The Cincinnati Bengals were the only NFL team to go from worst to first last season, capturing their first AFC North title since 2015. Three other division winners in 2021 hadn’t held the crown in 2020: the Dallas Cowboys (NFC East), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFC South) and Los Angeles Rams (NFC West).
Four teams, however, did repeat as division champs: the Buffalo Bills (AFC East), Tennessee Titans (AFC South), Kansas City Chiefs (AFC West) and Green Bay Packers (NFC North). This begs the question:
Which reigning division champ is most vulnerable heading into the 2022 NFL season?
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Kansas City has won six straight division titles, but a seventh is in major question after everything that happened in the offseason. A trade-apalooza sent superstars flying in and out of the division, as the Chiefs shipped Tyreek Hill to South Beach while the Broncos (Russell Wilson), Raiders (Davante Adams) and Chargers (Khalil Mack) brought in big-time playmakers. K.C. is as vulnerable as it has ever been in the Andy Reid-Patrick Mahomes era.
Dallas lost so many key players from 2021, including wide receiver Amari Cooper, pass rusher Randy Gregory and offensive linemen La’el Collins and Connor Williams. That might be too many losses to overcome, especially when the rest of the division went to work reloading this offseason. I loved the A.J. Brown trade for the Eagles. Meanwhile, the Commanders can contend for the division if Carson Wentz recaptures his early promise. And the draft-boosted Giants should show improvement if their star contributors can stay healthy.
The AFC North is tough every year. The Cincinnati Bengals got hot at the end of the 2021 season, spurring their run to Super Bowl LVI, but the other teams aren’t going to just hand them the crown again. Baltimore was eaten alive by the injury bug last season — a return to even moderate health would make a world of difference. Cleveland traded for Amari Cooper and Deshaun Watson, the latter of whom is a great fit in Kevin Stefanski’s scheme (if available). Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh, a team that hasn’t had a losing season under coach Mike Tomlin. It will be tough for the Bengals to repeat as division champs, especially with their brutal schedule.
After a highly disappointing postseason one-and-done, the Titans will enter the 2022 campaign with extra motivation. But one AFC South team has outperformed Tennessee this offseason: Indianapolis. While the Titans made a number of moves, they didn’t necessarily improve on paper — especially after trading away star wideout A.J. Brown on the opening day of the 2022 NFL Draft. The Colts, on the other hand, traded for former MVP Matt Ryan and former Pro Bowler Yannick Ngakoue, while also signing 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. The Colts last won the AFC South in 2014. Jim Irsay, Chris Ballard and Frank Reich are determined to take back the division.
It has to be the Chiefs. As evidenced by a crazy offseason in the division, the other three AFC West teams are sick and tired of watching Kansas City walk into the playoffs. Of course, I’m hoping it’s my brother Derek’s Raiders who dethrone the Chiefs, but it could be any one of these teams.
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