Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens reinvent the wheel with their 22 and 13 personnel usage
It’s no secret that the Ravens don’t have much talent at wide receiver behind Rashod Bateman, but that could be by design. I think the Ravens’ base offense will be 12 personnel (1 running back, two tight ends, and two wide receivers).
The Ravens are deep and talented at tight end and running back. I think they will use the depth in those position groups to compensate for their lack of talent at receiver. Therefore, I believe they will use a lot of two running back sets, three tight end sets, and even two running back and two tight ends sets, leaving just one wide receiver on the field.
It’s an interesting approach in a league that is shifting to 11 personnel usage and three wide receiver sets, but it could be a strategy that makes the Ravens tough to gameplan for in 2022.
I think rookie tight end Isaiah Likely will be on the field a ton and has a chance to finish as the Ravens’ third leading receiver behind Bateman and Mark Andrews.
(Additional bold prediction: Travis Jones will be the steal of the 2022 draft)
Buffalo Bills: Ed Oliver cements himself as a top defensive lineman.
A year ago, Ed Oliver was the only defensive tackle in the league to finish top 10 in pass rush win rate and run stop win rate, a feat not even Aaron Donald could match. Due to some injuries in the last couple of years, the Bills had Oliver playing out of position and eating up blocks rather than rushing the passer.
With the additions of Daquon Jones and Tim Settle, the Bills acquired two big-time block eaters, which will give Oliver opportunities to rush the passer one-on-one. According to the advanced metrics, Oliver has been a top defensive tackle for the last couple of years, but this year it will finally show up statistically in the sack and TFL department.
Cincinnati Bengals: Cordell Volson becomes their most important offseason addition
The Bengals offensive line overhaul has been discussed ad nauseam. They brought in three new starters, Ted Karras, Alex Cappa, and La’el Collins, in free agency. However, none of those players will be their most important offensive line addition in 2022.
Cordell Volson, an under-the-radar fourth-round pick from North Dakota State, has dominated at camp and has usurped Jackson Carman as the starting left guard. Where Karras and Cappa were brought in to raise the level of play at their positions from downright awful to average, I think Volson has the capabilities to be a great player in this league. Volson has looked great through training camp and preseason and has even held his own against Aaron Donald in joint practice.
Cleveland Browns: The Watson trade plagues the franchise
The Deshaun Watson trade will haunt the Browns for years to come. NFL teams and media constantly perpetuate “distractions,” and Deshaun Watson is precisely that for the Browns. Most players labeled as “distractions” usually come at a discount, but Watson came with one of the most significant price tags in NFL history.
Denver Broncos: Patrick Surtain becomes the best cornerback in the NFL
Surtain was my favorite defensive player coming out of the 2021 draft. The transition from college to NFL as a corner can be challenging, but Surtain ended the season playing like a top 10 cornerback. His 51% completion percentage allowed ranked 5th amongst all corners.
I think Surtain will take a second-year leap similar to the one that Falcons corner AJ Terrell took a season ago. By season’s end, Surtain will be regarded as one of the best, if not the best, corner in the NFL. Surtain can shut down an entire side of the field, and opposing QBs will be afraid to target him by the time the 2022 season ends.
Houston Texans: Nico Collins leads the Texans in touchdowns
This is a bold prediction because Collins hauled in just one touchdown a season ago, and he shares a receiver room with Brandin Cooks. However, Collins’s 6 foot 4 215 pound frame should make him a matchup nightmare in the red zone, and he was heavily targeted in that portion of the field during the preseason.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts start 6-0
The Colts will come out of the gates hot and possibly be the last undefeated team. After being tortured by a Falcons offensive line that let him be pressured 120 times a year ago, Matt Ryan gets to play behind Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith. The Colts open the season @Houston, @Jacksonville, vs. Kansas City, vs. Tennessee, @Denver, vs. Jacksonville.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence finishes top 5 in passing yards
Due to some god-awful circumstances, Trevor Lawrence had a horrible rookie season. However, in year two, Trevor has some actual NFL receivers (sorry, Laquon Treadwell and Jamal Agnew) and will get to play in a real NFL offense for a real NFL coach (not sorry, Urban Meyer). Lawrence still has the elite arm talent, and with the Jags’ defense still being lackluster, I think they will find themselves in lots of shootouts in 2022.
Additionally, the Jaguars face the 31st toughest schedule of pass defenses in 2022.
