2022 NFL schedule reactions, Drew Brees return and more

The 2022 NFL Schedule is finally here, and here are 10 quick reactions to the 272-game docket facing us once autumn arrives.

– Opening primetime slate was right decision

Smart Week 1 calls by Roger Goodell and friends.

Instead of waiting for the Seattle Seahawks to be 2-7 and then having Russell Wilson return, we’ll see Wilson and his Denver Broncos at Lumen Field in Week 1 on Monday night. This also allowed the league to have Denver visit the Los Angeles Rams on Christmas Day. Perfect.

Meanwhile, we get the Rams and Buffalo Bills to open the season. It’s the defending champs at home against the odds-on favorite to topple them. Should be great theatre on consecutive evenings to get things rolling.

– Chiefs face historic start

If the Kansas City Chiefs are to win their seventh straight AFC West crown, they’re going to earn it. As noted by Elias Sports Bureau, the Chiefs play their first eight games against teams who had winning records the year prior, something never seen before.

Still, Kansas City is an early favorite in six of those games, including all of it road trips. The Chiefs will also have a pair of primetime tilts against division foes in that stretch, with the Los Angeles Chargers (TNF, Week 2) and Las Vegas Raiders (MNF, Week 5) coming to Arrowhead Stadium. The following week? The Buffalo Bills return to the scene of last year’s classic. A huge test.

– Please, enough with the Bears

Who asked for the Chicago Bears to have three primetime games in the season’s first seven weeks? Yes, Chicago is a big market, but market size means little in the NFL. It’s about putting on the best games, and the best quarterbacks.

Justin Fields might prove great, but he’s surrounded by nothing. Chicago and the Washington Commanders in Week 6 is a snoozefest, and only 11 days later, it’s the Bears visiting Mac Jones and the New England Patriots. Why?

– Buccaneers being tasked with tall order for starters

We talked about the Chiefs having a rough beginning to their season, but don’t overlook the Bucs’ slate. Tampa Bay begins with consecutive road games against the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints, before coming for the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City.

This could all be without receiver Chris Godwin, who is recovering from a torn ACL suffered against the Saints in December. Tampa Bay has the cushion of a presumably bad division, but don’t be shocked if Tom Brady and Co. are a little slow out of the gate.

– Bengals will rack up frequent flyer miles early on

With the AFC having the short end of the unbalance schedule this year, its teams will have nine road games. The Cincinnati Bengals will be through with four of them after Week 6, which includes a stretch a quartet of trips in five weeks.

Starting in Week 2, Cincinnati visits the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets, comes home for the Miami Dolphins on a Thursday night, and then goes to face the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints in their respective haunts. Early tests for a young, rising team.

– Dolphins have NFL’s worst road trip

The Miami Dolphins are blessed at times for their geography, landing free agents and enjoying the sun. But when it comes to road trips, it can be a curse.

From Weeks 13-15, the Dolphins make consecutive cross-country jaunts, taking on the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers. In the third week, it’s off the Buffalo for a Dec. 18 date with the Bills in frigid Buffalo.

Only the Dolphins, Eagles, Packers and Chiefs have three-game trips, but Miami’s is easily the toughest.

– Browns face a gauntlet starting at midseason

Unlike their interstate foes in Cincinnati, the Cleveland Browns will largely sleep in their own beds come September and October. They better enjoy it.

Starting in Week 10 after their bye week, the Browns play six road games in nine weeks, including trips to Buffalo, Miami, Houston, Cincinnati, Washington and Pittsburgh. The three home dates are no picnic, with the Buccaneers, Saints and Ravens coming to town.

If Deshaun Watson gets suspended early, Cleveland will have an impossible time climbing out of a poor start.

– The Immaculate Reception, 50 years later

The NFL got this one right, unless you’re a Raiders fan.

The Pittsburgh Steelers welcome the Silver and Black into Heinz Field on the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, when Franco Harris ripped out hearts across the East Bay during his catch-and-carry in the 1972 AFC Divisional round.

Also, this falls on Christmas Eve, which kicks off the best regular-season weekend of the year. The NFL is going all-out with Christmas on a Sunday, putting a triple-header on the holiday.

– 49ers schedule has some sweet home-cooking

In Weeks 5 and 6, the San Francisco 49ers will come to the East Coast for games with the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons. After that? Not a single plane ride outside the Pacific Time Zone.

San Francisco is loaded with home games down the stretch and from Weeks 9-14, doesn’t play a single true road game. The span begins with a bye week and includes four games, with only a neutral-site Monday night game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 11 in Mexico.

– Patriots snag four consecutive primetime games

If you’re sick of the Patriots, we have really bad news for you. Beginning in Week 12, New England will be under the lights an incredible four straight times, including a Thanksgiving special against the Minnesota Vikings.

