Here we are with part 3 of the Crystal Ballin series. As you can tell, we're bouncing back and forth between AFC and NFC divisions.
Up next is the AFC South, seemingly dominated by two teams alone, as the Texans and Jaguars both have frequently found themselves selecting in the top five of NFL drafts year after year.
It will be very interesting to see which team and edge out the other when it comes to the Titans and Colts to secure a playoff home game.
That being said, I will now be taking out my crystal ball and informing you all precisely how this upcoming season will play out.
If you guys enjoy this series, please let me know! I'd love to see any sort of feedback - be it questions, critique or suggestions! Thanks for reading and have an awesome day!
Note: All win totals are current as of the time of this writing via DraftKings Sportsbook
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
This year, the Jacksonville Jaguars appear to have the potential to be either my prediction of the Chicago Bears or the Detroit Lions. What I mean by that is there is a wide range of outcomes for this squad in 2022. With a new head coach in Doug Pederson, we very well could see the start of a true unlocking of franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence. He looked undoubtedly dreadful in his rookie season, throwing for under 60% completion for 3,600 yards with only 12 touchdowns and 17 picks. Urban Meyer was a main problem with the team last year, and with Pederson replacing him, that appears to have been fixed.
Second year running back Travis Etienne returns from his Lisfranc injury and reportedly impressed in OTA's. He should be getting the starting role this year as James Robinson continues to recover from an Achilles tear of his own.
Lawrence will be aided in the passing game, with the additions of Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram to join the group of Marvin Jones Jr., Laviska Shenault Jr. and Laquon Treadwell. There isn't one standout guy here (although based on their contracts, it should be Kirk) but this group is solid and has plenty of depth. The offensive line is average, so look for Jacksonville to use the running backs and receivers in the quick passing game to keep their quarterback upright.
The defense got a nice boost through the draft, and appears to be the strong point of this team. First overall pick Trevon Walker looks to be a dominating force of the edge, opposite stud defender Josh Allen. With the trade up to select Devin Lloyd in the first round and signing of Foyesade Oluokun to a 3 year deal in free agency, this looks like it has the makings of a very solid linebacking core.
The secondary isn't great, however as Tyson Campbell, Shaquill Griffin and former Ram Darious Williams make for a decent - if unspectacular - cornerback trio. There isn't much to speak of at safety, as this unit will be heavily reliant on the front seven to force pressure quickly to avoid getting exposed on the back end.
2021 Record: 3-14
Nothing much to speak of regarding 2021. Urban Meyer was a joke and an embarrassment as head coach, Trevor Lawrence struggled, and the defense showed they needed another piece opposite Josh Allen on the edge.
2022 Key Performer: QB Trevor Lawrence
I spoke of this already, but the short passing game should be heavily utilized, with Christian Kirk as Lawrence's primary target and Marvin Jones Jr. as the consistent deep threat. If this happens and Etienne shows he can be productive in both the running and receiving game, we could begin to see the potential of the number one pick of the 2021 draft.
374/585 (64%) 4,250 yards, 28 TDs 14 INTs
2022 Over/Under: 6
A fair win total here, as it will be reliant on just how big a step up the Jaguars take (if any). I think they will be improved over last year, but it may not come by way of victories. We will see more close, competitive games but they will ultimately fail to reach the six win mark.
Crystal Ball Says: 4-13
3. Houston Texans
The Houston Texans have had so much drama over the past two years with former quarterback Deshaun Watson. With his departure, 2021 saw the debut of third round rookie Davis Mills. Considering the lack of expectations and poor overall team quality surrounding him, Mills performed surprisingly well. While his 16:10 touchdown-interception ratio was nothing special, that stat combined with his 66.8% completion and 6.8 yards per attempt is arguably the second best performance out of the 2021 rookie quarterback class (only behind New England's Mac Jones).
Houston brought in some help for Mills in the ground game this offseason. In free agency they signed former Indianapolis Colt Marlon Mack, who missed the entire 2020 season with an Achilles tear. He missed the majority of 2021 recovering from that injury, in addition to just being usurped completely by Jonathan Taylor - one of the best running backs in the game. They also added Dameon Pierce in the fourth round of the draft. In all likelihood, Mack will see the majority of the workload early on. If he struggles, then Pierce will get his opportunity to shine with veterans Rex Burkhead and Royce Freeman (a personal favorite of mine) providing depth and veteran presence.
