A common adage advises:
“It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”
I shall not heed the advice contained above; if I did, I would not be in any position to produce my annual set of predictions about the upcoming NFL season. A few predictions here will be perfectly accurate; most will be somewhat off target; some will be laughably incorrect; that is how these things always turn out. I will not ignore my failures because sometime after the NFL regular season ends, I will prepare and produce a post-mortem on these predictions and grade my prognostications.
There will be four sets of predictions here:
- NFL coaches on a hot seat
- NFL players who may be “disappointing” in 2022
- Will any team go “worst to first” in their division – – and vice versa
- Predicting the exact regular season record for all 32 NFL teams.
There is no hidden agenda here; I do not begin this undertaking with some sort of sinister intention toward a team or two in the league. The same goes for the coaches and players about whom I will predict “disappointment” or even firing; I have nothing against any of them; I do not know any of them. And most importantly, when I make a huge mistake about a teams’ record for the year and vastly underestimate their record, I do not owe that team or the fans of that team any sort of apology. What I do owe them – and everyone else – is an admission that I made a huge mistake and that is what I will do in the post-mortem after the season is over.
With that as the preamble, let me begin with my NFL coaches on a hot seat. Last year, I mentioned 8 coaches in this category. Three were fired; there were caveats attached to three others that did not come to pass; the other two were just plain wrong. So, here is this year’s list of 6 coaches on a hot seat in alphabetical order lest anyone think I am prioritizing:
- Klif Kingsbury (Cardinals): I had him on this list last year; I thought he needed a playoff appearance to save his job last year. The Cards did make the playoffs but made an early and embarrassing exit losing to the Rams 34-11. The Cards were also disappointing in another way last year that could give the execs in Arizona pause. The Cards started out 7-0; then they finished the season going 4-6. That tendency to “fade in December” has happened for all the time Kingsbury has been with the team. The Cards’ record under Kingsbury in September and October has been 15-8-1. His record in November, December and January has been 9-17. I think that trend needs to change in 2022.
- Mike McCarthy (Cowboys): This is another encore appearance on this list by a coach. Yes, the Cowboys handily won their division last year posting a 12-5 record, but they too lost in the first round of the playoffs and the Cowboys played a terribly sloppy game that day. McCarthy’s burden is that Cowboys’ fans always think that their team on the field is Super Bowl worthy – even when that is not nearly close to true. Making that even worse is that owner Jerry Jones usually thinks the same thing – and Jones has let it be known that he realizes he is getting up in years and wants a Super Bowl winner now or even sooner. I think it might take an appearance in the NFC Championship Game for McCarthy to save his job this time around because the retirement of Sean Payton from the Saints would give Jerry Jones a shot at a coach that he has “admired” for years.
- Frank Reich (Colts): His record over the past 4 seasons in Indy has been 37-28; that sort of record usually does not get a guy fired. However, the way that the Colts played and lost in Week 18 to the sorry-assed Jaguars last year such that they were denied a playoff slot paints a bullseye on Reich’s back. Yes, you can pin a large amount of the blame for that loss on the way Carson Wentz played on that day – – and Carson Wentz is no longer a member of the Colts. Reich has Matt Ryan under center this year and the Colts should be in the thick of the playoff hunt all season long; that is the expectation in Indy, and I think that can become a litmus test for Reich staying on in Indy.
- Ron Rivera (Commanders): Ron Rivera comes across as a genuine human being; sometimes he seems almost too nice a guy to be a football coach. He has been with the Commanders for two seasons posting a combined record of 14-19 and given the organizational turmoil – – none of it of his doing by the way – – that record is solid. But that organization has a history of hasty decisions that sometimes make you shake your head in disbelief. I don’t think he will be fired but you never know with Danny Boy Snyder in charge…
- Matt Ruhle (Panthers): He is two years into a six-year deal and the first two years have been less than inspiring. I said above that Klif Kingsbury’s Cardinals’ teams have faded in November, December and January; well, Ruhle’s Panthers’ teams have been even worse late in the season. In his two years there, the Panthers have posted a 3-14 record in November and later in the regular season. The Panthers were 5-12 last year and lost their last 7 games in a row. If either thing happens again in 2022, Matt Ruhle will be out of work early in 2023.
