2022 NFL Season Preview: The 8 Super Bowl Contenders, From Ravens to Bills
Michael Reaves/Getty Images. Pictured: Bills QB Josh Allen, WR Stefon Diggs
We made it!
We traversed the eternal offseason, all the preseason optimism, the awards, season leaders and fantasy drafts. We finally made it to our final season preview bucket. The 2022 NFL season is here, and you know the drill by now.
I’ve divided all 32 teams into four buckets of eight. The first eight were left for dead as potential No. 1 pick candidates. We then reviewed eight teams set to decline and eight more headed in the right direction. Today we finish with the eight you already know best: the bonafide Super Bowl contenders.
This series hasn’t been a Power Rankings, but these teams are at the top either way. We’ll focus on why these eight teams are true contenders and decide whether to bet, lean, or pass on each team’s win total.
Like usual, you’ll see offensive and defensive rankings for each team plus other bets and futures worth considering along the way. Here’s a quick refresher on position-by-position 1-to-32 rankings, if you missed them:
Check out the entire four-part season preview:
- The 8 Worst Teams
- The 8 Teams Taking a Step Backward
- The 8 Sleepers Trending Up
- The 8 Super Bowl Contenders
Baltimore Ravens Over/Under 9.5 Wins
The Ravens could have been the easiest pick in recent memory for the improving teams bucket, but I’m taking it one step further and plopping Baltimore right back onto the contenders list.
Last season was the year from hell for Baltimore. The running-back and cornerback depth charts were ravaged by injury before the season even started, and then health came for the offensive line and, eventually, Lamar Jackson. The Ravens not only lost more games to injury than any team this century, per Football Outsiders, but they also lost more than double any other team.
Despite all that, the Ravens were the AFC one-seed for a real chunk of the season before detonating with an 0-6 finish, with five of those losses without Jackson and a brutal 0-5 record in one-score games. The defense imploded without any corners or pass rush healthy, and the bottom fell out of the one-man offense once that one man couldn’t stay healthy or handle a barrage of pressure.
Baltimore certainly hopes all of that is in the past. Jackson is whole again, and the secondary looks good to go and maybe better than ever with the additions of Kyles Hamilton and Fuller. The running backs and offensive line are still a work in progress but should get there by midseason. The defense also gets some juice from new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, who is back from Michigan.
The Ravens had ranked in the top 10 in Defensive DVOA five straight seasons before plummeting to 28th with all of last season’s injuries. They should bounce back, and Baltimore also gets a persistent advantage in special teams, with a top-nine DVOA nine straight years now, a John Harbaugh specialty. The Ravens still do special teams, scheme, coaching, and game management a little better than almost everyone else, and all those extra 10% advantages add up.
The Ravens are such an obvious worst-to-first division winner candidate that any value on the number is gone. Can this Lamar Jackson formula work in the playoffs? Baltimore is +1000 to make the Super Bowl and +2000 to win it.
Win Total Verdict: Bet Over 9.5
Philadelphia Eagles Over/Under 9.5 Wins
The Eagles had a perfect offseason. Philadelphia lost very little but added star playmakers at four key positions. A.J. Brown was the splashy offensive addition, but the defense had an even bigger transformation.
James Bradberry joins Darius Slay to form one of the league’s best corner duos, and Haason Reddick adds pass rush to this deep front seven. Rookie nose tackle Jordan Davis could quietly make the biggest impact by eating bodies at the line and opening up this scheme.
The Eagles have a talented, nasty defense along with the best offensive line in the league. If you think NFL football is won in the trenches, Philadelphia has the best trenches in football. Really, the Eagles have the best non-QB roster in the NFL.
That’s not an exaggeration. On my roster rankings matrix, if I zero out the QBs, the Eagles become the No. 1 overall team.
So how far can Jalen Hurts take this roster?
The Eagles remade their offense as a smash-mouth run-first attack to amplify Hurts, and it nearly made them a top-10 offense. Will defenses adjust to an outdated attack, or can Hurts grow enough as a passer — with two talented receivers in Brown and DeVonta Smith — to make opponents pay if they sell out to stop the run?
Even if you think Hurts is only the 24th-best QB, the Eagles are still a good bet to win the division at +150. If you think he’s closer to league average, the Eagles should be clear favorites. And if you think Hurts can play like a top-10 guy with the league’s best line and a system built around him, everything might be in play.
