Super Bowl 2022: After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dominated the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 in Super Bowl LV, and managed to keep their entire core of starters together in free agency, it looks like the Bucs have a legitimate chance to repeat.
Who will comprise the 14 NFL playoff teams once the 2021 season is finished? Who will be the Super Bowl 2022 winner in the next calendar year? Check out Sportsnaut’s predictions, which will be updated each week during the regular season based on the latest standings, and need a little fine-tuning after Week 2’s action.
AFC West champions: Kansas City Chiefs (1-1)
Patrick Mahomes, blindingly fast receiver Tyreek Hill, and possible GOAT tight end Travis Kelce give the Chiefs the most devastating passing game trio in modern NFL history. As long as those three superstars are healthy, the Chiefs should keep rolling and potentially be a Super Bowl 2022 participant.
While their passing attack is filthy, their running game could still improve. 2020 first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire at least offers a glimmer of hope. CEH may just need more time getting used to the new-look offensive line including Orlando Brown Jr., Joe Thuney, and Creed Humphrey.
Don’t sleep on Kansas City’s defense, either. Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo loves to bring pressure and dial up plays with reckless abandon. Chris Jones is an elite interior pass-rusher, and the secondary headlined by Tyrann Mathieu, is one of the best. Opponents will get plenty of possessions thanks to the Chiefs’ scoring potential, but KC has plenty of playmakers to hold them off.
AFC North champions: Cleveland Browns (1-1)
The AFC North is wide open, with the Baltimore Ravens finally taking down the Chiefs, they could just as easily win the division. Backfield injuries could set them back later in the season, but so far they have been just fine.
However, it’s the Cleveland Browns led by reigning Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski, who may have the deepest roster in the North. Currently in first place, they also have shown an ability to at least hang with the defending AFC Conference Champions, losing their past two games to the Chiefs by five points or less.
The Browns were a few mistakes away from beating the Chiefs twice. Outside of their perennially tough Divisional matchups, Baker Mayfield’s team doesn’t have a lot of roadblocks on the schedule.
Offensively, the Browns may lead the best ground-and-pound game in the NFL. Baker Mayfield has weapons all over the field, with his tandem of star tunning backs in addition to Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, and Austin Hooper. Not to mention the greatest offensive line in the league to help elevate the entire unit.
There are few in the game better than Myles Garrett. Now he has Jadeveon Clowney opposite of him to help terrorize opponents. GM Andrew Berry has spent the past few years investing draft capital in an effort to find more playmakers. We’ll see how players such as Grant Delpit, Greg Newsome, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah develop as the season wanes on.
AFC South champions: Tennessee Titans (1-1)
The Indianapolis Colts could have easily taken this spot, but after trading for Carson Wentz in the wake of Philip Rivers’ retirement, it’s impossible to endorse them at 0-2. An ongoing Deshaun Watson fiasco and the utterly dire state of their roster leave the Houston Texans with no shot at winning this division, so rule them out despite a 1-1 start.
The Tennessee Titans are the reigning champs. Losing their offensive coordinator Arthur Smith to Atlanta was a big deal, but the Falcons did the Titans a huge favor. Ryan Tannehill has the benefit of throwing passes to Julio Jones and A.J. Brown in 2021 thanks to a landmark trade that vaulted Tennessee to AFC South favorite status.
Until Urban Meyer proves he can win at the NFL level and Trevor Lawrence shows his worthiness of the No. 1 overall pick, it’s hard to endorse the Jacksonville Jaguars as seriously challenging for the title.
As they gain familiarity with one another, the Titans will improve offensively as the season goes on. Derrick Henry only seems to get better as the temperatures drop, since tacklers don’t want to take on a frozen freight train.
Tennessee restocked its secondary in the draft, selecting Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley and Washington defensive back Elijah Molden, who can play in the slot or at safety.
If either one of those rookies hit in Year 1, the Titans will be much better on the back end. The addition of Bud Dupree in free agency should go a long way in helping the team’s maligned pass rush, too. Holding the Seahawks to just six second-half points helped propel the Titans to victory in Week 2. We need more defensive performances like that out of coach Mike Vrabel’s crew.
AFC East champions: Buffalo Bills (1-1)
Who saw Josh Allen‘s hurdling-over-a-skyscraper leap in Year 3 coming? Stefon Diggs proved the change of scenery from Minnesota to Buffalo was just what he needed to maximize his talents, too, as he led the league with 127 catches and 1,535 receiving yards last season.
