2022 NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Rank Entering Preseason? | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors

2022 NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Rank Entering Preseason? | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors

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    Focus on Sport/Getty Images

    Are you ready for some football?

    OK, so it’s mostly going to be bad football. And the
    starters for most teams will play a series or two at most. But starting Thursday evening at Gillette Stadium, the 2022 NFL preseason will
    get underway in earnest.

    For some teams, it’s an opportunity to tighten things up
    ahead of Week 1. But for many, there are position battles to resolve and depth charts
    to sort out.

    On Saturday, the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers will both get
    one step closer to determining their starting quarterback for in Week
    1. The Atlanta Falcons will do the same Friday against the Detroit Lions. And this weekend will mark
    the first NFL game action for most of this year’s incoming rookie class.

    As we move one step closer to teams whittling their rosters down to 53 players and preparing for games that count, Bleacher Report NFL Analysts Maurice Moton, Brent Sobleski and Gary Davenport have gathered again to
    sort through the league and rank every team from worst to first.

    The bookends may not shock many folks, but there’s a surprise
    or two in between.

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    Texans quarterback Davis Mills looked like a steal as a rookie last season. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

    By most estimations, the Houston Texans are the most talent-deficient team in the NFL. However, they may have gotten a steal in the third round of
    the 2021 draft in quarterback Davis Mills.

    “I think Davis Mills has a real chance to be
    something,” an NFC pro personnel director told Heavy.com’s Matt Lombardo. “He’s a really smart
    kid with excellent anticipation, and maybe most importantly, he protects the
    football.”

    As a rookie, Mills had:

  • More passing yards than Tua Tagovailoa.
  • A higher completion percentage than Patrick Mahomes.
  • The same number of yards per passing attempt as Josh Allen.
  • More touchdown passes than Trevor Lawrence.
  • Fewer interceptions than Matthew Stafford, Justin Herbert and Tom Brady.
  • A higher passer rating than Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson.

He did all of that despite a pass-catching corps with precious little outside of Brandin Cooks and an offensive line that Pro Football Focus ranked as the fourth-worst
in the NFL.

Are the Texans bad? Yes. Will they have a high pick in the
2023 draft? Probably.

Do they need to spend that pick on a quarterback? Possibly not.

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    Rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder is competing with Marcus Mariota for the Falcons’ starting job. (David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    With Matt Ryan now in Indianapolis, the Atlanta Falcons are turning the page at the
    game’s most important position. The question now is whether they’ll roll out
    veteran Marcus Mariota or rookie Desmond Ridder under center.

    As things stand now, Mariota has the edge. But Ridder has
    consistently drawn praise from Falcons coaches, and Scott
    Bair
    of the team’s website believes that we’ll likely see the
    rookie starting games at some point this year.

    “If he doesn’t win the starting gig out of the gate, I
    think it will be later in the year,” he wrote. “I’m also not
    eliminating the prospect he could win the job out of camp. He’s a smart, savvy
    guy who picked up the scheme fast. I’m not into doubting quarterbacks who went
    44-6 in college and never lost a home game. Those guys don’t go down easy, and
    Ridder’s as committed as anyone to establishing himself as an NFL starter.”

    On some level, it might not matter matter who Atlanta starts under center. Drake London is a promising prospect, but with Calvin Ridley
    suspended for the entire 2021 season, the Falcons are short on proven weapons. The
    offensive line isn’t especially good. The defense is substantially worse.

    The Falcons are closer to earning the first pick in the 2023
    draft than making the playoffs.

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    Bears quarterback Justin Fields has a lot to prove in his second season. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    There hasn’t been much positivity about the Chicago Bears this season.

    While appearing on the Under Center podcast, Peter
    King of NBC Sports said the Bears aren’t likely to win much in
    2022. But he thinks the team is on the right track with the hiring of head
    coach Matt Ebeflus and general manager Ryan Poles.

    “One of the things that Poles learned so well early on in
    Kansas City is that there are no shortcuts to be great,” King said. “I think
    that’s something he’s brought to the Bears. When I say ‘there are no shortcuts
    to be great’ーlook, he obviously chafes at calling this a rebuilding year, but I don’t care
    what you call it, the Bears aren’t gonna win much this year, at least I don’t
    think. … Whatever it is, this is not the final iteration of the Matt Eberflus-Ryan Poles team.”

    Sobleski echoed that refrain: It’s fixing to be a long year for Bears fans.

    “Prepare for a long season in Chicago, because the
    Bears offense doesn’t look capable of competing in a pass-first league,”
    he said. “Second-year quarterback Justin Fields basically admitted as much
    when he stated, ‘We’re not where we want to be yet, though,
    for sure.’

    “While it’s not totally fair to wreck the Bears on this point when
    they’re learning a different system from a brand new coaching staff, the
    comment only feeds into the issues already seen from a personnel standpoint.
    The Bears are not up to snuff at wide receiver or their offensive line. These
    early camp struggles probably portend regular-season ineffectiveness rather
    than simply going away over time. “

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    Can Geno Smith hold off Drew Lock for the Seahawks’ quarterback job? (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

    Like many of the teams at the bottom of these power
    rankings, the Seattle Seahawks have uncertainty at quarterback.
    Holdover Geno Smith and newcomer Drew Lock are battling to see who gets to replace the best signal-caller in franchise history.

