Way-Too-Early NFL Playoff Predictions
We are only two weeks into the NFL regular season schedule, but it already feels like the preseason playoff predictions need a makeover.
Of course, it's never good to overreact. The New York Giants are 2-0 under new head coach Brian Daboll, but now isn't quite the time for fans start booking travel to Glendale for Super Bowl LVII.
There's still a good amount of projection involved in predicting how the 2022 season will shake out. While an 0-2 start is certainly ominous, there's still plenty of time to make up ground. Alternatively, a 2-0 start isn't a guaranteed ticket to the postseason.
Based on what we've seen so far, the overall talent on each roster, major injuries and the road ahead for each team, here are some way-too-early predictions for what the playoff field will look like and who will meet in Arizona for the Super Bowl.
AFC Wild Card Teams
No. 7 Denver Broncos (9-8)
The race for the seventh seed in the AFC is going to be fascinating. Using playoff data from 2010-2019, the odds of making the playoffs after an 0-2 start are around 11 percent, per Justis Mosqueda of ACME Packing Company.
That's bad news for both the Cincinnati Bengals and Las Vegas Raiders. Both of them could be battling the Denver Broncos down the stretch for this last spot.
The Broncos are not looking as sharp as you would think with Russell Wilson at the helm. An upset loss to the Seattle Seahawks combined with scoring just 16 points against the Houston Texans in Week 2 cast some doubt on how well the Wilson addition is going to work out.
That being said, they sit at 1-1 and have plenty of time to get things figured out with Wilson.
No. 6 Miami Dolphins (11-6)
The Miami Dolphins had two major question marks heading into this season—Tua Tagovailoa and the offensive line.
Tagovailoa was sacked just one time while putting up six touchdowns in the Dolphins' mad-scramble comeback win over the Ravens. Of course, having Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill combine for 22 receptions, 361 yards and two touchdowns doesn't hurt, either.
The Ravens aren't going to be the only team that struggles to defend those two. The New England Patriots didn't really have an answer for them in Week 1, and the Dolphins' defense held New England to just seven points.
That gives the Dolphins the leg up in the division over everyone except the Buffalo Bills. They are positioned well to grab one of the wild-card spots.
No. 5 Los Angeles Chargers (12-5)
The Los Angeles Chargers came up just short against the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday Night Football, but the margin between the two teams is razor-thin.
Justin Herbert's squad actually outgained the Chiefs 401-319 and had 21 first downs to their 15, but a pick-six in the fourth quarter made the difference.
The loss could become even more painful for the Chargers, as these two teams are likely to compete for playoff positioning all year. Herbert also came away from the game with a rib injury, although Mike Garafolo of NFL Network reported he is on track to play in Week 3.
As of right now, L.A. is the clear No. 2 team in the division after playing Kansas City close and earning a Week 1 win over the Raiders that included sacking Derek Carr five times and collecting three interceptions.
NFC Wild Card Teams
7. Dallas Cowboys (9-8)
The Dallas Cowboys have not had a lot of positive news. The offseason saw them lose myriad talented players, including Amari Cooper, Randy Gregory, La'el Collins and Connor Williams.
Tyron Smith suffered a knee injury that could keep him out for the season with a hope to return in December. Dak Prescott had to have surgery on his hand, which initially seemed like a serious injury.
Yet, the Cowboys stand at 1-1 with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2, and team executive vice president Jerry Jones said Prescott could be back as early as Week 3.
If there's enough on the roster outside of Prescott to squeak out a win over the Bengals, there's enough to sneak into the playoffs this year.
6. Minnesota Vikings (10-7)
If the Vikings' Week 1 performance proves to be an actual harbinger of how they'll play from week to week, this prediction is way too low. But there's still a lot for the Vikings to prove after finishing under .500 in each of the past two seasons.
Kevin O'Connell seems to have unlocked the offense in ways Mike Zimmer was unable or unwilling to. Justin Jefferson had nine catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns as the Vikings had a great game plan to get him the ball against the Packers' secondary.
Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smtih have proved to be a formidable pass-rushing duo. The tandem will have to stay healthy for the Vikings to continue to put pressure on opposing passers.
After disappointing ends to the past two seasons, the Vikings sure look like a playoff team again.
5. San Francisco 49ers (12-5)
No team in the league was more prepared to lose their starting quarterback for the season than the San Francisco 49ers.
