Every season in the NFL brings entertainment, but we tend to favor the years where chaos takes hold.
And with that in mind, let it be said that the 2022 season has some series disruptor energy.
With the preseason about to kick off in earnest, it's hard to pinpoint many teams that you can fully trust. Even the presumed Super Bowl favorites have question marks: Stafford's elbow, Brady's offensive line, Rodgers' receivers ... Go down the line, and you can find a potential fatal flaw for every team.
Which sets the table for anarchy. This feels like the type of season where we might have another 2021 Bengals ... or three. The path to the Lombardi Trophy is wide open with forks at the end of every road. It won't be long before the journey begins.
NOTE: Up/down arrows below reflect team movement from the post-draft Power Rankings, published in May.
The idea coming out of the 2022 NFL Draft was that first-round pick Kaiir Elam would line up opposite Tre’Davious White on opening night against the Rams. That might ultimately still prove to be true, but for now, the rookie is learning on the job and the veteran is still rehabbing the torn ACL he suffered in November. The Athletic reported over the weekend that Elam has been picked on in camp, opening the door for another rookie, sixth-rounder Christian Benford, to earn reps against the team's starters. Meanwhile, there remains no set timetable for White's return. With uncertainty at both corner spots, and All-Pro safety Jordan Poyer on the shelf with a hyperextended elbow, the secondary stands out as a concern in an otherwise-serene landscape in Western New York.
Previous rank: No. 2
Rams coach Sean McVay said he’d “sleep better” after he watched Matthew Stafford throw without limitations on Saturday, a positive sign that the quarterback’s unusual elbow issue can be effectively managed ahead of Week 1 and beyond. The defending champions seem to have less uncertainty around Allen Robinson, who has opened eyes during training camp. On a recent edition of the Around The NFL Podcast, beat reporter Jourdan Rodrigue said she’d lost count of how many people connected to the Rams had come up to her to rave about the wide receiver. We feel safe taking the ride on this hype machine.
Previous rank: No. 3
Tom Brady turned 45 last week, and isn't it incredible that talk of his advancing age no longer prompts any serious discussion of decline? In fact, we hear the opposite. According to NBC Sports' Peter King, Bucs quarterback coach Clyde Christensen recently offered this scouting report for GM Jason Licht: "You're not going to believe this. Brady's arm is better than I've ever seen it." What's crazier: The fact that Brady could be slinging it at the highest level of his life in his 23rd season, or the idea that there's no good reason for us to even doubt it? We have questions about the Tampa Bay offensive line and skill positions, but if the Bucs take a step back, I don't think it will be because the G.O.A.T. finally shows his age.
Previous rank: No. 5
It's full speed ahead for the Trey Lance era in San Francisco. There's likely to be some turbulence for a young passer with limited experience, but Lance has been set up for success after a rookie season spent mostly on the sidelines. The Deebo Samuel drama was put to bed with a big contract extension, while Brandon Aiyuk appears primed to make the leap as the No. 2 wide receiver. Throw in a do-everything Pro Bowler at tight end in George Kittle, a versatile backfield led by Elijah Mitchell, and, of course, arguably the league's best play-caller in Kyle Shanahan, and Lance will have no excuse if he doesn't pop in his first year leading the offense.
Previous rank: No. 4
The Bengals are smart to give Joe Burrow plenty of recovery time following his appendectomy -- the continued absence of La'el Collins is a different matter. The veteran right tackle -- one of three new starting offensive linemen in Cincy -- remains without a timetable to return as he deals with a back injury. Collins felt like a steal in free agency, but a lengthy absence could torpedo the team's efforts to better protect their young star quarterback, who was under siege in each of his first two seasons as a pro.
The Packers know they are blessed to have Aaron Rodgers, a four-time MVP who plays the quarterback position like he's mastered the sport. Even still, the Pack are asking the world from their QB as another season with Super Bowl-or-bust expectations gets rolling in Green Bay. Davante Adams is out the door, while stalwart left tackle David Bakhtiari remains sidelined after another procedure on his troublesome left knee. Add in that right tackle Elgton Jenkins appears likely to start the season on the PUP list as he continues to work back from a knee surgery of his own, and you can easily see a scenario where the Green Bay attack sputters out of the gate. The pressure on Rodgers to make it all work will be immense.
Previous rank: No. 7
Looking for a bounceback candidate in Kansas City? How about defensive end Frank Clark, who dropped some serious weight in the offseason and looks much closer to the player who dominated the opposition in Kansas City's march to Super Bowl LIV glory in 2020. Clark acknowledged to reporters this summer that he played with a "gut" last season, extra lbs that affected his speed and agility. Add in some troubling off-the-field issues from last offseason, and Clark profiled as a cut candidate ahead of the new league year. Instead, the Chiefs stuck with their high-priced defender -- restructuring his contract in March -- and now could reap the benefits. Frank Clark playing with the eye of the tiger would be a massive lift for Steve Spagnuolo's defense.