    Smith entered camp as the leader, but recent reports have
    indicated Lock could be closing the gap. Smith told reporters that regardless of who wins the starting job, the two quarterbacks
    are helping one another.

    “As far as the competition, I’m not the one judging all of
    that, so I’ll leave that up to the coaches,” Smith said. “But, I think Drew
    played really well, as I’ve always said, and I will go on record to say that I
    have his back. No matter what, I have Drew Lock’s back. I want that to be
    known. We’re teammates, we’re competing, but we’re in the same offense, we’re
    in the same room, and we’re going to make each other better.”

    Lock has the better arm talent, but Davenport doesn’t really
    expect it to make a difference.

    “The Seahawks have a solid array of skill-position
    talent,” he said. “But Smith is a journeyman game manager, and Lock
    has a career completion percentage below 60 percent. This is a team that will be inconsistent at best on offense and mediocre on defense. It will be
    quite the upset if the Seahawks don’t finish fourth in the NFC West.”

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    Second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence is ready to live up to the hype this year. (Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

    The Jacksonville Jaguars had the NFL’s worst record last year, much like they did in 2020. But there’s at least some optimism in Duval County this time around after the Jags hired former Super Bowl winner Doug Pederson as head coach.

    Pederson’s biggest priority this year is getting improved
    play from quarterback Trevor Lawrence after a rookie season that was mostly a disaster.

    Lawrence should benefit from improved weapons around him. Jacksonville signed wide receiver Christian Kirk to a four-year, $72 million contract,
    and running back Travis Etienne is back after missing his entire rookie season
    with a foot injury.

    Lawrence told reporters he’s excited to have his former
    Clemson teammate back on the field.

    “Obviously missed playing beside this guy,” he said. “We had a
    couple of great years at Clemson. Really excited for him to be back, adds an
    explosive element to our offense. More consistency from myself and as an
    offense and team in general. I think we’re going to be a lot more consistent
    and put up a lot more points on the board.”

    Jacksonville has talent on both sides of the ball. Pederson
    is a proven winner at head coach. If Lawrence takes a big step forward,
    the Jaguars could be tougher than many expect.

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    Jets quarterback Zach Wilson needs to play far better this season than he did as a rookie. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

    In recent years, the New York Jets have added a bevy of
    young talent. They drafted quarterback Zach Wilson and wide receiver Elijah Moore
    last year and snagged cornerback Sauce Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson and
    edge-rusher Jermaine Johnson with first-round picks this past April.

    ESPN’s Scott Spratt believes the Jets have the league’s third-best corps of under-25 talent in the NFL. But for that to translate to success on the
    field, Wilson has to be a better player than the shaky quarterback we saw in
    2021.

    “For that skill position group to hit its high
    ceiling, quarterback Wilson needs a dramatic improvement in Year 2,” Spratt wrote. “His
    minus-32.3% passing DVOA rate was the worst of the 34 quarterbacks that threw
    200 or more passes in 2021. And it landed him in a range of rookie inefficiency
    where Stafford (minus-36.3% in 2009) and Allen (minus-33.2% in 2018) are the
    only modern examples of quarterbacks who recovered to become stars. Pass
    pressure could be the key. Wilson faced the third-highest pressure rate (30.5%)
    and produced the worst DVOA when pressured (minus-120.6%) of regular starters
    in 2021.”

    The good news is that his supporting cast got a
    boost this year with the addition of Garrett Wilson and running back Breece Hall. But Wilson won’t have any excuses this year if he struggles
    again, and the offensive line took a hit with the news that tackle Mekhi Becton might miss much of the season after injuring his knee Monday.

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    Will Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold win the Panthers’ starting quarterback job? (John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Ever since David Tepper bought the Carolina
    Panthers, the team has been searching for a true
    franchise quarterback. The search hasn’t gone especially well.

    Teddy Bridgewater
    was mediocre at best as Carolina’s starter in 2020. Sam Darnold wasn’t any
    better in 2021. And now the team has brought in Baker Mayfield via a trade with
    the Cleveland Browns.

    Moton expects Mayfield to win the job in time and eventually
    be an upgrade, but he cautioned that improvement could come slowly in Charlotte.

    “Once Mayfield officially wins the starting quarterback
    job over Sam Darnold, the Panthers will move up a few spots,” he
    said. “Because the Panthers acquired Mayfield early in July, Darnold has a
    chance to start Week 1 with an advantage in experience within the team’s
    offense over his 2018 draftmate. Head coach Matt Rhule said
    he won’t make a quarterback decision before the club’s second preseason game, although according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Mayfield has the ‘inside track’ to the job.

    “The choice is clear if you look at the resumes. Mayfield has thrown for 92 touchdowns and 56
    interceptions with a 61.6 percent completion rate across his career, while Darnold has tossed 54 touchdown passes and 52 interceptions with a 59.8 percent completion
    rate. Mayfield also led the Browns to the postseason in 2020
    and helped them win a playoff game.

    “With a solid supporting cast, Mayfield
    can lead a team to wins. He gives the Panthers the best shot to be competitive,
    but for now, Carolina is in limbo with a quarterback battle.”

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    Gians quarterback Daniel Jones is heading into a make-or-break season. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    This is it for New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones.
    If the 25-year-old has another rocky season, his days as
    an NFL starter are probably through.

