9 Bold Predictions for the 2022 NFL Season
Outside of the Cincinnati Bengals fanbase, who thought that team could move up from the AFC North cellar to become division champs and Super Bowl contenders? A year ago, that seemed like a bold prediction. Now, many expect Cincinnati to remain in playoff contention.
Instead of using copy and paste to carry over expectations from the previous campaign, let's go out on a limb and take a swing at some surprising yet realistic projections for the 2022 season.
Like the Bengals last year, is another sleeper team ready to make a big jump in the standings? Which club may be headed in the opposite direction?
In 2021, edge-rusher T.J. Watt tied Michael Strahan's sack record. Will we see a player rewrite the record books in 2022?
Based on production and win-loss records from the recent past along with DraftKings' odds, we've compiled nine bold takes. Bettors should take note and cash in on some of these predictions for big money.
Chicago Bears Flirt with Winless Season, Go 1-16
The Chicago Bears have all sorts of roster issues and question marks.
Foremost among them: They haven't done enough to provide a solid supporting cast around second-year quarterback Justin Fields.
Among their notable signings at wide receiver, the Bears added Byron Pringle, David Moore and Equanimeous St. Brown. Pringle was arrested in April on charges of driving with a suspended license and reckless driving after doing doughnuts on a public road, while Moore was arrested July 4 on drug and weapon charges.
In the third round of the draft, Chicago selected wide receiver Velus Jones Jr., who only had one standout year (62 catches for 807 yards and seven touchdowns) in six collegiate terms between USC and Tennessee.
The Bears offensive line may feature two fifth-round picks from the last two drafts in rookie Braxton Jones (left tackle) and Larry Borom (right tackle). The latter allowed five sacks and committed four penalties in 633 snaps last year, per Pro Football Focus.
The Athletic's Kevin Fishbain highlighted the offensive line group as a summer concern:
"Last year's second-round pick and presumed starter at left tackle, Teven Jenkins, was the second-team right tackle. The Bears feel great about center Lucas Patrick and left guard Cody Whitehair, but those two have combined for one Pro Bowl — Whitehair in 2018 as an alternate. Justin Fields enters Year 2 behind one of the NFL's most unproven offensive lines."
On the other side of the ball, the Bears may not have their 2021 sack leader, Robert Quinn, who skipped mandatory minicamp.
"After Quinn's absence from mandatory veteran minicamp, it's tough to feel confident he's going to be on this roster at the start of the season," Fishbain wrote.
With the departure of three-time All-Pro Khalil Mack (via trade), Bilal Nichols and Akiem Hicks, the Bears would have a much weaker front seven without Quinn. Third-year edge-rusher Trevis Gipson and linebacker Roquan Smith would have a lot on their plates.
The Bears are tied with the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers for the sixth-best odds (+1200) to finish with the fewest wins, but they should be atop that list with significant roster concerns under a new coaching staff.
Dallas Cowboys Miss the Playoffs
The Dallas Cowboys haven't gone to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 2006-07. They'll continue that inconsistent trend with a drop-off from the previous 12-5 campaign.
Last year, the Cowboys went 6-0 within the NFC East, but their rivals have stocked up on talent and made significant changes this offseason.
The Washington Commanders upgraded at quarterback, acquiring Carson Wentz to take over for Taylor Heinicke. They may also have a viable No. 2 wide receiver in rookie first-rounder Jahan Dotson.
The Philadelphia Eagles made a few splashy moves, acquiring Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Brown from the Tennessee Titans, signing edge-rusher Haason Reddick—who has double-digit sacks in consecutive terms—and selecting defensive tackle Jordan Davis and linebacker Nakobe Dean to bolster the front seven.
The New York Giants have a new coaching staff with lead skipper Brian Daboll, who helped mold Josh Allen into one of the league's top young quarterbacks, and former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale, who called plays for a top-three scoring defense in three of the last four years.
Aside from a tougher division schedule, Dallas has question marks at key positions.
The Cowboys pass rush may regress without Randy Gregory, who signed with the Denver Broncos. DeMarcus Lawrence must rebound from an injury-riddled 2021 campaign. Since his Pro Bowl 2018 term, he's logged fewer than seven sacks and 30 pressures each year.
How will quarterback Dak Prescott adjust without wide receiver Amari Cooper, who the team traded to the Cleveland Browns? Who will fill the void behind CeeDee Lamb as the No. 2 wideout while Michael Gallup recovers from a torn ACL?
Most importantly, the Cowboys offensive line may not be as dominant compared to units from recent years. They released right tackle La'el Collins. Rookie first-rounder Tyler Smith, who played tackle at Tulsa, may start at left guard. Left tackle Tyron Smith has missed 20 games over the last two years.
With so many questions to answer, bettors should fade the Cowboys to make the playoffs with -250 odds.
