The NFL draft is a tremendous opportunity for upstart teams to make significant roster upgrades entering the following season. This year was different, however. Teams who overachieved, such as the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions, along with the defending NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles, have multiple first round picks. While it is still months before football, it is never too early to make judgements on whether some of these teams improved their chances of winning for the upcoming season.
Teams Who Improved
1. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks were one of the league's most surprising teams, due to the resurgence of Geno Smith and a bevy of young talent. Thanks to their decision to trade Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, they possessed multiple first round picks for the second straight year which were used on cornerback Devon Witherspoon and receiver Jaxon Smith-Njiba. Witherspoon may not be imposing at 180 lbs, but he's an aggressive cornerback with ball skills, and is not afraid to make a big hit. He and Tariq Woolen could be a formidable cornerback duo in the future.
As for Smith-Njiba, he's arguably the best receiver in the draft. With his fundamentally sound route running, terrific hands, and the ability to create after the catch, he gives Smith another target to throw to alongside DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. While the Seahawks certainly have talent at both cornerback and receiver, they are valuable positions that can be built upon in the draft
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Although the Jaguars didn't have multiple first round picks, they still managed to upgrade a roster that reached the divisional round despite being 4-8 at one point in the season. They traded down twice in the first round to select offensive tackle Anton Harrison. He might not have so many eye-opening plays, but he's a very patient blocker who does a great job staying in front of his opponents in pass protection. This was particularly a good pick because the Jaguars had to address the tackle position after the departure of Jawaan Taylor and a recent suspension for Cam Robinson. Harrison could give Trevor Lawrence even more protection from the blindside which would go a long way to a solid passing attack.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have already solidified themselves as contenders following a Super Bowl appearance, but given they weren't expected to have a such dominant year, I felt it was still appropriate to put them on this list. With multiple picks in the first round thanks to last year's draft day trade with the Saints, they went all in on defense with Georgia standouts Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith.
Smith is a very instinctive player whose relentless pursuit allows him to make numerous plays in the backfield. Carter might be a defensive tackle, but his strength and quickness allow him to be just as effective as a pass rusher along with a run stopper. This is the second straight year Philadelphia drafted defensive starters from Georgia, as last year saw them get Jordan Davis in the first round and Nakobe Dean in the third round. The only difference is that Smith and Carter have more upside, which will be essential toward maintaining a very good front seven.
Teams That Missed Out
1. Detroit Lions
After finishing the season 8-2, the Lions had a solid free agency and an even better opportunity to make improvements in the draft having owned the Rams' pick. It would've made sense to use their picks on a cornerback or defensive tackle. Instead, they made two questionable decisions by drafting running back Jahmyr Gibbs and linebacker Jack Campbell. What's head-scratching about these moves is that running backs and linebackers are positions that can be addressed later in the draft. Detroit is still a strong candidate to make the playoffs this upcoming year, but this was a spectacular chance to establish a roster that could seriously contend.
2. New York Jets
The Jets already checked their biggest need at quarterback by acquiring Aaron Rodgers before the draft. To boost his protection, they were eyeing offensive tackles (Broderick Jones, Paris Johnson Jr., or Peter Skoronski). But after seeing each one taken, they selected edge rusher Will McDonald. To be fair, McDonald is a solid player who will line up outside opposing tackles much more than at Iowa St. This will allow him to utilize his speed and finesse off the ball. However, the Jets have plenty of edge rushers. While his playing time in 2024 will likely increase assuming Carl Lawson leaves in free agency, it's a bit of a letdown to see the Jets miss out on a bigger need even if it wasn't their fault.
There are very few quarterbacks who get the ball with 5:15 left in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl with one good ankle and proceed to lead their team right down the field and leave little time remaining. Usually their team either scores with more than enough time left for the other team to score or they have to punt the football back to the opponent.
Unless you have Patrick Mahomes on your team.
He led the Kansas City Chiefs to the Philadelphia Eagles' nine yard line while using up all but eight seconds before Harrison Butker's go ahead field goal made it 38-35. Mahomes was already one of the league's most decorated players thanks to his tremendous arm strength, pocket awareness, and improvisation. With Tom Brady retiring, one can say it's Mahomes' league. Given he now has two MVPs and two Super Bowl MVPs (only the third player to accomplish this feat) it's safe to say he has set the bar for the next generation of young quarterbacks.