    Jones told
    reporters
    at training camp that he’s been hard at work immersing himself in the
    offense of new head coach Brian Daboll.

    “I think a lot of it is specific to this offense, to the
    scheme we are installing and plays we are running,” Jones said. “I think every day you make
    progress with that kind of stuff as a group. Personally, you’ve got things you
    are working on, but I think collectively as a unit in the pass game and the run
    game, you’re getting on the same page. I’d say from a chemistry
    standpoint, from an overall understanding of the offense, of seeing things the
    same way, I think that’s where we’ve made the most progress, and that’s what
    we’ll continue to focus on.”

    After passing on Jones’ fifth-year option, the Giants
    have made it clear that Jones doesn’t have an especially long leash. He has also struggled in camp, according to Dan Duggan of The Athletic.

    “It’s important not to overreact to a single practice, but it’s concerning how uncomfortable Jones has looked in this new offense for most of camp,” Duggan wrote. “It’s not just that he’s throwing incompletions and interceptions, it’s that he continues to struggle to build chemistry with his receivers.”

    “Playing behind a terrible offensive line hasn’t helped
    Jones any,” Davenport said. “Neither have Saquon Barkley’s injuries.
    Or the inconsistent play from New York’s wideout corps. But it has become obvious
    that Jones isn’t the answer for the Giants at quarterback. This
    team would be better off imploding in 2022 than winning just enough to drop in
    the 2023 draft.”

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    Can head coach Dan Campbell get the Lions on the right track? (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

    The Detroit Lions haven’t experienced
    any real success for a long time. Their last winning season came in 2017, and they haven’t posted double-digit wins since 2014.

    However, head coach Dan Campbell told
    reporters
    that he thinks the Lions are set to do some damage this year.

    “This is the time to focus, continue to grow and
    develop, work on fundamentals,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to apply
    pressure. From this time last year, we’re at a higher level. These guys are
    really competing. They’re smart, they’re relentless. These guys will be a
    terror in the league.”

    The Lions
    added veteran D.J. Chark and rookie Jameson Williams to a pass-catching corps that
    already included wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown and tight end T.J. Hockenson.
    Detroit has a top-10 offensive line, and rookie edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson
    should add some pop to the defense.

    The Lions won only three games last year, but they were more competitive than that record shows. Seven of their 13 losses were by
    single digits.

    If quarterback Jared Goff can avoid mistakes and running back
    D’Andre Swift can stay healthy, Detroit could have a sneaky-good offense in 2022.

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    Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz has a lot to prove this season. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

    In some respects, the Washington Commanders and quarterback
    Carson Wentz are a perfect match. Both he and the team are looking to get back
    on track after their respective 2021 seasons ended in disappointing fashion.

    Wentz’s numbers as a whole last year were decent, but he
    faded badly in the last few weeks of his lone season with the Indianapolis Colts. The 29-year-old
    has reportedly been shaky on the practice field as well, but head coach Ron
    Rivera told
    reporters
    that he isn’t concerned.

    “It’s a lot better than you give him credit for, just
    because of the way things happen in practice,” Rivera said. “There’s a lot of little nuances
    that we see that we look at that we get to review. Yeah, there’s some
    inaccuracy. But it’s nothing that we are overly concerned [about].

    “Again, we see what’s going on,” he added. “We see how things are developing. We
    see the timing and just the understanding and feel for what’s going on with our
    concepts. So, as we continue to grow and work on it,
    we just feel like we’re going to continue to grow and get better as an
    offensive unit.”

    Many pundits picked the Commanders to win the NFC East last
    year, but they instead stumbled their way to a 7-10 record. To shake off that lost season, the team needs something it sorely
    lacked a year ago—consistent quarterback play.

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    Mitch Trubisky figures to open the season as the Steelers’ starting quarterback. (Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement has left the Pittsburgh Steelers with a gaping
    hole at quarterback. And while it’s still early, none of the players vying for
    the right to succeed Roethlisberger have fared especially well.

    On the team’s first depth chart, the Steelers listed veteran
    Mitch Trubisky as the starter. Although Trubisky has struggled on the
    practice field, defensive lineman Cameron Heyward told
    reporters
    he remains confident in the 2017 No. 2 overall pick.

    “It starts with Mitch. Mitch, we bought him in in free
    agency,” Heyward said. “The thing we have to remember
    about Mitch is he’s coming from a situation where in Chicago, they didn’t
    really give him anything. And he still made it to the playoffs. Everything like
    to say ‘Mitch did this wrong, Mitch did that wrong.’ Man, Mitch did a lot of things
    right. Hopefully we have a better team around him. And we’re going to support
    him. Right now, he’s our No. 1.”

    Whether it’s Trubisky, rookie first-rounder Kenny Pickett or
    holdover Mason Rudolph, Sobleski believes this team will go exactly as far as
    their quarterbacks will take them.

    “The Steelers’ quarterbacks haven’t exactly had a promising start
    to training camp,” Sobleski said. “Trubisky and Pickett have experienced
    their share of ups and downs throughout the early practices. Eventually,
    Pickett will be the starter. As of right now, Trubisky is listed as QB1. Either
    way, consistency from the position will determine if Pittsburgh can be anything
    more than a bottom-third squad this fall.”

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    The Browns’ fate hinges on the length of Deshaun Watson’s suspension. (Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

    The Cleveland Browns are the hardest team to slot in these power rankings.

