NFL Week Two Winners and Losers

It’s hard to have a spectacular follow-up week of games after the NFL’s regular season premiere, but week two didn’t disappoint. While there were no ties, there were comebacks and interesting storylines to keep in mind that will play out and progress the following months.

A lot stood out after the second week of the season, so here are week two’s noticeable winners and losers.

Winners: Tua Tagovailoa

Most quarterbacks won’t outperform Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson but Sunday was the exception. Tagovailoa had the best and biggest game of his short career and should silence critics for the rest of the month.

Tagovailoa threw all six Miami Dolphins touchdowns. Those who watched him play since his college days know Tua is an accurate passer. Sunday showed he’s starting to expand his play past accuracy.

Miami’s trade for receiver Tyreek Hill and drafting of Jaylen Waddle is part of the change (they each caught two touchdowns and had over 150 yards receiving on eleven catches), but Tagovailoa’s throwing deeper passes, reading defenses better and having time to find the best options available without forcing throws.

The Dolphins are undefeated two games in due to playing great on all three sides of the football. However the offense is having the biggest improvement with a new head coach who’s understanding how to develop a franchise quarterback.

Doug Pederson and the Jacksonville Jaguars

The amount of talent the Jaguars have should propel the team to at least six wins…in theory. Achieving those victories as most fans and analysts know takes full focus each quarter. Jacksonville played their second best game in the Trevor Lawrence era Sunday.

The Jaguars led by coach Pederson recorded the first shutout of the season blanking the Indianapolis Colts 24-0. They took an early lead and scored all 24 points in the first three quarters (17 of which were in the first half). Jacksonville’s offensive line dominated the Colts defense. Lawrence wasn’t sacked and completed all but five passes. He threw two touchdowns and posted a 121.5 quarterback rating.

On defense the Jaguars manhandled Indianapolis’ offensive line, sacking veteran quarterback Matt Ryan five times while the secondary intercepted him three times. Ryan threw for under 200 yards and posted a 34 quarterback rating in one of his career worst games. Runningback Jonathan Taylor wasn’t comfortable carrying the ball and the Colts offense was out a key receiver in Michael Pittman Jr.

Jacksonville’s hiring of Doug Pederson wasn’t taken seriously this past offseason. Teams might want to re-think that approach. He almost led the team to a comeback win on the road against Washington week one. The Jaguars are the first team in the AFC South to win a game this season and could do a lot more damage if the offense is more consistent and defense plays sharper. Coaching’s finally molding a talented roster the right way and it will show later in the season. Both Indianapolis and Tennessee need some wins before a division both were favored in starts slipping away.

Cooper Rush

When starting quarterback and face of the franchise Dak Prescott injured his throwing hand week one, many wrote the Dallas Cowboys’ season off due to their schedule and how long the signal caller would be out. Cowboys fans can feel some relief even if it’s one week.

Backup Cooper Rush wasn’t expected to lead Dallas to many wins, much less a win over the current AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals. Not only did Rush win a critical game, he outperformed Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.

Rush found a good receiving option in Noah Brown early and often, throwing his lone touchdown to Brown on Dallas’ first possession. The Cowboys kept the game tied at worst. Cooper Rush’s best possession may have been the last of the game. Dallas’ defense forced a three (plays)-and-out possession for Cincinnati, leaving 57 seconds on the clock before the fourth quarter ended. Starting at their 35 yard line, Rush led a drive with a three yard run from Tony Pollard and completed passes to CeeDee Lamb and Noah Brown. His clock management was almost perfect, using the final team timeout and spiking the ball (intentionally to stop the clock from winding down) to give kicker Brett Maher a good chance at making a 50 yard field goal.

Dallas’ schedule is still bumpy despite the quality win. It’s not just because the Los Angeles Rams or Detroit Lions are on the schedule, it’s also because…

The NFC East divisional race

…the NFC East has looked impressive the first two weeks of the season. Dallas’ win keeps them in a race that could have two undefeated teams after Monday night.

The Cowboys play all three of their division rivals once before November. It’s critical they stay relevant by the time Dak Prescott returns. Their next opponent is an undefeated New York Giants team that’s starting to look competent on offense thanks to new head coach Brian Daboll.

The other two teams are going to give both the league and each other problems. Despite a blowout loss in Detroit, Washington has a solid defense and a mediocre offense led by one of the best head coaches in the league. The Commanders almost completed a comeback before the Lions unleashed runningback D’Andre Swift to seal a win. Then there’s Philadelphia, which is still the favorite by many to win the division due to roster depth and improved coaching.

