Folks, we made it. Gone are the days when we have to lie to ourselves and say that store-bought preseason football is just as good as the name-brand stuff. The regular season is here. But, before the Bills and Rams kick off the 2022 campaign, it's time for us to call our shot with our five bold predictions of the season.
We did a version of this midway through the 2021 regular season and it was a mixed bag with a couple of hits. Yes, Derrick Henry returned to the Titans and Tennessee was able to hang onto the No. 1 seed, Yes, the Chiefs reached the AFC Championship game. However, the Rams were far from a one-and-done in the postseason and the Lions didn't go 0-17. And even though he came out of retirement, we're still calling our "Tom Brady retires" prediction a win.
This year, we have one NFC team rising to the top of the conference while the rest of the predictions focus on individual play from some of the NFL's more polarizing figures.
1. Eagles earn No. 1 seed in the NFC
The Philadelphia Eagles have been a sexy pick to win the NFC East to the point that they are now the betting favorite. With that in mind, let's crank up the prediction to BOLD by saying they'll finish as the No. 1 seed in the entire NFC. They are currently outside the top five in the odds to earn the top seed in the conference and are looking up at the Buccaneers, Packers, Rams, Cowboys, and 49ers, in that order. At Caesars Sportsbook, they have 10-1 odds to sit atop the NFC.
This offseason, the Eagles improved the roster across the board. They traded for star wideout A.J. Brown at the draft, giving Jalen Hurts a true No. 1 option alongside DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert. That trio of pass-catchers is lightyears better than what Hurts has played with in his first two years and being in Year 2 of Nick Sirianni's system also has him poised for a leap in production. Meanwhile, they seemingly hit a home run with first-round defensive tackle Jordan Davis and stole linebacker Nakobe Dean in the third round this spring. They also recently traded for C.J. Gardner-Johnson to give the secondary a boost.
Not only is the roster better, but they have one of the easiest schedules in the entire NFL. When looking at projected win totals, Philly's schedule ranks as the second-easiest in the league. That should allow them to pile up wins and ultimately grab ahold of the No. 1 seed.
2. Christian McCaffrey plays all 17 games
McCaffrey has been through the gauntlet the past few seasons. The star running back has been haunted by injuries that have taken out chunks of playing time over the last couple of seasons and is now looking to bounce back with a healthy campaign in 2022. And we predict he'll do just that.
Over the first three seasons of McCaffrey's career he was quite durable, not missing a single game and playing in roughly 85% of the offensive snaps. Dating back to 2020, however, he's played in just 10 games due to injury. At some point, that bad injury luck has to turn around and it does feel like he's due for a healthy campaign in 2022.
He was placed on season-ending IR in Week 12 of last season, so he's had plenty of time to rest up and is coming into this year completely healthy. On top of that, he's playing in a much better offense with Baker Mayfield at quarterback and first-round tackle Ikem Ekwonu blocking for him, so he may not take as much abuse as he has in the past.
When healthy, McCaffrey is one of the most electric and productive skill positions players in the NFL. If plays all 17 games as we predict, he's a shoo-in for Comeback Player of the Year.
3. Russell Wilson wins MVP
The man who has NEVER received an MVP vote in his career will have the bulk of them by the end of the 2022 regular season. Yes, Russell Wilson will be this season's Most Valuable Player. The star quarterback was traded to Denver Broncos this offseason and is inserting himself in an offense that is littered with top-tier weapons like wideouts Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, and second-year running back Javonte Williams. Wilson will also be playing for first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who was previously the offensive coordinator for the Packers and helped Aaron Rodgers to back-to-back MVP awards over the last two seasons.
As we've seen over the past couple of years, quarterbacks can adapt quickly after switching franchises (Matthew Stafford and Tom Brady, for example). With this fresh start and strong cast around him, Wilson should be expected to put up eye-popping numbers and be the difference-maker who finally moves Denver into the playoffs.
4. George Karlaftis wins DROY
First of all, the "Furious George" nickname is *chef's kiss* perfect.
The first-round pass rusher for the Chiefs is expected to have a solid role along this defense, which gives him a lane to beat the 20-1 odds and win Defensive Rookie of the Year. He had two sacks over the preseason and that is the type of statistic that is going to have voters' attention.
He'll be playing for a Chiefs team that will be a Super Bowl contender throughout the year and still boasts an offense that should be able to get up on teams early. That sets up a game script for him to be able to tee off against opposing quarterbacks and pump up his stats, especially with the likes of Chris Jones and Frank Clark garnering most of the attention. If he can disrupt the quarterback as he did at Purdue, the 6-foot-4, 275-pounder will have a national stage to state his case.
Kansas City is set to play in five primetime games this season, which is the maximum number a team can be given. That allows Karlaftis to have the entire NFL-viewing audience watching him. That's something Aidan Hutchinson -- the current betting favorite for this award -- doesn't have as the Lions are currently without a primetime game in 2022.
5. Tua Tagovailoa silences doubters
There doesn't seem to be much of a gray area with Tua Tagovailoa: You either believe he's a franchise guy or you don't.
For me, I think he is the type of quarterback that you can build your team around and have sustainable success. Over the first two years of his career, he's been given a raw deal that has hurt his development. In 2020, Tagovailoa entered the NFL after suffering a horrific hip injury at Alabama and then was thrust into a Dolphins offense that was built for Ryan Fitzpatrick. The coaching staff at the time also subbed him in and out of games throughout that rookie year, which had to have shaken his confidence. Then, the team openly pursued Deshaun Watson throughout the 2021 season, and seemingly always had a wandering eye for his replacement.
Now, under new head coach Mike McDaniel, it seems like Miami is finally building an offense that caters to his skillset. McDaniels is an offensive-minded coach and the front office went out and solidified the offensive line by signing tackle Terron Armstead, established a backfield of Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert, and made the blockbuster trade for wideout Tyreek Hill to pair with Jaylen Waddle.
Tagovailoa is now well removed from that injury, has an offense and offensive skill position players that caters to him, and should finally be that top-tier prospect he was billed as for the Crimson Tide, which will silence any questions regarding his ability to be QB1.