For the second time in four years, the Kansas City Chiefs will hoist a banner at Arrowhead Stadium to open the NFL season. By the end of this season, will the Chiefs make it three or will a new team put their dynasty on pause? Daily Cal Sports staff Ryan Sheehan, Kenzo Fukuda and Eric Hayrapetian weigh in on the season to come.
It’s been nearly a full year since the start of the 2022 NFL season. Which teams have undergone the most change since the start of last season and warrant the hype heading into this year?
Ryan Sheehan: I haven’t seen any other team go through as much of an identity shift as the Detroit Lions have since week one of last season. Detroit head coach Dan Campbell has his locker room believing that they can do anything, especially after showing Aaron Rodgers the door and dashing Green Bay Packers’ playoff chances in week 18. The offseason also yielded some key acquisitions on offense and defense, including first-round pick running back Jahmyr Gibbs. The Lions will have their chance to continue defying expectations right away, as they will help kick off this year against Kansas City. An upset in Arrowhead may be all that’s needed to make a believer out of everyone.
Kenzo Fukuda: I liked everything the Miami Dolphins did this offseason. They extended contracts for their running backs in Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr., they got some quarterback insurance with Mike White and most importantly, they traded for Jalen Ramsey. Defense was an issue for this team last season, but by bringing in Ramsey to pair with new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio — a renowned defensive mind — the Dolphins shored up their holes this offseason. The only question is Tagovailoa and his health but the organization got him into judo to minimize head injuries when hitting the turf. The Dolphins have real potential to field a top ten offense and defense — a true contender in the AFC East.
Eric Hayrapetian: Coming off their fifth-straight losing season led by a quarterback by committee, the Carolina Panthers kickstarted their offseason by hiring head coach Frank Reich. The signing of Reich sparked notable additions in positions of need including Vonn Bell, Miles Sanders, Hayden Hurst, DJ Chark and Adam Thielen. The Panthers’ offseason reign carried into the draft, packaging a haul of draft picks to the Chicago Bears for the first overall pick. That pick turned into who they hope to be their franchise quarterback, Bryce Young. The rookie may be undersized and the head coach may not have postseason success, but a shot at the NFC South crown is not far-fetched.
Which teams are overhyped heading into the season?
RS: There are a lot of teams in the AFC that have made some big moves this offseason and are receiving what will likely end up as unwarranted hype. But I think there is a team in the NFC that is getting way too much credit. Of course, the Dallas Cowboys had a good year prior to getting knocked out in the divisional round, though I’m not sure where the Super Bowl and NFC championship game projections for this season are coming from. Dallas failed to improve in the offseason, and after divisional rivals New York and Philadelphia have more than held serve. I have no issues with Dallas adding to an already stacked defense, but I have unanswered questions about Mike McCarthy taking over offensive play-calling duties. To top it all off, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott has yet to win a divisional playoff game.
KF: As a Niners fan, who am I to be calling Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs overrated? However, I am concerned about their pass catchers. With his top target in Travis Kelce already banged up with a hyperextended knee, Mahomes’ receivers are as follows: Kadarius Toney, Skyy Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Noah Gray and Jerick McKinnon. Not ideal. At a certain point, even the talented Mahomes has to feel a burden in lacking a true wide receiver on the outside. Additionally, star defensive tackle Chris Jones continues to hold out for a better contract extension. Jones has been the reason why this Chiefs defense has been decent enough to survive, given their lack of talent. If he’s not playing well into the season, it spells trouble for the defense moving forward.
EH: As Ryan mentioned, there have been an abundance of AFC teams who are all trying to make a postseason run and I think the New York Jets are at the top of that list. With a drama queen quarterback and an unproven offensive line, I am not hopping onto the hype train. Though their offense may look good on paper with the additions of Aaron Rodgers, Dalvin Cook and so on, I don’t see this team making any noise in the playoffs, let alone securing a spot. I see too much competition in the AFC as a whole to slide the Jets into the wild card. The Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills will be massive roadblocks for any division title shot, and the Ravens, Broncos and Chargers all look to be more suitable playoff contenders. 9-8 at best.
Who are some X-Factors who will decide their team’s success?
RS: Desmond Ridder will decide the fate of the Atlanta Falcons this season. In week one, the second-year quarterback out of Cincinnati will start just his fifth NFL game. Ridder was initially taken in the third round, but he will have to live up to the first-round expectations that his running back Bijan Robinson, wide receiver Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts carry. Put simply, Atlanta is arguably a shoo-in to win the NFC South if Ridder can turn the key and unlock the Falcon’s loaded offense.
KF: The Jets’ offensive line is going to dictate the course of their season. They ranked third worst in PFF’s pass blocking grade last season, which could spell trouble for Rodgers this season. Rodgers’ has always played behind great o-lines in Green Bay, with the Packers ranking third in pass blocking last season. The Jets need to bring those pass blocking grades up to at least middle of the pack in order to be successful in the passing game. Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook won’t matter if the Jets can’t protect Rodgers. Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker are names to watch, former first-rounder lineman who have yet to produce in New York.
EH: After landing a deal for Russell Wilson, the Denver Broncos were poised with high expectations. It is safe to say the 34-year-old quarterback never seemed to have settled into his new offense, leading to a disappointing 5-12 campaign. However, with a revamped coaching staff headlined by Sean Payton, Wilson has the pieces around him to return back to his Seattle-self. A healthy offense with explosive receivers and an upgraded offensive line caters towards a Wilson-styled offense; crossers mixed with play-action deep balls. All in all, this Broncos team will only go as far as Wilson takes them.
Early Super Bowl prediction?
RS: Eagles over the Bills. I would like to think that Buffalo will finally pull it together this year, and I have them getting over the hump and punching their ticket to the big game. However, the Eagles’ roster runs too deep and would be in their second-straight Super Bowl. Don’t count out Philly’s experience and desire to right the wrongs of Super Bowl LVII.
KF: Niners over Chiefs. Brock Purdy leads the Niners to their sixth, George Kittle dedicates the championship to Trey Lance and I’m griddying for a whole week straight.
EH: Bengals over the Seahawks. I think the AFC comes down to the Chiefs, Bills and Bengals. Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals have shown that they are capable of winning big games against tough opponents and I expect more to come. On the other hand, I believe that the NFC is completely up for grabs. The Seattle Seahawks will hit their groove at the right time to have an opportunity to compete for a Super Bowl.