NFL 2022 Season Preview

Carter Sims, Staff Writer

With the 2022 NFL season kicking off on September 8, the long offseason comes to an end, and the league gears up for 6 months of a national obsession. As always, the league has a plethora of storylines, players to watch, and title contenders to look out for in 2022. While the looks of things on paper don’t always translate to the gridiron, the early season is all about power rankings, predictions, and picks in the football world.

AFC CONTENDERS
While the AFC has come up short in the past 2 Superbowls, the conference is jammed with more than enough young talent. Teams like the Chiefs, Bengals, Bills, Ravens, Chargers, and Raiders all have rosters capable of making deep playoff runs. While the trophies haven’t been as numerous for the AFC, the quarterbacks on these contenders are capable of providing weekly showdowns for years to come.
The AFC West is stacked with playoff talent from end to end, but the routes these teams have taken are vastly different.
The Chiefs, only two years removed from their Super Bowl title, are filled with more questions than ever before in Patrick Mahomes’ run of dominance. Top receiver Tyreek Hill was traded from the team in the offseason, this coming after the Chiefs faltered at halftime of the AFC Championship to the Bengals last postseason.
While tight end Travis Kelce is still a premier player and Mahomes plays NFL football like Madden, the lack of a go-to receiver may pose problems for Kansas City. Offseason acquisition JuJu Smith-Schuster, famous Tik Toker and wide receiver, will hope to fill Hill’s role but has struggled to have top production due to injuries in recent years.
The rest of the division has done their best to catch up with Kansas City in recent years, all in different ways. Young Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has impressed in his first 2 years in the league, and the Bolts have invested in an improved defense in the offseason. The Denver Broncos brought in quarterback Russell Wilson, who dealt with frustrations and injuries in his final years with the Seahawks, in hopes of leading the team he once beat in the Super Bowl to one of their own. In Vegas, the Raiders had a magical start to the season before the weight of the Henry Ruggs III and John Gruden situations derailed the run, but have brought in star receiver Davante Adams from Green Bay this offseason.
In the North, the Bengals and Ravens are primed to battle for the division now that Baltimore has recovered from last season’s injury bug, and the Bengals are fresh off a run to the Superbowl. Cincinnati has only improved from last season, investing in the offensive line that had been missing for seasons. The wide receiver core is as talented as any in the league, and star quarterback Joe Burrow has been everything the franchise could ask for.
On the Ravens’ side, J.K. Dobbins is healthy for the first time in his professional career, Mark Andrews is debatably the best tight end in the league and Lamar Jackson is only 2 years removed from an MVP award. With the Browns and Steelers in transition at the quarterback position, the North could be a battleground in the AFC playoff picture as Baltimore and Cincinnati jockey for position.
While they’re not as contested in their division, the Buffalo Bills pack as much punch as any team in the race, with stars all over the field. Names like Josh Allen, Steffon Diggs, Von Miller, Micah Hyde, and Jordan Poyer headline a stacked roster in Western New York. Although they’ve fallen in the playoffs many times recently, the Bills possess the rare blend of youth and experience to pose a threat in the conference.
NFC CONTENDERS
The NFC can claim the last two Super Bowls but doesn’t have the same parody the AFC possesses. Nevertheless, the conference has a select group of teams with proven, tested, grizzled veteran leaders that can compete with the best of the young crop of the quarterback’s over in the AFC.
Perhaps the most famed franchise in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys are comparable to the Lakers, Celtics, Yankees, and Red Sox in terms of national audience and notoriety. Unlike the Cowboys, however, those franchises have won a championship in the current century.
While they’ve had some decent chances in recent times, they’ve been ousted by the likes of the Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams, and last season by the San Francisco 49ers. After a 12-5 season last year, the Cowboys disappointed in the Wildcard round.
This season, Dallas boasts a healthy Dak Prescott, promising young wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, and star cornerback Trevon Diggs. Other areas of the team however don’t garner as much optimism. The offensive line has lost La’el Collins to Cincinnati and Tyron Smith to injury, Ezekiel Elliot has been on a steady decline in production for multiple years, and Mike McCarthy hasn’t won a playoff game in his tenure in Dallas.
With the mixture of weapons and questions, America’s Team will have an entertaining season in one way or another. Whether it’s a glorious restoration to the heights of the franchise in the 90s or another collapse, the Boys will be a very interesting squad to watch this season (and an easy team to watch due to how frequently they receive FOX’s national coverage.)
Perhaps the team with the most expectations in the NFC would be the Green Bay Packers. While the Packers play in the smallest market in the league, their quarterback might be one of the biggest stars in football. Two-time reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers has become a constant story, especially his ambiguous relationship with the Packers organization. After drafting Jordan Love, Rodgers’ feelings regarding management have been a saga.
Now that A-Rod is reportedly back on good terms with ownership, he’ll have to build a relationship with new receivers as well after All-Pro receiver Davante Adams has shipped out to Vegas to join the Raiders. After over a year of speculation, it was Adams, not Rodgers, who was traded away from the Packers, restructuring the build of the Green Bay offense.
Like many franchises, the Packers will go the way of their quarterback. The NFC North isn’t the strongest of divisions, but building chemistry will be crucial if the Packers want to get farther than last year’s NFC Divisional Round.
Down in the Sunshine State, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are amidst a reload. After head coach Bruce Ariens moved to the front office and tight end Rob Gronkowski retired, Tom Brady has more on his plate than ever before in Tampa. While still surrounded by names like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Brady’s 11-day time period away from the team this preseason only adds to the scrutiny he could fall under this year. Whether they end in confetti or fall short of the Lombardi, the Bucs will have a dramatic campaign in 2022.
The final early favorite in the NFC is the reigning champion, the LA Rams. While the Rams might be in their final act with this core, LA is star-studded from top to bottom. Jalen Ramsey, Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, and Matt Stafford are all proven stars in the league and might have one more deep run left.
Perhaps the biggest star of the Rams is head coach Sean McVay. At only 36, McVay has taken the league by storm and has already built a healthy coaching tree in his short time as head coach. While retirement rumors swirl around Aaron Donald and Odell Beckham Jr. is yet to sign with a team, the reigning champion should always receive respect to add to the trophy cabinet.

