I gotta tell yinz, this was harder than I thought it would be. More so than I can remember in a long time, there seems to be a cluster of teams in the middle, with not much separating teams 9-22 in my list.
The AFC has an incredible list of contenders that fall just outside the truly elite level squads at the top, but who are all capable of making noise in 2022. In the NFC, the middle class is a little more exclusive, with more teams falling into a one-or-two-years-away assemblage of mediocrity.
All I’ve got to say, Steelers fans, is don’t sleep on your ‘Burgh Boys in 2022. I view this year’s edition as a fringe playoff team, with the ability for more if the offense can gel quickly and the defense regains a little of that 2019 spark.
Without further ado, I give you the 2022 Offseason Power Rankings:
Armed with best combination of offense and defense in the league, the Buffalo Bills are absolutely “hangry” for another crack at that elusive Lombardi. Also, Josh Allen is the best quarterback in the NFL (yeah, I said it). I just have a feeling about this team. They could be special.
The reigning Super Bowl Champions return a fantastic roster and a QB in Matthew Stafford who will only get better with a full year under his belt in McVay’s offense. The additions of wide receiver Allen Robinson and linebacker Bobby Wagner keep them at the top of the NFC food chain.
Following a jaw dropping offensive collapse in the AFC Championship game and the loss of all world receiver Tyreek Hill leaves room for concern. Still, I trust Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes to lead one of the leagues best offenses, paired with an improved defense (at least on paper), to another title run.
Tom Brady’s swan song (we pray) just happens to be with a loaded team ready to fight for a 2nd World Championship in 3 years. Playing in the NFC South helps give them a shot at producing the best record in the NFC, which would mean a bye and home field advantage for the Bucs. If that scenario unfolds, look out.
Aaron Rodgers, the two-time defending league MVP, is going to need to take things to even another level to get this Devonte Adams-less team back to an NFC Championship. It’s definitely possible in a relatively weak NFC, but look for a heavy dose of Aaron Jones and a defense that has the chance to be really good to carry this team to any promised land it will reach.
Too high? Too soon? No sir! This Chargers team has a vibe to it that screams powerhouse, and it starts with quarterback Justin Herbert. I am on record on The Steelers Fix podcast, hosted by myself and Andrew Wilbar (#shamelessplug), as a believer in Herbert as a real MVP candidate in 2022. The defense also has a chance to be legit. They’re closer to the Chiefs and Bills than you might think.
One of the more challenging rankings in this exercise, the Bengals had a real Cinderella story going in 2021, and it’s fair to wonder if it is sustainable in 2022. The offense is absolutely loaded, especially at wide receiver, where Jamaar Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd might be the best trio in the league. If the offensive line and defense can be a little better, they might just prove this ranking too low.
I realize I am higher on the Cowboys than most, but hear me out. The offense remains in really good shape with Dak Prescott leading a unit grounded by a good offensive line and one of the best backfield duos in the league. The departure of Amari Cooper to Cleveland should give budding star CeeDee Lamb more room to flourish as a true WR1, and I trust Dak and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore to elevate the rest of the pass-catchers, including the underrated Michael Gallup once healthy. If the Defense is anywhere close to the 2021 unit which ranked 2nd in DVOA, this team will win games.
The next tier of teams is a group of contenders all so close it made sorting them tightly difficult. The Colts top out this group as a team with a very solid roster that improved at quarterback and on the defensive side of the ball this offseason with the additions of Matt Ryan and Stephon Gilmore. The Jonathan Taylor-led running game should be top-notch again, and Matt Ryan doesn't make the big mistake in the big moment. This is the best team in the AFC South today.
