Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season is less than a month away. While a lot can happen between now and then regarding injuries, etc., here are a few underdog sleepers to consider against the spread. Let’s look at the preview for your bets.
Sleeper Picks for NFL Week 1
Cincinnati is clearly a better team than Pittsburgh when at full health, but what about Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow? The former No. 1 overall pick and Heisman Trophy winner missed a large chunk of camp and isn’t going to play at all in the preseason because of a ruptured appendix that required surgery. While Burrow was on the mend, he watched practices from a medical cart. He declined to reveal how much weight he lost because of the surgery.
“It wasn’t normal appendicitis that you hear about,” Burrow said. “I didn’t really feel much. Just getting checked out and had some discomfort so we thought we’d get it checked out. Turns out I had it. So we had to get it fixed.”
On Wednesday, Burrow reported to training camp and participated in 11-on-11 team drills for the first time since February’s Super Bowl.
“I was feeling the best I had coming out of the offseason training. Now, I have to get back to that,” Burrow said. “Have to go back to the high school days when you’re trying to gain 20 pounds in a couple of week span. So we’re forcing it down as much as we can.”
In 2020, his rookie preseason was upended by COVID-19 and featured no games. Last year, Burrow played one series in the preseason finale following major knee surgery that ended his rookie season.
Pittsburgh presumably will start Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback in Week 1 and Trubisky does have a solid 29-21 record an NFL starter from his Chicago Bears days.
Arguably the best middle linebacker in football is Indy’s Shaquille (formerly Darius) Leonard but he’s likely not going to be ready for Week 1 due to back surgery in June. All throughout last season, Leonard struggled with a nagging ankle injury. During the offseason, it was discovered that the ankle problem was stemming from a nerve issue in Leonard’s back. To fix that, Leonard underwent a minor back procedure on June 7.
The team isn’t putting a timetable on his return from surgery because, currently, the issue centers on him rebuilding overall strength and strength in his calf, specifically, after an inactive spring and summer.
Leonard has been a first-team All-Pro in three of his first four seasons. He’s also been a Pro Bowler in each of the last three years. In 16 games in 2021, Leonard recorded 122 tackles, four tackles for loss, three QB hits, four interceptions, and a league-leading eight forced fumbles.
Keep in mind it will also be Matt Ryan’s first game in a new system with the Colts. After completing six of 10 passes for 58 yards in the Colts’ preseason opener, Ryan may have to wait until Week 1 at Houston for his next shot to take the field as he’s not expected to play in the last two preseason games. Ryan took a huge step back last year with the Falcons and is 37.
Meanwhile, one of the most-hyped rookies around the NFL so far has been Houston running back Dameon Pierce. Running with vision, burst and power, fourth-round pick Pierce was the best running back for the Texans in their first preseason game. With a stat line of five carries for 49 yards, Pierce averaged 9.8 yards per carry, which led all RBs in the first week of preseason (minimum five carries). Additionally, PFF calculated that a staggering 86% of Pierce’s yardage came after contact. Coach Lovie Smith hasn’t ruled out Pierce becoming the Week 1 starter.
“I think you let guys play. They kind of tell you who should start, who should be on the roster, how many plays they should get. It’s good competition there. They all have a certain strength,” Smith said of his running backs. Pierce is battling veterans Rex Burkhead and Marlin Mack. Burkhead has never really been a featured back and is 32. Mack ran for over 1,000 yards in 2019 before tearing his Achilles early in 2020 and riding the bench for most of the 2021 season.
As a senior at Florida, Pierce had only 100 rushing attempt (for 574 yards) and 19 receptions (for 216). Even with only 119 total touches, he scored 16 touchdowns. He had 503 rushing yards as a junior, 305 rushing yards as a sophomore, and 424 rushing yards as a freshman.
Will Houston upset Indianapolis? Not likely but certainly can stay within a TD.