NFL News & Analysis

5 overlooked teams entering the 2022 NFL season

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) throws against the Giants in the second half. The Giants defeat the Eagles, 13-7, at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in East Rutherford. Nyg Vs Phi

For every Super Bowl contender that lives up to the preseason hype, there are countless others who emerge from the unknown to make jaw-dropping noise. 

DraftKings Sportsbook released its 2022 NFL Super Bowl-winning odds, and the headlining favorites were unsurprising. The Buffalo Bills lead the charge, followed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers to round out the top five. Each of the teams was at least competing during the second weekend of the 2021-22 NFL playoffs, and all currently have an elite-level quarterback patrolling their offenses.

And then there are the teams that didn’t crack the top 10 but could be among the last standing next winter. This piece will focus on five franchises that have not only been undervalued by the betting heads in Las Vegas but also underrated by NFL media/fanatics. 

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Current Super Bowl Odds: +2500
  • Spread Points Above Average: 0.03
  • Opponent ELO Rankings: 29th
  • Toughest Schedule Stretch: Weeks 11-13
Why They Are Being Underrated

Jalen Hurts‘ development as an NFL passer is something for him to build on in 2022. From his first to his second NFL season, his PFF passing grade, rushing grade and big-time throw rate all increased on a far larger snap sample size. 

Season Passing Grade Rushing Grade Big-Time Throw Rate
2021 69.2 86.9 5.0%
2020 57.5 55.4 4.4%

But many remain skeptical of the 23-year-old's ability to lead the Eagles' offense for years to come. He finished just 22nd of 33 qualifying passers in accuracy percentage (based on ball location data) last season and faded down the campaign's stretch overall, making just four big-time throws across his final five outings.

So while Hurts has improved as a more aggressive passer, his decision-making and accuracy remain points of contention for Eagles skeptics.

Why They Can Exceed Expectations

Free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft provided Philadelphia with the necessary reinforcements to compete right now as well as down the line.

The Eagles traded for A.J. Brown during the draft to pair him with second-year talent DeVonta Smith, giving them their best wideout duo since DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. And on defense, getting Georgia teammates Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean in the first three rounds does wonders for their defensive front. Davis and his 86.5 run-defense grade from 2021 will surely boost the team’s anemic run defense from a year ago. Dean may be a bit undersized, but his top-five pass-rushing grade (91.3), top-five coverage grade (90.4) and top-ranked defensive grade (91.8) at the linebacker position in 2021 highlight the versatility he can provide in the NFL.

In free agency, the Eagles obtained an underrated CB2 option in James Bradberry at an affordable price while maintaining the nucleus of their stellar pass-blocking unit, led by Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson at the tackle spots. The roster talent is evident at many major positions, potentially opening the door for another surprise playoff run.

X-Factor for 2022: RB Miles Sanders

Sanders finished inside the top 20 for 10-plus yard runs (21) during 2021 and fumbled just once. The downside was that he missed three games with an ankle sprain before fracturing his hand toward the end of the year, which kept him out of two more matchups. Sanders will be a big part of this Eagles offense functioning at its best in 2022 under Jalen Hurts.

Miami Dolphins

  • Current Super Bowl Odds: +4000
  • Spread Points Above Average: 0.5
  • Opponent ELO Ranking: 3rd
  • Toughest Schedule Stretch: Weeks 14-17
Why They Are Being Underrated

Like the Eagles, the Dolphins' perceived low ceiling is due to questions about their former Crimson Tide standout under center. Tua Tagovailoa’s limitations as a passer were magnified in 2021 with just one consistent space creator at wide receiver. His 10 big-time throws fell far short of his 22 turnover-worthy plays, and he finished a second consecutive NFL season with a higher turnover-worthy rate (4.8%) than big-time throw rate (2.4%). Any chance of this team becoming a Super Bowl contender is dependent on whether Tua takes that next step. 

Why They Can Exceed Expectations

Miami's pre-draft trade for Tyreek Hill will do wonders for the team's passing game. The league leader in deep receiving receptions (65), yards (2,574) and touchdowns (27) since 2017 is an asset for not just his quarterback but also second-year sensation Jaylen Waddle. Both speedsters will provide clearer pass-catching opportunities for Mike Gesicki, who in 2021 led all tight ends in contested catch targets versus man coverage (21).

Defensively, Jevon Holland‘s emergence as a rookie lifted Miami’s already talented secondary to new heights. Holland finished with the second-best defensive grade on the roster (84.7) and also earned the best overall coverage grade of the entire Dolphins’ defense (87.7). His development coinciding with an inevitable bounce-back campaign from recently paid CB1 Xavien Howard will help lay the foundation for a Miami pass defense that has top-10 potential.

