The moment we’ve been waiting for is finally upon us. The Bills and Rams will kick off the 2022 season on Thursday in a much-anticipated matchup, but before that happens, I thought I’d take a look at where the various teams stand on opening week. You’ve probably seen power rankings before, and these are just my version. I won’t do this every week, but I will re-evaluate the rankings at key points during the season, such as the trade deadline. Please don’t be mad at me if your favorite team is lower than you think they should be. Surprises happen every year, and nobody knows exactly what will occur. That’s what makes this all so fun! With that in mind, here are my initial 2022 NFL power rankings.
32. Chicago Bears
As I alluded to in my prediction article yesterday, I don’t have much faith in Chicago this year. Their QB situation could be dire, they lost a lot of their talent in the offseason, and they didn’t bring in reinforcements. I’m not sure what the plan is. The front office should be adding pieces to TRY and develop Justin Fields, but it looks more like tanking instead. I will note that the current regime didn’t draft Fields, so this team could blow up again soon.
31. Houston Texans
Unlike Chicago, this team at least has something to look forward to. They play in the weakest division in the AFC, and their Deshaun Watson haul will provide cap space and draft picks galore while freeing them from a toxic situation. I don’t think Davis Mills is the answer at QB, but he definitely wasn’t the worst of the rookies last year. The roster have a lot of holes, but Brandin Cooks is still criminally underrated, and they have some solid young players like Nico Collins, Dameon Pierce, and Derek Stingley.
30. Seattle Seahawks
John Schneider and Pete Carroll tried their best to convince Russell Wilson to stay and sign an extension, but I respect that they maximized their return once they thought no agreement could be reached. That will jumpstart their rebuild at the cost of what looks like a rather painful upcoming season. The team has no #1 QB and smartly declined to go after Baker Mayfield. Acquiring Jimmy Garoppolo would’ve been good, but SF wasn’t allowing him to go to a division rival. The Jamal Adams trade was a dud, but their draft capital has been replenished as they look to rebuild in the coming seasons.
29. Atlanta Falcons
Cap mismanagement is the reason the Falcons find themselves here. That and the pathetic pursuit of Deshaun Watson alienating Matt Ryan. Atlanta was awful last year and wouldn’t have topped 3 wins without Ryan. They’re only slightly better this year as a whole, and that’s mostly due to Dean Pees’ improvements on defense. Unfortunately for Atlanta, if Marcus Mariota stays healthy (admittedly a challenge), he won’t be awful, which will cost Atlanta a shot at the #1 pick. This year is about developing young players like Kyle Pitts and Drake London, seeing what they’ve got in Desmond Ridder, and letting the cap charges fall away.
28. New York Jets
The Jets are just one of those teams for whom nothing goes right. This time around, 2nd-year QB Zach Wilson tore his meniscus in the first preseason game. Though he could play in week 1, he missed a lot of valuable practice reps as he enters a critical year for his development. The team resides in the AFC East with Miami and Buffalo, which also does not help their cause. Poor QB play has held this team back for years, and that likely won’t change now.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars
Sometimes, addition by subtraction is a very real concept. The dismissal of Urban Meyer was one such occurrence. Now, the hope in Duval is that he didn’t ruin Trevor Lawrence beyond repair. The roster still lacks top-shelf talent outside of the position. Jacksonville has a couple solid #2 receivers and some good albeit oft-injured linemen, but this year is all about QB1. If he delivers on his promise as a generational talent, nothing else matters. If he doesn’t, this team will be devastated for years.
26. New York Giants
The (slightly) more successful of the New York teams, the Giants are in a weird spot. Their roster on paper seems decent enough, and their division is poor enough for them to overachieve. All of their hopes rest with two players currently under critical evaluations: QB Daniel Jones and RB Saquon Barkley. As foretold by this ranking, I don’t have high expectations. Daniel Jones is a turnover machine whose stat line might read 20-23 for 235 yards, 2 TDs, and 3 INTs. The accuracy is there, but the decision-making just isn’t. Barkley is too injured to depend on, and his tendency to dance in the backfield supersedes his big play ability.
25. Carolina Panthers
By opting with Baker Mayfield over Sam Darnold at QB, Carolina has given themselves a decent floor. But what is their ceiling? New Orleans and Tampa Bay are the class of the AFC South, and Atlanta probably has better coaching than what Matt Rhule provides. Jaycee Horn and Christian McCaffrey are returning from injury, and Carolina’s only chance is if both stay on the field, which is a tall order. The receivers are good, the pass rush has some pop, and Ikem Ekwonu should improve at LT, but this team is stuck in mediocrity until it finds/develops a true franchise QB and hires an NFL coach.
