NFL 2023 season predictions: who will end the Kansas City Chiefs’ reign? | NFL

This will be the year of

Make-or-break quarterback seasons. It’s hard to think of a time in recent history with a more concentrated pool of quarterback talent. But somebody is going to have to lose games, no matter how many points they put on the board. There’s pressure on Lamar Jackson and Justin Herbert, who have new-look offenses built to tap into their gifts. Josh Allen is in year two with Ken Dorsey. Likewise for Tua Tagovailoa in Mike McDaniel’s set-up. There will be no more excuses of rust for Deshaun Watson. A down year for any of those five quarterbacks will lead to uncomfortable questions. OC

Gambling talk becoming (even more) mainstream. The league dived into the gambling business in 2021 when it embraced its first official sportsbook. This year, gambling becomes an omnipresent part of NFL culture and media. ESPN Bet, a new platform, will soon launch and other networks will follow suit. How the league deals with the backlash when gambling starts taking a toll on people’s lives is another story entirely. MJ

I want to know if the death of the running back position is real or just an excuse for the league not to pay RBs. Will veteran backs respond to the offseason disrespect and prove that the game hasn’t left them behind? Will we see more of them attempt to go the Deebo Samuel route and operate as de facto receivers? HF

Quarterback chaos. The 49ers eating Crow a L’ance has kicked things into gear. Russell Wilson, definitely going to rebound. Wow, Baker Mayfield starting for Tampa Bay, OK that is pretty dangerous. Las Vegas I see you have already typed up Jimmy G’s sicknote, excellent. And Joshua Dobbs or Clayton Tune is starting for Arizona … This is fine. GS

Best team that won’t make the playoffs

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a promising offense but are in a brutal division
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a promising offense but are in a brutal division. Photograph: Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports

Pittsburgh Steelers. Drop the Steelers anywhere other than the AFC East or NFC East and they might be favorites to claim the division. The defense projects to be overwhelming, even with question marks at cornerback. On offense, they have as much young firepower as anyone. OC

The New York Jets have star power at every turn. Among them, Aaron Rodgers may be their most questionable because of his decreased mobility, and we also don’t yet know if he’ll have a positive impact on team culture. There will probably be an acclimation period with Rodgers in a new system with new weapons, and in the dogged AFC East, there’s no time to lose. By the way, the Jets would probably be the No 3 or 4 seed if they played in the NFC – that’s how large the conference disparity is this season. MJ

Last year I said Justin Fields would take that leap at quarterback and lead the Chicago Bears to the postseason. I was half right! Fields did take that leap but Chicago managed to win just three games while putting together one of the most impressive tanking jobs in NFL history. Look for an improved Chicago to remain competitive in the NFC North, although they’re not quite ready for primetime yet. HF

The sky-high expectations of the Baltimore Ravens mark them as a standout in the brutal AFC North. They have bet big on Todd Monken’s offensive overhaul, possibly too big. The wheels could be left spinning if Jackson and his new coordinator have difficulties gelling. GS

Most underrated team

Washington Commanders. There is a giant ‘if’ hanging over the Commanders’ season. But first, the pros: Washington have an overwhelming four-man pass-rush; they have playmakers all over the secondary; you can make a strong case for Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, and Curtis Samuel as being the third-best offensive trio in the NFC; adding Eric Bienimey as offensive coordinator should unlock the talent on offense. That ‘if’: do they have a quarterback? If Sam Howell is competent, then the Commanders have enough talent to make the playoffs and win a postseason game. OC

The Atlanta Falcons. It’s not scientifically possible for Desmond Ridder to be worse than Marcus Mariota at quarterback. Add in an offensive line juggernaut protecting Ridder and rookie rusher Bijan Robinson. Plus, they have numerous solid adds on defense (Jessie Bates is huge) and a soft schedule thanks to their division. MJ

I’m done doubting Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings, at least during the regular season. They won their division last year and have the best WR in football in Justin Jefferson, but are once again being overlooked because they outperformed their expected win total. I say they somehow do it again, although my crystal ball is significantly foggier come the postseason. HF

There can be little better feelings for a franchise than your toxic owner finally leaving the building. Dan Snyder’s legacy of failure is over and the Commanders can surpass limited expectations. Ron Rivera has new owners to impress, Howell is no liability at quarterback and Chase Young returns to form this season’s premier defensive line. GS

One bold prediction

Aaron Donald won a Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams but will he soon be off?
Aaron Donald won a Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams but will he soon be off? Photograph: Mark J Terrill/AP

