The dog days of summer mean one thing: it’s almost football season.
Training camps across the league open in just a few weeks, with the 2022 Hall of Fame Game four weeks away on Aug. 4. Preseason games for the rest of the league begin in five weeks on Aug. 11.
The regular season is still nine weeks away, but that won’t stop us from getting excited. Teams across the league have revamped their rosters in hopes of winning Super Bowl LVII in Arizona next February.
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Here are nine things I’m excited to watch over the course of the 2022 regular season:
1. Opening night on NBC: Rams vs. Bills
This one is obvious, but you can’t look past this electric opening game. Aaron Donald and the Rams are fresh off a Super Bowl victory. They’ll be receiving their championship rings and raising the first banner at SoFi Stadium. Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp dominated in their first season together, with Kupp earning the receiving triple crown and Super Bowl MVP.
On the other side, Josh Allen and the Bills will be wondering what could’ve been. This may have been Buffalo’s championship-crowning ceremony if it hadn’t lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round. It was a long, cold offseason in Western New York, but this roster is reloaded with Von Miller, O.J. Howard and others. Rams-Bills could be a potential Super Bowl preview – it’s the perfect way to bring back football (Sept. 8, 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC)
San Francisco 49ers
2. Watching Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes duel again
Speaking of the Bills’ playoff loss to the Chiefs, they’ll get a chance at revenge in Week 6.
There was no more heartbreaking loss last season than this one, when the Bills were 13 seconds away from victory before Patrick Mahomes did Patrick Mahomes things. We all know the rest of the story: the Bills lost the coin toss and didn’t get the ball again, and now the overtime rules are changed.
But the controversial ending overshadowed just how fun the QB duel was. Allen finished 27 of 37 for 329 yards and four touchdowns, while Mahomes was 33 of 44 for 378 yards and three touchdowns. Neither player turned the ball over. It was an absolute masterclass, and I can’t wait to see the rematch on Oct. 16.
3. Everything about the AFC West
Beyond just the Chiefs – who have won the AFC West for six straight seasons – this division is now loaded with star-studded teams.
The Las Vegas Raiders, who finished 10-7 last season, hired head coach Josh McDaniels and added Davante Adams and Chandler Jones. Out in Los Angeles, the Chargers (9-8 in 2021) added J.C. Jackson and Khalil Mack, with QB Justin Herbert only expected to improve. Then there’s the Denver Broncos (7-10 in 2021), who traded for Russell Wilson to pair with new head coach Nathaniel Hackett.
Mahomes and the Chiefs are still favored to win the division, according to PointsBet, but would we be surprised if any of these four teams won it? There’s a realistic chance that three, or even all four, of these teams make the postseason.
4. Russell Wilson outside of the Seahawks infrastructure
We just touched on Wilson and the Broncos, but it’ll be especially exciting to see the 33-year-old QB away from Seattle. Within the Seahawks organization, Wilson was never bigger than the team. Pete Carroll runs that show, and he clearly wasn’t afraid to part ways with Wilson even though they had no better QB option.
Now, Wilson has a chance to be the superstar celebrity that he seems to crave. He’s immediately the face of the Broncos franchise and he has a chance to win quickly. The roster is talented, with Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and Javonte Williams leading a deep skill group. Wilson will face his old team in Seattle in Week 1, giving both sides an instant opportunity to win the breakup.
5. Star receivers with new teams
There was unprecedented player movement this offseason – and no position was affected more than wide receiver.
Davante Adams to the Raiders, Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins and A.J. Brown to the Eagles. Three of the best wideouts in the league switched teams. And, to make things more intriguing, they all downgraded at quarterback.
Adams has never played without Aaron Rodgers, though he was paired with Derek Carr in college, which should make the transition easier. Hill is facing the biggest drop off, going from Mahomes to Tua Tagovailoa, who has yet to prove anything in the NFL. Brown wasn’t in the best situation in Tennessee with Ryan Tannehill, but Jalen Hurts isn’t exactly a star passer either. Seeing these stud weapons acclimate to new environments will be fun.
6. Who Aaron Rodgers throws the ball to
With Adams now in Las Vegas, Rodgers is left with a motley crew of receivers. Sammy Watkins… I guess (?)… leads the group, which also includes Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Amari Rodgers and second-round pick Christian Watson.
Rodgers notoriously targets guys he trusts, which is part of the reason he wanted Cobb back last season. But with Adams gone, someone from this group has to emerge as a viable weapon. Watkins and Lazard are the most obvious candidates, though neither has been a No. 1 option in their careers. Watson, who probably has the highest upside, needs to have a strong camp and preseason to get on the same page with Rodgers.
7. Which young quarterbacks make the leap
Several young quarterbacks ascended last season, including Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert. Who could make the leap in 2022? In my mind, there are seven potential options: Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones.
The clock is ticking for former Alabama teammates Hurts and Tagovailoa. They’ve led their respective teams to moderate success, but 2022 is their best (and perhaps final) chance to show their stardom. The Eagles and Dolphins went all-in this offseason in hopes that these two would emerge as franchise QBs. It’s all in their hands now.
The other five were all drafted in 2021, and had varying degrees of success as rookies. Jones was the best of the bunch, while Wilson had the least success. Lawrence was put in a terrible situation that has been somewhat resolved, while Fields’ roster is in the worst spot for 2022. Lance gave us the least tape in 2021, but he’s been handed the keys to a squad that was just in the NFC title game. One or more of these seven QBs will develop into a bonafide star entering 2023.
8. Rob Gronkowski’s inevitable return to the Buccaneers
He can’t be done, right? Nobody seriously believes that – not even his agent Drew Rosenhaus, who predicted that Gronk could be convinced by Tom Brady to return in 2022.
Watching Gronkowski play football is a joy, from the way he devours defensive ends like he’s a left tackle to the way he lumbers down the field after a big catch. At just 33 years old, there’s still something left in the tank. He’ll have this entire offseason and beginning of the season to rest, which could pave the way for a return sometime in October or November.
9. Legacies continue to form
One of my favorite things about sports is how every moment writes a legacy. Each player and team is remembered for what they accomplish (or, for some, what they don’t).
So while this isn’t a specific topic for any one player or team, I’m looking forward to seeing what this chapter of NFL history gives us. Last season it was Matthew Stafford cleansing himself from the Detroit Lions’ stink to potentially ordering his Hall of Fame gold jacket. Before that it was Tom Brady proving he could win without Bill Belichick.
I truly can’t wait to see who defines their legacy next. Does Mahomes get his second ring at just 27 years old? Can Allen and the Bills finally break through? Will the Rams repeat, something no one has done since 2004? Is Brady really going to win an eighth Super Bowl? I could do this all day, but we’ll just have to wait and see it all play out.