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 IV: AFC North
1. Baltimore Ravens
2021 record: 8-9 2022 over/under: 9.5 wins
Does the idea of Lamar Jackson’s contract dispute with the Ravens help or hurt his team’s chances in 2022? It isn’t a complicated question, but without any clarity regarding its resolution nothing else matters. Some argue that it will motivate Lamar to ball out and make the extension more expensive for Baltimore; others contend that he might play safer, and run less, to avoid a season-ending injury like he endured in 2021.
The Ravens are widely — if not universally — considered one of the best all-around organizations in the NFL. They are given credit for drafting well, for developing well, and for being shrewd at acquiring talent. The problem is they have literally built a whole roster around the unicorn-like abilities of Lamar Jackson, the greatest running quarterback in the history of the sport, and the offense simply does not operate the same way without him handling the ball.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
2021 record: 10-7 2022 over/under: 10 wins
The Bengals overachieved by making it to the Super Bowl last year, and spent the bulk of their offseason resources improving their offensive line — which was their biggest weakness. As ridiculous as it may sound: there’s a good chance they are going to be better in 2022 while at the same time finishing with a worse record. The AFC is just so good, and so deep.
As long as Joe Burrow remains upright, the Bengals are going to score a ton of points. But given the talent in the conference and the fact that they will be playing a first place schedule — which includes games against the Bills and Chiefs — it’s unclear if they will be able to duplicate the same magic now that the rest of the league will see it coming.
3. Cleveland Browns
2021 record: 8-9 2022 over/under: OFF THE BOARD
Unlike the Ravens, the Browns are built to win with pretty much anyone playing quarterback. Morally, I will be cheering for them to lose every game in 2022, given that they handed out a massive and fully guaranteed contract to a QB who was accused by nearly 30 women of sexual misconduct. I like their head coach, I like their team in general, but some things are unforgivable and the front office and ownership group are very scummy for making Deshaun Watson the face of the franchise.
I imagine once the suspension is handed down it’ll be something in the neighborhood of 8 games, which almost immediately takes them from one of the four- or five-best teams in the AFC to one that will struggle to finish above .500. Assuming Watson only plays half a season I expect Cleveland’s over/under to be around 7.5 or 8 wins, but at any rate I will feel good betting on the under.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
2021 record: 9-7-1 2022 over/under: 7 wins
They drafted QB Kenny Pickett in the first round, and appear ready to take a year off to reload for better things to come. Mitch Trubisky is likely to be their Week One quarterback, and that’s pretty much all that needs to be said about the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their defense will likely carry them to some wins against some of their suspect competition, but with matchups against the Bengals and Ravens (twice apiece), Bucs, Bills and Raiders, I can’t imagine Pittsburgh scoring enough points.
It’s a proud franchise and they are going to play to win regardless of the circumstances, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if they started out 1-5 and decided to play for a high draft pick — something they aren’t totally familiar or comfortable with.
AFC North Projection:
- Ravens: 10-7
- Bengals: 10-7
- Browns: 7-10
- Steelers: 5-12