    Independent arbitrator Sue L. Robinson handed Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson a six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy after he was sued by 24 women for sexual misconduct and assault appears. The NFL appealed her
    ruling, and the expectation
    is that Watson’s suspension will be doubled—at least.

    Add in that running back Kareem Hunt has requested
    a trade
    —a request the Browns declined—and it’s hard to know who will be starting for Cleveland in Week 1.

    If Watson gets suspended for the entire season, will the
    Browns turn their offense over to journeyman backup Jacoby Brissett, or might they take a run at Jimmy Garoppolo? They have enough talent to contend
    for a playoff spot with decent quarterback play, and they have more cap space than any team in
    the league.

    “Were the Browns to trade for Garoppolo, they would
    rise several spots in my rankings,” Davenport said. “Those Browns
    would be a viable playoff contender. But I can only rank the team based on who
    is on the roster, and as things stand right now, Brissett will likely be
    the starter quarterback for most (if not all) of the 2022 season. If that’s the case, the
    Browns will be an also-ran, and the Texans will get a relatively high first-round pick from them in
    2023.”

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    Second-year quarterback Mac Jones is off to a slow start at training camp. (Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

    The New England Patriots made the playoffs in quarterback Mac Jones’
    first season last year, so there are robust expectations in
    Beantown this year. However, New England’s offense is also going through changes, which is causing more than a few growing pains.

    “The Patriots offense had a rough start to training
    camp,” Moton said. “Boston Sports Journal’s Greg A. Bedard wrote that the unit finished last
    week’s padded practices with a ‘whimper.’ He’s noted ‘slight improvement’ on
    the offensive side of the ball each day. Uh oh.”

    “The Patriots lost offensive coordinator Josh
    McDaniels, who took over the Las Vegas Raiders’ head-coaching job. New England’s offense may regress significantly without him,
    which doesn’t bode well for Jones.

    “According to The
    Athletic’s Jeff Howe, New England might give former defensive
    assistant Matt Patricia offensive play-calling duties for the regular season
    after he teamed up with quarterbacks coach Joe Judge and head coach Bill
    Belichick to lead the offense through offseason practices. This isn’t the best
    plan for a group that’s struggling at camp.”

    Head coach Bill Belichick, who has led the Patriots to win six Super Bowls, has earned the benefit of the doubt. But the uncertainty on offense in New England cannot be
    denied.

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    The Saints have given Jameis Winston an improved receiving corps this season. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

    Among teams that missed the postseason in 2021, the New
    Orleans Saints are among the front-runners to get back to the playoffs this
    year. That’s partly due to a defense that was seventh in yards
    allowed and fourth in points allowed last season.

    Veteran Cameron Jordan anchors
    the defensive line. Linebacker Demario Davis is a pro’s pro. And the Saints
    added a perennial Pro Bowler at safety in Tyrann Mathieu.

    As good as the Saints are defensively, Moton thinks the offense is what could push them over the edge this season.

    “The Saints offense may finish top 10 in scoring this year,” he said. “After missing 10 games with a torn
    ACL last season, quarterback Jameis Winston has participated in training camp
    drills. He should have two-time All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas back with him for the regular season.

    “Last Saturday, Thomas participated in team drills for
    the first time this offseason. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport raved about him, saying ‘this guy looked
    great at practice. Thomas missed the entire 2021 campaign and underwent
    multiple foot/ankle surgeries over the past year. With the addition of
    five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Jarvis Landry and rookie first-round wideout
    Chris Olave, watch out for the Saints’ passing attack.”

    If the Saints do field a top-10 offense to go with their
    stout defense, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to have their hands full in the NFC
    South.

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    How will Kirk Cousins mesh with new head coach Kevin O’Connell? (Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    There are big changes afoot for the Minnesota Vikings this year. None is bigger than the installation of new head coach Kevin O’Connell.

    O’Connell’s coaching philosophy couldn’t be much more
    different than Mike Zimmer’s, the man who came before him. But veteran linebacker Eric
    Kendricks told
    reporters
    that O’Connell has the players focused and ready to play.

    “It’s on us now as well,” Kendricks said. “It
    can’t just be on them. It can’t just be on who we appoint the head guy. It has
    to be on the players as well, like myself, who have put those years and time
    into this league. If I want change, I’ve got to be that change myself.”

    The Vikings have quite a bit of talent,
    especially on offense. Kirk Cousins was fourth in the league in passer rating
    last year. Justin Jefferson may be the NFL’s best receiver. Running back Dalvin
    Cook is a dangerous ball-carrier and receiver.

    However, the Vikings’ offensive line is below
    average
    , and their defense allowed the ninth-most points per game last season. To break the Green Bay Packers’ stranglehold on
    the NFC North, Minnesota needs both of those units need to improve.

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    Tua Tagovailoa enters the 2022 season under a ton of pressure. (Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    The Miami Dolphins have a new head coach in Mike McDaniel and a brand-new No. 1 wide receiver in Tyreek Hill. That puts a ton of pressure on third-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

    When Mike
    Sando
    of The Athletic surveyed 50 NFL coaches and executives this offseason
    and asked them to rank the league’s quarterbacks, Tagovailoa came in at No. 26. He was below
    Trevor Lawrence of the Jaguars and Justin Fields of the Bears.

