2022 NFL Betting Preview: Three Reasons Why Russell Wilson Could Lead the AFC West in Passing Yards

The AFC West has a ridiculously talented quartet of quarterbacks.

Patrick Mahomes is the best signal-caller in the NFL; Justin Herbert is on a meteoric rise; Derek Carr can sling it.

Perennial Pro Bowler Russell Wilson is the newcomer, and as talented as he is, DraftKings has a tough time believing he will throw for the most yards in the division this season.

Herbert is the favorite to do so at +120 odds, followed by Mahomes at +150 and Carr at +350. Wilson is a +1200 longshot to finish with the most passing yards in the division.

Going off track records, it makes sense. Herbert led the AFC West with 5,014 passing yards last year, finishing second in the NFL to Tom Brady. Mahomes was fourth despite a down season and Carr was fifth.

Wilson finished 22nd because of injuries, but even on a per-game basis, he was just 18th in the NFL in passing yards per game. As good as Wilson has been throughout his career, the volume has always been low.

But here are three reasons why Wilson could surprise and finish atop the talented group in passing yards.

1. Passing Game Volume

Wilson is tied for 10th all-time in yards per pass attempt at 7.8, so when he throws the ball, he is hyper-efficient. But his whole career has been spent under Pete Carroll in Seattle — a notoriously old-school, run-first head coach. It’s unclear what kind of run-pass balance new coach Nathaniel Hackett will employ in Denver, but he spoke this offseason of catering the offense to Wilson’s strengths.

Hackett comes from Green Bay, where Aaron Rodgers was the absolute engine to the offense, and it makes sense for Denver to give Wilson the green light to air the ball out. If Wilson adds several more pass attempts per game, his yardage will shoot up.

Additionally, the support system is good. Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy lead a strong receiving corps, while the offensive line looks better than the turnstiles Wilson often had to play behind in Seattle. If Hackett allows Wilson free reign on offense, he could easily put up the best counting stats of his career.

Bet on Russell Wilson to lead the AFC West in passing yards!
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2. The Schedule

The Broncos have an interesting schedule. The six intra-division games will be heavyweight battles, and the Rams, 49ers, Cardinals, Ravens, Colts and Titans are also on the docket. On the flip-side, they have several cupcakes — against the Seahawks, Texans, Jets, Jaguars and Panthers.

The schedule is an exercise in extremes, but that could work out well. Wilson will need to have enough passing game volume early to make up for coasting in any blowouts, but going against some questionable defenses will certainly help him rack up the yardage.

And while Denver is tied for the seventh-best Super Bowl odds with the 49ers, it will be facing a lot of other contenders, and thus could be losing late in games, which would force Wilson to throw in the midst of catch-up mode. It’s not inconceivable to think that Mahomes could lead Wilson in head-to-head yardage for much of a game, and then see Wilson storm back late if the Broncos are losing.

If that pattern emerges enough throughout the season, it would play a large factor in which quarterback finishes as the division leader in passing yards.

Bet on Russell Wilson to lead the AFC West in passing yards!
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3. The Downside of the Other Quarterbacks

There is also the possibility that the other three quarterbacks aren’t as prolific through the air as projected. 

Herbert was second in the NFL in pass attempts last season, as he engineered five fourth quarter comebacks. Los Angeles’ defense should be markedly better in 2022, and if the Chargers aren’t forced into as many shotoouts, Herbert won’t need to throw as often.

I’m a big fan of his talent, and a dominant season could be in the works, but he could still throw for fewer yards and be great.

Mahomes lost his top offensive weapon in Tyreek Hill and is coming off a season in which defenses routinely forced him to throw underneath by keeping two safeties deep. The formula seemed to work, and it would not be a surprise for teams to do the same thing in 2022.

Mahomes is a generational talent that is almost certainly going to bounce back and put up fine numbers, but it’s likely that Kansas City’s offense is less potent than previous iterations.

It’s honestly hard to find a situational setup which hurts Carr. The Raiders added elite pass-catcher Davante Adams this offseason and also boast Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow. Las Vegas should throw plenty, and as the worst team in the division, will be trailing a lot and thus racking up late attempts.

The main drawback would be the actual talent of the quarterback. Carr is good but not elite like the others. His career yards per attempt of 7.1 is comfortably behind Wilson, although he has been solid the past three years. If Carr has a down year, it will be hard for him to top the other three franchise quarterbacks in passing yards.

And then for all three — and Wilson, of course — there is the chance of injury. None have shown a proclivity to miss games, but Herbert, Mahomes and Carr all finished within 210 passing yards of each other last season when each played all 17 games. 

Just one week on the sideline could drastically change the fortunes of this wager, and it’s something that favors the longest shot.

Wilson may not be the logical choice to surpass all three of these other gunslingers in passing yards in 2022, but there is a path to get it done, and these type of odds make it a worthwhile gamble.

Bet on Russell Wilson to lead the AFC West in passing yards!
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