In all 32 team facilities, NFL teams are back in full swing getting prepared for the 2022-23 season. As per usual, some teams have higher expectations than others, and this season seems like it's any team's game after a wild 2021-22 season and an underrated offseason where many key contributors found new destinations.
While the favorites to lift the Lombardi are still the usual suspects like the Rams, Buccaneers, Chiefs and Bills, there are plenty of dark horses ready to take the crown. After all, with seven teams from each conference making the playoffs, everybody (even the Texans) have a shot.
Yet each year there are always a few surprises that turn the season on its head. That is where Let's Talk Sports will be diving in with this article. So without further ado, here are Let's Talk Sports' 10 hot takes for this NFL season.
1: Jimmy Garoppolo takes the starting spot in San Francisco back by Week 10
After losing the starting role on the 49ers to Trey Lance in the offseason, many fans thought Jimmy G's time in the Bay Area had come to an end. After all, Lance had posted a solid 97.3 QBR in his six appearances and looked quite promising with his ability to extend the field and fire the ball in at rocket speed. However, after Garoppolo was willing to restructure his contract, all trade reports dropped and he was quickly back with the squad. Although this team definitely wants to ride Trey Lance into the future, hence why he is starting off the jump in Week 1, they have to be cautious with the direction of the team as the season goes on. Although he lacks the ability to take over games, Garoppolo has always been a safe option that can easily take a team to the playoffs as seen from the 49ers' 2020 Super Bowl run. The 49ers are in a win now mode with an extremely talented team, so a poor start from Lance could be cause for change in the locker room. With a Week 9 Bye this year, it makes sense that whoever starts in Week 10 will be the guy for the rest of the season. While the 49ers could easily thrive under Lance, expect Jimmy G to be under the helm at the very least by Week 10.
2: Zero teams make the worst to first leap this year
For those who don't know, in the NFL it is very common for at least one team each year who came last in their division to turn it around and win it the next year. Whether it comes from a completed rebuild, massive offseason signings or even a blockbuster trade, the worst to first turnaround is ever more common in the modern NFL. However, it wouldn't be outlandish to rule out this phenomenon in 2022, as there simply aren't many legit contenders. For starters, the Seahawks, Giants and Jets just suck. There's no way around it and there's even less of a way that they could compete with elite squads like the Cardinals, Eagles or Bills. Despite being in easier divisions, the Lions and Jaguars also appear to be 1-2 years away from truly contending for a division as they lack critical offensive pieces. While the Panthers have made some changes with the addition of Baker Mayfield, they still are a far cry from the Bucs and would be lucky to snag a wildcard spot. This leaves two possible squads, the Broncos and the Ravens. While the Broncos have amassed an impressive collection of offensive talent headlined by new quarterback Russell Wilson, they are in quite possibly the hardest division of football. Every team in the AFC West COULD win 10 games easily in another division. Keep in mind, three of these teams had winning records last year, and that was before the Raiders added Davante Adams, the Broncos got Wilson, and the anticipated jump of Justin Herbert to MVP status. For the Broncos to win the division in 2022 they'd have to win some tough games in Arrowhead and probably against a loaded Chargers offense as well. Then there's the Ravens. While they have a weaker division as the Browns and Steelers are essentially non-factors, they face one major obstacle. The Bengals. Coming off of their own worst to first run, Cincinnati has a lethal offense containing the LSU duo of Joe Burrow & Ja'Marr Chase, elite back Joe Mixon and a great duo of supplementary pieces in Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. To beat Cincinnati in a divisional duel will require a lot from the Ravens, who are still lacking offensive firepower behind quarterback Lamar Jackson. Even if they got this support, they still play a much harder schedule than Cincinnati (11th toughest compared to 26th) and would have to win tough games outside of the division.
