With the NFL season a little over two weeks away, the excitement is building as pre-season comes to a close. As we inch ever closer to the start of the 2022 NFL season, I will be previewing what looks set to be one of the most exciting and action-packed years in the history of the NFL. This mini-series will begin with looking at the candidates who will be in the hunt for the NFL's premier individual award, the league's Most Valuable Player (Quarterback).
The back-to-back MVP is an obvious favourite as he is coming off the back of the fourth MVP award of his career. Rodgers had an incredible touchdown to interception record last year with 37 touchdown passes to just four interceptions. That is a little over nine touchdowns per interception. Rodgers' great quarterback play was a catalyst in the Packers securing the number one seed in the NFC in successive years as they continue their dominance.
There will be one slight change heading into the 2022 season for Rodgers, and that is no Davante Adams. The wide receiver was traded in the offseason as he joined the Las Vegas Raiders to reconnect with college quarterback Derek Carr. Without his most reliable weapon, the 38-year-old will need his other receivers to step up for him. AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones will continue to be a reliable one-two punch out of the backfield, but a rebuilt receiver room will need to have a greater impact. Christian Watson, Sammy Watkins and Romeo Doubs will need to hit the ground running, while Amari Rodgers needs to find some form after a non-existent rookie year.
Having been the favourite for the MVP last season, Josh Allen is in the same position again this year. After an inconsistent start to life in the NFL, the Buffalo Bills quarterback has been on fire over the previous two seasons. He has thrown 37 and 36 touchdowns in the last two years, and his passing accuracy has been much more consistent. He connected with 63.3% of his passes last season, but he will be hoping to be more accurate and consistent this time round.
Despite the LA Rams winning the Super Bowl, it was Allen whose stock rose the highest during the Playoffs as he obliterated the New England Patriots throwing for five touchdowns. Allen then continued that form into Arrowhead as he threw for four touchdowns and had the game won for Buffalo before Patrick Mahomes did what Patrick Mahomes does as the Bills lost one of the greatest games ever in agonising fashion. With his relationship with Stefon Diggs continuing to grow and Gabriel Davis having another offseason to develop, it is hard to see how Allen does not continue his rise to the top.
As mentioned above, Mahomes is Mahomes. He is unlike any quarterback we have seen before. After a rocky start to last season, the Kansas City Chiefs sorted it out on offense and were much more consistent down the stretch. After seven games, the Chiefs were 3-4, and Mahomes was struggling with ball security. He had the most interceptions and fumbles of his career last season. The Chiefs began to simplify the offense before turning things on to win nine of their last ten games.
One thing that will leave a sour taste in the mouth of Mahomes was how he and the Chiefs collapsed in the AFC title game against the Cincinnati Bengals. After coasting the first half, Mahomes and co capitulated, scoring just three points in the second period. That will only motivate him to rewrite the wrongs, and with that chip on his shoulder, he will be more motivated than before in 2022. However, we may see a change in how their offense plays following the departure of Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs will be relying on Juju Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, as well as expecting a solid rookie season from Skyy Moore.
Tom Brady will forever be an MVP candidate considering he is the greatest player of all time. The 45-year-old had a sensational second season with the Buccaneers as he threw for league-high 43 touchdowns. Then he retired in the offseason and came back to the Bucs shortly afterwards. However, this season could be one of Brady's most interesting ones yet.
The Tampa Bay offensive line is in a bit of a shambles right now as Ryan Jensen, Tristian Wirfs and Robert Hainsey have all been injured during the pre-season. The Bucs have lost Aaron Stinnie to an ACL/MCL injury for the year to add to that. Brady will be hoping to have Chris Godwin back for the start of the season after he suffered an ACL tear last season. The addition of Julio Jones could prove to be a masterstroke if he can stay healthy and builds a connection with Brady. Despite having some obstacles in front of him, that is when the greatest of all time does his best.
In with a shout:
After breaking multiple records in his rookie year, Justin Herbert took the next step in the second season of his NFL career. Bar some terrible coaching decisions and the baffling idea of calling a timeout as time was running out in Las Vegas; he would have made his playoff debut last season. If he can continue his upward trajectory, he and the Chargers should take another leap in the right direction. He has the weapons around him that should allow him to do so. The AFC West appears to be the division of death heading into the 2022 season, but if the Chargers can somehow win the division, Herbert's name will definitely be in the MVP conversation.
