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 V: NFC South
1. Atlanta Falcons
2021 record: 7-10 2022 over/under: 5 wins
Apropos of nothing: Before being traded to the Colts in March, Matt Ryan had been the starting quarterback for the Falcons since 2008, when I was still a senior in high school. He made the franchise more competitive than not during his time — even bringing Atlanta to the precipice of glory before Tom Brady orchestrated the craziest Super Bowl comeback of my lifetime — but the last few years made it clear that they were never going to be good enough to get back to the big game.
So even though the Falcons are going to stink mightily in 2022, it is no doubt in their best interest in the short- and longterm. We witness all the time organizations that tank for a year and are in the playoffs a couple years later. Given this is likely Brady’s final year, and uncertainty with both the Panthers and Saints, this season may very well give Atlanta a leg up in the futures game of the NFC South.
2. Carolina Panthers
2021 record: 5-12 2022 over/under: 6.5 wins
I reckon I’m on an absolute island for saying so, but I’m still high on newly acquired Browns’ castoff Baker Mayfield. Sure, his personality (far) exceeds his production on the field. No, he probably didn’t live up to his billing as the number one selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. But my main contention is that he isn’t nearly as bad as media types and fans make him out to be.
It’s for that reason that I’m actually bullish on the Panthers’ chances in 2022. At worst, Mayfield is an upgrade over Sam Darnold. At best, he’s a guy who can keep the team alive in games and could possibly even get them in line for a playoff spot if everything breaks right. Never forget that Baker tore his labrum early on in the 2021 season, and rather than getting season ending surgery he decided to gut through it. It didn’t exactly pay dividends for his team, since they didn’t make the playoffs, but I’m betting that it was a decision that earned him some respect in the locker room.
3. New Orleans Saints
2021 record: 9-8 2022 over/under: 8 wins
I’m betting on the Saints to beat expectations for two reasons: (1) Chiefs legend Tyrann Mathieu signed a deal to play there, and (2) Jameis Winston isn’t actually all that bad. I get that Sean Payton left and he’s one of the best coaches in the NFL, and they are going to miss him, but when I look around the NFC I just don’t see that many teams that I expect to be stellar. There is so much room for an average team to slide in and overachieve.
The Saints strike me as an organization that has a good culture, and the fact that they replaced Payton with defensive coordinator Dennis Allen — a guy who was already in-house — makes me think they kind of like what they have. I feel like the offense will only be average, and that it’s going to be the defense that keeps them in a lot of these games, but there is nothing stopping New Orleans from sneaking into the postseason.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2021 record: 13-4 2022 over/under: 11.5 wins
There isn’t much I can say about the Bucs that everyone doesn’t already know. They are the favorite to make the Super Bowl out of the NFC. Tom Brady is their quarterback. They are probably going to be fucking awesome (again) in 2022, and however it gets sliced they will find a way to be playing in the NFC Championship Game against the Packers or 49ers, just like every other year.
Maybe I’m still sour from the 31-9 beatdown they put on the Chiefs in the Super Bowl a couple years ago, or maybe I’m just tired and bored of Tom Brady. All I know is the worst possible future includes him winning another championship, and even though I love him it is quite honestly the only thing I don’t want to see this year.
NFC South Projection:
- Bucs: 11-6
- Saints: 9-8
- Panthers: 8-9
- Falcons: 4-13
3 thoughts on “2022 NFC South Preview”