    “He’s a guy that I’m still holding on to the edge of my
    chair when I’m watching him play,” a quarterbacks coach told Sando. “I am still
    cheering for him and I’m just hoping it doesn’t implode. Having Tyreek Hill and
    Terron Armstead and all the talent they have, there’s no excuses any more. He’s
    got to get it done.”

    “He is being set up for success with a running game,
    defense, offensive line and then obviously the impact players at the skill
    positions,” an offensive coach told Sando. “If there is ever a time for him to be
    successful, it is this season. What is success? Staying healthy all year and
    leading his team to the playoffs.”

    Ringing endorsements, those aren’t. But they aren’t
    inaccurate, either.

    The Dolphins have offensive talent and a solid defense, and Armstead’s
    arrival should be a big boost to the offensive line. But none of that will matter if Tagovailoa doesn’t play like
    the quarterback whom the Dolphins passed on Justin Herbert to select.

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    Ryan Tannehill needs to shake off his playoff meltdown against Cincinnati. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

    It’s rare for a No. 1 seed from the previous season to enter the following year with virtually no hype, but that’s the case with the Tennessee Titans in 2022.

    After a demoralizing postseason exit against the Cincinnati
    Bengals and a trade that sent star wideout A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles, the
    Titans aren’t exactly being talked up as a Super Bowl contender in the AFC. They aren’t even the favorites to win the AFC South, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.

    Quarterback Ryan Tannehill admitted he hasn’t forgotten his
    three-interception meltdown against the Bengals.

    “Now, it’s a scar,” he told NBC Sports’ Peter King. “That’s kind of how I’ve described it is
    that it’s a scar. It’s always there. You remember it. But it’s not a wound
    anymore. It doesn’t hurt the same. You acknowledge like yeah that sucked. But
    this is a new year. We have everything out in front of us. What happened last
    year, whether it was good or bad, it doesn’t matter at this point. You have to
    take each day as its own and take advantage of it.”

    But at least one of our analysts believes folks may be
    selling the Titans short in 2022.

    “The Titans offset the loss of Brown with the addition
    of veteran Robert Woods and the selection of rookie Treylon Burks,” Davenport
    said. “Other than that, these Titans are essentially the same team that
    won 12 games last year and captured the last two AFC South titles. The Colts
    may have a better roster on paper. But these Titans know how to win games, at least in the regular season.”

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    It’s Trey Lance time in San Francisco. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

    There’s no question what the dominant storyline is in San Francisco this year: It’s all about Trey Lance.

    Although Jimmy Garoppolo led the 49ers to within a game of the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons, the team has made it clear that his time as the starting quarterback is over. After the Niners mortgaged their future to draft Lance last year, it’s now his time.

    With Lance leading the way, former Niners great Bryant Young thinks the team will be right back in the mix in the NFC, per Matt
    Maiocco
    of NBC Sports Bay Area.

    “I’m really excited about this team,” Young said. “I think
    they have a lot of great pieces in place. It was great that Deebo (Samuel) got
    signed again. I think their defense is going to be solid. I’m excited to see
    what they can do.”

    For his part, Sobleski isn’t so sure.

    “The 49ers could take a slight step back with Lance leading the way before they realize their full potential,” he
    said. “Lance has reportedly been erratic during training camp practices.
    That’s OK. He’s getting his footing as a first-time NFL starter after being the
    backup most of last season. Ultimately, Lance’s athleticism and raw arm talent
    can greatly expand Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme. We shouldn’t assume that it’ll
    automatically happen, though.”

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    Can Kyler Murray make good on his new deal and lead the Cardinals to the playoffs? (Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Arizona Cardinals
    quarterback Kyler Murray has had quite the offseason.

    In February, he scrubbed his social media accounts of all pictures related to the Cardinals as he lobbied for an extension. He eventually got his big payday, but not without a hullabaloo
    about a clause in his contract that required four hours of “independent
    film study” per week.

    The Cardinals eventually removed the clause from Murray’s
    deal, and he clapped
    back
    at criticisms of his work ethic and dedication to the game.

    “To me, I’m flattered,” Murray quipped. “I
    want to say flattered that you all think that at my size, I can go out there
    and not prepare for the game, and not take it serious. It’s disrespectful, I
    feel like, to my peers, to all the great athletes and great players that are in
    this league. This game is too hard. To play the position that I play in this
    league, it’s too hard.”

    Over the first half of the 2021 season, the Cardinals looked
    like arguably the class of the NFC. The team also moved aggressively in the
    offseason to offset DeAndre Hopkins’ six-game PED suspension by trading for
    Marquise Brown.

    The Cardinals are absolutely capable of challenging the Rams in the NFC West, particularly on offense. But they’ve fallen apart down the stretch in each of the past two seasons, and when we last saw Murray, he was playing perhaps the worst game of his career.

    Murray got his money. Now he has to lead the Redbirds to some
    success in January.

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    Will Jalen Hurts prove he’s the Eagles’ answer at QB? (Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    The Philadelphia Eagles were one of last season’s more
    pleasant surprises. After a woeful 2-5 start, the Eagles changed to a run-heavy
    offense, went 7-3 the rest of the way and snuck into the playoffs.

    There won’t be any sneaking now. After adding star wide
    receiver A.J. Brown on offense and drafting a pair of potential impact players on
    defense in tackle Jordan Davis and linebacker Nakobe Dean, the Eagles are
    widely expected to give the Cowboys all they can handle in the NFC East.