24. Detroit Lions
Detroit is a team that could really surprise people this year. Their record might not have reflected it, but they were really competitive over the second half of last season. The defense has added Aidan Hutchinson and a healthy Jeff Okudah, while the offense could get Jameson Williams in the second half of the year. Jared Goff is nothing special, but he can be competent. The team has a ton of fight, and they could push for a .500 winning percentage if things go their way.
23. New England Patriots
This may be shocking, but if anything I’m ranking NE too high out of respect for Bill Belichick’s coaching ability. The truth is that the Patriots are not a very talented team. Mac Jones is a good game manager but is limited as a QB, and the team lost guard Shaq Mason in the offseason. The team’s drafting was mystifying, and they watched talented players like JC Jackson, Kyle Van Noy, and Dont’a Hightower leave. They don’t even know who’s going to call the plays on offense, and the two contenders are a former DC and a special teams coach. The Patriots are rebuilding for the first time in ages, even if they won’t admit it.
22. Washington Commanders
Much has been made of Washington’s QB situation, but the team has plenty of other concerns. The pass defense is porous, their likely starting RB got shot, and the offensive line lost Brandon Scherff. Ron Rivera stupidly disciplined his defensive coordinator for social media comments, undermining my faith in Rivera to lead this team; he hasn’t produced a good team in years. The NFC East always presents an opportunity to compete, but it would take a perfect storm to see the Commanders make the playoffs.
21. Arizona Cardinals
Too bad I didn’t have this site early last season. Even when Arizona was 7-0, I said they wouldn’t win the division. You cannot trust Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury when it counts. This year might look a lot more like the latter half of last season than the first half. DeAndre Hopkins is suspended for 6 games, AJ Green and Zach Ertz could continue to regress, and Christian Kirk, Chase Edmonds, and Chandler Jones are all gone. Without his homework clause, Murray could continue to be lazy with his fat new contract, setting up a poor season and leading to changes in the desert.
20. Cleveland Browns
Unfortunately for Browns fans, this one simply comes down to Deshaun Watson vs. Jacoby Brissett. With Watson for 17 games, this team could win the AFC North with their stellar offensive and defensive lines, running backs, and secondary. With Brissett, Cleveland is lucky to match last year’s 8-9. Last year’s Dolphins showed you what Brissett is: a journeyman who can hold down the fort but not create wins. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt (who wants a trade) will be relied upon to carry the team, but I’m not sure even these two great rushers can overcome the loss of Watson in a brutal AFC North.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Tomlin will not allow the Steelers to be a sub-.500 team. He’s never done so as a head coach. However, if that were ever going to change, this would be the year. Big Ben is no longer the signal caller, and the offensive line is among the worst in franchise history. However, the Steel Curtain has made its return lead by TJ Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Minkah Fitzpatrick. That should keep the Steelers in every game as long as Mitchell Trubisky (or Kenny Pickett) doesn’t screw too much up. Pittsburgh should wind up as a middling but potentially dangerous team.
18. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles greatly overachieved last year, but that’s what happens when a few breaks go your way and you play an NFC East schedule. Jalen Hurts’ accuracy is still below average, and as teams learn to contain his rushing attack, he will struggle when forced to win from the pocket. The offensive line is great, the corner position is much improved, and the defensive line is good and deep. However, I don’t like the linebacking corps or the QB, which are pretty big drawbacks. Their record will again be fluffed up by a weak divisional schedule, so we’ll see if that earns them another wild card berth.
17. Tennessee Titans
Mike Vrabel’s squad looks to be a team on the decline. This trend started in the playoff loss to the Bengals in the divisional round last season, where Ryan Tannehill had his worst outing as a Titan. Despite Tannehill’s overall quality play for the team, fans called for a replacement, and Malik Willis was drafted in the third round. To add to the troubles, AJ Brown was traded away, and Harold Landry tore his ACL. Julio Jones was released, leaving rookie Treylon Burks as Tannehill’s only high-end weapon. This team looks to be firmly behind the Colts in the NFC South race.
