The Washington Post
Five predictions after an offseason of unpredictability
The offseason laid bare the folly of trying to predict the NFL. Who foresaw Russell Wilson moving to Denver? Who guessed wide receivers would move around like pinballs and be paid like A-list movie stars? That being the case, there’s no fun in not trying. Here are five bold predictions for 2022.
1. The big deals for wideouts won’t be a big deal.
The Las Vegas Raiders and Miami Dolphins placed massive bets that Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill will transform them, but the gigantic offseason splashes may produce only ripples on the field. There are exceptions, such as Stefon Diggs with Buffalo, but rarely does the addition of a star wide receiver have a catalytic effect on a franchise.
Neither Adams nor Hill is in position to change that trend. In Las Vegas, Adams’s relationship with Derek Carr, a college teammate at Fresno State, and his ability to line up anywhere should make for an easy transition. But Adams is also entering his age-30 season, his connection with Aaron Rodgers cannot be duplicated, and the Raiders did little to address their offensive line, which was a larger problem than a receiving corps that already included Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow.
For Miami, defenses showed last year they have discovered how to limit Hill — his yards per target fell from 9.5 to 7.8 (23rd in the NFL to 68th), and that was with Patrick Mahomes throwing him passes instead of Tua Tagovailoa. Adams and Hill are tremendous players, but they won’t have the impact their new teams are hoping for.
2. Trevor Lawrence will throw for 4,500 yards.
The Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence endured a lost rookie season under Urban Meyer, whose bizarre behavior and stunning incompetence doomed Jacksonville in 2021. But Lawrence remains one of the best quarterback prospects to enter the league in recent years. Jaguars owner Shad Khan hired Doug Pederson for his history working with young quarterbacks, and his steadiness provided Jacksonville a cleansing offseason after last year’s debacle.
The Jaguars upgraded on the offensive line. Wideout Christian Kirk may have been a marketshaking overpay, but contracts don’t play and he will improve Jacksonville’s wide receiving corps. Travis Etienne, Lawrence’s Clemson teammate and a 2021 first-round pick, will return after missing his entire rookie season with a foot injury. The Jaguars are probably a year away from contending, even in the lousy AFC South, but Lawrence is poised for a breakout.
3. The San Francisco 49ers will win the NFC.
The AFC is so loaded with star quarterbacks that at least one team with Super Bowl aspirations will miss the playoffs. The NFC is wide open and marked by its leading contenders’ question marks. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive line was beset by injuries in training camp, much of which Tom Brady skipped for vague personal reasons. The Los Angeles Rams face the pressure of repeating and the possibility that Matthew Stafford’s elbow issues linger. The Green Bay Packers lost Adams and have shown a proclivity for January underachievement under Rodgers and Matt Lafleur.
The 49ers aren’t perfect, but they may have the highest ceiling in the NFC. The presence of Trey Lance should make Coach Kyle Shanahan’s alwaysprolific running attack even more dangerous. There are not many better, more varied trios of pass catchers than Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle. Nick Bosa is a franchise-shifting pass rusher, and defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans is a coaching star in the making. It may not look smooth early on as Lance takes the reins and San Francisco breaks in an overhauled offensive coaching staff. But in the end, bet on Shanahan — who has owned Lafleur in big games — to figure it out.
4. Kirk Cousins will throw for the most yards.
Filling up the box score has never been Kirk Cousins’s problem, and he has a coach and a supporting cast — for both good and bad — with the Minnesota Vikings that will make him more prolific. Kevin O’connell, who worked with Cousins years ago in Washington, replaced Mike Zimmer as the Vikings’ coach, which should tilt the team more toward passing. Justin Jefferson is one of the best wide receivers in football, and Adam Thielen seemed back to full health this summer.
The Vikings will play a lot of close games, and their defense — third-most yards allowed and ninth-most points allowed last season — will give up plenty, which will give Cousins ample opportunity to stockpile stats. He passed for 4,221 yards last year even though he missed a game and played under Zimmer’s run-first ethos. The Vikings, undone by a strikingly bad record in close games, could challenge the Packers in the NFC North. Even if they don’t, Cousins will throw a lot of passes to a lot of good receivers in a system that is suited to him.
5. The Bears will pick first in the 2023 draft.
Under the new coach/general manager tandem of Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles, the Chicago Bears executed a roster reset that left them bereft of proven talent most everywhere on offense, especially along the line and at wide receiver. Their best players, linebacker Roquan Smith and pass rusher Robert Quinn, spent the offseason in varying degrees of disenchantment with the franchise. Not even a schedule that includes the NFC East and AFC East will salvage 2022 for Chicago.
If the Bears sink to the bottom of the league, it will place an awkward focus on quarterback Justin Fields, a magnificent talent whom the Bears have utterly failed to support. Chicago would have to decide whether it wants to use the first pick on a quarterback — Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C. J. Stroud are the early leaders in a well-regarded class — and move on from Fields. The Bears also could trade the pick or take a pass rusher such as Georgia’s Jalen Carter or Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. The discussion would be inevitable — and probably harmful for all involved.