5 NFL Teams That Look Ready to Make a Leap in 2022

Alex KayContributor ISeptember 9, 2022

5 NFL Teams That Look Ready to Make a Leap in 2022

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    Megan Briggs/Getty Images

    The new NFL season began for two Super Bowl contenders Thursday night when the Los Angeles Rams hosted the Buffalo Bills. Plenty more playoff hopefuls will be in action Sunday and Monday when the rest of the league's squads kick their respective campaigns off.

    Several of these candidates are coming off poor seasons last year. While they didn’t accomplish their goals in 2021, these teams made notable changes during the offseason and look much better heading into 2022.

    Whether they added top-flight free agents, drafted some impact rookies or swung blockbuster trades to acquire a superstar, these up-and-coming franchises should have little issue improving upon their mediocre performances from the past season.

    With that in mind, here are five teams—listed in alphabetical order—ready to make a leap during the upcoming campaign.

    Projected 2022 win totals courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.

Denver Broncos

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    Quarterback Russell Wilson (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

    2021 Record: 7-10

    2022 Projected Win Total: 10

    The 2015 NFL season was a special one for the Denver Broncos. They lifted the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl 50 champions before quarterback Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset with a second ring.

    Since then, the club hasn’t even sniffed the playoffs and desperately sought a franchise quarterback who could bring it back to prominence.

    After an agonizing wait, the Broncos are finally ready to contend again. Thanks to a blockbuster trade to acquire perennial Pro Bowler Russell Wilson, Denver is poised to have its first winning campaign in seven years.

    Wilson represents a major upgrade under center over Teddy Bridgewater, who led the club to a middling 7-10 record last year. That was unfortunately Denver’s best showing since 2016, one the squad should easily top this year.

    Although the Broncos are competing in a loaded AFC West, the roster is chock-full of talent.

    Wilson has some weapons surrounding him, including quality wideouts Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, a solid pair of running backs in Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, a potential star in the making.

    The defense—which ranked No. 3 in scoring after allowing a mere 18.9 points per game last year—should remain strong in 2022 as well.

    After trading Von Miller midway through last season, the organization reached a deal with Randy Gregory in free agency to fill a pass-rushing void opposite Bradley Chubb. Patrick Surtain II and Ronald Darby represent an impressive set of outside corners, and the safety duo of Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons is one of the NFL’s top tandems.

    Even if Denver doesn’t win the division, it has all the pieces in place to make a playoff run from one of the AFC’s three wild-card spots. Expect the team to make some noise once it finally reaches the postseason again.

Los Angeles Chargers

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    Cornerback J.C. Jackson (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

    2021 Record: 9-8

    2022 Projected Win Total: 10

    The Los Angeles Chargers were a trendy playoff pick last year but ultimately fell short of expectations during an up-and-down campaign. They are now ready to build on that 9-8 showing and make it back to the postseason for the first time since 2018.

    The biggest piece of the puzzle has been in place thanks to Justin Herbert’s rapid ascension to a franchise-caliber quarterback. With the situation under center stable for the foreseeable future, L.A.’s brass has been working to provide its young gunslinger with better protection to help take the offense to new heights.

    The club used its first pick this year on Boston College guard Zion Johnson, one of the top interior offensive linemen in the class. That selection filled the most glaring hole along a line that already transformed from the league’s worst in 2020 (h/t Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus) to a top-10 unit in 2021 (h/t Sam Monson of PFF) and has the potential to become one of the best in 2022.

    Los Angeles didn’t need many offensive tweaks this spring, however, but improving the defense was atop the team’s to-do list. The club brought in a slew of veterans and rookies who should completely overhaul a unit that ranked No. 29 in points allowed last year.

    The Chargers spared little expense in signing J.C. Jackson, the top available cornerback this offseason, to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. The club also got a steal by acquiring Khalil Mack, one of the league’s elite pass-rushers, from the Chicago Bears in exchange for a meager package of a second- and sixth-round pick.

    Jackson headlines a cornerback corps that also picked up Bryce Callahan and has rising star Asante Samuel Jr. in the fold. Mack will team with Joey Bosa to form one of the most devastating edge-rushing duos in the league.

    Barring major injuries, this lineup looks fully ready to break through and make a playoff run, potentially even winning the stacked AFC West in the process.

Miami Dolphins

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    Wide receivers Tyreek Hill and River Cracraft (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

    2021 Record: 9-8

    2022 Projected Win Total: 9

    After coming up painfully short of a playoff berth in each of the last two seasons, the Miami Dolphins are hoping 2022 marks their long-awaited return to the postseason.

    The club finally put a stop to the trade drama surrounding Tua Tagovailoa and committed to the third-year quarterback by surrounding him with an armada of new weapons and much better protection.

