We’re all the way down to the ultimate two groups within the 2023 NFL playoffs: it is the Chiefs and the Eagles headed for a Super Bowl LVII showdown, after Kansas City edged the Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium and Philly routed the 49ers at Lincoln Financial Field. But what concerning the 12 title hopefuls who fell in need of the promised land this yr? Which ones are destined to be again within the race a yr from now, and which of them have fairly a bit of labor to do?
Here’s our early rating of the 12 non-Super Bowl playoff groups, and which of them are finest fitted to a run on the subsequent championship, come January-February 2024:
They have been way more explosive than anticipated with Geno Smith underneath heart, they usually’ve acquired each early draft picks and extra cash to spend this offseason. But Smith, 32, could also be attributable to regress, and even when a high-profile rookie succeeds him at quarterback, this workforce can be in transition on protection, the place they have been largely overmatched for years.
Every yr, we give them the on-paper hype they’re due, and yearly, they remind us of their big-stage failings. And now they’re coming into an offseason wherein they will not have extra money for clear wants, like a real No. 2 receiver. Dak Prescott stays a superb QB, however with an growing older line and play-calling uncertainty — Mike McCarthy is ready to take over within the wake of Kellen Moore’s departure — his setup all of the sudden feels prefer it’s a yr previous its championship expiration date.
The protection ought to get a lift with Vic Fangio set to affix the fold, however that unit remains to be a piece in progress. More importantly, how can they be projected for sustained success when the well being of QB Tua Tagovailoa is such a significant query? If they’re actually dedicated to Tua, they’d higher additionally spend money on a premium fallback, which is simpler mentioned than executed. Mike McDaniel is a great coach, however in a tricky AFC East, they hardly really feel a lock to be again within the postseason.
They’re a tricky one to type primarily as a result of Tom Brady’s future is up within the air, and it doesn’t matter what occurs — a Brady return, retirement or relocation — they are not overly promising as an growing older group with a very predictable head coach in Todd Bowles. Still, if one way or the other Brady laces ’em up with renewed motivation, plus new play-calling juice post-Byron Leftwich, they have sufficient weaponry out broad and on “D” to shock.
As lengthy as Justin Herbert is slinging it, they need to usually be within the combine. Their lineup can also be due for some optimistic harm regression after huge names like Mike Williams and Joey Bosa missed main chunks of time. And but, with Brandon Staley sticking at head coach, there’s at all times a worry of them overthinking important moments or making issues tougher than they should be.
Brian Daboll proved that he is able to maximizing their expertise, and extra needs to be on the best way now that normal supervisor Joe Schoen has loads of cash to spend. But the actual query is what they do with that cash: if Daniel Jones is again underneath heart after an enormous step ahead, what’s his ceiling as a passer? And who’s blocking or making performs for him? The pendulum is swinging in the best course right here; there are simply too many variables to evaluate how far they’re headed.
Kyle Shanahan positive is aware of style an NFC title: with or with out wholesome QBs, he is now guided his workforce to 3 convention championship appearances within the final 4 years. Even if DeMeco Ryans departs, the protection ought to stay fairly formidable at each stage. And Brock Purdy confirmed a number of poise as a rookie gunslinger. But it is anybody’s guess as to how he’d fare as an Opening Day starter behind a line that wilted a bit this postseason, or what Trey Lance would possibly supply as his competitors. Maybe they go wild and add a QB from the skin, however then you definately’re coping with a wholly completely different unknown.
This is generally predicated on Lamar Jackson returning, in fact, and which will effectively not be a given relying on how contract talks unfold forward of free company. Even then, there are issues: Jackson has not stayed wholesome for 2 straight seasons, and he is but to show himself as a gradual passer underneath the playoff lights. But his sheer electrical energy, coupled with John Harbaugh’s expertise up high and the returning punch of a Roquan Smith-led “D,” suggests they could be a pressure in the event that they’re at full velocity.
Maybe that is giving a franchise synonymous with big-game heartbreak an excessive amount of credit score, however Kevin O’Connell gave the workforce a real injection of life in his first yr on the job. The “D” was an absolute sieve, however the plus aspect is, post-Ed Donatell, that unit virtually actually cannot be worse. More importantly, Kirk Cousins truly exercised extra resilience in a yr stuffed with shut video games, and Justin Jefferson is the kind of MVP-level risk that at all times offers them an opportunity. In an NFC North present process transition, with the Packers a wild card and the Bears nonetheless rebuilding, they have a path again to rivalry.
Yes, we’re critical. They could have scraped their option to an unpleasant AFC South title, however Doug Pederson and Trevor Lawrence exceeded expectations of their pairing by season’s finish, most notably with the 27-point comeback towards the Chargers of their playoff debut. Lawrence is simply now rising as a possible top-10 gunslinger. Pederson has confirmed to be a culture-builder in a number of locations. Their younger defensive entrance confirmed out early within the postseason. And this is the kicker: extra reinforcements needs to be on the best way, together with former All-Pro wideout Calvin Ridley. In that division, why cannot they make a deeper run?
They could have flopped on their very own snowy turf within the divisional spherical this yr, and Josh Allen actually deserves extra flak than he will get for his penchant for turnovers. But if they’ll discover a option to merely repair the run sport — or a minimum of commit extra constantly to it — the Allen-Stefon Diggs pairing alone is sufficient to carry them by means of shootouts with one of the best of them. Money is not plentiful due to their strikes of offseasons previous, and the “D” has its personal questions on the again finish, however with a battle-tested Sean McDermott on the helm, they continue to be one of many extra well-rounded contenders within the sport.
They’re the boring decide since they’ve now been to 2 straight AFC title video games, but it surely’s onerous to not belief Joe Burrow and Co. to return to the large stage sooner or later. Put it this manner: even one other wave of offensive-line points did not severely injury No. 9’s probabilities of vying for a trophy, so if they’ll lastly assemble a sturdier entrance, and presumably have Ja’Marr Chase more healthy for the course of a full season, they need to stay in management atop the AFC North. With Lou Anarumo poised to remain answerable for the “D,” there’s additionally no motive to imagine Cincy will face a drastic drop-off there, even with inevitable personnel adjustments.
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