Preview AFC before the 2022 season kicks off
A little look back on how I see AFC playing in the 2022 season. Predicted records are based on each team’s individual schedules.
Buffalo Bills: 12-5
Bills is the favorite game of bettors to win not only on the Eastern team but the entire conference. It’s also easy to see why. Buffalo has a legitimate MVP candidate in QB Josh Allen and some solid weapons for him to work with. The lines are solid and the high school kids are promising. The Bills are not without flaws and it will be interesting to see how Allen performs without sensei Brain Daboll, who is currently training the Giants. But the top talent is in a position to win multiple games after this year’s season.
Miami Dolphins: 9-8
New head coach Mike McDaniel is part of the transition to a more dynamic and efficient offensive team. Much depends on Tua Tagovailoa’s progress at QB, but adding Tyreek Hill in WR to go with Jaylen Waddle and bolster RB defense will definitely make Tua’s life easier. Line will need to perform better. If the young players at the back (EDGE Jaelan Phillips, S Jevon Holland, CB Noah Igbinoghene) can all take a step forward, then Miami’s defence is sure to have some real teeth. I like the overall move to be faster on both sides of the ball.
New York Jets: 6-11
The second year for head coach Robert Saleh will be capped by a better defense than advertised. There’s a lot based on first-round rookies Sauce Gardner and Jermaine Johnson. Both will need to be ready immediately to cover some holes in the secondary. Overall depth is improved on both sides of the ball. QB Zack Wilson lost valuable development time this season, as well as the loss of 2020 first-round athlete Mekhi Becton. New York’s arrow is pointing up to be sure, but these Jets are probably a year away from making their way up the conference rankings in earnest.
New England Patriots 6-11
If you just look at this 1-53 lineup, it’s no better than 29th in the league. Defensively slow, the WR corps is a glorified practice team, Matt Patricia’s testing trains the offensive team to look dire, and the all-round depth looks more like an expansive team than an adversary. But the Patriots have some very good pieces in key positions – QB Mac Jones, LT Trent Brown, EDGE Matt Judon, but none other than head coach Bill Belichick. On paper, this is – at most – a 5-12 formation, but I doubt I could be beating New England 6-11.
Indianapolis Colts: 11-6
Removing the enigmatic Carson Wentz at QB and replacing him with a dynamic, rejuvenated Matt Ryan seems like a masterful blow. Ryan’s reliability makes for a better receiver, and it’s not like the RB Jonathan Taylor needs any help to be great. The defensive front has impact players DT DeForest Buckner and LB Shaquille Leonard, along with some promising young players. They are vulnerable to teams that can block them and strike down the field, and keeping the 11 starting offensively healthy is more imperative for this Colts team than any other AFC contender. Frank Reich has a strong team that should be more resilient over the years.
Tennessee Titans: 8-9
There’s still some good talent on this roster, but the loss of WR AJ Brown (commercial) and EDGE Harold Landry (injury) really lowers the points for Mike Vrabel’s team. Having a full season of RB Derrick Henry behind a capable front line always makes Tennessee dangerous, and Ryan Tannehill is a solid, proven QB. A young high school may step up and the defensive front looks tough even without Landry, but the fault is gone in Nashville. They even have big questions about special teams. Too good to be bad but not good enough to repeat last year’s 12-5.
Jacksonville Jaguars: 6-11
Just getting rid of Urban Meyer is worth two more wins in Duval, but Jaguar is also putting together a stronger roster. Trevor Lawrence will be better in Year 2, and he has weapons in Marvin Jones, Christian Kirk, Evan Engram and RBs Travis Etienne and James Robinson. Swiping OG Brandon Scherff is a great move. The first two players in defense, Travon Walker and Devin Lloyd, can only help strengthen the midfield defense, which also complements NFL champion Foyesade Oluokun at LB. DL and secondary are still troublesome and no perennial difference maker has an impact on either side of the ball.
Houston Texans: 5-12
Lovie Smith is building her Texas team on a defensive philosophy based on speed. There are a lot of “oh, that’s where he is” players in defence, but Houston does have some promise. The rookie of the high school team, CB Derek Stingley Jr. and S Jalen Pitre, which look like stars in the making. Davis Mills blasted some talent at QB last year and is set to grow even more. There are still plenty of questions and decisions to be made about the lack of difference-makers beyond the ageless WR Brandin Cooks, but these Texans have the potential to ruin the day for teams that ignore them. Rewards won for referring the Battle Red helmet, which is immediately the best in the tournament.
This is the most unpredictable draw in the tournament. I can make strong arguments for all four teams to win the championship and also finish last.