- Robert Saleh (Jets): He came to NY with the reputation as a tough defensive-minded coach and the Jets’ defense had been a hot mess. Well, they weren’t much better under Saleh last year – – and the Jets’ offense was pretty bad too. Like Ron Rivera, Saleh also works for an organization that has been known to make head-scratchingly bad decisions. In a rational world, Saleh would be safe for at least another year – – barring a 1-16 record in 2022 – – but working for the Jets is not necessarily a “rational world.”
NFL players have a saying:
- “Father Time never missed a tackle.”
Advancing age catches up with everyone – Tom Brady and George Blanda notwithstanding – so last year, I put together a list of players that I thought might see some decreased level of performance in 2021. There were 6 players on the list; I think 4 of the 6 had disappointing years. So, here is my list for 2022; it too has 6 entries:
- Calais Campbell: He was on this same list last year and his stats suffered in comparison with his Pro Bowl seasons. Campbell recorded only 1.5 sacks and 49 tackles last year. He is back with Ravens again this year at age 36. I suspect that he is a serviceable D-lineman at this point in his career and I have no doubt that he is a competent leader for that unit, but he is no longer anywhere near a Pro Bowl player.
- Fletcher Cox: His numbers went down significantly last year with only 3.5 sacks and 35 tackles. Remember, Cox plays an interior defensive tackle position so that total of 35 tackles is a real red flag to me. He will be 32 this year.
- Brandon Graham: He missed 15 games last year due to injury and he is 34 years old having been in the NFL since 2010. In the two games where he did see the field, he recorded exactly 2 tackles.
- AJ Green: In his first 7 years in the league, Green amassed more than 1000 yards receiving 6 times. He is a 7 time Pro Bowl nominee and a 2-teim All-Pro but I do not think he can play at that level any more. The good thing for the Cards is that they have Marquise Brown and will have DeAndre Hopkins (after a 6-game suspension) to take a portion of the load off AJ Green. He is 34 years old and put up 848 yards receiving last year. I think he may struggle to get 600 yards receiving this year.
- Alvin Kamara: He has some legal entanglements stemming from an arrest in Las Vegas in the offseason and the arresting documents say the incident involved “battery resulting in substantial bodily harm”. That situation could well be a “distraction” for Kamara. Moreover, Kamara has quite the statistical profile to live up to. He was the Offensive Rookie of the Year 5 years ago; he has been nominated to the Pro Bowl in all 5 of his seasons; he was an All-Pro twice and he has always produced more than 1250 yards from scrimmage in a season. He achieved those numbers with a total of 1285 touches over his career; that is a whole lot of wear and tear on a body…
- JJ Watt: Time and injuries have made it seem impossible for him to be the Hall of Fame level player he used to be. He has missed significant fractions of seasons in 4 of the last 6 years and this year he is 33 years old.
Every once in a while during the NFL offseason, I find a couple of NFL team fan sites and check out what the rabid fanboys are projecting for their favorites. As long as you don’t take them literally or seriously, it can be an interesting way to lose a half-hour of your life. Teams that finished last in their division last year provide the fanboys on their fan sites with the fantasy of a “worst-to-first” resurgence for the local heroes come next year.
So, this year, I have added a feature here; I will try to identify which – if any – division cellar dwellers from last year have a chance at winning their division this year. And because I am opining from Curmudgeon Central, I will also look to see if any of last year’s first place finishers might experience a “first to worst” catastrophe.
Here are last year’s last place finishers:
- Jets: No way they win the AFC East
- Broncos: The offense will certainly be better with Russell Wilson in place of Drew Lock and the defense is very good. The AFC West is awfully tough, but the Broncos have a glimmer of hope there.
- Ravens: If the Bengals suffer “Super Bowl Loser Syndrome”, the Ravens could easily be the AFC North champion.
