The NFL is officially back! The 2023 NFL season will kick off on Thursday night when the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs host the Detroit Lions, while the rest of the Week 1 slate will get going on Sunday and Monday.
Let’s have some fun and make five bold predictions for the upcoming campaign. In the words of George Costanza, “You wanna gets nuts?! Come on, let’s get nuts!”
5 Bold Predictions for the 2023 NFL Season
Super Bowl 58: Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Seattle Seahawks
That’s right — no Chiefs, Bills, Jets, Bengals, Eagles, Cowboys, or 49ers in this Super Bowl prediction.
The NFL’s reigning contingent of superpowers won’t make it to the final game of the 2023 NFL season, but the Jaguars and Seahawks will.
Jacksonville and Seattle are both +3000 to make the Super Bowl, per DraftKings. A Jags vs. Seahawks Super Bowl is +16000, tied for just the 50th-most likely matchup.
Trevor Lawrence took enormous strides in his first season under Doug Pederson, displaying the talent that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Jacksonville’s offense ranked ninth in EPA per play last season and will now benefit from additions like trade acquisition Calvin Ridley and first-round right tackle Anton Harrison.
QB + WR duo
How do you know the QB trusts the WR?
When does the ball leave his hand!!?!?
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) August 29, 2023
The Jaguars’ defense ranked in the middle of the pack in efficiency and points per drive. Still, we’re betting on significant improvements from last year’s first-rounders, pass rusher Travon Walker and linebacker Devin Lloyd. If Tyson Campbell graduates into Pro Bowl status in 2023, Jacksonville’s defense could surprise.
The Seahawks don’t have a young, ascending quarterback like Lawrence. But Geno Smith is the reigning Comeback Player of the Year, and Seattle is brimming with youth everywhere else.
First-round WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba joins DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett to give the Seahawks one of the NFL’s best trios, and Seattle has nailed each of its last two drafts even beyond JSN. Charles Cross, Kenneth Walker III, Abraham Lucas, Coby Bryant, Riq Woolen, and Devon Witherspoon all figure to serve as major contributors this season.
Pete Carroll might already be a Hall of Fame head coach, but a second Lombardi Trophy would secure his legacy. And don’t look now, but if Doug Pederson becomes the only NFL head coach to win a Super Bowl with two teams, he’ll also become an early shoo-in for Canton.
The New York Jets Collapse
No one can stop Jets mania with the regular season just around the corner. And why would they? New York boasts the reigning Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year, fielded one of the league’s most elite defenses in 2022, and added a future Hall of Famer under center over the offseason.
But isn’t there a scenario where it all falls apart for Gang Green?
Let’s start with Aaron Rodgers, who wasn’t all that productive for the Packers in 2022 after winning consecutive MVPs over the prior two seasons. Some of Rodgers’ dip in performance can be blamed on his young receivers. But he ranked just 20th in adjusted net yards per attempt and EPA per dropback and 26th in QBR.
Rodgers figures to be more motivated this season, but if Garrett Wilson suffers an injury, the Jets are pretty thin at WR. A starting wide receiver trio of Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman, and Randall Cobb won’t scare anyone and would represent a worse WR corps than Rodgers played with last year.
And there’s the offensive line. New York’s offensive tackle situation seems solidified, but Duane Brown is 38 years old, and Mekhi Becton has missed most of the last two seasons. How confident will Rodgers be behind the Jets’ front five if it features Billy Turner and Max Mitchell at tackle by the end of the season?
New York’s defense should keep them competitive no matter what, but defensive performance isn’t typically sticky from year to year. The Jets didn’t generate an abnormal amount of production from turnover luck in 2022, but they did stay remarkably healthy. If a few critical defensive pieces miss time in 2023, maybe Jeff Ulbrich’s unit will take a step back.
Plenty could go wrong for New York next season, and we haven’t even mentioned the specter of Nathaniel Hackett calling offensive plays or the difficulty of the AFC East. The Jets are undoubtedly a Super Bowl contender, but there’s also a world where New York is forced to send an early 2024 first-round pick to Green Bay as part of the Rodgers trade.
Sam Darnold Becomes the San Francisco 49ers’ QB of the Future
Brock Purdy was a godsend for the 49ers at the end of last year. After taking over for Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 13, the 2022 NFL Draft’s Mr. Irrelevant ranked fourth in EPA per dropback over the remainder of the regular season before guiding San Francisco to the NFC title game.
Purdy’s recovery from offseason UCL surgery could hardly have gone better, and he will start the 49ers’ Week 1 game on Sunday.
While Purdy can clearly execute Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, there’s a reason he was drafted in the seventh round — and there’s a reason Sam Darnold was the No. 3 pick in 2018.
