The bulk of the NFL offseason is already behind us, with free agency and the draft adding a wealth of new talent to teams as well as removing some. There is still time to tinker around the edges of rosters, but by and large, the biggest needle-moving changes have been made, so we now have a better idea of which teams are contenders and pretenders for the 2022 NFL season.
With that in mind, here is each NFL team ranked into tiers as we look ahead to the season.
It’s tough to look beyond the Bills as the single best roster in football. They didn’t even make it to the AFC Championship last season, but they were 13 seconds and some suicidal defense away from doing so at the end of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Josh Allen proved that his breakout year was no fluke, and the Bills has been able to add luxuries such as Von Miller to try and put them over the top.
Until we see real evidence of Tom Brady‘s decline, we have to assume that he will remain as one of the truly elite quarterbacks in the game, which makes the Bucs immediate contenders every year he is at the helm. Brady’s un-retirement paved the way for several other players that were scheduled to hit free agency to return, and the team patched up the holes that did appear in the draft. Adding a receiver such as Russell Gage, who was an underrated weapon in Atlanta and averaged 1.96 yards per route run last season, could make a real impact on the offense.
The defending Super Bowl Champions are already being disrespected! Before we go overboard, remember that the Rams were the No. 4 seed a year ago and needed Matthew Stafford to up his play from an 80.7 regular season PFF grade to 89.5 in the postseason to go on the run that they did. The Rams also lost critical parts of the roster, as Robert Woods, Odell Beckham Jr., Sebastian Joseph-Day and Von Miller now play elsewhere. The Rams added Allen Robinson and Bobby Wagner to help offset those losses, but there’s a good chance that, at best, they have taken a sideways step in an offseason where several contenders got better.
With the rest of the NFL’s contenders in an arms race, the Chiefs chose to trade away one of the most potent weapons in the NFL in Tyreek Hill. They look to replace him not with any one player but in the aggregate with the Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Juju Smith-Schuster and Skyy Moore additions, and while that may be the best thing for the long-term cap health of the roster, it’s tough to argue that the Chiefs won’t take a small step backward initially. Nonetheless, as long as Patrick Mahomes is the quarterback, the Chiefs will be amongst the real contenders.
Few teams were as aggressive this offseason as the Chargers, who seem determined to capitalize on the talent they have at quarterback in Justin Herbert. Far from regressing, Herbert’s second season built on his stellar rookie campaign, so the Chargers spent a ton of money to surround him with talent. Adding a player such as Khalil Mack should improve everything up front, and J.C. Jackson adds to a secondary that has a lot of ball skills as a unit. Drafting Zion Johnson should ensure that the line in front of Herbert remains solid.
Could be their year
Sure, when the Packers have Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, they are perennial contenders, but they have had problems against the best teams deep in the playoffs, and that was with the best receiver in the game (Davante Adams) in the lineup. This offseason, the Packers lost Adams and replaced him with Sammy Watkins and a pair of rookies — Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, who were the seventh and 19th receivers selected, respectively. To the Packers’ credit, their defense may be better than it's been in years, and they are getting players such as David Bakhtiari back, but that receiving corps could be a terminal problem.
Denver catapulted itself into the contenders by trading for Russell Wilson, giving them their first legitimate championship-caliber passer since Peyton Manning. Denver now has to craft an offense that gets the most out of Wilson while doing so without running into the same issues that the Seattle Seahawks had. Can Wilson be unleashed to be the best version of himself without eschewing too much of the quick, routine passes to make the offense among the league’s best?
Ranking the Bengals this low seems harsh given they were close losers of last year’s Super Bowl, but there was an acknowledgment that the team overachieved last year. They were the AFC’s No. 4 seed before going on their playoff run, and even though they have done an excellent job attacking the weaknesses on the roster this offseason, it seems unlikely that they repeat that kind of improbable sequence of results this season. Cincinnati absolutely has the firepower to contend if things break its way, but the Bengals don’t quite have the overwhelming roster strength that some teams do.
One of the few teams that have a real chance of winning a championship without an elite quarterback, the 49ers have the ability to dominate because of Kyle Shanahan’s offense and the playmakers within it. Jimmy Garoppolo is still on the roster and may very well be the starter again this season. His play has proven to be good enough for this team to win when he is healthy, and Trey Lance may represent the contingency plan for the likely injury to Garoppolo rather than the 2022 starter.
10. CLEVELAND BROWNS
So much of Cleveland’s success hinges on Deshaun Watson‘s availability, which remains completely up in the air as the NFL works toward the conclusion of its investigation into his sexual assault accusations. Even without Watson, the Browns should be a playoff team. They almost made it last season with Baker Mayfield playing from Week 2 on with a badly injured shoulder. A healthy Mayfield this season raises the floor a lot, and Watson for the entire season likely makes them real contenders.
