by Wyatt Bose ’23
16. Chicago Bears
ide from the occasional jaw-dropping run last season from QB Justin Fields, the Bears have had little to look forward to in a Packer-led NFC North. Chicago fired head coach Matt Nagy this offseason in an attempt to validate the “addition-by-subtraction” method, but the Bears still have some more holes to fill in their 52-man roster.
WR Darnell Mooney has shown potential and RB David Montgomery looks to be a promising back for years to come, assuming he stays healthy, but Chicago’s once dominant defense could use some help. The Bears not only traded OLB Khalil Mack to the Chargers this offseason but failed to replace the perennial Pro Bowler in the draft, where the Bears’ front office underperformed once again.
15. Detroit Lions
Despite stealing DE Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan) at the #2 pick in the draft, in large part due to the embarrassment of an organization known as the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Detroit Lions are far from a winning season. They do have some nice pieces like WR Amon-Ra St. Brown and WR Jameson Williams (Alabama), but when the captain of the ship does not know how to steer, nothing else matters. That captain’s name is QB Jared Goff.
Goff could not have been drafted into a better situation in Los Angeles with the Rams and head coach Sean McVay. He was carried by an all-time great defense, led by future Hall of Famer DE Aaron Donald, to a Super Bowl against the New England Patriots in 2019, where Goff’s offense scored a measly 3 points in a losing effort against Tom Brady, who was held to just 13 points. McVay and the Rams front office understood they could not win with Goff, so they traded for former Lions QB Matthew Stafford who came in this past offseason and contributed to a Super Bowl title in his first year with the team. Soon enough, the Lions will learn the same lesson McVay and the Rams did: Goff is not the guy.
14. Atlanta Falcons
After trading QB Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta signed QB Marcus Mariota to a nice deal for the foreseeable future. Interestingly enough, the Falcons went into the 2022 Draft looking for some competition for Mariota as they selected QB Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati) in Round 3. Additionally, with WR Calvin Ridley being out indefinitely, Atlanta took WR Drake London (USC) with the 8th pick to pair with TE Kyle Pitts from the 2021 draft.
The issue for Atlanta will not be the offensive side of the ball, as RB/WR Cordarrelle Patterson re-signed with the team this offseason, but rather the defensive side which has left much to desire since their 2017 Super Bowl run. CB A.J. Terrell had a breakout year last season, but it seems the rest of the defense has not played up to his level. Atlanta needed to take a WR in the draft after Ridley’s self-absorbed actions, but without adding any significant pieces to a historically atrocious defense, the Falcons’ future looks grim.
13. Washington Commanders
With several quarterback changes and as-many name changes these past several seasons, the Washington Commanders have still not found “that guy.” Washington reached the playoffs in the 2020-2021 season with QB Taylor Heinicke, but after missing the playoffs last season, the Commanders traded for former Colts and Eagles QB Carson “give it to ‘em” Wentz.
Aside from one miraculous, MVP-caliber season with Philadelphia in 2017, which led to a Super Bowl title, Wentz has been very average. The #2 overall pick has not been the same since tearing his ACL in a regular season game against the Rams in that same 2017 season. Wentz has a cannon for an arm and undeniable toughness, but sometimes his best qualities prove to be his worst. Whether he is being hurled to the ground by a 350-pound man or roaming out of the pocket for a deep pass, Carson does all he can to maximize the outcome of every play and in many instances, the football finds the wrong jersey. Wentz has reached his ceiling and Washington will likely move on from the former North Dakota State QB in a year or two.
12. Carolina Panthers
Considering All-Pro RB Christian McCaffery and WR’s D.J. Moore and Robbie Anderson are all returning to Carolina, the Panthers will have some nice weapons once they have find that right QB at the helm. Currently, QB Sam Darnold is scheduled to start in Week 1 but after drafting QB Matt Corral (Ole Miss) in Round 3, the Panthers may see two different starters next season. Unfortunately for Carolina fans, when you have two quarterbacks, you do not even have one.