You can still bet Hurts at +2500 to win MVP, and the Eagles are +2000 to lead the league in wins with a Charmin-ultra-soft division and schedule. And if you trust the formula in the playoffs — especially if you think the Eagles could take the one-seed and a bye — Philly is +1200 to win the NFC.
Win Total Verdict: Bet Over 9.5
Los Angeles Chargers Over/Under 10 Wins
The Chargers overhauled their offensive line a year ago and made a leap. Now they’re one of the league’s most improved teams for a second straight offseason, and this time the improvement is on defense.
Defense is Brandon Staley’s specialty, but it was ugly last season, partly because the team just didn’t have the personnel. They might now after adding star corner J.C. Jackson, former DPOY Khalil Mack, and a pair of linemen to help with the run defense. Add in Derwin James, Joey Bosa, and Asante Samuel Jr., and the Chargers could suddenly be as good as anyone. Expect LA to play aggressively and force big-time turnovers.
The offense is mostly running it back, reinforcing the line even further and expecting another step forward from MVP candidate Justin Herbert (+1000). As long as offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi doesn’t dink and dunk this offense to death, Herbert is the whole package and should make this offense as good as any.
The special teams is always a bugaboo for LA, but even there, there’s optimism. If the Chargers can just stop Chargers-ing for a bit, this team has the potential to be the best in the league.
So how do we bet the Chargers? We might need to be patient.
They open with the Raiders and then a short-week road trip against the Chiefs, and the Chargers will likely be without J.C. Jackson for both. After that though, they have five games against the Jaguars, Texans, Browns, Seahawks, and Falcons plus a bye week with just one Monday night visit from the Broncos in the middle, so Week 3 looks like the Chargers’ buy point.
Win Total Verdict: Pass
Los Angeles Rams Over/Under 10.5 Wins
The Super Bowl champs are running it back, and everyone seems to be penciling the Rams right back in near the top again. But are the Rams as good as they were last season?
Everyone’s raving about the addition of Allen Robinson, but even a rejuvenated ARob can only offset the loss of Robert Woods and Odell Beckham Jr. Bobby Wagner is a big-name addition at a low-value position for a defense that might have been better off adding three quality players than one great one. The offensive line is worse without longtime left tackle Andrew Whitworth, and Von Miller was a superstar spark for this defense and will be missed.
The Rams are undeniably worse than last season, and let’s not pretend this team coasted to its ring. LA nearly blew a huge lead to the Bucs and trailed by 10 heading into the fourth quarter against the 49ers, and the Super Bowl came down to a couple plays.
None of that takes away from what the Rams accomplished, but it’s an important reminder that this team was far from invincible. A stars-and-scrubs roster is always one or two injuries away from disaster, and that Matt Stafford elbow injury is lingering.
The Rams at their best are obvious Super Bowl contenders, but the wrong injury could collapse the whole house of cards. LA is +260 to miss the playoffs.
Win Total Verdict: Pass
Kansas City Chiefs Over/Under 10.5 Wins
All the Chiefs talk is about the team losing Tyreek Hill, but the truth is that this team is mostly running back a core that has made the AFC Championship Game four straight years.
The formula is the same as always. The Chiefs have the best coaching staff in the league. They’re almost always elite on special teams, ranking top-four in DVOA in seven of the last eight years. They also have one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. Oh, and they still have the league’s best player at its most important position.
Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid will be just fine, with or without Hill. The Chiefs still have Mahomes’ go-to receiver in Travis Kelce, and they prepared for Hill’s absence by investing in the line instead, then they reinforced the troops by adding a trio of receivers in JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and rookie Skyy Moore. None of them are close to Hill individually, but this offense might be deeper and more versatile now with all three.
The defense, as always, will be a work in progress. Melvin Ingram, Tyrann Mathieu, and Charvarius Ward are real losses, and Kansas City will rely on a young secondary. Mahomes will have to do everything, but he always does.
The schedule is daunting: Bills, Rams, 49ers, Bengals, Colts, Cardinals, plus six brutal division games. But Reid and Mahomes always find a way, so they’ve got my trust until proven otherwise.
If they do find a way through yet again, even without Hill, the narrative will practically write itself. Consequently, Mahomes is my pick to win MVP at +900.