Aaron Donald is traded before the deadline. Have you had a look through the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive depth chart? Things will get ugly in LA – quickly. The Rams continue to pay for the cap sins of going all-in on winning a Super Bowl. Moving Donald, while he’s still in his prime, will help bring back a draft pick haul that could kickstart the team’s next era. OC

The Arizona Cardinals win six games. Jonathan Gannon will prove a huge upgrade over Kliff Kingsbury and become the league’s latest HYCFN (Hot Young Coach For Now). Kyler Murray will return from his ACL injury looking like the explosive playmaker the Cardinals thought they drafted. And the defense will not be as terrible as last year. MJ

Bill Belichick announces his retirement. Let’s assume that the New England Patriots end up last in the AFC East this season, which is far more likely than them capturing a playoff spot: Mac Jones is a bust, the offense is a mess and they continue last year’s trend of dropping winnable games. Do you think Belichick is the kind of person who waits to be fired? HF

Chicago hit the jackpot. The Bears have the Carolina Panthers’ first-round pick in the 2024 draft and Chicago could own the No 1 overall pick for the second year in succession. The Panthers have struggled in preseason and are playing a risky game with a washed up Adam Thielen the best target for rookie quarterback Bryce Young to find. They beat the Cardinals in the race to the bottom. GS

Johnny Manziel Disaster Waiting To Happen Dept …

Russell Wilson. I’m not buying Sean Payton’s spiel that the Broncos’ offensive disasterclass last season fell completely on Nathaniel Hackett’s shoulders. Hackett deserved plenty of the blame, but just as much was down to Wilson. It’s tough to believe he can roll the clock back at the age of 34, even with one of the best offensive architects in the sport on his side. OC

Players are allowed to wager on non-NFL activities – as long as they’re out of the building and not in a sportsbook. All other NFL personnel (including coaches) are prohibited from gambling on any sport. It’s easy to see some organization become the nucleus of the first Gamblegate. Trainers asking players to place bets for them. Incognito players entering a sportsbook while on the road in Las Vegas. All thinking they’re above the law, all unable to resist the temptation that surrounds them as wagering becomes an integral part of the NFL. MJ

Aaron Rodgers v the New York media. Rodgers is no longer the league’s golden boy, having emerged as a combative and controversial figure in recent years. And that was while he was in Wisconsin! Should the Jets underperform, expect the local tabloids to make him Public Enemy No 1. HF

Playoffs or bust feels like a dangerous place to live for the Jets, an organisation of perennial misfortune. Rodgers may be happy right now but he does not suffer fools gladly. Things could get ugly quickly if the Jets struggle with their razor-sharp schedule. GS


Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars. MVP is as much a narrative award as anything else. Voters love to anoint ‘who’s next’, unless, of course, Patrick Mahomes enters supernova mode. Lawrence was out-of-his-mind good down the stretch last year; he added some subtlety to a game that has often been based on raw, athletic gifts. If he can deliver a repeat of that run over the long haul, he’ll be primed to secure the Jags a top seed, and the MVP should come with it. OC

Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals. Burrow was sensational in 2022 but his MVP hopes were stymied by a slow start. It’s going to be hard for a healthy enough Burrow (phew) to start slow this season given that three of Cincinnati’s five games are against the Tennessee Titans, Rams and the Cardinals, all three of them with suspect secondaries. There are many talented wideout-quarterback duos out there but none with the connection of Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. MJ

Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills. Nobody’s sleeping on Allen but maybe they’re resting their eyeballs a bit. Allen’s stock may have dipped after the preseason favorite Bills didn’t make it past the divisional round last time around but he still has the capacity to be the best player on the best team. That’s usually a solid strategy in winning this award. HF

Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers. The man, the temporary myth due to inept coaching, the legend in 2023. Herbert will explode with Kellen Moore at the controls. Career numbers are on their way along with a deep playoff run when the Chargers finally show some consistency. GS

Rookie to watch …

Bijan Robinson’s explosive skills will excite fans.
Bijan Robinson’s explosive skills will excite fans. Photograph: Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports

Bijan Robinson, RB, Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons’ new offensive weapon is a once-in-a-lifetime player: As a running back alone, he has a chance to be the very best in the league, before you even get to the matchup implications of moving him around the formation as a receiver. The Falcons have an excellent, athletic offensive line and a savvy coach. Robinson will be a highlight reel from the off. OC

