The only thing predictable about a given NFL season is unpredictability. Although there’s room more of the parity party in 2022, many familiar powerhouses stand out in the race to get to and win Super Bowl 57.
Last season, the Super Bowl 56-winning Rams were on the short list to contend for a championship out of the NFC. But the Bengals were a surprise upstart in representing the AFC.
It’s getting more difficult to figure out where teams will finish because more teams have figured it out at quarterback. There also are significant coaching and personnel changes for several teams during every offseason.
But the nature of making predictions is a bold. There’s no shying away from looking into a crystal bell and trying to make calculated call based on the right variables.
Here’s how Sporting News sees ’22 playing out, from September kickoff in Los Angeles to February coronation in Glendale:
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NFL predictions 2022
1. Buffalo Bills (13-4)
The Bills are loaded offensively around Josh Allen and they have a stronger defensive foundation for Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier now with a pass rush featuring Von Miller. They should roll over the rest of the East again.
2. New England Patriots (9-8)
The Patriots will deliver defensively for Bill Belichick as usual even with some missing pieces, but the supporting cast for Mac Jones in Year 2 still doesn’t inspire much beyond the running game.
3. Miami Dolphins (8-9)
The Dolphins are a buzzy team with new offensive-minded coach Mike McDaniel and Tyreek Hill serving as the new go-to guy for Tua Tagovailoa. But more of a learning curve for Tagovailoa and the transitioning defense will hold them back for a playoff breakthrough until 2023.
4. New York Jets (6-11)
Zach Wilson’s knee injury is an early bummer, but there’s no doubt the Jets focused on getting much better around him with Breece Hall, Garrett Wilson, Duane Brown, Laken Tomlinson, C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin. Robert Saleh’s defensive upgrades came in the secondary, but the front seven can curb significant improvement.
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1. Baltimore Ravens (13-4)
The Ravens will go back to being the scary Ravens. First, offensively, they will restore their blocking and traditional running strengths to boost Lamar Jackson. Defensively, they also have expedited their defensive reloading on the pass rush and a secondary that’s arguably the best in the league. John Harbaugh and his staff will get them back close to 2019 form.
2. Cincinnati Bengals (11-6)
The Bengals will avoid having a true Super Bowl-losing hangover because of they are too well-rounded of a young team to let that happen. Led by Joe Burrow, they are still loaded on offense with an improved line. Defensively, led by Trey Hendrickson, they can still make key plays on every level.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-7)
The Steelers’ calling card is their pass defense, but their passing game should carry a much higher ceiling at some point with Kenny Pickett taking over. The run defense is headed to being shored up while the running game is in the capable legs of Najee Harris. Expect Mike Tomlin’s team to overachieve again.
4. Cleveland Browns (7-10)
Deshaun Watson’s suspension expanding to 11 games ensures the Browns won’t be playoff team again post Baker Mayfield. They can help Jacoby Brissett win with the running game and defense, but they no longer will have the scoring offense to stay with the better teams in the AFC.
MORE: Browns’ over/under breakdown after Deshaun Watson suspension
1. Indianapolis Colts (10-7)
The Colts wanted quarterback stability within the structure of Frank Reich’s run-heavy offense and Matt Ryan will provide it, helped by a ton of Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman Jr. The defense won’t have Matt Eberflus calling the plays, but it has plenty of talent and experience on every level to execute at a high enough level.
2. Tennessee Titans (9-8)
The Titans are bound to slide back and fall out of first place and the playoffs altogether. Their strength lies now as Mike Vrabel prefers it, with defense and the running game, but the latter has concern about how Derrick Henry comes back from a big foot injury. Ryan Tannehill has a new-look passing game, but he may struggle to rebound from the playoffs and open the door for Malik Willis.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14)
The Jaguars have a wide range of outcomes under Doug Pederson, from taking a rebuilding step back as they clean up the mess left from the Urban Meyer area to seeing a Trevor Lawrence-fueled turnaround. Expect the former with the latter developing for 2023.
4. Houston Texans (1-16)
The Texans have a tough schedule even in a weak division. They played more inspired than expected with David Culley, but that enthusiasm will fade with Lovie Smith. Rookie running back Dameon Pierce will be the bright spot of the offense, but second-year QB Davis Mills is bound to take some real lumps in Year 2 and the defense doesn’t have too much beyond Jonathan Greenard.