11. BALTIMORE RAVENS
Few teams were as ravaged by injuries as the Ravens last season, and it propelled them from the top seed in the AFC at one point in the year to outside of the playoffs by the end of the season. Just getting healthy again makes the Ravens a real playoff team once again, and they can go on stretches of dominant play that scares any team in the league.
Eyes on the playoffs
12. DALLAS COWBOYS
Dallas had a curious offseason where every problem it faced seemingly caught the franchise by surprise. The team traded away Amari Cooper because it was upset that he wasn’t providing the kind of value his contract suggested. Cedrick Wilson also departed in free agency. They thought they re-signed Randy Gregory, but he became upset at some contract language, so he took the same offer from Denver, leaving Dallas scrambling to replace him. Overall, this team likely spun its wheels in the mud this offseason while other teams improved, but they are still a good team overall.
I’m not sure any franchise had a better offseason than the Eagles when all is considered. Trading for A.J. Brown gives them the No. 1 receiver they have been searching for, and it also allows DeVonta Smith to concentrate on doing what he does well as the No. 2. Adding Haason Reddick and Jordan Davis reinforces a defensive front that was eroding from its peak, and grabbing James Bradberry late in the day is a really shrewd signing that could make a real difference. Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean could also prove to be one of the biggest steals of the draft if he’s the same player in the NFL that he was in college.
The Cardinals somehow made a big splash move over the offseason and still may have lost ground to their rivals. Marquise Brown was acquired in a trade for their first round pick, but Brown has to replace DeAndre Hopkins as the team’s No. 1 receiver for the duration of Hopkins' suspension (six games) before he can add value relative to last year’s offense. The team also lost Christian Kirk and Chandler Jones — two important players at key positions. Arizona’s success relies on it finding a way to not tail off again as the season progresses.
In a tough spot after a failed Carson Wentz experiment last season, the Colts somehow managed to upgrade at quarterback this offseason without a franchise-altering cost. Matt Ryan may be a declining force, but he still ranked eight places higher than Wentz in PFF grades last season and is at his best in a dome. The Colts were a Wentz disaster away from the playoffs a season ago, and they should have their sights firmly set on playoff football again this year.
The rest of the AFC West became loaded with contenders this offseason, so after hiring a new general manager and head coach, the Raiders took a beat and decided to join the party, trading for Davante Adams and adding Chandler Jones. Adams teams up with Derek Carr, his old college quarterback, to give this offense the No. 1 target it needs, and Jones should add formidable pass-rush opposite Maxx Crosby. The offensive line remains a major area of concern for the Raiders, as is the brutal division they play in.
17. TENNESSEE TITANS
The No. 1 seed in the AFC a season ago, the Titans did not have an offseason for the ages. Acquiring Robert Woods was a nice move, but they also traded away A.J. Brown rather than give him the big-money contract he deserved. Rookie Treylon Burks is now under huge pressure to replace Brown. The Titans will be a good team again, but they lost ground to the rest of the contenders that clearly upgraded this offseason, so they will likely struggle to repeat last year’s finish position.
The Patriots were never likely to be big free agent spenders two years in a row, and while they made some quiet additions in the veteran marketplace, their draft was curious. Cole Strange was seen as a major reach in the first round, and he replaces a proven Pro-Bowl caliber player in Shaq Mason, who was traded away for a fifth-round pick. New England’s fortunes rest on the development of the young players or last year’s additions after spending a year in the system. Can Mac Jones, in particular, take a big step forward in his sophomore season?
19. MIAMI DOLPHINS
The Dolphins made a sequence of huge, needle-moving changes to the team and still may be struggling to make the playoffs. Tyreek Hill changes the way defenses play on every snap he is on the field, and the team added offensive linemen Terron Armstead and Connor Williams to bolster a historically bad offensive line. New head coach Mike McDaniel brings an exciting system with him, and this Dolphins team should now be very fun to watch, but did the team do enough to make the Dolphins real contenders?
So much of the Saints' success over the last 15 years was built on Drew Brees and Sean Payton's shoulders, neither of whom are now in the building. However, the roster is still in pretty good shape. Jameis Winston is a real unknown factor. One of the most volatile quarterbacks in the league, Winston was playing a much more controlled brand of football last year before getting hurt, posting the lowest turnover-worthy play rate of his career while still making frequent big-time throws.
Stuck in Limbo
The Steelers have been perennial contenders for the duration of Ben Roethlisberger’s career. Their quarterback since 2004, Big Ben retired this offseason after never finishing a season with a losing record. Now, Pittsburgh needs to sustain that success with a combination of Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett at quarterback. Either player will massively change the offense that had the fastest average time to throw in 2021.