16. San Francisco 49ers
I have the Niners making the playoffs, but they’re not in top 14. The AFC is simply too deep a conference, so teams that would qualify in the NFC will sadly be at home in January. This is a REALLY good roster; good enough to make the conference championship game last year. Health is always a concern for this team though, and my biggest worry is QB Trey Lance. His upside is immense, but remember: he played just 1 season of FCS football, so he’s incredibly raw. Anyone who says they KNOW what he’ll be is guessing or lying. He’ll improve with experience, but expect some growing pains.
15. Minnesota Vikings
A lot of people are sleeping on the Vikings, and I’m not sure why. Kirk Cousins is a quality QB, his receivers are great, and the pass rush added juice with Za’Darius Smith. The secondary, while still likely to be poor, can’t physically be worse than last year, so even some regression to the mean would mark a drastic improvement. I anticipate Minnesota earning a wild card spot on the backs of Dalvin Cook, Kirk Cousins, and Justin Jefferson as this team is clearly #2 in the NFC North. Perhaps most importantly, Kevin O’Connell replaced the inept Mike Zimmer as head coach, which should help considerably.
14. New Orleans Saints
I’m not sure any team has pushed their chips in further to win now than NO. This team always seems to be kicking cap charges down the road to address major cap issues in the present. Eventually that paradigm will collapse, but the front office knows they have a championship-caliber defense (especially the run defense), a star RB, and potentially two top-tier WRs in Michael Thomas and Chris Olave. For some reason, they also have Tampa’s number. The offensive line, QB, and coach are their main question marks. If Dennis Allen picks up where Sean Payton left off, Jameis Winston continues to keep turnovers low, and Trevor Penning can return from injury to replace the departed Terron Armstead, the Saints will be dangerous.
13. Baltimore Ravens
This is the part where a bunch of AFC playoff hopefuls crowd up. Slots 13-10 aren’t separated by very much, and one game here or there could decide their fates. In a tie, I often default to using the QB as the tiebreaker, and I’m not nearly as much of a believer in Lamar Jackson as everyone else seems to be. The defense should be greatly boosted simply by staying off IR, and Justin Tucker will be spectacular as always, but the offense still seems to be missing something. Mark Andrews can’t do everything, and the pass rush doesn’t seem as strong as in years past.
12. Las Vegas Raiders
I give the Raiders a ton of credit for making moves to bolster their roster in spite of their division foes making big splashes and pushing themselves further ahead. After last year’s tumultuous run ended in a wild card, they probably have higher expectations this year, but I’m not sure. First, the Chargers and Broncos are MUCH improved. Also, the team imported Patriots at coach and GM, and that rarely works well. However, Davante Adams and Chandler Jones are two of the biggest additions any team has made, so I’m definitely not counting them out. The margin for error is just much slimmer this year.
11. Denver Broncos
Denver made arguably the move of the offseason, sending a haul to Seattle for Russell Wilson. He instantly makes the team credible again, even if he isn’t quite what he was a couple of years ago. However, this isn’t the “one QB away” roster of 2019. The defense, while good, is no longer GREAT, and the pass catchers could be better. Denver has improved at RB and along the offensive line though, so the offense should be just fine. If the defense, reinvigorated by a finally competent offense, returns to form, Denver will contend for a playoff spot and more.
10. Miami Dolphins
I am completely bullish on Tua Tagovailoa. The fact that he has done as well as he has in spite of no offensive line and a coach trying to sabotage him is a miracle. I can’t wait to see what his does with Mike McDaniel, Tyreek Hill, Terron Armstead, and a new stable of RBs added to the mix. The right side of Miami’s line still isn’t good, and corner depth is going to be a problem until Byron Jones returns, but the starting secondary is elite, and the pass rush looks ready to take another step forward. This is your new #2 in the AFC East and a likely wild card team. With that said, eliminate the Dolphins from the division race at your own peril.
9. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys were another tricky team to rank, as it’s hard to tell what about their 2021 season was a mirage and what part was the truth. The high-scoring offense is likely to regress due to the losses of Amari Cooper, Cedric Wilson, and La’el Collins, as well as the latest injury to Tyron Smith. Trevon Diggs probably won’t have double-digit INTs again, but he likely won’t get burned as often in coverage either. As with most things, Dallas is probably somewhere in the middle of their extremes: a good offense with an above-average defense. That’s more than enough to win their division.