After its Thanksgiving showcase, New England hosts the Bills on a Thursday night before playing the Cardinals on Monday night in Week 14, and finishing up the Sunday slate the following week against the Raiders.

Power rankings

Top 10 strength-of-schedule slates in 2022

1. Los Angeles Rams (.567)
2. Arizona Cardinals (.543)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (.536)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (.535)
5. Kansas City Chiefs (.533)
6. San Francisco 49ers (.533)
7. Las Vegas Raiders (.528)
8. New Orleans Saints (.528)
9. Atlanta Falcons (.524)
10. Los Angeles Chargers (.519)

Quotable

“Instead of taking the early bye, we thought it might be best — in the best interest of our football team — to kick that down the road. We were fortunate to have that game sandwiched with a home game versus New England and then coming back versus the Jets.”

– Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur on his team’s Week 14 bye

Typically, teams going overseas get a bye immediately afterwards. However, the Packers will wait two months, getting it in December. While that could pose issues over the first dozen weeks, Green Bay will have a chance to rest up and get healthy for what might be a postseason drive.

If you’re keeping an eye on the Packers, consider their health early. Some bad breaks could be a real problem for those in Titletown.

Podcast

Random stat

The Seattle Seahawks (29,446) have the most miles to travel this year, while the Pittsburgh Steelers (6,442) have the fewest. Incredibly, the Seahawks will pass through 38 time zones, while Pittsburgh never leaves Eastern Standard Time.

Info learned this week

1. Drew Brees mulling return? Don’t bet on it

The NFL has been wild this offseason. Why not bring back Drew Brees at 43 years old?

On Sunday night, Brees stirred social media with the news he wasn’t sure about his future, noting he might play football again. This coming concurrently with the story of his parting ways with NBC after one year as an analyst.

Brees was last seen leaving the Superdome field after a loss to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in the 2020 NFC Divisionals. Although a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, Brees looked his age at the time, missing four games and struggling to throw the ball with any velocity come December and January.

In case you’re wondering, Brees still counts $11.5 million against the Saints’ salary cap this season, due to the voidable years on his final pact. This is almost three times the cap hit of Jameis Winston, who is due $4 million.

Ultimately, Brees’ commentary might be part-fantasy, part-truth, but it’s hard to see New Orleans and its all-time franchise player having a reunion.

2. Lambo suing Jaguars over Urban Meyer’s actions

Urban Meyer cost the Jacksonville Jaguars both millions of dollars and disgrace. He may not be done yet.

On Tuesday, former Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo filed a lawsuit against the franchise, seeking damages for what is being termed a hostile work environment under Meyer in 2021. Of course, Lambo’s allegation of Meyer kicking him during practice was the final dagger in perhaps the most pathetic NFL head-coaching career in history, with Meyer fired within 24 hours of the stay breaking.

While Lambo did receiver his entire $3.5 million salary last year, he was scheduled to make $4 million this season before being released.

For team owner Shad Khan, the lesson is overwhelming. The Jaguars hired Meyer because he was a local hero, having deliver two national championships to Gainesville — a tidy hour-long drive from Jacksonville — when at the University of Florida. The Jaguars also signed tight end Tim Tebow to the 90-man roster before cutting him in August, further trying to cash in on nostalgia.

Jacksonville has since made wise moves, firing Meyer and replacing him with a Super Bowl-winning head coach in Doug Pederson. There’s a long road ahead, but at least the Jaguars are going in the correct direction.

3. Ingram brings intriguing pass-rush potential to Dolphins

On Sunday, the Dolphins brought another piece in by signing edge rusher Melvin Ingram.

Miami brought the 33-year-old veteran in for a one-year deal, taking him from Kansas City, who will get a compensatory pick after placing the UFA tag on him earlier this month.

Ingram hasn’t been incredibly productive in recent seasons, notching only two sacks across the past two years. However, he consistently brought pressure for the Chiefs after they acquired him from the Steelers at midseason in 2021, giving hope he can raise his sack numbers again.

In Miami, Ingram will be playing an important role. Outside of Emmanuel Ogbah, the Dolphins have little in the way of proven pass rush. If the veteran can find his old form, it’s a great value singing. And if not, it’s a shot worth taking for general manager Chris Grier.

4. Raiders should be all-in on remaining defensive free agents

If the Las Vegas Raiders are going to truly challenge in the AFC West, they need major defensive upgrades.

While the Raiders brought in star receiver Davante Adams, it’s not the offense worth worrying about in Sin City. Yes, Chandler Jones was signed to a three-year deal, but Yannick Ngakoue was shipped out to make room. And while Jones — and the acquisition of corner Rock Ya-Sin — is a clear upgrade over Ngakoue, the Raiders have nowhere near enough.

