Ten Thoughts on the NFL: 2022 Preview Edition
How can you not be romantic about
baseball football? Hot girl summer makes way for fat boy fall and for the football fan there’s truly nothing better in life than that particular changing of the guard. For those of you who can’t wait for the season to unfold, allow me to predict the outcome below. This is an ironclad prediction column with no obvious flaws… until Thursday night kicks off and real football takes over. I can’t be held liable for anything that happens in reality, but this is how I see things playing out.
- NFC South: The Rum Runner’s Rule
Let’s start with the easiest division to predict. The Buccaneers are really the only team seriously trying to win this division right now. They’ve brought back the workaholic quarterback who can’t be bothered to stay at home with his supermodel wife to make another run at this thing. The Bucs have the talent on offense to make Tom’s life easier on the field while still boasting a top notch defense. Make no mistake, the Bucs are all in on 2022 as a last ride for Brady and this version of the Bucs before the salary cap catches up to them.
The rest of the division lives in various stages of flux. The Falcons enter year two of their purge, basically paying Matt Ryan to play for the Colts while they figure out life with Marcus Mariota and rookie Desmond Ridder, while looking to lose enough games to get the top QB in next year’s draft. The Panthers are the heavy favorites to fire their coach first if Baker Mayfield can’t miraculously save Matt Rhule’s job. Spoiler: he can’t. The Saints continue to live on borrowed time, but can anyone bet on Famous Jameis to carry this team anywhere? The talent on the rest of the roster could keep their heads above water, but they can’t keep up with the pirate ship making away with the division crown.
2. NFC East: Hammer the Under in Big D
Sticking in the NFC, the oddsmakers continue to take money from Cowboys fans with an aggressive 10.5 win over/under total and the lowest odds to win the division. I simply don’t see how the Cowboys can carry the third best win expectation with key free agent departures and injuries already piling up. The infrastructure in Dallas is like endgame Jenga where the next piece to be taken out will surely fell the tower. No team can expect a repeat performance from team defense like Dallas had last year and the offense will likely be worse as well. Classic case of Dallas getting overhyped before the season.
On the other hand, the Eagles have one of the best rosters in the entire league, with backups who could start on the vast majority of teams. They had an excellent offseason and continue to make deals deep into the preseason, most recently bringing on CJ Gardner-Johnson from the Saints for a couple of cheesesteaks. The only piece of the roster no one is sure about is Jalen Hurts, but he’s certainly good enough to take advantage of a weak division and get the ball to playmakers in this offense (They added AJ Brown!). The Commanders brought in Carson Wentz – good luck with that – and the Giants look to start their rebuild with new head coach Brian Daboll. Both will get plenty of virtual ink because of the division. Neither matter to actual football.
Prediction: Fly Eagles Fly
3. NFC North: Is that Moldy Cheese or Ayahuasca?
Can the Vikings put it all together and finally knock out the Packers? That’s the big question here. The Vikings changed out the leadership group, bringing in a new GM and coaching staff. The emphasis will be on getting the most out of the mid-QB Kirk Cousins. The Packers get the benefit of the doubt because of Aaron Rodgers. The crazy thing is this Packers squad actually looks like some form of Bears football from another era with a good offensive line and running game, strong defense, and no pass catchers. Can that work with a talented, ayahuasca-loving, aging weirdo at QB? I mean, I hope not.
The Bears and Lions should both be interesting to watch this season as the Bears start and the Lions continue their rebuilds. Maybe something happens where the ball bounces their way a few times and they can sneak up to the top of the division, but they’re both a year away from truly competing. For the Bears, see below for point 10.
4. NFC West: Super Bowl Rams, the Sequel?
Let’s wrap up the senior circuit with the defending champion Rams looking to repeat. The Rams bring back most of their major contributors plus add a motivated Allen Robinson and a healthy Cam Akers to one of the best offenses in the league. They still have the best player in the world, the dual wielding defensive dynamo Aaron Donald, and a talented supporting cast. The Rams may have actually underperformed last regular season before putting it together for a playoff run. This year could be their dominant #1 seed type year.
The 49ers boast a good roster but a big unknown at the quarterback position in Trey Lance. The sophomore slinger will have Jimmy G waiting in the wings if he falters, but this kind of QB drama rarely works out at the professional level. Lance has plenty of talent, but it’s quite a gamble to take heading into a year with big expectations. Will it be a Mahomes leap or a big disappointment? As for the rest of the division, someone let me know what the Cardinals are in the comments because I can’t figure them out. Oh, and the Seahawks are also in this division…
5. AFC East: Lock up your
Daughters Folding Tables
Flipping over to the AFC, the Bills stand atop as the runaway favorites with the highest over/under win total in the league at 11.5. With an alien at quarterback and a strong roster, they should easily run away with the division with legitimate hopes of earning the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy. They’re well coached and made moves indicative of a team going all-in, headlined by the addition of Von Miller. Anything short of a SB win would be a disappointment for this squad.