Out wide, the Texans sport one of the most consistent and dangerous receiving threats in the league in Brandin Cooks. He surpassed 1,000 yards in six of his eight years in the NFL. Cooks provides game breaking speed, consistency and leadership to a young wide receiver room. In addition to him, Houston has Nico Collins and second round rookie John Metchie III. Metchie's recovery speed from his 2021 ACL tear will determine how soon this trio can start to gel as a unit and possibly make a splash in 2022.
That Deshaun Watson deal netted Houston plenty of draft picks. One of their picks was used on cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. He should step in as the top corner right away as I expect a great rookie season from the third overall pick. Steven Nelson and Desmond King make for a solid trio in the secondary. Unfortunately, the team lost stud safety Justin Reid to Kansas City in free agency. The current starters are Eric Murray and hard hitting second round pick Jalen Pitre. These two have the potential to be a good duo in the defensive backfield, but we'll have to see.
2021 Record: 4-13
Last season was one full of drama, with a few bright spots. Davis Mills' decent rookie year, Cooks continuing his consistency, 8.0 sacks for Johnathan Greenard and 3 interceptions for Desmond King are really the only positives from the 2021 season.
While it may not be a major leap in terms of wins in 2022, I'd be willing to bet we see more positives than we saw last year.
2022 Key Performer: WR Brandin Cooks
One of the most underrated playmakers in the league, Cooks has eight years under his belt - and he's still only 28 years old! Cooks will continue his >1,000 yard trend in 2022 and give Davis Mills not only a reliable target, but one who can score from anywhere on the field.
138 targets, 92 receptions 1,123 yards, 7 TDs
2022 Over/Under: 4.5
I'm taking the over on this one. Obviously I don't believe Houston will compete for a playoff spot or anything - especially considering how many good teams there are in the AFC - but we'll see improvement from the Texans. I believe it's looking up for this squad.
Crystal Ball Says: 6-11
2. Tennessee Titans
The Titans are an interesting team. They finished with the top seed in the AFC last year, with a 12-5 record yet I don't see many people high on them this year... and this includes me.
Ryan Tannehill had a breakout season back in 2019 and lit up the league in 2020, they failed to make an appearance in the Conference Championship game either year. The 33 year old quarterback had a rather disappointing season last year, with only a 21:14 touchdown-interception ratio, which isn't bad - everyone just expected more. Of course they had the playoff bye week and lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Bengals, 19-16.
All I know is Tannehill better improve over his 2022 self, because all eyes will be on his backup - the dynamic rookie third round pick Malik WIllis.
Monster truck of a running back Derrick Henry also missed over half the regular season with a foot fracture. He still managed to gain over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and ten touchdowns in just eight games. Henry looks to bounce back in 2022 and needs to, as Tennessee no longer has D'Onta Foreman backing him up. Foreman's solid production and consistency is a pretty big reason why the Titans had continued success following their star's injury. Dontrell Hilliard and rookie Hassan Haskins are decent depth pieces, but I don't believe either player can step in as well as Foreman did last year.
A major trade went down during the draft, as the Titans sent wide receiver A.J. Brown away to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a first round pick and a third rounder. They ended up taking Treylon Burks with that 18th overall pick. While it looked like a red flag at first when reports came out of Burks needing an inhaler during workouts, it was later revealed he has asthma - I'm not concerned about that in the least.
The Titans also acquired veteran receiver Robert Woods in a trade with the Rams in exchange for just a sixth round pick. Woods is coming off of a torn ACL, but seems to be on a great track to recovery. He is a very good receiver and should quickly become Tannehill's go-to guy. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine should be a decent third option, along with former Brown Austin Hooper at tight end.
Tennessee's defense should remain solid this year, as defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons broke out with 8.5 sacks. Alongside him is veteran Denico Autry and free agent signing Da'Shawn Hand, making for a scary trio on the front line. The group of former Houston Texan/late season addition Zach Cunningham, Bud Dupree, Harold Landry III and David Long Jr. make for a potentially excellent group of linebackers/edge rushers in the starting lineup.