10. BALTIMORE RAVENS
The Ravens were also a difficult eval, mostly due to the historically bad injury luck that plagued their 2021 season. We didn’t get to see anything close to a full-strength Ravens squad all season, and it showed. Still the team showed plenty of heart, remaining in the playoff hunt until the final whistle of a Week 18 loss to Pittsburgh. That said, no team is more reliant on flawless performances from its quarterback week in and week out to be great. If Lamar is unavailable or off even a little, the offense is much more predictable. The secondary should be special if healthy, but the rest of the defense has questions. As a whole, there’s a lot to like about this Ravens team, and you can bet they’ll be in the playoff conversation all year.
A lot of people love the Eagles, and if you just look at their roster on paper, you could make a case for them as a potential NFC elite. I question the ceiling of this Jalen Hurts offense. How far can a run-heavy attack take you, especially if the passing game doesn’t scare defenses? Draft-day trade acquisition A.J. Brown joins Devonta Smith to form a very good, young wide receiver duo, but is it enough to lift Hurts to a new level? Both lines should be tops in the league, which always gives a team a chance. They’re close to Dallas in the East, but the Cowboys just have more to offer on offense, and I trust that more in 2022.
12. DENVER BRONCOS
Russell Wilson is in Denver, and suddenly a talent-rich roster with the worst quarterback situation in football in 2021 has a Top 10 signal-caller to pair with that top-tier roster. The only reason they are ranked this low is because we haven’t seen how it’s going to work yet. Of all the teams in this tier of contenders, the Broncos have the potential to jump the highest over the course of the season.
13. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Now before you jump go labeling me a homer, look at this objectively. With all due respect to the retired future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers probably upgraded at quarterback with either Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett behind center, at least from an athleticism standpoint. I’ve officially boarded the Trubisky Hype Train, and I really think he has just as much potential to break out as an upper-tier quarterback as he does to be replaced by Pickett before the bye. Najee Harris and an improved offensive line will lead the way, and Matt Canada’s offense will scheme open the team's cast of talented pass-catchers. If that side of the ball works, this team could seriously be dangerous.
The Defense has some holes, but overall it returns the reigning DPOY in T.J. Watt, a perennial All-Pro in Cam Heyward, the new big-money man in town at safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and an assortment of solid contributors at every level. The unit’s ability to gel early and return to a top scoring defense will make or break the entire season. If you believe they can, which I do, you’re going to be high on this version of the Steelers.
The offense made a huge addition in the former Packers’ star Devonta Adams, and that unit looks to be one of the better groups in the league with a ton of weapons for the underrated Derek Carr to distribute the ball to. The defense is much more of a question mark, especially on the back end where the team lacks a true difference maker in the secondary. How far can the offense take them is the question we’ll be asking all year.
The NFC runner ups are too well-coached and too talented along the Defensive front seven to fall outside the playoffs in a relatively weak NFC. The X-Factor is obviously 2nd-year QB Trey Lance being “The Guy” at quarterback. There’s no way, barring injury or a truly terrible preseason showing, that Lance isn’t given the reigns in Week 1. His development will determine how good the ‘9ers are in 2022.
16. TENNESSEE TITANS
The rise or fall of the Titans in 2022 will depend heavily on whether or not Mike Vrabel is successful in coaxing an underwhelming roster to outperform their collective talent. Specifically on the offensive side of the ball, where All-World running back Derrick Henry is coming off a lost season due to injury. Ryan Tannehill took a step back and the team lost its top receiving weapon in A.J. Brown in a stunning draft day trade with the Eagles. The defense is primed for another solid season, but will it be enough to overcome the questions on offense? Color me skeptical.
The Vikings have a new coach and a lot of upside lead by one of the most underrated offenses in the league. Whether you like it or not, Kirk Cousins has been as consistent as any quarterback in the league, and looks to take another step in what should be a passer-friendly offense. Justin Jefferson and an aging Adam Thielen still form one of the leagues better wide receiver duos, and Dalvin Cook remains a top tier playmaker out of the backfield when healthy. The defense has some holes, specifically along the front seven. That unit will need to step up to give the Vikings the ammunition they need for a playoff push.