To protect Darnold and Corral next season, Carolina drafted OT Ikem Ekwonu (NC State), but the Panthers need much more than an OT to make a playoff push. They added CB Stefon Gilmore to a lousy defense during the season last year but let the former Defensive Player of the Year go in free agency this season. To recall even a respectable defense in franchise history, the Panthers have to go back to the days of CB Josh Norman and MLB Luke Kuechly, both of whom will not be returning any time soon. Carolina, find yourself a quarterback.
11. New York Giants
Excluding the Jets, the New York Giants may have had the best selections in the 1st round of the draft this year. At the #5 pick, the Giants took the once projected #2 overall pick: DE Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon). Thibodeaux fell all the way to #5 after a rumor spread that the talented edge rusher was egomaniacal and could cause locker room problems. Only time will tell if Thibodeaux’s on-field play proves worthy of his locker room presence, but just as his ability remains undeniable, so does that of OT Evan Neal (Alabama).
Neal was ranked the #1 OT by many NFL analysts, despite being selected after OT Ikem Ekwonu. The Giants have needed pass blocking for young QB Daniel Jones and more so a dominant run blocker for RB Saquan Barkley, who cannot stay healthy, as it seems he is met by at least two defensive linemen before even reaching the line of scrimmage. Ultimately, New York has found two dominant players in this recent draft who will immediately show their impact come week 1, but QB Daniel Jones has not proven enough to suggest he can lead this young team to the playoffs.
10. Seattle Seahawks
Unfortunately for the 12th Man, the Seattle Seahawks appear to be in rebuild mode. Seattle traded away future Hall of Famer QB Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos and released future Hall of Famer MLB Bobby Wagner, who later signed with the Los Angeles Rams. In exchange for Wilson, the Seahawks acquired QB Drew Lock, TE Noah Fant, DE Shelby Harris, two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and one fifth-round pick.
Seattle selected OT Charles Cross (Miss St.), DE Boye Mafe, and RB Kenneth Walker III in the draft, despite having several opportunities to select a quarterback. Head coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks’ front office have voiced that Lock is their quarterback going forward, but many analysts believe they could go after QB Baker Mayfield in free agency if the Browns release him. Until then, Seattle will struggle winning games in a competitive NFC West division and will have to figure out what to do with young star WR D.K. Metcalf, considering he is due for an extension.
9. New Orleans Saints
Despite losing arguably the best left tackle in the league, OT Terron Armstead, the Saints may surprise some people this season. With Jameis Winston at the wheel, New Orleans will likely miss the playoffs, but to say they could win seven or eight games would not be a stretch. New Orleans drafted, in my humble opinion, the best wide receiver in the draft in WR Chris Olave (Ohio State) to pair with former Buckeye and NFL Offensive Player of the Year, WR Michael Thomas.
On top of those two #1-caliber wideouts, RB Alvin Kamara has not lost a step as a top-3 running back in the NFL. Furthermore, on the defensive side of the ball, although S Malcom Jenkins announced his retirement this offseason, New Orleans signed Pro Bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu. With CB Marshon Lattimore and DE Cameron Jordan, New Orleans’ defense will not lose a step, but that is not their issue. Jameis Winston, a historically injury prone quarterback, will have a tough time staying on the field with a depleted offensive line. Additionally, although he exceeds in the receiving game, do not be surprised if RB Alvin Kamara’s rush yards per game decrease next season. New Orleans will likely lose many low scoring, defense-oriented ball games next season.
8. Green Bay Packers
Green Bay is a disaster. The Packers traded the best wideout in the game, Davante Adams, to the Las Vegas Raiders, did not re-sign Pro Bowler OLB Za’Darious Smith, and appallingly missed on numerous draft picks. The loss of Smith and Adams can be directly attributed to QB Aaron Rodgers’ latest contract, forcing Green Bay to clear cap space.
