Bold predictions for every NFL team in 2022 — AFC East

Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) reacts to a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 NFL season is almost upon us, which means it’s time to make some bold predictions. While everybody is focusing on team win totals, let's be a little more specific here with some bold predictions and go out on a limb for each team, giving some takes that will be specific to PFF grades and some that are more general.

Given the nature of bold predictions, the strike rate here is unlikely to be incredibly high, but these takes will be rooted in data and be things that I think have a realistic shot of happening, not just craziness plucked from the ether.

We'll cover every NFL division along the way. Let’s begin with the AFC East:

Buffalo Bills

1. James Cook becomes the lead back quickly

Cook was drafted to add something different to the Buffalo offense — his after-the-catch ability has been a hot topic among Bills brass — but I believe he can be a better all-around threat than that. Cook reminds me a lot of his older brother, Dalvin, in style, but works with a slightly worse tool set. If James ends up being 80% of the player Dalvin is, with arguably better receiving skills, he will be the best back on Buffalo’s roster and earn himself a bigger workload than the team initially forecasted. Cook averaged 3.8 yards per carry after contact this past season for Georgia, and over a third of his carries resulted in a first down.

2. This will be the lowest-graded OL Josh Allen has played behind

Buffalo has employed an admirable strategy in offensive line construction, continuing to attack it with volume without ever overcommitting too many high-value resources. It’s allowed the unit to achieve a perfect “creep back toward average” vision that the PFF NFL Podcast would be proud of. The problem with that is there is a range of outcomes for a group of average linemen that takes the entire group well below average, and the Bills flirted with that at times last year. Buffalo has the best roster in the NFL, but there’s definitely a chance this line starts to become an issue and undermine the rest of the offense.

3. Kaiir Elam will have 5-plus picks as a rookie

Tre’Davious White isn’t just one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL, he also takes on one of the toughest roles within a defense in terms of alignment and how he is deployed. He doesn’t necessarily play man coverage every snap, but he will align to the more difficult side of an offense and allow the No. 2 cornerback to benefit from that. Levi Wallace took advantage to carve himself out a starting role and career as an undrafted free agent, but it could allow a talented rookie like Kaiir Elam to use his ball skills to create some turnovers with the targets he will see in 2022. Elam allowed just a 57.5 passer rating into his coverage for his entire college career.

Miami Dolphins

1. Miami leads the NFL in YAC

One of the great questions in the NFL this season is what Miami's new offense will look like. For the first time, Tua Tagovailoa might have a viable platform to work from, but new head coach Mike McDaniel bringing in an offense fresh from Kyle Shanahan’s notebook, as well as additions along the offensive line and Tyreek Hill at receiver, presents a lot of exciting ingredients. The 49ers typically rank well in yards after the catch, and with Tua’s inclination to get the ball out of his hands quickly alongside the speed and quickness of Hill and Jaylen Waddle, this could be an offense that dominates that area. Over the past three years, the 49ers have led the league in average yards after the catch by a full half-yard from anybody else, and they’ve never had a Tyreek Hill.

2. Miami’s OL ranks top half of the NFL

Miami’s offensive line was horrendous last season. It was the worst unit in the league, historically bad after allowing 235 total pressures despite the team protecting it with a lot of RPOs and a quick passing game. Miami’s line allowed more pressures than the Bengals did if we include the Bengals’ Super Bowl run, and Cincinnati’s line was bad enough the team replaced three-fifths of it in the offseason. Adding Terron Armstead and Connor Williams is huge, and Robert Hunt was a solid incumbent, giving the Dolphins immediately a totally different group than a season ago. If they can rely on young players to improve one of the remaining two spots, they can work around the problem spot. They need this group to get to at least below average, but if things break their way, it could crawl into the top half.