In the trenches, interior defensive lineman Christian Wilkins continues to develop. Yearly improvements in defensive grade, run-defense grade and pass-rushing grade are slowly morphing him into one of the NFL's more underrated interior defensive linemen.

Christian Wilkins' NFL Career
Season Defensive Grade Run-Defense Grade Pass-Rushing Grade
2021 83.3 80.8 70.4
2020 68.9 73.9 59.9
2019 64.4 66.6 58.6
X-Factor for 2022: CB Byron Jones

Since signing with Miami two years ago, Jones hasn’t eclipsed a 70.0 coverage grade. While he did force the fourth-most incompletions from man coverage in 2021, he and Xavien Howard each gave up over 400 yards on such plays. Howard was able to offset the yardage allowed with three interceptions en route to a 70.7 man coverage grade, but Jones did not record a single interception on 46 such targets. Instead, he allowed two scores and finished with a sub-par 51.1 man coverage grade, a minuscule improvement on his 50.2 grade from the year pro.

Jones has always been a better zone cornerback, and his past two years with the Dolphins have amplified that notion. He’s recorded his best individual coverage grades playing the scheme and even collected his lone two interceptions as a Miami Dolphin in zone during 2020. Josh Boyce's return as defensive coordinator also provides some familiarity for the defense despite Brian Flores' departure as head coach, which could spur Jones to rebound as a consistent boundary cornerback.

Indianapolis Colts

  • Current Super Bowl Odds: +2220
  • Spread Points Above Average: 1.6
  • Opponent ELO Ranking: 26th
  • Toughest Schedule Stretch: Weeks 3-5
Why They Are Underrated

Matt Ryan will be the seventh consecutive starting quarterback to play for the Colts when they kick off their season on the road versus the Houston Texans. Breaking him into the Frank Reich offense will take some time, and he’s still a year removed from the second-lowest PFF offensive grade of his career (74.5). The hope is that his recent decline doesn't continue behind Indianapolis' solid offensive line.

The depth at the offensive skill positions other than running back is also a question mark. Who will emerge as WR2 opposite the vastly underrated Michael Pittman Jr.? The Colts drafted Alec Pierce in the second round to compete with the oft-injured Paris Campbell for secondary receiving targets, but they each possess unknown floors and ceilings. Mo Alie-Cox has the great opportunity to be the latest tight end to develop solid chemistry with Ryan, but he’s coming off the worst PFF receiving grade of his career in 2021 (59.4). Many of these pass-catching unknowns have onlookers unsure of the Colts' ceiling for 2022.

Why They Can Exceed Expectations

The Colts' defense finished as a top-10 unit by PFF grade, and they’ve added even more reinforcements for the upcoming season.

Yannick Ngakoue helped enable Maxx Crosby‘s breakout 2021 season as an edge-rushing threat for the Raiders, and the hope is that he’ll now have a similar impact on Colts second-year edge defender Kwity Paye in 2022. In the secondary, the free agent addition of Stephon Gilmore fills the hole at cornerback following the trade of Rock Ya-Sin to the Raiders. Gilmore’s 85.6 man coverage grade was a top-10 mark in 2021, and he will provide a diverse skill set alongside slot cornerback Kenny Moore II, who is fresh off a Pro Bowl season. While the offense finds its footing early in the year, Indy's veteran defense led by coordinator Gus Bradley can hold down the fort.

X-Factor for 2022: WR Parris Campbell

It’s now or never for Campbell to emerge as a viable pass-catching option after playing in only 15 games through three seasons due to a litany of injuries. He’s currently facing zero limitations ahead of OTAs, but his injury track record means the road to prominence will be no guarantee. 

If he’s able to work through those roadblocks, his 4.31 speed can be put to good use as a vertical and slot threat in the Colts’ passing game. Although a few years removed from his Ohio State days, it was during Campbell’s final college season where he thrived as a premier slot receiver.

Season Slot Receiving Grade YAC TD Receptions
2018 90.9 702 9

Zach Pascal saw most of Indianapolis' slot targets last season, and he’s now a  member of the Philadelphia Eagles. If Campbell can stay on the field and flex his talent as a weapon out wide and inside, the Colts' offense has a chance to make some consistent noise.

Baltimore Ravens

  • Current Super Bowl Odds: +2200
  • Spread Points Above Average: 2.16
  • Opponent ELO Ranking: 22nd
  • Toughest Schedule Stretch: Weeks 3-5
Why They Are Underrated

DraftKings has the Bengals and Browns with higher Super Bowl-winning odds than the Ravens, likely in large part because of the unknown of Baltimore’s passing offense. Injuries did derail their 2021 season, but Lamar Jackson also wasn't his former MVP self.