Previous rank: No. 8
The Broncos suffered a terrible break last week with the news that wide receiver Tim Patrick tore his ACL after coming down awkwardly on his leg in practice. Patrick's skill set as an outside playmaker was a perfect fit for new quarterback Russell Wilson and his high-arcing deep balls -- the pressure now intensifies on 2020 first-round pick Jerry Jeudy and 2020 second-rounder K.J. Hamler, who stands to gain the biggest uptick in playing time with Patrick on the shelf until 2023. The injury, and subsequent perusal of Denver's depth chart, serves as a reminder that Wilson's new wideouts are talented -- but largely unproven.
Previous rank: No. 9
Looking for a sleeper pick at tight end in your upcoming fantasy draft? You could do worse than Donald Parham, the 6-foot-8 giant currently flashing tantalizing red-zone chemistry with Justin Herbert at Chargers training camp. Parham missed the end of last season after sustaining a scary concussion on Thursday Night Football against the Chiefs, but the now-healthy fourth-year pro has loads of potential and an elite quarterback to help take his game to another level. OK, this is where I remind you the Bolts also signed solid veteran TE Gerald Everett this offseason, so you can't get mad at me if Parham is M.I.A. by Week 5.
Previous rank: No. 11
If you close your eyes, you can picture the reaction behind the scenes at Ravens headquarters after first-round pick Tyler Linderbaum went down with a foot injury. (My vision: A collective, perfectly synchronized hand-to-forehead slap by each member of the coaching staff.) You get it, too: The 2021 Ravens had their season essentially wiped out by an injury-bug attack that reached biblical levels. The good news is that Linderbaum's injury is being treated as a sprain, rather than a rupture, leaving open a very real possibility the promising young center is on the field in Week 1. Cut the birds a break, Football Gods.
Previous rank: No. 10
No more free lunch for Josh Jacobs, who enters his fourth pro season without the safety net provided by the men -- jettisoned GM Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden -- who made him a first-round pick back in 2019. Jacobs was a surprise starter in the Hall of Fame Game last week, seeing significant work on a night when several key Raiders didn't play a snap. It sure had the feel of a team looking to showcase a player on the trade market, a notion Josh McDaniels has shot down. Then again, McDaniels is a Belichick disciple -- the man is more likely to share his credit card info than give you insight into the team's internal thought process.
Previous rank: No. 12
The honeymoon continues for Matt Ryan and the Colts, who are talking like a team that sincerely believes the 2016 NFL MVP is primed for a turn-back-the-clock season. (Getting out of the Carson Wentz business has surely played a role in the positive vibes in Indianapolis, as well.) Of course, Ryan will need some teammates to step up to help lift his game. Michael Pittman Jr., who eclipsed 1,000 yards last season, profiles as a candidate to make an even bigger leap in 2022. Parris Campbell is another intriguing piece of the attack who has earned rave reviews from beat reporters during camp. If Campbell can stay on the field (durability has been an issue), he profiles as a compelling piece of the Indy attack.
Previous rank: No. 18
Saints fans have to be thrilled with the beat reporter dispatches on Michael Thomas. The former All-Pro saw his career halted for the better part of two years by an ankle injury, but he has practiced without any noticeable issues at training camp. New Orleans has wisely paced Thomas' ramp-up process in an effort to avoid the kind of setback that completely wiped out his 2021 season. You can't overstate what a vintage version of Thomas could mean for Jameis Winston and the Saints' fortunes in 2022. The pairing of a healthy Thomas with electrifying rookie Chris Olave is a recipe for major damage in the NFC South.
Previous rank: No. 13
Jerry Jones said the Cowboys are in no rush to explore the veteran wide receiver market. Is Jerrah sure about that? Last week, an already-thin group of pass catchers took another hit when free-agent addition James Washington suffered a foot injury that will keep him sidelined well into the season. With Michael Gallup still working his way back from knee surgery and Amari Cooper catching passes in Cleveland, the current Dallas wideout room features CeeDee Lamb and a collection of question marks. Where will Dak Prescott go when Lamb is inevitably blanketed by double coverage? The Dalton Schultz Hive buzzes with excitement and anticipation.
Previous rank: No. 15
This just in: A.J. Brown is a certified Dude. Well, we already knew that after a sustained run of excellence in Nashville, but it still must give Eagles fans a warm-and-fuzzy feeling to read the camp dispatches that describe Brown as the unquestioned focal point of the passing attack. Brown will command heavy attention every week, which is great news for DeVonta Smith as he looks to take his game to another level in Year 2. Philadelphia's offense has strong breakout potential in 2022, and the presence of a legit star at WR1 is a huge reason why.