MORE: Year 2 QB situation rankings, from Trevor Lawrence to Trey Lance
1. Los Angeles Chargers (12-5)
The Chargers don’t have real weaknesses around Justin Herbert, including the line, receivers and running backs. They also filled in some key gaps defensively, raising the playmaking to an incredible level with Khalil Mack helping Joey Bosa on the pass rush while J.C. Jackson joins Derwin James in the secondary. If somewhat healthy, this team should come through big-time for Brandon Staley in Year 2.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-5)
The Chiefs will be right with the Chargers because of Patrick Mahomes’ own elite QB play helping them sort out some change in the passing game and concern in the running game. Their defense lost enough in the secondary to open the door for another team to take this tough division.
3. Denver Broncos (10-7)
Russell Wilson is a game-changer for the offense, their first top-flight quarterback since the early Peyton Manning years 10 years ago. Everything will be lifted on that side of the ball. The defense minus Vic Fangio should be a good enough complement to make it three West teams in the playoffs.
4. Las Vegas Raiders (7-10)
The Raiders have some positive offensive buzz with Josh McDaniels and Davante Adams around to push Derek Carr but they have questions about their line and backfield. The defense has Maxx Crosby but little else with whom to slow down the Chargers, Chiefs and Broncos.
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1. Dallas Cowboys (11-6)
The Cowboys have some concerning developments around Dak Prescott with lessened receiving depth an no Tyron Smith at left tackle. But they still have enough blocking, running and firepower to outscore many teams. The turnover-dependent defense can become a bigger issue should the big plays not keep coming for Dan Quinn.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (10-7)
The Eagles have a good chance to return to the playoffs, this time stealing the division back from the Cowboys. Jalen Hurts has the line, receivers, backs and tight end to evolve into a reliable passer, so it comes down to him executing. The defensive potential is more solid than spectacular.
3. New York Giants (5-12)
There’s been some offensive optimism with Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka, centered around Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley finally having the system and blocking to bring balance and explosiveness to Big Blue. Unfortunately, ineffectiveness and injury make that a Giant if and this still feels like a defensive-reliant team.
4. Washington Commanders (5-12)
Carson Wentz takes command at QB but the reviews have been mixed at best for.a remixed passing game. The running game has growing uncertainty, too, with disappointment over Antonio Gibson. The real bugaboo is a defense that may not get an impactful Chase Young anytime soon.
MORE: NFL QB stability rankings for all 32 teams
1. Green Bay Packers (14-3)
The Packers have been stuck on 13 wins for three seasons and under Matt LaFleur and even with consecutive MVP runs with Aaron Rodgers, have no Super Bowl trips to show for it. They can post a better recored without Adams given Rodgers, the running game and their best overall defense in a while.
2. Minnesota Vikings (10-7)
Kevin O’Connell is the promising new man in charge of the Vikings and is waking up their offense with more domination in mind for Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook. Defensively, there are more necessary pieces on every level that missed at the end of the Mike Zimmer era. Minnesota will challenge Green Bay a little and fall back on a wild-card spot.
3. Detroit Lions (7-10)
The Lions will go from an inspiring “Hard Knocks” stint with Dan Campbell with some of the positive vibes manifesting on the field. That will be especially true of an offense that has a strong line and skill position players for Jared Goff. Aidan Hutchinson is huge for the defense, but the questions there will keep Detroit from a real playoff push.
4. Chicago Bears (5-12)
The Bears have to navigate through a division with an established power and two upside teams while they break in a new defensive-minded coach and reboot the offense for Justin Fields. There will be some Fields’ flashes, but the worries up front — both blocking and defensively — will hold them down.
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1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)
Tom Brady came back from his short retirement knowing he could take vacation in training camp and still have an easy walkover to second consecutive division title. He can manage the offensive issues of key line injuries and new receiving personnel while the healthier defense does its thing better for Todd Bowles.
2. New Orleans Saints (7-10)
The Saints are marching forward with a more wide-open offense after losing Drew Brees and Sean Payton in consecutive offseasons. They hope Jameis Winston is up to the task, getting the support he needs from the running game and protection. Still, it seems like too much will remain on promoted Dennis Allens’ defense.
