The 2021-22 NFL season is officially halfway complete, with nine out of eighteen weeks complete in the league’s first 17-game season. How will the season’s second half play out? Which […]
The 2021-22 NFL season is officially halfway complete, with nine out of eighteen weeks complete in the league’s first 17-game season. How will the season’s second half play out? Which teams will make a strong push to the finish, and which ones will falter and fall short of their playoff aspirations?
To project the league’s final standings, I used PlayoffPredictors.com to pick winners for every game over the season’s final nine weeks. Some of the ensuing results surprised me, as I may have came up with a different playoff field if I simply picked which teams I found most deserving, but this method is a realistic way to take team’s varying schedules into account to project a playoff field.
Can Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals hold on to the best record in the NFL? Can the Tennessee Titans maintain an elite record despite the loss of Derrick Henry? If the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons can’t hold on the playoff spots they currently posses, who will step up in the NFC? Will Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs bounce back in the second half, or could they miss the playoffs entirely?
Finally, what is the most likely Super Bowl 56 matchup at this time?
Read on for all the answers and more, and if you’d like to debate or discuss any predictions, join the conversation with @SakSports on Twitter.
- Buffalo Bills (5-3, 4th seed in the AFC)
- New England Patriots (5-4, 7th seed in the AFC)
- New York Jets (2-6)
- Miami Dolphins (2-7)
Projected Final Standings
- Buffalo Bills (12-5, 3rd seed in the AFC)
- New England Patriots (9-8)
- New York Jets (6-11)
- Miami Dolphins (2-15)
The AFC East race is currently tight after the Buffalo Bills lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 9, and the New England Patriots are just half a game behind the current division leaders. However, New England faces a tougher schedule down the stretch, splitting their final eight games with a 4-4 record. This gives the Patriots a 9-8 record, just one game behind an AFC wildcard spot. Mac Jones and the Patriots could definitely be a playoff team if they could pick up a couple extra ones, and if they can beat the Bills, they could even create pressure to challenge for the division crown.
The New York Jets finish strong in my projection, winning four of their final nine games. I couldn’t find any games left on the schedule where I would willingly pick the Miami Dolphins to win, but realistically they will probably win a game or two in the season’s second half.
See Also: Preseason AFC East Predictions
- Baltimore Ravens (6-2, 2nd seed in the AFC)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3, 6th seed in the AFC)
- Cleveland Browns (5-4)
- Cincinnati Bengals (5-4)
Projected Final Standings
- Baltimore Ravens (14-3, 2nd seed in the AFC)
- Cleveland Browns (9-8, 7th seed in the AFC)
- Cincinnati Bengals (9-8)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (7-10)
The AFC North race is tight, and its outcome will depend largely on head-to-head matchups between the four teams. The Baltimore Ravens aren’t an invincible team, with some close calls this year despite a 6-2 record, but I found it hard to pick against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in most instances. Baltimore might finish lose more than one game over the next nine weeks, but unless they really drop the ball in divisional matchups, they should be able to come away with the AFC North crown.
The Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, and Pittsburgh Steelers are all close in talent level and will each have a chance to make the playoffs this season. In my projections, the Browns edge out the Bengals for the final wildcard spot in the conference: but that could easily change with just one additional Cincinnati win, especially over Cleveland. Joe Burrow and the Bengals looked like a sure-fire playoff team a couple weeks ago, but after coming back down to Earth, the Bengals will need to regroup in order to finish strong.
At 5-3, riding on the tails of a four-game win streak, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers will have every chance to make the playoffs. But after a soft matchup with the Lions next week, Pittsburgh faces a brutal schedule to close out the season, with every AFC North matchup set to be a battle, as well as dates with the Chargers, Titans, Chiefs, and Vikings. On paper, I only chalked up two more wins this season for Pittsburgh, but they’re completely in control of their own destiny. If Pittsburgh can finish with nine or ten wins, and especially if they can beat their division foes in head-to-head matchups, the Steelers will have a clear shot to the postseason.