Rodgers, who has admitted on numerous occasions that he is approaching the end of his Hall of Fame career, will be exposed for the final time this season. In the end, Rodgers’ success these past several season can be attributed to the presence of Davante Adams more so than Adams’ success can be attributed to that of Rodgers. In fact, if Green Bay misses the playoffs next season, it would not shock me to see Rodgers hang it up and call it a career.
7. San Francisco 49ers
After losing RB Raheem Mostert in free agency, the pending loss of WR Deebo Samuel, and the quarterback uncertainty roaming around the Bay Area, the 49ers approach the 2022 season with too many “what-ifs.” If in fact QB Trey Lance does start in week 1 next season, he only has TE George Kittle to throw to. The young quarterback, although a real threat with his legs, has not seen enough on-field action yet to turn a franchise around that does not know what direction they are headed in.
Per usual, San Francisco’s offensive and defensive lines look dominant heading into the year, but the “trenches” have never been an issue for the 49ers. Put on full display in the NFC Championship last season, San Francisco safety Jaquiski Tartt dropped what would have been the game clinching interception to send San Francisco to the Super Bowl. That play in itself summarized the 49ers’ struggles all season, something they failed to address this offseason. To conclude, with Samuel asking for a trade and the likelihood of interchanging quarterbacks between Garoppolo and Lance, the 49ers will struggle next season against division rivals like the Cardinals and Rams.
6. Minnesota Vikings
By drafting CB Andrew Booth Jr. (Clemson) in the second round of the draft, the Vikings got a steal. Booth was projected to go in the first round in most mock drafts and will be a nice addition to complement veteran CB Patrick Peterson. Last season, Minnesota’s defense was the weakness of the team overall, but they have made some significant additions this free agency.
In addition to S Harrison Smith, DE Danielle Hunter, MLB Erik Kendricks, and CB Patrick Peterson who were all on the Vikings’ roster last season, Minnesota signed LB Jordan Hicks and former Pro Bowler OLB Za’Darius Smith. Considering WR Justin Jefferson is emerging as a top 5 wideout in the NFL, veteran WR Adam Thielen ceases to disappoint, and WR K.J. Osborne gets better by the game, QB Kirk Cousins should have no problem scoring points next season. Minnesota also has one of the league’s best backfield duos in Dalvin Cook and Alexander Maddison, who look like mirror images of one another both physically and through their play on the field.
The one concern I have for Minnesota is their offensive line and how well they can protect Kirk Cousins and make life easy on Cook and Maddison. Although Cousins has yet to prove much in this league, he just signed a new contract with Minnesota so if there was any year to make a playoff push, it would be this year. (Bold prediction: Minnesota wins the NFC North).
5. Dallas Cowboys
Strictly based on their roster from last season, Dallas is a top 5 team in the NFC. The Cowboys had an embarrassing offseason, both in free agency and the draft, as they lost WR Amari Cooper, WR Cedric Wilson, and DE Randy Gregory in free agency, while reaching on almost every pick they had in the draft, failing to replace the players they lost in free agency.
Despite these three key losses, Dallas still has a promising, young roster. LB Micah Parsons won Defensive Rookie of the Year last season and CB Trevon Diggs led the NFL with 14 interceptions. WR CeeDee Lamb looks to become the #1 wideout that Dallas drafted him to be, while WR Michael Gallup looks to justify his recent contract extension after coming off of an ACL injury. QB Dak Prescott has shown he has the capability of leading this team deep in the playoffs, but he continues to show inconsistency at the beginning of games, putting his team in double digit deficits. Dallas will likely make the playoffs but be an early exit if they play a top-seeded team.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
One of the few NFC teams who had an incredible offseason was the Philadelphia Eagles. Philadelphia may have had the best draft, from round 1 to round 7, in the entire NFL. GM Howie Roseman, who was once on the hotseat just a few years back, has given QB Jalen Hurts all he could ask for. Roseman traded for Pro Bowler WR AJ Brown and drafted two incredible Georgia defensive players in DT Jordan Davis and LB Nakobi Dean.
