NFL experts pick best matchups, biggest winners from schedule release

NFL

The 2022 NFL schedule is out, as the league enters its second year with 17 regular-season games after playing a 16-game schedule since 1978. The regular season kicks off on Thursday, September 8, with the Buffalo Bills visiting the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. Week 1 also features Russell Wilson‘s return to Seattle on Monday Night Football, Tom Brady in Dallas, Patrick Mahomes vs. Kyler Murray and six in-division matchups.

Other highlights for the 2022 slate include a Super Bowl LV rematch between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Oct. 2), an offensive duel between Aaron Rodgers and Josh Allen (Oct. 30), and and a late-season Battle of Los Angeles (Jan. 1, 2023). There are also five international contests, including the league’s first game in Germany (Buccaneers vs. Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 13) and a return to Mexico City (Arizona Cardinals vs. San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 21). One of three London games will feature the Green Bay Packers — the lone NFL team yet to play internationally.

What should we make of the 2022 slate? Who’s the biggest winner from the schedule release? Which games should you circle on your calendar? Which debut will be the most interesting, and which late-season matchup could prove important for the postseason? Our panel of NFL experts weighs in on all that and more, including predictions for this season’s Super Bowl.

Skip to a question:

Which matchup do you have circled on your calendar?

Sarah Barshop, Rams reporter: Rams at Packers, Week 15. These are the two best teams in the NFC and maybe even the NFL. Home-field advantage in the playoffs is likely to be on the line, making it all the more intriguing. Green Bay beat Los Angeles last season (also at Lambeau Field) in a thrilling matchup, and there’s no reason to believe Round 2 will be any less exciting.

Matt Bowen, NFL analyst: Chiefs at Buccaneers, Week 4. It’s the first game that jumped out to me on the schedule release. Patrick Mahomes. Tom Brady. Two attacking defenses. That’s good football — and on a national stage.

Jeremy Fowler, national NFL writer: Chargers at Chiefs, Week 2. The last matchup between these two had it all, from late-game offensive fireworks to the Chargers’ numerous failed fourth-down calls on primetime. Los Angeles probably has had this one circled for a while. Justin Herbert vs. Mahomes equals good theater.

Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: Broncos at Seahawks, Week 1. I can’t believe they’re making Russell Wilson go back to Seattle right away! What a Monday Night Football opener. How will he handle it? How will the crowd receive him? Wilson and the Broncos are one of the key storylines of the season, and this matchup should be one of the year’s top Hard Feelings Bowl games.

Seth Walder, sports analytics writer: Bills at Rams, Week 1. Apologies for the predictable answer, but come on, what more could you want? It’s last year’s Super Bowl champions versus arguably the best team in the league. A win won’t heal the wound of the Bills’ missed opportunity in 2021, but it’d be a start.


Who or what is the biggest winner of the schedule release?

Barshop: The Dallas Cowboys. Dallas is tied with Washington for the easiest strength of schedule, and it appears to have a preferable end to its season. The Cowboys’ final five games are against the weak AFC South or a key divisional opponent.

Bowen: The Pittsburgh Steelers. Mike Tomlin’s team doesn’t leave the Eastern time zone all season. Anything that reduces travel time has to be looked at as a positive from a player’s perspective.

Fowler: The Washington Commanders. They open the season with Jacksonville and Detroit. They’ve got Houston and Atlanta back-to-back later in the year. And they play in the always-favorable NFC East. Time for coach Ron Rivera to produce his first winning season in Washington.

Graziano: The Los Angeles Chargers‘ social media team. If you haven’t yet seen their two-minute anime schedule release video, you really should go check it out. It includes a London shot at the Jaguars, a Waffle House shot at the Falcons, a QB carousel shot at the Colts, an “RIP Legion of Boom” shot at the Seahawks, a shot a the Broncos for Mile High Stadium catching on fire and multiple shots of an angry Brandon Staley going for it on fourth down. I mean, work went into this. Chargers social team, winners of the night for me.

Walder: The Buffalo Bills. Buffalo emerged from the schedule release with a plus-13-day net rest differential relative to its opponents, best in the league. The Bills face zero opponents off a bye. This is a small — but meaningful — factor in projecting the season! Honorable mention: the Lions, who have a plus-11-day differential.


Which Week 1 debut are you most interested in, and why?

Barshop: There was already a lot of intrigue about Wilson in Denver, but it doesn’t get much better than him debuting against his former team, especially in Seattle. The Broncos have been a quarterback away from contending for years, though the AFC West was not as strong as it is now. I’m excited to see if Wilson can hit the next level in an offense with serious pass-catching talent.

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Joe Buck and Troy Aikman break down the Week 1 Monday Night Football matchup between the Broncos and the Seahawks.

Bowen: Davante Adams‘ first game with the Raiders comes against the Chargers. Josh McDaniels versus Brandon Staley is an excellent coaching matchup, but we also get to see how the Raiders deploy Adams in the pass game. His ability to win from multiple alignments as a three-level target changes the dynamic of the Vegas offense.