3. Melvin Ingram leads the team in sacks

This one is part indictment of Miami’s pass rush and part endorsement of Melvin Ingram as a pass rusher who still has plenty of juice if he can stay healthy. Emmanuel Ogbah tallied 11 sacks last season and Jaelan Phillips had 10, but almost 50% of their combined sacks were clean-up or unblocked plays. Neither player earned a PFF pass-rushing grade above 72.0. Ingram was at 74.1 despite playing for two different teams. He notched only three sacks but recorded 42 pressures across 371 pass-rushing snaps.

New England Patriots

1. This will be the worst defense Belichick has ever had

The NFL grew accustomed to the idea of The Patriot Way and the fact that Bill Belichick was such a good coach that he could grab cast-offs and misfits from around the league, plug them into his defense and coax performances out of them that made the rest of the league wonder what it was missing. In recent seasons, there have been fewer of those standout players within this defense. Last season, only Adrian Phillips earned a PFF grade of 80.0 or better, and he was at exactly 80.0 overall. In 2011, the Patriots allowed 244 points and ranked 22nd in that category. That was arguably the worse defense Belichick has fielded as a head coach. This unit will be worse, heaping pressure on quarterback Mac Jones and the offense.

2. Mac Jones doesn’t improve in Year 2

Speaking of which … Jones may be getting lots of training camp hype, but his job will be harder in his sophomore year. First, the departure of Josh McDaniels, his 2021 offensive coordinator, is huge. Much is being made of the fact that the Patriots aren’t technically employing an offensive coordinator in 2022, but the bigger issue is that one of the best isn’t there anymore, and the most likely replacement (Matt Patricia) is wearing multiple coaching hats and has more of a defensive background. Jones needs to find consistency and a little more aggressiveness as a passer this season, and that will be a lot harder to achieve minus McDaniels.

3. Damien Harris will have 1,200 rushing yards

New England’s offensive line is built to run the ball. Even trading Shaq Mason away, they should be able to replace that with Michael Onwenu (PFF run-blocking grade of at least 84.9 in each year in the NFL) and Cole Strange, however much of a reach he may have appeared on draft day. Over the past two seasons, Damien Harris boasts a 90.7 PFF rushing grade, which puts him just behind Derrick Henry (91.4) and Jonathan Taylor (91.1) at the top of the league. He has the toolset to dominate if he can stay healthy — and the line to help him get there. 

New York Jets

1. Jets will rank top 10 in sacks on defense

The Jets have attacked their biggest areas of weakness with impressive resolve this offseason, and their pass rush will get the added benefit of Carl Lawson returning from injury. Lawson was a big free agent addition a year ago but missed all last season with a ruptured Achilles. He may not be 100% in his first year back, but he can certainly team up with John Franklin-Myers (80.3 PFF grade last year) and rookie Jermaine Johnson to bring some heat. Quinnen Williams didn’t have a good year in his first season in Robert Saleh’s defense but is still made to generate pressure up the middle. The pass rush will also benefit from an overhauled secondary, buying the unit more time to get to the quarterback.

2. The team will have a top-five offensive line

The Jets have rebuilt their offensive line very well in recent years, finishing last season ranked 11th in PFF’s offensive line rankings. For 2022, they added Laken Tomlinson in free agency (No. 11 guard in PFF’s rankings last season) and will be hoping to get the return of a healthy Mekhi Becton. 2021 rookie Alijah Vera-Tucker also flashed huge potential and should improve in his second season. The Jets should expect this group to be a top-10 offensive line, but there’s a good chance it does far better than that and ranks inside the top five.

3. Zach Wilson will struggle badly again in Year 2

Wilson was arguably the worst of the rookie quarterbacks last season, and certainly the one who did the most harm to his overall reputation. Every data point screams a player who was in over his head. He had one of the slowest average times to throw in the NFL despite scrambling a fraction of the time compared to the players around him. He had an awful completion rate (worst in the NFL) despite an average depth of target that ranked 24th. Only Baker Mayfield allowed a greater percentage of pressured plays to result in sacks, and he had one of the lowest big-time throw rates in the league. Wilson was making a huge jump from BYU to the NFL, but last year showed how far he has to go. An improved supporting cast is great, but Wilson looked further than a year away from good NFL play.


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