18. CLEVELAND BROWNS
The narrative around the Browns is that they have one of the NFL’s most complete rosters and should be square in the middle of Super Bowl contender conversation, BUT… That “but” is a big one, and it revolves around the well-documented quarterback situation. We won’t dive into that too much here. In reality, the Browns have a lot of question marks on offense, starting with the murky quarterback situation and extending to a wide receiver room bereft of proven depth behind the newly acquired Amari Cooper. On the other side of the ball, you could make the case they have as much talent as anybody, with Myles Garrett leading a physical front seven and Denzel Ward anchoring a strong secondary. It’ll be up to the offense to form some kind of identity quickly to help the Browns keep pace in a tough division.
Sean Payton is gone, Dennis Allen is in, and the Saints will look a lot different on offense in 2022. The defense, however, has the opportunity to be the league's best units, with a smothering front seven and a lock-down secondary. The question marks on offense, though, cloud the overall feeling of this team’s ability to compete. Michael Thomas may be the League’s biggest mystery, and Alvin Kamara finds himself in an under-the-radar suspension scenario, overshadowed by the more public Watson case we just discussed. What will Jameis Winston look like in return from an ACL blowout? Can Coach Allen maintain the culture of excellence Sean Payton has implemented since 2006? This team could be sneaky good in 2022, or the whole ship could take a Titanic turn for the worse if these questions don’t get satisfactory answers.
Remember how I said there’s not much separating a large middle-class of NFL teams? The Patriots feel a lot closer to a playoff team than a bottom 12 team, but I can’t shake the feeling that they won’t be able to hang with the other more talented rosters in the AFC. I am not a big believer in Mac Jones, who has a limited ceiling and not much real talent around him. If Bill Belichick can coach up a defense of relative no-names and the offense can out-physical opponents in the run game, this team has a shot. I have some doubts.
21. MIAMI DOLPHINS
I may catch some heat for this ranking, but I’ll believe the Dolphins projected rise when I see it. Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle form one of the league’s most explosive wide receiver duos, and the offense as a whole looks to be better than the 2021 unit that finished 24th in DVOA. The defense also has solid pieces on all three levels, but this ranking is all about Tua Tagovailoa. What have we seen from Tua that he can make this leap and actually take advantage of the talent around him? A flash here and there is all we have so far. This ranking could change quickly if he proves he’s the guy.
In conversations concerning playoff teams from 2021 most likely to miss out in 2022, the Cardinals often surface as the top candidate. Kyler is locked in on a new big money deal, and the team still has playmakers around him. The defense lost sack master Chandler Jones to the Vegas “Raiduhs”, and the remaining talents on that side of the ball don’t spark much confidence. The growth of linebacker duo Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins could change that narrative, but even still, the schedule is intimidating (2nd most difficult) and their own division sent two teams to the NFC Championship last year.
23. NEW YORK GIANTS
After the Cardinals, things get sparse. The Giants have a ton of talented pieces, especially on offense, where the team hopes a (finally) healthy and confident Saquon Barkley provides a shot in the arm to Daniel Jones and Co. Jones has the weapons to be successful, and this is likely his last chance to prove he’s more than a marginal starter at quarterback. The defense projects as a middle of the road unit, but the offense give the Giants a chance to play the role of spoiler early and often in 2022.
The quarterback competition in Carolina is as intriguing as any, with the 1st and 3rd overall picks from the 2018 Draft Class set to battle it out. For now, I give the edge to Baker Mayfield over the consistently underwhelming Sam Darnold. Mayfield gives the Panthers at least a chance to properly utilize their playmakers like Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore. Brian Burns and Jeremy Chinn are two young studs on “D”, but the team is mired in uncertainty. I don’t expect them to be very competitive, despite playing in a relatively easy division.