Trey Lance suffered an ankle injury that is expected to cost him the rest of the year, per Adam Schefter of ESPN. Cue Jimmy Garoppolo's music.
The veteran quarterback came right in and went 4-for-4 for 70 yards and a touchdown on his first drive in relief.
It's an unbelievably bad stroke of luck for Lance, but the 49ers are still in good shape. This team went to the NFC Championship Game with Garoppolo at quarterback last season. They looked much more like themselves in Week 2 after playing in a veritable monsoon in a Week 1 loss to the Bears.
Expect the Niners and Rams to duke it out all year in the NFC West.
AFC Division Winners
No. 4 Indianapolis Colts (9-7-1)
Someone has to win the AFC South. Through two weeks, the division is collectively 1-4-2. They somehow managed to get through Week 1 without a win despite two of the teams playing each other.
The Colts are by far the most disappointing of the group.
The favorites to win the division heading into the season, they tied with the Texans in Week 1 and were shut out by the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 2.
For now, we'll chalk up the first result to weird Week 1 shenanigans and the Week 2 result to an odd losing streak in Jacksonville that extends to 2014. However, if the Colts aren't competitive against the Chiefs in Week 3, it's time to start seriously considering the Jaguars as a sneaky-competitive team in this division.
No. 3 Baltimore Ravens (11-6)
The Ravens lose some credibility for blowing a 35-14 lead in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins, but they deserve some credit for having that kind of lead to begin with.
It's key to remember that the Ravens were 9-2 last season before Lamar Jackson suffered an injury. One of the most important storylines heading into this year was whether Jackson can return to his peak form.
He's thrown three touchdowns in each of the first two games and showed his signature burst as a runner with 119 yards and a score against the Dolphins.
Looking across the AFC North, the Ravens are in the best position thus far. The Bengals are 0-2, the Steelers have lost T.J. Watt and the Browns just blew a two-score lead in under two minutes against the Jets.
No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs (13-4)
In news that should surprise absolutely no one, the Kansas City Chiefs offense seems to have figured out how to cope without Tyreek Hill.
Andy Reid and the powers that be in Kansas City would not have agreed to trade Hill unless there was a plan to evolve the offense. They proved they had done just that by putting up 44 points against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1.
The encore performance featured fewer fireworks but was still functional. The Chiefs only scored 27—only 20 thanks to the offense—against the Chargers in Week 2, but that was enough to win a big game on Thursday Night Football.
The Chargers could be their biggest enemy when it comes to playoff position. It's possible the second-place team in the AFC West has a better record than two division champions.
NFC Division Winners
No. 4 Los Angeles Rams (12-5)
The defending champions aren't quite looking like contenders again in 2022, but it's far too early to write them off. The Rams were blown out by a Buffalo Bills team that looked like the best team in the NFL, but they did enough against the Atlanta Falcons to restore some confidence.
Cooper Kupp is still one of the most prolific receivers in the league. Matthew Stafford threw for three touchdowns against the Falcons and removed some of the concern that his offseason elbow injury might not allow him to play at full strength.
The 31-27 final score made it look like the defense struggled against a questionable Atlanta offense, but the margin was more a product of turnovers. The defense held Atlanta to 4.7 yards per play and 17 first downs.
The Rams are still very much a playoff team.
No. 3 Green Bay Packers (12-5)
After a shaky start in Week 1, the Green Bay Packers offense is back up and running. Aaron Rodgers and Co. struggled to move the ball in a 23-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings but got things rolling against the Chicago Bears in Week 2.
The Packers went ground-and-pound against the Bears in primetime Sunday with Aaron Jones earning 132 yards on 15 carries, and the Packers rolled up nearly 200 yards rushing.
The defense also got right. After struggling to contain Justin Jefferson in Week 1, it held the Bears to just 10 points.
The Packers don't have the same stranglehold on the NFC North they've had, but they are still the best team on paper.
No. 2 Philadelphia Eagles (13-4)
If there's an overreaction in these picks, it's picking the Eagles to finish with the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Then again, it's hard not to like what the Eagles offense showed in Week 1.
The chemistry between Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown is real. The duo connected 10 times for 155 yards, while the Eagles' run game was just as dynamic as it was last season. They rushed 39 times for 216 yards and four touchdowns as a team.
Part of the prediction here is that the Eagles are the best bet in the NFC East right now.