During this NFL season, a new wave of elite quarterbacks cemented themselves as the future of the league. With Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady finally showing signs of age, the spotlight fully turned to a number of other signal callers waiting to establish a new age: Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert, and Trevor Lawrence. All of those guys have proved themselves as leaders who are capable of elevating their squads. With only Rodgers remaining from the previous era of great quarterbacks, it's now their time to shine. Yet despite their brilliance, they will all be looking up to Mahomes for a long time.
What Patrick Mahomes did this year was nothing short of spectacular. Despite winning the Super Bowl three years ago, some people thought the Chiefs might regress after they traded superstar receiver Tyreek Hill in the offseason. But by the end of the regular season, any talk of a down year was long gone. Mahomes established himself as the frontrunner for MVP right from the start and never looked back. He threw for a career high 5,250 yards and 41 touchdowns while leading the Chiefs to a 14-3 record. But it was in the playoffs where Mahomes showed how great he truly is.
For the majority of the playoffs, Mahomes played through an ankle sprain that made it difficult for him to walk at times. Yet he continued to add one chapter after another to his incredible career, while taking down the trio of Lawrence, Burrow, and Hurts. Every game saw Mahomes do something incredible. First it was playing the entire second half of the divisional round after injuring his ankle. Then it was defeating Burrow, his supposed kryptonite, in the championship game. He concluded his magical run in the Super Bowl by orchestrating a magnificent second half against one of the league's best defenses that saw Kansas City score on every possession.
Teams always look for a guy who can dramatically change their fortunes the moment he steps on the field. Only a few players can be seen as a franchise-changing pick, but Mahomes fits that category. Kansas City might have been a good team before Mahomes, but with him at the helm along with head coach Andy Reid and tight end Travis Kelce, they are the team to beat. Legendary NBA coach Pat Riley once said "The great ones will lift you above and beyond."
Mahomes has done just that.
Grading My AFC and NFC Predictions
Before the regular season, I decided to make three bold predictions for each conference. In a season filled with plenty of dramatic developments, I felt that it was only fitting to go back and evaluate each prediction. While a couple didn't age well, the majority were pretty respectable. Here are the final grades.
1. Von Miller will be the Final Piece Buffalo Needs: A-
Buffalo might have not made the Super Bowl, but that certainly didn't have anything to do with Von Miller's performance. The future Hall of Fame pass rusher was playing like the difference maker Buffalo paid him to be before tearing his ACL in week 12. While Buffalo's defense still played well without him, they clearly missed his presence in the playoffs as the Bengals' offense gashed them en route to a 27-10 victory. While it's not a guarantee Miller would've changed the outcome, it's a safe bet that the Bills would've been a much different team with him on the field.
2. The Raiders Won't Make the Playoffs: A+
This was one of my most accurate predictions as the Las Vegas Raiders would indeed finish with a disappointing 6-11 record. Even though wide receiver Davante Adams proved to be a terrific acquisition, it wasn't enough to overcome their inability to prevail in tight contests. It's worth noting that I stated teams who win a bunch of nail biters one year usually take a step back the following season, which is exactly what happened. The Raiders lost five games when leading at halftime, with four of those leads being by double digits.
3. Jets Will Have Two Rookie of the Year Winners: B
While the Jets did sweep the Rookie of the Year awards, I'm giving this a B because of who I predicted to win. On the defensive side, I correctly had Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner winning the award. He performed at an all-pro level and already has a legitimate case as the best cornerback in football. However, I had running back Breece Hall winning for offense, and while he was looking like the frontrunner in October, an ACL tear ended any hopes. The award instead went to fellow receiver Garrett Wilson who tallied over 80 receptions and 1,100 yards. Nonetheless this is a high honor given that the Jets became only the third team in NFL history to have two rookies win the award.
