The Kansas City Chiefs will finish last in the AFC West. Now that I have your attention ...
Welcome to an annual offseason undertaking in this space: My fearless forecasts for the coming campaign!
With the 2022 NFL season kicking off in fewer than 100 days, it's high time to get wild. And frankly, I didn't include that Kansas City prognostication because I have so much respect for the Chargers, Raiders and Broncos that a fourth-place finish from the Chiefs doesn't feel THAT audacious. Then again, K.C. has won six consecutive division titles, so it'd be a pronounced fall from grace. Maybe this opinion does deserve a spot in the rundown below. No matter. I have plenty of hot takes elsewhere!
Here are my bold predictions for the 2022 season, Schein Nine style.
1) The Patriots finish 14th(!) in the AFC pecking order
At the moment, this is how I loosely view the AFC hierarchy:
- Buffalo Bills
- Los Angeles Chargers
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Indianapolis Colts
- Las Vegas Raiders
- Miami Dolphins
- Baltimore Ravens
- Denver Broncos
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Cleveland Browns
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Tennessee Titans
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- New England Patriots
- Houston Texans
- New York Jets
I'm quite confident those first dozen teams listed will win more games than the Patriots. I guess Cleveland's something of an unknown, given the potential suspension looming for Deshaun Watson, but those 12 rosters are just superior to New England's group. Of course, No. 13 -- Jacksonville, which has picked No. 1 overall in each of the past two drafts -- is bold. But these are, after all, BOLD TAKES. Allow me to explain myself ...
I still believe Trevor Lawrence trumps Mac Jones. And I think Travis Etienne, who missed the entire 2021 season with a Lisfranc injury, is going to have a monster debut season. Say what you want about Christian Kirk's contract, but he's an upgrade in Jacksonville -- and he'd be WR1 in New England. The Jags boosted the offensive line this offseason, most notably grabbing Brandon Scherff in free agency. Meanwhile, the defense beefed up on the open market (LB Foye Oluokun, DT Foley Fatukasi, CB Darious Williams) and in the draft (No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker, as well as linebackers Devin Lloyd and Chad Muma).
Lastly, Bill Belichick is the greatest football coach ever, but the lack of a true replacement for Josh McDaniels scares me. A lot. And Doug Pederson is a breath of fresh air in Jacksonville.
2) The Chargers field a top-three offense and defense
This team is LOADED. Last month, Chargers GM Tom Telesco came on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," and I asked him about dealing with expectations. He scoffed at the question, pointing out that the Bolts didn't even make the playoffs last season. I love it. That's chip-on-the-shoulder stuff. Color me obsessed with the demeanor. And did I mention the talent?
Telesco aggressively improved all levels of the defense in the free agency/trade market, adding OLB Khalil Mack, CB J.C. Jackson, CB Bryce Callahan, LB Kyle Van Noy, DL Sebastian Joseph-Day and DT Austin Johnson. This is a unit that already had established gamechangers Joey Bosa and Derwin James, as well as promising youngster Asante Samuel Jr. Then, in the draft, Telesco wisely fortified the offensive line with plug-and-play starter Zion Johnson and versatile Day 3 value pick Jamaree Salyer.
Like the other team in town, this L.A. outfit is a galaxy of stars. I haven't even mentioned the spectacular WR duo of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, stud left tackle Rashawn Slater or dynamic back Austin Ekeler. Am I forgetting someone? Oh, yeah -- the dreamy Justin Herbert, who's only beginning to realize his potential as one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
With such firepower on both sides of the ball, I see the Bolts fielding two of the league's top units. This is the year, Charger fans!
3) Aaron Rodgers three-peats as MVP
Regular readers know I've been driving the Josh Allen bandwagon since he entered the league. As you can tell from the words just above, I'm also obsessed with Justin Herbert. I think Joe Burrow is special. Patrick Mahomes is Patrick Mahomes. And with a clean bill of health, Lamar Jackson is going to do Lamar Jackson things once again.
But it's still Aaron Rodgers' world, and we're all just living in it.
No Davante Adams? No problem. This only adds to the MVP narrative. Rodgers is going to take this no-name group of pass catchers and lead them to the best record in the NFC because he's the most talented quarterback ever.
The only player in NFL history to win three straight MVP awards? Brett Favre. Something tells me Favre's Green Bay successor will be slightly motivated to match this feat.