Following a sensational second year that shocked the NFL world, Joe Burrow will need to continue playing at a high level, perhaps an even higher one, if he and the Bengals want to stay within the top reaches of the NFL. After tearing his ACL in his rookie season, Burrow came back with a point to prove in Year Two. He threw for 34 touchdowns and helped the Bengals win the AFC North. His great play not only helped Cincinnati win the division, but it meant he was awarded the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year. He brought a calmness and winning mentality to the quarterback position, something that the Bengals have not had since the late 1980s, as he led them to their first Super Bowl since 1989.
Despite last year's incredible run, Burrow and the Bengals will need to avoid that Super Bowl hangover. The Baltimore Ravens will also be a competitor this year, having lost Lamar Jackson for the back end of the 2021 season. However, the Bengals seem prepared for it. They have bolstered their offensive line, and their receiver group speaks for itself. If Burrow can continue his positive trajectory, he could be in the hunt for MVP.
Russ has finally left Seattle. After a couple of years of trade rumours, the 33-year-old is now a Denver Bronco. Wilson is coming off the back of a season where he injured his finger, and some believe that he came back too early. He has a point to prove after the last 18 months. He started the 2020 season like a house on fire and seemed like a sure-fire candidate for the MVP. However, he quickly cooled off and carried that form into 2021. Having gone the entirety of his 11-year career without an MVP vote, a change of scenery could be what takes Wilson from one of the great players in the league to the best of the best. This 2022 Broncos roster is in a position to win now despite being in the toughest division in the NFL. Russ and Denver's ceiling is incredibly high. Potential MVP candidacy and Super Bowl contenders, while the floor is missing out on the playoffs and Wilson continuing the ups and downs of last year.
After suffering that horrendous ankle break in 2020, there were concerns surrounding how Dak Prescott would return. In 2020, he was smashing records at the quarterback position and seemed like he could carry that on throughout the season. His 2021 season, however, was one that saw him break the Cowboys passing touchdown record. He threw for 37 touchdowns and just ten interceptions. Despite having some blips in 2021, Prescott showed that he could play at the level of a franchise quarterback. If he could be consistent for a full 17 games, he could have been in the MVP conversation.
Heading into this season, there are certainly some concerns looking at the Dallas offense. Dak himself is not one of them, but outside of CeeDee Lamb, the receiver group is weak. Michael Gallup is coming off the back of an ACL injury, and no one knows what sort of Ezekiel Elliott we will see. If Prescott can will this team into playoff contention while playing at a high level. He may give himself a chance at some votes.
Lamar Jackson is a hot topic of conversation this offseason as he continues to hold out for a new contract. The former MVP had his 2021 season cut short due to injury. Jackson struggled for consistency last year, but he will be hoping to take his game to another level as he tries to maximise his worth for whenever his contract negotiations are. The 25-year-old has also bulked up this offseason coming into training camp at 230 pounds. The MVP from 2019 is the best dual-threat quarterback in the NFL, and with a chip on his shoulder, we could see the return of the Lamar from 2019.
Now out of the slump he was in with Atlanta, Matty Ice is hoping for a late career resurgence with a hungry Indianapolis Colts team. Ryan did a fantastic job carrying that roster to a 7-10 record last season as the Falcons begin a mass rebuild. For the 37-year-old quarterback, he will be expected to will the Colts to the playoffs and bring some stability to the quarterback position. With one of the NFL's best running backs in Jonathan Taylor and one of the best offensive lines in the league, Ryan has the tools to become an unexpected MVP candidate.
After a strong rookie season, Jonathan Taylor showed the world just how great he was last season. He led the league in rushing yards (1811), rushing touchdowns (18) and rushing attempts (332). He should see his involvement in the passing game increase with someone as efficient as Matt Ryan as his quarterback. If Taylor can build off his incredible second season, he could have his name in the conversation. However, a non-quarterback has not been the MVP since 2012. Could he be the one to break that decade draught?
After leading the Las Vegas Raiders through a season full of chaos, Derek Carr will be looking to try and take that next step. With the Jon Gruden saga, the Henry Ruggs situation and other incidents plaguing their season, the Raiders somehow made the postseason. Carr was the rock of that team and is clearly a leader they believe in. Josh McDaniels is on a redemption tour after his last head coaching job went down in flames, so he will be looking to prove his doubters wrong. The addition of Davante Adams should help Carr take the next step. The pieces are in place for Carr to be a dark horse in the MVP race.