The 2022 NFL season is less than two weeks away, and the team at BeerLife Sports is gearing up to help you make money. In this article, The Professor will look at season-long outlooks for the AFC and NFC East alongside the Division Odds and Win Totals available on DraftKings. The Professor’s previews for the remaining AFC/NFC West, North, and South are available on BeerLife Sports.
Remember, if you haven’t signed up to get the Oracle’s picks this season, be sure to sign up today! The Oracle hammered the NFL in 2021 (Up +65 units), so you’ll want to get his picks texted directly to your phone starting Week 1!
Please note that The Professor’s model produces two key numbers to consider: Games Favored and Model Expected Wins, which is based on the Pythagorean Expectation for each team’s projected points for and points against. This helps to pull down some extremes and is a reminder that a team favored to win all seventeen games is not projected to go undefeated.
AFC East Outlook
|Team||PF||PA||Favored||Model Expected Wins||DK Win Total||DK Division Odds|
If any questions remained about Buffalo’s status as the AFC East juggernaut, they were answered in emphatic fashion in their 47-17 beatdown of the New England Patriots on Super Wild Card weekend. In a division with three quarterbacks on the low end of the athleticism scale, the gap between Bills quarterback Josh Allen and the rest of the pack is as wide as any in the NFL. Buffalo is swapping out some weapons on offense, but the tandem of Gabriel Davis and Isaiah McKenzie has the potential to add even more juice to the receiver rotation behind Stefon Diggs. What’s scary for the rest of the division is that Buffalo’s defense has a chance to be vastly improved in 2022.
While the Bills finished first in certain defensive metrics in 2021, there’s an argument that was largely a function of the offenses they faced. That argument should fall apart in 2022, because the addition of defensive end Von Miller gives Buffalo’s deep defensive line rotation the game-breaker they need to get to the next level. 2021 first-rounder Greg Rousseau stands out among the three young, highly-drafted defensive ends who could benefit from Miller’s mentorship; Rousseau was already throwing some slick hand combat moves during his rookie season, and Miller’s guidance should only accelerate his development.
New England is another team hoping for a second-year jump from a former first-rounder, as quarterback Mac Jones needs to build on what he did down the stretch for the Patriots to have a shot in the loaded AFC. His main area for improvement was in the weight room; if Jones added strength and explosiveness to his body, it could make all the difference on plays like the deep ball Bills safety Micah Hyde intercepted at the end of the first drive in that playoff blowout. A 10% improvement in arm strength would go a long way in improving Jones’s ability to push the ball downfield.
Of course, there is concern that the shifts in offensive coaching and scheme in New England could undermine whatever individual progress Jones has made. The talent concerns extend to the defensive side; New England shed difference-makers in the offseason when they traded guard Shaq Mason and allowed cornerback J.C. Jackson to sign with the Chargers, leaving questions about how good this roster is around Jones.
On the surface, that’s not as much of a concern in Miami, where the trade for receiver Tyreek Hill gives the Dolphins two exceptionally dynamic pass-catchers between Hill and Jaylen Waddle. However, if reports that receiver/tight end Mike Gesicki hasn’t found a fit in new head coach Mike McDaniel’s offense are accurate, it decreases the effective talent level of this group and also robs Miami of the big body they appeared to have to complement the Hill/Waddle tandem.
That’s troubling, because quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s play in 2021 did not suggest that he was one receiver away from success, even if that receiver were Calvin Johnson or Randy Moss. Tagovailoa did hit Hill deep in the third preseason game, but the fact that Tagovailoa had a clean launch pad off deep play-action, threw out of a full crow-hop, and still didn’t get the ball deep enough for Hill to run for the score spoke to his limitations. Hill got behind the safety in center field, which never should have happened and speaks to his absurd abilities, but the Dolphins want him catching that and outrunning the safety for a score, not slowing down to go over the top for a contested catch against the safety he had a step on.
If the defense can hold up without Byron Jones across from Xavien Howard at cornerback, perhaps the Dolphins exceed these expectations, but I’m not betting on it. Jones will open the season on the PUP list, and it will be interesting to see whether Miami sticks to their favored “show blitz” fronts with Cover 0 or 1 behind it, as that depends heavily on Howard and Jones holding up in man-to-man on the outside.
The Jets are another team waiting on a contributor to return, though head coach Robert Saleh might be tempted to simply put quarterback Zach Wilson on injured reserve, ostensibly to “protect his long-term health.” The reality is that Wilson is going to get everyone fired with his dismal play, and Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas are probably better off rolling with Joe Flacco in an effort to get to 6-11 and perhaps convince the owner they could win with a legitimate quarterback.
Granted, there are still those who are pointing to Wilson going second overall in last year’s draft and raving about his “exceptional” arm talent, but that seems to speak more to the fact that they haven’t watched Josh Allen throw the ball than a particularly nuanced ability to evaluate arm talent. If Flacco is at quarterback, perhaps the defense comes along and the Jets push for six or seven wins, but outside of creating more Johnny Manziel vibes, I wouldn’t expect much out of a Zach Wilson-led team.
