Photo courtesy of John W. McDonough | Sports Illustrated
After one of the craziest offseasons in NFL history, the 2022-23 NFL season will kick off on Thursday with a battle between the Super Bowl favorites in the Buffalo Bills and the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. Many stars were on the move, including Von Miller leaving the Rams for the Bills, Russell Wilson was traded to the Denver Broncos, Davante Adams was traded from the Green Packers to reunite with his college quarterback, Derek Carr, in Las Vegas and many more!
With the deck reshuffled for this season, here are my top 10 NFL teams entering the first week of the season.
10. San Francisco 49ers (2021 record: 10-7)
While the 49ers reached last season’s NFC Championship game, it was clear that for the second time in three seasons, their Super Bowl aspirations were going to be dashed because of their limitations at quarterback. Jimmy Garoppolo has proven to be incapable of leading the 49ers to a sixth Lombardi Trophy and as a result, the 49ers are going all-in on second-year QB Trey Lance. Reports out of Niners’ camp have been shaky and the preseason action produced mixed results. San Francisco bolsters a lot of talent on the roster with playmaker Deebo Samuel getting a big contract and most of the supporting cast returning. However, Lance will have a bunch of pressure on him and we have yet to see if he can deliver consistenly for a franchise still within their Super Bowl window. The 49ers open the season at Chicago on Sunday.
9. Baltimore Ravens (2021 record: 8-9)
Few teams in 2021 suffered as horrible of injury luck as the Baltimore Ravens. Their top-three running backs all suffered season-ending injuries during preseason and Lamar Jackson missed the last five games of the season, prompting a collapse that saw the team lose their last six games after starting 8-3. The Ravens are now healthier heading into the season and upgraded their defense with the signing of free agent safety Marcus Williams. If Jackson and the running game can stay healthy, the Ravens can return to frustrating defenses on the ground and claw their way back to the playoffs. They begin the season on Sunday against a familiar face: New York Jets’ QB Joe Flacco.
8. Los Angeles Chargers (2021 record: 9-8)
In typical Chargers fashion, the team failed to make the playoffs in 2021 despite Justin Herbert putting up MVP-like numbers (5,014 yards and 38 touchdowns). Head coach Brandon Staley made many questionable decisions throughout the season, including the ridiculous amount of times he went for it on fourth down. To improve on what was a porous defense in 2021, the Chargers added pass rusher Khalil Mack and shutdown cornerback J.C. Jackson. The offensive line has also improved with the drafting of rookie guard Zion Johnson. With all the additions and Herbert continuing to solidify himself among the NFL’s elite, the Chargers have many expectations this season and should at least be a contender in the AFC playoffs. Their first test comes against the team that sent them home last January, the Las Vegas Raiders.
7. Green Bay Packers (2021 record: 13-4)
Another postseason failure for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers has added to what is already a questionable legacy. The 13-10 loss to the 49ers was yet another wasted opportunity for Rodgers to win his first Super Bowl since 2010. To make matters worse, the Packers had to let All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams go to the Raiders after he was not given a long-term deal. Even with Romeo Doubs shining in the preseason and the addition of Week 1 superstar Sammy Watkins, Rodgers’ pass-catching options are slimmer than ever. Green Bay’s reign in the NFC North will be tested on Sunday as they face the Minnesota Vikings, who appear to have improved significantly this offseason, at Minneapolis.
6. Denver Broncos (2021 record: 7-10)
The award for the most improved team in the 2022 offseason belongs to the Denver Broncos, who slumped their way to 7-10 last season with the middling QB room of Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock. Vic Fangio was fired and replaced by the offensive mind of Packers’ offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett as the Broncos’ new head coach. Adding Russell Wilson gives Denver their best QB leader since Peyton Manning retired after Super Bowl 50. The Broncos already have good offensive skill players, a rock solid offensive line and a well-rounded defense, but finally have the QB to support them. Fittingly, Wilson’s debut with the Broncos will come at his old home: the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2021 record: 13-4)
At 44-years old, Tom Brady led the NFL in passing yards (5,316 yards) and passing touchdowns (43). On top of that, Brady led a trademark comeback by rallying from a 27-3 deficit to tie the Rams late in the fourth quarter last postseason. Alas, Cooper Kupp happened and Brady was sent home in the playoffs. He retired, then unretired this offseason and has needed personal time during Training Camp amidst uncertainty of his future. Tampa Bay still returns most of their starters to support him, but have lost several key offensive lineman due to injury, free agency and retirement (Ryan Jensen injured, Alex Cappa went to Cincinnati and Ali Marpet retired). For the second season in a row, the Buccaneers will begin their season in primetime against the Dallas Cowboys.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (2021 record: 12-5)
The Chiefs came out of their divisional playoff bout against the Bills victorious 42-36 in possibly the greatest game in the history of the NFL. However, it did not result in a Super Bowl victory as the Chiefs blew a 21-3 lead and lost 27-24 at home against the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship game. This offseason has not been easy for the Chiefs as Tyreek Hill forced the team to trade him to the Miami Dolphins and defensive leader Tyrann Mathieu left to return home in New Orleans. Still, the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes and that alone makes them Super Bowl contenders, on top of keeping a solid offensive line and adding several solid playmakers to make up for the loss of Hill (Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Juju Smith-Schuster). Kansas City begins their quest for another Super Bowl run in the desert against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, the host of Super Bowl 57 in February.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (2021 record: 10-7)
A year ago, who would have predicted the Bengals to be the defending AFC champions coming into the season? Definitely not me. After three narrow victories over the Raiders, Tennessee Titans and Chiefs, the Bengals found themselves in Super Bowl 56 against the Rams. While they fell short 23-20, the Bengals exceeded expectations in the second season of Joe Burrow’s career and have a bright future ahead of themselves. Burrow will finally have an experienced and hopefully competent offensive line after the team added Cappa, La’el Collins and Ted Karras this offseason. The expectations are high, but could actually be better on paper than last season. A good indicator of this will be their season opener on Sunday against their hated rivals in the Pittsburgh Steelers.
2. Buffalo Bills (2021 record: 11-6)
To put it simply, the Bills are due for a Super Bowl championship. With Josh Allen cementing himself as a top-two QB in the NFL and the team adding Super Bowl champion Von Miller to the fold, the Bills’ expectations could not be any higher. They came up short at Kansas City for the second season in a row, meaning that to get over their road block, they will have to get past Mahomes and the rest of the loaded AFC conference. Bills Mafia will be electric this season as their beloved Bills will have the chance to end six decades worth of failure and capture that elusive Lombardi Trophy. The perfect first test will come at Los Angeles against the defending Super Bowl champion Rams on Thursday.
1. Los Angeles Rams (2021 record: 12-5)
While I think the Bills will win the Super Bowl this season, the Rams at this moment are still at the very top of the mountain until Buffalo or anyone else prove otherwise. In 2021, they went all-in and were rewarded with their first Super Bowl championship in the Sean McVay era with the clutch play of Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald. This offseason, they lost key pieces such as tackle Andrew Whitworth, cornerback Darious Williams and more, but added WR Allen Robinson and linebacker Bobby Wagner to give them a contending roster once again. Let’s see if the Rams can make a statement and show they are a strong contender to repeat against the Bills on Thursday.