1. The Saints Will Have a Better Record Than the Buccaneers: D+
This prediction gets a D+ and rightfully so. I thought that the Saints will come back healthier and regain their status as division champions but I was certainly wrong. If anything, the Saints' championship window looks all but closed after having such a promising future. It's always difficult to replace a legend, and Dennis Allen got first hand experience after succeeding Sean Payton as head coach. The only reason why I'm not giving this an F is because I did mention that the Buccaneers will have a disappointing season, which was the case. They won their division despite finishing 8-9 and were later trounced by the Cowboys.
2. Justin Jefferson Will Win Offensive Player of the Year: A+
I believe this was my best prediction as Jefferson won an award that's difficult for receivers to win. From a statistical standpoint, Jefferson happened the exact way I said he could: by raising his numbers and leading the league in two out of three major receiving categories. Jefferson's touchdowns dropped slightly but his career highs in receptions and receiving yards were both good enough to lead the league. It also helped that Jefferson was the most important player on a Vikings team that won a bunch of close games on their way to a 13-4 record.
3. Trey Lance Will Outperform Jalen Hurts: F-
There is nothing whatsoever that was accurate about this prediction. Trey Lance was expected to be the future quarterback of the 49ers, but played poorly in the season opener before suffering a season ending ankle injury. To make matters worse, the 49ers looked a lot better whether it was Jimmy Garoppolo or Brock Purdy - the likely candidate to start next season - under center. In Philadelphia, Jalen Hurts had a terrific year showing dramatic improvement as a passer while maintaining his skills as a rusher. His play is major reason why the Eagles punched their ticket to the Super Bowl.
In 2022, the Jets actually gave their fans some reasons to be optimistic. They had plenty of young players such as Garrett Wilson, Quinnen Williams, Sauce Gardner, and Breece Hall (when healthy) who emerged as difference makers and helped lead the Jets to a 7-4 record. Unfortunately, none of the players are quarterbacks. In a league where that position is so vital, the Jets couldn't find an answer at the position, whether it was Zach Wilson (right), Mike White (center), and Joe Flacco (left). This ultimately led to a six game losing streak and a 12th year out of the playoffs.
Now that the season is over, fans are already making their wishlists of possible quarterbacks. There will be many quarterbacks available this offseason and while any of them will be an upgrade, there are a variety of factors to consider. Some are easy to evaluate such as their stats, while others like their mental toughness will require more thought. With that being said, here are my preferred options for Jets quarterback.
1. Jimmy Garoppolo
Out of all the four quarterbacks I mention here, Garoppolo is certainly not the flashiest quarterback. He hasn't posted eye-popping stats and can be injury prone, as seen this year. Even with some of these question marks, he is still a productive quarterback who can be consistently relied upon. With a quick release, he is able to utilize the many skill positions the 49ers have. In addition, Garoppolo has climbed into a tie for fifth place for the most victories by a 49er quarterback, despite starting only 55 games since 2017. The 49ers may not need him as of now, but those numbers can't be ignored.
Perhaps Garoppolo's biggest attribute is his resilience. He's had to live up to a record $137 million contract extension in 2018, come back from multiple injuries, and face competition following their selection of Trey Lance in 2021. Despite these obstacles, Garoppolo has continued to perform at an exceptional level and has elevated his teammates in the process. Those qualities in particular make him a perfect fit to play in a big market like New York. The cherry on top is that Garoppolo is one of the cheapest options in free agency, which will make it easy for the Jets to sign him.
2. Aaron Rodgers
When it comes to throwing a football, few can do it better than Aaron Rodgers. He is a lock for Canton thanks to his ability to effortlessly locate the football wherever he wants. Time and time again, Rodgers has the impossible look routine from game winning drives to 70 yard bombs. His resume includes four MVP awards, and a Super Bowl championship. As for his status, the future Hall of Famer could be shipped this off-season and the Jets have been listed as one potential destination. The hiring of his former offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to run the Jets' offense has only added more fuel to the possibility.
So with all that greatness, what could possibly draw the Jets back?
