I briefly considered tossing aside this preview and simply jetting off to The Bahamas for two weeks, but in the real world that’s not how life works. As you spend the next several months chilling out with hot wings & cold beer in front of your gigantic TV enjoying intense gridiron action a few days per week never forget how spoiled & out of touch the millionaire athletes, billionaire owners, & talking heads are and how little they understand or care about your daily struggles. Of course this is the same issue we have with actors & musicians who make millions of dollars entertaining the very people they disrespect & gaslight with their insane perspectives on various issues. That being said, the fact is we need to be entertained. Every species…humans included…require time to play. That’s a rabbit hole I won’t dive into right now except to say that sports is one of our most prominent outlets to fulfill such desires, so most of us are willing to put aside any issues and simply enjoy the games, and so we shall.
Baltimore Ravens (8-9) 10-7
Cincinnati Bengals (10-7) 9-8
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) 9-8
Cleveland Browns (8-9) 6-11
The Ravens’ season was torpedoed by injuries a year ago, and I believe they’ll rebound nicely. I don’t think Lamar Jackson is as good of an NFL quarterback as he was a college QB, but he’s above average if he stays healthy & has a reliable backfield to whom he can hand the ball off, with a solid defensive unit for good measure. Cincy will still be good, but may suffer a bit of the traditional Super Bowl hangover. The Bengals focused on defense in the draft after adding some pieces to their subpar offensive line in free agency. Time will tell if that was a wise strategy. My Steelers might surprise some folks by being in playoff contention. A great defense and a stout rushing attack behind an improved offensive line will secure some victories, no matter which quarterback succeeds Big Ben. The Browns are the Browns. I may have given them a bit more credit if Deshaun Watson was going to be available, but he’s been suspended for 3/4 of the season.
Tennessee Titans (12-5) 10-7
Indianapolis Colts (9-8) 8-9
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14) 6-11
Houston Texans (4-13) 3-14
Tennessee drafted QB Malik Willis in the 3rd round of the draft, but he’s not going to be ready to start or maybe even play at all this year. Ryan Tannehill is a solid NFL signal caller, and with Derrick Henry toting the rock the Titans’ offense should be good enough, so if their defense, which admittedly doesn’t have much star power, is atleast average then I think a weak division is theirs for the taking. The Colts have a new QB after trading for 37 year old Matt Ryan, but if that’s supposed to impress me it falls short of the mark. Of course he too has a great tailback…Jonathan Taylor…to carry the load, but I don’t think it’ll be good enough. The Urban Meyer Era in Jacksonville was a total failure, but going forward the Jags could be headed in the right direction. We won’t see evidence of that in the form of winning alot of games this season, but QB Trevor Lawrence should start to justify why he was the #1 overall pick in 2021, and the 2022 #1 overall pick…pass rusher Travon Walker… is the real deal. The Texans are a mess, but they got some much needed draft capital in the Deshaun Watson trade so we’ll see where they are in 3 or 4 years.
Buffalo Bills (11-6) 10-7
New England Patriots (10-7) 9-8
Miami Dolphins (9-8) 8-9
NY Jets (4-13) 7-10
Everybody is expecting the Bills to run away with the division and make a Super Bowl run, but not so fast my friends!! It won’t be as easy as some may think. The Patriots are still the Patriots as long as as Darth Belichick is in charge, so as much as I’d love for them go in the toilet I won’t believe it until I see it. Former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel did bolt again for a head coaching job though, so perhaps we’ll see a chink or two in the armor. I’m a fan of Dolphins’ QB Tua Tagovailoa, and watching him toss the ball to receiver Tyreek Hill could be loads of fun, but I have too many questions about the rest of the team, including new head coach Mike McDaniel. Believe it or not I foresee a notable improvement for the Jets, especially if second year signal caller Zach Wilson shows some growth & maturity. That being said, I think it’s a team that needs a year or two to gel. Watch out for the Jets in 2024…you heard it here first.
Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) 10-7
Denver Broncos (7-10) 10-7
Kansas City Chiefs (12-5) 9-8
Los Angeles Chargers (9-8) 8-9
This might be the most competitive & entertaining division in the league. All four teams are legit playoff contenders, and the difference between being on top or finishing in the cellar could come down to a single injury, turnover, or special teams blunder. The Raiders are getting a lot of attention after adding receiver Davante Adams, but are we overlooking their defense?? The Broncos are hoping to turn things around behind the leadership of new QB Russell Wilson, but can their defense kick it up a notch?? The Chiefs have been one of the top teams in the NFL for a few years now, but how will the loss of Tyreek Hill affect QB Patrick Mahomes?? Does he have the weapons to compliment his immense skill set?? The Chargers might have the most complete team in the division, and Justin Herbert gets undeservedly overshadowed by the signal callers on the other three teams. That being said, someone has to finish last and my vibe is that the ball simply won’t bounce their way this season.