- Jaguars: No way they win the AFC South
- Giants: No way they win the NFC East.
- Lions: I expect improvement here, but no way they win the NFC North.
- Panthers: No way they win the NFC South
- Seahawks: Even if they improve from last year – – which I doubt – – the NFC West is loaded with strong teams; no way they win the NFC West.
I think the Baltimore Ravens have the best chance in the AFC of having a “worst-to-first” revival season.
And for symmetry’s sake, here are last year’s division winners:
- Bills: They won 11 games last year; it would take a catastrophic set of circumstances for them to finish last in the AFC East.
- Chiefs: They won 12 games last year; however, the strength of the other three teams in the division makes the Chiefs vulnerable here simply because it might not take a significant decline to wind up in last place in the AFC West.
- Bengals: Super Bowl losing teams often “underperform” in the next season; still, I do not see the Bengals finishing last in the AFC North.
- Titans: To finish last in the AFC South, they would have to finish behind the Jaguars and the Texans, and I don’t see that happening.
- Cowboys: The only way they finish last in the NFC East is for Dak Prescott to go down for the season in Week 1 leaving the team to go through the season with Cooper Rush and Will Grier at QB.
- Rams: They may not make it back to the Super Bowl in 2022, but they will not finish last in the NFC West.
- Packers: To finish last in the NFC North, they would have to finish behind the Lions and the Bears; that is not happening.
- Bucs: They won 13 games last year; two teams in the division (Falcons and Panthers) are not very good; the Bucs may not equal last year’s record, but they are not finishing last in the NFC South.
I do not think it is likely that we will see a “first-to-worst” situation in the NFL this season but if forced to pick a favorite to do that, I would go with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The preliminaries are out of the way. There are opportunities for me to have already embarrassed myself with the comments/predictions above; however, the last phase of this piece really opens the door so that I can shame myself mightily. I shall now embark on a mission to predict the exact record for all 32 NFL teams for the 2022 regular season thereby setting up the seeding process for the playoffs that will start in January 2023.
However, before I get to the numbers for 2022, I want to focus on 3 teams that I think are going to be less than mediocre because I do not think they have any plan on how to get better. I am not just talking about teams that will lose a lot of games in 2022; I think the Jags will be out of the playoff chase by early October, but the Jags have a potential for improvement in upcoming seasons if they develop Trevor Lawrence and give him an offensive line that will protect him. Similarly, the Texans are going to lose plenty of times this year – – but at least they have a boatload of draft picks in their pocket for the next couple of years. Here are the teams that seem to be poorly constructed AND are also adrift in that sea of sub-mediocrity:
- Bears: They have a high draft pick installed at QB. Good move. Now, without peeking, name me two better than average players on the offensive unit that complement Justin Fields. Given the history of decisions made by the owners and the GMs over the past several years, I do not think that a “tanking strategy” is a surefire way for the franchise to right itself.
- Falcons: The flirtation with the Texans while trying to land Deshaun Watson did not work. So, the team “pivoted” and traded Matt Ryan away so it could acquire Marcus Mariota to play QB until – – maybe – – Desmond Ridder shows that he may be able to do that in the NFL
- Panthers: The owner in Carolina seems to me to be like a gardener who about twice a week pulls up his plants by the roots to see how those roots are growing before putting them back in the ground. If indeed patience is a virtue, he may not be overly virtuous…
Let me start with the AFC West. I think this will be toughest division in the NFL in 2022; I believe all four teams will finish over .500 and the combined record for the four teams will be 42-26.
- Chargers: I have the Chargers finishing 12-5 in the AFC West and winning the division. The Chargers have an excellent young QB; they can run the ball and their defense should be improved. Their head coach, Brandon Staley, is “unconventional” and sometimes takes gambles that turn out to be ill-advised. He needs to stifle his creativity. The Chargers’ defense got better in the offseason with the additions of OLB, Khalil Mack, and CB, JC Jackson.
