2022 NFL Playoff Predictions and Season Recap
The largest regular season the NFL has ever had is finally over. It felt long, didn’t it? 18 weeks, 272 games. It definitely feels strange that it’s mid-January and we haven’t even started the playoffs yet. We’ve come so far from the Super Bowl occurring at this time of year to now, when we won’t get a champion until mid-February.
But this means that football will continue until then, which is clearly part of the NFL’s master plan to consume the entire calendar year with action. I’m not mad about it.
In any case, now that the regular season is over, it’s time to take a look back at the season that was, and forward at the five weeks of playoffs that we have remaining.
We begin, as we always do, in New England, where, just a few days before the start of the regular season, the Patriots parted ways with Cam Newton in favor of rookie QB Mac Jones. Despite a 1-4 start, the Patriots eventually righted the ship and won seven in a row, including statement wins over Tennessee and Buffalo, the latter coming in a game in which Jones attempted just three passes. Jones is clearly still a rookie and has some growing to do, but the team’s outstanding defensive effort has seen them return to the postseason after a year away. I mentioned at the start of the season that Bill Belichick had better learn to draft, and boy, did he listen. In addition to the number of excellent free agents the team has brought in (Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry, Matt Judon, Jalen Mills, Davon Godchaux, etc), stellar rookie play from names like Rhamondre Stevenson, Christian Barmore, Kristian Wilkerson and others have been a highlight this season. Not a bad turnaround in just their second year without Tom Brady.
Speaking of Tom Brady, the defending champions improved on their record from last year thanks to a) an extra number of games (they went 13-4 this season compared to 11-5 last year), and b) an MVP-caliber season from a 44 year old man. Brady threw for over 5300 yards and 45 touchdowns, leading the NFL in both categories. And although the Buccaneers started the season by returning all 22 of their starters from the Super Bowl a year ago, it hasn’t been easy, particularly as of late. Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette all succumbed to injury on a Sunday night game against the Saints in which the defending champs were shut out (Godwin has since been lost for the season). Antonio Brown missed half the season with injury, suspension, and subsequent release after he stormed off the field during a game against the New York Jets- a scene you would have had to see to believe. The team’s typically stout defense went through a cavalcade of injuries this year as well. Hard to believe this team still only lost four games and will go into the playoffs as the #2 seed in the NFC. Can their heroic quarterback lead them to a second straight Super Bowl win, and his eighth overall? Will we get another episode of Man in the Arena? Time will tell.
Our defending AFC champions did not look like themselves at all to start the year. Despite a hot start in week 1, the Chiefs, particularly Patrick Mahomes, struggled greatly, stumbling to a 3-4 start after 7 weeks, with Mahomes either in the lead or tied for the lead in interceptions thrown. After improving to 5-4 after two unimpressive wins against the Giants and the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers, they dominated the Raiders, winning their third out of what would be an eight game winning streak, and seemingly returned to form from what they were a year ago. Sure, Tyreek Hill hasn’t been that big of a factor like he was last year, but Mahomes’ ability to spread the ball around has made us all petrified again of what could be coming in these playoffs.
Having played a lot of fantasy football this year, this year seemed to be a slow year for running backs, especially the big-name backs. But a slow year for those players meant the doors opened for other, new faces to come through.
The two biggest names coming into this year, Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey, missed large portions of the season due to injury. After an eight game stretch in which he nearly amassed 1,000 rushing yards, Henry broke a bone in his foot, and missed the rest of the regular season. Yet he still managed to finish in the top ten for rushing yards- just goes to show you how slow this year was for RBs. And after missing some games due to a hamstring injury, McCaffrey re-injured his leg again in his first game back against the Falcons. The Panthers would deactivate him for the rest of the year at that point. But for every game that Dalvin Cook or Alvin Kamara disappointed, there were some new faces to dazzle us this season.
Jonathan Taylor was your leading rusher this season, putting together a fantastic 2021 campaign in which he rushed for over 1800 yards, racking up over 100 in ten of those games.
