inspired strategy of trading away veteran players for draft choices is getting less than rave reviews in the NFL universe. But as Thomas said, if you're going to lose, you might as well lose with young players so that they may grow and mature together. Enters the 2022 season with a 17-game road losing streak.

Houston Texans — 2-15 (40-1, 300-1) — Davis Mills graduated from Stanford in March of 2021 with a degree in "science, technology, and society," whatever that means — and they are one of five teams who will have to play two fatigue games (which arise when a team is not coming off a bye but their opponent is) in 2022 (the other four are the Steelers, Titans, Packers, and Falcons). Bryce Young awaits them in the 2023 draft.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs — 14-3 (8-5, 11-1) — Had awesome, focused '22 draft — coming off a season in which they were 27th in total defense, 21st against the run, and 27th against the pass, they used five of their first six picks, which included two in each of the first two rounds, on that side of the ball. Had to settle for a 2-seed last year (due to a head-to-head loss at Tennessee) — but if they get the 1 seed this year (and they host the Bills on October 16), the road to Super Bowl LVII from the AFC goes through KC.

Los Angeles Chargers — 11-6 (2-1, 14-1) — Justin Herbert is regarded as the next new thing, and justifiably so. But if the defense doesn't do a better job at stopping the run than they did a season ago (when they ranked 30th in the league), opponents will hit on the idea of using the run to try and keep Herbert off the field. A third consecutive improvement in record (they were 5-11 in 2019, 7-9 in 2020, and 9-8 in 2021) and first playoff appearance since 2018 seem likely.

Denver Broncos — 9-8 (5-2, 16-1) — Considering what they gave up for Russell Wilson — which includes two picks in each of the first two rounds in both last spring's draft, and next spring's — they had better at least make the playoffs. If it comes down to conference record between them and Cincinnati, the fact that they have to play the brutal NFC West while the Bengals get to play the Buccaneers and their three victims in the NFC South, that will almost certainly send them to the playoffs (a poorer record outside the conference means a better record within the conference as between two teams that finished with the same record overall, and Denver and Cincinnati do not play each other this season).

Las Vegas Raiders — 8-9 (6-1, 30-1) — Derek Carr has a lifetime passer rating of 92.1, but is 57-71 as a starter. And this team is in the wrong division.

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles — 11-6 (3-2, 25-1) — Defensive tackle? Check: Jordan Davis was drafted in the first round. Edge rusher? Check: Hasson Reddick, who should feel right at home since he played his college ball at Temple, was signed as a free agent. Linebackers? Check: Free agent signee Kyzir White and third-round draftee Nakobe Dean — even though neither will ever be compared with Brian Urlacher in the size department. Cornerback? Check: James Bradberry, who the Giants had to release when they couldn't trade him. Safety? Check: C.J. Gardner-Johnson, acquired from the Saints for essentially nothing when they wouldn't meet his price. Wide receiver? Check: A.J. Brown, because the Titans wouldn't meet his price, either. And saving the best for last a la Vanessa Williams: power back? Check: Trey Salmon — this scouting report tells you all you need to know. That's way too many "checks" not to pick this team to win this division. But the two "Bays" — Tampa Bay and Green Bay — are probably a bridge too far for them, unless Jalen Hurts has a League MVP type of season.

Dallas Cowboys — 10-7 (6-5, 20-1) — A tale of two Smiths — Starting left tackle Tyron Smith, an eight-time Pro Bowler, tore his hamstring in practice on August 24, likely aborting his entire season; he will replaced by rookie Tyler Smith, the 24th overall pick in the '22 draft (protecting Dak Prescott's blind side is going to be a daunting challenge for the younger Smith, who is just 21-years-old). Ezekiel Elliott's yards-per-game numbers have gone down every single year since his rookie season, and Amari Cooper was traded to Cleveland after a lousy 2021 season. Defense comes off mixed year, allowing somewhat fewer points per game than the NFL average (21.1 vs. 23.0) but somewhat more yards per game (351.0 vs. 343.6). True, their strength of schedule (.462) is tied (with the division rival Giants) for the league's easiest (and is also 26 pct. points easier than last year's) — but no champion of this division has repeated since the Eagles won it four years in a row from 2001 through 2004.

