What’s better than one or two NFL bold predictions? Eight of ’em.
Heading into the 2022 season, Sportscasting asked its staff for one prediction apiece. Anything goes, so long as there’s some degree of heat to the take and even more conviction in the opinion. We’re not talking about Tom Brady winning football games and taking the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to another Super Bowl, Justin Jefferson emerging as one of the best receivers in the league, Trevor Lawrence progressing under Doug Pederson, or Aaron Rodgers finding some way to make headlines away from the field.
No, these have to be at least somewhat spicy.
And they are.
The NFL will have a first-time Super Bowl winner on Feb. 12, 2023
Twelve NFL teams have never won a Super Bowl: the Minnesota Vikings, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Chargers, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Houston Texans.
After Super Bowl Sunday 2023, there will only be 11.
Several serious contenders for the next Lombardi Trophy live on that list. The Bengals, Vikings, Bills, Cardinals, Titans, and Chargers could all make deep runs toward the championship. My bold prediction, though, is that Super Bowl 57 will be a matchup between two of these teams when the Bills take on the Vikings in Glendale, Arizona. When this happens, a new champion is guaranteed, and look for it to be Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills.
The number of 1,000-yard rushers will dwindle to no more than six
Thousand-yard rushers will continue to follow MLB 20-game winners into near-extinction despite this being Year 2 of the 17-game schedule. While Indianapolis Colts workhorse Jonathan Taylor rolled up a league-best 1,811 yards last fall, only seven running backs in all broke the quadruple-digit barrier, and Antonio Gibson (1,037) and Ezekiel Elliott (1,002) barely made the cut.
The last time there were so few 1,000-yard rushers was in 2015, again with seven. Before that, you have to go back to 1991, when Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, and Thurman Thomas led an elite group of seven.
Yes, the NFL has long been a passing league, and this will be the first year we fall below seven 1,000-yard rushers in a season unaffected by a strike or lockout since 1974.
The Miami Dolphins will be surprise winners of the AFC East
It’s time for Tua Tagovailoa to take off.
The Miami Dolphins have the pieces in place under new head coach Mike McDaniel to threaten the Buffalo Bills’ perch atop the AFC East. With Tyreek Hill stretching defenses vertically and Jaylen Waddle capitalizing on underneath routes and plays around the line of scrimmage before exploding downfield after the catch, Tagovailoa gets to play in an offensive scheme that should maximize his precision and growing poise.
Of course, it also helps that Miami has a young defense brimming with talent. It was a middle-of-the-road unit in 2021 and has to overcome the early-season absence of Byron Jones, but it excels at putting pressure on the quarterback and should generate an even stronger pass-rush with Jaelan Phillips taking a step forward. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Jevon Holland is quickly developing into an upper-echelon safety.
With the Bills facing a drastic uptick in schedule difficulty and due for a bit of regression in the turnover-luck department, the Dolphins will squeak by on a tiebreaker to take the divisional crown and cement Tagovailoa, Hill, and Waddle as one of the league’s deadliest triumvirates.
Travis Kelce will take a step back, but the Kansas City Chiefs will be just fine
Ever since Tyreek Hill left town, a good deal of Kansas City Chiefs chatter has focused on Travis Kelce. While the tight end has posted monster numbers and grown into Patrick Mahomes’ most trustworthy target, defenses will now be able to focus all their attention on him. That reality, combined with the Cincinnati product’s age, have raised some concern about his production. Can he possibly play at an All-Pro level yet again?
While I do think Kelce will take a slight step backward — think somewhere in the neighborhood of 850 receiving yards and six touchdowns — that won’t cause the Chiefs too much of a problem.
KC’s receiving corps does look different, but that change meshes with Mahomes’ evolution as a passer. He was throwing fewer and fewer bombs, and having bigger receivers capable of outmuscling their defenders will help complement that adaptation. Will deep balls still be a part of the Chiefs’ offense? Of course, but with Kelce, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and a solid, if unremarkable, group of running backs, things should be a bit more balanced than you might expect.
Lamar Jackson will win MVP and lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl appearance
Sure, everyone’s talking about the Buffalo Bills as if they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread while (essentially) handing Josh Allen the league MVP before the season even starts. Meanwhile, it’s back to business as usual in Baltimore with the Ravens primed to make a return to the postseason after injuries derailed their 2021 campaign.