Austin Ekeler took the next step into the fold of top-tier running backs, as he finished tied for the league lead in touchdowns along with Taylor, with 20. It’s just a shame that we won’t get to see he or his Chargers in the playoffs, thanks to some wackiness that went down in the final game of the regular season.
This year was also the year of the RB/WR combo, as Deebo Samuel and Cordarrelle Patterson made themselves household names due to their ability to do it all on the ground and through the air this season.
On defense, we saw some of the league’s biggest stars establish themselves in NFL lore.
TJ Watt tied Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record, earning 22.5 sacks. Not bad for doing it despite missing a few games in the middle of the season.
The Dallas Cowboys had a pair of rookies step up, as Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs dominate opposing passing attacks. Diggs started the season with seven interceptions in as his first games, and led the league with 11.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, though, was Rams WR Cooper Kupp, who won the Triple Crown of receiving (tops in receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns), one year removed from an ACL tear. With new QB Matthew Stafford at the help, Kupp turned from a good receiver into a great one, and put together one of the best offensive seasons we’ve seen in a long time.
And, of course, what kind of NFL season would it be if it didn’t border on the absurd?
There was the Odell Beckham saga, who was traded mid-season to the LA Rams after his father posted a video to YouTube about how the Browns were under-utilizing him.
As I mentioned, Antonio Brown… exited a game in a most unusual way.
Cam Newton returned to Carolina…
… where the Panthers went 0-6 with him as a starter.
After three months with no major Covid outbreaks, the first week of December brought the dawn of Omicron, which saw a week 15 wracked with missing players and rescheduled games. And we had done so well to this point, too.
Lastly, with the extended regular season, we saw an especially wacky final week, which determined the fates of numerous teams vying for a spot in the playoffs this year. It began in Jacksonville, where the Colts needed a win to get into the playoffs. Having not won in Jacksonville in seven years (and despite the Jaguars putting up some abysmal teams in that time), the Colts were looking to reverse their fortunes. They got stomped, 26-11, in front of a crowd of thousands wearing literal clown suits.
Ben Roethlisberger’s final regular season game came down to the wire in Baltimore, where the Steelers kicked a game-winning field goal to finish the season at 9-7-1. All they needed was for the Colts to lose (check), and for the Raiders-Chargers game to NOT end in a tie. Easy enough, right?
Well, in a game fraught with conspiracy theories and what-ifs, the Raiders and Chargers almost did end in a tie, and finished the game in the most dramatic of fashions. Down by 15, Justin Herbert led his team to two scores on their final two possessions, converting something like five fourth-down conversions in the process. Their last drive of regulation went nearly 75 yards in 19 plays, ending in a touchdown as Herbert hit Mike Williams as the clock hit triple zeroes to send it to overtime.
After the teams traded field goals, the Raiders got the ball back with just over three minutes to go, and proceeded to play fairly conservatively, especially as the clock ran inside two minutes. But on a third down and three from the Charger 35, LA coach Brandon Staley called a timeout in order to sub in his run defense. This stoppage in play allowed the Radiers to re-evaluate their strategy. Josh Jacobs picked up the first down after the stoppage, and Daniel Carlson’s field goal sent the Raiders to the playoffs and the Chargers home. In a game where a tie would have sent both teams to the playoffs, Staley’s decision to call time out will be a mark on his legacy that will not soon be forgotten. Still, sometimes the best games of the year have a little bit of controversy to them. And this one brought us an ending that we won’t forget any time soon.
At the start of this season, I made ten bold predictions for the 2021 NFL Season, and predicted records and playoff seedings as well. Before we move on and take a gander at the 2022 playoff field, let’s see how I fared in my outlandish predictions.
2021 Predictions Recap
1. Justin Fields will take over for Andy Dalton within four weeks.
Bears coach Matt Nagy named Justin Fields the permanent starter for the Bears on October 6th, just days after the team’s week 4 win against the Detroit Lions, so I’m calling this a correct pick.