3. Carolina Panthers (4-13)
Baker Mayfield may represent a quarterback upgrade, but it’s not much of one. His passing also will be reeled in by Matt Rhule’s archaic run-heavy desire and too much may be on Christian McCaffrey and the defense again.
4. Atlanta Falcons (4-13)
The Falcons go from rebooting with offensive-minded Arthur Smith to a total restock minus Ryan and a suspended Calvin Ridley. The recent defensive changes are taking shape, but there’s no confident they can get away with a run-leaning formula with Marcus Mariota.
MORE: Why 2022 could be Tom Brady’s last season in the NFL
1. San Francisco 49ers (13-4)
The 49ers have the most talented team of the Kyle Shanahan era and should Trey Lance not live up to the massive hype (he will), they have a strong fallback plan in place again with Jimmy Garoppolo. Offense, defense and special teams add up to a high floor with a Super Bowl-winning ceiling.
2. Los Angeles Rams (12-5)
The Rams also won’t experience any kind of Super Bowl hangover because they are too talented and too well coached. They will be right there in the championship mix with Cooper Kupp’s offense and Aaron Donald’s defense each having one more prime season for Sean McVay.
3. Arizona Cardinals (9-8)
The Cardinals overachieved a little last season with an aging roster. Kyler Murray now is under true pressure to live up to his contract and will need to do it early again without DeAndre Hopkins. J.J. Watt is still around for the defense, but there’s no feeling of real improvement there overall.
4. Seattle Seahawks (2-15)
The Seahawks aren’t inspiring anyone offensively with Geno Smith starting at QB, more line issues and a running game already battling key injuries. Their defense also wasn’t any good for Pete Carroll at the end of last season with the bust of Jamal Adams still looming. Seattle is ticketed to “worst team in NFC” status after never having losing seasons with a healthy Wilson.
MORE: Why the Packers are SN’s pick to win Super Bowl 57
AFC playoff predictions
- Wild-card round: No. 2 Ravens over No. 7 Broncos … No. 3 Chargers over No. 6 Bengals … No. 5 Chiefs over No. 4 Colts
- Divisional round: No. 5 Chiefs over No. 1 Bills … No. 3 Chargers over No. 2 Ravens
- AFC championship game: No. 3 Chargers over No. 5 Chiefs
Jackson vs. Wilson and Herbert vs. Burrow make for epic QB battles early, while Ryan is no match for Mahomes. Then it’s mild upset city, as Mahomes gives Allen more heartbreak and Los Angeles notches another playoff win in Baltimore. The Chargers and Chiefs will be battle-tested from the West to help them become the last two standing, with Herbert pulling a last year’s Burrow.
NFC playoff predictions
- Wild-card round: No. 2 Buccaneers over No. 7 Vikings … No. 3 49ers over No. 6 Eagles … No. 5 Rams over No. 4 Cowboys
- Divisional round: No. 1 Packers over No. 5 Rams … No. 2 Buccaneers over No. 3 49ers
- NFC championship game: No. 1 Packers over No. 2 Buccaneers
The Buccaneers won’t let Brady’s run end with a one and done. The 49ers are used to opening the playoffs well and will get a home game to dispatch the Eagles in a classic. Dallas losing right away to Los Angeles is also par for the course. Then it’s Rodgers outdueling Stafford and Brady beating Lance and his hometown team. Then it’s MVP over GOAT in a marquee (likely) final game for Brady.
Super Bowl 57 prediction
- Green Bay Packers over Los Angeles Chargers
The Packers haven’t been to the Super Bowl in 12 seasons. The Chargers haven’t been to the playoffs in four years and their lone Super Bowl appearance came after the 1994 season.
But with the two-time MVP Rodgers and the risen superstar Herbert, the fortunes can quickly change. San Francisco, Tampa Bay and Los Angeles all got a deserved Super turn as NFC powers. Kansas City, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Buffalo are all formidable, but they all have some key questions in the AFC.
Rodgers’ career, with his prolific and efficient numbers, profiles for at least having two Super Bowl victories. Herbert’s unprecedented work as a young gun calls for him getting a shot like Mahomes and Burrow. After Rodgers digs deep to beat Herbert late, Green Bay can once again be called “Titletown.”
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