For one, Rodgers is on the older side. At 39 years old, Rodgers experienced some decline in his play. This year, he threw the most interceptions in his career since 2008, while his touchdowns took a deep dive. Although Rodgers' season would've been strong for any other quarterback, it is hard to ignore this drastic decline given his age. He also has the reputation of being a jerk who only cares about himself. Rodgers can be thin-skinned, which may not fly with the New York media. If Rodgers got away with throwing shade at the Packers' organization, New York would persecute him for those actions.
3. Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson is another talented quarterback on this list who's a possible option for the Jets. Unlike Rodgers, the 2019 NFL MVP is a dual threat QB whose legs are just as a dangerous as his arm. He has yet to throw for 4,000 yards, but Jackson's mobility has allowed him to make plays, whether it's throwing or running. Since being named the starter midway in his rookie season, Jackson has helped lead the Baltimore Ravens to the playoffs in four of the last five years. In addition, the Jets have had the best odds to land Jackson if he decides to leave in free agency.
However, getting him could come at a steep price regardless of how it's done. Before the season, Jackson bet on himself by denying a $250 million contract offer by the Ravens and although it didn't work, the Jets may still have to break the bank to get him in free agency. There's also the possibility the Ravens could franchise tag him, which would require a bevy of assets to acquire him. As talented as Lamar may be, it is always risky to invest most of your future in a quarterback who hasn't fully replicated his MVP year.
4. Derek Carr
While there's still a chance Jackson remains a Raven, it is certain that Derek Carr will not remain a Raider after he was shockingly benched in their last two games. What made this move so surprising was that he had a productive nine seasons with the Raiders. Carr can perfectly place any throw regardless of how short or long it may be. In addition, he has completed over 300 passes every year while throwing for over 4,000 yards in four of them. While many quarterbacks have done this, it is particularly impressive given the revolving door of coaches during his tenure.
There are some downsides to Carr however. While he has often put the Raiders in a position to make the playoffs, he also plays a role in their downfall. Carr has lost more games and thrown more interceptions in December than any other month in his career. Considering that December was when the Jets unraveled, they may have to think twice about getting a quarterback who can be erratic down the stretch.
2022 NFL Playoff Predictions
It is always an exciting time of year for the NFL playoffs regardless of how each team makes it. Unlike last year, there are plenty of teams in both conferences who have the assets to make a serious playoff run. With the season starting to enter its final stages, here's a brief overview of my predictions.
#2 Bills over #7 Dolphins
The Bills are going into this postseason with Damar Hamlin's continued progress serving as motivation. Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and co. will be too much for a Dolphins team that barley squeaked into the playoffs
#3 Bengals over #6 Ravens
Like Miami, Baltimore has slumped since Lamar Jackson got sidelined with a knee injury. Meanwhile the Bengals have been one of the league's hottest teams winning an AFC best eight games.
#5 Chargers over #4 Jaguars
This is my favorite wild card matchup as Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence will both make their playoff debut. It will be close, but Herbert's Chargers have a bit more firepower which will be the difference.
#1 Chiefs over #5 Chargers
The Chargers have been a worthy adversary of the Chiefs. It will be a hard fought game, but it's hard to see Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce going out in defeat against a division rival. I got the Chiefs in this game.
#2 Bills over #3 Bengals
Everybody will be watching to see what happens three weeks removed from when Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest. In what will be a showdown between two high-powered offenses, Buffalo's pass rush has still been productive without Von Miller and they will eventually get to Burrow.
#2 Bills over #1 Chiefs
In the third consecutive year of Allen vs. Mahomes, Allen will prevail this time. Allen will once again put up a Herculean effort and this time, Buffalo's defense will get the key stops in a close affair.
#2 49ers over #7 Seahawks
In his first playoff game since 2017, Christian McCaffrey will play with a vengence while the defense ends a feel good season from Geno Smith.
#3 Vikings over #6 Giants
The Vikings aren't perfect for a 13 win team, but they still have star power with Justin Jefferson leading the way. He will make the most of his playoff debut and send the Giants home.
#5 Cowboys over #4 Buccaneers
In what will be an offensive slugfest, Dallas' defense will frustrate Tom Brady enough to overcome sloppy play from Prescott.