3: The Atlanta Falcons win at least 6 games
The pieces are there offensively. A Pro Bowl, and arguably All Pro tight end in Kyle Pitts. Add in a solid receiver in rookie Drake London as well as a versatile back in Cordarrelle Patterson. Now throw in a serviceable quarterback with playoff experience in Marcus Mariota (or an electric rookie quarterback that can stretch the field in Desmond Ridder) and you've got a semi-potent offense when considering that the Falcons have an offensive-minded coach in Arthur Smith. Does the defense suck? Yes. But there's certainly some star power in cornerback A.J. Terrell and defensive end Grady Jarrett that can make game-changing plays in the right scenario. With a weak division that features the likes of the Panthers and Saints as well as games against the Browns, Bears, Commanders and Steelers it wouldn't be THAT surprising to see the Falcons put up a mediocre season.
4: The Kansas City Chiefs fail to make it past the Wildcard Round
Here comes the big one. Kansas City has been absolutely dominant in the last five years, notching a Super Bowl victory as well as another appearance the following year. The Chiefs have also made the AFC Championship game four years in a row, just narrowly losing last year to the Bengals. So, why does Let's Talk Sports foresee a disappointing year for the Chiefs? Let's dive in. First off, the AFC is loaded. As I mention elsewhere in this article, the AFC West is crazy stocked with talent this year. Winning the division, a feat that for a while seemed to be a given for Kansas City, is now a struggle as the Chargers, Broncos and Raiders have all made large strides towards becoming contenders or playoff teams. Outside of the division, threats like the Bengals and Bills still remain and are as strong as ever with young cores. The new playoff format that only gives one team a bye does a strong disservice to Kansas City's odds as well, as their tough division will likely take them out of contention for the top seed even if they do win the west. All of this combined with a new-look offense that has a lot of question marks following the departure of Tyreek Hill leads to a loss of confidence in Patrick Mahomes and co. to get the job done early in the playoffs.
5: Zero rookie WRs crack the 1000 yard mark
While this level of production seems heavy for a rookie, the feat has been achieved each of the last three years and twice in 2021 (Ja'marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle). With this in mind, one might think that the loaded class of receivers this year will keep up the trend. However, many of these receivers aren't in positions to do so. For starters, they have a lot of competition. Garrett Wilson has Elijah Moore, Jahan Dotson has Terry McLaurin and Drake London has Kyle Pitts. Then there's Jameson Williams, who not only has competition in Amon-Ra St. Brown, but is also likely to miss some games with injury. Then there's the quarterback factor. Most of the recent 1000 yard rookie receivers have had at least serviceable quarterbacks, if not top 15 level guys like Joe Burrow and Kirk Cousins. Meanwhile, these rookies are dealing with quarterbacks such as Marcus Mariota, Zach Wilson and Jared Goff. Yikes. Chris Olave is certainly the best candidate to achieve the feat, as he has the best quarterback of the bunch in Jameis Winston. But, even he still has to compete with Michael Thomas and even Alvin Kamara outside of the backfield. My guess is Olave breaks 900, but falls short in the end even with 17 games.
6: The Minnesota Vikings win the NFC North
For a team that has become the pinnacle of mediocrity over the last five years, the Vikings are still in a very good position to win as much as 12 games in the 2022-23 season. Dalvin Cook is a beast on the ground, and backup Alexander Mattison has proved that he can fill the role Cook provides in the event Cook misses some time (which is admittedly often). Justin Jefferson is an absolute game-changer in the field, and supporting pass-catchers like Adam Thielen and Irv Smith Jr. will help quarterback Kirk Cousins spread the wealth. Speaking of Cousins, he is the perfect guy to keep a team in games constantly. Cousins was the 9th ranked quarterback in 2021, and has consistently stayed within the top half of all QBs. While he may not dazzle, he has enough weapons on offense that he doesn't need to for the Vikings to win the division. Their defense does leave room for concern, but it certainly isn't lackluster and contains some firepower in Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith and new addition Za'Darius Smith. Combine all of this with a declining Packers team that lost a ton of stars and there is certainly a scenario in which Minnesota topples the long-reigning kings of the NFC North in 2022.