Davis, being one of the most dominant players in all of college football, and Dean, being a projected 1st round pick who the Eagles drafted in the 3rd round, will both drastically improve a once mediocre Philadelphia defense. Adding a LB this offseason was essential for Philadelphia, so to get Dean, arguably the best in the entire draft, all the way down in the 3rd round may have been the biggest steal of the draft. Moreover, pairing Jordan Davis with DT Fletcher Cox, DT Javon Hargrave, and DE Hassan Reddick who Philadelphia signed in free agency, makes the Eagles’ defensive line one of the best, if not THE best, in the NFL. The Eagles have a Super Bowl-caliber team heading into the 2022 season, but it will all come down to if QB Jalen Hurts can throw the ball accurately and decisively to put his team in the best situation to win every game, something he has struggled to do dating back to his college days at Alabama.
3. Arizona Cardinals
Arizona’s first selection in the draft this year did not come until late in the 2nd round when they selected TE Trey McBride (Colorado St.) to complement veteran TE Zach Ertz. With stars like QB Kyler Murray, WR DeAndre Hopkins, and S Budda Baker, the Cardinals have a nice foundation to make a Super Bowl run. Moreover, Arizona acquired speedster WR Marquise Brown on draft night in a sign-and-trade deal with the Baltimore Ravens. Brown adds to an explosive offense including Zach Ertz, Rondale Moore, James Conner, and DeAndre Hopkins. However, Hopkins will have to wait six games before he makes an impact next season.
DeAndre Hopkins tested positive for PEDs in a test he took for the drug last November. Many insiders believe the trade for Hollywood Brown directly relates to the suspension of Hopkins. With Hopkins off the field, the Cardinals will struggle without a doubt, but if Kyler can stay healthy until #10 gets back, Arizona could easily be a top 3 seed come Week 18 assuming the chips fall where they should.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Just weeks after announcing his retirement this offseason, QB Tom Brady announced his return to Tampa Bay to give it another go for an eighth Super Bowl. Had Brady retired for good, the Buccaneers would likely lose the NFC South this year and miss the playoffs entirely. Fortunately for Tampa Bay fans, Brady returned, despite showing interest in playing/owning the Miami Dolphins. Considering most of the players on the Bucs’ roster this upcoming season will be returning players from their Super Bowl run, Tampa has a great shot at winning it all once again.
The two “what-ifs” however are TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Antonio Brown. Firstly, Brown will not be returning to the Bucs this season considering the antics he pulled at Met Life stadium last season, but with his absence, Tampa will need to find a replacement asap as his on-field talent and ability were visibly missed in the playoffs last season. Second, Gronkowski has not made it clear whether he would like to return for another year of professional football. Obviously, the Bucs would love for the future Hall of Famer to return, but whether he does or not will affect the team’s Super Bowl odds.
1. Los Angeles Rams
Finally, the reigning Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. Although they are the #1 team heading into the 2022 season, the Rams lost some notable names including edge rusher Von Miller (Bills) and WR Robert Woods (Titans). LA did add WR Allen Robinson to an already loaded offense, but this addition leaves some concern for whether they will re-sign WR Odell Beckham JR to a multi-year deal. Beckham was on his way to a breakout game in the Super Bowl and possibly the Super Bowl MVP until he tore his ACL in the second quarter. Beckham’s decision this offseason greatly affects the Rams’ Super Bowl odds, as without him and Robert Woods, LA will be in some trouble.
Offense aside, the Rams’ defense should have no worries. LA signed future Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Wagner in replace of Von Miller, and they still have DT/DE Aaron Donald and CB Jalen Ramsey. The one concern Rams fans should have in terms of defense is the secondary. Ramsey is an All-Pro corner, but drastically underperformed in the postseason, and LA does not have a reliable safety like they used to with John Johnson III two years ago. If that dominant pass rush does not get home, LA could be in trouble. With all of those negatives in consideration, Los Angeles should still be ranked #1, assuming they re-sign guys like OBJ who they need to run-it back.