Many viewers will groan knowing there will be a lot of NFC East games televised nationally but none of the four will be eliminated without a long and determined fight.

Losers: John Harbaugh

Last season I made it a point to highlight why despite the many injuries to the Baltimore Ravens, John Harbaugh’s coaching cost the team a number of games and opportunities to get closer to and clinch a playoff spot. Sunday is another example of Harbaugh’s tenure being too long.

Despite the impressive stats from Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, at half-time the Ravens led 28-7. The game was an afterthought by many viewers. Miami’s offense was expected to start the second half throwing the ball nonstop to try and tie the score. Harbaugh apparently didn’t understand that part of their gameplan.

After both teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, Miami scored a whopping 28 points in the fourth and held their first lead of the game with 14 seconds left. Despite Lamar Jackson’s highlight reel day, Tagovailoa somehow outplayed him in almost every category.

It’s one thing if the Ravens secondary couldn’t make tackles at times. However the coaches had no answer, no adjustments and no reasons why there should’ve been a home loss early in the season where it could affect the playoff picture.

Trey Lance

NFL casual fans and media are absolutely ruthless to quarterbacks. The narrative that Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts are runningbacks, Tua Tagovailoa can’t throw deep passes and Mitchell Trubisky is a bust are some of the dumbest trends and storylines to discuss. Another example is how bad quarterback Trey Lance is that he hasn’t been/wasn’t ready to start for the 49ers.

Lance was named the starter after a bitter preseason and nasty discussions among both fans and media. San Francisco’s loss to Chicago in week one was due to many factors, but you wouldn’t know due to the rabid talk of his performance.

The 49ers’ win at home against Seattle should be the main talking point. Unfortunately Trey Lance suffered a season ending ankle injury early in the first quarter of the game. He looked ok the first two possessions and yes he could’ve made some better decisions (especially on the play where he fractured his right ankle).

There’s valid frustration due to him not starting many games going back to last season. The truth is nobody knows how he’ll progress because we don’t see him start every Sunday. Now that he’s out the rest of the season, we (including Lance) are all left guessing what happens next. Just know he’s not a bust…yet.

Denver Broncos

When the 2022 schedules were released many believed the Broncos would win at least one of their first two games. However, viewers expected Denver to look much better than how they’ve started the season.

The loss week one on Monday night to Seattle isn’t too bad due to new quarterback Russell Wilson’s ties to the Pacific Northwest. The Seahawks wanted to win that game more than Denver and played like it. Almost everyone following the NFL expected the Broncos to easily beat Houston the Sunday after.

Both head coach Nathaniel Hackett and quarterback Russell Wilson’s home debut in Denver was a nightmare. Fans boo’d both early in the second quarter and didn’t let up until the Broncos scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Timeout management was atrocious. At one point in the second half a timeout was called because the special teams coach forgot to send a returner on the field to receive Houston’s punt. Both receiver Jerry Jeudy and cornerback Pat Surtain II left the game with injuries. The most embarrassing part was the offense forgetting the play clock ran and took multiple delay of game or false start penalties, prompting the crowd to do a loud countdown so Wilson would snap the ball.

The Denver Broncos have a lot of pressure not only because of the Russell Wilson trade and hiring a rookie coach but because the team hasn’t made the playoffs since the franchise’s last Super Bowl win. The AFC West is the most difficult and competitive division in the 2022 NFL season. Kansas City looks fine and Los Angeles is close behind. Nathaniel Hackett better find answers and fix things before they get uglier.

The New Orleans Saints’ twelve men fourth-and-one penalty to start the fourth quarter

If you ever want to know how slim a margin of victory in the NFL is, this penalty gives a good idea. Viewers of Sunday’s Tampa Bay-New Orleans game will say Saints quarterback Jameis Winston and the turnovers on offense cost New Orleans a win. It was more than just Jameis’ bad fourth quarter.

Tampa Bay and New Orleans started the quarter tied at three. The Saints forced a critical fourth and one for the Buccaneers. Earlier in the game, Tampa went for a fourth down conversion and failed. They weren’t going to take another chance especially in their own territory. They opted to punt.