See Also: Preseason AFC North Predictions
- Tennessee Titans (7-2, 1st seed in the AFC)
- Indianapolis Colts (4-5)
- Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6)
- Houston Texans (1-8)
Projected Final Standings
- Tennessee Titans (14-3, 1st seed in the AFC)
- Indianapolis Colts (8-9)
- Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14)
- Houston Texans (1-16)
Going 7-1 down the stretch may seem like lofty expectations for the Tennessee Titans without Derrick Henry, but with a soft schedule, it’s entirely possible for Tennessee to maintain the best record in the AFC. Matchups with the Seahawks, Cardinals, Bills, Rams, and Colts are all in the rear view mirror now, with four of Tennessee’s final eight games coming against the hapless Jaguars, Texans, and Dolphins. If the Titans can go 3-1 in four games against the Saints, Patriots, Steelers, and 49ers, they can hit the 14-3 record I had predicted for them when the season began.
Carson Wentz and the Indianapolis Colts are probably better than their 4-5 record suggests, with some close losses to good teams so far. While I have the Colts going 5-4 over the rest of the season, it won’t be enough to sneak into the playoffs.
The Jacksonville Jaguars did upset the Bills in Week 9, but on paper, the only time I can pick them for the rest of the season is against the Houston Texans, who I didn’t project to win another game this year.
See Also: Preseason AFC South Predictions
- Los Angeles Chargers (5-3, 3rd seed in the AFC)
- Las Vegas Raiders (5-3, 5th seed in the AFC)
- Kansas City Chiefs (5-4)
- Denver Broncos (5-4)
Projected Final Standings
- Kansas City Chiefs (11-6, 4th seed in the AFC)
- Las Vegas Raiders (11-6, 5th seed in the AFC)
- Los Angeles Chargers (10-7, 6th seed in the AFC)
- Denver Broncos (7-10)
The AFC West is a much tighter division than I had imagined, and could send two or three teams to the postseason this year. Don’t call me a prophet, but I did see the Kansas City Chiefs taking a step back this season… but even so, they’re even underperforming those expectations. If the season ended today, the Chiefs would miss the playoffs for the first time in the Patrick Mahomes-era. Still, when picking Kansas City’s games for the rest of the season, I only found two apparent losses: to the Cowboys and one of their matchups with the Raiders. Kansas City has most of their tougher matchups behind them, and as long as they take care of the majority of their five remaining AFC West matchups, they should be able to claw their way back to the top of the division.
I would have loved to give the Las Vegas Raiders or Los Angeles Chargers a chance to top the AFC West, but they both have flaws that are starting to show around midseason. When the season began, I liked the Chargers to finish second in the division, but currently, its Derek Carr and the Raiders that have the best chance to challenge for first place. If the Raiders win one or both of their upcoming matchups with the Chiefs, Las Vegas would be in the driver’s seat to win the AFC West.
Teddy Bridgewater and the Denver Broncos have a nice squad, but finish 2-6 down the stretch and 0-6 in divisional play on the year. Obviously, winning AFC West matchups could change Denver’s fortunes, but I see them as a step behind the top three teams in the division.
See Also: Preseason AFC West Predictions
- Dallas Cowboys (6-2, 4th seed in the NFC)
- Philadelphia Eagles (3-6)
- New York Giants (3-6)
- Washington Football Team (2-6)
Projected Final Standings
- Dallas Cowboys (14-3, 3rd seed in the NFC)
- Philadelphia Eagles (8-9, 6th seed in the NFC)
- New York Giants (6-11)
- Washington Football Team (2-14)
The Dallas Cowboys may be coming off an embarrassing, head-scratching 30-16 loss to the Broncos, but over their final nine games, I still see them as the favorite in nearly every matchup. Dallas picks up some easy wins against the Falcons, Winston-less Saints, Giants, and Washington Football Team, and I’ve also picked them to down the Raiders, Chiefs, and Eagles in the regular season-finale. The only game I have Dallas losing is against the elite Cardinals in Week 17. Dallas could drop a couple games and still be fine to win the NFC East, but they still need to play for seeding in the NFC, especially after last week’s unfortunate loss.
I didn’t expect the Philadelphia Eagles to make a playoff push, but based on my projections, they qualify as an 8-9 wildcard team. Philadelphia is 1-3 over their last four games, but exceeded expectations in close losses to the Chargers and Buccaneers. With a tissue-soft slate of opponents to finish out the season (including five straight games against the Giants, Jets, and Washington Football Team,) Jalen Hurts and the Eagles have a chance to finish strong. Making the playoffs at 8-9 would be a result of the NFC’s top teams having elite records and the conference’s worst teams having abysmal records, giving the 8-9 Eagles a chance to squeeze in to the postseason.