Previous rank: No. 16
The Titans used a first-round pick on wide receiver Treylon Burks, but don't pencil him in for a huge role in the offense to start the season. Burks had conditioning issues this spring, and reports out of training camp have not been kind -- the Arkansas product has made mental and physical mistakes playing mostly with the second- and third-team offenses. Burks isn't the first rookie to be swimming in it during his first training camp, but you get the feeling Tennessee expected an instant impact on draft day. The news is more encouraging on free-agent signing Robert Woods following the reconstructive knee surgery that prematurely ended his final season with the Rams. According to Peter King, the 30-year-old wideout "looks like totally back to normal."
Previous rank: No. 20
The Cardinals are a funky little outfit, aren't they? GM Steve Keim appeared to put a stormy offseason to bed with a huge extension for Kyler Murray, only to have that news replaced on the front page of the NFL Times by a bizarre "independent study" contract clause uncovered by NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. The Cardinals attempted to put out that fire by removing the clause from Murray's contract ... and that was weird, too! Anyway, things have been calm since -- well, besides Murray missing time after testing positive for COVID-19 -- but you just get the feeling it won't be long before the Cardinals find their way back in the headlines for the wrong reasons. The vibes are off in Arizona.
Previous rank: No. 17
The reports coming out of Patriots training camp ... they're not great. The offense is being described as hopelessly behind the defense in practice, as New England and de facto offensive coordinator Matt Patricia -- yes, that Matt Patricia -- install a new offense in the wake of Josh McDaniels' departure to Vegas. We expected the Pats attack to be a work in progress early on -- this was often the case even in the best of times with Tom Brady -- but there is more cause for alarm this time around with both McDaniels and Brady out of the picture. Bill Belichick deserves the benefit of the doubt -- always -- but New England's offense has much work to do and not a lot of time to do it.
Previous rank: No. 19
New head coach Mike McDaniel is a man with many responsibilities -- one of which is shutting down outside noise in the wake of the NFL's decision to suspend owner Stephen Ross and strip Miami of multiple draft picks for tampering violations. The bombshell discipline will hamstring the Dolphins in the future, but the team remains well set up to contend in the here and now. Camp reports on the connection between Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill are positive, and Hill continues to pump up his new QB in the media. "I see a lot of similarities when I look at him and when I see Patrick (Mahomes)," Hill told ESPN last week. The hype machine is firing on all cylinders in Miami.
Previous rank: No. 22
Remember the stories last year about third-round draft pick Kellen Mond potentially unseating Kirk Cousins as the starting quarterback in Minnesota? With Mike Zimmer out the door, you're not hearing much of that these days. In fact, Arif Hasan of The Athletic speculated that Mond could find himself on the outside looking in when the Vikings make final cuts this summer. Cousins, meanwhile, is quietly preparing for another 4,000-yard season with 35 touchdowns. Man, that guy stinks!
Previous rank: No. 21
The idea of Kenny Pickett: Day 1 Starter continues to lose steam in Pittsburgh. Mitch Trubisky has gotten the majority of first-team reps in camp, while Mason Rudolph apparently has yet to throw an interception through two-plus weeks of practice. As for Pickett, some very rocky struggles to begin camp led to a No. 3 designation on the official depth chart released by the team. Given the underwhelming NFL career pedigree of the players ahead of Pickett, it would be shortsighted to say the former Pitt star won't make an impact in his first season. Still, it's clear he has a lot of work to do to earn Mike Tomlin's trust. All part of the process.
Previous rank: No. 14
Kareem Hunt wants out of Cleveland, but that doesn’t mean Kareem Hunt gets out of Cleveland. The Browns denied the running back’s trade request and reportedly will fine him for sitting out of team drills during a brief hold-in that began on Friday and apparently ended on Sunday. Barring something unforeseen, that means Browns fans will get one more year of Hunt and Nick Chubb -- the best 1-2 punch at running back in the NFL. With Deshaun Watson suspended for the first six games of the season -- and perhaps many more depending on the outcome of the NFL’s appeal -- it’s hard not to imagine Cleveland as one of football’s most run-heavy teams with certified game manager Jacoby Brissett under center.
Previous rank: No. 25
Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold continue to split first-team reps in training camp, but it appears the former Browns signal-caller has pulled ahead in this competition. RapSheet reported that Mayfield has the "inside track" to start Week 1 (against Cleveland, no less). Mayfield feels like he's one good preseason performance away from locking this thing up. Darnold, meanwhile, spent part of his Monday answering questions about a report that has him on the trade block. One could safely surmise that the combination of Darnold's game tape and bloated salary would conspire to make his trade market rather grim.