The Cowboys snuck out a win without Dak Prescott but are still going to have to win consistently with Cooper Rush if Prescott can't make a speedy return. The Washington Commanders were just controlled by the Detroit Lions—a team the Eagles beat in Week 1—and the 2-0 Giants still have a lot to prove after beating the Titans and Panthers by a collective four points.
The Eagles defense has issues of its own. It gave up 6.5 yards per carry to the Lions, but if it can amend some of its run fit issues, Philadelphia will be dangerous all season.
AFC Top Seed
No. 1 Buffalo Bills (14-3)
We haven't seen what the Buffalo Bills are going to do on Monday Night Football against the Tennessee Titans at home. It's still safe to say the Bills' offseason hype as the favorite in the AFC was warranted.
The Bills have everything you want in a top Super Bowl contender. Josh Allen is an elite quarterback who can carry the offense when things aren't clicking. He can be trusted with the ball in his hands and the game on the line.
The secondary was already good. But holding Matthew Stafford to just 240 yards passing and three interceptions with one touchdown without Tre'Davious White is just absurd. Adding Von Miller's elite pass-rushing is just unfair to the league.
Gabriel Davis already looks like the breakout weapon the offense needed to pair with Stefon Diggs. He is listed as questionable with an ankle injury heading into the Bills' Monday night game against the Titans, but there's plenty of time for him to get back to full health.
The Bills have the depth and well-rounded roster to capture the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye.
NFC Top Seed
No. 1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)
None of it has kept the Bucs from getting to 2-0.
The offense has yet to get going, but the Buccaneers' defense has been nasty through two weeks. They have allowed just 13 points, have four interceptions and 10 sacks.
Still, there's reason to be concerned about the offense. Tom Brady has just 402 passing yards and two touchdowns. It's not time to hit the panic button yet, though.
The Saints have been tough for Brady to figure out in his time with the Buccaneers. They handed him a shutout loss in Week 15 last season, as he only had 214 passing yards with a pick.
The Bucs aren't head and shoulder above the rest like the Bills appear to be in the AFC, but they are the most reliable team to pick based on their defense combined with the potential for their offense to get things figured out as the season progresses.
Conference Championship Games
AFC: Buffalo Bills 31, Kansas City Chiefs 24
Who doesn't want to see these two meet up in the playoffs again?
Last season, the Bills were 13 seconds from punching their ticket to the AFC Championship Game, but apparently that was too much time to give Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Would things have gone differently with Von Miller on the Bills' defensive line?
It's a question that will never be answered but will impact another postseason meeting. A key to beating the Chiefs is pressuring Mahomes with just four rushers, and Miller could allow them to do that.
Mahomes and the Chiefs have played in four consecutive AFC Championship Games, and they look primed for a fifth.
Still, the Bills get the nod here based on their defense with Miller and a healthy Tre'Davious White.
NFC: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17, Green Bay Packers 13
At this point, the Bucs and Packers are doppelgangers. Both have veteran quarterbacks potentially in their final season with elite defenses backing them up.
The Packers offense still has things to figure out. A win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday night doesn't change that, but the duo of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon combined with a sturdy defense is going to be difficult to beat in January.
That is, until they meet a team with a similar build but better weaponry on the outside. The Bucs have the ability to make teams uncomfortable on offense, especially if they have Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Julio Jones and Russell Gage all at full health.
Brady in crunch time with all those weapons and a defense that can slow down Green Bay is a recipe to get Tampa Bay back to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl LVII
Buffalo Bills 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17
Consider it a final passing of the torch.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that this season is expected to be the last for Tom Brady. At 45 years old, he's expected to end his legendary career after 23 years.
It makes sense that he would make it back to the Super Bowl in his final season. It's the game that has defined his legacy as one of the all-time greats.
But it's hard to feel like the Bucs have the team that's destined to take home the Lombardi Trophy. That feeling belongs to the Buffalo Bills, who would be winning the big game for the first time.
Since drafting Josh Allen, they've been to the AFC Championship Game once, and they've been highly competitive in their postseason trips. Allen has been brilliant, though. In two playoff games last year, Allen tossed nine touchdowns to no interceptions while throwing for over 300 yards in each game.
Thus far, we haven't seen that kind of explosiveness from the Buccaneers offense. The defense and an efficient Tom Brady are likely enough to get them to this point, but they don't match up with the Bills.