NFL 2022 Predictions: AFC Division and Wild Card Winners

07 / 01 / 2022 By Ally Mielnicki

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AFC East

Winner: Buffalo Bills

The last time we saw the Bills in a football game, they went toe-for-toe with the Kansas City Chiefs in perhaps the most exciting game in NFL history. Yet, despite a remarkable 4 TD game for Josh Allen, where he accumulated 329 passing yards and a 136.0 QBR, the Bills fell to the Chiefs in OT, 42-36. It was a heartbreaking loss as Allen and the rest of Buffalo’s offense watched from the sideline as Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs down the field for the game-ending TD. It was enough to sound alarms throughout the NFL that the OT rules in the postseason should be changed, guaranteeing both teams at least one possession.

Buffalo will have to shake the gut-wrenching defeat off as many list the Bills as the favorite in the AFC to reach the Super Bowl this season. Allen returns to man the Bills’ explosive offense with Stefan Diggs, Dawson Knox, and Gabriel Davis in his arsenal. In addition, their No. 1 ranked defense has improved with the offseason signing of Super Bowl champ Von Miller set to join the linebacking core.

Anything short of reaching the AFC Championship game would be a letdown for the Bills, who continue to improve year after year in the Allen era. With the Chiefs losing Tyreek Hill via trade to the Dolphins, few teams are left to stop the Bills from achieving their goal. However, their division rivals have also improved their rosters, with the Dolphins acquiring Hill and the Jets upgrading their defense and tight end positions. Let’s not forget the Patriots in the second year of Mac Jones, who is sure to improve with DeVante Parker now part of the receiving corps. 

However, Buffalo remains the team to beat in the East. The Bills have arguably the best offensive and defensive unit in the conference. Barring any injuries, they are the team to beat.


AFC North

Winner: Cincinnati Bengals

The reigning AFC Champions were overlooked their entire postseason run until they upset the Chiefs to advance to Super Bowl LVI. In only his second season, Joe Burrow has established himself as one of the best QBs in the league – and he is only 25 years old. Along with fellow LSU standout Ja’Marr Chase, the two are arguably the best QB-WR duo in the league.

Following their defeat to their Rams, the Bengals centered their offseason on bolstering the offensive line, signing La’el Collins, Alex Cappa, and Ted Karras to deals. That should be a significant upgrade since Burrow was the most sacked QB in 2021 with 51 sacks.

Given the Browns’ dysfunction, the Steelers’ question mark at QB, and the Ravens recovering from an injury-plagued 2021 season, the Bengals should have no issue repeating the division title. Barring any injuries, Burrow and co. have the top offense in the division and should be well on their way to locking in another deep playoff run. 


AFC South 

Winner: Indianapolis Colts

The Carson Wentz experiment is one-and-done. After failing to make the postseason, despite needing to win one of their last two games, the Colts decided to part ways with Wentz, unloading the former Eagles play-caller to the Washington Commanders. In return, Indianapolis opted to acquire a veteran with playoff, notably Super Bowl experience, by trading for Falcons QB Matt Ryan. 

To say Matty Ice comes to Indianapolis with high expectations is an understatement. Ever since Andrew Luck retired shortly before the 2019 season, the Colts have struggled to find a QB that can lead the team to a deep playoff run. Jacoby Brissett reminded the team why he is a perennial backup, and Philip Rivers, while leading Indy to an 11-5 record, failed to make it past Wild Card weekend. 

By trading Wentz and acquiring Ryan, it is clear that owner Jim Irsay sees this season as a win-now for his team. After all, the Colts have arguably the best running back on their roster in Jonathan Taylor and have improved on defense after signing DE Yannick Ngakoue to join DeForest Buckner on the defensive line. 

However, if there is one area that needs improvement, it is the receiver corps. After Michael Pittman, Indy lacks depth at the position. Still, behind Taylor, Nyheim Hines, and Phillip Lindsay, their running game should be enough to carry the team to a winning season in conjunction with Ryan’s leadership. 


