17 NFL experts make second-half predictions: Surprise playoff runs, Super Bowl picks, breakouts

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We’ve hit the midway point of the 2022 NFL season. Nine weeks down, nine to go. The first half was filled with surprises, from teams on unexpected playoff tracks to struggling veteran quarterbacks. But a lot can still happen over the two months remaining in the regular season.

So we asked 17 of our NFL analysts for their best prediction for the rest of the season and how it will play out. Will we see shocking division winners and playoff teams? Will franchises we considered contenders in the preseason finally get on track? Will offensive stars post huge numbers over their final eight or nine games — or even enter the record books? And which of the league’s top teams will win it all in February?

Let’s predict the second half of the season, starting with a fantastic finish for one of the game’s top pass-catchers.

Jump to:
Division winners | Turnaround teams
Surging WRs | Big-play RBs | QBs rising
Super Bowl contenders

Surging receivers

Tyreek Hill will break the NFL’s single-season receiving yardage mark

Hill leads the NFL in receiving yards by 237, recording 1,104 over the Miami Dolphins’ first nine games. He is averaging 0.1 fewer yards per game than Calvin Johnson did during his historic 2012 campaign, when he set the single-season receiving record with 1,964. Hill is already on track to reset the record, but Johnson’s total came in a 16-game season, so Hill has the additional benefit of a 17th game in the expanded schedule.

Defenses have no answer for the speedy Dolphins wideout, and Hill will break the record before the end of the season. — Field Yates, NFL analyst

George Pickens will finish as a top-20 fantasy receiver in the second half

The Pittsburgh Steelers rookie had the team’s fourth-most targets (43) prior to the Week 9 bye, behind Diontae Johnson (76), Chase Claypool (50) and Pat Freiermuth (48). But by trading Claypool to the Bears, Pittsburgh is signaling that it’s ready to expand Pickens’ role in the offense.

This season, Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett has a 92.2 QBR when targeting Pickens. And 26.9% of his catches have gone for 20-plus yards, tied for third most in the NFL among players with at least 40 targets. I think Pickens even has an outside shot at Offensive Rookie of the Year. — Eric Moody, fantasy/betting writer

Kadarius Toney will lead the Chiefs in catches of 20-plus yards the rest of the way

The new Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver should emerge as quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ top deep threat, reminding everyone why the Giants selected him in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft. He will provide the Chiefs with some of the explosive elements missing in their passing game since Hill was traded to the Dolphins.

The Chiefs are currently tied with the Dolphins in passing plays that gain 20 or more yards (36), but Toney will take the big-play offense to another level. Mahomes will wind up being very pleased about this pre-deadline trade. — Jason Reid, Andscape senior NFL writer


Surprise division winners?

Jets will win the AFC East

Yes, the New York Jets (6-3) will beat out the Bills, Dolphins and Patriots for the division title. They haven’t won their division since 2002, and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) is giving them just a 9.6% chance to do it. But New York is 4-0 on the road and has one of the best defenses in the NFL.

I think quarterback Zach Wilson can keep the mistakes to a minimum, allowing the Jets to pull out one of the closest divisions in football. — Damien Woody, NFL analyst

Falcons will win the NFC South

Despite their poor performance in Thursday night’s loss to Carolina, I like the Falcons to emerge here. Atlanta continues to exceed all expectations, with its offense currently eighth in expected points added and one of only four to score at least two touchdowns in every game (Chiefs, Bills and Eagles). Sure, a struggling defense could prove the team’s Achilles’ heel, but the key here for 4-6 Atlanta is a rest-of-season schedule that is arguably easiest in the league.

The Falcons’ toughest game will be a Week 16 trip to Baltimore, but every other matchup is against a team with a losing record (Bears, Commanders, Steelers, Saints, Cardinals and Buccaneers). Tampa Bay remains the favorite to emerge as the division champ, but it may be a challenge for the Bucs with a much-tougher schedule. — Mike Clay, fantasy writer

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After Marcus Mariota’s up-and-down night vs. the Panthers, Mike Clay says he offers fantasy value going forward.

Seahawks will win 12 games, claim No. 2 seed in the NFC

Quarterback Geno Smith’s performance is not a fluke, backed by a legitimate running game, weapons on the outside and a QB-friendly system. And the Seattle Seahawks’ defense has settled down over the past month, allowing less than 220 passing yards and 19 points per game in the team’s past four outings.

Seattle is already at 6-3, and its final eight opponents on the schedule are a combined 30-37. The stage is set for the Seahawks to earn home-field advantage for the divisional round. — Jeremy Fowler, senior NFL reporter


Quarterback up-and-downs

Jordan Love will start at least two games for the Packers

I don’t know if Aaron Rodgers is going to like it, but I’m thinking the 3-6 Green Bay Packers — once mathematically eliminated from the playoffs — need to force themselves to not care. Per ESPN’s FPI, Green Bay has an 8.3% chance to make the playoffs right now. They don’t know whether Rodgers will be back next season, and it’s unlikely they can get him to tell them his intentions.