Bryce Young, QB, Carolina Panthers. Many quarterbacks drafted No 1 overall enter dicey organizations. Young’s situation couldn’t be more ideal. He will learn under noted quarterback guru Frank Reich. And the pair will have a long leash to grow together, as there are no hot seat worries. The Panthers kept the offensive line intact and added some new offensive weapons for Young. They also play in the NFL’s worst division. If Young is as NFL ready as he appears, he could do some real damage. MJ

Jalen Carter, DT, Philadelphia Eagles. Carter will be jumping straight from college to being expected to solidify the defense for a team with legitimate title aspirations. Carter is the veteran of two college championships already and has a skill set that could immediately translate to the pro game. HF

Carter. If you draw comparisons with Aaron Donald, you are a very talented defensive tackle. Take note of the “baby rhino” as he destroys offensive lines. A gamechanger and huge boost for the Eagles to help their Super Bowl hangover subside quickly. GS

AFC East champion …

New York Jets. The mood music out of New York is as strong as it possibly could be with You Know Who on his best behavior. The mood music out of Buffalo … less so. The Jets are not a case of overblown offseason fanfare. Player for player, they have as much talent as any team in the NFL. If they’re not the best defense in the league, they’re as near as to make no difference. If Rodgers is healthy and upright, even if there’s a sharp decline from even last season, he will be good enough to put the Jets over the top in the East. OC

Buffalo Bills. What a fun division. The Dolphins are poised to compete with their offensive firepower, provided Terron Armstead plays. The Jets have loads of talent but the team has given Rodgers too much power so watch out if things go awry. Buffalo have some question marks when it comes to their lack of depth at pass rush and receiver, once you discount Stefon Diggs. But having a healthy Jordan Poyer-Micah Hyde safety duo will be a huge lift. As, of course, will the presence of Allen and Sean McDermott. MJ

After decades of New England Patriots dominance, the AFC East has become a free-for-all. The Buffalo Bills still look like one of the most complete teams in football, so they should have this division. HF

One of the finest pieces of offseason distraction was the Playcallers podcast charting the Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay tree. Miami Dolphins coach McDaniel stood out much like his team jumped off the screen when Tagovailoa was healthy last year. GS

AFC North champion …

Cincinnati Bengals. The AFC North is loaded. But the Bengals check the most boxes in the preseason. There are still worries about their offense line, though it should be an upgrade from years past. The only other concern? The new starting safety tandem, which triggers much of what the team does on defense. But when you’re down to worrying about the starting safeties, you know you’re in a good spot. OC

The Bengals will narrowly win a tough division thanks to a loaded roster. The stars are evident on offense, and the defense is packed with impact players like DJ Reader and Trey Hendrickson. MJ

The Bengals. Burrow deserves recognition for erasing past memories of the “Bungles,” although it hasn’t resulted in the franchise’s first Super Bowl win yet. The AFC remains stacked, so they may not succeed this time around. But if the bolstered offensive line can keep Burrow upright, they will keep the Ravens at bay during the regular season. HF

After comfortably winning the preseason, the Steelers will rise up with Kenny Pickett building on a solid rookie year at quarterback but will still fall a touch short of the Bengals. If last season’s Watson shows up the Browns will be cooked despite Nick Chubb dominating at running back. GS

AFC South champion …

Jacksonville Jaguars. The Houston Texans will be much better than in years past. The Titans will be competitive, even if it makes little sense long-term sense for them to hang around in the league’s middle class. But this is the Jags division to lose. They have the best quarterback, the most talent on defense, and the best group of playmakers on offense. OC

Unless Anthony Richardson is an instant star in Indianapolis, there is no real firepower in this division aside from Jacksonville. The Jags’ achilles heel is defense. As a unit they only recorded 35 sacks in 2022 and added no notable pass rushers. But the other side of the ball is unquestionably talented enough to easily grab the division. MJ

The Jaguars. Has any team benefited so much from a coaching change in recent years? Following Urban Meyer’s dismissal, Lawrence and the Jaguars had their breakthrough season last year, with the quarterback throwing for over 4,000 yards and a 66% completion rate. HF

The Indianapolis Colts seem to be actively daring Jonathan Taylor to sit out the season while the Texans’ reset means they are out too. Mike Vrabel will keep Tennessee competitive but major questions hang over an attempt to squeeze out one last push with Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill running the offense. The Jaguars keep rolling. GS

