By Ethan Miller ’23
With the 2021-2022 NFL season right around the corner, it’s time to predict which teams will be successful this season and make it to the playoffs in January. 14 teams will qualify for the tournament that will eventually decide the 2022 Super Bowl Champion. The question is, which teams?
NFC East: Washington Football Team
The “NFC Least” will snap their 16-year streak of no repeat division champions, as the team without a name will take the crown for the second year in a row. Yes, I may be biased in that Washington is my favorite team, but an improved offense and defense provides room for optimism. Ron Rivera, a year after defeating cancer and taking a young team to the playoffs in his first season as HC for the Football Team, has all the pieces in line to make a deep playoff run. Veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick should provide some excitement to an offense that has been bottom of the barrel for 3 seasons, and CB William Jackson III should provide additional strength to the defense. While Dallas will also be competitive, Washington will win the NFC East with a record of 11-6.
NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With the easiest selection on this list, we have the defending Super Bowl Champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tom Brady shows no sign of slowing down even as he enters his 22nd season in the NFL, and I don’t think this will be the year his production drops. With an offense that returns Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette, and Mike Evans to the fold, the Buccaneers should set record highs in yards and points per game. The defense is no slouch either, as they ranked first in rushing defense and were top ten in overall defense. Expect a deep playoff run and a dominant regular season. Record prediction: 15-2
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
Despite all the drama this past offseason with QB Aaron Rodgers, he will return to play for the cheeseheads in 2021. That’s good news for Packers fans, as one of the league’s best teams from last year returns many of their star players. The Packers may lack the depth on offense that some other perennial favorites have, but they make up for it by having two bona fide stars. RB Aaron Jones and WR Davante Adams put up career years in 2020, and with Rodgers having no other good options to go to, expect both players to match or even eclipse last year’s lofty numbers. The North has no other real threats to challenge the Pack for the division title, meaning that even if the Aaron Rodgers drama from the offseason resurfaces midseason, Green Bay should have no problems cruising to the playoffs with a record of 13-4.
NFC West: Seattle Seahawks
The perennial playoff contender Seahawks will have it a little more difficult this year, as the LA Rams look to be a strong team as well that has the potential to usurp Seattle at the top of the division. Despite this, QB Russell Wilson will lead the Seahawks to a strong record with an offense bolstered by star WR D.K. Metcalf, RB Chris Carson, and veteran Tyler Lockett. The defense will be led by safety Jamal Adams and MLB Bobby Wagner and should be strong enough to hold on to the division crown. Record prediction: 12-5
Wild Card 1: Dallas Cowboys
While not strong enough to beat out Washington for the division title, Dallas’s high powered offense should carry them to the top wild card in the NFC. Dak Prescott returns and will set high numbers once again, while RB Ezekiel Elliott will lead a strong rushing attack. The defense is a little suspect, but barring a complete collapse, they should be strong enough to support the offense. Record prediction: 10-7
Wild Card 2: Los Angeles Rams
In a loaded NFC West, the Rams will have a tough schedule en route to the postseason. However, the core that went to the Super Bowl 3 years ago is still mostly intact, giving the Rams depth and experience to make another playoff run. New QB Matthew Stafford should finally have the pieces around him to shine, meaning this offense should be fun to watch. Aaron Donald will front a defense that also features star CB Jalen Ramsey. While they won’t have the strength to compete with the Seahawks, LA will grab a wild card spot with a record of 10-7.
Wild Card 3: New Orleans Saints
With Drew Brees gone, the Saints have a big hole to fill at QB. For the time being, Jameis Winston will fill that hole in what many consider his second chance in the NFL. Due to the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers being in the same division, and the turnover at QB, New Orleans won’t have the firepower to keep up. However, with stud WR Michael Thomas and RB Alvin Kamara, plus a strong defense, the Saints certainly have the strength to make and compete in the postseason. Record prediction: 10-7
AFC East: Buffalo Bills
After a 13-3 season that returned the Bills to relevance last year, Buffalo is poised to make another deep playoff run. A year after making it to the AFC Championship Game before losing to Kansas City. QB Josh Allen has ascended to one of the best at his position, with his blend of arm strength, speed, and athleticism making him one of the toughest to gameplan against. Favorite targets Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley both return, alongside Isaiah McKenzie and TE Dawson Knox. Devin Singletary leads a rushing attack that’s best weapon may be Allen himself, but it should be substantial to support the passing attack. Last year the Bills’ defense was exactly middle of the road in 16th overall, leaving the unit room to improve. However, the defense will be good enough to make Buffalo one of the best teams in the league at 13-4.