Their record might not be excellent, but Trevor will correct the false narratives around him following his rookie year and have a prolific passing season.
Kansas City Chiefs: Travis Kelce has the best season by a tight end in NFL history
I think the Chiefs will be changing their offense quite a bit in 2022. The two high safety looks that defenses threw at them gave them fits in 2021. In an attempt to force teams back into one high looks, I think the Chiefs will keep two running backs in the backfield on most early down plays. Fewer receivers will be on the field for an offense already trying to replace Tyreek Hill’s 159 vacated targets.
Enter Travis Kelce. Kelce is the best receiving tight end in the league and could be in line for record-setting volume in 2022. For his career, Kelce has caught 70% of his targets. Seeing 170 targets in 2022 isn’t off the table.
Los Angeles Chargers: Brandon Staley’s aggressiveness wins the Chargers games in 2022
Brandon Staley’s late-game decision-making was the target of vitriol amongst fans and media a year ago. However, most of his aggressive decisions were simply a result of him playing the numbers, and his fourth-down decisions were probably influenced by the fact that he knew his defense couldn’t stop the run.
It seemed like all of his aggressive decisions backfired, but like I said — he was playing the numbers. Water should find its level in 2022, and Staley’s bold decision-making will pay off. In fact, the Chargers will win games because of it.
Las Vegas Raiders: The Raiders defense will be amongst the league’s worst
They have some talented edge rushers in Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones, but the rest of this defense is ripe to be exposed. I am just not confident in the Raiders’ ability to cover anybody in 2022, and they project to be weak against the run up the middle. The result will be a Raiders team that misses the playoffs in a loaded AFC West, despite having such a dynamic offense.
Miami Dolphins: Their season hinges on the play of their offensive line, not the play of Tua
Tua has been subjected to lots of slander in his first two seasons, but it hasn’t been his fault. His offensive line has been awful. As a result, the Dolphins haven’t been able to run the ball, and they haven’t been able to set up play-action. Tua doesn’t have a top-5 upside, but he’s an accurate quarterback that will be above average if he has time to throw.
This Dolphins season hinges on the offensive line, they must find a way to run the ball, and they must hold up for Tua. They add two new starters in Terron Armstead and Connor Williams, who are the two most important players on this Dolphins offense going into 2022.
New England Patriots: Marcus Jones will be a DROY candidate.
I fell in love with Marcus Jones in the predraft process, and the Patriots are a perfect landing spot for him. With Jalen Mills currently atop their cornerback depth chart, there should be lots of snaps available for Jones, whether it be outside or in the slot.
Due to his 5’8 frame, Jones will no doubt be targeted a ton, which you want from a DROY candidate as it will open up many chances for interceptions. Jones sometimes gets snagged on because of his size, but he is almost always in a good position and has elite jumping and ball skills. Helping Jones’ case is that he is also one of the best return men that we have seen enter the draft in recent memory.
New York Jets: The Jets exit the season still split on Zach Wilson
I think Jets fans expect to exit the season with a decision on Zach Wilson, but I’m not sure that will happen. I think Wilson will continue to be an enigma. At times a year ago, he looked downright lost, and I don’t think that’s something that will go completely away in year two. However, Wilson possesses arm talent that, at times, is downright silly. Wilson will enter his third year as the Jets quarterback with the fanbase split on whether or not he can be the guy.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers will have their worst season under Mike Tomlin
I want to be excited about this Steelers offense because they have so many players I like. Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth, and Najee Harris are a terrific core of skill position players. However, if you want to move the ball, it’s imperative that you have a good offensive line, and this offensive line stinks. Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett are squeamish about being in the pocket, to begin with, and that could become a disaster behind this offensive line.
Defensively there are some star players but also many weaknesses that competent teams can identify and exploit.
Tennessee Titans: The Titans will disappoint in 2022 and will enter a rebuild following the season
The past couple of years of Titans football has been defined by veterans like Ryan Tannehill, Derek Henry, Taylor Lewan, and Kevin Byard. This offseason seemed like the beginning of something in Tennessee, with them trading AJ Brown and drafting Malik Willis. What it’s the beginning of remains to be seen, but I think this Titans team could be pressing the reset button very soon.
After being the #1 seed a year ago, they are set up to disappoint in 2022 as it will be challenging to match that. After the 2022 season, they take a long, hard look in the mirror and realize they can not win a super bowl with Ryan Tannehill.