8. Indianapolis Colts
Call this ranking the Matt Ryan effect. The veteran QB single-handedly kept the Falcons competitive last year, and though his prime is behind him, he still has the ability to elevate the Colts’ offense to a model of consistency and reduced turnovers. That in turn will keep the defense fresher, enabling players like Shaquille Leonard and DeForest Buckner to thrive. Stephon Gilmore is another big reason to buy into the Colts. Combined with the Titans’ anticipated backslide, Indianapolis is now the favorites in the AFC South, and a well-balanced team with an elite rushing game spearheaded by Jonathan Taylor can make noise in January.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
The AFC West is going to be closer than it’s been in years. The Chargers added Khalil Mack and JC Jackson to beef up their defense, and the coaches should be much more stable in their second season (calling a timeout and preventing the Raiders from granting you a playoff berth with a tie? Really?). Justin Herbert is the real deal, and he’ll have Keenan Allen and Mike Williams to throw to again after the latter was re-signed. LA is going all in while their QB is still on a rookie deal, and that’s the right away to do business. Hopefully Dustin Hopkins is the answer to their long-term kicking woes.
6. Kansas City Chiefs
Until further notice, KC retains the top ranking in the AFC West, but it’s close. The Chargers won in Arrowhead last year, showing that they can take the crown if the Chiefs stumble. The issue is: I don’t expect KC to experience much of a drop off. Losing Tyreek Hill hurts, but Juju Smith-Schuster, Marques Valdez-Scantling, and Skyy Moore can combine to fill that role, and Travis Kelce is still there. The pass rush got a much needed jolt with rookie George Karlaftis, and fellow first-rounder Trent McDuffie should shore up the secondary. Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid will always be the aces in the hole for this team, but I wonder if their decision to let Tyrann Mathieu walk will be more costly than expected.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When Tom Brady decided to return for another year, I considered putting TB in the top slot. Their unexpected offensive line woes are the reason they’re at 5 instead. Alex Cappa signed with the Bengals, Ali Marpet retired, and Ryan Jensen got badly hurt and could miss most of the season. Quality reserve Aaron Stinnie also tore his ACL. Rookie Luke Goedeke and trade acquisition Shaq Mason will help, but Tampa’s depth has been obliterated. Else where Gronk has retired, and Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh have not be re-signed. Julio Jones makes the receiving core formidable, however, and Tom Brady fixes a LOT of holes.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
After a trip to the Super Bowl, the Bengals knew what they had to do: fix their glaring offensive line weakness. And boy did they. Ted Karras, Alex Cappa, and La’el Collins were all signed in free agency, and the team drafted Cordell Volson in the draft. Joe Burrow should have much better protection in his third season. That should enable his already great connection with Ja’Marr Chase to further blossom and allow Joe Mixon to finally find some room in the running game. Jessie Bates’ return to health will be massive for the secondary as well. The scary playoff version of the Bengals might be this team’s base for 2022.
3. Buffalo Bills
Your AFC favorites are the most complete team in the conference on paper. I stress those last two words because things can go awry once the season begins. Injuries are bound to happen, but this team seems to have elite depth for sustaining positions that are hit. Josh Allen’s accuracy scares me a bit, but his combination of arm strength and running ability are unmatched. He has a good supporting cast, where the drafting of James Cook will provide another outlet for the passing game. The most important change involves a returning player. Tre’Davious White should be in peak form by midseason upon recovering from an ACL tear. He provides a true shutdown corner to pair with rookie Kaiir Elam. Buffalo has no glaring weakness and expects a Super Bowl run.
2. Green Bay Packers
Davante Adams will be sorely missed. In fact, he’s the reason why the Packers are ranked second and not #1. Once again, the Packers eschewed drafting a first-round receiver, setting Allen Lazard up for the top role. He’s a good player, but he shouldn’t the team’s first option at WR. Za’Darius Smith is gone, but the defense should be improved on aggregate due to the presence of first-round LB Quay Walker and the return of shutdown corner Jaire Alexander from a season-ending shoulder injury. As always with Green Bay though, the season starts and ends with Aaron Rodgers. He’ll elevate the players around him as he tries for a third straight MVP. Just don’t let this team run into San Francisco again.
1. Los Angeles Rams
Andrew Whitworth may have retired, and Von Miller might have gone to Buffalo, but I can’t knock the defending champs off their throne just yet with Sean McVay, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and Cooper Kupp all returning. No team ships out draft picks for veteran players like Les Snead, and the result has been a core of players that can win against anyone else in football. They also somehow added Allen Robinson and Bobby Wagner. I’m not sure that’s fair, but it seems to be legal. We’ll see if Stafford’s elbow injury is truly nothing, and if that’s the case, LA should cruise to an NFC West title repeat and a top seed.