Now, the Bills face the daunting task of trying to not only repeat last season’s success but to top it. With Buffalo-sized targets on their backs, so far, so good for the Bills. Squishing the Phish 35-0 provided a great blueprint for the rest of the season.
Coach Sean McDermott had the defense swarming Tua Tagovailoa and offensive play-caller Brian Daboll was able to get a struggling rushing game going. If the Bills can get Allen firing on all cylinders again, they could get hot down the stretch, just as they did in 2020. Celebrating a Super Bowl victory is not out of the realm for Bills Mafia.
AFC Wild Card predictions: Las Vegas Raiders, Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Chargers
Dating back to 2008, there’s been at least one new head coaching hire to make the playoffs. The 2021 NFL season won’t be any exception, as Brandon Staley goes from one-year wunderkind as Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator to taking the Chargers to new heights.
Having someone like Justin Herbert under center is great for Staley. This new L.A. defense the coach takes over has elite talent everywhere with the likes of edge-rusher Joey Bosa, linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. and All-Pro safety Derwin James. Even rookie corner Asante Samuel Jr. can be a capable player in Staley’s system.
The Bolts had the NFL’s worst offensive line according to Pro Football Focus in 2020. It’s a wonder Herbert played as well as he did. That problematic unit got way better, though, when the Chargers signed Corey Linsley at center and got a steal in selecting Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater 13th overall in the draft.
As for the remainder of the AFC Wild Card teams, are the Las Vegas Raiders finally for real? They started 2-0, last year too. We’ll see.
The Baltimore Ravens have now played two primetime games and fought until the end both times. A battle-tested team such as this could make waves come playoff time.
- In The Hunt: Denver Broncos, New England Patriots
NFC West champions: Los Angeles Rams (2-0)
Given how much the last section just gushed about Staley’s outlook with the Chargers, his leaving the Rams might suggest bad news for the defense.
Well, maybe that’d be the case if Jared Goff were still the quarterback. It’s not. Because, lo and behold, the Detroit Lions finally let Matthew Stafford flee to greener pastures in a blockbuster trade.
Stafford is such a monumental upgrade over Goff. It can’t be overstated. Goff was easily the worst quarterback in the NFC West division. Stafford is a far more dynamic arm talent who can capitalize on the immense skill of the weapons around him and help McVay’s offense reach its full potential.
NFC North champions: Green Bay Packers (0-1)
How brilliant has Packers head coach Matt LaFleur been? Remember that he was widely derided as a hire because of his close proximity to McVay with the Rams. There was this weird notion that because of his McVay affiliation, LaFleur didn’t merit Green Bay’s prestigious job.
All LaFleur has done in his first two seasons at the helm is lead the Packers to a game away from the Super Bowl twice, with twin 13-3 regular-season records to boot. Green Bay’s defense should also benefit from the parting of ways with coordinator Mike Pettine, yet alas, once again, the Packers were conservative in free agency.
This feels like Aaron Rodgers‘ final season with Green Bay. It’s clear at this point that the Packers front office doesn’t do enough to push for championships. Winning only one Super Bowl apiece with Brett Favre and Rodgers is just awful.
The bigger overarching concern here is that Rodgers may be mentally checked out already. It seemed that way when the Packers lost 38-3 to the New Orleans Saints in the season opener. There’s plenty of time for Green Bay to recover, thankfully, and it’s not like the NFC North is a strong division.
NFC South champions: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0)
Isn’t it amazing? A 43-year-old Tom Brady changes offenses for the first time in two decades and guides his team to a Super Bowl triumph.
Because of how often Brady did it in New England, it’s easy to take for granted. Bear in mind that Drew Brees, for all the historic passing numbers he’s put up, has himself only secured a Super Bowl berth just once. Brady, in Year 1 with Tampa Bay, already did that.
The Bucs played most of their championship season without stud nose tackle Vita Vea, who makes their run defense almost impossible to penetrate when he’s on the field. With Brady in his age-44 season even more comfortable in coach Bruce Arians’ vertical passing system — and not playing on a torn MCL — Tampa is a real threat to repeat.
NFC East champions: Washington Football Team (1-1)
The bar for this division isn’t very high. The Dallas Cowboys still have Mike McCarthy running things, which isn’t great in the year 2021, and their defense is unproven. Next. Until Daniel Jones proves himself as the New York Giants’ long-term answer at QB, their ceiling is limited, especially with a bad O-line in front of him.
For the Philadelphia Eagles, even if Jalen Hurts has “blown away” teammates the Iggles still have a long way to go to prove they can hang in their division. Their blowout win over Atlanta in Week 1 bears monitoring, though.