Sure, technically Fields played like crap and got hurt, allowing both Andy Dalton and Nick Foles to take snaps down the stretch, but Fields was named the starter within four weeks. I see this as an absolute win.
2. Sam Darnold will be a revelation in Carolina.
The first few weeks of the season, Darnold was fantastic in his new home in Charlotte. He defeated his former team, the Jets, in week one, and followed it up with over 300 yards passing and two touchdowns against the Saints. But inconsistent play and subsequent injury confined Darnold to the bench, where he watched PJ Walker and Cam Newton dabble in mediocrity in his stead. Even when he returned, Darnold wasn’t fantastic.
3. The defense will lead Indianapolis to a winning record.
Well, technically the Colts had a winning record. And yes, Darius Leonard was a defensive player of the year candidate. And, yes, the Colts had a top-ten defense this year. But I’m going to chalk this one up as a loss for me. With Jonathan Taylor really assuming the starring role of the show in Indy, paired with timely losses to the Raiders and Jaguars in which they needed defense to step up to give their offense some help, the Colts’ defense was not what it could have been this year. I wouldn’t say their defense necessarily led them to this winning record.
4. The Patriots will defeat the Buccaneers in Tom Brady’s return to Foxboro.
Okay, so no, this didn’t happen. But it almost did. The Bucs defeated the Patriots in Brady’s return to Gillette, 19-17, where Nick Folk missed a 52-yard field goal in the rain that would have given the Patriots the lead with about a minute to go. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by the way the Patriots played in that game. They held the lead at halftime, and were in control for most of the contest. The defense was fantastic, throwing all kinds of different packages at Brady and his potent offensive attack. Of course, there’s no telling what would have happened if Folk had made the field goal and if there were enough time for Brady to lead a game-winning drive. There’s also no telling if the Pats and Bucs will meet once again in the Super Bowl. But as far as this prediction goes, I’m happy to take this L, because I was way closer than I ever thought I’d be on it.
5. Julio Jones will overtake AJ Brown in both receiving yards and touchdowns.
Both players missed considerable time with injury, but AJ Brown was the first one back, and he delivered when he played. Brown led the Titans in both receiving yards and touchdowns. Jones, clearly a shell of himself, waited until week 18 to get his first touchdown as a member of the Titans.
6. Derrick Henry will NOT break the single-season rushing record.
Hard to do that when you break a bone in your foot and miss half the season. Still, playing eight games and finishing in the top ten in rushing yards is… impressive.
7. The Arizona Cardinals will have the NFL’s highest scoring offense.
For a while, this looked to be the case. The Cardinals were cruising along with the league’s best record before an unfortunate loss to the Packers, in which Kyler Murray threw an interception on the goal line. From there, the team has had some questionable losses. They lost to the Lions, the first time a team with two or fewer wins had ever beaten a team with ten or more wins; they lost to the Colts, who had basically no players; and they lost to the Seahawks in a game they needed in order to win the NFC West. The team finished 11th in points scored.
8. Josh Allen will win NFL MVP.
I hate making MVP prediction at season’s start, because the award always takes into account any playoff performances, and this is a list of predictions that is usually decided by season’s end. In any case, while Allen was good, leading the Bills to a second straight AFC East title, there were other players who were just better. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, the two titans of the position for the better half of the last 15-20 years, clearly have more left in the tank. Allen will get his, but he’ll have to wait his turn. It won’t be this season.
PREDICTION- LIKELY INCORRECT
9. The Cincinnati Bengals will win more games than the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals were a revelation this season, thanks to a potent offensive attack that featured a three-headed monster at the receiver position. Ja’Marr Chase is likely on his way to winning Offensive Rookie of the Year, while Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are excellent complimentary options. Joe Mixon was also great this year, rushing for over 1200 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns in a great bounceback year from his injury-plagued 2020. The Bengals won 10 games and the AFC north. The Steelers came on at the end of this year after a rather mediocre 2021 campaign in which they were swept by Cincinnati. But two wins against the Browns and Ravens allowed them to make the playoffs at 9-7-1. Still, by a half a game, this prediction is correct.