Detroit Lions Finish with Winning Record for First Time Since 2017
The Detroit Lions have won eight games over the last two seasons, but this year, they'll take a big step forward under head coach Dan Campbell.
This offseason, the Lions added explosive wide receivers in DJ Chark and rookie first-rounder Jameson Williams. Both players suffered injuries last year, but assuming they get back to 100 percent, quarterback Jared Goff should connect with them for big plays on the perimeter.
At 6'4", 205 pounds, with 4.34 speed, Chark can present matchup issues for opposing teams. In 2019, he scored five of his eight touchdowns from at least 20 yards beyond the goal line. If Chark's ankle doesn't limit him, he'll rack up yards and possibly touchdowns in bunches.
Williams may have a slow start as he works his way back from a torn ACL, but the rookie will bring instant offense when healthy. Last year, the Alabama product averaged 19.9 yards per catch.
Behind a steady offensive line that returns all five of its primary starters, Goff should have time to pick apart defenses with Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson, Williams, Chark, wideout Josh Reynolds and running back D'Andre Swift, who could see plenty of targets out of the backfield.
Detroit will also make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable with the addition of rookies Aidan Hutchinson and Josh Paschal. They'll help Charles Harris, who had a breakout 2021 campaign with 7.5 sacks and 34 pressures, push the pocket. Romeo Okwara, who had 10 sacks two years ago, could have a bounce-back year after he missed 13 outings last term.
The Lions can win high-scoring matchups and beat their opponents in the trenches, which makes them a dangerous sleeper team in 2022. They're +290 to finish with a winning record. Roll the dice on this squad.
Alec Pierce Wins Offensive Rookie of the Year
The 2022 rookie class doesn't feature a quarterback who has a clear pathway to start in Week 1 or a star running back, which opens up the possibility for an unlikely candidate to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.
This group has quality wide receivers, though. As first-round picks, Drake London, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Jahan Dotson and Treylon Burks may garner a lot of attention, but one can argue Indianapolis Colts rookie Alec Pierce has a better quarterback situation with Matt Ryan than any of the Day 1 wideouts. As for Jameson Williams, he may need a few weeks to get back to full speed while on the mend from a torn ACL.
At 6'3", 211 pounds with 4.41 speed, Pierce has the physical tools to make a strong statement right out of college. He'll play with an accurate passer in Ryan, who's completed at least 65 percent of his passes in each of the last four seasons and thrown for at least 3,900 yards each year since 2011.
Even though the Colts have fielded a run-heavy offense with running back Jonathan Taylor over the last two seasons, Pierce should see plenty of targets in an aerial attack that only features one reliable pass-catcher in Michael Pittman Jr.
Pierce averaged at least 17 yards per reception in each of his three collegiate terms at Cincinnati. He'll provide some big plays in Indianapolis and bring home the Offensive Rookie of the Year award with 1,200-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns.
Las Vegas Raiders Offense Finishes No. 1 in Scoring
Prepare for offensive fireworks in Las Vegas.
The Las Vegas Raiders struck a deal with the Green Bay Packers to acquire two-time All-Pro wideout Davante Adams—quarterback Derek Carr's former Fresno State teammate. With tight end Darren Waller, wide receiver Hunter Renfrow and running back Josh Jacobs (all Pro Bowlers) already in the fold, new head coach Josh McDaniels has plenty of weapons.
Though Jacobs will likely contribute to a committee in the backfield with Kenyan Drake, rookie fourth-rounder Zamir White and Brandon Bolden, Carr seems excited about the fourth-year ball-carrier's potential opportunities to propel the team to victories.
"He's someone who's working extremely hard to get in the best shape that he can be in because he knows that with all these weapons, maybe he'll have a lot of games where teams are just gonna say, 'Well, all right, Josh, you beat us,'" Carr said on NFL Total Access (h/t NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman).
With a subpar offensive line and Renfrow as the top pass-catcher on the field late in the 2021 season, the Raiders still finished 11th in total yards.
We should expect a lot more from the unit as Carr and Adams rekindle their connection under the guidance of a well-respected play-caller in McDaniels. If the Raiders face a stingy pass defense, Jacobs and company could bludgeon defensive fronts when the offensive line gets a decent push in the trenches.
The Silver and Black can attack opponents in a variety of ways using different personnel groupings and skill sets this year.
Allen Robinson II Wins Comeback Player of the Year
Critics may have questions about Allen Robinson II's potential impact on the Los Angeles Rams' passing attack after he hauled in just 38 passes for 410 yards and a touchdown with the Chicago Bears last year.