#1 Eagles over #5 Cowboys
In another chapter of their storied rivalry, Philadelphia will be well-rested and resemble the team that was 13-1 at one point. They will run all over Dallas' defense, while Prescott's struggles will prove costly this time.
#2 49ers over #3 Vikings
Nick Bosa continues to make his case as the best pass rusher in the league, harassing Kirk Cousins throughout the game. On offense, all their top guns will show out against a shaky Minnesota defense.
#2 49ers over #1 Eagles
Linebacker Fred Warner will be spying Jalen Hurts throughout the game, and the 49ers will attack Philadelphia's middle of the pack run defense en route to their second Super Bowl appearance in four years.
#2 Bills over #2 49ers
Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs will propel the offense, putting up numbers similar to Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp last year. Brock Purdy will get start even with Jimmy Garoppolo healthy but he will lose his first career NFL game despite putting up a solid fight.
It is not even three full years into this decade, but if there's any recurring trend, it's that plenty of teams were finally able to overcome years of mediocrity and make the playoffs. Whether it has been adjusting to COVID, a major acquisition, or a well timed winning streak, teams such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, and Phoenix Suns finally managed to break long standing playoff droughts. The Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies also recently added their names to the list.
Here's why this pattern continues:
Surprisingly, the first cause has been the effects of the COVID pandemic. Although all teams were challenged with adapting to empty venues, COVID actually might've helped teams who were previously struggling.
Some teams who benefited from these unusual circumstances include the Cleveland Browns, who allowed more fans and only played three games in empty stadiums, unlike many of their opponents whose stadiums were empty all season. In another example, the Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres. were particularly fortunate to play in a shortened season. While some might see these seasons as fluky, it is fair to say that they benefitted from these unusual circumstances as both teams underachieved the following year.
Regardless of COVID, there were other teams who were already well-positioned to break their playoff droughts and were just one player away.
In 2019, the Buccaneers boosted a talented roster that was competitive, but missed the playoffs for the 12th straight year. However, their progress was enough to lure Tom Brady in free agency. The rest was history, as Brady won an seventh Super Bowl in a convincing 31-9 triumph. The following season saw them lose in Divisional Round but there's no question Brady has changed the culture in Tampa Bay.
The Phoenix Suns, with a young roster led by Devin Booker, went 8-0 in the NBA bubble but narrowly missed out on the play-in tournament. Despite this, they established a foundation and would soon trade for Chris Paul whose greatest ability is elevating his teammates. Since then, the Suns not only broke their 10 year drought, but have won more games than any other team, and made the 2021 Finals.
If there's one thing great teams have in common, it is the ability to embark on a winning stretch at the right time. This is also how some teams were finally able to get over the hump to make the playoffs. Just as they would slowly start to fall out of the playoff picture, they heated up at the perfect time.
The 2021 New York Knicks are a perfect fit for this category. While they had already showed significant improvement, it looked like their luck was starting to run out with just over a month left. What followed was a nine game winning streak, culminating into 16 wins in their last 20 games: good enough to clinch the fourth seed. Their first playoff series in eight years against the Hawks lasted only five games, but witnessing their game 2 win in person was an incredible experience for me.
Unlike the Knicks, this year's Seattle Mariners were looking to take the next step after falling short of the playoffs the previous season. They started slow but found their stride in July: the exact time baseball games become significant. Seattle won an amazing 14 consecutive games, which boosted them into the wild card picture, a position they would not relinquish. Last Friday, they finally put an end to their 21 year drought; the longest out of any American sports team at the time.
Three Bold NFC Predictions for 2022
Every NFL season has seen some huge surprises, from injuries to unexpected turnarounds. Going into last year, no one thought the Cincinnati Bengals would narrowly miss out on a Super Bowl victory or that the Seattle Seahawks wouldn't come close to the playoffs. With this season getting closer by the day, here are my three hot takes for the AFC.
Note: This article is part two of a doubleheader that included AFC Predictions.
1. The Saints Will Have a Better Record Than the Buccaneers
Tom Brady has proved me wrong countless times before as a Jets fan. Last year, he had of the best seasons of his career, but after turning 45 years old, it's fair to wonder how many years he has left. I wouldn't be surprised if he experiences a decline similar to Peyton Manning's in his final season.
