The arrival of the 2022 NFL season means we are on the verge of witnessing all 32 teams taking center stage for more exciting football. While everyone knows who the best NFL teams are in 2022, we’ll also get to see several clubs surprise this year.
There is no better example of a team surpassing expectations than the Cincinnati Bengals. Projected to finish at the bottom of the NFL standings, everyone could only watch in amazement as quarterback Joe Burrow led his team to an AFC title and come one drive shy of the Lombardi Trophy.
It’s difficult to imagine something like that happening again. However, instances like the Philadelphia Eagles making the playoffs or the Tennessee Titans earning the No.1 in the AFC last year are possible.
Here are five NFL teams who could be pleasant surprises in 2022.
Even before the 2021 season kicked off, injuries devastated the Baltimore Ravens. Marcus Peters, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards all went down with devastating injuries. Somehow, the team held a 5-2 record heading into its bye week and went into December with an 8-3 record. However, the injuries kept piling up and Baltimore’s season fell apart with six consecutive losses.
Everything looks a lot better heading into the 2022 season. All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley returns and the offensive line is further strengthened with 25th overall pick Tyler Linderbaum. In addition, Dobbins is healthy and wide receiver Rashod Bateman is a popular breakout candidate. With a motivated Lamar Jackson, the Ravens offense could return to its top form.
Defensively, the outlook is also promising. Baltimore addressed its issues at safety with Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton, turning a weakness into an absurd strength. Quite frankly, the entire Ravens’ secondary is loaded. If the pass rush can step up, a top-10 offense and defense make Baltimore a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Las Vegas Raiders spent money this offseason like they are a team determined to compete for the Lombardi Trophy. Bringing in All-Pro receiver Davante Adams sets the table for potentially one of the best NFL offenses in 2022. It might even put Derek Carr in the conversation to be viewed as a top-10 quarterback. When you then factor in Josh McDaniels calling plays, this will be a unit capable of winning plenty of games on its own.
On the other side of the ball, there are things to like about the defense. Patrick Graham is one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL and he should do a much better job than his predecessor. Las Vegas also upgraded at edge rusher with Chandler Jones replacing Yannick Ngakoue and its situation at cornerback looks better than it did a year ago.
There’s enough skill talent and coaching for Las Vegas to challenge for the AFC West crown. While the level of success will depend on how the offensive line and secondary fares, there are scenarios where the Raiders could reach the AFC Championship Game.
Whether or not you agree with the Minnesota Vikings’ decision to extend Kirk Cousins, it’s impossible to deny the roster and coaching staff improved this offseason. Kevin O’Connell is going to transform Minnesota’s offense, bringing a modern style, explosiveness and efficiency like we didn’t see at the end of the Mike Zimmer era.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Vikings posted an awful 4-7 record in one-score games last season and NFL history indicates there will be positive regression. Minnesota added Za’Darius Smith in free agency and it should have a healthy Danielle Hunter. If the Vikings get more consistent play out of Cousins, this could be one of the top-15 NFL teams this year.
The Baker Mayfield trade had a significant impact on our NFL predictions and the 2022 outlook for the Carolina Panthers. It’s not to suggest that Mayfield will suddenly turn Carolina into a great team. However, this club might be capable of being in the playoff picture and saving Matt Rhule’s job.
There’s more than enough talent on the roster for the Panthers to challenge for a winning record. Carolina finally addressed its offensive line with Ikem Ekwonu, addressing the biggest weakness on that side of the ball. It means Mayfield gets to operate in an offense with Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Terrace Marshall Jr. and Robbie Anderson. If Mayfield is just an average starter, the Panthers will have an above-average offense.
We’re even more optimistic regarding the defense. Despite being repeatedly thrown to the wolves with defending short field position, this unit was one of the best defenses in the NFC last year. It now gets Jaycee Horn back at corner with Matt Ioannidis strengthening the defensive line. If everything goes well, the Panthers could finish second in the NFC South.
The Miami Dolphins enter the season with a significantly improved offensive line, a huge boost for both the passing attack and run game. On top of that, play-caller Mike McDaniel brings the innovative mind you want to see utilizing weapons like Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Mike Gesicki, Cedrick Wilson and Chase Edmonds.
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There is almost just as much firepower on the defensive side. It was also crucial that McDaniel kept the defensive coaching staff that helped shape this group into a quality defense. Melvin Ingram III will help Jaelan Phillips in a lot of ways and the rest of the defensive line is outstanding. Now factor in a secondary with Xavien Howard, Byron Jones and Jevon Holland, all the makings are there for a top-10 defense.
|Tua Tagovailoa stats||Pass Yards||Completion Rate||YPA||TD-INT||QB Rating|
|First 5 games (2021)||1,040||65.61%||6.6||7-5||85.9|
|Week 10-13 (4 games)||905||77.97%||7.7||5-1||109.2|
|Week 14-17 (4 games)||708||60.18%||6.3||4-4||75.4|
It all comes down to quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The splits shown above highlight his inconsistency. At times he looked like Drew Brees-lite. In other games, Tagovailoa didn’t perform like a starting-caliber quarterback. So, Miami overhauled its roster and coaching staff to eliminate any potential excuses.
Everything comes down to this. If Tagovailoa plays like the quarterback who everyone viewed as the No. 1 prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft before his injury, Miami is playoff bound and will cause trouble in the AFC. If he falls short, the Dolphins will face massive questions about how they’ll replace him in 2023 without their first-round pick.