AFC West champion …

Yep, they’re back
Yep, they’re back. Photograph: Rick Scuteri/AP

Kansas City Chiefs. In an ordinary world, there would be concern about the lack of proven talent at the receiver spots in KC. There would be concern, too, that Chris Jones is still refusing to show up to practice. But this isn’t an ordinary world: Patrick Mahomes is the Chiefs’ quarterback; Andy Reid is the Chiefs’ head coach; Steve Spagnuolo is the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator. That trio will find a way. OC

The Chiefs are the best team in the NFL until someone proves otherwise. The Los Angeles Chargers will probably break a lot of hearts per usual, and their defense is an overall liability. But if Herbert can stay healthy – a big if for any player in Chargersville – the offense has a lot of promise under new offensive coordinator Moore. MJ

The Chiefs. They’re the defending champions and there’s an increasing chance that Mahomes will end up being the best quarterback we’ve ever seen by the end of his career. It’s difficult to pick against their combined forces in their division although the Chargers should keep them honest and lock down a wildcard spot in the process. HF

My still egg-smeared face and my pride are slowly fading after so many months: I’m sorry. Maybe it was impossible to know things would go so bad in Denver last year but, and it is a Mahomes talent-sized but, picking against the Chiefs is very dumb, even without Jones. GS

NFC East champion …

Philadelphia Eagles. I’d like it on the record: I’m on the Cowboys train this year. Dallas have as gifted a starting 22 as anyone in the league, though depth is a concern. But the Eagles have the most complete roster in the league. Through scheme and personnel, the team’s offense is incredibly difficult to stop. There are some lingering concerns on defense, but those are more likely to be exposed in the playoffs than in the regular season. OC

Eagles or Cowboys? Cowboys or Eagles? The Eagles get the narrow edge thanks to keeping their defensive core together from last year’s Super Bowl run, Jalen Hurts’ continued rise, and the best offensive line in football. The Cowboys are not just the second-best team in the NFC East; they may be the second best in the conference. But Mike McCarthy picking up play-calling duty is a little unsettling. MJ

The Eagles. I assume that fans no longer have any questions about Hurts? If there’s a lingering question for Philly, it lies with the defense. HF

The best NFL division? Maybe: the battle for supremacy between the Cowboys and Eagles could be spectacular while Washington potentially wait in the wings. Philadelphia are unlikely to hit last season’s high notes but still will deliver back-to-back titles. GS

NFC North champion …

Detroit Lions. It’s easy to talk yourself into a Packers resurgence, to bet on Jordan Love and improvement from the defense. Or you can talk yourself into the Bears, if you have full belief in Fields’ growth as a passer. But the Bears still feel as if they’re a year away, even if Fields puts it all together. The Lions have the best roster. They should end their division drought. OC

The Lions ended 2002 scorching hot, going 8-2 in their last 10 games. GM Brad Holmes spent the offseason turning the team’s glaring weakness, the secondary, into a strength, adding impact players like CJ Gardner-Johnson. Chicago should be a fun watch thanks to Fields but there is no supporting cast. Love is too much of a question mark in Green Bay. So is the entire Minnesota secondary. MJ

Everyone seems to want to pick the Lions which, given Detroit’s NFL history, feels like the biggest warning sign to not pick them under any circumstances. Most obvious trap ever. Instead, I have the Minnesota Vikings defying preseason talk and once again end up on top of the division by improbably winning a bunch of one-score games. HF

The dawning of a new age in Green Bay should keep the Packers at the summit without their former toxic QB. His replacement, Love, is an unknown but Matt La Fleur’s offensive mind will benefit the unproven passer. Detroit punch a wildcard and run their rivals very close. GS

NFC South champion …

New Orleans Saints. Someone has to win the NFC South. If Desmond Ridder proves to be even a smidge below league average, this is the Falcons’ division for the taking. If not, it opens up for the Panthers and Saints. Banking on a rookie quarterback to win a division is difficult. The Saints have a veteran roster and staff. They should have enough quality to get over the line. OC

The Saints will narrowly skate on the heels of the best offense in a weak division, including the possibility of a (could it be!) healthy Michael Thomas. The Panthers could be of slight interest since Reich knows how to create a lot with a little. But this is New Orleans’ division to lose. MJ

The Saints, by default. With Tom Brady moving on to an entirely different football world, the NFC South seems wide open, which in this case is a euphemism for bad. The Saints have rescued Derek Carr from the Las Vegas Raiders and that change in scenery – and supporting cast – could be enough to spark a late-career resurgence. HF

Carr should lift the Saints but Dennis Allen remains an unconvincing head coach while Tampa Bay appear rudderless without Tom Brady and the Panthers are still firmly in transition. The Falcons’ resolution to run the ball with Robinson is too tempting. Old school football wins because why not? One team from last year’s morass has to. GS