Washington Commanders — 9-8 (5-1, 80-1) — Second name change in this decade, and fourth different starting quarterback in as many years (Carson Wentz returns to the division), perhaps making it advisable for them to run power backs Antonio Gibson and rookie Brian Robinson, Jr. right at most opposing defenses, a strategy that would set up the pass nicely — and with Terry McLaurin and rookie Jahan Dotson available to catch the ball, their offense could rank among the league's most productive. If defense can regain its 2020 form (second in yards allowed and fourth in points allowed, after a real dog of a season in 2021, especially against the pass) and with all four teams in this division playing the league's four easiest schedules, the division's first combined winning season since 2016 could be in the offing.

New York Giants — 5-12 (8-1, 100-1) — They're taking the biggest year-to-year drop in strength of schedule, which in this century has resulted in an average improvement of three games and change. But why do I get the idea that Brian Daboll will turn out to be just another hot-shot assistant coach who will flop as a head coach, even though his resume is better than Joe Judge's was when they hired him?

NFC North

Green Bay Packers — 14-3 (1-2, 12-1) — Christian Watson, a Calvin Johnson clone (6'4" and 4.31) could be the steal of the entire 2022 draft, lasting an incomprehensible 34 picks — and he will have one of the best quarterbacks of all-time throwing to him. Defense has been in the top 10 in both years in this decade so far, after not having done that even once since 2010, and they have five games at Lambeau in November or later against warm-weather and domed-stadium teams. If they get two more in the playoffs, and after earning a first-round bye, it will be hard to keep them out of Glendale on Lincoln's birthday.

Minnesota Vikings — 7-10 (5-2, 40-1) — Kirk Cousins is a tiger in fantasy football, but a fluffy kitten both against over-.500 teams (11-43 lifetime) and on prime time (10-18). Dalvin Cook has missed 25 games due to injuries in his five-year career, and don't expect a porous defense that couldn't stop anything in 2021 (30th overall, 26th against the run, 28th against the pass) to bail them out. Kevin O'Connell could prove to be in the same class as Brian Daboll.

Detroit Lions — 5-12 (9-1, 125-1) — "The Curse of Barry Sanders" remained intact last season, as their running game ranked in the bottom half of the league for the 23rd consecutive year since Sanders retired — and Jared Goff throwing 40 passes per game cannot possibly be a winning formula for any team, especially a team with a defense that has finished 29th, 20th, and 31st the last three years.

Chicago Bears — 3-14 (13-1, 150-1) — But at least Goff didn't go to Ohio State: according to this website at least, these are the greatest Ohio State quarterbacks of all-time! There will be Pro Bowls in uber-speed receiver Darnell Mooney's future if they ever get him a decent quarterback — and to think that Cook County tore down fabled Arlington Park racetrack to build a new home for them. The ex-assistants (Matt Eberflus in their case) are really getting thrown to the wolves this year.

NFC South

Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 15-2 (1-5, 7-1) — As a Patriot in 2007, Tom Brady clinched the AFC East title after having played only 10 games when Buffalo lost to Jacksonville during the day on November 25, then New England won their 11th game on Sunday night. He may exceed that mark this season.

New Orleans Saints — 8-9 (3-1, 40-1) — Officially had the best record among the teams that did not make the playoffs last season — and since 2011 such teams have plummeted from 105-70-1 "the year before" to 79-98 "the year after. Plus, Sean Payton is gone — succeeded by Dennis Allen, who was 8-28 in a previous stint as head coach of the Raiders (and not for nothing, but Dennis Allen gets a second chance, while neither Eric Bieniemy nor Duce Staley have even gotten a first one?).