New Orleans opted to put too many men on the field (you can only have eleven per side). Tampa’s offensive possession extended a few more minutes. When the Buccaneers did punt, it was deeper in Saints territory. New Orleans never recovered from the gaffe. Winston threw all three of his interceptions (one was returned for a touchdown by Mike Edwards) after Tampa’s elongated possession.

New Orleans’ defense played its best game against the Buccaneers knowing the offense was missing a star player. One penalty didn’t just turn the score around. It led to a massive fight and a breakdown for one team’s offense. There’s a massive what-if for the Saints if they don’t take that bad penalty.

Shaun Alexander to be inducted in Seahawks Ring of Honor — Seahawks Wire

The Seattle Seahawks will be taking time to honor another one of their legendary players during the 2022 season. On Thursday it was announced that running back Shaun Alexander would become the newest member inducted to the Seahawks Ring of Honor. Alexander will officially be honored during Seattle’s home game against the Arizona Cardinals on…

Shaun Alexander to be inducted in Seahawks Ring of Honor — Seahawks Wire

NFL Week One Winners and Losers

Usually the first week of the NFL regular season is mild. It was anything but mild on Sunday. Week one is seen by some as a fluke week, while some see it as prelude on what’s to come when teams settle in. Here are the winners and losers from Sunday’s games.

Winners: The Detroit Lions for trading Matthew Stafford and re-building the offense

It was one rough year for Detroit sports fans in 2021, and the Lions highlighted the struggle. Week one last season against San Francisco, Detroit was down double-digits before a rapid comeback. Sunday they almost beat a superior Philadelphia Eagles team in a back-and-forth scoring game.

Lions quarterback Jared Goff threw for two touchdowns while runningbacks Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift ran for three scores. Swift’s touchdown gave Detroit their first lead of the season and the offense dictated pace in the first quarter.

This is a big contrast from how the Los Angeles Rams started last Thursday night. Former Lion quarterback Matthew Stafford is battling a hand injury and the Rams scored ten points in a game Buffalo dominated. It’s valid to say anyone behind Los Angeles’ offensive line would’ve put up similar numbers. If Stafford somehow plays this season hurt, then Detroit traded their hot-and-cold quarterback at the right time. Draft picks such as Amon-Ra St. Brown (who had eight catches for 64 yards and a touchdown) have been worth it.

O.J. Howard

Howard has been under scrutiny since his tenure in Tampa Bay. His injuries and struggle to not just catch passes but remain as a top two tight-end option made an easy removal off the Buccaneers roster. Houston signed him in the offseason and both may benefit moving forward.

Despite tying a superior Indianapolis Colts team at home, O.J. Howard scored both touchdowns for the Texans. His second from 22 yards gave Houston a 17 point lead, their largest of the afternoon.

There aren’t too many fans or analysts that could name a receiver on the Texans roster outside of Howard. Don’t be surprised if he becomes a bigger part of the offense the next few weeks and quarterback Davis Mills’ favorite target.

Kansas City Chiefs

There was a lot of talk and debate on how good the Chiefs would be in a loaded AFC West. While week one can have fluke teams tricking people early, Kansas City played a complete game against a shaky Arizona Cardinals team.

Patrick Mahomes II and the Chiefs offense overwhelmed Arizona early, scoring 14 points in the first quarter. When the fourth quarter started, Kansas City led by 30 and Mahomes had thrown five touchdowns. Tight-end Travis Kelce caught eight passes for 121 yards and a score. Even rookie seventh round draft pick Isiah Pacheco ran for over five yards a carry and scored.

The Chiefs defense did a good job too. 14 of Arizona’s 21 points came when the game was out of reach. Greg Dortch was the Cardinals’ leading receiver and the running game was all but irrelevant due to Kansas City’s offense scoring at will.

Plus, the win helps the Chiefs stay at .500 in case they lose Thursday night against Los Angeles, a team they’ve struggled against the past two seasons.

Week one action

One usually doesn’t put a whole week into the win or loss column, but this is an exception. Week one was wildly fun and had everything a fan and analyst could want.

Here’s a fun breakdown of what happened: the two teams in last year’s super bowl lost. One was a blowout, the other in a dramatic overtime performance where kickers couldn’t make field goals. The first tie of the season occurred. Cleveland won their first opening day game since 2004 (with a new kicker too). Comeback wins, a high-scoring back-and-forth game in Detroit, four rookie head coaches won their debuts and the league MVP had his worst performance since last season’s week one.