Season Offensive Grade Passing Grade Big-Time Throw Rate Turnover-Worthy Play Rate
2021 70.2 65.9 4.7% 3.6%
2020 79.3 74.9 5.4% 3.7%
2019 90.1 82.5 5.2% 2.1%

Much can be said about Jackson’s lack of pass-game weaponry, but Mark Andrews had an All-Pro tight end campaign in 2021 despite the injuries under center. A star in Andrews alongside a healthy Rashod Bateman could truly jumpstart a passing renaissance in Baltimore. However, Jackson will need to improve his accuracy outside the numbers, regardless.

Why They Can Exceed Expectations

Brandon Stephens and Chuck Clark are set to relinquish their 2021 starting roles to free agent acquisition Marcus Williams and promising draft pick Kyle Hamilton. Williams' ability as a deep middle safety was renowned throughout his New Orleans Saints tenure, and Hamilton made waves in South Bend due to his versatility in coverage and as a run defender. If that duo hits its ceiling in Mike Macdonald's defense in 2022, the sky is the limit for Baltimore.

The team will also return its top two running backs from 2020 in J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards after each missed all of last season due to preseason ACL tears. Both finished the 2020 season with 80.0-plus rushing grades, with Edwards' 86.1 mark leading the way. Edwards, Dobbins and Jackson combined for 78 of the team’s 93 runs that spanned at least 10 yards or more that season. The return of the three-headed ground attack drastically changes the Ravens' offensive dynamic.

X-Factor for 2022: WR Rashod Bateman

Bateman’s rookie season never took off as expected thanks to nagging offseason injuries. After finally seeing the field in Week 6, he played the remaining 12 games and showed some flashes as a contested-catch threat and a chain-moving possession receiver. 

The second-year receiver is set to take on WR1 duties with Marquise Brown now in Arizona, and he'll need to be a factor beyond the middle of the field. A lot of weight will be on Lamar Jackson’s shoulders to elevate the aerial attack, but Bateman becoming the primary second option behind Mark Andrews would certainly help the Ravens' offense.

New Orleans Saints

  • Current Super Bowl Odds: +5000
  • Spread Points Above Average: -0.56
  • Opponent ELO Ranking: 30th
  • Toughest Schedule Stretch: Weeks 11-13
Why They Are Underrated

The Saints will be without head coach Sean Payton for the first time since 2005. He played a huge part in turning a struggling franchise into a yearly NFC contender, so it’s understandable that there’s concern about the team's trajectory. The offense still has its question marks at the quarterback position, in the trenches and even at certain skill positions due to the unknown regular-season statuses of Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. For a second consecutive year, the Saints will have more questions on offense than defense. 

Why They Can Exceed Expectations

Payton’s pulse on the offense waned the past two years, and it showed in many of his roster decisions and through much of his play-calling. With the longtime head coach no longer part of the team, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael now has full control. Jameis Winston‘s receiving corps includes Michael Thomas, Chris Olave and Jarvis Landry, his most formidable group since his time in Tampa Bay. The rookie Olave was a phenomenal deep threat at Ohio State, reeling in seven 20-plus yard touchdown catches his senior year. His vertical presence will open up avenues for Thomas and Landry to feast underneath. If both can recapture their past years of consistency, the Saints' passing game will have no limits.

Defensively, New Orleans will be breaking in a whole new safety duo after signing Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu to three-year deals. Maye was the second-highest-graded zone coverage safety in football in 2020 (90.6) and has recent experience playing free and strong safety. The Honey Badger is as versatile as they come, with multiple years of 82.0-plus run defense grades and 82.0-plus coverage grades.

X-Factor for 2022: CB Paulson Adebo

Adebo’s rookie season was one of natural progression. The former Stanford standout hit his stride to end the year, and his improved play should allow the Saints to entrust him as their primary CB2 option for 2022.

In his last four games of 2021, Adebo allowed just 15 catches on 26 targets for 196 yards and no touchdowns. He even broke up four passes during that span and recorded the third and final interception of his rookie campaign in a season-finale victory against the Atlanta Falcons

In all, Adebo earned a top-15 zone coverage grade among qualifying rookie cornerbacks last season. The team has invested in more zone-oriented players, and the expectation is that nuanced coverage looks will be included within the Kris Richard/Dennis Allen defense. If such is the case, a breakout season for Adebo is imminent.

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