Meanwhile, the Saints quietly had a strong offseason despite the retirement of Sean Payton. The offense will get back Jameis Winston who went 5-2 before suffering a season ending injury. His weapons will include Alvin Kamara (if he's not suspended), a healthy Michael Thomas, rookie Chris Olave, and free agent signing Jarvis Landry. Defensively, the Saints added all pro safety Tyrann Mathieu to an already strong unit that includes Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore. New Orleans won't be a powerhouse, but given that they finished 9-8 despite a number of injuries, a division title is not out of sight.
2. Justin Jefferson Will Win Offensive Player of the Year
Although Offensive Player of the Year has only been handed out four times to three receivers (Jerry Rice won it twice), two of the last three seasons have seen receivers take home the award. It is true Michael Thomas and Cooper Kupp both needed historically great seasons to win the award, but Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings is no stranger to that. He set a rookie record for receiving yards and proceeded to improve his receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns the following year. His final numbers were 108 catches for 1,616 yards and 10 touchdowns. Additionally, Jefferson is only 23 years old and is entering the prime of his career. If he not only improves all of his numbers, but leads the league in two out three major receiving categories, Jefferson should be a heavy favorite to win Offensive Player of the Year.
3. Trey Lance Will Outperform Jalen Hurts
The Philadelphia Eagles and San Fransisco 49ers view Hurts and Lance, respectively, as the quarterbacks of the future, and rightfully so. Both teams are coming off playoff appearances, and will be competitive again, but I think Trey Lance is in for a better season than Hurts.
Jalen Hurts wasn't asked to do much in his first year as the Eagles' starter besides protecting the football and using his mobility. While his first taste of playoff football was an ugly defeat to the Buccaneers, the Eagles continued to surround him with more talent by trading for AJ Brown.
Out west, Trey Lance will be starting for the San Fransisco 49ers after watching them make the Championship game as a rookie. Lance was played sparingly as a backup, with his only start being against an awful Texans team. However, he's surrounded by a talented roster with playmakers in George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, as well as one of the best offensive lines in football. While Hurts also has a strong supporting cast, the biggest factor influencing my take comes from the head coaching.
Kyle Shanahan is considered one of today's best coaches for his ability to maximize his players' strengths in his schemes with the 49ers. In a league where many coaches build their offenses around the strengths of their quarterback, Shanahan will certainly look for ways to utilize Lance's rocket arm and mobility outside the pocket. Given that most quarterbacks from Matt Ryan to Robert Griffin III enjoyed career years under Shanahan, it's likely Lance will enjoy similar success.
Three Bold AFC Predictions for 2022
Every NFL season has seen some huge surprises, from injuries to unexpected turnarounds. Going into last year, no one thought the Cincinnati Bengals would narrowly miss out on a Super Bowl victory or that the Seattle Seahawks wouldn't come close to the playoffs. With this season getting closer by the day, here are my three hot takes for the AFC.
Note: This article is part of a doubleheader that will also include NFC Predictions.
1. Von Miller will be the Final Piece Buffalo Needs
The Buffalo Bills have established themselves as contenders during the last two years. With plenty of talent on both sides of ball, the Bills have gone 34-15 in the last three years, winning the AFC East twice in that span. However, they have yet to reach the Super Bowl, with a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Chiefs leaving a bitter taste. In free agency, the Bills successfully agreed to a six year $120 million contract with defensive end Von Miller.
While Miller is 33 years old, he still has plenty left in the tank after logging four sacks during the playoffs, en route to his second Super Bowl championship. What made his performance last year even more impressive was that he missed all of 2020 with a torn ACL. The Bills have a talented defense, but their pass rush lacks a difference maker which proved costly in their recent playoff losses. Miller will probably not play out his entire contract in Buffalo, but his experience and productivity is exactly what the Bills need to get over the hump to finally win it all.