Last but not least, week one ends with the highly anticipated Denver versus Seattle matchup featuring the return of Russell Wilson in the Pacific Northwest. It will be one of the most talked about weekends throughout the whole season.

Losers: San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco had many things in their favor Sunday. The Chicago Bears’ stadium was again a cesspool of mistakes and the 49ers were favored to win by 95% of people who picked the game (via ESPN). Coach Kyle Shanahan’s team played well for three quarters, leading by seven when the fourth started.

As you might guess, the lead didn’t last long.

Chicago stormed back and scored 12 of their 19 points in the first seven minutes of the quarter. Sophomore quarterback Justin Fields played better than 49ers starter Trey Lance. Fields has less to work with than Lance, and he looked better on finding his receivers and scoring.

Offense wasn’t the deciding factor in the loss. The defense committed 12 penalties for 99 yards, equivalent to a whole football field. Usually teams giving up that many yards lose the game.

There’s also criticism on coach Shanahan for running the same predictable plays he used in both the conference championship game last year and the 2021 regular season. Many teams expect 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel to run the ball on trick plays. The Bears knew it when the second half started, and little changed to help new starter Trey Lance make the most in a winnable game.

It also doesn’t help San Francisco might be without their starting runningback Elijah Mitchell for a few weeks. Week two against Seattle will say a lot about what the 49ers can do for this season.

General manager and head coach Bill Belichick

If Belichick was just a GM and not a coach, he would’ve been fired after two years. His drafting and building of the Patriots since 2020 might be the downfall of the franchise.

You’d think with how the Miami Dolphins made easy work of New England on Sunday that the rookie head coach would be on the losing team and not the winning one. The Patriots were one of two teams in the early afternoon games to be shutout at half-time (the other being the Chicago Bears). Unlike the Bears, New England didn’t win their game.

The Patriots acquired a lot of skill players to help sophomore quarterback Mac Jones not do everything himself. Kendrick Bourne was missing in action after a 41 yard catch. Five players ran for a total of 78 yards in a 13 point loss, and two of those players ran for zero yards or worse. Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry are paid millions of dollars to average two receptions for 25 yards. Then there’s Nelson Agholor who’s doing…I don’t know what.

It doesn’t help when the play-calling goes pass option first. Jones shouldn’t attempt 30 passes in a game where the score is close. After the loss it was announced Jones suffered a back injury. While it’s only week one of the regular season, it’s hard to see how New England wins their next four games without adjusting to better offensive planning and schemes.

Tennessee Titans and their offensive coordinator Todd Downing

The Tennessee Titans were in a great position to have an early first place grab in the AFC South after the Indianapolis Colts tied in Houston. The New York Giants were horrendous last season and rookie head coach Brian Daboll was aggressive early in situations that didn’t call for it. Yet the Titans found ways to lose.

Derrick Henry, who’s the most valuable player on the team and the best runningback in the league, ran 21 times for 82 yards. Tennessee misses receiver A.J. Brown already because the best pass catcher of the late afternoon was Kyle Philips. Philips had six catches for 66 yards, and Dontrell Hilliard had 61 yards on three catches and both Titans touchdowns.

Tennessee has to involve receivers like Austin Hooper and Robert Woods more while easing Treylon Burks into the starting role. It would also help if the offensive line learned to block better and not play like they want quarterback Ryan Tannehill dead every other possession.

If the Titans are going to be a playoff team, they have to fix the simple things early and use their offense the right way. It could take a while.

Cornerback CJ Henderson

The Cleveland Browns won their first opening day game in almost 20 years when rookie kicker Cade York kicked the game winning field goal. Cleveland won a game by two points they shouldn’t have. Earlier in the game there was a play that set up quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s one yard touchdown pass to Kareem Hunt.

One of the worst mistakes a defensive player can make is committing a terrible penalty during a turnover changing play. It can negate the turnover and not just give the offense the ball back, but additional yardage.

Cleveland’s second possession of the game started in the second quarter and on a third and three at the Carolina 35, Brissett took a risk and threw deep to Amari Cooper in Carolina’s endzone. The pass was under-thrown and Panthers cornerback Xavier Woods intercepted the pass.

Unfortunately for Woods and the Panthers defense, cornerback C.J. Henderson wrapped Cooper up in his arms and threw him onto the ground before the pass landed in Wood’s hands. Color commentator Jay Feely said, “there’s no reason to throw a player down when the pass would have been intercepted anyway”.