10. Jameis Winston will break the single-season passing record.
The first few weeks gave me the inclination that I might be onto something with this prediction. The Saints blew out the Packers at home in week one, 38-3, in which Winston threw for five touchdowns in the victory. Despite a stretch of games where he threw for over 200 yards, Winston got hurt in week 8, tearing both his ACL and MCL. He did not start another game and finished with just 1170 passing yards, well short of Peyton Manning’s 5,477 yards.
An abysmal 3-for-10. Yeesh.
However, I did slightly better than last year on my seeding and team-by-team record predictions.
I correctly predicted 9 of the 14 playoff teams, though the placement of the teams is always hit or miss for me:
I also corrected predicted the records of these seven teams (2 better than last year!):
And finally, here are my updated playoff predictions for the 2022 NFL Postseason.
2022 Playoff Predictions
#5 Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) at #4 Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)
Saturday, January 15th, 4:30pm (NBC)
Line: Bengals -6
There’s a lot at stake here for both these teams. For the Raiders, it’s a chance for Derek Carr and his team to earn their first playoff win since 2002, which will be enormous considering the tumultuous season they’ve been though to this point. Interim HC Rich Bisaccia will have his hands full the NFC North Champion Bengals, who are looking for their first playoff win since 1991. I personally don’t think the Raiders deserve to be here, considering how they looked at some points during the season. Hopefully this young Bengals team can keep its composure on a big stage, and move into the divisional round.
Prediction: Cincinnati 31, Las Vegas 14
#6 New England Patriots (10-7) at #3 Buffalo Bills (11-6)
Saturday, January 15th, 8:15pm (CBS)
Line: Bills -4
As a Patriots fan, this was the last team I wanted to face. I think Buffalo has both the momentum and the skill to take down New England for a second time in four weeks. The last time these two teams played in Orchard Park, Mac Jones attempted just three passes and New England’s defense escaped with a gritty 14-10 win in a game where wind was an enormous factor. Since that win against the Bills, the Patriots are 1-3 with the lone win came against the Jaguars. Since that game, the Bills have won four in a row, including an 11-point win against New England in Foxboro. They’ve learned how to run the ball as well, with Devin Singletary proving crucially complementary to an already lethal passing attack. If the Patriots are the same inconsistent, hesitant, mistake-prone team that they’ve been the last four weeks, and Buffalo plays aggressively as they have been, this one won’t be close. New England, in any scenario, will need another magic Belichick game plan to pull the upset. That said, with below-freezing temperatures in the forecast, I expect a closer game. I still think Buffalo is the better team, though.
Prediction: Buffalo 30, New England 21
#7 Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) at #2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)
Sunday, January 16th, 1pm (FOX)
Line: Buccaneers -8.5
I think this game will be a lot closer than most believe it will be. Despite some of the sheer ineptitude that the Eagles have exhibited on offense this season, when they stick to running the ball, they can be frustratingly efficient, keeping possession in their favor and controlling the pace of the game. When they don’t stick to that plan… it’s hard to watch. And although the Buccaneers pose a huge threat with Thanos at quarterback and an array of impressive offensive weapons (which will be playing against a horrendous secondary), their defense has shown its vulnerability. Neither team is perfect. The Bucs will still win, but I think this game remains close until at least the fourth quarter when Jalen Hurts starts making some mistakes… or starts throwing the football.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 23, Philadelphia 18
#6 San Francisco 49ers (10-7) at #3 Dallas Cowboys (12-5)
Sunday, January 16th, 4:30pm (CBS)
Line: Cowboys -3
This year’s Nickelodeon game brings with it much more promise than last year’s. This long-storied rivalry game makes for great TV, and features a great casual fan-friendly team like the Cowboys, and a 49ers team that is playing with a chip on their shoulders, having edged out the Rams for a huge win last week to make it here. If the Niners can play as aggressively against the Cowboys as they have against the 49ers, they’ll make a game out of it. However, Dallas’ defense has stepped up when they’ve needed to, putting up 50 points in their last two wins. If Dak Prescott doesn’t play well, they should be able to rely on the defense to give Jimmy Garoppolo fits. For San Francisco, they’ll need a game like they played last week, where Elijah Mitchell, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle got the ball as frequently as possible. If they’re able to move the ball, the defense should be able to take care of the Cowboys’ offense. I think this one has the potential to be the best game of the Wild Card slate, with a major upset to boot. Nickelodeon knows its comedy, but does it know drama too?