Playoffs: Ravens, Titans, Bills, Raiders, Broncos, Bengals, Chiefs
AFC Champion: Buffalo Bills
Green Bay Packers (13-4) 11-6
Detroit Lions (3-13-1) 7-10
Minnesota Vikings (8-9) 4-13
Chicago Bears (6-11) 2-15
There’s no way the loss of receiver Davante Adams won’t negatively affect the Packers. However, the impact might be minimal given that they play in a weak division. Most of the drama surrounding QB Aaron Rodgers a year ago has dissipated, but holy schneikes…the dude will be throwing to a ragtag group of pass catchers that aren’t going to scare anyone. Running back Aaron Jones and a no name defense are going to have to really step up. The surprise of the division might be Detroit. I believe we’ll see the further maturation of QB Jared Goff, but I’m really looking for the defense to carry the team. Rookie defensive end Aiden Hutchinson is a difference maker. While the Lions take a small step forward I foresee the Vikings going backward in a significant way. The names on the back of the jerseys…Cousins, Cook, Thielen, Jefferson, Peterson…look decent enough on paper. I don’t know enough about new head coach Kevin O’Connell to intelligently opine, but I understand why former coach Mike Zimmer was fired since the team had kind of been treading water for a couple of years. I’m going out on a limb with this prediction…we’ll see how it goes. I’m a little more confident in prophesying Chicago’s ineptitude. It feels like a make or break year for QB Justin Fields in only his second season, but unfortunately for him I just don’t find the supporting cast impressive, and don’t think the defense is good enough to make a difference.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4) 11-6
New Orleans Saints (9-8) 8-9
Carolina Panthers (5-12) 7-10
Atlanta Falcons (7-10) 3-14
He’s back…unfortunately. I know I know…many football fans (especially in Tampa, FL) rejoiced when Tom Brady’s retirement lasted about five minutes, but I wasn’t one of them. That being said, even without recently retired tight end Rob Gronkowski, I think the Bucs win the division comfortably. They may not win as many games as a season ago, and unlike other pundits I don’t believe they are a Super Bowl team, but the division is a low hurdle to leap. The Saints have some nice pieces on offense and the defense might be sneaky good, but it feels like the team is treading water. Carolina allegedly upgraded their QB situation by trading for Baker Mayfield, but I’m not sure that’s an improvement. If RB Christian McCaffrey is healthy and a young defense gels quickly perhaps the Panthers will make some noise, but I have low expectations. Unlike many talking heads I don’t see the Falcons losing Matt Ryan under center and replacing him with Marcus Mariota as anything worse than a lateral move. There are much bigger questions in Atlanta, and this feels like a period of transition that will see its fair share of rough patches.
Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) 11-6
Dallas Cowboys (12-5) 10-7
Washington Commanders (7-10) 8-9
NY Giants (4-13) 1-16
As usual I take any hype surrounding the Cowboys with a grain of salt. They’ll have a solid season and lose in the playoffs. Nothing new. Dak Prescott is a very good QB but not elite, and it isn’t helpful that he doesn’t have many reliable weapons. Conversely, I like what the Eagles have done. Jalen Hurts can be a legit NFL signal caller, and newly acquired receiver AJ Brown will absolutely help. I’m not as confident in their rushing attack as I’d prefer, but we’ll see what happens. They really improved their defense thru free agency, which is what tips the scales in their favor. The Commanders feel like they’re stuck in neutral, making this a pivotal season for head coach Ron Rivera. QB Carson Wentz gets yet another fresh start, and he may be running out of chances. I hesitate to “go big or go home” with the Giants, because I’ve been wrong about them more than once in years past. However, I have zero faith in QB Daniel Jones or any of the talent surrounding him, especially overrated running back Saquon Barkley. The defense could be okay, but that probably won’t cut it in this division.
Los Angeles Rams (12-5) 11-6
Arizona Cardinals (11-6) 10-7
San Francisco 49ers (10-7) 6-11
Seattle Seahawks (7-10) 5-12
Will the AFC West be the best division in football, or will it be the NFC West?? I don’t believe we’ll see much decline from the defending Super Bowl Champion Rams, but the Cardinals will give them a run for their money. I foresee the Niners taking a step back given their unstable quarterback situation & lack of a premier tailback, but the defense will keep games close. The Seahawks will be starting either Drew Lock or Geno Smith under center, neither of whom strike fear in opposing defenses. Seattle will sorely miss Russell Wilson, and the defense is far removed from the old Legion of Boom days. At 70 years of age Pete Carroll is the oldest head coach in the NFL, and after a dozen years perhaps it is time for the Seahawks to move on. It could be a good landing spot for Byron Leftwich.
Playoffs: Packers, Bucs, Eagles, Rams, Cardinals, Cowboys, Commanders
NFC Champion: Los Angeles Rams
Buffalo Bills 34
Los Angeles Rams 24
Top 5 Picks in the 2023 NFL Draft
1 New York Giants
2 Chicago Bears
3 Atlanta Falcons
4 Houston Texans
5 Minnesota Vikings