Carolina Panthers — 6-11 (11-1, 125-1) — Baker Mayfield won what turned out to be a three-way war of attrition with rookie Matt Corral and budding bust Sam Darnold for the starting quarterback job, and one has to wonder what the over-under is on the number of games that Christian McCaffrey will actually play before he gets injured yet again. Matt Rhule, whose defense, which finished second overall last year, deserves a much better fate than this — and that fate could culminate in a pink slip if he can't significantly move the needle in the win column from the five wins his team managed in both 2020 and 2021.

Atlanta Falcons — 4-13 (35-1, 250-1) — If they had a stud running back like Najee Harris, and/or a stud defender like T.J. Watt (who had more sacks than the entire Atlanta team last year!), the same comment made about the Steelers would apply to them: the sooner Desmond Ridder takes over as the starting quarterback, the more games they will win. But they don't — and Calvin Ridley deciding to become the Pete Rose of the NFL certainly doesn't help, and Ridley's fellow wideout, top draftee Drake London's accumulating string of injuries only serve to, no pun intended, add insult to injury.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals — 12-5 (7-2, 35-1) — Kliff Kingsbury has got the Chuck Noll thing down pat: 3-13 the year before he took over, they improved to 5-10-1 in 2019, 8-8 in 2020, and 11-6 in 2021. But they finished those seasons by losing seven of their last nine, five of their last seven, and four of their last five, respectively, and followed up the latter with a blowout loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Rams in the playoffs. But this year they just might forget to stop, especially with wide receiver Marquise Brown having been reunited with erstwhile Oklahoma teammate Kyler Murray in a draft-day trade.

San Francisco 49ers — 11-6 (8-5, 16-1) — Are they having buyer's remorse about Trey Lance? Otherwise, why did they extend Jimmy Garoppolo's contract? Some have doubts about Deebo Samuel too — but not about Nick Bosa, who had 15.5 sacks last year coming off reconstructive knee surgery. May have overachieved by reaching the Final Four in 2021; may follow that up by underachieving a bit in 2022.

Los Angeles Rams — 10-7 (6-5, 11-1) — Not only must they take the league's steepest year-to-year jump in strength of schedule — an imposing 84 percentage points (they also have the toughest schedule in the league without taking last season's schedules into account) — but they did not have a pick until the third round of the 2022 draft (only one team that lacked a selection in both of the first two rounds has ever won the Super Bowl — Tampa Bay in 2002), and that selection, guard Logan Bruss, taken 104th overall, the longest any team has had to wait to make their first pick since 1989, has already been lost for the season due to an ACL/MCL tear suffered in one of those lovely "preseason" games. Have enough to get back into the playoffs for the third year in a row and fourth in the last five — but given the totality of their circumstances, that's about it.

Seattle Seahawks — 5-12 (25-1, 200-1) — And the post-Russell Wilson Era will begin with ... drum roll, please ... Geno Smith and his 13-21 record as a starter and lifetime passer rating of 75.7, as the starting quarterback. And Chris Carson, a two-time thousand-yard rusher, is gone too, courtesy of a neck injury that forced his early retirement. Pete Carroll is no lock to survive this season.

Playoffs (Home teams in CAPS)

AFC Wild Card — BUFFALO over Denver
...............................Miami over BALTIMORE
...............................L.A. Chargers over TENNESSEE

NFC Wild Card — GREEN BAY over Dallas
...............................L.A. Rams over ARIZONA
...............................PHILADELPHIA over San Francisco

AFC Divisional — KANSAS CITY over Miami
...............................BUFFALO over L.A. Chargers

NFC Divisional — TAMPA BAY over L.A. Rams
...............................GREEN BAY over Philadelphia

AFC Championship — KANSAS CITY over Buffalo

NFC Championship —TAMPA BAY over Green Bay

Super Bowl XLVII — Kansas City over Tampa Bay

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