Prediction: San Francisco 27, Dallas 24
#7 Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) at #2 Kansas City Chiefs (12-5)
Sunday, January 16th, 8:15pm (NBC)
Line: Chiefs -12.5
There’s a lot of argument about whether the Steelers deserve to be here, considering they needed some incredibly unlikely things to go right in order for them to make the playoffs. In any case, they’re here, and Ben Roethlisberger’s career will continue one for at least one more game. That game happens to be against the Kansas City Chiefs, who roar into the playoffs poised to prove wrong everyone who doubted them after an inauspicious start to this season. Pittsburgh may have the league’s sack leader, but Kansas City’s offense is just too good. They also beat them 36-10 earlier this season a game in which the Chiefs took their foot off the pedal after halftime. Kansas City will roll into the next round easily.
Prediction: Kansas City 41, Pittsburgh 11
#5 Arizona Cardinals (11-6) at #4 Los Angeles Rams (12-5)
Monday, January 17th, 8:15pm (ABC/ESPN)
Line: Rams -4
I pegged both of these teams as one-and-done, but it’s just like the NFL to make sure one of them is going to win a game this weekend. So, thank goodness they saved a great game for Monday night. The Cardinals and Rams have split their season series, with the Cardinals taking the first game at SoFi Stadium back in early October. Since then, both teams have been shells of their former selves. The Cardinals, once the class of the NFL since starting 7-0, are coming into the playoffs having lost four of their last five. The Rams continuously lose games they should win, but have won five of their last six, including a 7-point win over the Cardinals in Glendale. For this game, it all depends which team wants to show up. The Cardinals will get Deandre Hopkins back from injury, while the Rams will look to have their offense firing on all cylinders thanks to the reemergence of Cam Akers, who missed most of this year with an achilles injury. Arizona’s only loss on the road this year came at the hands of the Lions, so I’m going to pick them to get revenge on their NFC West rivals and win this game.
Prediction: Arizona 34, Los Angeles 28
Divisional Playoffs (January 22 & 23)
#4 Cincinnati Bengals (10-7) at #1 Tennessee Titans (12-5)
This will be the first time the king returns to claim his crown. Derrick Henry is expected back in this game, and the Titans have to be thankful that they have this weekend off to let their star RB rest up even more. As such, I don’t know how much of a factor Henry could be in this game. The Bengals allow the fifth fewest rushing yards in football, and have grinded out wins against teams like the Ravens, Steelers, Broncos and Chiefs, all of whom have great rushing attacks. Sure, they were shredded by Nick Chubb in early November, but they’ve righted the ship and proved they can stick it out against tough teams. Now I’m not saying this is the end all, be all for Tennessee. The Bengals haven’t faced Derrick Henry yet this season. But if he’s not able to take control of the game- and I don’t think he will, considering the Titans’ track record during the playoffs- Tennessee’s offense is not good enough to out duel Cincy’s. Here’s your big upset- Joe Burrow and the Bengals move to the AFC Championship game.
Prediction: Cincinnati 34, Tennessee 17
#6 San Francisco 49ers (10-7) at #1 Green Bay Packers (13-4)
The Niners, fresh off a win over the Cowboys, get to travel to the frozen tundra of Lambeau field, where they will get thoroughly squashed by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The Niners may have the numbers of teams like the Rams, but Aaron Rodgers is a far more consistent quarterback than Kyler Murray. Plus, it’s gonna be freezing, probably. This is an easy win, Packers by a bunch.