The depth at cornerback is great for this secondary, as they have third year breakout Kristian Fulton, last year's first round pick Caleb Farley returning from his ACL tear, second round rookie Roger McCreary, solid corner Elijah Molden and veteran Buster Skrine. I truly believe this is one of the deepest cornerback groups in the league. Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker are a good safety tandem as well.
2021 Record: 12-5
The Titans caught some lucky breaks last season, as Derrick Henry ran for over 900 yards in the first eight games, leading he team to a 6-2 record before he went down. D'Onta Foreman was a nice fill-in and the defense played some excellent football. We'll see what this team can do in 2022, as I do not believe they will come close to last year's success.
2022 Key Performer: RB Derrick Henry
Derrick Henry says he is "fueled" by last year's injury. I don't doubt this at all, and expect another banger of a performance from him this year... I just don't believe it will result in more wins this time around.
312 rushes 1,622 yards 13 TDs
2022 Over/Under: 9
It's kind of crazy to think last year's top seed in the AFC now has a projected win total of 9... crazier still is the idea that I would take the under on that number... which I would.
Crystal Ball Says: 8-9
1. Indianapolis Colts
Another year, another veteran quarterback to start for the Colts. Since the retirement of Andrew Luck back in 2019, this team has gone from Philip Rivers (2020) to Carson Wentz (2021) and now Matt Ryan for 2022. It's funny how the phrase "one quarterback away" makes so much - yet so little sense for the Colts.
It's not like Rivers or Wentz played poorly - just the opposite, in fact. Combined, those two had thrown 51 touchdowns to only 18 interceptions. Their completion percentage averaged out to 65.2% as well. They both played very well, it just never fully came together the way Indy had wanted.
Matt Ryan comes in from 14 years in Atlanta and a rather mediocre season - although that can be chalked up to his lack of weapons around him. He enters a team with one of the best offensive lines, arguably the best running back in the NFL in Jonathan Taylor (top 3 at least), an explosive pass catching running back Nyhiem Hines and some exciting young receivers. Michael Pittman Jr. is ready for a true breakout season as the team's top dog. Parris Campbell is a dangerous speed threat who - although injury prone - can burn defenses at any moment. This group doesn't provide much in terms of depth, so we may see plenty of second round rookie wideout Alec Pierce and the overlooked Ashton Dulin. Between Moe Allie-Cox, Kylen Granson and third round rookie Jelani Woods, Matt Ryan will have somebody at tight end to throw to as well.
The front seven on this defense looks incredible. Between stud DeForest Buckner, former Raider Yannick Ngakoue and last year's first round pick Kwity Paye the opposing quarterbacks will go down plenty of times in 2022. Beast of a linebacker Darius Leonard will wreak havoc in the middle of the field when he is fully healthy again and Bobby Okereke is a great young star as well.
The Colts added shutdown corner Stephon Gilmore this offseason to pair with Kenny Moore II. Provided Gilmore hasn't lost a step, this will be an elite cornerback duo. Julian Blackmon could pair with newly added Rodney McLeod to form a solid tandem. The recent retirement of 26 year old Khari Willis is a major blow to the secondary, as he seemed to be developing his game well. This will likely force McLeod into that starting role with Blackmon if they don't add another safety.
2021 Record: 9-8
The Colts were up and down last season and unfortunately ended at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars of all teams. Sitting at 9-6 with two games to go (and riding a 3 game winning streak), all Indy had to do was win one of their final games. They ended up losing 23-20 to the Raiders and 26-11 to the aforementioned Jaguars. Extremely disappointing way to end what was a good year overall.
2022 Key Performer: QB Matt Ryan
I believe Ryan will come in and provide similar stats to what we just saw from Carson Wentz in 2021. The only differences will be more wins and a division title for this 2022 squad, led by a Comeback Player of the Year candidate.
350/530 (66%) 4,120 yards, 27 TDs 11 INTs
2022 Over/Under: 9.5
A very fair number, I think the Colts are going to surpass this 9.5 number and hit the over as Matt Ryan and Indy take the AFC South and enter the playoffs.
Crystal Ball Says: 10-7