NFL preseason predictions are a tricky business. If back in August you proclaimed, “Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills are going to be contenders,” well, so did everyone else. Conversely, if you speculated the Jacksonville Jaguars were going to make the postseason in the wake of the Urban Meyer debacle, you risked sounding ridiculous.
The same conundrum applies to players. If you convinced yourself Zach Wilson’s “got that dog in him” or Russell Wilson’s arrival would ensure a Denver Broncos’ resurgence, you were probably punching air by Week 11.
Meanwhile, if you were banking on “Mr. Irrelevant,” Brock Purdy, leading the San Francisco 49ers into the postseason or were certain this was going to be Geno Smith’s year (first off, no you weren’t), then you should pat yourself on the back and proceed to purchase a lottery ticket.
As we prepare to enter the wild-card round, here are some of the most prevalent predictions cast heading into Week 1 of the 2022 NFL regular season and how they fared. Enjoy your humble pie.
Will the real Russell Wilson please stand up
Preseason prediction: The Denver Broncos are going to be a formidable threat after a blockbuster trade with the Seattle Seahawks for Super Bowl-winning QB Russell Wilson. The nine-time Pro Bowler gives Denver the quarterback it has longed for since Peyton Manning retired.
How it’s going: Broncos country, let’s ride … to Cabo! Denver failed to make the playoffs after a dismal 5-12 season. The team spent a good chunk of the year as the league’s lowest-scoring offense, its coach got fired and Wilson’s “let’s ride” quickly became the default way to troll the QB and his team. The franchise’s only other 12-loss season was back in 2010. Wilson finished what he called a “really humbling year” with a career-low 16 touchdown passes.
Detroit and Duval aren’t who we thought they were
Preseason prediction: The “Hard Knocks”-starring Detroit Lions, who are still in the midst of a rebuild, will be able to deem their season a success if they can improve upon their previous record of 3-13-1 even slightly. Seven wins? Resounding success.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, who possessed the worst record in the league last season (3-14) and whose coach mired the team in controversy before being fired after 13 games, will struggle mightily again with under six wins. Fans have no reason for heightened expectations as their biggest upgrade to the roster is head coach Doug Pederson.
How it’s going: Some might venture to say the roar has been restored in Detroit. QB Jared Goff revived his career with a 62.5 QBR (fifth in the league) and the Lions bounced back after a 1-6 start by winning eight of their last 10 games. While the Lions didn’t make the postseason, the fact Dan Campbell & Co. were even in contention for a wild-card spot, and finished the season with a winning (9-8) record while thwarting the Green Bay Packers’ attempt to reach the postseason is quite the turnaround.
But no team went from zero to hero like the last place-to-playoffs Jaguars. In January 2022, the franchise was in shambles. January 2023? The Jags are division champions for the fourth time since the franchise’s inception in 1995. Jacksonville boasts one of the best young quarterbacks in the league in Trevor Lawrence, and on Saturday will take on the Los Angeles Chargers in the fifth home playoff game in team history .
QB plot twists
Preseason prediction: Zach Wilson will make a significant leap in his second season with the New York Jets. The 2021 No. 2 overall draft pick will leave no doubt that he has what it takes to lead New York to a championship in the years to come.
Baker Mayfield will beat out Sam Darnold and revitalize his career as the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers.
How it’s going: In the most eloquent terms, QB play this season was defined by busts and ballers.
The Zach Wilson experiment fizzled out faster than you can say, “the Jets need to sign Jimmy Garoppolo in the offseason.” Wilson’s time as QB1 came to a screeching halt after a Week 11 loss to the New England Patriots in which he went just 9 of 22 for 77 yards. If his performance in the loss (and in the weeks leading up to it) hadn’t initiated a change under center, his postgame comments in which he refused to take accountability for his poor play assuredly did. Wilson was benched again after a loss to the Jags in Week 16. He finished the season having completed 54.5% of his passes (by far the worst in the league) and throwing more picks than TDs.
As for Mayfield, he played in seven games before being waived by the Panthers. Mayfield ranked last in the NFL in Total QBR among qualified quarterbacks with a rating of 18.2 at the time of his departure. The former Cleveland Browns QB was claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Rams the day after he was waived by Carolina. Two days later, he led Los Angeles to a comeback victory over the Las Vegas Raiders. Mayfield played the final five games of the season for the Rams, completing 63.6% of his passes for 850 yards, with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
In the baller category, we would be remiss not to mention the elite play of Jalen Hurts and the resurgence of Geno Smith who are both postseason bound. Hurts completed 66.5% of his passes and threw six interceptions while joining Randall Cunningham as the only Philadelphia Eagles players in franchise history with 3,500 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in a season. With his 13 rushing touchdowns, Hurts also fell just one TD short of tying 2011 Cam Newton for most rushing TDs by a QB in a single season, despite missing two games. While Smith set the Seahawks’ single-season passing yards record (4,282), surpassing Russell Wilson.
In Brock Purdy Niners Nation trusts?
Preseason prediction: It’s Trey Lance time. The dual-threat quarterback will thrive in Kyle Shanahan’s fantasy-friendly offense. Jimmy G’s replacement — with the help of receiving playmakers Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk — will lead the 49ers deep into the playoffs.
How it’s going: It would be fair to assert that having to replace their first two starters (injured Lance and injured Garoppolo) with rookie third-stringer Brock Purdy could be lumped in with the aforementioned “QB plot twists,” but after everything the Niners have been through this season, they felt deserving of their own section.
Purdy has won all five of his NFL starts, throwing at least two touchdown passes in each contest. On Saturday, Purdy, the 262nd and final pick in the 2022 NFL draft, will become the lowest-drafted rookie QB to start a playoff game by a slight margin of 110 picks. “Mr. Irrelevant” seeks to join nine other backup QBs who have won championships since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. In doing so, he would become the first rookie starting quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl appearance.
That’s the NFC Beast, to you
Preseason prediction: The NFC East will be a dumpster fire like most seasons in recent memory.
How it’s going: Soak it up, NFC East fans, your division is the best in football. Yup, the division which produced just one team with a double-digit win column over the past three seasons (shoutout to the 12-5 Dallas Cowboys in 2021) is leading the way. Three out of four teams in the division, the Eagles, Cowboys and New York Giants, are all postseason bound. The NFC East is the only division in the league in which no team had a losing record throughout the 2022 regular season (the Washington Commanders went .500). They deserve this.