Sunday, May 22, 2022

NFL playoff predictions for 2022 season: Picking every AFC, NFC division winner and wild card teams

There will be more notable signings in this long NFL offseason, and several more interesting trades. But the prime opportunities to add talent – and young and cheap talent, in particular – have passed.

Injuries will inevitably play a pivotal role in the outcome of many 2022 seasons. Of course, there is much we still don’t know. But for the most part, these rosters are what they will be. The odds of adding a season-changing player – especially for a team with a contending roster – will be fairly bleak between now and far closer to the midseason trade deadline. Development and change from here on out must come largely from within.

It’s not too soon to start to asses these teams. In many cases, this is who they are, and who they will be. Vegas has provided plenty of opportunities for you to potentially cash in, and while I’d go ahead and wait for the schedules to come out later this week at this point if one were to wager (might as well accrue a little more info for what it’s worth), things are clearly starting to crystalize.

Hence, I’ve begun to think more and more about the upcoming season, and which teams I believe are best constructed to emerge in the postseason. In some cases, it looks like a no-brainer. And in many others, it’s much tougher to predict. In the end, there will be no shortage of familiar faces. I suspect this field ends up rather chalky at the top, but with an unprecedented amount of blockbuster transactions swaying the balance of power – at least on paper – I certainly anticipate some new teams crashing the party, too.

AFC divisions

East – BillsThis is about as easy as it gets. The Patriots pushed them a tad a year ago, but New England hasn’t done much to impress me this offseason and I could see them dropping back from a year ago. In fact, I don’t think they will finish second in the division this year. I think that’s the Dolphins (more on them later). But back to Buffalo. I believe this is the best roster in football and will be the most complete team in the conference, right there with the Chiefs. They are beyond driven after recent playoff setbacks. This might be their time.

North – Bengals: This was no fluke. This team is loaded and its going to be a problem for a long time. I love with they did to bolster the defense in the draft and what they did to buttress the offensive line in free agency. They return more than enough of last year’s cast, much of which is still just scratching the surface of their prime. They will be a hot ticket for the first time in a long time, too, with The Jungle primed to be a tougher place for opponents to play.

South – Colts: This wasn’t particularly tough for me, either. Matt Ryan will be a QB upgrade and while it’s not enough for me to view them as a Super Bowl contender, it cements then atop the division for me. The Titans are quasi-rebuilding on the fly and seem have plateaued with Ryan Tannehill under center. The Colts can run the ball damn well and the defense is plenty solid. They play in a weak division and will capitalize after collapsing down the stretch a year ago.

West – Chiefs: This is the best division in football. Might not be all that close. Could make a case for any of them in the postseason. But I still believe Kansas City is the top club. They rebuilt the offensive line in 2021 and I believe they have done enough to improve the defense this year. Yeah, they lost Tyreek Hill and Tyrann Mathieu, but I bet they stay a little more balanced on offense and, unlike the rest of the division, they are playoff tested.

AFC wild cards

Broncos: The Russell Wilson factor is real. His presence changes everything for this long-dormant franchise. All of that speed and talent in the pass catching ranks is about to take a step forward. This team will no longer feel like falling behind by 10 is ballgame. The defense will be more free to take gambles with a true franchise QB on the roster.

Chargers: Brandon Staley should be a better coach in Year Two. This is undoubtedly a better offensive line. Justin Herbert has abundant weapons. The defense has to be better in recent years. Maybe the injury bug will strike again, but the boost ownership gave by spending big this offseason will help significantly. They have fooled me before; maybe they will again. But I buy them in playoffs.

Ravens: I came very close to putting the Dolphins here. Miami whacked the Ravens last year and were among the hottest teams in the NFL in the second half of the season. But Baltimore is getting an array of key contributors back from injury, Lamar Jackson will deliver and the defense has nowhere to go but up after last season’s debacle. I don’t see the pass rush bite required to challenge for a title, but they aren’t losing six games in a row again, either.

NFC divisions

East – Eagles: Last year’s playoff appearance caught many by surprise, but a division title in 2022 should not. Jalen Hurts will have every opportunity to thrive with an upgraded cast around him. AJ Brown will change how teams can defend them. The defensive line has new depth. The rest of the division is spiraling in my estimation. Stopping their run game is a bear and now they can capitalize more if you stack the box. Ball control can take you to a division title, especially in the NFC Least. At +250 to win the division I see value here.

North – Vikings: I believe Green Bay’s best window to win a Super Bowl has passed. Not buying the WR group. Getting long in the tooth in critical areas. Have lost some recently dominant players like Z’Darius Smith. Too many wasted or overly cure draft picks from recent years holding back roster development. The Vikings will have entirely different vibe with Mike Zimmer gone. They still have enough talent on defense – especially up front – to be dangerous and the offense will be a problem. First year head coach and GM aren’t under real pressure yet. Team will play hard. You can get this around +300 it seems.

South – Buccaneers: Okay, not a lot of justification required here. Tom Brady‘s retirement lasted like 29 hours, the band is basically back together and while Bruce Arians will be missed as head coach, Todd Bowles will be just fine. They will push for another Lombardi.

West – Rams: This seems like the weakest this division has been in a long time. Arizona has bad a tumultuous offseason and hasn’t shown it has postseason moxie. Seattle traded Wilson. The 49ers are gonna go with Trey Lance. And the defending champs will add another veteran or two by the deadline to further sustain their chances of a repeat. They are far from done.

NFC wild cards

Packers: Aaron Rodgers will get them back to the playoffs again, but the numbers will tail off from a year ago.

Saints: The defense is legit and plenty of elite talent remains even with Sean Payton gone. They will be hard to beat at home. Jameis Winston will be just fine at QB and they will also be able to run the ball on pretty much anyone. I think they give the Bucs – a team they play very well – a run for the division, too. At +450 that may be worth considering.

Cardinals: This is a coin flip for me right now between the Cowboys, Cardinals and 49ers. All have warts and flaws and I don’t see much separating them. Arizona is probably good enough for 9 wins so I’ll lean in that direction. If the 49ers rode Jimmy G I’d go their way, but it’s Lance time and I have trepidation about that learning curve in what amounts to Year One. And Dallas looks in decline to me, with questions already being asked of the coaching staff.

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