    With Brown joining young wideout DeVonta Smith and tight end
    Dallas Goedert, quarterback Jalen Hurts faces increased pressure to improve in
    his third season. Head coach Nick Sirianni told
    reporters
    that early returns have encouraged the belief that Hurts is on
    the cusp of breaking out.

    “I think you’re constantly trying to make the plays for
    your playmakers,” Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said Sunday night.
    “We know that’s how we like to play offense, too. That’s who the offense
    runs through. That’s no secret. But the coverage can take the ball to where it
    needs to go. I think Jalen is doing an awesome job at that, of going where he
    needs to go with the ball based off the defense.”

    If Hurts can improve his accuracy and consistency as a
    passer, the Eagles are capable of not only making the playoffs but doing damage
    once they get there. But given Hurts’ career completion percentage of 59.0 and only 22 touchdown passes in 19 starts, a measure of skepticism is understandable.

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    Derek Carr is reunited with former college teammate Davante Adams. (Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

    The Las Vegas Raiders are one of two NFL teams that we have
    already seen in action. They beat the Jaguars in emphatic fashion in the Hall of Fame Game.

    Moton was impressed by what the Raiders accomplished on the
    ground in that contest, although it came with a caveat.

    “No one should overreact to the Raiders’ 27-11 win over the Jaguars in the Hall of Fame Game,” he wrote. “However,
    they did look sharp in one particular aspect on the
    field. The Silver and Black should have an improved ground attack with
    ball-carriers Josh Jacobs and rookie fourth-rounder Zamir White behind an offensive
    line that played well on run downs.

    “Against the Jaguars, head coach Josh
    McDaniels fielded several offensive players who could start Week 1, including
    Jacobs, tackle Brandon Parker, left guard John Simpson, center Andre James,
    right guard Lester Cotton Sr. and right tackle Alex Leatherwood. Vegas rushed
    for 159 yards and three touchdowns.”

    Once we get to the games that count, the more important
    question may be how that offensive line holds up in pass protection and how the
    Raiders’ retooled defense fares. Because in an AFC West brimming with big-name quarterbacks,
    Derek Carr and the Raiders will have to win some high-scoring affairs.

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    Matt Ryan could be the steady presence under center that the Colts need. (Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    No team in the NFL may be more eager for Week 1 than the Indianapolis Colts. Anything to wash off the stink from last year’s Week 18 faceplant
    against the lowly Jaguars, which knocked them out of the playoffs and effectively sent Carson Wentz out of town.

    For the fifth time in as many years, the
    Colts will be rolling out a new starting quarterback in 2022. This time, it’s
    veteran Matt Ryan.

    Colts head coach Frank Reich told
    reporters
    that he believes Ryan’s arrival opens up a world of possibilities
    for the Indianapolis offense.

    “We want to be a run, play-action team and then be efficient
    and excellent in situational football,” Reich said last Tuesday.
    “Matt brings all of that. He’s great run, play-action, and he likes being under
    center. So, we’ll mix under center and in gun. He’s been good his whole career
    in situational football and then on top of that, he’s got that clutch gene—that in (the) fourth quarter, he’s come through in the clutch many times. I
    really think the team is put together and gelling in the right direction.”

    “The Colts are a team without any glaring
    weaknesses,” Davenport said. “They have the NFL’s reigning rushing
    king, an excellent offensive line and an underrated defense that should be
    better on the edge with the addition of Yannick Ngakoue. Add in that Ryan is an
    upgrade over Wentz under center, and on paper, the Colts look like the
    class of the AFC South. The question is whether this team can do what last
    season couldn’t—consistently turn that talent into wins.”

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    Can Russell Wilson guide the Broncos to the Super Bowl? (AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

    For the first time since Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset at
    the conclusion of Super Bowl 50, the Denver Broncos have a legitimate franchise
    quarterback in Russell Wilson.

    However, his receiving corps took a hit last week when fifth-year wide receiver Tim Patrick suffered a
    season-ending knee injury.

    “Patrick
    appeared to be the favorite to take over the slot, which is a vital position in
    Nathaniel Hackett’s scheme,” Sobleski wrote. “The Broncos still have wideouts Courtland Sutton, Jerry
    Jeudy, K.J. Hamler and emerging rookie Montrell Washington, but they’re in a brutal division and just lost a key offensive
    component.”

    Denver still has an ample array of skill-position talent and
    a defense that was quietly eighth in yards allowed and third in points allowed last
    season. This team is absolutely capable of making a playoff run in Wilson’s
    first season in the AFC.

    But in the stacked AFC West, there’s little margin
    for error. That makes Patrick’s injury even more unfortunate.

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    CeeDee Lamb is now the Cowboys’ clear-cut WR1. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

    As always, the Dallas Cowboys head into the 2022 season with Super Bowl or bust expectations. However, they also suffered some significant personnel losses this offseason, including the trade that sent wide receiver Amari Cooper to Cleveland.

    With Cooper gone, third-year pro CeeDee Lamb is now the unquestioned
    lead receiver in Big D. Head coach Mike McCarthy told
    reporters
    that the Cowboys have already been working on ways to scheme Lamb
    open.