Daniel Jones and the New York Giants could also technically fulfill that role, currently holding the same 3-6 record as Philadelphia. The Giants can play some good football, but can’t find consistency and often lack the ability to close out winnable games against inferior opponents.
Washington Football Team may win another game or two before the season is over, but there were no situations where I would pick them outright to win a game.
See Also: Preseason NFC East Predictions
- Green Bay Packers (7-2, 2nd seed in the NFC)
- Minnesota Vikings (3-5)
- Chicago Bears (3-6)
- Detroit Lions (0-8)
Projected Final Standings
- Green Bay Packers (13-4, 4th seed in the NFC)
- Minnesota Vikings (8-9, 7th seed in the NFC)
- Chicago Bears (6-11)
- Detroit Lions (1-16)
Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers have a significant lead in the NFC North, and will look to close out the season strong and finish with a top seed in the conference. But even with a solid 6-2 finish resulting in a 13-4 record (including a perfect 6-0 in divisional play,) the Packers find themselves as the fourth-best division winner in the conference. Specifically, I have the Packers losing tough games against the Rams and Ravens, but overcoming the Seahawks, Browns, and two matchups against the Vikings.
However, if the Minnesota Vikings could sweep those two matchups against the Packers, there could potentially be a two-team race to the finish. Kirk Cousins and the Vikings have a 3-5 record so far, and while there’s no compensation for losing close games, all five of the Vikings losses have come in single-score fashion to playoff or near-playoff-caliber teams. Minnesota is better than their record suggests, and I see them closing out the season with a 5-4 mark over the final nine games, with room to do even better. In this scenario, an 8-9 record is enough to sneak into the playoffs, but if the Vikings can tally nine or ten wins, they’ll be a shoo-in for the postseason.
The Chicago Bears aren’t a terrible team, but Justin Fields and company have squandered multiple chances to stay in the playoff hunt, losing four straight after a 3-2 start. Jared Goff and the Detroit Lions will have nine more chances to avoid a winless season, and I have them stealing one win against the Broncos. If not Denver, then Atlanta and Chicago are Detroit’s best opportunities to win a game this season.
See Also: Preseason NFC North Predictions
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2, 3rd seed in the NFC)
- New Orleans Saints (5-3, 6th seed in the NFC)
- Atlanta Falcons (4-4, 7th seed in the NFC)
- Carolina Panthers (4-5)
Projected Final Standings
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (15-2, 2nd seed in the NFC)
- Atlanta Falcons (8-9)
- New Orleans Saints (8-9)
- Carolina Panthers (5-11)
If the season ended today, the NFC South would send three teams to the playoffs, with the Carolina Panthers being the first team out in the NFC. I wouldn’t have guessed the teams in this division would be so competitive coming into the season, but unfortunately, by the season’s end the NFC South might just have one playoff-worthy team.
Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the class of the division with a 6-2 record. On paper, Tampa Bay doesn’t have any apparent losses for the rest of the season. Games against the Giants, Washington, and Jets should come easy, and matchups with the Colts, Falcons, Saints, and Panthers are certainly winnable as well. The only team that might make the Buccaneers sweat is the Bills in Week 14, but in my pick selections, the Buccaneers run the table to a 15-2 record.
The New Orleans Saints were primed to not only make the playoffs, but perhaps even challenge Tampa Bay for the NFC South crown after handing the Buccaneers their second loss of the season last week. However, with Jameis Winston out for the season and Michael Thomas not expected to return to the field, I’m afraid this Saints team will fade down the stretch. There’s still tons of talent on the roster, so if Trevor Siemian can outperform the 3-6 record I have them finishing the season with, the Saints will still have a shot at the playoffs.
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons have made an unlikely accession from 0-2 to 4-4 and would be the NFC seventh seed if the season ended today, but have benefited mainly from beating up on bad teams. I have Atlanta staying semi-competitive with a 4-5 record over their final nine games, but it won’t be quite enough to make the playoffs.
The Carolina Panthers once looked like a playoff team with a 3-0 start to the Sam Darnold era, but have lost five of their last six games. I have Carolina winning just one more game all season: though realistically, they’ll have a couple chances over the next few weeks (Washington, Miami, Buffalo) before a brutal final month that includes the Bills and two dates with the Buccaneers.