While a 58 yard field goal is a bad way to lose a game, it’s better than throwing a defenseless receiver onto the ground and giving up seven points after.

2022 NFC Playoff Picks

The NFC has won the last two Super Bowls in opposite ways. Tampa Bay’s annihilation of Kansas City revealed how the Chiefs relied on certain offensive schemes, something that carried into last season. Los Angeles won a contested although controversial title game that will be a topic of conversation for years. This season Arizona’s State Farm Stadium hosts the Super Bowl. The Cardinals were the only undefeated team before losing to Green Bay October 28th, 2021. They finished in second place at 11-6 and suffered a blowout loss to the Rams. Arizona can continue the Super Bowl home field advantage streak but will have to get past the other 15 conference teams (notably Tampa and Los Angeles).

It’s time to break down which seven teams in the NFC have the best chance to reach the playoffs this season. There aren’t many quality teams in the NFC this year, so expect at least two teams with ugly records to clinch a spot and maybe win a playoff game.

NFC North: Green Bay Packers

Fun fact: Matt LaFleur has led the Packers to 13 straight wins in three straight seasons, a first in NFL history.

Let’s be honest, no one in the NFC North will come close to challenging Green Bay for the division. Chicago’s roster is bottom five in the league, Minnesota has an inexperienced head coach that’s dealing with a defense that’s either too young or too old, and Detroit is still re-building on offense and defense. The Lions could clinch a wild-card spot, but they must learn to play with leads early, something they didn’t do much last season.

This leaves the Packers as the easiest team in the NFC to win a division title. They still have the current league MVP who’s guided the team to three straight 13 win seasons since new coach Matt LaFleur expanded the playbook. Even better, Green Bay’s schedule faces two playoff caliber teams before Halloween arrives. At worst, they’ll be 6-2 before November.

NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints

Todd Bowles replaces Bruce Arians as head coach in Tampa Bay. Bowles was known in New York to get the best out of his players, regardless of talent on the roster

The Buccaneers are a favorite to win both their division and the Super Bowl. If a serious NFL fan or analyst looks at their schedule however, they’ll know a hard year is in store from start to finish. Tampa opens against Dallas, New Orleans, Green Bay and Kansas City. All four teams are expected to make the playoffs this year by a good amount of both analysts and fans, and some even the championship. While the Buccaneers’ schedule gets easier by Thanksgiving, the early tests and division games against New Orleans will show early how the chemistry is for both league icon quarterback Tom Brady and new coach Todd Bowles.

The Saints are needed relief for NFC wildcard depth. They also have a coaching change with the promotion of defensive coordinator Dennis Allen after Sean Payton resigned. New Orleans added veteran quarterback Andy Dalton to backup the inconsistent Jameis Winston. Even if Winston goes down with another injury similar to last year’s, Dalton can do enough to help the Saints win games. The return of star receiver Michael Thomas and the drafting of Ohio State receiver Chris Olave gives a boost to an offense that relies on runningback Alvin Kamara and receiver Tre’Quan Smith.

Despite missing last year’s playoffs, New Orleans swept division champions Tampa Bay, including an impressive 9-0 shutout in their December 19th meeting.

If the Saints make the playoffs, it’s because the defense is top five in the league. The unit also added quality players in safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Taco Charlton. New Orleans will be a hard team to score against, but they must score more than 17 points a game to be a serious playoff contender.

NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles

Coach Nick Sirianni had an educational first year in Philadelphia. Unlike many coaches, he adapted on the fly by Halloween and the result landed the Eagles into the playoffs. Sirianni leaned on the running game, let quarterback Jalen Hurts play a more liberal style under center, and the defense improved due to better time of possession from the offense. Philadelphia went one and done in the playoffs because they were overmatched by a Tom Brady-led Buccaneers team.

The Eagles trading for A.J. Brown, dumping Jalen Reagor and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and signing Zach Pascal upgrades the receiving core.

This year general manager Howie Roseman made the moves to improve the offense to benefit and amplify Hurts’ progression. The offensive line is rated by Pro Football Focus as one of the best in the NFL, a reversal from three seasons ago. Roseman’s biggest offseason move was trading for Tennessee Titans star receiver A.J. Brown. Brown impacts the team and division early, demanding opponents cover two talented receivers instead of playing against the run. Alongside DeVonta Smith, Brown will stretch the field and make sure Hurts can pass the ball faster and sooner rather than scrambling every other play. The addition of Zach Pascal helps take pressure off Dallas Goedert on inside routes. Plus the team dumped two busts in Jalen Reagor and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

On defense Haason Reddick is a jolt to a front seven anchored by defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. The trade for Chauncey Gardner-Johnson from New Orleans adds depth to the secondary and an inflammatory player who’s drawn multiple ejections from offensive players, usually receivers.