The Jaguars have an opportunity to flip the script after a 2021 season to forget. The Urban Meyer apocalypse is over with former Super Bowl Champion coach Doug Pederson in place, ready take on a ‘QB Whisperer’ role with generational prospect Trevor Lawrence, who by all accounts looks like a rejuvenated player this offseason. The Jags took the quantity over quality approach to their skill position overhaul in 2022, and are hoping that Lawrence can elevate the roster to viability. The defense boasts this year’s top overall pick in Trevon Walker, who will try to set the tone for a unit that will need to play greater than the sum of it’s parts to make JAX competitive in 2022.
26. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Long gone are the Seahawks teams with yearly Super Bowl aspirations. Russell Wilson is out the door, the Legion of Boom long since disbanded, leaving Pete Carrol with virtually no quarterback and relative unknowns at a lot of important positions, outside of wide receiver where the newly extended DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett hope for anyone who can get a football to them. The defense lacks explosive talent overall. The Seahawks could very easily be staring at a complete team overhaul at the conclusion of this season.
27. NEW YORK JETS
There is a lot to like about the Jets this year. They are loaded with young talent on offense with Zach Wilson leading a cast of highly athletic weapons on the perimeter in Elijah Moore and Denzel Mims, along with the newly drafted Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall at running back. The defense has some exciting pieces as well, especially along the defensive front. The Jets success in 2022 depends on how quickly this young offense can gel together, and whether or not Zach Wilson lives up to the billing of a former no. 2 overall draft pick.
28. DETROIT LIONS
There’s a lot to like about this year’s subject of HBO’s Hard Knocks. The Lions could see themselves skyrocket up this list in short order if Coach Dan Campbell’s squad can find a footing early and grow together. Jared Goff and company have been looking sharp in practice so far in Training Camp, but a lot of good things are being said about newly drafted DE Aiden Hutchinson as well. This team is all about their Head Coach, though, and if his identity becomes their’s, we’ll see a competitive team with a shot at disrupting a wide open NFC Wild-Card race.
29. WASHINGTON COMMANDERS
There’s not much about this Commanders team that gets you really excited about their potential in 2022. The offense could be decent, with Carson Wentz and Terry McLaurin offering at least some semblance of potency, but the team’s success or failure will ride on the shoulders of Chase Young and Co. to rebound in a big way from a lackluster 2021. With so much distraction going around the team’s front office, it’ll be up to Coach Ron Rivera to focus the team on the prize.
30. ATLANTA FALCONS
Where else can you put the Falcons heading into this season? There’s been talk of a quarterback battle in the ATL, but Marcus Mariota has the inside track over the rookie out of Cincinnati, Desmond Ridder. Mariota’s mobility and veteran savvy could bag the Falcons a few surprise games, and I believe in the Aurther Smith regime. However, the defense may be the most talent deficient in the league, and could be the downfall for an offense that has some weapons.
31. CHICAGO BEARS
Justin Fields has his work cut out for him, and that’s probably underselling the problems with the Bears’ offensive situation. Save for 2021 breakout Receiver Darnell Mooney and the hopeful rise of tight end Cole Kmet, Fields has very little to work with in the passing game, and running back David Montgomery will be running behind a very suspect offensive line. The defense is a shell of the unit that willed a 2018 team to the playoffs, although franchise cornerstone Roquan Smith is still in-house and the secondary could be decent. Fields deserves better, and would likely be the fantasy breakout candidate of the offseason at quarterback if the team had done more around him.
32. HOUSTON TEXANS
I don’t love putting the Texans here, but there doesn’t really seem to be a plan in Houston, and I like something about each of the other teams in the league more. They might be the most veteran team in the league, likely hoping that the roster’s veteran ensemble is enough to eke out a few wins. One thing we know for sure, it’s the Davis Mills experiment for Houston this year, and they are wise to see what they have in the underrated signal caller. If Mills can build a good rapport with wide receiver Brandin Cooks and a guy like Nico Collins makes the leap this year, the Texans may find they have some building blocks work with in the coming years.