    “We’re well aware that based off of the changes that
    we’ve had in personnel, especially to start of the
    year and the bright light that’s gonna be on CeeDee—and I’m talking about
    from the opposing defense,” McCarthy said. “So we’re aware of that and it’s something we got to
    stay very conscientious about and that’s all part of the plan. But that gives
    other guys opportunities and that’s all part of being an excellent offense and
    that’s the way we’ll go about it.”

    Depth at receiver is an issue for Dallas since both
    Michael Gallup and free agent-addition James Washington are both going to miss
    time to open the season. But the Cowboys led the league in both total
    offense and scoring offense last year. They’re going to score points.

    For Dallas to make a deep playoff run, reigning
    Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons and the Cowboys’ 19th-ranked defense
    need to be more consistent.

    If the defense can keep pace with the offense, the
    Cowboys can do more than just win the NFC East. They might make good on their annual goal.

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    Lamar Jackson still has yet to sign an extension with the Ravens. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

    The 2021 season was a waking nightmare for the Baltimore
    Ravens, who were ravaged by injuries on both sides of the ball.

    With the running back corps decimated, the Ravens went from the league’s fewest passing
    attempts in 2020 to the ninth-most last year. Throw in an ankle injury that cost Lamar Jackson the last five
    games of the season, and you have the ingredients for an 8-9 mess and the first time
    that the Ravens missed the postseason since drafting Jackson in 2018.

    Jackson is now heading into the final year of his rookie contract, so his extension talks have been a hot topic in Baltimore. Wide receiver Rashod Bateman indicated that the person who’s least concerned about a new deal may be the one who will ultimately get it.

    “Lamar is not concerned about the contract, nobody
    should be concerned about the contract,” Bateman
    said, per ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. “That’s not up to us; we’re going to let whoever handles that handle
    it. We’re just going to play football. That’s what we’re called here to do, and
    that’s what we’re going to focus on.”

    After trading No. 1 wideout Marquise Brown in the offseason and doing
    little to replace him, the Ravens appear focused on going back to the run-heavy offense that propelled them to so much success in
    2019 and 2020. If they get back to doing what they do best and stay relatively healthy, they should get back to their winning ways.

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    Aaron Rodgers must make do with a revamped receiving corps. (Jeff Haynes/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

    The Green Bay Packers’ decision to trade star wideout Davante Adams added massive amounts of uncertainty to an offense that has
    thrived on consistency under Aaron Rodgers.

    Adams
    hasn’t had fewer than 115 targets in any of the past six seasons. He eclipsed
    140 targets three times over that span and had a whopping 169 twice, including last year.
    Only Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles Rams had more targets and catches than Adams last year. The Packers also lost Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency.

    No one player can single-handedly replace Adams, so the Packers did a bit of
    everything to compensate for his departure. They selected Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs in the draft and signed a pair of low-cost free agents in Sammy Watkins and Randall
    Cobb.

    But while Watson is talented, he’s also raw. Watkins and Cobb haven’t made
    a measurable NFL impact in years.

    Although the Packers have questions in the passing
    game, Davenport still sees them as the class of the NFC North.

    “You can argue that the gap between the Packers and
    Vikings has decreased in the division,” he said. “But even if Green
    Bay has come back to the pack a bit (see what I did there?), we’re still talking
    about a team that has won 13 games in each of the last three seasons and has the
    two-time reigning NFL MVP running the offense. The Packers will be just fine.
    R-E-L-A-X.”

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    Justin Herbert emerged as one of the league’s best young QBs last year. (Chris Unger/Getty Images)

    The Los Angeles Chargers are the highest-ranked team in these power rankings that missed the playoffs last season.

    That’s what happens when you have the AFC’s only 5,000-yard
    passer in Justin Herbert. One of the league’s best one-two punches at wide
    receiver in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. A front seven that now includes
    both Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack. And a secondary that added one of the league’s
    best ball-hawking cornerbacks in J.C. Jackson.

    The Chargers are not lacking in talent, but that talent comes with expectations for success. After spending last
    year on the other side of SoFi Stadium with the Los Angeles Rams, linebacker Troy Reeder told
    reporters
    he thinks this Chargers team can go just as far as the Rams did last year.

    “There are leaders on both sides of the ball and special
    teams,” he said. “You have a quarterback that can compete and put up any number of points
    in any given game. You have a defense that can
    potentially shut out any team. The pieces are there. It’s about doing it
    week-in and week-out and staying healthy and peaking at the right time.”

    The biggest thing working against the Chargers might be the loaded AFC West. In
    addition to those six divisional matchups, the Chargers also have to tour the
    NFC West.

    Still, this is the most talented team the Chargers have had
    in a while. Now it’s a matter of turning potential into production.

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    Can Patrick Mahomes keep the Chiefs as the kings of the AFC? (David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

    The Kansas City Chiefs have been the team to beat in the AFC ever since Patrick Mahomes took over as their starting quarterback. However, their conference domination could be coming to a close.

    The Chiefs traded star wideout Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins this offseason, and they lost safety Tyrann Mathieu and cornerback Charvarius Ward in free agency. And while they were
    losing talent, the rest of the AFC West was adding pieces left and right.

    The changing landscape isn’t
    lost on Chiefs general manager Brett Veach.

    “All of a sudden, other teams have other resources to
    spend, and the league is only going to get tougher, and it’s harder for us to
    maintain that level of success,” he told Kevin Clark of The Ringer. “So that level of focus has
    to be there week in and week out. It’s also true that we have a target on our
    back, as opposed to three, four years ago, when we were chasing teams. They’re
    coming after us. So just that mindset, it starts from the top down, it starts
    with Coach (Andy Reid) and Pat. And they set the tone.”