Fowler: The Steelers get the AFC champion Bengals in Week 1, and I’m eager to see the Steelers’ post-Ben-Roethlisberger plan at quarterback. Pittsburgh always finds ways to win under Tomlin, but he also always got it done with Big Ben by his side. With that option now gone, let’s see how he reinvents the Steelers behind Mitch Trubisky, Kenny Pickett and/or Mason Rudolph.

Graziano: I’m interested in whether Deshaun Watson will actually play for the Browns in Week 1 or will be serving a suspension. If he’s playing, you could argue that no player in the league is under more pressure to perform than Watson is this season, given the circumstances surrounding his arrival in Cleveland and the mixed feelings the fanbase has about him being there.

Walder: I’m curious to see what Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel tries to make that offense work, and how he’ll mesh a deep-threat receiver like Tyreek Hill with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who attempted deep balls at one of the lowest rates in the league last season.


Which win total over or under do you feel best about picking right now?

Barshop: Lions under six wins. Detroit finished 29th in both offensive and defensive DVOA last season and brings back a similar roster in terms of talent — though a healthy Jeff Okudah and new draftee Aidan Hutchinson should help. With Jared Goff still under center, Detroit’s upside is very limited, leaving it destined for another low win total.

Bowen: Chargers over 10 wins. With Herbert under center and a defense that added some difference-makers this offseason, this team has the make-up of a true AFC contender.

Fowler: Seahawks over six wins. Sure, Wilson’s departure portends decline, but this is a proud franchise with nine straight winning seasons prior to last year. Save the quarterback position, the overall roster is shaping up to be better. Expect Seattle to grind out wins with a potent running game, an improved defense and enough flash plays from receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.

Graziano: Steelers over 7.5 wins. I don’t know who’s going to be playing quarterback, but I know they still have a good defense, and I know Mike Tomlin has won at least eight games in every season he has been a head coach.

Walder: 49ers under 10 wins. Are we just going to assume quarterback Trey Lance is good right away? I’m certainly not. It seems awfully hard to justify a 10-win total with a pure unknown (read: likely below-average) player at QB. Our Football Power Index isn’t out yet, but I have gotten a sneak peek at the numbers, and let me tell you: It agrees with the under. Of course there’s a chance Jimmy Garoppolo remains the starter and improves the Niners’ forecast, but you certainly can’t bank on that.


Call it now: Which late-season matchup will have playoff implications?

Barshop: Chargers at Broncos, Week 18. Last season, the final AFC playoff spot came down to the final game for the Chargers and Raiders, and it’s a good bet to pick another game from the competitive AFC West for the end of this season. Chargers vs. Broncos has the makings of a Week 18 Sunday Night Football matchup in a winner-or-go-home showdown.

Bowen: Eagles at Cowboys, Week 16. A Christmas Eve game in Dallas with the two best teams in the NFC East. I think this matchup plays a major role in deciding the division winner.

Fowler: Patriots at Bills, Week 18. That New England travels to Buffalo for the season finale feels fitting. New England returns to the scene where it threw the ball three times in gusting winds and still somehow controlled the game. Though last year’s Bills broke through with back-to-back wins over the Patriots (including playoffs), the Patriots have caused them problems over the years and could do the same here with playoff positioning on the line.

Graziano: Ravens at Bengals, Week 18. This could well be for the AFC North title, if the Bengals can deliver an encore and the Ravens can get everyone back healthy and make the run I expect them to make.

Walder: Chargers at Colts, Week 16. I like both of these teams this year, and if the season goes well for them, this could be a Monday Night Football game for seeding between two potential division winners. But if one or either stumble, it could easily be a fight for a playoff spot, too.


What’s your early Super Bowl pick?

Barshop: Rams over Bills. The first game of the season may not be the only time these two teams play. The Rams’ biggest competition in the NFC is the Packers. In the AFC, there are a lot of promising teams, but only two — the Bills and Chiefs — are proven in terms of contending every January. I’ll back Buffalo to take the next step this season.

Bowen: Bills over Packers. Adding edge rusher Von Miller changes the profile of the Buffalo defense. He can close out games. And with an explosive offense built around quarterback Josh Allen, this team is set up to make a Super Bowl run. Give me the Bills over Rodgers and the Packers.

Fowler: Packers over Chargers. First Joe Burrow, and now it’s Herbert’s turn to reach the big game. But watch for the Packers to reinvent themselves without Adams, with a potent running game and Rodgers taking more chances downfield. Green Bay is paying Rodgers $50 million per year to start getting this done.

Graziano: Bills over Packers. Rodgers finally gets back to the big game, but he can’t pull it out this time, as he runs into a Buffalo team whose time has come. There’s no roster in the league that looks better on paper than Buffalo’s, and the bitter playoff disappointments of the past two years should fuel the Bills to the top.

Walder: Chargers over Buccaneers. Herbert has already played at a top-three QB level in his young career, and Los Angeles made significant improvements to its lackluster defense. The Chargers will escape the AFC West gauntlet, and Herbert will outduel Brady in the Super Bowl.

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