Robinson doesn't beat defensive backs with speed, so doubters might have concerns about his ability to separate and create open passing windows. However, Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen pinpointed an area in which Robinson compares closely to 2021 Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp:
"I think his route tree is extremely expanded from probably years ago, or maybe what we've had our other receivers do. I mean, he can run a lot of routes that Cooper can, you know – some of those option routes and choice routes and things that we asked Cooper to do – because he just has an unbelievable ability to play underneath, himself."
The Los Angeles Times' Gary Klein wrote that Robinson could rack up yards all over the field and become a reliable red-zone threat, taking a top-10 offense from the previous campaign to another level.
On top of that, quarterback Matthew Stafford says he has a better grasp of the offense going into his second season with the team, via the Rams' official website.
"At this point in the year last season, I think to myself what I knew about this team and this offense, and it's just so small in comparison to what I know and understand now," Stafford said. "So that gives me great comfort in the fact that we can go above and beyond what we did last year."
Robinson landed in an ideal spot for a bounce-back campaign. With Robert Woods in Tennessee and Odell Beckham Jr. a free agent, he can share the field with Kupp and Van Jefferson and still post career numbers in a high-powered offense.
Najee Harris Wins the Rushing Title
Najee Harris has flown under the radar because of the spotlight on the Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback situation with the addition of Mitch Trubisky and rookie first-rounder Kenny Pickett. The front office also added wide receivers George Pickens and Calvin Austin III in the second and fourth rounds of the draft, respectively.
However, we should shift our focus to the Steelers ground game. They strengthened the interior of their offensive line, signing center Mason Cole and guard James Daniels.
Harris told reporters last month he would "be on the field a lot" but step away on certain downs. Weeks later, during an appearance on The Pivot podcast (h/t NFL.com's Bobby Kownack), head coach Mike Tomlin had strong thoughts about the running back's role.
"That dude is a bell cow. He's gonna have to be a bell cow for us," Tomlin said. "If this train is going anywhere in 2022, he's going to be a major component of it, and he's capable."
Last year, Harris led the league in touches (381), but he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. With upgrades on the interior of the offensive line and the probability that the Steelers may want to aid Trubisky or Pickett with the run game, Harris can win the rushing title over Jonathan Taylor and Derrick Henry, who both lost a couple of starting offensive linemen this offseason.
Harris is tied with Joe Mixon for fifth in odds to rush for the most yards at +1400.
Mike Evans Tops Calvin Johnson for Single-Season Receiving Yards Record
Even though Mike Evans has four Pro Bowls on his resume and has eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in all eight of his seasons, he's one of the most underrated stars in the league.
Evans isn't mentioned in many top-three wide receiver discussions, but that could change after the 2022 campaign if he puts his name above Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson in the record books to claim the single-season receiving yards record (1,964).
Last year, quarterback Tom Brady led the league in multiple passing categories: completions (485), attempts (719), yards (5,316) and touchdowns (43). Turning 45 years old in August, he can still operate in a pass-heavy offense.
With Rob Gronkowski's decision to retire, Antonio Brown still a free agent and Chris Godwin only seven months removed from a torn ACL, Evans could see a high volume of targets as the clear-cut No. 1 receiving target over newcomer Russell Gage.
The Athletic's Greg Auman doesn't think it would be surprising to see Godwin miss six weeks on the physically unable to perform list.
If Brady continues to average more than 40 pass attempts per game in a full season, Evans has a good shot to eclipse 2,000 receiving yards in a 17-game slate.
Washington Commanders Win the NFC East
The Washington Commanders have the third-best odds (+500) to win the NFC East. Bettors should take advantage of good value on that wager.
The NFC East hasn't had a division winner repeat since the Philadelphia Eagles finished first from 2001 to 2004, and that trend will continue in 2022.
In 2021, the Cowboys won the division, but the Eagles have been a trendy pick because they won six of their last eight regular-season outings. Don't sleep on the Commanders, who acquired quarterback Carson Wentz. He'll replace Taylor Heinicke, who helped lead a mediocre squad to a 7-10 record last year.
Last season, Wentz failed to lead the Indianapolis Colts (9-8) to the playoffs, but he'll have more offensive weapons around him in Washington.
Terry McLaurin has led the Commanders in receiving yards for each of his three years in the league. The offense may feature another reliable wideout in rookie first-rounder Jahan Dotson, who generated a lot of buzz during the spring as he developed an immediate rapport with Wentz.
Washington also made some additions to upgrade the ground attack, signing guards Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner. Antonio Gibson and rookie third-rounder Brian Robinson could balance the offense with big gains on the ground.
Led by a strong defensive line with Chase Young, who's recovering from a torn ACL, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Montez Sweat, the Commanders' defensive unit can rediscover its stingy form from the 2020 campaign, ranking top-five in points and yards allowed again.
The Commanders could finish No. 1 in a division that's been in flux at the top for nearly two decades.
College statistics are provided by cfbstats.com.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.
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