- Chiefs: I have the Chiefs finishing 11-6 taking second place in the AFC West. The Chiefs have won this division in each of the last six years; this year should break that string. The loss of Tyreek Hill is going to affect how the Chiefs go about getting their “chunk plays” and it now remains to be seen how quickly Patrick Mahomes can elevate the performance of the rest of his WR corps. One weakness on the Chiefs could be their defensive backfield; if you cannot stop the pass in this division, you are in trouble. In case you had not noticed, the Chiefs also lost WRs Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle in free agency over the offseason. One advantage the Chiefs have in the division is Andy Reid; his physical stature and his performances at pressers make him easy to poke fun at. But the man can coach…
- Broncos: I have the Broncos finishing at 10-7 in the AFC West. I think the Broncos are hard to scrutinize this year. They should be stacked on defense and now they have a quality QB to run the offense; they have always been a tough out at home; that could make them the division winner here – – or they may suffer adjustment pains with their new QB and new coach. I took a middle ground here, but the Broncos could win as many as 13 games or as few as 8. Hi ho! [Aside: If history is a guide, the Broncos traded to acquire John Elway and won the Super Bowl twice and they also traded for Peyton Manning and won the Super Bowl again. Now they just traded for Russell Wilson …]
- Raiders: I have the Raiders finishing at 9-8 in the AFC West meaning that all four teams will be above .500. The Raiders have a new coach and a new system, but I think their defense is not up to the task of containing the potent offenses in the rest of the division. Moreover, the Raiders lost Yannick Ngakoue during the offseason, and he was the team leader in QB sacks last year with 10. In addition, the Raiders’ OL is suspect. There are three or four other NFL divisions where the Raiders would be the favorites to take the crown – – but not here.
Moving on to the AFC North … I think this is the third-best division in the league this year and that the division will post a combined 37-31 record for 2022.
- Ravens: I have the Ravens finishing at 11-6 and winning the AFC North. Given the tsunami of injuries the Ravens endured in 2021, one has to assume the burden will be significantly lighter this season – – unless there is an incredibly angry football god somewhere up on Mount Lombardi. Other than injuries, the only Achilles Heel I can see for the team is that Lamar Jackson needs to compartmentalize his contract negotiations with the team and just go out and play QB.
- Bengals: I have the Bengals finishing at 10-7 for second place in the AFC North. Part of this prediction is a sense that the “Super Bowl Loser Syndrome” will kick in to some degree and part is based on some discomfort I have with their defensive backfield. Not to worry, Bengals’ fanboys, the Bengals will still make the playoffs this year. The OL was not a team strength last year but for the 2022 campaign, the Bengals added La’el Collins from the Cowboys and Ted Karras from the Pats to bolster that unit.
- Steelers: I have the Steelers finishing at 9-8 for third place in the AFC North. Much of my optimism here is due to my conviction that Mike Tomlin will find ways to win games. The Steelers are not going to blow people away with huge plays; they will win by grinding it out and making opponents deal with a “disruptive defense”. Not only will this year’s Steelers have to deal with a new QB – – Mitch Trubisky in for the retired Ben Roethlisberger – – the Steelers also lost 3 competent WRs in the offseason, RayRay McCloud to the Niners, JuJu Smith-Schuster to the Chiefs and James Washington to the Cowboys.
- Browns: I have the Browns finishing at 7-10 in last place in the AFC North. [Aside: I just realized that this is the 8th team I am “reviewing”, and it is the first one that I project to be under .500 for the season.] Jacoby Brisset has shown himself to be a valuable backup QB with the emphasis on the word “backup”. Now the Browns need him to start their first 11 games and I think that is going to be a problem that any late season rally will not be able to overcome. Moreover, if Brisset has to miss any time, the Browns will need to trot Josh Dobbs onto the field. In those first 11 games, the Browns will have to face the Steelers, Chargers, Pats, Ravens, Bengals Dolphins, Bills and Bucs – – with a backup QB. Maybe losing Jarvis Landry in free agency will come back to haunt the Browns too.