Darnold is a far more physically talented quarterback than Purdy, and the stark difference between the pair’s athletic capabilities was evident, even during the preseason. Darnold can simply make throws that Purdy cannot.
.@49ers QB; Sam Darnold makes this 3rd read with anticipation and accuracy as he gets crunched. This is how it has to GET DONE; and with high levels of urgency. Bravo! #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/j6enmxkHPa
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) August 29, 2023
Maybe Shanahan isn’t concerned about physical profiles after the Trey Lance experiment flamed out. Maybe he just wants a point-and-shoot quarterback.
But we’re betting that if Darnold gets his chance with the 49ers, either because Purdy suffers an injury or struggles to produce, the former Jet and Panther will hold onto the starting job in San Francisco — potentially for the long-term.
Does that mean the 49ers would extend Darnold — currently on a one-year contract — at the end of the season? Would they franchise him? It’s unclear how San Francisco would handle yet another overloaded quarterback room, but that’s always a good problem to have.
Jarrett Stidham Will Start More Broncos Games Than Russell Wilson
Maybe this will look foolish when Sean Payton turns back the clock on Russell Wilson and guides the Broncos into the playoffs, but we’re betting against Wilson ever returning to his prior form.
Denver made Jarrett Stidham the NFL’s fifth-highest-paid veteran backup quarterback when they gave him a two-year, $10 million deal this offseason. We think that was by design.
Payton and the Broncos could theoretically move on from Wilson after the 2024 campaign. They wouldn’t save any cap space by doing so — Denver would have to make him a post-June 1 cut, and they’d absorb the same $35.4 million cap charge whether he’s on the roster or not.
However, if Wilson is struggling later in the season, the Broncos could begin to worry about the veteran quarterback locking in future injury guarantees.
Wilson’s 2023 and 2024 base salaries are already guaranteed, but his 2025 salary ($37 million) is guaranteed for injury only. If he’s still on Denver’s roster on the fifth day of the 2024 league year, that 2025 salary will become fully guaranteed.
If Wilson were to suffer a serious injury that would prevent him from passing a physical in March 2024, Denver would be on the hook for his 2025 salary. Additionally, $4 million of his 2026 salary would also become fully guaranteed.
Stidham won’t be able to play hero and save the Broncos’ season if Wilson goes off the rails in the first half of the year. But he gives Denver a legitimate option to turn to in order to keep Wilson off the field.
The optics of benching Wilson for financial reasons might not be great, but Payton — who was still a FOX broadcaster when the Broncos extended Wilson — isn’t responsible for that disaster of a deal. If demoting Wilson makes sense for Denver long-term, Payton shouldn’t hesitate to make the move.
Record Number of Head Coaching Vacancies This Offseason
The 2022 NFL offseason featured nine head coaching vacancies, the most of any offseason over the past decade. But Black Monday in 2024 could bring even more changes.
At least 10 head coaches could be entering their final season with their respective teams in 2023. Let’s quickly run through the most obvious candidates to be fired:
- Arthur Smith, Atlanta Falcons: This organization expects to win the NFC South in 2023 after a flurry of offseason moves, but Smith could be betting his job on former third-round quarterback Desmond Ridder.
- Kevin Stefanksi, Cleveland Browns: Stefanski probably needs to make the playoffs — and maybe even win a postseason game — to keep his gig as he enters his fourth season with the Browns. The Deshaun Watson contract means Cleveland has to compete every year.
- Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys: McCarthy has won 24 games over the past two seasons, but Jerry Jones could get impatient. A first-round playoff exit could spell doom in Dallas.
- Josh McDaniels, Las Vegas Raiders: McDaniels’ Davante Adams acquisition positioned the Raiders as contenders, but a 6-11 record quickly dispelled that notion. Interpersonal problems have plagued McDaniels in the past and could again in 2023.
- Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Chargers: Staley took the Bolts to the playoffs last year and subsequently coughed up the third-largest postseason lead in NFL history. He needs a playoff victory to stick with the Chargers.
- Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams: McVay won’t be fired, but he could potentially retire. The Rams aren’t poised to win anything in 2023, and McVay could get burned out.
- Bill Belichick, New England Patriots: Belichick is one of the greatest coaches of all time, but his seat is getting warm in New England. It might seem ridiculous, but Robert Kraft could pull the plug if the Patriots miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
- Dennis Allen, New Orleans Saints: Replacing Sean Payton was never going to be an easy task, but Allen didn’t distinguish himself in 2022. He won’t have a very long leash in 2023.
- Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bowles consistently struggled with in-game management and now won’t have the benefit of Tom Brady under center. The Buccaneers could take their lumps this season before starting fresh in 2024.
- Ron Rivera, Washington Commanders: Not much explanation is needed. New owners like to bring in fresh faces, and Rivera probably needs to make the playoffs to keep his job.