• Carolina Panthers rookie tackle Ikem Ekwonu will have his hands full in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns and Myles Garrett, who trailed only Aaron Donald in PFF pass-rushing grade last year.
• Former Washington Commander Brandon Scherff faces his old team in Week 1, taking on a fearsome Jonathan Allen — who earned the third-best pass-rushing grade among interior linemen in 2022.
• Now with the Las Vegas Raiders, Davante Adams‘ first game with quarterback Derek Carr comes against a talented Chargers secondary — an early test for the pair.
Estimated Reading Time: 8 mins
We made it, everybody. The 2022 NFL regular season is finally here, and with it the first real football in months.
It’s time to get excited about the mouth-watering matchups we are going to see. Here is one to focus on for each of the 16 Week 1 matchups.
DI Aaron Donald vs. Bills guards
The Bills have arguably the strongest roster in the NFL. They sit atop most people’s power rankings, including PFF’s, but their offensive line’s strength lies in the absence of weak links. Aaron Donald has never needed a weak link to attack to make an offensive line look silly, and any game plan targeting the Rams' defense starts with containing him. The last time Donald played the Bills (2020), he tallied seven total pressures and a 91.6 PFF pass-rushing grade on 34 rushes. Buffalo’s guards should be capable starters, but capable starters need schematic help or Donald will annihilate them.
DI Jordan Davis vs. C Frank Ragnow
Jordan Davis is one of the most interesting players to watch any time he is playing. He is a singularly unique athlete who can overwhelm even elite athletes with his sheer size and power. What will determine how good he will be is consistency. Frank Ragnow, one of the best centers in the game, will test him in his NFL debut. Ragnow hasn’t allowed a sack over his last 758 pass-blocking snaps and has improved upon his PFF run-blocking grade each year of his career.
EDGE Nick Bosa vs. Bears tackles
A problem area last season, Chicago's offensive line wasn't the beneficiary of too many seismic offseason moves in terms of improvement for 2022. Week 1 sees the unit immediately tested by one of the best edge defenders in football, Nick Bosa.
In every game last season, Bosa saw at least some snaps on either side of the line, but he did transition from primarily lining up on the right side to the left side as the year wore on. Bosa racked up 75 pressures for the 49ers in 2021 and 80 in his rookie year. Chicago’s left tackle is a fifth-round rookie, and the team's right tackle earned a 61.4 overall grade across almost 700 snaps last season.
WR Ja’Marr Chase vs. Steelers cornerbacks
Ja’Marr Chase is a very different prospect on tape than he is in person, and he spent all last year demonstrating that to opposing defensive backs. Pittsburgh’s cornerbacks are a relative weakness on paper, and Chase will be hoping to establish dominance from the outset. Throwing to Chase against the Steelers last season resulted in a perfect passer rating of 158.3, but he saw only nine targets across the two games. If the Bengals press that advantage hard, big numbers are on the horizon.
WR Tyreek Hill vs. Patriots cornerbacks
No offensive weapon changes defenses the way Tyreek Hill does. His unique combination of speed and short-area quickness is a constant headache for coaches to try and neutralize. New England has some speed and slot versatility in Jonathan Jones, who ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash as a prospect, but he recorded just a 51.5 PFF coverage grade last season, and the Patriots are moving away from playing the most man coverage in the league. How New England tries to contain Hill may well be a signal to the rest of the league of how to defend the Dolphins this season.
EDGE Myles Garrett vs. T Ikem Ekwonu
Baker Mayfield facing his old team is the obvious headline event in this game, but how his rookie left tackle holds up against Myles Garrett could be the biggest determining factor in how Mayfield actually fares. Garrett recorded the third-best pass-rush win rate (25.7%) in the league last season and trailed only Aaron Donald in PFF pass-rushing grade. Ekwonu coughed up three pressures across 45 pass-blocking snaps in the preseason, and his best pass-blocking grade in college was a good but not spectacular 78.3.
EDGE Jonathan Greenard vs. T Matt Pryor
Jonathan Greenard is a true breakout candidate this season. He posted an 89.2 PFF pass-rushing grade last year, the 10th-best among all defensive linemen. He also recorded a solid 14.4% pressure rate and will be the opening test for Matt Pryor, who is taking over as the starting left tackle for the Colts. Pryor played 438 snaps last season, mostly at right tackle. They were the best snaps of his NFL career, but ones that still earned him grades in the 70s. This will be a good test for both players in a big year for each of them.