Not only does Baltimore get a healthy (and motivated) Lamar Jackson — ‘member him? — who’s entering a contract year, but the AFC North team will pair a healthy (and motivated) J.K. Dobbins with their superstar QB in the backfield. That duo will be an absolute handful for opposing defensive coordinators.
And while Marquise “Hollywood” Brown was shipped to Arizona, expect second-year receiver Rashod Bateman to take a major leap this season, surpassing 1,000 yards and becoming a bona fide deep-ball threat for the Ravens offense. Add in tight end Mark Andrews, and this Baltimore team could have a sneaky passing attack that pairs well with that aforementioned running game. It’ll work in boots, rely on play-action, and find other creative ways to get Jackson doing what he does best — using his legs to his advantage and rolling him out of the pocket.
It all starts with Lamar Jackson, though, who is the most dynamic player at the quarterback position that we’ve ever seen.
After starting just 12 games in 2021 and missing a lot of his supporting cast, I expect Jackson to put up similar numbers to his MVP-winning season in 2019 because the Ravens need him to do a little bit more and because he’s determined to prove he’s worth all the money Baltimore’s front office can throw at him.
The New Orleans Saints will win the NFC South and enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the NFC
The NFC is completely wide open this season.
The Los Angeles Rams will be suffering from a Super Bowl hangover, the Green Bay Packers won’t look the same without Davante Adams, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the most concerning offseason of any Super Bowl contender.
Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints are quietly set up for a huge season in Year 3 of the Jameis Winston experience. This offense should put up a ton of points with Michael Thomas returning and Jarvis Landry and rookie Chris Olave joining the fold. New Orleans still has one of the best offensive lines in the league, so Alvin Kamara should be in for another Pro Bowl campaign.
On the defensive side, the Saints return much of the same core that finished as the fourth-best scoring unit in the NFL last season. Oh, and they also added Tyrann Mathieu to one of the most formidable secondaries in the league.
No one is talking about the Saints as an NFC dark horse this year, and I have no idea why. This team is loaded, and as long as Winston can stay healthy and avoid those ugly turnovers, New Orleans can compete for the No. 1 seed.
Justin Herbert wins MVP, but Aaron Rodgers wins the Super Bowl
It’s a trade Aaron Rodgers will certainly make. The Green Bay Packers quarterback has won the last two MVPs and has guided his team to the top seed in the NFC the last two seasons. The Packers, however, were upset at home in the playoffs both years.
This year, that changes.
While he won’t put up the big numbers he’s used to, Rodgers will guide Green Bay to another NFC North title, finally get back to the Super Bowl, and win it.
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert will put up the big numbers and will be the regular-season darling and MVP winner. The Chargers will light it up offensively and win games while doing so. They should be favored in seven of their first eight games and get off to a tremendous start. Herbert will garner a lot of early-season attention that eventually leads to an MVP.
Pittsburgh Steelers RB Najee Harris will win the rushing title
In looking at the favorites to win the 2022 NFL rushing title, you’ve likely been hearing the same names over and over.
Many believe the Colts third-year thoroughbred, Jonathan Taylor, will break Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2,105 yards. Two-time rushing champ Derrick Henry, who missed more than half of the 2021 season, is back healthy for the Titans. Nick Chubb is an option as the Browns will likely be running a lot with Jacoby Brissett under center for the first 11 games. Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon are often mentioned, although they’re in pass-heavy offenses.
But my pick for the 2022 rushing champ is Steelers workhorse Najee Harris. Let’s get real here. Fans in the Steel City don’t want to see Mitch Trubisky throwing a ton of passes. Pittsburgh needs to be a run-first team in a pass-happy league, and Harris can handle it.
The second-year star led the NFL in touches as a rookie with 381 and rushed for a solid 1,200 yards. Sure, he only averaged 3.9 yards per carry last year. But the Steelers have upgraded their offensive line, adding center Mason Cole and guard James Daniels. So that average is going to go up.
On the flip side, both Taylor and Henry lost a couple of offensive linemen. Look for Najee Harris to take advantage and swoop in to steal the rushing title.