Win Total Verdict: Lean Over 10.5
Green Bay Packers Over/Under 11 Wins
The Chiefs aren’t the only team to lose a star receiver. Davante Adams is gone from Green Bay, and his absence is far more significant. Adams was Option A and B for this offense at times, and his chemistry with Aaron Rodgers was undeniable. The Packers don’t really have a go-to replacement target, so they’ll need to rebuild this offense around a promising running game and, hopefully, return to dominance on the offensive line.
But even without Adams, could these Packers be the best version of the team yet? If Rodgers is enough offensively — and he usually is — then the defense will tell the story, and Green Bay is as talented as any defense in football.
The return of Jaire Alexander is huge and gives the Packers the best secondary in the league. Green Bay also added Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt in the first round to help with the run defense up the middle. And really, this is about team makeup. What the Packers lack in defensive stars, they make up for with quality players and depth. Defense can be a weak-link game, and the Packers might not have a weak link.
It may take this offense some time to remake itself without Adams or offensive coaches Nathaniel Hackett and Luke Getsy, but this version of the Packers could end up being a better title threat when all is said and done.
Green Bay is +1200 to win the Super Bowl, but I’m not betting this right now. Green Bay has road trips to Minnesota and Tampa Bay in the first three weeks, so I’ll see how the Packers do early and look for a spot to pounce.
Win Total Verdict: Pass
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Over/Under 11.5 Wins
Last year’s Bucs brought back almost the entire Super Bowl roster, but this year’s team has undergone some big changes.
Tom Brady unretired, but Rob Gronkowski didn’t. Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh are gone from a once fearsome defensive front, and the offensive line has been a disaster. One guard left, another retired, and a replacement went out injured. Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen is also out for the season, and a couple other guys have injury issues too.
Tampa’s trenches have real question marks on both sides, and a deep receiving corps is not what it once was either. However, the Bucs should be much better in the secondary, where the team was besieged by injuries last fall. And Tampa Bay should get better as the season goes along, once the offensive line gels, and Chris Godwin returns.
Don’t forget the other name that’s missing: Bruce Arians. Most of the staff is still around, but Arians was 80-48-1 lifetime, brilliant offensively, and a great team leader and spirit. The Bucs will probably be just fine with Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Bryon Leftwich, but there are real questions about this team’s core.
They’ll get tested early. The Bucs start with the Cowboys, Saints, Packers, and Bills the first four weeks, so they could find themselves in an early hole. If you believe in the Bucs, you’ve got to wait out this early stretch before buying in.
Win Total Verdict: Pass
Buffalo Bills Over/Under 11.5 Wins
The Buffalo Bills are Super Bowl favorites. What could possibly go wrong?
Josh Allen gets all the headlines, but the defense is the backbone of this team. Buffalo finished No. 1 in Defensive DVOA and then added to its riches, paying big for Von Miller and adding first-rounder Kaiir Elam plus the eventual return of star cornerback Tre’Davious White.
Buffalo’s pass defense looks elite once healthy, and the Bills might just be better than they looked most of last season. Buffalo went 0-5 in one-score games, then lost another one in the playoffs in case you forgot, and the Bills finished 2.3 wins under Pythagorean Expectation.
The ceiling of this team, the Super Bowl ceiling though, will always belong to Allen. He’s the MVP favorite (+700), and he was so good in last year’s playoffs that he basically broke the advanced metrics. When Allen plays like that, the Bills can beat anyone.
The question is if he can play that way often enough. Allen’s inconsistencies and flaws knocked him down to seventh in my QB rankings, two tiers behind the league’s true elites. Allen ranked just 13th in EPA and 14th in CPOE, and he regressed in YPA, completion %, and Turnover Rate. He still holds the ball too long and makes a couple brutal decisions each game, and the accuracy and touch sometimes take as much off the table as the other physical tools add.
If Allen unlocks God-mode Playoff Allen all year, the Bills are the rightful favorites, and he’s the rightful MVP pick.
But Buffalo will be tested early. The Bills open the year against the Rams, Titans, Dolphins, Ravens, Steelers, Chiefs, and Packers. This is not a team you can bet right now, not with that inflated price and a nightmare schedule. The back half gets much easier, so there should be a late push, but the Bills could start 3-4 or 4-3 before an 8-2 finish. Wait for the dip if you want to buy in.
Win Total Verdict: Bet Under 11.5