Here we go into the AFC South … I think this will be the worst division in the NFL and the teams will combine for a miserable 28-40 record over the 2022 season.
- Colts: I have the Colts winding up with a 10-7 record which will give them the AFC South division title. I know that Matt Ryan is 37 years old, but he is an upgrade over Carson Wentz at QB. The Colts’ defense got upgrades too with signings of Stephon Gilmore and Yannick Ngakoue. And, of course, Jonathon Taylor is still the featured RB…
- Titans: I have the Titans winding up with an 8-9 record putting them in second place in the AFC South. I think the Titans will be weaker on offense this year for two reasons. First, they traded A.J., Brown away and I will not be surprised if Darrick Henry begins to look merely human at the RB position. Henry missed 9 games last season, but in the 8 games he played, he had a total of 237 touches; round that off and it comes to 30 touches per game. In 2020, Henry led the NFL in rushing attempts (303) and in 2021 he led the NFL in total touches (397). Derrick Henry is a great running back and those stats represent a lot of wear and tear on his body. Both of those statements can be true…
- Jaguars: I have the Jags winding up with a 6-11 record putting them in third place in the AFC South. Clearly, the Urban Meyer experiment last year was a total failure; Joe Flabeetz would probably represent an improvement even if “good old Joe” did not arrive with a Super Bowl ring in his pocket. The Jags have been a testament to futility in the NFL for a decade; they only won more than 6 games in a season once in that last decade. Then they chose to hire Urban Meyer and it managed to get even worse. The Jags drafted a “workout warrior” with their first pick in the NFL Draft this year; they need for their scouts to have made a great call on that decision; Travon Walker needs to be a defensive ace.
- Texans: I have the Texans winding up with a 4-13 record which will seat them firmly in last place in the AFC South. They have a new coach in Lovie Smith who has been to a Super Bowl in his career – – and with Rex Grossman as his QB! – – but that was a LONG time ago and Smith spent most of his recent times at Illinois where things did not go well. With Davis Mills at QB, the Texans will need a healthy supply of legerdemain to win more than 4 games.
Let me finish up the AFC by looking at the AFC East. I think this will be the second-best division in the NFL with the teams posting a combined record of 38-30 over the course of the 2022 season.
- Bills: I have the Bills going 14-3 for the season giving them the NFC East title and giving them the best record in the AFC and awarding them the coveted BYE Week in the playoffs. Josh Allen, Gabriel Davis and Stefon Diggs make for an exciting offense; adding Von Miller to an already stout defense can’t hurt. The Bills should be “appointment viewing” this season.
- Dolphins: I have the Dolphins going 9-8 for the season putting them in a tie for second place in the AFC East. Tua Tagovailoa has been heavily criticized during his time in Miami and this year he has weapons that can either put the criticisms aside or give throat to all those fans who want to say “I told you so.” With Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle on the field, the defenses have to play deep just about every play. That should open up short pass routes for Tua and that has been his forte so far in the NFL. Also, the Dolphins’ running back situation improved with the acquisitions of Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert and Sony Michel.
- Patriots: I have the Pats going 9-8 for the season putting them in a tie for second place in the AFC East. Believe it or not, my biggest concern with the Pats in 2022 is coaching. I do not mean that I think Bill Belichick has lost it but the departure of Josh McDaniels along with some other assistants who joined him in Las Vegas and the rehiring of Joe Judge and Mike Patricia who both flamed out in head coaching positions gives me pause.
- Jets: I have the Jets going 6-11 for the season consigning them to last place in the AFC East. That projection counts on a rapid return to the field for Zach Wilson AND that when he returns, he plays a more controlled brand of football than he showed in 2021. If Wilson has to miss a lot of time for any reason, the Jets will not win the 6 games I have projected here. The Jets’ backup QBs are Joe Flacco (Tweedle-Dee), Mike White (Tweedle-Dum) and Chris Streveler (Who’s he?). Beyond the horizon of this season, the Jets desperately need to find out if Zach Wilson is indeed their franchise QB. The Jets upgraded the OL and the TE position in the offseason. Now Wilson has to show that he is worthy of having a team built around him.