    That tone is a .710 winning percentage for Reid as the head coach in
    Kansas City and 50 wins in 63 regular-season starts for Mahomes.

    As long as that dup is in town, the Chiefs are going to be
    tough to beat.

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    Is this the last ride for Tom Brady? (Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    This offseason was supposed to be a time of great
    change for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But when Tom Brady un-retired, the focus for first-year head coach Todd
    Bowles shifted from rebuilding to reloading.

    The Buccaneers have done that well, but they still have a few question marks.

    “The Buccaneers lost some offensive
    playmakers from last season,” Moton said. “They released
    wideout Antonio Brown in January, and tight end Rob Gronkowski retired this offseason. On top of the
    that, wide receiver Chris Godwin is recovering from a torn ACL.

    “Even with wideout Mike Evans dealing with a hamstring issue, the
    Buccaneers have patched up their pass-catching group with the addition of
    Russell Gage, Julio Jones and tight end Kyle Rudolph. If Godwin has a slow start to the
    season or Evans’ hamstring problem lingers, Brady
    could lean on his trio of newcomers while his top targets heal from their
    injuries.

    “Running back Leonard Fournette reportedly put on some weight during the offseason, but
    he’s back in shape with the regular season about a month
    away. Assuming Brady’s personal matter doesn’t keep him out for an extended
    period, Tampa Bay’s offense should continue to score a lot of points.

    Combine that potent offense with a top-five scoring defense,
    and you have arguably the biggest threat to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC.

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    Joe Burrow guided the Bengals on a surprise Super Bowl run last season. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

    The Cincinnati Bengals rarely enter a
    season with genuine expectations for a deep playoff run. But after winning the AFC North last year and then going
    on a surprise run to Super Bowl LVI, that’s the situation they find themselves in this season.

    That’s due largely to Bengals
    quarterback Joe Burrow. During an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, Bengals legend Anthony Munoz gave high praise to the
    team’s young leader.

    “I love the guy,” Munoz said. “What I see as a leader, and
    as a second-year guy, he’s an amazing leader. To me, he’s the real deal. He’s
    total package. As long as he has the football in his hands, we have a chance.”

    Burrow took quite a beating last year. Counting the playoffs, he was sacked the third-most times (70) of any quarterback in league history.

    But after the Bengals added three veteran starters up front in free agency, Davenport
    expects them to be even more dangerous in 2022.

    “The Bengals didn’t just address their biggest need in
    the offseason,” he said. “They attacked it with the ferocity of a
    Bengal tiger. La’El Collins, Alex Cappa and Ted Karras are all capable veteran
    offensive linemen. If you thought Burrow was a headache for defenses before,
    wait until he actually has time to read the field and find mismatches.”

31 of 32

    Josh Allen and the Bills are Super Bowl favorites. (Joshua Bessex/Getty Images)

    The Buffalo Bills have a lot going for
    them. They were fifth in yards per game and third in scoring last season, while no team in the league allowed fewer yards or points per contest.

    The Bills currently have the best odds of winning the Super Bowl, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. While ESPN’s Bill Barnwell flagged guard as a potential weak spot, he conceded that
    the Bills roster is loaded.

    “The league’s best roster on paper doesn’t have many
    holes,” he wrote. “The Bills aren’t quite as deep as they were in years past, owing to the
    contracts they’ve had to pay to stars Josh Allen, Matt Milano and Tre’Davious
    White. They have missed on a couple of draft picks, although not as many as
    most teams. You could maybe point toward cornerback, where they will have White
    coming back from a torn left ACL and rookie first-round pick Kaiir Elam
    penciled in to start, but even that seems like a position they’ll have solved
    by midseason.”

    It won’t to take long for the Bills to be tested.
    Over the first six weeks of the season, they play four playoff teams from 2021,
    including a trip to face the Super Bowl champions and another to Arrowhead Stadium
    for a rematch of last year’s playoff thriller against the Chiefs.

    If the Bills survive that gauntlet, they’ll send the message that they’re the team to beat this year.

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    How much should we worry about Matthew Stafford’s elbow injury? (Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    The Los Angeles Rams are the reigning kings of the NFL. They have an offense loaded with skill-position talent and a stout defense led by Aaron Donald, who’s arguably the most dominant
    defender in the league.

    But staying on top in the NFL can be even harder than
    getting there. And as Sobleski wrote, the Rams may have a problem at the
    position where no team can afford one.

    “We’re in the point of summer where teams and coaches
    tell everyone not to be worried about little bumps and bruises sustained during training camp,” he said. “But Matthew
    Stafford’s elbow injury has lingered.

    “Stafford received an injection earlier this
    offseason, yet it’s still affecting him. His practice schedule has already been
    lessened quite a bit. When should this situation become a legitimate
    concern? Until Stafford says there’s no pain in his arm, the Rams get knocked
    in the power rankings just a bit.”

    However, Davenport left the Rams right where they finished last season—in the
    top spot.

    “Stafford’s sore elbow is a concern, to be sure,”
    Davenport said. “But he also has a long history of playing through minor
    injuries. It’s going to take more than that to knock him out. The
    question is how much it will affect his performance.”

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