    Tyreek Hill is the most high-profile and impactful of Miami’s many offseason additions. The club sent five picks to the Kansas City Chiefs to acquire the superstar wideout, including first- and second-round selections in the 2022 draft, before signing him to a massive four-year, $120 million extension.

    Hill was an instrumental part of Kansas City’s run to four consecutive AFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl LIV victory. The three-time All-Pro will join star sophomore Jaylen Waddle and free-agent pickup Cedrick Wilson Jr. to form one of the NFL’s top receiving corps.

    The Dolphins reinforced an abysmal offensive line—one that ranked dead last last year, per Monson—with the additions of offensive tackle Terron Armstead and center Connor Williams.

    These moves will greatly elevate an offense that averaged a pedestrian 214.8 passing yards per game and only scored 21 times through the air last year.

    The running back platoon was completely revamped as well. Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert now headline a backfield that is ready to accomplish much more than the pitiful 92.2 rushing yards per game the ‘Phins averaged in 2021.

    The defense saw far fewer changes from last year, but consistency here isn’t a bad thing after Miami notched 48 total sacks and only allowed 15.6 points per game over the final nine contests last season.

    While they still need to get past the Buffalo Bills—one of the Super Bowl favorites—to win an AFC East crown for the first time since 2008, the Dolphins look ready to have a winning season and cinch up a wild-card berth at worst.

New York Jets

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    Cornerback Sauce Gardner (AP Photo/John Munson)

    2021 Record: 4-13

    2022 Projected Win Total: 5.5

    The New York Jets have been one of the NFL’s laughingstocks for the last decade. The team hasn’t had a single winning season since 2015 and has tallied just six victories since the 2020 campaign kicked off.

    While it’s undoubtedly been rough sledding in the Big Apple lately, Gang Green could potentially double that win count if things break right for them this year.

    According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, general manager Joe Douglas and his staff evaluated every single player on the roster this spring, assessing their strengths and weaknesses while hatching a plan to patch each hole in free agency and the draft. The strategy seems to have paid off, at least on paper, as New York’s roster appears to have improved by leaps and bounds.

    No team may have a more impactful rookie class this season than the one the Jets drafted.

    No. 4 overall pick Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner has all the tools to emerge as one of the NFL’s best corners from the jump. Fellow first-rounder Garrett Wilson injects top-tier athleticism and a set of elite hands into the receiving corps. Breece Hall, the No. 36 pick, is talented enough to start for most teams but will work in a platoon with incumbent Michael Carter.

    A slew of veteran free-agent signings will also help turn the Jets around this year. Guard Laken Tomlinson, cornerback D.J. Reed, tight end C.J Uzomah, tackle Duane Brown, defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and safety Jordan Whitehead were all acquired this offseason and are set to start for the club.

    If second-year quarterback Zach Wilson can stay healthy, it’s going to be a challenge for him not to improve upon a rookie year in which he only completed 55.6 percent of his passes for 2,334 yards and nine touchdowns against 11 interceptions.

    While the No. 2 overall pick in 2021 had a rough start to his career and will likely miss the first three games of the campaign while recovering from a bone bruise and torn meniscus, he’s still oozing with upside. Wilson will be in a much better position to lead this team to W’s on a weekly basis and could even guide New York to a playoff appearance upon his return.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Wide receiver A.J. Brown (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

    2021 Record: 9-8

    2022 Projected Win Total: 9.5

    The Philadelphia Eagles may have snuck into the playoffs last year as the No. 7 seed, but they went just 9-8 during the regular season and never truly seemed like a realistic Super Bowl hopeful.

    That should change, as this group has improved significantly since last season ended and is ready to rise to the upper echelon of contenders.

    Philadelphia relied heavily on the run game last year, rushing on a higher percentage of offensive snaps than any other team, per Team Rankings. While it was a successful strategy—the Eagles averaged a league-best 159.7 rushing yards per game, over 10 yards more than the No. 2-ranked squad—their one-dimensional attack was exposed in the playoffs.

    The front office swung a blockbuster trade to round out the offense during the draft; with the acquisition of wideout A.J. Brown from the Tennessee Titans, the Eagles made a move that will help take the heat off breakout rookie DeVonta Smith.

    Philly’s defense also improved markedly over the offseason.

    With the signing of cornerback James Bradberry, the secondary received a much-needed upgrade after the Eagles gave up 28 passing touchdowns and notched just 12 interceptions last year.

    Free-agent pickup Haason Reddick adds a pass-rushing edge that was missing in 2021. Philadelphia had the second-fewest sacks in the league last year (29) and bolstered its pressure capabilities by inking an edge-rusher who has recorded 23.5 sacks since the start of the 2020 campaign.

    These veteran signings, plus key rookie additions in linebacker Nakobe Dean and defensive tackle Jordan Davis, have the Eagles not only ready to claim the divisional crown for the first time since 2019 but also to make a deep playoff push.


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