2. The Raiders Won't Make the Playoffs
Last year's Raiders surprisingly made the playoffs with a 10-7 record before losing a tight contest to the Bengals. They then proceeded to make big offseason moves, signing defensive end Chandler Jones and trading for all pro wide receiver Davante Adams. These moves will make the Raiders competitive again this year, but in a stacked conference, it still might not be enough.
In their four game winning streak that propelled them to the playoffs at the end of the year, they beat two teams with backup quarterbacks and another whose quarterback didn't practice that week. That's not mentioning their four overtime wins as well. Teams who won a large portion of close games usually take a step back the next year which is why I'm not sold on the Raiders despite high expectations. I think that they simply won't be as lucky this year.
3. The Jets will have Two Rookie of the Year Winners
In the 55 year existence of the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year award, only two teams had players from both sides win the award. However, I believe there's a strong chance my Jets will become the third team to accomplish this feat. While some of this prediction has to do with my fandom, plenty of other people applauded this year's Jets' draft.
Their notable selections are cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson, defensive end Jermaine Johnson, and running back Breece Hall. Gardner has a strong chance to win Defensive Rookie of the Year thanks to his tall, athletic frame, that allows him to excel in man coverage. He's also likely to make an immediate impact compared to many of the pass rushers selected. Offensively. Hall has a pretty good chance at winning the award. He'll have plenty of opportunities to succeed in a run-first offense and with only one quarterback taken in the first round, the award is wide open. As a franchise notorious for missing out on young talent in the draft, this kind of feat could hopefully change their reputation.
Which Players Will Break Out in 2022?
Every NFL season has seen a few players experience a breakout season shortly after their rookie year. Often, they have shown promise before eventually playing to their full potential the following season. Prime examples of last year's breakout stars include running back Jonathan Taylor and cornerback Trevon Diggs. With training camp underway, many players are ready to showcase their full potential after showing upside last season. Here are my four breakout candidates, not including quarterbacks:
1. Devonta Smith
Last season, Devonta Smith was one of the top rookie receivers for the Philadelphia Eagles, tallying over 900 yards and five touchdowns. While those numbers sound decent on paper, they are very impressive for a rookie receiver who was the only bright spot on one of the league's weakest receiving groups last season. Smith managed to turn short completions into long runs with his speed, and caught a ton of contested passes despite his small frame. With the acquisition of fellow receiver AJ Brown this offseason, Smith should see a lot more single coverage which will increase his production.
2. Patrick Surtain II
Patrick Surtain II of the Denver Broncos was certainly the most impressive defensive back to come out of last year's draft class, given that a large number of rookie cornerbacks started last season. He intercepted four passes and returned one of them for a touchdown, but that's not all. Surtain II also surrendered only 545 yards along while allowing a 61 passer rating. Some of his best games came against pass-happy offenses where he made guys like Tyreek Hill and Ja'Marr Chase non-factors. Although Micah Parsons' historic rookie season kept Surtain II from winning Defensive Rookie of the Year, he still has plenty of upside going forward.
3. Javonte Williams
Denver gets another nod on this list with running back Javonte Williams coming in at three. Although Williams was part of a running back committee with Melvin Gordon, he still managed to total 903 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He was almost impossible to bring down as 31% of Williams' rushing attempts saw him break tackles - 63 to be exact. Williams will likely be the starting running back for Denver. With Russell Wilson now in town, Williams will be in an even better position to excel, since defenses will devote less attention to him.
4. Amon-Ra St. Brown
As a fourth round pick for the Detroit Lions, Amon-Ra St. Brown went into last season with the least hype out of all the players mentioned on this list. He had a few solid games, but it wasn't until the final six weeks of the season when St. Brown began to showcase his potential. In that stretch, St. Brown had 474 yards and five touchdowns which included a game winner against the Vikings. St. Brown's increased usage makes him a heavy favorite to be Detroit's starting receiver going into this season.
5. Elijah Moore
With high upside as a second round receiver, Elijah Moore recorded over 500 yards. These stats are decent at best, but considering that Moore was either injured or barely targeted in the early portion of the season, his progress in his final six games has given Jets fans plenty of optimism. From weeks 8-13, Moore had 459 yards and five touchdowns. Even more impressive, Moore posted these numbers while playing without fellow rookie Zach Wilson who was injured for four of those games. With a bigger role and more young talent, it's very likely Moore's play will take a huge jump in year two.