4) Derek Carr leads the league in passing yards
Fresh off a fantastic season that saw him flirt with 5,000 yards, Carr is going to absolutely sizzle in 2022 under offensive guru Josh McDaniels. Especially now that he's playing with his bestie, Davante Adams. Yes, Aaron Rodgers can stomach losing the first-team All-Pro wideout because he's one of the greatest ever, but that doesn't mean Adams' arrival in Vegas doesn't significantly boost Carr's potential output. There will be no growing pains, either, as the Carr-Adams connection lit up the gridiron during their Fresno State days. In fact, the two college teammates continued training together each offseason until the Raiders left Oakland.
5) Nick Bosa wins Defensive Player of the Year
Aaron Donald is always the pick. Or he should be. They should just go ahead and name the award after him. That said, there is such a thing as voter fatigue. And given the fact that Donald is currently in a contract stalemate that has him floating the potential of retirement, maybe it takes him a few weeks to play like a legend once the deal presumably gets done. Or maybe, just maybe, this freak in San Francisco gets the love he fully deserves.
As an Associated Press voter, I had Bosa as a first-team All-Pro last season. The man racked up 15.5 sacks during the regular season, and then added four more in three postseason games. He's the best all-around player on a loaded team that features transcendent talents like Trent Williams and Deebo Samuel. Bosa sacks the quarterback, stops the run and generally strikes fear in the hearts of offensive linemen and offensive coordinators.
6) The Cardinals miss the playoffs
I love the roster that Steve Keim has assembled. But there are bad vibes around this team, which happens to play in the rugged NFC West, home of the reigning Super Bowl champion Rams and the uber-talented 49ers.
Kyler Murray will get his contract this summer. Keim told me as much after the draft on SiriusXM Radio. And I believe him when he says, "Kyler is our long-term future." But can Kyler truly lead a team? Can he handle adversity? Can he avoid the winter collapses that have plagued the Cards under Kliff Kingsbury? And this season, can he still come out the gates hot despite DeAndre Hopkins's six-game suspension? I have a lot of questions about the undeniably talented passer.
Overall, the Rams and Niners still have better overall rosters. That's a big-picture problem.
7) J.K. Dobbins wins Comeback Player of the Year
I love this cat. I thought Baltimore stole him late in Round 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft, and spent much of that offseason gassing him up. Then he went out and averaged a robust 6.0 yards per carry as a rookie, only furthering my infatuation.
Thus, I was crushed for him, the Ravens and football fans in general when he tore his ACL last August in the Ravens' preseason finale. But I think he bounces back with a monster season in 2022. As I've said time and again, the 5-foot-10, 212-pounder was put on Earth to run the rock for the Ravens. Dobbins was a part of Baltimore's hellacious injury toll in 2021. In 2022, he and the rest of the team get back to playing Ravens football.
8) Justin Jefferson ranks top three in receptions, yards and touchdowns
I think Kirk Cousins will enjoy the best year of his career under new head coach/play caller Kevin O'Connell. Consequently, I see Jefferson piling up around 120 catches, 1,600 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Honestly, those numbers aren't even that bold. Shoot, in his first two NFL seasons, he averaged 98 grabs, 1,508 yards and nine scores. And that was with Mike Zimmer as his head coach -- you know, the guy who was obsessed with running the ball more? Those days are over. And Jefferson's time is now.
9) The Bears finish with the worst record
Some of you might think Atlanta's the obvious choice. But the Falcons potentially have a stud rookie receiver in Drake London. Team him up with Kyle Pitts, and Marcus Mariota has some nice weaponry to work with, especially in the red zone. Also, Arthur Smith has a year of head-coaching experience, unlike Matt Eberflus, who faces a serious uphill battle in Chicago. It's not his fault. Eberflus and new GM Ryan Poles inherited a Matt Nagy/Ryan Pace mess.
I feel for Justin Fields, whose rookie year was largely torpedoed by Nagy's ineptitude. And the 23-year-old QB's supporting cast heading into Year 2 isn't exactly star-studded. I like Darnell Mooney as much as the next guy, but he's far from a proven WR1. And the rest of the receiving corps is akin to a witness protection program. The O-line? Yeah, a lot to be desired there, too. And the defense is decimated, with Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks among a bunch of departures.
I get what Poles and Co. are doing here. Pace's poor roster management induced a complete teardown. It makes sense for the long haul. But it's going to be a long, long season in the Windy City.