Patrick Mahomes

The AFC is home to the best quarterback play, and the strongest conference in the NFL. There are my picks to win each division in 2022 (Playoff teams in bold)

AFC WEST

Prediction:

  • Los Angeles Chargers
  • Kansas City Chiefs
  • Denver Broncos
  • Las Vegas Raiders

The winner of the Super Bowl is more than likely going to come out of this division, and I’m just going to come out and with my boldest prediction right out of the gate.

When the dust settles on the 2022 regular season, the Los Angeles Chargers are going to be in first place. 

Justin Herbert is ready to make a leap to NFL MVP, and the Chargers have the most dangerous wide receiver room in the NFL. Brandon Staley won 9 games last year despite having the fourth-worst scoring defense, and you know that’s been eating at him after using his credentials as the top defensive coordinator in 2020 with the LA Rams to land this gig. There’s a lot of pressure on Khalil Mack to help get this defensive line over the hump, because Joey Bosa and Jerry Tillery weren’t doing enough to get it done without him. 

Patrick Mahomes is still that dude, and they might win the Super Bowl without winning the division, but Tyreek Hill was a vital part of their offensive success. Do you really think 8.6 yards per reception JuJu Smith-Schuster is going to replace that production? We’ll just have to see.

I think the Broncos get in with the addition of Mr. Unlimited, Russell Wilson. That leaves the Raiders on the outside looking in- and don’t try and tell me the Silver and Black are going to build on last year’s surprising rally behind interim Head Coach Rich Bisaccia. He’s up in the freezing cold frozen tundra now, and the Raiders chances of making the 2022 playoffs went with him.

I’m not saying the Raiders can’t make some noise this year, but they have the bad fortune of taking a minimum of four losses in conference play. 

So to recap, your MVP and Super Bowl champion are likely both coming out of the AFC West.

AFC South

Prediction:

  • Tennessee Titans
  • Indianapolis Colts
  • Houston Texans
  • Jacksonville Jaguars

I believe Ryan Tannehill is closer to the 2021 version than the 33 Touchdown, 7 interception 2020 version that had Dolphins fans ready to walk into the ocean.

But I also believe it doesn’t matter. The strength of the Titans is their running game behind Derrick Henry and a finally-healthy offensive line. If they do what they are supposed to in the running game, and the defense continues the massive leap forward it made in 2021, they’re going to win the division.

The Colts are continuing their end of career Las Vegas residency QB carousel, this time with Matt Ryan. And if you consider that Matt Ryan has had one good season every three years for the past 14 seasons, he’s probably due for a decent year. But just like the Titans, this is a team built on running and defense, and the superstar pair of Johnathan Taylor and Darius Leonard are probably enough to put Indy on the playoff bubble.

The Houston Texans and my old team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, are both much improved, and I expect them to be in a lot of games until the bitter end, but those endings will be bitter. I expect 5-6 win seasons for both squads. 

For any of these teams to make the leap to Super Bowl contender, they’re going to need to have a sure-fire franchise QB, but I can’t say with a straight face that any of them have one at the moment.

AFC North

Prediction:

  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Cleveland Browns

If you don’t think Lamar Jackson is worth $250 million guaranteed, you will by the end of the season. This division is about to be all Baltimore, all the time. 

John Harbaugh is coming off only his second losing season as the Ravens head coach in the last 14 years, and the worst team defense we’ve seen from Baltimore since 2002. Not only are we going to see progression to the mean, if this team stays healthy, we might see dominance. In my opinion, the Super Bowl champ is coming out of the AFC West, but if it’s anyone else, this is the team to watch. 

I’m not a Cincinnati Bengals hater, but let’s be honest. They got hot at the right time last year, but in the Super Bowl, the better team won. I do have them making the playoffs in 2022, and while that should be enough for Bengals fans that went 31 years between playoff victories, a taste of success can make you greedy. Be patient with Joe Burrow and Zac Taylor, and you’ll get back eventually.

I have the Pittsburgh Steelers finishing third in the division and contending for a playoff spot. Yes, even with Mitch Trubisky taking snaps. I could come out of retirement to play QB for the Steelers and Mike Tomlin is still going to find a way for my old ass to drag them to 9 wins. The problem with this is that it keeps you out of range to take a shot on a top QB in the draft, so this might be something they have to reconcile in free agency this offseason. I hear their rival has a QB with a suspect contract situation…

Last, and definitely least, the Cleveland Browns decided to waste a perfectly good roster on a suspended QB. If Deshaun Watson wasn’t being held out for you-know-what, this is a Super Bowl contending roster. And maybe that’s why they’re willing to take all the heat that comes with this decision, and punt their success until 2023. 

And if the Ravens don’t handle things with their QB’s contract situation, these standings could flip next year.

AFC EAST

Prediction:

  • Buffalo Bills
  • Miami Dolphins
  • New England Patriots
  • New York Jets

The division belongs to Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. I’ve always been a Josh Allen fan, and you definitely don’t need to look up any of my takes about him prior to the 2020 season because I’m telling the truth. You believe me, right? Anyway, if the Bills have a non-QB scramble oriented running game, it’s a wrap. 

Miami is not going to be as good as some prognosticators think, but I do have them finishing second,and likely making the playoffs. When your own owner is trying to move you off the team for Tom Brady or Deshaun Watson, you aren’t that guy. I’m talking to you, Tua. But enjoy additions like Tyreek Hill and Chase Edmonds, they’re definitely the type of guys that can mask arm strength issues with playmaking ability.

Recycling failed head coaches onto the offensive staff might work for Nick Saban, but do we really think Bill Belichick is going to get away with using Mat Patricia and Joe Judge to replace the entire offensive staff that Josh McDaniels took to Las Vegas? I think the Patriots will be good enough to finish third in the AFC East. Without Tom Brady, years of bad skill position drafting by Belichick is the ultimate reason the Patriots have fallen off, and should not be considered legit contenders.

And last, as usual, the New York Jets. Do I really need to explain why? Or can I just say that Joe Flacco is 2-12 in his last 14 starts, and Zach Wilson is only slightly better, going 3-10 as a rookie.

Just like when Tom Brady ruled the division, the only team with a legitimate QB remains king of the mountain.

George Wrighster is a former Pac-12 and long-time NFL tight end. As a television/radio host, opinionist, and analyst, who is UNAFRAID to speak the truth. Contrary to industry norms he uses, facts, stats, and common sense to win an argument. He has covered college football, basketball, NFL, NBA, MLB since 2014. Through years of playing college football, covering bowl games, coaching changes, and scandals, he has a great pulse for the conference and national perspective.

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