So, in the AFC, the playoff picture looks like this:
- Bills get the BYE Week
- Chargers are the #2 seed
- Ravens are the #3 seed
- Colts are the #4 seed
- Chiefs are the #5 seed
- Bengals are the #6 seed
- Broncos are the #7 seed
It is now time to turn attention to the NFC. Before I begin, let me say that there is a significant disparity in quality between the conferences this season. Three of the four AFC divisions above were the top 3 divisions as measured by my projected combined record for the teams; in the NFC there is only one division that is above .500 in my projection.
Because it is natural for me to read from left to right and looking at a map the west coast teams are on the left, let me begin with the NFC West. This is the only division in the NFC that I project to be over .500 for the season; the teams will finish with a combined record of 36-32.
- Rams: I have the Rams finishing at 11-6 for the 2022 season and that will put them in a tie for first place in the NFC West with the Niners. The schedule maker has not created tension for resolving that tiebreaker because the two teams will have played each other twice by the time Halloween rolls around. The Rams needed to replace Odell Beckham, Jr. so they did that with Allen Robinson. The Rams saw an opportunity to add experience to an already excellent defense and did so with Bobby Wagner. The big concern here is Matthew Stafford’s “elbow tendonitis”; if that is real and if that is going to degrade his passing abilities, the Rams will suffer a significant decrease at the QB position. In case you did not know, John Wolford and Bryce Perkins back up Matthew Stafford… Another concern is that the Rams’ OL might not be as good as it was last season.
- Niners: I have the Niners finishing at 11-6 for the 2022 season and that will put them in a tie for first place in the NFC West. Both teams will make the playoffs; the division winner will host a first-round game and the other will go on the road. Obviously, I am counting on Trey Lance being ready for his big moment as “The Guy” in SF. He has enough weapons around him that he need not play at an All-Pro level for the Niners to be successful, but he cannot go out there and become a turnover machine. The loss of RB, Raheem Mostert in free agency is not a good thing for the Niners.
- Cardinals: I have the Cards finishing at 9-8 for the 2022 season and that will put them in third place in the NFC West. The suspension for DeAndre Hopkins could put the Cards in a hole early this year. In the first 6 games, the Cards will face the Chiefs, Raiders, Rams and Eagles. You can be sure that the infamous clause inserted in – and then removed from – Kyler Murray’s contract regarding required home study time will come up if he makes a blunderous error. And I cannot bring myself to count on JJ Watt being available to the team and playing at a high level for anywhere near 17 games. (See above). The loss of Chandler Jones in free agency did not help the Cards’ defense either.
- Seahawks: I have the Seahawks finishing at 5-12 for the 2022 season and that will put them in fourth place in the NFC West. The Seahawks entered training camp with an open competition at QB between Geno Smith and Drew Lock. That is a riddle without a good answer; Geno Smith is going to be the starter in Seattle. The pass catchers in Seattle are just fine; Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf and Noah Fant make up a solid trio – – assuming there is a QB who can get them the ball reliably. If the Seahawks are going to overachieve this projection, they are going to need their “12th Man fans” to be as raucous as possible.
Moving on to the NFC North … I have this as a weak division where the teams will combine to produce a 31-37 record. It is a division with two “haves” and two “have nots”.
- Packers: I have the Packers going 12-5 for the 2022 season putting them in first place in the NFC North. Aaron Rodgers makes the Packers the best team here on his own even though he will not have Davante Adams to throw to this year. Rodgers’ challenge will be to teach his young pass catchers how to become real players – – sort of the way he did with Adams in the past. Moreover, the Packers’ have a better than average set of RBs led by Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon.