The Patriots look like they’re ready to implode. The loss of Josh McDaniels is going to hurt them more than people think with Matt Patricia set up to call plays. I don’t know if Bill Belichick has lost his fastball, but it sure looks like he’s throwing every piece of junk he can think of right now.
The Dolphins actually look like a more interesting squad, at least as a potential Wild Card team. Plenty of pressure on Tua to perform with dynamic wideout Tyreek Hill joining Jaylen Waddle. They’re building a track team down in Miami and should be plenty fun to watch. The Jets will almost certainly maintain residence in the AFC East cellar.
6. AFC South: The Down-Bad Division
The biggest disparity in divisional odds and team over/under predictions reside in this division. The Colts are the favorites to win the division at -140, meaning you would need to bet $140 to win $100. The Titans are next at +190, meaning if you bet $100, you would win $190. That’s a pretty big difference between two teams that are separated by only a half game in the over/under win totals. What that tells me is that the Titans win total is likely inflated as they sit in a bit of a transition year but the oddsmakers can’t go too low for a team that had the #1 seed last year (remember that?!).
The Colts have a better roster top to bottom and newly acquired Matt Ryan should fit hand-in-glove with Frank Reich’s play calling. The Titans traded away AJ Brown and drafted Treylon Burks as the obvious one-for-one replacement. Burks has been slow out of the gates, which may be emblematic of the Titans this year. It’s a two team race as the Jaguars and Texans simply aren’t in a position to challenge either of the top two teams.
Prediction: Colts by default
7. AFC North: Tiger Warning
Home of the defending AFC champion Bengals, the North is full of intrigue with Baltimore looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued season, the Steelers moving on from Big Ben to some combination of Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett, and whatever the heck they’re doing in Cleveland. Despite watching the Bengals come within a play or two of winning the Super Bowl in February, the Ravens have the best odds to take the division crown. This division always seems to beat each other up and muddy the picture, but it sure looks like a two team race this year. The Bengals won’t get the benefit of the doubt until they run it back again, needing to repeat some of the statistical outlier aspects of their offense or find more consistent ways to get the job done. Baltimore needs to take the next step in their offensive evolution to support Lamar Jackson.
The Browns new quarterback will miss two-thirds of the season and despite a talented cast of characters, this certainly feels like a lost season waiting to happen. Mike Tomlin has his toughest coaching job ahead of him this season and if he can continue to avoid finishing with a losing season with this squad, he really does deserve Hall of Fame consideration. I think the Steelers sink deep into the standings this year.
Prediction: Bengals prove it’s no fluke
8. AFC West: Gunslingers Paradise
Saving the best for last. I want all the smoke coming out of this division. The AFC West has, easily, the highest win total projection of any division at 39. The worst team’s over/under, the Raiders, sits at 8.5. The books predict no losing records out of this division. The Chiefs offseason brought them back to the pack, while the Chargers loaded for bear, the Broncos brought in Russell Wilson, and the Raiders hired Josh McDaniels and traded for Davante Adams. Yes, please.
This is the only division where someone can make a convincing argument for any of these teams to win the division, even the Raiders. Alas, I am not that person as I fall more into the basic category of buying into the Chargers hype. Adding Khalil Mack to Joey Bosa is just plain scary. Adding JC Jackson to Derwin James makes this defense downright lethal. Justin Herbert has a chance to take over as the best QB in the league this season – yes, he’s that good – if he can emerge from this tough division and take this team on a deep playoff run.
The holding pattern for the Chiefs will cost them divisional supremacy, but Mahomes keeps them relevant as long as he’s taking snaps. The biggest variance comes from Wilson’s impact on the Broncos – a talented squad held back by terrible QB play since Peyton Manning’s retirement – and the new-look Raiders. Getting two Wild Card teams out of this division seems more likely than not.
9. Wild Cards and Playoff Predictions: Bills go Wire to Wire
Give me the Packers and the 49ers. Oh, another team? Ummm, the Saints based off of a strong roster and weak competition from the rest of the conference. In the AFC, I’ll take the Ravens, Chiefs, and the Broncos. While I think the Dolphins could sneak in, I believe in the Russell Wilson rejuvenation in the thin, mountain air.
The final four this year will be the Bills hosting the Chargers and the Rams hosting the Bucs with the Bills topping the Rams in Super Bowl XLVII. Yes, I’m predicting the last game of the season is the same as the opening game of the season on Thursday night. If that’s too chalky for you, let me know where you’re putting your money for this season in the comments below.
10. Justin Freaking Fields: #1 in Your Hearts and Programs
As always, the 10th spot in the column will be reserved for the Bears and specifically for Justin Fields. This is it, the time to figure out if Justin Fields is the guy to lead to Bears back to prominence. Tune out the national media nonsense and focus on what he can do in Luke Getsy’s system. This year builds the foundation of the Poles-Eberflus pairing. The first thing you do when building a foundation is to dig a hole so don’t act surprised when there’s not enough talent on the field to compete with some of the better squads in the league. Focus on the process and the progress as the Bears install a sturdy floor and show the scaffolding for the façade, the vaulted ceilings, and the spiral staircase. The blueprint will reveal itself with time.
Prediction: He’s the real deal
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