AFC West 

Winner: LA Chargers

By all accounts, the Chargers deserved a playoff berth last season. And after a back-and-forth offensive showdown in the final game of the regular season, it appeared the Chargers would clinch a spot – until the Las Vegas Raiders kicked a field goal as time expired in OT. Had the game ended in a tie, both teams would have earned a playoff bid. However, the Raiders opted to go for the win and end their division rival’s hopes of making a deep run in the postseason.

A year later, the Chargers return their explosive offense behind 3rd-year QB Justin Herbert, RB Austin Ekeler, and WRs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Last season, the team ranked 3rd overall in passing yards per game, 4th in total yards, and 5th in points per game average. No doubt, given their chemistry and talent, they should repeat their production.

If there was any weakness, however, it was on the defense. LA allowed the 3rd-most points per game and points overall. As a result, the Chargers made a splash in free agency, signing LB Khalil Mack in the offseason. Along with Joey Bosa operating the defensive line, the Chargers should vastly improve and cut down on points allowed.

Unfortunately for LA, they play in the toughest division in the league. The Chiefs have Pat Mahomes, and the Broncos added Russell Wilson, while the Raiders now have Davante Adams to complement Derek Carr. Still, the Chargers remain the favorites to win the West and should win if they can stay healthy. Herbert has emerged as one of the top QBs in the league and should be in the MVP race if he continues his production.


Wild Card Winners: Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens 

Kansas City Chiefs

In January, the Chiefs were shocked at home by the Bengals in the AFC Championship. Up 21-10 at halftime, the Chiefs squandered the lead before falling in OT 27-24. As a result, Tyreek Hill requested a trade once contract negotiations fell through. Hill was Patrick Mahomes’ No. 1 target since he came into the league, and now former Steeler JuJu Smith-Schuster will have to fill in his shoes. Despite losing Hill, the Chiefs still have Travis Kelce at tight end, who is perhaps the best TE in football, and let’s not forget Mahomes, who remains a perennial MVP candidate. Yet, this may be the season that the Chiefs finally loosen their grasp on the division title. We saw hints last season after their 3-4 start, but now with a questionable receiving corps and the 5th-hardest schedule in the league, this may be the year the Chiefs show kryptonite. However, with the coach-QB duo of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, this team is a near-lock to clinch a postseason berth.

Denver Broncos

Despite ranking 3rd overall in points allowed per game last season, Denver struggled mightily on offense. Between Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock, the Broncos Achilles’ heel lay in the QB position, with John Elway still searching for a QB to fill the vacancy post, Peyton Manning. Needing a franchise QB, the Broncos traded for former Super Bowl Champion Russell Wilson rather than try to find one via the draft. Now, Wilson will be tasked with turning the Broncos into a scoring machine one season removed from ranking in the bottom third in the league in points per game. A fresh start away from Seattle may be just what Wilson needs. After all, Seattle struggled to build a formidable offensive line behind Wilson for years, and Seattle’s defense gave up the 5th-most yards per game. Wilson should benefit from a deep receiving corps of Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, and Cortland Sutton, along with one of the top defenses in the AFC.

Baltimore Ravens

No team suffered more injuries to their starters last season than the Baltimore Ravens. That includes Lamar Jackson, who missed the final 5 games of the season with an ankle injury. Before Jackson went down, the Ravens were in a prime position for a Wild Card berth and potentially the division title but lost their final 6 games to end the year. Now, after an offseason that was spent on strengthening the roster’s depth, especially on the defensive front, the Ravens will look to reclaim the title in the North. However, as talented as Jackson is with the ball in his hands, the Ravens’ field is one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL. In the offseason, Baltimore traded their No. 1 receiver Marquise Brown to the Cardinals and failed to sign a signature name to its wideout group. Instead, they will rely on the strength of their run game behind J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Jackson. Fortunately for the Ravens, they have one of the easier schedules in the NFL, with their 2022 opponents combining for a .474 winning percentage in 2021. If Jackson can resume his MVP form, defenses will have a hard time stopping the Ravens’ fluid offense. A playoff berth is attainable. 


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