- Vikings: I have the Vikes going 10-7 for the 2022 season putting them solidly in second place in the NFC North. The Vikes are another one of those teams that could easily do much better than this projection or they might finish below .500. The new coach is Kevin O’Connell who was the offensive coordinator for the Rams; one of his charges is to elevate the offense in general and Kirk Cousins in particular. Cousins has talent around him in WR John Jefferson and in RB Davin Cook and the defense looks solid. Adding Za’Darius Smith to the Vikes’ linebacking corps serves a double purpose; it improves the Vikes’ defense, and it creates a hole in the rival Packers’ defense for them to fill. Nonetheless, this prediction of the Vikes’ record is much closer to a guess than to something based on analytical thought.
- Lions: I have the Lions going 5-12 for the 2022 season putting them in third place in the NFC North. This prediction represents an improvement for the Lions on two fronts. First, I have them winning more games in 2022 than they won in 2021 and I have them finishing out of the NFC North Division cellar for the first time since 2017. This is an important year for QB, Jared Goff. He has pass-catching weapons with him in the huddle in the persons of DJ Chark, TJ Hockenson, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams; now his job is to get them the ball. The Lions’ OL and their running game are above average, but the Lions’ defense is still suspicious despite getting Aiden Hutchinson high in the Draft last April.
- Bears: I have the Bears going 4-13 for the 2022 season putting them in the NFC North division basement. As noted above, the Bears have spent draft capital to get what they believe is a franchise QB, but he has nothing around him, and he has a porous OL. The Bear’s defense is not in such horrible shape – – but their best defender, Roquan Smith, wanted to be traded and is playing on a contract year that will likely take him elsewhere starting next year.
Charging ahead toward the NFC South … I have this as a mediocre division where the four teams will combine to achieve a 33-35 record.
- Buccaneers: I have the Bucs finishing with a 12-5 record in 2022 putting them atop the NFC South. I am well aware that Tom Brady is 45 years old, and that the Bucs’ OL has been devastated with injuries and defections over the past year. I am also aware of all the speculation that Brady is having marital problems that might take his focus off football. Notwithstanding all that, I think the Bucs are the best team in this division by a long shot – – unless Brady is injured, and they then turn to Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin or Kyle Trask.
- Saints: I have the Saints finishing with a 9-8 record in 2022 putting them in second place in the NFC South. Sean Payton will not be on the Saints’ sideline this year for the first time in a long time. That puts a big question mark in the team given that new coach Dennis Allen is a “defensive guy” not an “offensive guy” and because Allen’s earlier stint as a head coach was for just over two seasons with the Raiders where his team’s record was 8-28-0. And then, there is the enigma known as Jameis Winston who is perfectly capable of throwing 4 TDs and 4 INTs in the same game. Quien sabe…?
- Panthers: I have the Panthers finishing with an 8-9 record in 2022 putting them in third place in the NFC South. I am not trying to suggest that Baker Mayfield is a great QB but getting him from the Browns for a bargain basement price makes the Panthers a better team in 2022 than they were in 2021. Now if Christian McCaffrey can stay healthy- – he has missed 23 games in the last two seasons – – and if the impatient owner there can resist creating unnecessary drama surrounding the team, the Panthers can move closer to the playoffs than in the recent past. But those are two big “ifs”…
- Falcons: I have the Falcons finishing with a 4-13 record in 2022 putting them in fourth place in the NFC South. The Falcons will go with Marcus Mariota at QB; when he has managed to stay healthy for an extended period of time, he has shown himself to be a slightly-below-average-QB. When a team anoints a QB of that stature as “the guy” even before training camp begins, it does not portend much success for the season. When a team looks like it will struggle on offense, it would be nice to be able to look at the defense and say that unit might carry the team to glory. When I look at the Falcons’ defense, I do not see much “toting capability.”
The last NFL division awaiting prediction is the NFC East … I think this will be a weak division where the teams have a combined record of 32-36 for the season.
