NFL season preview: State of play in each division ahead of 2022 kickoff

On the eve of the 2022 campaign, standard sports makes a whirlwind tour through the league’s eight divisions…

NFC East

Widely regarded as one of the worst divisions in all of elite sport in recent seasons, the NFC East features a defending champion in the Dallas Cowboys who won 12 games last year and one Philadelphia Eagles side that has gained momentum as a dark horse pick for the Super Bowl in recent weeks. Go figure. Both enjoy amiable schedules (they each have six games against other NFC East teams, after all) and have playoff ambitions, though Philadelphia has clearly enjoyed the better offseason.

The Washington Commandersin their first season under their new name, now have Carson Wentz – quarterback for much of the Eagles’ Super Bowl winning season in 2017 – under center and cannot be ruled out of competition, while the New York Giants are on a streak of five consecutive losing seasons and nothing suggests that they will not make a sixth.

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NFC West

Defending Super Bowl Champions Los Angeles Rams lead perhaps the busiest division in the conference and have bolstered their already loaded roster with the addition of Bobby Wagner. If Matthew Stafford’s elbow holds up, they are solid favorites to repeat despite a busy schedule. The San Francisco 49ers put their fortunes in the hands of 22-year-old quarterback Trey Lance, the third pick in the 2021 draft, although veteran Jimmy Garoppolo signed a one-year contract to remain the NFL’s highest-paid backup.

There are fears Arizona Cardinals could be one of the big disappointments of the season. The franchise finished with an 11-6 record last season, but that was disappointing in itself after starting 7-0 and they will be without star receiver DeAndre Hopkins for the first six games due to a PED ban. . In addition to losing Wagner to the Rams, the Seattle Seahawks saw Russell Wilson leave and are set for a tough year with Geno Smith at quarterback.

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NFC North

The Green Bay Packers (heading to London for the first time in their history next month) are favorites again, still led by back-to-back reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers, but he no longer has his favorite target, Davante Adams, to throw to, and as good as Rodgers, perhaps it’s Green Bay’s defense that sets them apart.

You cannot move for warnings about people “sleeping on” the Minnesota Vikings, which means everyone is now pretty much awake and recognizing what looks like an extremely well-rounded roster, led by new head coach Kevin O’Connell, who won the Super Bowl as the offensive coordinator of the Rams last year. There is not much between Detroit Lions and Chicago Bearswho could both enjoy seasons of progress early in rebuilds without disturbing the playoffs.

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NFC South

Injuries and retirements have had an impact on Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the dawn of the new season, but the non-retirement of Tom Brady, 45, means that – now that the quarterback has arrived – the winners of the Super Bowl a few seasons ago are the standout team in what appears to be a windy split.

12 months after the debut of the first season of the post-Drew Brees era, the New Orleans Saints now begin life after head coach Sean Payton, while the Atlanta Falcons seem weaker after losing longtime quarterback Matt Ryan and ending up with Marcus Mariota while trying and failing to land Deshaun Watson. The Carolina Panthers also chased Watson, but at least landed on Baker Mayfield and should finish third.

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AFC East

Defeated by the Chiefs two straight seasons in the playoffs, the Buffalo Tickets are the bookmakers’ favorites to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy next February. It’s a long way down the track, but it would be a major surprise if Josh Allen, Von Miller & Co. didn’t come out of this playoff split. They are a class apart in the AFC East and anything less than a trip to the Super Bowl would be considered a failure.

A generic seat will probably be best Miami Dolphins can hope for and a lot will depend on whether the Tyreek Hill acquisition can elevate Tua Tagovailoa’s screens. You can guarantee that Bill Belichick will get every last drop of the New England Patriots, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of juice in a limited list. The New York Jets will improve in head coach Robert Saleh’s second season, but from too low a base to challenge for the playoffs, especially as Zach Wilson starts the season on the sidelines.

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AFC West

The AFC is full of potential Super Bowl contenders and the AFC West has a good proportion of them alone. The Kansas City Chiefs won it all two seasons ago and Patrick Mahomes remains just about the most exciting player in the league. He has new weapons around him, with players like rookie Skyy Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster tasked with collectively filling the hill-shaped hole on offense.

The Los Angeles Chargers sought to plug the leaky defense that cost them despite Justin Herbert’s incredible numbers last year, while the Las Vegas Raiders have a highly rated new head coach in Josh McDaniels, longtime offensive coordinator under Belichick at the Patriots. Add to that the arrival of Russell Wilson as Denver Broncos‘ new quarterback and you may have the only division in the NFL where all four teams have legitimate playoff expectations.

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AFC North

Another potentially ultra-competitive division, the complexion of AFC North will largely depend on the Cincinnati BengalsThe race from “worst to first” has been a flash in the pan, or whether the likes of Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase can maintain or even improve on the form that took the franchise to its first Super Bowl since 1989. Baltimore Ravens season last year as they lost their last six games, but a healthy roster should bring the Bengals closer.

The Cleveland Browns had the most controversial offseason of any franchise after signing Watson, who is suspended for the first 11 games after allegations of sexual misconduct. Mitch Trubisky will start as quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers as head coach Mike Tomlin puts on the line his record of never having a losing season in his 15-year reign.

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AFC South

The battle between Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans at the top of the division looks pretty even. The Titans, who refit star running back Derrick Henry, were the AFC’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs last year but fell at the first hurdle, while the Colts picked Matt Ryan as the fourth post-Andrew Luck quarterback in as many seasons and benefit from a caring schedule.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are betting on Trevor Lawrence for his second season after being a no-brainer No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft and expected to avoid the wooden spoon because of the Houston Texans being potentially the worst team in football.

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