The longest season in NFL history has come to a close and what an ending it was. The Divisional Round delivered one of the most exciting playoff weekends in the history of the game, then gave way to a pair of thrilling conference championship games that set the stage for Super Bowl LVI. In SoFi Stadium, the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals traded big plays and defensive stops until Matthew Stafford found Cooper Kupp in the end zone with less than two minutes remaining to put the "home" Rams ahead for good.
So while Los Angeles preps for a parade, the focus in the NFL shifts to next season. Free agency and the start of the new league year is a little more than a month away (March 16) with the draft on tap for the end of April. Since it's never too early to look ahead, here are Athlon Sports' way-too-early NFL divisional predictions for the 2022 season. If you don't like where we have your favorite time, don't worry, it's a pretty safe bet that these will change before September.
Way-Too-Early 2022 NFL Predictions
After back-to-back division titles, the Bills are the cream of the crop of this division until someone beats them. Now the next hurdle for Josh Allen and Co. is to get to the Super Bowl (and to defeat Kansas City in the playoffs).
2. New England
Despite a rough playoff exit, the Patriots appear to be in good hands moving forward with Mac Jones at the helm, but who will call the shots on offense with Josh McDaniels gone?
Rookie head coach Mike McDaniel inherits a Dolphins team with some pieces in place and the resources (i.e, cap space) to add more, but the big question is whether Tua Tagovailoa is the long-term answer at quarterback.
4. New York Jets
The Jets have two first-round picks and plenty of cap space to build up the roster around second-year quarterback Zach Wilson. They also have plenty of holes to fill.
Tough loss for the Bengals but this team could be back in the Super Bowl sooner rather than later with its young core in place and about $60 million in cap space to shore up weak spots on the roster (starting with the offensive line).
Injuries finally caught up to the Ravens late last season. Better health, especially in the backfield, will certainly help, but the defense could use some younger blood at several key spots.
It's easy to pin last season's disappointment all on Baker Mayfield, but the Browns' issues go beyond their inconsistent quarterback.
Whoever replaces Ben Roethlisberger has big shoes to fill but also will hopefully get more help from the Steelers' offensive line and a talented but inconsistent wide receiving corps.
Titans have some tough decisions to make in regards to the salary cap as they look to keep the core of the team that earned the AFC's No. 1 seed together.
The Colts are looking to put last season's Week 18 collapse behind them but will need to do so with a reshuffled coaching staff and lingering questions about Carson Wentz's reliability.
Doug Pederson seems to be a good fit to help Trevor Lawrence take a big step forward, but what about his supporting cast?
The Texans are hitting the reset button, again. It somewhat feels like this team won't be able to move forward until Deshaun Watson's status is determined.
1. Kansas City
Motivation won't be an issue for the Chiefs after their AFC Championship Game second-half collapse at home.
2. Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are well-positioned to continue building their roster around Justin Herbert and have already shown they have what it takes to beat the Chiefs.
3. Las Vegas
Raiders fans have their fingers crossed that Josh McDaniels is a different head coach than the one who failed miserably on his first try. Convincing former Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to come to Sin City to join him is a strong start.
Nathaniel Hackett is getting his shot at turning the Broncos around and there's plenty of cap space to add to the roster, but the question on everyone's mind is — who is going to be the quarterback?
The Cowboys have some work to do with the salary cap, but the reigning NFC East champs should remain relatively intact, which means there are no excuses for Mike McCarthy in Year 3 in Big D.
An Eagles team that surprised many by getting into the playoffs this past season now has three first-round draft picks at their disposal. The defense certainly needs some attention, but the team's approach in the draft and free agency could signal how committed they are to quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Now that they have a new name, the Commanders will probably have a new quarterback, and head coach Ron Rivera also hopes his defense can rebound after a rough season.
4. New York Giants
The Giants figure to look a lot different under new general manager Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll, and two top-10 picks will help with the transformation. But Daniel Jones is still around, and he'll get another opportunity to prove he's a franchise quarterback.
1. Green Bay
The Packers' outlook is directly tied to the future plans of a certain quarterback who was just named MVP. Why does this sound familiar?
New head coach Kevin O'Connell inherits a Vikings roster that's not threadbare by any stretch but not also without holes or question marks. And Kirk Cousins isn't the only one who falls into that latter category either.
There's a new brain trust in the Windy City that will look to build the Bears around Justin Fields, which hopefully means the offensive line will be one of the first areas addressed.
The Lions showed signs as last season progressed, but is this team ready to take another step forward?
1. Tampa Bay
Tom Brady isn't the only starter from the team that won the Super Bowl a year ago that won't be back with the Buccaneers in 2022.
Brady's retirement and other changes in Tampa could provide the Falcons with an opening to reclaim the division. Does Matt Ryan have one more Pro Bowl-caliber season in him?
This could be a make-or-break season for Matt Rhule with the Panthers. The hope is that new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo can be the guy that gets the most of quarterback Sam Darnold (or whoever it ends up being).
4. New Orleans
Picking Dennis Allen to succeed Sean Payton as the Saints' head coach makes a lot of sense. The team's defensive coordinator the past seven seasons, no one knows this roster and the daunting salary-cap situation that comes with it better.
1. Los Angeles Rams
Mission accomplished for the Rams but changes are coming. Several coaches (including offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell) are expected to leave, several starters and key contributors are pending free agents, and the team is currently over the salary cap. With no picks in the first four rounds, immediate help is probably not coming in the draft and retirement rumors are already swirling for some others. Celebrating comes first, but then the reigning champs have some work to do.
2. San Francisco
What Kyle Shanahan decides to do at quarterback remains to be seen, but whoever it is he'll inherit a team that seemingly has the pieces to place to show that last season's NFC Championship Game appearance was no fluke.
Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray have plenty to prove after a second straight season that ended with a whimper.
Russell Wilson's future may be the big question facing the Seahawks, but it's far from the only one. This team needs some major retooling after slipping to 7-10 last season and with a bunch of pending free agents on the roster.