- Eagles: I see the Eagles going 10-7 in 2022. That will put them in the top spot in the NFC East. The Eagles made a cameo appearance in the playoffs last year but were summarily dismissed by the Bucs. In the offseason, they improved the offense getting AJ Brown and the defense in the draft and by signing Hassan Reddick. The OL is excellent; the DL has the potential to be very good. The question mark is Jalen Hurts. He showed plenty of improvement as the season progressed last year but there is no way one might consider him a Top-15 QB in the league as this season begins. But if he plays to that sort of level, the Eagles will be hosting a playoff game in January 2023.
- Cowboys: I see the Cowboys going 9-8 in 2022. That will have them finish second in the NFC East. Yes, the Cowboys have the best QB in the division in Dak Prescott and yes, he has a bona fide deep threat in Cee Dee Lamb but the OL is nowhere near what Cowboys’ OLs have been recently to the point that there are reports the Cowboys are trying to lure Adam Whitworth and/or Jason Peters out of retirement and both players are over 40 years old. On defense the Cowboys have Micah Parsons who is extremely disruptive and Trevon Diggs who can serve as a shut-down corner. What else …?
- Commanders: I see the Commanders going 7-10 in 2022. That will have the Commanders in third place in the NFC East. The team is hoping for a significant upgrade at the QB position in the person of Carson Wentz; he has the physical skills to be a fine QB but some of his decision making is beyond bizarre. The Commanders’ projected starting RB, Brian Robinson, Jr., will miss time because he was shot twice when people tried to carjack him, and he resisted. The DL will be missing Chase Young for at least 4 games, and it suffered the loss of two other players who saw plenty of field time. The best things to happen to the team over the off season is that it was able to sign a contract extension with Terry McLaurin and drafting Jahan Dotson in April. The worst thing to happen to the team over the offseason was losing perennial Pro Bowl G, Brandon Scherff, to free agency.
- Giants: I see the Giants going 6-11 in 2022. That will have them existing in the cellar in the NFC East. [Aside: Note the symmetry here regarding the two NYC teams; I think both will finish 6-11. Fun times in the Big Apple…] This is a make-or-break year for Daniel Jones, and he has a new coach in Brian Daboll who is given some credit for “developing” Josh Allen in Buffalo. He certainly will not turn Jones into Allen in a single season; so, Jones needs to show enough improvement for the team to keep him around for further tutelage. It would also help if Saquon Barkley could avoid the injury bug in 2022; he has missed 18 games in the last two seasons and only carried the ball 181 times in those two seasons. Drafting Kayvon Thibodeaux to pair with Dexter Lawrence in the defensive front seven was a good move.
So here is how my NFC playoff seeding looks. The Packers and the Bucs play each other on September 25. Since I have them finishing the season with the same 12-5 record, the winner of that game will be the #1 seed in the NFC Playoffs and the loser will be the #2 seed. The final NFC seed will be decided by a tiebreaker among the Cardinals, Cowboys and Saints. The Cardinals and Saints play each other on October 20; the Cowboys play neither of these teams. So, the tiebreaker will be complicated, and I will wait until it is much closer to the time to worry about how it will be broken.
So here is my NFC Playoff bracket:
- Packers/Bucs winner is the #1 seed and gets a Bye Week
- Packers/Bucs loser is the #2 seed
- Rams/Niners are the #3 seed
- Eagles are the #4 seed
- Niners/Rams are the #5 seed
- Vikes are the #6 seed.
- Cards/Cowboys/Saints tiebreaker is the #7 seed
Now before wrapping this monster up for the year, let me try to look and see who will get the overall #1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. I have the Bears, Falcons and Texans all with 4-13 records and with them in different conferences, it might take the ninth level of tiebreaker to figure out who picks first and who picks third next year. I went looking at the schedules to see if by any chance they all played one another; they do not. But in my searching I came across three games on the Chicago Bears schedule that would appear to be “avert-your-eyes awful”.
- On September 25th, the Bears host the Houston Texans.
- On November 20th, the Bears visit the Atlanta Falcons
- On November 27th, the Bears visit the NY Jets
Finally, I began this essay by ignoring the wisdom of a common adage. So, let me close with another observation by Casey Stengel that I obviously also ignored here:
“Never make predictions, especially about the future.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………