Last year I probably paid too much attention to the NFL offseason, and I think it clouded some of my judgements heading into the season. As a consequence I decided for the 2022 NFL year I would pay as little attention as possible. Obviously — and I do mean obviously — I didn’t miss out on the wide receiver carousel, what with Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown all getting traded; I didn’t miss out on the NFL Draft or other significant free agency signings. I consider those to be givens.
At the same time, when last year I was paying attention to depth signings — inconsequential minutia that doesn’t shift the needle all that much — this season I have let some information fall through the cracks. I don’t love the NFL any less now than I did a year ago, and come time for meaningful football games I will be in the lab just as I always am. Previewing the NFL is an experiment for me. It’s a way to test myself against the market of football fans. I simply went through a different process this time around.
All over/under win totals are courtesy of Draft Kings.
Part II: AFC West
1. Denver Broncos
2021 record: 7-10 2022 over/under: 10 wins
Since winning the Super Bowl in 2015, the Broncos have finished with a winning record just once (2016). The list of quarterbacks they have fielded since Peyton Manning retired that year is so comically impressive that I wish I could list all of them, I just don’t have the time or the space. The moral to the story is they acquired Russell Wilson from the Seahawks, and now everyone expects Denver to be good again.
I think it’s out of such a sad and pathetic desperation that the Broncos have a real fighting chance in 2022. Longterm, or at least beyond this season, I find Wilson to be a self-absorbed grate on the franchise’s culture. But for this year as a standalone I’m betting that Denver will be so happy to have A Guy, and that Wilson will be so happy to not be in Seattle, that the marriage will work.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
2021 record: 12-5 2022 over/under: 10.5 wins
In trading Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins the Chiefs made their first true philosophical shift during the Patrick Mahomes era. Specifically, they began the process of creating a more equal distribution of talent among their roster rather than being heavy at the top and sacrificing the middle and bottom. The Chiefs were able to get away with a stars and scrubs roster in the past because their stars were so good that it didn’t matter as much what the rest of the team looked like.
The bet Kansas City made this offseason is that Mahomes is more important than one wide receiver, and they executed their plan by improving not only the receiving group as a whole but by infusing a ton of draft capital to the defensive side of the field. The offense probably won’t score as much, but by mid-year there’s a chance that the Chiefs have their best defense in the last five years. It may turn out not to mean very much given the strength of the schedule they are facing, but Kansas City have clearly put themselves in a position to compete for multiple Super Bowls over the next handful of seasons.
3. Las Vegas Raiders
2021 record: 10-7 2022 over/under: 8.5 wins
The Raiders gained a lot of respect in 2021 for losing their head coach and one of their top playmakers midseason and still making the playoffs. This offseason they added perhaps the best wide receiver in the NFL (Davante Adams), a veteran pass rusher (Chandler Jones) and got themselves a new head coach (Josh McDaniels). On paper they got a lot better.
I have never been a big fan of QB Derek Carr, but with all the talent around him it might not matter. Las Vegas have one of the better offenses on paper in the whole league, and if their defense takes any meaningful step forward them this is a team that can absolutely find a way into the playoffs for the second year in the row.
4. Los Angeles Chargers
2021 record: 9-8 2022 over/under: 10 wins
All the ducks seems to be lined up for Los Angeles to have a breakout season. We also could have said that last year, the year before, and several other times over the last decade. I guess this is one of those times that’s, like, ‘if not now, when?’ I’m always high on Justin Herbert, and I’m always high on the Chargers. And I’m usually wrong.
The AFC West have four above-average teams on paper, but the NFL usually doesn’t have four good teams in the same division all at once. If only one team is a half-click worse than the others, they will fall behind. In the same way, if only one team is a shade better than they will find a way to separate themselves at the top. I don’t know which team is going to fall behind and I don’t know which team is going run out ahead, but I’m betting that the Chargers will be neither first nor last.
AFC West Projection:
- Chiefs: 11-6
- Broncos: 10-7
- Chargers: 10-7
- Raiders: 8-9