AFC South: Tennessee Titans
Last year, Tennessee went 11-5 and held off the Colts to win the division. This year the battle will be a repeat, as the Colts are the only team in the South with a chance to topple the Titans. Tennessee has the upper hand, however, as they return last year’s leading rusher, Derrick Henry (2027 yards!), to a stacked offense. Already loaded with WR AJ Brown, TE Anthony Firkser, and the aforementioned Henry, the Titans went out and acquired WR Julio Jones from the Falcons- one of the best WRs of the past decade. Efficient QB Ryan Tannehill returns to lead this offense, and he’s definitely no slouch under center, with a 33:7 touchdown to interception ratio in 2020. The one concern for this team is their defense, as it ranked 24th overall last year. They’ve made some moves to try to fix it, and the first month of the season should show whether they’ll be up to the task. Record prediction: 10-7.
AFC North: Cleveland Browns
The Browns proved that they were for real last year, as they nabbed a wild card spot with a record of 11-5, and then trounced their division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the opening round of the postseason. Baker Mayfield had a good season, and that should continue this year, but their real offensive strength lies in their run game. Thunder-and-lightning combo Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for over 1900 yards last year, with 18 touchdowns, and that’s not including their receiving stats. On defense, the Brownies were midpack in 21st place, and with the strength of the division, they’ll need good play on that side of the ball. Mostly because of their youth and offensive prowess, the Browns will take the division crown by a game over Pittsburgh at 12-5.
AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs
The easiest pick of the year goes to the Chiefs, as they have the strongest offense in the league, maybe even ever. That’s how good they are. The only team that comes close is the Buccaneers, and they don’t have to face them unless they match up in the Super Bowl again. QB Patrick Mahomes leads an offense featuring TE Travis Kelce, RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and WRs Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, and Demarcus Robinson. They should put up a ton of points throughout the 17 game season. That, coupled with a defense that was 11th overall in 2020 makes KC the team to beat this year. Their division doesn’t stand a chance (although the Chargers could make some noise in the Wild Card race). Record prediction: 16-1
Wild Card 1: Pittsburgh Steelers
After a disappointing blowout loss in the first round of the playoffs last year, the Steelers are poised to make a rebound and return to their winning ways. QB Ben Roethlisberger leads a strong offense that also features WRs JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, and Diontae Johnson, and 2021 first round draft pick Najee Harris. On defense, Cameron Heyward, TJ Watt, and Devin Bush lead a great pass rush that complements the offense well. They may not have the firepower to beat out the Browns, but they’ll have plenty to take the top Wild Card spot at 11-6.
Wild Card 2: Los Angeles Chargers
Last year’s Offensive Rookie of The Year, Justin Herbert, shocked the league with his amazing play at the QB position. He should continue to grow and get better this year, which should be scary for the rest of the league. He’ll have no shortage of options to throw too, with a strong receiver corps featuring Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and TE Jared Cook. DE Joey Bosa and SS Derwin James are the best players on a defense that should play well. While Los Angeles doesn’t hold a candle to the Chiefs, they should be strong enough to compete for a Wild Card spot. Record prediction: 10-7
Wild Card 3: Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson took a step back last year in his passing game, and while it was still good, it definitely affected the team in their record, where they barely made the playoffs. However, Baltimore’s bread and butter isn’t their air game, but rather their prowess on the ground. In 2020 the Ravens had 3 rushers over 700 yards- Gus Edwards, JK Dobbins, and the aforementioned Jackson. WR Hollywood Brown and TE Mark Andrews, both top targets for Jackson in 2020, return and are the Baltimore offense’s biggest aerial threats. On defense, the team ranked 2nd overall in 2020, making them one of the most formidable teams on the defensive side of the ball. Once again, the Ravens will have to settle for a Wild Card Spot at 10-7.