Previous rank: No. 23
Who makes the most starts at quarterback for the Seahawks? A) Geno Smith? B) Drew Lock? C) Mysterious Quarterback X? (OK, we mean Jimmy Garoppolo.) For the time being, this is an open competition with Geno on the inside track as he continues to work with the first-team offense exclusively. Lock is keeping things interesting, however: The former Broncos starter outplayed Smith in Seattle's "mock game" on Friday, moving the No. 2 offense with efficiency against the first-team D. This feels like a QB battle that could come down to how each player fares in game action over the next three weeks. GENO v. LOCK. Who said preseason football doesn't have sizzle?
Previous rank: No. 24
The Jets hoped this would be the season in which Mekhi Becton would stay healthy and realize his immense potential. Instead, the former first-round pick's 2022 appears to be over before it even began, with a fractured kneecap likely sidelining him for the year. Back-to-back lost seasons -- combined with ongoing concerns about work ethic and conditioning -- make you really wonder what the future holds for the Big Ticket. As for the Jets, they have to quickly pivot to fill a massive hole on the right side of their line. Veteran tackle Duane Brown -- who visited with the team over the weekend -- is an obvious plug-and-play replacement candidate. The Jets never seem to escape August unscathed, do they?
Previous rank: No. 28
I know I'm not the only one buying into an offensive resurgence for the Giants. Daniel Jones has enjoyed some inspired moments in training camp, and his cast of playmakers (Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, Wan'Dale Robinson) is pretty frisky. With an improved offensive line and a finally-healthy Saquon Barkley, is it crazy to think New York could hang around in the wide-open NFC East? Yeah, yeah, talk is cheap -- and so is August football. But at the very least, the G-Men have the potential to be watchable on offense in 2022. That's a vast upgrade from where we were last fall.
Previous rank: No. 27
The Lions are Hard Knocks darlings ... but will they be a better team in 2022? It remains to be seen, but the energy feels positive around this team. The defense is certainly improved with No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson providing some much-needed playmaking punch off the edge. Meanwhile, Jared Goff has found a new best friend in D.J. Chark. Goff and Chark have displayed excellent chemistry throughout camp, connecting on multiple deep shots. Dan Campbell gets the final word here, as he always should: "We are freaking starving. We're starving. So the hyenas better get out of the way."
Previous rank: No. 26
Stop us if you've heard this before: Carson Wentz is struggling with accuracy. The veteran quarterback, acquired from the Colts in a trade back in the spring, has yet to find his groove, a task made more difficult thanks to an offensive line that has been besieged by injuries. The good news? Curtis Samuel was back on the field and practicing to start the week, and Wentz still has a true No. 1 threat in Terry McLaurin, who recently signed a fat contract extension with the team. The Commanders have the pieces to score points. No need to panic here. (Yet.)
Previous rank: No. 32
Looking for an intriguing under-the-radar wide receiver? He's right here in Houston, and his name is Nico Collins. The 2021 third-rounder has been making plays throughout camp, according to media members covering the Texans, and then there's this bit of glowing praise from quarterback Davis Mills: "I don't think there's many people out there who can stop him." Brandin Cooks will attract the most attention from opposing defenses to start the season, but that could change if the hype around the former Michigan standout translates to the games that count.
Previous rank: No. 31
The Jaguars selected Travon Walker with the No. 1 overall pick in April knowing his lack of prolific college production made him a bigger projection than we usually see from a prospect atop an NFL draft board. So one can easily imagine Jacksonville brass trading powerful high fives after seeing Walker make an immediate impact on the stat sheet in his pro debut against the Raiders in the Hall of Fame Game. Walker played two series, finishing with a sack and pressure. "It was definitely an exciting feeling," Walker said after the game. "It was my first [sack], but plenty more to come." The Jags certainly hope so.
Previous rank: No. 29
Shout-out to Dean Pees, who hears all your pitying takes about the prospects of the 2022 Atlanta Falcons and is having NONE of it. Here's what the veteran defensive coordinator said last week: "We've been in the top 10 (in defense rankings) one time out of the last 20 years. That bulls---'s over. Sorry, I'm getting fired up today, but I'm tired of this crap. We're going to change the culture of the defense around this frickin' place. People are going to start talking about the Atlanta defense like they did Baltimore and New England. It's going to be the same s--- around here." We're not buying, but we respect the vigor.
Previous rank: No. 30
We’d all like to see Justin Fields take a big leap in Year 2, but it’s hard to ignore the troubling state of the Bears’ wide receiver group. Darnell Mooney is locked in as the No. 1 option after a 1,000-yard season, but recent injuries to Byron Pringle (quad) and N'Keal Harry (ankle) have moved this positional group into DEFCON 1 emergency territory. It would not be a surprise to see general manager Ryan Poles add a veteran off the street. Fields was not put in position to succeed as a rookie, and the state of Chicago's roster has us concerned that 2022 won’t be much better.
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