The NFC East might have another team make it to the playoffs if neither the NFC South nor West can produce a third team. Dallas doesn’t have enough receiving options, and that’s before potential injuries to receivers becomes an issue. The Commanders are hit-or-miss with Carson Wentz starting at quarterback with a shaky offensive line and the New York Giants are favorites to be top five in next year’s draft.

NFC West: Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks

After an abrupt release from Seattle, the Los Angeles Rams signed Bobby Wagner (45) to a five year, $50 million deal. Besides quality sideline-to-sideline play, his mentoring of linebackers such as rookie Ernest Jones (53) for the defense should make the Rams a harder defense to score on this season.

The Rams didn’t lose too much talent this offseason. In fact, they addressed a weak spot on defense signing All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner to a five year deal after Seattle released him. Wagner isn’t just a tackling extraordinaire, he guides defenses to cover holes especially near the sidelines. Los Angeles will win their division due to a better and upgraded defense.

One issue that could linger is the re-building of the offensive line. Austin Blythe was signed by Seattle in free agency while offensive captain left tackle Andrew Whitworth retired. Quarterback Matthew Stafford faces injuries almost every season, so it will be interesting how Los Angeles looks health-wise when they host a playoff game.

Trey Lance now starts at quarterback in San Francisco after head coach Kyle Shanahan decided he’d seen enough of predecessor Jimmy Garappolo

San Francisco has a high chance of making the playoffs in a weak NFC. The only realistic situation if they don’t make a wild-card spot could be a large amount of injuries, something fans and analysts know has happened multiple times in the Kyle Shanahan era.

There are issues the 49ers have to address throughout the season. The interior offensive line is in bad shape, partially due to the departure of Laken Tomlinson to the New York Jets. The running game will feature more from Jeff Wilson Jr., Elijah Mitchell and Jamycal Hasty. Trey Sermon was cut and Jaquiski Tartt was traded to Philadelphia. Then the questions of Trey Lance being the starting quarterback to guide San Francisco back to a Super Bowl pile on.

Last but not least, the 49ers have an up-and-down schedule where they play easier teams such as Chicago and Atlanta to Kansas City and Denver. If San Francisco is at .500 when they hit the bye week, they could start playing their best football.

Lost in the talk of the Russell Wilson trade is how Seattle has three quality tightends in Noah Fant (above), Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson.

This is going to draw a lot of laughs and criticism, but this is of course the dark horse pick for the NFC. The Seahawks have a better shot to make the playoffs than most fans and analysts think.

Let’s start with offense. Geno Smith was named the starting quarterback. Despite barely winning the job in an awful preseason, Smith is familiar with the offense. The Seahawks have one of the top receiving duos with D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. They also have a top tightend duo in Will Dissly and the newly acquired Noah Fant. Then there’s the offensive line which should be better in the interior. Austin Blythe being the starting center and a current champion shores up the middle, and Gabe Jackson and Damien Lewis are solid offensive guards. The position with the most question marks could be the first year tackles.

The defense is in an interesting position. This would be a problem if Seattle played four defensive linemen and three linebackers (thus the term 4-3 defense), amplified by the departure of top pass rusher Carlos Dunlap. Except head coach Pete Carroll fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., a coach many people wanted to see let go for defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt. Carroll also hired Sean Desai from Chicago to oversee changes. This will give former second round pick Darrell Taylor the switch to outside linebacker in the new three defensive linemen and four linebacker set (and this term is 3-4) in a hit-or-miss season.

Seattle’s secondary needs star safety Jamal Adams to step up and play better in pass coverage. While he does well in pass-rush situations, Adams struggled last season when receivers went one-on-one downfield against him. Outside of Adams, the Seahawks have one of the best safeties in Quandre Diggs to intercept opposing quarterbacks and finish tackles. Sidney Jones IV is back at his starting cornerback position and Coby Bryant has impressed a lot of analysts and coaches.