See Also: Preseason NFC South Predictions
- Arizona Cardinals (8-1, 1st seed in the NFC)
- Los Angeles Rams (7-2, 5th seed in the NFC)
- Seattle Seahawks (3-5)
- San Francisco 49ers (3-5)
Projected Final Standings
- Arizona Cardinals (15-2, 1st seed in the NFC)
- Los Angeles Rams (14-3, 5th seed in the NFC)
- Seattle Seahawks (8-9)
- San Francisco 49ers (7-10)
Coming into the season, if any division was going to send three or even four teams to the playoffs, I would have bet it would be the NFC West. But with the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers struggling in the season’s first half, it looks like the NFC West will only have two teams of note: the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams.
The Cardinals and Rams are not only the best teams in the division, but two of the top teams in all of football. Kyler Murray is an MVP frontrunner, and even after the Packers were able to hand Arizona their first loss of the season after a 7-0 start, the Cardinals are still in the driver’s seat to win the NFC. The only game I have the Cardinals losing the rest of the season is a rematch with the Rams in Week 14. Arizona won their first meeting handily, but the Cardinals aren’t a perfect team, so a 16-1 finish would have felt a little cheeky.
If the Rams do indeed win that game, they’ll have a fighting chance to win the division, although they would need to make up another game somewhere in the schedule. The only loss I have on Los Angeles’ schedule is a Week 17 matchup with the Ravens, but a Week 12 game in Green Bay will be challenging as well.
I have the Seahawks clawing their way up the standings with a 6-4 finish after Russell Wilson returns this week, which actually ties them for the final wildcard spot in the conference. If Seattle can finish 9-8 or better, they would have a much better shot at making the playoffs. Similarly, the 49ers aren’t eliminated by any means, but they haven’t given me enough reason to believe they’ll finish with a winning record after a 3-5 start.
See Also: Preseason NFC West Predictions
Super Bowl 56 Matchup
Preseason Pick: Buffalo Bills over Green Bay Packers
Midseason Pick: Arizona Cardinals over Baltimore Ravens
Ahead of the start of the 2021-22 NFL season, I picked Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills to edge out Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in a tight Super Bowl 56 matchup. If I had to stand by this pick today, it wouldn’t be the worst prediction, as Buffalo and Green Bay both top their divisions and look like locks to make the playoffs.
But a 9-6 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, of all teams, dropped the Bills to 5-3, with Buffalo also losing to Pittsburgh and Tennessee. Buffalo has looked incredible in their five wins, including one over the Chiefs, but for the large part have mostly benefited from beating up on weaker competition. Against the Titans, Ravens, and whoever comes out of the AFC West, I’m no longer confident picking Buffalo to have a winning run in the AFC playoffs.
The Packers are 7-2, and 7-1 with Aaron Rodgers under center, and have been much less disappointing than the Bills. Still, even with an elite record, the Packers aren’t the clear-cut best team in a loaded NFC. The Cardinals, Rams, and Buccaneers all have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, and could each give Green Bay a run for their money in the postseason.
Green Bay did beat Arizona in Week 8 to end their undefeated 7-0 start, but with how close the game was and with the mistakes the Cardinals made, I think Arizona would fare well in a rematch. Kyler Murray and the Cardinals have already beaten the Rams, and could theoretically outscore Brady and the Buccaneers in a playoff shootout.
There’s no clear favorite in the AFC, with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs continuing to not look like a Super Bowl team, and the Bills and Browns, hot preseason picks to reach Super Bowl 56, also underperforming expectations. The 7-2 Tennessee Titans have a chance to step up to the plate, but I can’t confidently pick a team missing its best player.
That leaves Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens as a realistic contender to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 56. Baltimore is 6-2, possessing a strong offense and solid defense, as well as a couple years of playoff experience under Jackson. This year, Baltimore could finally break through to an AFC Championship Game and even the Super Bowl.
A matchup between the Cardinals and Ravens would be refreshing and thrilling, with two of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the game going head-to-head. Anything would be possible, but on paper, the Cardinals have been more dominant on both offense and defense, and are my current pick to win Super Bowl 56.
Super Bowl 56 Prediction: Arizona Cardinals over Baltimore Ravens 33-26
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