The Professor’s Favorite AFC East Plays
Buffalo’s over 11.5 on DraftKings is priced at -140, so I’ll pass, though I would play the over given that the model has the Bills favored from wire-to-wire. Nor is this a departure from the norm; DraftKings currently has the Bills as 2.5-point favorites on the road against the defending champion Rams, and has them as an early 1.5-point favorite for their Week 6 trip to Kansas City.
For the second straight year, the model has the Patriots and Dolphins tightly clustered at a game or so below .500. The win total for the Dolphins is 9, and while the Dolphins probably added more around Tua Tagovailoa than the Patriots did Mac Jones, Jones’s rookie season gave me more hope for his future than Tagovailoa’s. With the win total a half-game higher for Miami, I’ll play the under at -120.
There was some room to bet against the Jets, particularly in their Week 1 matchup with Baltimore, before Zach Wilson took the field in the preseason, but that opportunity evaporated in short order. If Wilson was guaranteed to start 17 games, the under 5.5 would be more attractive, but Joe Flacco is still competent enough to scratch out a win here and there in the (almost) always competitive NFL.
Premium Picks: None
Solid Value: MIA under 9, -120
Reasonable Long Shots: None
|Team||PF||PA||Favored||Model Expected Wins||DK Win Total||DK Division Odds|
It worked out well that the NFC East was the last division on the list, because Tuesday’s news that the Eagles acquired safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson from the Saints, coupled with Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith’s devastating hamstring injury, broke the tie on what the model had pegged as a dead-even race entering the season.
Gardner-Johnson has primarily operated as the slot cornerback in his three seasons with the Saints and has arguably been the most physical presence in the NFL at the position while offering legit cover skills that would allow him to survive on the outside if needed. While he hasn’t played deep safety much, the impression I had of him when he lined up there as a rookie was that the last thing NFL receivers needed was for the instinctive CGJ to have more time to process the play and roll downhill as in-breakers came over the middle.
The fact that the Eagles got such a talented player to fill a notable hole in their defense, particularly at the modest price of two late-round picks, was the stunner of cutdown day. The move puts even more on quarterback Jalen Hurts’s shoulders; with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith at receiver, Dallas Goedert at tight end, and the most talented offensive line in the NFL, this Eagles team will contend in the NFC if Hurts has taken a step forward as a pocket passer, and be a coveted 2023 destination for quarterbacks if he does not.
The Smith injury in Dallas helps clear the field for Philly; with a talented quarterback like Dak Prescott, the Cowboys will still be in the NFC mix, but there will have to be some unexpected developments for this roster to look as good as it did in 2021. They were better equipped to sustain a loss at tackle last season, but now the Cowboys are forced to move first-round pick Tyler Smith out to tackle after he spent training camp at guard, or to play former fourth-round pick Josh Ball, who hasn’t shown he’s ready. Throw in the trade of receiver Amari Cooper, and Prescott will have his work cut out for him to build on last season.
Similarly, the defense faces an uphill battle to maintain last year’s results after they led the NFL in takeaways, something that almost never happens year-over-year. Dallas still has Defensive Player of the Year Candidate Micah Parsons, but one player doesn’t make a defense, and there are enough positions of concern to expect a step back when the Cowboys’ turnovers inevitably dry up.
One thing that could help Dallas’s turnover margin is that they get two games against quarterback Carson Wentz and Washington. Wentz is likely to continue to have turnover issues in Washington, but receivers Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson should benefit from his ability to get the ball down the field, an area where Washington struggled last season.
Of course, that wasn’t the only area where Washington struggled year, and it will be interesting to see if the defense can get back to its 2020 standard after a dismal 2021. Defensive end Chase Young won’t be available as he rehabs an ACL, which puts them behind the eight ball to start, but fellow end Montez Sweat and the defensive tackle tandem of Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne should be able to generate pressure if the back end can get it together this year.
The New York Giants round out the division; general manager Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll were stuck with certain pieces (receiver Kenny Golladay), but also took over with an extra first-round pick in hand, and made their mark by drafting defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and offensive tackle Evan Neal in the top 10. The selections gave the Giants book-end pass rushers (Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari) and tackles (Neal and Andrew Thomas) to build around moving forward.
Whether Daniel Jones is their quarterback moving forward will be the season’s big question; Jones has the physical tools to get it done in the NFL, but turnovers have been a consistent issue, and it needs to get fixed for him to be a winning quarterback. If Jones does click in this offense, New York will have plenty of options to improve the weapons around him in 2023, but he’s going to have to earn that opportunity with a less-than-elite cast of pass catchers.
The Professor’s Favorite NFC East Plays
The Eagles are -155 to go over 9.5 games, so I’ll skip over that and go right to the Divison Odds, where the Eagles are co-favorites with the Cowboys. As the model has the Eagles ahead of Dallas in games favored and expected wins after the addition of CGJ and subtraction of Smith, the Eagles at +150 is an attractive number.
The rest of the model’s expected win numbers come in within a half-game of the win total for all three teams, so I’ll stick to the division pick to round out this series.
Premium Picks: None
Solid Value: Philadelphia Eagles, NFC East Champs, +150
Reasonable Long Shots: None
This article broke down the AFC East and NFC East ahead of the 2022 NFL Season; for a look around the rest of the NFL, check out the Professor’s AFC/NFC breakdowns for the West, North, and South divisions on BeerLife Sports.
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.