• The Detroit Lions will make the playoffs this season.
• Click here for the rest of Sam Monson's “Bold Prediction” series.
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, I want to be a little more specific 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.
1. Chicago’s offensive line creeps back toward average
On paper, Chicago's roster is arguably the worst in the NFL. New general manager Ryan Poles has had to start a complete rebuild without the flexibility of getting much further than tearing it down before building it back up this offseason.
The Bears' offensive line finished last year ranked 22nd in the league, but some late veteran additions could see it just inch in the right direction if things break their way. The new offensive scheme should help the line more than last year’s system did, and a jump in pocket presence and awareness from Justin Fields in Year 2 would do wonders, as well. Don’t expect miracles from this group, but it may be able to avoid any disastrous outcomes that seemed plausible this offseason.
2. Justin Fields drags the team to a respectable record
Fields had the most interesting rookie year of any of the quarterbacks last season. His performances were all over the map, and while there were some major flaws to his game, there were also huge rays of light. He recorded a 6.1% big-time throw rate, almost two full percentage points better than any other rookie and among the best in the league.
His rushing is obviously a huge boost to the offense, too. Fields struggles' came in typical areas for young quarterbacks, and if he can speed up his process, get a better feel for the pressure at this level and avoid fumbling as much, he has the intangibles and elite physical tools to drag this team to a much better record than its roster would dictate. A jump from Fields in Year 2 could see this team win six games.
3. The team trades away two players before the deadline
The Bears may not be done stripping the franchise back to bare metal, and they still have a couple of players who could generate some return in the form of trades. Linebacker Roquan Smith has already requested a trade, and that’s a move the Bears would likely accommodate if the offer is right. Pass rusher Robert Quinn also still has some juice and could be shipped off to a contender during the season. Quinn isn’t a long-term piece in Chicago, which doesn't align with the team's current roster-building approach.
1. The Lions make the playoffs
This has been a fashionable bet all offseason, and a lot of it has to do with how favorable Detroit’s schedule is this season. The Lions' rebuild has been progressing well over the past couple of years, and it wouldn’t take much of a jump this season for the team to insert itself into the wild card race.
The offensive line should be great, the Lions suddenly have a stable of pass rushers that could become an impressive rotation and they have significantly more receiving options than a season ago. Quarterback Jared Goff may provide a ceiling to how good the team can be, but we know that Goff’s potential is much better than his play last season, and improving his supporting cast is a good way to bridge the gap between those two outcomes.
2. The offensive line ranks top five
The Lions' offensive line ranked 13th to finish the 2021 season, and that was without Frank Ragnow at center — one of the best in the game. Penei Sewell, impressing all year, was also still just a rookie at right tackle, and one who had been forced to position switch twice from preseason, from right tackle to left and back to right again.
This group has the talent to be an elite unit in the NFL. Jared Goff’s average time to throw (2.66 seconds) wasn’t slow, but it could speed up this season with better receiving options, particularly in high-leverage situations. If that happens, the pass-blocking duties of the line get easier. Detroit’s offensive line could be the strength of the offense.
3. The defense still ranks bottom five
I like a lot of what the Lions have done on defense, but this is about bold predictions — and no team can get only praise! The young players added now need to step up and make some plays for this unit to take a big jump forward. No team in the league averaged more yards after contact than Detroit (3.2) last season, and the starting inside linebackers are coming off PFF grades in the 30.0s last season.
The defensive line needs the expected improvement from sophomores Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill, and the cornerback group is still very low on proven quality NFL play. Detroit’s defense allowed a successful play by the offense on 38.9% of snaps last season, 30th in the league. The Lions have made moves but are relying on a lot of unknowns to get better.
1. Romeo Doubs becomes the team’s No. 1 receiver by November
Green Bay may have the worst receivers in the league on paper. For the team to have true success (which by its standards is a championship game appearance, at minimum) somebody in the group needs to dramatically outperform expectations. That could be Romeo Doubs — one of the stars of training camp.
Doubs was the team’s fourth-round pick but has a much more NFL-ready skill set than second-rounder Christian Watson. Doubs ran a far more varied route tree in college and dropped just 15 passes in his entire career. Last season, passes thrown his way generated a 130.6 NFL passer rating, and he showed he could thrive in all areas of the field. Doubs has the tools needed to win the confidence of Aaron Rodgers and become the team’s No. 1 option as long as nobody else deserves that spot.
2. This will be the best defense Aaron Rodgers has played with
Packers fans will be hoping an elite defense can offset what looks like a problematic receiving corps. This defense does have the makings of being the best unit that Rodgers has played with.
The absence last season of Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith created opportunities for young players such as Eric Stokes and Rashan Gary. Gary looked like a top-tier pass-rusher, finishing the season with an 88.9 PFF pass-rushing grade and an upward trajectory, while Stokes earned a lot of valuable experience. The secondary could be the best group in the league, and the team bolstered the defensive front with players such as rookie Devonte Wyatt.
3. The defense will allow the lowest passer rating to opposing quarterbacks in the NFL
Green Bay’s secondary looks like the best unit in the league on paper. Jaire Alexander missed almost all of last season, but in his last full season he earned a 90.5 PFF grade and was the game’s best cornerback. Rasul Douglas had a career 2021 campaign in Green Bay, allowing a 43.7 passer rating when targeted, and though Eric Stokes was beaten for four touchdowns, he was in sticky coverage most of the time and showcased very encouraging play. The Packers allowed the sixth-lowest passer rating to opposing quarterbacks in 2021, and that was without their best pass rusher and arguably the best cornerback in the league.
1. Justin Jefferson will lead the league in targets and yards
Justin Jefferson has placed second in the league in receiving yards in each of his first two seasons. Last season, when the team clearly realized what it had, he finished fourth in targets — just three behind Diontae Johnson in second.
With the new offense under Kevin O’Connell, the Vikings expect to be more pass-happy on early downs, and O’Connell just led an offense with a versatile receiver (Cooper Kupp) to a receiving triple crown of catches, yards and touchdowns. Jefferson has as much talent as anybody in the league and has been flirting with these numbers for two years. He now gets to work in an offense way better suited to feature him than the previous one.
2. The Vikings' defense will be ranked top 10
Things went badly for the Vikings last season, but it’s easy to overlook 1) how beat up they were at key positions, and 2) the additions they’ve made this offseason.
Danielle Hunter has now missed the majority of the past two seasons but is still just 27 years old, and the last time he was healthy he notched a career-high 88 pressures. Za’Darius Smith missed most of last season for Green Bay but tallied 144 pressures over the previous two seasons. They now feature as bookend pass rushers on the same defense.
The secondary was a weak area, but two top draft picks in Andrew Booth Jr. and Lewis Cine will provide reinforcements. The Vikings' defense was also historically bad in two-minute drill situations a season ago. If the unit stays healthy, this is a vastly better defense than last year's group.
3. KIRK COUSINS regresses in PFF grade from a year ago
Expectations are that head coach Kevin O’Connell and a new-look offense can come in and take this group to a new level, potentially tapping into Kirk Cousins in a way Mike Zimmer never appeared particularly interested in even attempting.
The offense as a whole may improve, but Cousins may have already hit his ceiling. It would take something impressive to build upon a season with an 88.2 PFF grade that saw him pass for 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions at 7.5 yards per attempt and a 77.6% adjusted completion rate. Cousins is already playing at a level that should foster an elite offense. Minnesota may get better in that regard this year, but my money would be on Cousins seeing a regression in his grade, not an improvement.