With corner James Bradberry and edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney still on the market, Las Vegas should be aggressive in landing both. Clowney has been oft-injured but also effective against the run and pass throughout his career. He’d make a great rotational player in subpackages. Meanwhile, Bradberry would clearly be the top corner in a room with Ya-Sin and Trayvon Mullen as the other options.

Consider the following: most fans couldn’t name anybody on the Raiders’ defense save Jones and Maxx Crosby. That’s not going to work in a division with Russell Wilson, Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes, and all the weapons at that trio’s disposal.

5. Quick poll for Stacking The Box

Alright, this isn’t something learned this week, but I’ve been meaning to do this.

Stacking The Box is approaching its four-year anniversary, and it’s always good to hear from the reader. You all have been incredibly supportive over the years, but I’ve also enjoyed the constructive criticism in the comments along the way. You aren’t just an audience, you speak your minds and that helps give me an idea of what is wanted. Still, I want to ask directly.

In that vein, what do you enjoy about the column, and what would you like to see more or less of?

I’ll take the answers and attempt to make an adjustment or two if need be as we head into the summer.

Two cents

Amazon is paying $1 billion annually for the exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football. It will certainly be worth it in subscriber costs and advertising revenue, but will it stay with the tech behemoth for awhile?

Since Thursday Night Football became a regular package in 2007, it has jumped around from NFL Network to CBS Sports, to FOX Sports and now to Amazon. While short-term contracts and evolving elements to the show are some reasons for its vagabond existence, the league isn’t helping by mandating every team plays one game per year on Thursday night.

However, it’s a tough situation. The NFL wants to put great games on primetime without sacrificing its main, Sunday slate. Yet for fairness and health, the best teams and their players can’t perform for three Thursday games while other clubs enjoy full rest.

Ultimately, if the NFL is committed to Thursday — and it clearly is — then having each team play on the short week is the best for competitive balance. Yet sitting through Jaguars-Jets in Week 16, or Falcons-Panthers in Week 10 will be rough. Of course, everyone will still do it, and the commentary team of Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit will help those nights along tremendously.

For the first time, the NFL is exclusively putting games on a streaming service. Amazon and the NFL are betting people will pay for the subscription. Frankly: smart bet.

Inside the league

Malik Willis, Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans are handling things right.

A few weeks ago, Tannehill made news (which we wrote extensively on) when saying he wasn’t going to mentor the rookie quarterback in Willis, not seeing it as his job. Frankly, Tannehill was correct, if not surprisingly honest.

This weekend, the Titans held their rookie minicamp and Willis was asked about Tannehill’s comments. The former Liberty star was candid, saying he took no issue, and has even since been to Tannehill’s house to talk football.

For Tennessee, none of this presents a problem. Tannehill is trying to forget a horrid playoff performance, Willis is getting a redshirt year as a rookie to improve and acclimate, and the Titans stand to benefit from both situations should they play out well.

History lesson

A quick remembrance for Gino Cappelletti, who passed away Thursday at 89 years old.

If you’re not familiar with Cappelletti, you should know he’s one of the American Football League’s all-time greats. Both a receiver and placekicker, Cappelletti holds the AFL mark for points (1,100) and was the league’s MVP in 1964, helping the Boston Patriots to the championship game against the San Diego Chargers.

A five-time AFL All-Star, Cappelletti was a mainstay in New England both during and after his playing days, serving as a radio voice of the team for 32 campaigns.

The 11-year Patriots star was a key contributor in his era, helping a fledgling league take hold and eventually merge with the NFL.

While many gridiron greats have played in New England over the years, Cappelletti will always be its first, and one of its most important.

Parting shot

For the fifth-straight year, I lost my mind. On Thursday night, I presented my picks for all 272 regular-season games, and then went through the playoffs and gave my Super Bowl LVII prediction.

Spoiler alert: I have the Buffalo Bills winning it all for the first time in franchise history.

Last year, the Bills were undone by the 13 Seconds game in Kansas City. Had they held on, it would have meant being favored in the AFC title game at home. This offseason, Buffalo lost little and added edge rusher Von Miller to bolster a defense which ranked No. 1 last season in yards allowed.

Additionally, Buffalo has a weak division compared to the AFC North and West. The Bills have an inside track in the loaded AFC.

Yet even with my belief win Buffalo, there are clear pitfalls. Stefon Diggs must stay healthy, because nobody behind him is a proven top-end receiver. If the 33-year-old Miller regresses — and he hasn’t posted double-digit sacks since 2018 — Buffalo doesn’t have a great pass-rush.

Still, everybody has flaws, and to these eyes, Buffalo has the fewest.