Seattle has a better chance of making the playoffs over Arizona for a number of reasons. The biggest one is the Seahawks’ stability in upper management compared to the Cardinals. Remember Arizona started hot the past two seasons but made the playoffs once (that one game was a beatdown loss against a division rival). Star receiver DeAndre Hopkins will be out at least a month due to drug suspensions and Kyler Murray’s lack of development plus a rift with management doesn’t bode well for the future.

Another big reason is strength of schedule. Arizona has a bye week the first week of December. Taking both matchups against Seattle (in a four week span) out of the picture, nine of the ten games feature an opponent many expect to reach the playoffs. After their bye week, the Cardinals play Denver, New England and Tampa Bay late in the season. Ouch.

Seattle by contrast gets lucky in their schedule early, drawing Russell Wilson and the Broncos week one. Wilson didn’t play in the pre-season and Denver has a new head coach figuring out what to do. Seattle also plays San Francisco, Atlanta and Detroit three weeks after. Even before their mid-November week off, the Seahawks play the New York Giants and might split with a tired Cardinals team.

Arizona’s defense doesn’t have the same counters to Seattle’s offensive weapons even when healthy. Last but not least there’s the coaching factor where Pete Carroll has lead the Seahawks with no elite quarterback play. We’ll find out by week seven whether Seattle can win the easy games and hang in the playoff race or if they’ll have multiple first round picks. Regardless, it’s possible we could see a team under .500 clinch a wild card spot to close out the NFC.

Last year’s NFC predictions: 4.5-2.5

2022 AFC Playoff Picks

The 2021 season was almost a total success for the American Football Conference. From the AFC South division race between Indianapolis and Tennessee to the Cinderella season for the Cincinnati Bengals, the biggest takeaway was the conference depth of playoff contenders in each division. The AFC West is now the toughest in division in the NFL. All four teams could make the postseason this year. There are three solid contenders in both the east and north. Last but not least, expect the same kind of playoff race both the Colts and Titans had in the south to heat up once again, this time with a more balanced roster in Indianapolis and a more desperate team in Tennessee.

It’s time to break down which seven teams in the AFC have the best chance of reaching the playoffs for 2023. By far the hardest conference to choose seven teams, not every pick will make the postseason listed, but there are some sure bets and teams that might surprise.

AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers

The two most dominant teams in the AFC North led by T.J. Watt (90) and Lamar Jackson (8) will determine who takes the division in their two rivalry games.

A lot of people are high on both Cleveland and Cincinnati mainly because of acrobatic quarterback play and offensive stats. The Browns won’t have their franchise star acquisition DeShaun Watson for eleven games. The Bengals will be targeted just as much as the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. Both Ohio teams are shaky on defense especially in the secondary, something Baltimore and Pittsburgh took measures to build up in both free agency and the draft years ago.

The most important aspect early in the 2022 season are divisional games before November. Both Pittsburgh and Baltimore play both Ohio teams some time before that deadline. Their games against each other are late in the season, and will be watched by fans and analysts carefully throughout the country.

The good news for the Ravens and biggest difference this season is Baltimore isn’t injury plagued before week one. Last year the top two runningbacks and key starters of coach John Harbaugh’s defense suffered season ending injuries before playing a regular season game. Outside of an injury to runningback Gus Edwards, the Ravens look better and are on pace to finish better than last. Plus, Lamar Jackson is still the top quarterback in the division who can light up any defense at any given time.

The Steelers have named former number two overall pick Mitchell Trubisky their starter under center. Trubisky might be the answer Pittsburgh needs with his accuracy on the run and his knowledge learned under coach Brian Daboll in Buffalo.

Pittsburgh had everything except a quarterback who could throw past 15 yards in 2021. The Steelers were predictably spanked in their only postseason game and had to evaluate who should replace Ben Roethlisberger. The cheap signing of former Bears starter Mitchell Trubisky is an underrated move. Many forget Trubisky throws accurately when he scrambles and runs outside the tackles. Despite being a dual option threat, Pittsburgh prefers he runs when necessary and find ways to get sophomore runningback Najee Harris more carries.

The Steelers have a top ten defense, and special teams helps ease Trubisky into a better offensive system. Pittsburgh will be challenged early with playoff quality opponents. Coach Mike Tomlin must have his team ready against an upset Cincinnati team that swept them last year for week one.