Prediction: Green Bay 43, San Francisco 25
#3 Buffalo Bills (11-6) at #2 Kansas City Chiefs (12-5)
This is what we wanted- an AFC championship rematch. The last time these two played, the Bills won at Arrowhead, in a game that was delayed by nearly an hour after halftime by lightning. If that was the game the Bills are using as their metaphorical “Super Bowl” or revenge game, they stand no chance in this one. The only way to win is to pressure Patrick Mahomes, and I don’t see that happening in this one. I think the Chiefs will prove they’re the big brother once again, and do it by allowing the score to equal itself from last year’s AFC title game.
Prediction: Kansas City 38, Buffalo 24
#5 Arizona Cardinals (11-6) at #2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)
Now this is a matchup I can get behind. Tom Brady has never played against Kyler Murray, and this potential playoff matchup should live up to the enormous amount of hype it should get. I’ll actually lean toward the Cardinals pulling the upset in this one, as hard as it is to bet against Tom Brady in the playoffs. If Arizona can stabilize things on offense, they can take advantage of a depleted Tampa defense. Murray’s quickness adds a third dimension to a team that can be really good if they get rolling. At that point, it’s up to the defense to put a stop to Tom Brady and the Bucs offense. That defensive line is good enough to put pressure on the Tampa QB, and the secondary, led by Budda Baker, can force Brady to beat them with receivers that aren’t Mike Evans or Rob Gronkowski. This is crazy, but I’m picking Arizona.
Prediction: Arizona 28, Tampa Bay 27
Conference Championships (January 30)
AFC Championship- #4 Cincinnati Bengals at #2 Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, January 30th, 3:05pm (CBS)
You need to count on Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase to have the same game they had last time these two played for Cincinnati to advance to its first Super Bowl since 1988. When the chips are down, the Chiefs are the better team. Also, the game’s at Arrowhead (where it has been for the last four years), and that crowd noise will definitely be a factor. If the Bengals play perfect offensive football, they could win this game. But I don’t count on it, especially considering they’re a young team with a lot of playoff inexperience. Kansas City’s been here before, and they’ll be there again this time, advancing to their third straight Super Bowl.
Prediction: Kansas City 38, Cincinnati 24
NFC Championship- #5 Arizona Cardinals at #1 Green Bay Packers
Sunday, January 30th, 6:40pm (FOX)
The last time these two teams played was in week eight, when Kyler Murray threw a fluke interception in the end zone to a receiver who wasn’t even looking for the ball.
Surely this time, the Cardinals get their revenge, right?
Well, considering the game would be in Green Bay, I can’t believe that Murray wouldn’t be affected by the cold. The Cardinals’ success on the road stops in Wisconsin, and the Packers move on to the Super Bowl behind an angry Aaron Rodgers.
Prediction: Green Bay 28, Arizona 13
Super Bowl LVI
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Green Bay Packers
Sunday, February 13th, 6:40pm (NBC)
SoFi Stadium- Inglewood, CA
Yep. There’s no version of these playoffs where we get anything we actually want. We do finally get our State Farm Bowl (a rematch of Super Bowl I), refereed by Jake from State Farm himself.
God I hate everything about what this game could be. My prediction is that I’ll have turned the TV off by the third quarter, either because it’s too boring or too insufferable. Mr. Obnoxious (Mahomes) vs. Mr. Immune (Rodgers).
I’ll go with this: Green Bay wins this one and Aaron Rodgers announces on the podium that he’s leaving the Packers AND how he hates the “woke mob” and spews some anti-vax rhetoric on national television. And then a giant meteor strikes SoFi Stadium and we don’t have to see either of these teams play football ever again. THAT is my prediction.
Why can’t we get a wholesome matchup like Bills-Rams? Ugh.
This game is the Drink Bleach Bowl Sponsored by Tide.
Prediction: Green Bay 35, Kansas City 27, (Giant Meteor 1,000,000)
What are your predictions for this year’s playoffs? Leave a comment down below.