Countdown to NFL 2022-Part 1

by Larry Ness

It's that time of year again. The 2022 football annuals are starting to appear and it's NEVER too early to talk about the NFL. Let me reminisce for just a minute. We are coming off the NFL's first-ever 17-game season in 2021, one which delivered arguably "the greatest weekend in NFL playoff history" in the Divisional Round. The NFL changed its playoff structure in 2020, meaning SIX games (instead of four), with the lone byes going to only the No. 1 seeds in each conference. Road teams had won 10 of 14 wild card games heading into this year's Super Wildcard Weekend (over the previous three seasons) but the home teams dominated this time around, going 5-1 SU and ATS. The Cowboys were the lone home team to lose (to San Francisco), in a postseason matchup between two franchises that each own five Super Bowl titles. The average margin of victory checked in at 17.2 points per game.

However, after that largely forgettable wild-card round, all four Divisional Round games ended in walk-off fashion for the first time in NFL history, Road teams won and covered the first three games, before KC salvaged some home team pride with a 42-36 OT win over Buffalo, in what many (most?) are calling the most exciting game in NFL playoff history. Both No. 1 seeds lost in the Divisional Round for the first time since 2010, when the top-seeded Patriots lost to the Jets and the top-seeded Falcons lost to the Packers. The AFC's No. 1 seed (Tennessee Titans) were upset by the Bengals 19-16 when Cincy converted a FG as time expired. The NFC's top-seed (Green Bay Packers) were upset 13-10 by the 46ers, who also kicked a FG on the final play of that game. The Rams blew a 27-3 lead in the fourth quarter to the Tampa Bay Bucs, before winning 30-27 on yet another walk-off FG. The weekend the concluded with Kansas City's "Instant Classic" win over Buffalo.

On Championship Sunday, KC scored on its first THREE possessions to lead 21-3 but didn't score again until the Chiefs sent the game into OT with a FG on the final play of regulation. However, the Bengals kicked the game-winning FG in OT, denying KC a THIRD straight Super Bowl appearance. over in the NFC, the 49ers took a six-game series winning streak against the Rams into the championship game, but the Rams overcame a 17-7 fourth-quarter deficit to win 20-17. The game winning FG did NOT come on the final play, rather it came with 1:46 remaining (a real 'yawner!). In the Super Bowl, The Rams beat the Bengals 23-20, when Matthew Stafford drove the team on a 79-yard, 15-play scoring drive that ended with a one-yard TD pass to Cooper Kupp (the drive took 4:48 and the eventual game-winner came with 1:25 remaining).

The win gave Stafford his first ever championship, after 12 LONG years in Detroit (his 13th season was indeed a 'lucky 13th!'). Kupp was the game's MVP, after a record-setting regular season in which he pulled off the WR 'triple crown' by leading the NFL in receptions (145), TDs (16) and receiving yards (1,947). with the Rams (16-5) earning their first NFL title since the 1999 season — and their first representing Los Angeles since 1951. They did so in their home, the $5 billion SoFi Stadium, making the Rams the second consecutive host to win the championship after Tampa Bay became the first a year ago.

The regular season kicks off on September 8th, when the defending champion Rams host the Bills. The Bills are tied with the Vikings, having each appeared FOUR times in the Super Bowl without a victory to their name. The Vikings' most recent appearance came in 1977, although they have appeared in the conference championship game SIX times since. As for Buffalo, the Bills' four Super Bowl appearances all came in consecutive years from 1991-94 and Buffalo has only appeared in ONE conference championship game since (in 2020). I'm just getting started with my countdown to the 2022 NFL season series and will be back Thursday with some more "Random Thoughts." Follow my Ness Notes right here, exclusively at BigAl.com. 

Good luck...Larry

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