The Vikings have won between seven and 10 games for the last four seasons, prompting ownership to make a change and hire a new general manager and head coach. The moves this offseason have been all about maintaining course though, which leaves the team stuck in the same narrow band of outcomes as before. Unless Kevin O’Connell does a fantastic job as head coach in Year 1 or Kirk Cousins has an equally inspired season at quarterback, this team likely wins between seven and 10 games again.
Hitching your wagon to a player that is being thrown out of his previous employer's building after just one year as the answer at quarterback is a risky strategy, but that was Washington’s answer to a disappointing season in 2021. Carson Wentz ranked 23rd in the NFL last season in overall PFF grade and was at his worst in the crunch period of the season with the playoffs on the line. Washington will be hoping he is enough of an upgrade over Taylor Heinicke that it can return to the playoffs, but that may just be optimism at this point.
24. DETROIT LIONS
The rebuild project in Detroit still doesn’t have its quarterback of the future, but the rest of the roster is coming together very nicely, and Jared Goff has shown the capacity to be a better-than-average quarterback in the right environment. The Lions are still relying on the development and growth of young players that they added a year ago, but if things go as planned, Detroit could make more noise this season than people expect.
25. NEW YORK JETS
The Jets have done a fantastic job of building around Zach Wilson, but now, they need to see some signs of life from last year’s No. 2 overall pick. Additions such as Laken Tomlinson continued to add strength to an offensive line than finished last year ranked 11th in the NFL. Adding Garrett Wilson in the draft should improve the entire receiving corps, allowing Corey Davis to avoid the attention of a true No. 1 receiver. The defense also saw some reinforcement with cornerback additions in both free agency (D.J. Reed) and the draft (Ahmad Sauce Gardner).
26. NEW YORK GIANTS
The biggest additions the Giants made were at general manager and head coach, and Brian Daboll, in particular, could have a real impact on Daniel Jones at quarterback. Jones was a top-five graded quarterback in the league through the first month of the season in 2021 before the wheels fell off as the offense disintegrated around him. The Giants did what they could on the offensive line, and the receiving corps staying healthy would be a big boost for the team overall. The Giants offense could be a surprise unit in 2022.
Jacksonville were big spenders this offseason, but it’s tough to discern a strategy to that spending beyond simply paying big money to players the team could convince to come to Jacksonville. Brandon Scherff and Christian Kirk were big investments on the offensive line and receiving corps, but even with them, neither unit should be above league average. The draft was all about rolling the dice on talent, and so there’s a real chance that the Jaguars are relying simply on the upgrade from Urban Meyer to Doug Pederson to boost Trevor Lawrence‘s play in Year 2.
28. HOUSTON TEXANS
The Texans were able to finally start their rebuild by trading away Deshaun Watson for a huge haul of draft picks. That move happened too late in the day for them to be big players in free agency, so the project really started in the draft. Davis Mills flashed some surprisingly good play as a rookie, and he’ll get, at least, another season to show he can be a future starter, but this project has really only just begun.
The Panthers may have done well to emerge from the draft with a rookie quarterback without spending the sixth overall pick on him, but that still leaves a starting battle between Sam Darnold and a player the rest of the NFL didn’t want for over 90 picks. Matt Corral ran a very RPO-heavy offense in college (over 40% of snaps), so his ability to translate to the NFL is a big unknown. Overall, Carolina made some nice moves this offseason, but its quarterback situation could be crippling.
30. ATLANTA FALCONS
Atlanta jumped into the bidding war for Deshaun Watson only to come up short and effectively end relations with Matt Ryan as their starter. Trading him away creates a devastating blow to the salary cap in terms of dead money, but it represents the start of a franchise reboot. Marcus Mariota is a fine stopgap at quarterback and the team had a very good draft, but we may be a year away from these moves paying real dividends.
31. CHICAGO BEARS
New general manager Ryan Poles inherited an ugly situation in Chicago and has done what he can to set the team on the right track in his first offseason. The only issue is that very little of that has had an immediate impact on the short-term prospects of quarterback Justin Fields, who flashed big talent as a rookie but has pass protection and a receiving corps that rank among the league’s worst on paper. Fields also had his own issues in Year 1, so this could be a painful year for Chicago as it tries to put solid foundations in place for the future.
32. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
When you remove Russell Wilson from the equation in Seattle, it becomes immediately apparent how bad the situation around him had become over the years, with Wilson’s play hiding the true extent of the damage. It doesn’t help that the quarterback competition between Drew Lock and Geno Smith represents the worst quarterback situation in the league. We have become accustomed to thinking of Seatte as a playoff contender, but that was only a constant as long as their quarterback was elite, and that’s far from the case now.