AFC South: Indianapolis Colts

Jonathan Taylor led the 2021 NFL season in total yards with 2,171. His 18 rushing touchdowns and 5.5 yards per carry kept the Colts in the playoff race until their loss in Jacksonville week 18.

Regardless on whether you think Tennessee or Indianapolis wins the AFC South two things are clear: both teams will go all-out against the other and when healthy, the Colts have a championship caliber roster.

The Titans may have a quarterback and coaching problem on their hands. Their unexpected one-and-done playoff appearance after winning the AFC South last year led them to draft Malik Willis and trade A.J. Brown. Their offensive line is still a mess and while both teams will be tested early and face each other before November (twice), Indianapolis is easily the calmer of the two teams and the better coaching.

Many who have kept up with Indianapolis know the defense is a top five unit in the league. DeForest Buckner and Darius Leonard ravage offensive lines. The additions of defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Rodney McLeod cements the Colts defense as one of the hardest to score on.

AFC East: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins

Stefon Diggs (14) is still one of the top receivers in the league. He’s a dependable target for quarterback Josh Allen and another player who can lead Buffalo deep in the playoffs.

In the playoffs, the Bills are a punchline and synonymous with failure or choking. In the regular season, they’re one of the best teams. Despite the departure of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to the New York Giants, Buffalo’s offense is in a good spot to dominate the conference and possibly the league.

The Bills added players in runningback and outside linebacker, positions they’ll perform better in this season. Two time Super Bowl champion Von Miller wants a challenge and runningback Duke Johnson should be a boost when Devin Singletary isn’t playing every down. Receiver Jamison Crowder makes up for the loss of Cole Beasley.

Buffalo has a tough schedule to start the season. Last year they had one hiccup loss until that last loss before the bye week. They start with Los Angeles, Tennessee (the team they lost to before that bye) and Miami. We’ll see how good they are early.

Tyreek Hill’s trade to Miami will cause ripples in both the AFC West and AFC East this season.

Speaking of Miami, this is the surprise pick of the conference. The Dolphins had a controversial offseason firing Brian Flores, a respected and honest head coach and hired Mike McDaniel from San Francisco. The questions on the organization’s credibility and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be answered this season. Miami added phenom receiver Tyreek Hill and Terron Armstead at tackle, cementing a deep and talented offense. The defense is still one of the best in the league with the best cornerback in Xavien Howard.

This is the year the Dolphins have to show that the “Tanking for Tua” narrative has paid off. The New York Jets aren’t going to make the playoffs with the amount of competition in the east, and there could be more regression in New England. It’s why the hiring of Mike McDaniel and the third year of Tagovailoa under center couldn’t be more important.

AFC West: Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos

Third year quarterback Justin Herbert is a favorite to win the MVP award this season.

Like the Buffalo Bills, the Chargers are pretty good in the regular season (no postseason thoughts yet thankfully). Despite their comical decisions to not clinch a playoff spot last season, the roster received many upgrades on offense and defense. Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa will terrorize offensive lines if they stay healthy for even half the season. Middle linebacker brings more veteran leadership with Kyle Van Noy. On offense, Gerald Everett is another multi-faceted weapon for quarterback Justin Herbert to throw to on inside routes, and then the team picked up Sony Michel for runningback depth behind Austin Ekeler.

Coach Brandon Staley’s second season should elevate the team and make the leap to being a playoff contender. The Chargers do a great job bottling division rivals Kansas City and Las Vegas, who they play the first two weeks of the season. It’s not until a Monday night game against Denver that Los Angeles will face their first test in late 2022.

New coach Nathaniel Hackett will have an easier time to settle in since Denver traded for a top five quarterback in the league. His offensive line schemes will be one of the more under-talked about parts before Week One.

It’s another perfect time to bring in a wildcard contender. Denver’s injuries, just like Baltimore’s, won’t be as common place this season. Denver did lose more talented players this offseason than they gained, but they acquired the quarterback the franchise desperately needed to elevate team play in Russell Wilson. Wilson will face a rash of challenges, amplified by not playing in the preseason and an expanded contract. The Broncos have a steady and solid defense that former coach Vic Fangio tooled and tweaked, they just need to score more than 13 points a game.

Both teams give Kansas City and Las Vegas problems. The Broncos’ quarterback choice, as well as reinforcing both offensive tackles, finally poses a significant problem to both the Chiefs and Raiders. Regardless, the AFC West will be the funnest division to watch in 2022.

Last year’s AFC predictions: 1.5-5.5