NFC West champion …

Brock Purdy has a complete offense to helm
Brock Purdy has a complete offense to helm. Photograph: Sergio Estrada/USA Today Sports

San Francisco 49ers. The Seahawks will make life tough for the Niners though. Seattle have reinforced other areas of their roster to offset any reversion to the mean if Geno Smith stalls: the run defense should be slightly improved; adding Jaxon Smith-Njigba at receiver has helped plug the only hole on offense. OC

The Rams and Cardinals are dumpster fires, but Seattle are an intriguing contender. I don’t think Smith’s 2022 season was a fluke at all; he opens the season as the division’s best quarterback. Conversely, I’m not convinced Brock Purdy is the best quarterback on his own team – and I am in no way a Sam Darnold stan. Another year, another defensive coordinator is also not ideal. But San Francisco get the slight edge due to sheer gamechanging talent on both sides of the ball. MJ

The 49ers. Purdy emerged from nowhere last season to replace Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo. Purdy almost certainly will fall back to Earth but San Francisco’s defense should be good enough to establish them as one of the NFC’s best. HF

Who is Purdy? If he is anywhere close to average then Shanahan can coach his offense into monster production. The 49ers should easily topple their rivals … [checks notes] rival. Seattle will be in the hunt for a wildcard with Pete Carroll’s alchemic relationship with Smith growing stronger. GS

AFC wildcard teams …

Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens. OC

Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Chargers. MJ

Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers. HF

Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Chargers. GS

NFC wildcard teams …

Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks. OC

Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants. MJ

Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks. HF

Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks. GS

AFC championship game …

Cincinnati Bengals over Kansas City Chiefs. OC

Buffalo Bills over Kansas City Chiefs. MJ

Buffalo Bills over Kansas City Chiefs. HF

Kansas City Chiefs over Los Angeles Chargers. GS

NFC championship game …

San Francisco 49ers over Philadelphia Eagles. OC

Philadelphia Eagles over Dallas Cowboys. MJ

Philadelphia Eagles over San Francisco 49ers. HF

San Francisco 49ers over Dallas Cowboys. GS

Your Super Bowl champions LVIII will be

It’s finally the Buffalo Bills’ year (Part 14)
It’s finally the Buffalo Bills’ year (Part 14). Photograph: Daniel Bartel/USA Today Sports

Cincinnati Bengals. There’s a ‘Last Dance’ feeling to the Bengals this season. They’re unlikely to retain all of their key offensive pieces after this year. The team’s DC, Lou Anarumo, will be at the top of head coaching lists for 2024. This is a last shot to capitalize on this core and this coaching staff. With upgrades along the offensive line, there’s no reason why Joe Burrow should not have his best season to date. Anarumo ranks among the top gameplanners in the league, a specialist at building one-off plans to torpedo even the best offenses. Burrow will give the Bengals a shot against anyone – and Anarumo will help lift the team over the top. OC

Buffalo Bills. It’s safe to say that last season’s playoff flame-out can at least be partially attributed to the mental toll of Damar Hamlin’s on-field collapse in Week 17. Hamlin is back and so is a well-coached Bills squad that is always competitive. There are the aforementioned questions about the pass rush and receiver depth, but I’d take Allen with a couple holes over virtually any other situation. When Allen’s dialed in no defense can handle his lethal combination of arm talent and physicality. Buffalo will also benefit from a lot of gritty inner-division games and no longer being the across-the-board Super Bowl favorite they were in 2022. MJ

Buffalo Bills. The Eagles have one of the best all-around teams in the NFL, particularly if Hurts still hasn’t yet hit his ceiling (a frightening thought for the rest of the NFC). However, over the last few years, these Bills have been putting together a roster that seems scientifically engineered to finally end Buffalo’s franchise-long Super Bowl drought. I predicted it would happen last season. It didn’t but it feels like it’s a matter of “if” rather than “when.” As much as it would be fun to see Philly celebrate another Super Bowl, we have no precedent for how Buffalo would respond to a long-awaited title. HF

San Francisco 49ers. The omens are very good for this team: a cupcake division, the best offensive mind in the game in Shanahan, a top-five defense, an array of incredible talent in the offensive skill positions and a huge chip on their shoulder after feeling as if they never really were knocked out of the playoffs last year. Absolutely by all means doubt Purdy but Shanahan’s belief is proof enough for me. They go all the way. GS