Every New Alternate Design Ranked
Fans who generally like alternate uniforms were certainly happy when the NFL gave teams the green light to create an additional helmet, allowing teams to become creative in the process. This rule change has also prompted teams such as the Giants and Falcons to create alternate uniforms to go along with their new helmet designs. Many teams are currently having fun with this rule change and while it won't be a surprise if more teams join in, here's my ranking of all the new designs we have seen thus far.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals alternate helmets and jerseys are one of the most anticipated color rush designs this upcoming season. Cincinnati already debuted new uniforms last season but these alternates are a perfect addition. With these all-white helmets and a young core that went all the way to the Super Bowl, everything about this team is new and fresh. As one of the more fun teams last year, fans will certainly enjoy Cincinnati's color rush design when they face the Dolphins in week four.
2. Atlanta Falcons
This might be controversial for Giant fans, but I'm a big fan of the Falcons' decision to bring back their classic red helmets. Their throwback jerseys also match up very well with their helmets. Although Atlanta will only be wearing their attire for one game, it's cool combination between old school and new school.
3. New York Giants
While the Giants technically brought back their helmets from the 80s and 90s for the 2016-18 seasons, this is a lot better. Not only did they bring back their classic helmets from the Lawrence Taylor and Bill Parcells era, but they also reintroduced their old time jerseys which were worn in the same era.
4. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have always had solid uniforms with their teal jerseys standing out in particular. However, they've taken their attire to another level with these black helmet which perfectly complement their black uniforms. While their Thursday Night matchup against the Falcons is far from one of the most anticipated games, the black helmets and uniforms will be a bright spot.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
Like the Panthers, the Eagles' new dark helmets will be a great addition to their black uniforms. While fans are more excited to see their Kelly green uniforms in 2023, I look forward to seeing these helmets match up with the black uniforms.
6. Washington Commanders
Unlike most of these teams, I like how every element of the Commanders' new uniforms stick out. Their home, away, and alternate attire brings something different to the table whether it's the "W" in the center of the black helmets or the golden numbers on the away jerseys.
7. New York Jets
A white background also would've looked very good but I have no problem with the black background complementing their green logo and face mask. While watching the Jets can be challenging, they always seem to wear the right jersey combinations on game days which is why I look forward to seeing their new alternate helmets when they play the Patriots, Bears, and Jaguars at home. Hopefully they'll also win for a change.
8. Dallas Cowboys
With these new helmets, the Cowboys will pair them with their old alternate uniforms which they would wear on Thanksgiving in previous years. It isn't new, but it's one of the few things involving the Cowboys that I actually don't have a problem with.
9. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals' new helmets which consist of a black background is the cherry on top for their black color rush uniforms. While it's not good enough to be in the upper half, the matching color scheme of the helmets and uniforms keep this design in the top 10.
10. New Orleans Saints
I've always been a fan of the Saints' attire, with their white and gold jerseys (pictured above) standing out. Their new alternate helmets are solid but they would be a lot higher if they didn't have all those small fleur-de-lis forming a stripe.
11. Houston Texans
The Texans will be in for a rough go in 2022 but at least their first uniform/helmet change was a good one. They will pair their new "battle red" helmet with their alternate red uniforms. Personally, I think this is a cool combination as their red uniforms will look even better compared to the dark blue helmets.
12 New England Patriots
While many people like the Patriots' decision to bring back their throwback uniforms which were worn for three decades, I've never liked these uniforms. Some of that admittedly has to do with my Jets fandom, but the logo of the Patriot snapping a football is way too corny. The strips on the uniforms also make them look like Buffalo Bills' attire.
13. Chicago Bears
Chicago had the right idea of creating an alternate helmet to match up with one of their uniforms. The only problem is that orange isn't the right color to go about this idea. A different helmet background such as white would've looked a lot better.
14. San Fransisco 49ers
The 49ers made some minor changes to their uniforms by going back to three stripes along with a saloon font in the center. Bigger changes would make this ranking a lot higher however.