The Washington Football Team field a great defense, but again, that pesky quarterback position was a big question mark entering the offseason. Despite a history of inconsistent play, this is actually the best situation Ryan Fitzpatrick has ever had, by far, in all the starting opportunities he’s gotten.
Unfortunately, it’s now up to Taylor Heinicke to take the reins while Fitzpatrick recovers from a hip injury. A deep cast of skill position players features running back Antonio Gibson and receivers Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, and rookie third-round pick Dyami Brown. Tight end Logan Thomas is no slouch as a pass-catcher, either.
Washington is going to continue terrorizing the opposition with its excellent front seven, and the secondary got even better this offseason with the acquisition of William Jackson III at cornerback. As long as Heinicke protects the football well enough, the Football Team should repeat as NFC East champs.
NFC Wild Card predictions: Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals
So yes, Seattle, San Francisco, and Arizona represent the NFC West along with the Rams. The buzz about a possible trade involving superstar quarterback Russell Wilson has died down, so until he posts a losing record for the Seahawks or is no longer on their roster, we have to keep putting them in the postseason.
The 49ers had so many free agents to negotiate, but managed extremely well, re-signing elite left tackle Trent Williams, which was really the move they had to make. Now, they’re starting Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, but sprinkling in Trey Lance under Kyle Shanahan’s watch after a blockbuster trade to move up to third overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.
As for the Cardinals, it’s Year 3 of the Kyler Murray-Kliff Kingsbury era, which means it’s time to take the next step. GM Steve Keim made a big splash by signing J.J. Watt to bolster the defense’s front seven, and drafting Zaven Collins 16th overall. The pressure is on, because if Arizona doesn’t deliver, Keim’s seat will be hot, and Kingsbury could be gone.
Murray is arguably the best blend of throwing and running the NFL has right now at QB, and another year with DeAndre Hopkins should help the Cardinals surge into a Wild Card berth. So far, a 2-0 start looks really good in a tough NFC West.
- In The Hunt: Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys
A surprise few saw coming, the Carolina Panthers’ coaching hires may be paying dividends early on. Defensive coordinator Phil Snow came from Baylor to employ a suffocating defense putting the Panthers’ key playmakers in the best position to make plays. A week after the Saints looked unstoppable, the Panthers held them to just seven points.
Much of the New Orleans Saints’ fortunes hinge on how well Jameis Winston can succeed Drew Brees. If Winston cuts down on the 30 interceptions he threw in 2019 — is it possible to go anywhere but south of that total? — maybe the Saints can surprise some people.
The Cowboys boast a strong mix of offensive weapons. From Dak Prescott to a backfield featuring Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, to the receivers consisting of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup. If their defense steps up, they could contend for the NFC East division crown.
So who will win Super Bowl LVI?
Plenty is still to play out, it’ll be much easier to figure out who might hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl LVI as the season goes on.
As for the road to the Big Game, here are some bold predictions: The Chiefs fall to the Browns in the AFC Championship Game, and the Rams best Green Bay in the Divisional Round to set up an NFC title clash at Tampa Bay.
It’s a legitimately tough call to figure out who’s going to meet up with Cleveland in the grand finale, but we’ll give the slight edge to the defending champs, simply because of the key defensive backs they lost to the Browns in free agency.
That’s right: Our fearless forecast as of now is that the Cleveland Browns will face the Buccaneers in Super Bowl LVI and win. The Browns’ pass-rushing duo of Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, combined with their much-improved defense and the return of Odell Beckham Jr. from injury, will ultimately help Cleveland win it all.
NFL playoff bracket: Full postseason predictions for AFC and NFC
- AFC: Kansas City Chiefs earn bye with No. 1 seed; defeat Titans in Divisional Round
- No. 2 Buffalo Bills def. No. 7 Las Vegas Raiders
- No. 3 Cleveland Browns def. No. 6 Los Angeles Chargers; beat Chiefs in AFC Championship Game
- No. 4 Tennessee Titans def. No. 5 Baltimore Ravens
- NFC: Tampa Bay Buccaneers earn bye with No. 1 seed; beat Rams in NFC Championship Game
- No. 2 Los Angeles Rams def. No. 7 Arizona Cardinals; defeat Packers in Divisional Round
- No. 3 Green Bay Packers def. No. 6 San Francisco 49ers
- No. 4 Washington Football Team def. No. 5 Seattle Seahawks
- Super Bowl 2022: Cleveland Browns def. Tampa Bay Buccaneers