7: Ryan Tannehill keeps the starting job in Tennessee for the whole year
If we flashed back five years ago, the thought of a healthy Ryan Tannehill losing his job as a starter would seem relatively absurd. But, after a mediocre season that saw his QBR drop to its lowest since 2015 and his interceptions rise to its highest since 2013, it is unfortunately a possibility. This past April, the Titans selected high-upside quarterback Malik Willis in the third round. Although he is quite raw and will need some time to develop, his combination of a rocket arm and elite rushing ability will make it tough for the Titans to pass up for the whole season. However, there's one thing many analysts have forgotten when discussing the likelihood of Tannehill being benched, and that is the fact that the Titans will be contending for a playoff spot. Generally when teams make quarterback swaps, they have already given up on the year or are desperate for change. Yet, with a potent offense and a weak division, the Titans look set to compete for at least a wildcard spot. In this case, causing dysfunction within the locker room by switching starters would only damage the team's chemistry and possibly derail a playoff appearance. Thus, the Titans will stick to a mediocre Tannehill once again for all 17 games.
8: James Robinson resurges into the top ten RB conversation
Until Travis Etienne can prove in a real NFL game that he is a legit running back, I will be penciling in James Robinson as RB1 in Jacksonville. Robinson will get the opportunity to put himself in the conversation early as Etienne eases back in from his Lisfranc injury in 2021. It is worth noting that the Jags have tried to spice up their offense this offseason, and new additions like Evan Engram and Christian Kirk will hopefully give Jacksonville the passing game needed to give the ground game more of a break. New coach Doug Pederson has also been a proponent of a rush-heavy offense during his time in Philadelphia, which will allow for Robinson to get quality looks at a proper amount. Not only will this increase the quality looks for Robinson, but it will also keep him healthy. Robinson has proved he can easily get 1,000 yards on the ground as he did in 2020, when he was 6th in the stat. The Jags are also slated to play some subpar defenses this year that will allow Robinson to showcase his talent. Weeks to circle include Weeks 5 and 17 against the Texans, Week 16 against the Jets, Week 13 against the Lions and Week 7 against the Giants. If all goes according to plan, Robinson is headed toward his second 1000 yard season in three years and a lot more respect in the domain of running backs.
9: Tony Pollard outshines Ezekiel Elliott to become the Cowboys' top back
This pick has been a long time coming. Ever since Tony Pollard entered the league in 2019, he's seen an increasing role in the Cowboys offense which culminated last year when he set a new career high for rushing yards. With Zeke entering his age 27 season, it is only becoming more and more apparent that as he continues to battle injuries Pollard's role will keep growing. A report from Todd Archer of ESPN on August 26 stated that Pollard's experience as a wide receiver at the University of Memphis would help him gain extra targets this year. Similarly, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stated that, "there's plenty of room for Pollard when Zeke is in there. Pollard needs to get the ball," implying that not only will this receiving role be a part of Pollard's game, but that he will also be fed more out of the backfield as well. Even aside from the injuries, running backs often start to fade as they hit the upper twenties due to overall wear and tear as well as a loss in speed or agility. Zeke has often relied on a speed-size combination for success that will likely not be there in 2022, so he will have to find another way to avoid being outshined by Pollard. Expect Pollard to reach over 1,400 total yards this season and Zeke to regress down to only 1,000.
10: The Super Bowl Champion will be the Los Angeles Rams... again
Yes, the Rams are very good. Yes, Vegas will tell you this isn't that hot of a take. But, history will tell you that it is. The NFL hasn't seen a team win two Super Bowls in a row since the Patriots did in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. It's only happened three times since 1990 and eight times in the Super Bowl era. Yet, the path is laid out for LA. The NFC West, once renowned for being the strongest division in the league, is a shell of its former self with quarterback uncertainty in San Francisco, a lack of trust in Arizona and a complete disaster in Seattle. This gives the Rams an easy opportunity to snag a bunch of division games. Elsewhere in the NFC, the East and North have some solid teams, but none good enough to compete on both sides on the ball with LA. Tampa Bay could in theory be an issue, but relying on a 45 year old Tom Brady is rough, especially when Chris Godwin has lingering injuries. It's safe to bet that the Rams can make their way out of the NFC with their receiving attack, top quarterback and elite defensive front. In the Super Bowl, teams such as the Bills and Chargers with equally lethal offenses and defenses will pose a threat. But, the experience of the Rams is unmatched and thus I'm giving them the advantage to repeat.