Baltimore Raven: 10-7
Too many injuries a year ago prevented John Harbaugh’s squad from reaching its full potential. The worry is not that it will happen again, but is all the walking injured what we expected of them before last year? TE Mark Andrews is the primary weapon for QB Lamar Jackson presenting unique challenges. This team desperately needs WR Rashod Bateman and RB JK Dobbins to emerge as the players who scare the defense and ease the pressure on Jackson and Andrews to do things. Adding Kyle Hamilton in the first round and top free agent Marcus Williams in a safe position could be a great thing. Justin Tucker remains the NFL’s greatest ever scorer, and the Ravens’ special teams are a good insurance policy.
Cincinnati Bengals: 10-7
The defending AFC champions now won’t sneak up on anyone, but they have stars in the right positions to stick around well. QB Joe Burrow, RB Joe Mixon and WR JaMarr Chase are such a good attacking trio, and have diverse skills around them. CV couldn’t be worse than 2021. I’m worried about their defenses to handle sized WRs and RBs behind moveable OLs. Expectations are a huge variable for such a young team. Trey Hendrickson and Jesse Bates must be top players like they were a year ago.
Cleveland Browns: 9-8
The focus is on the really wild QB situation, and the handling of the Browns by Baker Mayfield, Deshaun Watson and Jacoby Brissett – the new main kicker in 2022 – certainly leaves you in awe. It obscures what could be the NFL’s best defense, led by MVP contender Myles Garrett and featuring the deepest CB set in the league as well as LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah that stands out for speed. Anyone with Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson can commit a crime. CV has the best defense alongside Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller. Amari Cooper provided the Browns with the WR1 they were missing during the OBJ controversy. But the QB situation and drama is a potential anchor that could ruin it all – or create another thrilling playoff like 2020.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 7-10
The Steelers have a great defensive front led by TJ Watt and Cameron Heyward. It’s a great place to have a primary identity. The latter can also create some drama behind them. Right now LBs are better in theory than practice but also have potential. It is the offense that has the biggest questions. Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett at QB? Can the CV block be any better than last year, when they were somewhere between incompetent and intimidating? Who steps up as the top receiver? Is there even an offensive substitute that makes for another NFL roster? Too many questions to believe. However, if even one of them insists, you can bet Mike Tomlin’s Steelers will be a player in the playoff race.
Can a division end with every team having a winning record? This year’s AFC West might be our best chance to find out.
Los Angeles charger: 11-6
I’ve picked Chargers to win this division for years, often to my utter disappointment in December. But I couldn’t resist biting into an apple again. Justin Herbert is an emerging MVP candidate on his QB roster. He received considerable talent in Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and RB Austin Ekeler, and was defended by the best young OT in the game in RaShawn Slater. However, the Chargers defense is probably their better unit. Between fortifying the line and getting secondary and refurbished health, this aggressive defense can prevail. These Chargers look like a team that could represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Of course that was true a few other times and the Bolts didn’t come close, so the worry was worth it.
Kansas City Chief: 11-6
Any team with Patrick Mahomes taking on Andy Reid’s offense will be interesting to watch. The captain has been at a loss for talent this season, but newcomers like Skyy Moore, Juju Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling are still a dangerous group. Creed Humphrey is a budding star in the center, fixed in a strong (albeit paper-thin) line. The defensive front can affect both runs and passes. Two newcomers in the spin-off are important: first-round CB Trent McDuffie and freelance S agent Justin Reid. If they are up to the challenge, this can be a really strong defense. Special teams look good. Don’t abbreviate them just because you’re bored of them winning the annual tournament.
Las Vegas Raiders: 9-8
Reuniting WR Davante Adams with QB Derek Carr could be the boost the Raiders need to get through the Wild Card round for the first time in 20 years. Adams is arguably the NFL’s best receiver and gives Carr a legit game-breaker. Combined with a solidly grounded game and dangerous TE Darren Waller, these Raid players should be able to pull through a shaky CV match and score some points. The defense will need to quickly put different parts together. There are young talents like CB Nate Hobbs and S Trevon Moehrig. Maxx Crosby gets help first with Chandler Jones. It’s always a concern when a new coach takes over a playoff team, especially one that has made the top picks of the past three years come to life. Las Vegas is dangerous for everyone it plays but also for itself. Ultimately, the Raiders have too much high-level talent to be as bad as what the enemy wants them to be.
Denver Broncos: 8-9
Sometimes there are teams that I can’t feel. These Broncos are one such team. I think the move to buy Russell Wilson is a worthy gamble, but I have yet to read about rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett or the largely unknown staff. The receivers can be great, or they can all hurt again. Tuyen has talent but makes too many unfortunate mistakes. There are still useful sections on defense but serious questions on all three levels. Russ can still cook but he has to raise an oddly compiled unit that faces a harsh schedule with very few players being among their NFL primes. Strange team. Might be pretty good, but the bottom is also the lowest of any division.
Select playoff match: Crow than Bills to advance to Super Bowl