The final weekend without NFL football until February has come and gone. Now, it’s time for the games to matter.
The defending champion Los Angeles Rams and Super Bowl favorite Buffalo Bills open the season Thursday at SoFi Stadium, and the NFL won’t stop until it crowns a champion.
Justin Fields and the Bears rolled through the preseason undefeated (hang the banner?), but they face Kyle Shanahan, Trey Lance, and the 49ers right out of the chute. It’ll be a different kind of homecoming for Jimmy Garoppolo this around, as the veteran quarterback will be holding a clipboard while Lance makes his third career NFL start.
Meanwhile, Mac Jones and the New England Patriots will take their shattered offense down to South Beach to face the Dolphins in the first game of the Mike McDaniel era.
Tom Brady will open what might be his final season in Dallas when the Bucs face the Cowboys, while Jalen Hurts and the NFC East-favorite Eagles travel to Detroit to face Dan “It’s OK if you think I’m dumb” Campbell and the Lions.
Here’s where each team stands entering Week 1:
32. Houston Texans: Lovie has a long, long way to go.
31. New York Giants: Outside of Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal, I have a hard time seeing any member of this Giants’ offense being part of Brian Daboll’s long-term plan.
30. Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks appear to have hit on rookies Charles Cross, Boye Mafe, Abraham Lucas, Coby Bryant, and Tariq Woolen. That’s an excellent way to start a rebuild. Next comes the hard part: Finding a quarterback.
29. Atlanta Falcons: As long as Marcus Mariota can get the ball to Kyle Pitts and Drake London, the Falcons should at least be a fun team to watch on RedZone.
28. Chicago Bears: A 3-0 preseason included a brilliant game from quarterback Justin Fields in the exhibition finale against the Browns. As long as the Bears leave the 2022 season with clarity at quarterback and head coach, they’ll be on the right track.
27. New York Jets: I love what the Jets did in the draft and free agency, but a brutal early-season schedule won’t make it easy for Robert Saleh’s team to hang in the playoff picture.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars: The AFC South is just weak enough for the Jaguars to make a surprise run if Trevor Lawrence can be great after washing the Urban Meyer off him.
25. Detroit Lions: Lions fans are bullish that a big jump could be coming in Year 2 of the Dan Campbell era. But if they were smart, they’d hope for a five- or six-win season that sees Aidan Hutchinson and Jameson Williams shine while they nab a top pick to land Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, or Anthony Richardson.
24. Cleveland Browns: Given the state of the AFC, the Browns likely will be out of the playoff race by the time Deshaun Watson comes back. Probably for the best.
23. Carolina Panthers: Whether Baker said it or not, there’s no doubt he wants to make the Browns pay in Week 1.
22. Washington Commanders: The Commanders went 7-10 with Taylor Heinicke at quarterback. Can they find two or three more wins with Carson Wentz at the helm? It’s possible, but a lot will depend on offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s system playing to Wentz’s strengths and not asking him to do too much. When Wentz tries to carry a team, the full Wentz happens. Never go full Wentz.
21. Tennessee Titans: Eventually, the bill comes due for even the best running backs. The Titans won’t be able to survive Derrick Henry’s absence if the bill comes due this season.
20. New England Patriots: If Bill Belichick can’t find a way to fix the mess Matt Patricia and Joe Judge have created on offense, it will be a long year at 1 Patriot Place.
19. Dallas Cowboys: Jason Peters once called the Cowboys “arrogant” as a member of the Eagles. Money has a way of changing minds, though.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers have never had a losing season under Mike Tomlin. Can he keep the streak going with Mitchell Trubisky and/or Kenny Pickett behind center?
17. New Orleans Saints: Last time we saw Dennis Allen coach an NFL team, he was driving the Raiders into the ground. Some guys are just meant to be coordinators.
16. Miami Dolphins: The moment of truth is here for the Tuanon followers. Best of luck.
15. Arizona Cardinals: No DeAndre Hopkins for the first six weeks and a tough early-season slate. The Cardinals will need Kyler Murray to be Superman to keep them afloat until his top weapon returns.
14. Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings have one of the best skill position groups in the NFL, and I think new head coach Kevin O’Connell will be able to maximize that talent. Minnesota should be a playoff team, but the Kirk Cousins factor looms large.
13. Indianapolis Colts: Going from Carson Wentz to Matt Ryan has to be good for at least two more wins in Indy.
12. Denver Broncos: Is Russell Wilson still capable of top-five quarterback play? Considering what the Broncos just paid him, they better hope so.
11. Las Vegas Raiders: The Raiders have elite weapons in Davante Adams, Darren Waller, and Hunter Renfrow and a top-tier pass-rushing duo in Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones. But can the offensive line and secondary be good enough to help them get back to the playoffs?
10. Baltimore Ravens: Pay Lamar Jackson.
9. San Francisco 49ers: Trey Lance is the unquestioned starter in the Bay, but Jimmy Garoppolo returns as a backup after the 49ers could not find a trade partner. No chance things will get awkward.
8. Philadelphia Eagles: General manager Howie Roseman has done an incredible job taking the Eagles from rebuilding project to Super Bowl contender in less than two calendar years. But has Jalen Hurts improved enough to put the Eagles over the top?
7. Cincinnati Bengals: Most teams that lose the Super Bowl fall off the following season. Don’t think that will be the case with the Bengals as long as Joe Burrow is healthy.
6. Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers’ history of injuries had Brandon Staley cover Justin Herbert in bubble wrap during the preseason. Now, the T-2000 can enter the season healthy and ready to shred defenses with the Howitzer attached to his right side.
5. Green Bay Packers: A lot has been made about the departure of Davante Adams and Marques Valdez-Scantling, and rightfully so. But I don’t think the Packers have gotten enough credit for the defense they have put together. There’s a potential top-five defense brewing in Green Bay.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A lot of signs point to this being Tom Brady’s final season. If this is it for the GOAT, catch as much of No. 12 as possible.
3. Los Angeles Rams: Replacing Andrew Whitworth and Von Miller will be difficult, but the Rams feel they are as equipped as any team in the NFL to reload and go back-to-back.
2 Buffalo Bills: The Bills hype is through the roof. Can a team with limited playoff success handle the pressure of being Super Bowl favorites? Buffalo’s history tells us there won’t be a parade in Orchard Park come February.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: After watching Deshaun Watson, and Russell Wilson cash in, Patrick Mahomes’ $45 million per year salary (fifth highest AAV among QBs) is starting to look like a bargain.