TE Kyle Pitts vs. CB Marshon Lattimore
Marshon Lattimore seems to be at his best when in a physical contest with a receiver. He has given Mike Evans more trouble than any other cornerback, and he did the same against Kyle Pitts in his otherwise dominant rookie season. Against Lattimore, Pitts caught two passes for 22 yards across two games. A truly unique athlete, Pitts is still a work in progress, and Week 1 will give us a good look at whether he has taken an offseason jump, as he will spend significant time against an elite cover cornerback.
T Ronnie Stanley vs. EDGE Carl Lawson
Week 1 will provide crucial injury insight into two potentially elite players. Last season, the opening game saw Ronnie Stanley try to play through an injury he hadn’t fully recovered from, only to struggle disastrously and be shut down for the remainder of the year shortly thereafter. He has only just returned to practice and remains a question mark for this game, let alone the season.
Meanwhile, Carl Lawson tore his Achilles tendon after signing with the Jets as a free agent and has yet to show where he is after recovery. Lawson played just seven snaps in the team’s preseason this year but earned an 84.9 pass-rushing grade in his last healthy season.
T Brandon Scherff vs. DI Jonathan Allen
Brandon Scherff faces his old team in his first game playing for his new side, and he gets to go against one of the game’s best in Jonathan Allen to make it even more compelling. Allen had the third-best PFF pass-rushing grade among interior linemen last season, racking up 67 pressures from 488 pass-rushing snaps. Scherff didn’t allow a sack all last year and has never had a PFF grade lower than 72.5 over a full season.
WR Justin Jefferson vs. CB Jaire Alexander
Justin Jefferson lines up all over the Vikings' offense and will likely continue to do so under new head coach Kevin O’Connell, so he is going to see plenty of all of the Packers' cornerbacks. However, the marquee matchup is against Jaire Alexander. Though he missed almost all of last season, Alexander was the best-graded cornerback in the league in his last healthy campaign, allowing just 50.7% of passes thrown his way to be caught and breaking up 13 of the 69 targets into his coverage.
T EVAN NEAL vs. EDGE RASHAD WEAVER
Rookie right tackle Evan Neal looked like a work in progress in the preseason for the Giants, but he caught a break with the loss of Harold Landry III for the Titans to an injury that leaves the team low on proven pass-rushers. Bud Dupree typically lines up on the other side of the defense, so Neal’s first NFL test could come against Rashad Weaver, a fourth-round pick in 2021 who played no regular season snaps last season and recorded 10 preseason pressures in each of the past two years.
WR Davante Adams vs. Chargers cornerbacks
Davante Adams against J.C. Jackson is a marquee matchup at any time, but Jackson is an unknown as he recovers from ankle surgery and races to be ready for Week 1. Whether Jackson is there or not, all of the Chargers' cornerbacks will likely get their share of covering Adams, and how the group fares against the best route-runner in the game will be compelling viewing. Over the past two seasons, passes thrown to Adams generated a 126.1 passer rating, the best mark in the league among players with at least 120 targets.
EDGE J.J. Watt vs. G Trey Smith and T Andrew Wylie
Not the unstoppable force he once was, J.J. Watt still remains a destructive player when on the field. In 341 snaps last season before injury, Watt earned an 83.1 PFF pass-rushing grade after notching 28 pressures from 217 rushes, even if they yielded only one sack. He is a problem for any offensive lineman. The right side of the Chiefs' offensive line is the weaker one, and both Trey Smith and Andrew Wylie posted sub-65.0 pass-blocking grades last season.
EDGE Shaquil Barrett vs. T Tyler Smith
Rookie Tyler Smith will get the first shot at replacing Tyron Smith at left tackle, and his debut will be a serious test against Shaquil Barrett. Smith was a raw tackle prospect coming out of Tulsa, where the best pass-blocking grade of his college career was 78.4, a long way below his best run-blocking grade (93.9). Smith played exclusively at guard in the preseason and now has to face Barrett, who has notched at least 75 pressures in each of the past three seasons.
CB Patrick Surtain II vs. WR Tyler Lockett
Patrick Surtain II against D.K. Metcalf is perhaps the more exciting matchup, but given the alignment of both Surtain and the Seahawks' receivers, he is far more likely to face Tyler Lockett the majority of the time. Surtain has elite movement skills and is rarely in trouble throughout the route, but Lockett is an elite route runner and can win at all levels. For his career, Lockett has caught 74.1% of passes thrown his way and generated a 124.8 passer rating on those targets.