UNDERDOGS

While it’d be easy to slot the best teams in playoff spots, the NFL has some teams every year that could be sleepers for the postseason. While the element of surprise is the key to the whole “underdog” idea, the Colts, Steelers, and Saints.
While the Colts may not be on the radar of the casual fan, fantasy football players are well informed of the opportunity in Indianapolis. Running back Jonathan Taylor was the consensus first pick on most fantasy boards, and the addition of quarterback Matt Ryan could set the Colts up to make the playoffs, a feat they just barely missed after a loss to the Jaguars on the last day of the season.
While the quarterback carousel has been constant since Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement, Ryan is the only post-Luck quarterback in Indy to come in with a trip to the Super Bowl under his belt, and playing in an AFC South lacking a clear front runner could help the Colts come January.
In the Steel City, the Steelers are undergoing a transition at the quarterback position as well.
Staying in Pittsburgh after a college career at Pitt, the Steelers rookie is part of a 3-quarterback room with Mason Rudolph and Mitchell Trubisky.
While Pickett’s signature moment was his viral “fake slide”, his performance last season landed him as a Heisman finalist with 47 touchdowns and 4,319 yards. Pickett lost out to Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, but Picketts ability to throw from the pocket but get outside on the run should bode well for the NFL.
He’ll have to win the job over the older quarterbacks in the room, but those backing Pickett should have optimism given his situation. Both Trubisky and Rudolph have been in the NFL for multiple years but haven’t been able to show they can start.
Trubisky struggled in Chicago and lost the job to Nick Foles in 2020 as he had difficulty developing as a professional and spent last season as a backup in Buffalo. Rudolph has spent his time as Ben Rothlisberger’s backup for several years, but his most notable moment in the league has been getting hit in the head with a helmet during a brawl against the Cleveland Browns.
Given that neither is a proven starter, even though Pickett didn’t win the job at the beginning of the year, there is still room for him to get started before the season is over. While the Steelers are in a tough division with playoff teams in the Bengals and Ravens, as well as an unpredictable Browns team, Pickett has ample opportunity to carve out a spot in the NFL.
Finally, down in the Bayou, the New Orleans Saints have fallen from the heights they ascended through the Drew Brees era. Inconsistent appearances from Michael Thomas and the lack of an established quarterback have hampered the Saints in recent years.
If Michael Thomas decides to play football this year, Jameis Winston returns under center fully healthy, and the running back tandem of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram can move chains, the Saints have a chance of suiting up when the games matter most this postseason. The NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint, but the teams that look to be at the front of the pack early in the year can provide marquee matchups throughout the season. NFL games can be streamed on Peacock, Paramount, Amazon Prime Video, and NFL, as well as televised on NFL Network, NFL Sunday Ticket, NFL Redzone, CBS, FOX, and ESPN channels.