And they need to know what they have in Love, their 2020 first-round pick. Love has only one start since getting drafted at No. 26, and he has only 71 career throws. — Dan Graziano, senior NFL reporter

Justin Fields will finish as a top-five fantasy QB

The Bears quarterback is currently sitting at No. 7 — about 30 points behind the current fifth-ranked quarterback in Jalen Hurts. But how can you not love Fields’ newfound confidence, as well as the Claypool addition to the Bears’ offense. He is QB1 over the past three weeks, averaging more than 30 fantasy points per game. — Anita Marks, fantasy/betting analyst

Both Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers will miss the playoffs

We want to believe in these legends and their teams — the Bucs and Packers led the NFL in preseason chances to make the playoffs via ESPN’s FPI — but the evidence that they could both come up short is growing. The Bucs have a chance because of a weak division (71.1% to make the postseason), and we just saw yet another impressive Brady comeback last Sunday, but I will take the NFC South field over Tampa Bay. And the Packers seem to be in too deep of a hole at 3-6, struggling in multiple areas of the game. — Doug Kezirian, betting analyst


Getting hot at the right time

Buccaneers will win six of eight games, claim the NFC South

I’m looking for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to make a run — fueled by Tom Brady and the passing game — and ultimately win 10 games this season. Despite a 4-5 start amid a disappointing scoring offense and a defense that’s showing its age, the Buccaneers can still jell and rally behind the GOAT.

As wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin get on the same page with Brady, and as the offense evolves to better fit what No. 12 wants, watch the Buccaneers rip through the surprisingly close NFC South to emerge as a playoff team once again. ESPN’s FPI is still giving Tampa Bay a 68.2% chance to win the division. — Matt Miller, NFL draft analyst

Chargers will win out

Quarterback Justin Herbert will lead the Los Angeles Chargers on a 10-game winning streak to end the season, giving them an AFC West title and a home playoff game in January. The first win is already in the rearview mirror, after a 20-17 victory against Atlanta on Sunday.

Yes, ESPN’s FPI gives Los Angeles a mere 3.6% chance to win the division, and they are favored by the model in only five of the final nine games. But this is a talented roster, and I expect Herbert to take his game to another level as the team gets healthier in the second half. He can even put together a solid MVP case. — Mike Tannenbaum, NFL analyst

Raiders will finish with at least eight wins

Maybe even nine, if things go really well. Either way, the Las Vegas Raiders are poised for a second-half resurgence. There’s no reason their record should be as bad as it is right now (2-6). Their long-standing offensive line issue has been remedied, as they rank 16th in pass block win rate and sixth in run block win rate. And the offense overall is still producing, ranking 12th in offensive expected points added per play.

The only problem is the defense. But nothing turns around a bad defense like below-average quarterbacks. With the inexperienced Sam Ehlinger and struggling Russell Wilson next up, I expect the Raiders’ defense will look at least a little better in the coming weeks. — Seth Walder, analytics writer


Big-play running backs

Christian McCaffrey will lead all RBs in scrimmage yards in the second half

McCaffrey accounted for 39.2% of the San Francisco 49ers’ scrimmage yards in their Week 8 win over the Rams after being in the building less than two weeks (149). Coach Kyle Shanahan is clearly going to rely heavily upon his new running back going forward, and the 49ers, despite their injuries, rank sixth in yards per play (5.9).

If CMC stays healthy, his combined rushing and receiving talent in this offensive scheme makes him the front-runner at the position. He already has 881 scrimmage yards. — Stephania Bell, fantasy writer/injury specialist

Tony Pollard will lead the Cowboys in rushing the rest of the way

Pollard upgrades the Dallas Cowboys’ running game. We can see it on the tape. He brings more speed and more explosive-play ability. The 2019 fourth-round running back has led the team’s backfield in rushing in four of the past six games (though Ezekiel Elliott did miss Dallas’ Week 8 matchup), and his 6.2 yards per carry this season is more than 2 yards better than Elliott’s average (4.1).

Elliott outcarried Pollard in the seven games they were both active in the first half, 109-67, but look for Pollard to officially surpass Elliott as the primary ball carrier in Dallas in the second half. — Matt Bowen, NFL analyst


Super Bowl contenders?

Eagles will finish the regular season at 17-0

I think the Philadelphia Eagles can run the table and finish the regular season undefeated. Just look at their schedule. Five of the Eagles’ final eight opponents have a record under .500.

Philadelphia is currently the third-ranked team in ESPN’s FPI. The model favors the Eagles in eight of nine remaining games — all by more than a touchdown. The one projected loss is a road trip to Dallas in Week 16, but it’s a winnable game for Philly. — Jordan Reid, NFL draft analyst

Andy Reid will face his old team in the Super Bowl

Philadelphia faces the ghost of Christmas past in Reid, now Kansas City’s coach. The Eagles and Chiefs are among the top teams in each of their conferences and have matching 40.1% chances to reach the Super Bowl via ESPN’s FPI (tied for the highest).

How do they get there? I see Ravens QB Lamar Jackson tormenting Steve Spagnuolo’s defense until Mahomes Magic comes to the rescue in the AFC Championship Game, while the Eagles slip past the Niners in overtime in the NFC title matchup. That sets the stage for the Super Bowl, where Reid’s Chiefs meets the Eagles — the team he went 130-93-1 with over 14 seasons as their coach. — Sal Paolantonio, national NFL correspondent

Ravens will win the Super Bowl

The Baltimore Ravens have a 5.9% chance to win the Super Bowl, via ESPN’s FPI, but I think they can win it all. John Harbaugh will become the first coach since Joe Gibbs to win championships with two different quarterbacks, and Lamar Jackson then goes on to reset the quarterback contract market. — Seth Wickersham, senior NFL writer



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