The 2022 NFL season wrapped up on Sunday night when the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Philadelphia Eagles to win their second Super Bowl title in four years. With Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes again in possession of the Lombardi Trophy, it’s time to take an early look at the 2023 NFL campaign.
NFL free agency opens in one month, while the 2023 NFL Draft is only a few months away. Before we know it, training camp and the preseason will be here. Let’s try to answer 10 open NFL questions for 2023, beginning with the budding dynasty in Kansas City.
10 Burning Questions for the 2023 NFL Season
Will the Chiefs Repeat as Super Bowl Champions?
Only eight teams have won consecutive Super Bowl trophies, and no club has done it since the Patriots in Super Bowls 38 and 39. Building a consistent winner isn’t easy in the free agency area, but it’s significantly more realistic when you have a quarterback like Mahomes on the roster.
The Chiefs have hosted five straight AFC Championship Games, and they did so in 2022 despite trading their best wide receiver, Tyreek Hill, before the season began. Kansas City wasn’t afraid to retool their roster last year. They even took a slight step back from a financial perspective, ranking just 23rd in active cash spending ($162 million).
Mahomes’ 10-year, $450 million contract extension took effect in 2022, and his cap charge will increase from $36 million last season to nearly $50 million in 2023. The Chiefs are projected to enter the offseason with only $7 million in cap space, but they have several fiscal levers at their disposal.
General manager Brett Veach could restructure Mahomes’ $34.4 million roster bonus to create more cap space, something the Chiefs chose not to do last season. KC might also decide to extend defensive tackle Chris Jones, release defensive end Frank Clark, or restructure deals for tight end Travis Kelce and left guard Joe Thuney. Any of those moves would give the Chiefs enough breathing room to have a productive offseason.
Kansas City has decisions to make at offensive tackle, where Orlando Brown and Andrew Wylie are both scheduled to hit the open market. Brown, who played last year on the franchise tag, may want to become the highest-paid tackle in the NFL, but a new contract for Wylie shouldn’t present much of a problem.
The Chiefs may also want to target a true WR1 to replace Hill. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney, and Skyy Moore will return in 2023, but JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman are both pending free agents. Mahomes elevates his receiving corps more than any quarterback in the league, but adding a veteran like DeAndre Hopkins to an already-elite offense could help Kansas City repeat as Super Bowl champs.
What Does the Rest of a Strong AFC Look Like?
Mahomes and the Chiefs will be viewed as conference favorites for the foreseeable future, but the AFC will probably only get stronger in 2023.
In Kansas City’s division, the Chargers will represent stiff competition after making the playoffs last season, especially after bringing in new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. The Broncos also have new leadership, and it seems improbable that Denver will struggle as much as they did in 2022 now that Sean Payton is in charge.
Elsewhere in the AFC, the Bengals and Bills remain obstacles in the Chiefs’ battle for conference supremacy. Cincinnati needs to work on its offensive line and could lose star defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo to a head coaching position, but Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins remain the best triumvirate in football. Buffalo has struggled to get over the top in recent years, but Josh Allen and their roster depth will always keep them in the mix.
The rest of the AFC is no cakewalk, either. Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars could take a major step forward in their second season under Doug Pederson. The Ravens should be in the running for a playoff spot if Lamar Jackson can thrive under a new offensive play-caller. The Dolphins, Patriots, and Jets are all legitimate threats, while the Texans, Colts, and Steelers could be competitive with young quarterbacks under center.
How Will the Eagles Navigate Their Offseason?
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman never leaves stones unturned as he seeks to improve his roster, and this offseason won’t be any different. Philadelphia is in a similar financial situation as Kansas City. While they don’t have a ton of cap space, the Eagles can manipulate their books to free up room and give themselves the ability to add new talent.
On offense, most of Philadelphia’s starting unit should return in 2023. Running back Miles Sanders is a free agent, but I wouldn’t expect the analytically-minded Eagles to shell out significant cash for an RB coming off his career-best campaign. Right guard Isaac Seumalo is also on an expired contract, and he should be more of a priority as Philadelphia seeks to maintain its league-best offensive line.
The Eagles’ defense is much more fluid. Pending free agents — James Bradberry, Marcus Epps, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, T.J. Edwards, and Kyzir White — litter the roster, and it will be nearly impossible for Roseman to re-sign them all. The linebackers will be the first to go, but Philadelphia will likely try to keep at least a few members of their secondary, depending on price.
The Eagles should be able to retain a portion of their free agent class because they’ll be able to supplement their roster with early draft picks. Despite making the Super Bowl, Philadelphia holds the No. 10 overall selection thanks to a 2022 trade with the Saints. That choice, plus their pick at No. 30, will allow them to reload their roster with cost-effective rookies while they work out an extension with quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Where Will Aaron Rodgers End Up?
Another offseason means more Aaron Rodgers drama, and the Packers’ quarterback is set to assess his options during a four-day darkness retreat. Green Bay reportedly may prefer to trade Rodgers, but the decision will ultimately be up to him. Although Rodgers doesn’t have a no-trade clause in his contract, he could threaten to retire if the Packers try to trade him to a non-preferred destination.
Green Bay is only interested in trading Rodgers out of the NFC, which obviously limits his options around the league. The Jets, who hired Rodgers’ former offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, as their new play-caller, stand out as a suitor. Gang Green would have made the postseason in 2022 with merely league-average quarterback play. With Rodgers in town, the Jets would instantly become conference title contenders.
The Raiders, who last year acquired Rodgers’ longtime teammate Davante Adams, are also in need of a quarterback. Las Vegas is set to release Derek Carr in the coming days, creating a need under center. With Tom Brady no longer an option after announcing his retirement, Rodgers could give Josh McDaniels another veteran option.
Teams like the Dolphins and Patriots could also enter the Rodgers sweepstakes, depending on how they address their respective QB situations this offseason. Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones have looked like above-average signal-callers at various points during their careers, but health (Tagovailoa) and regression (Jones) could entice Miami and New England to look in new directions.
While it’s fun to speculate about potential Rodgers trades, the most likely outcome involves the future Hall of Famer returning to Green Bay. The Packers nearly made the playoffs in 2022 thanks to a late-season run. If Rodgers can continue to develop his connections with young receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, the Packers could return to the postseason as soon as next year.
Who Plays QB for the 49ers?
The 49ers advanced to the NFC Championship Game despite being forced to rely on their second- and third-string quarterbacks, a testament to head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offensive design prowess. But with Jimmy Garoppolo headed for free agency and Brock Purdy facing a six-month recovery after tearing his UCL, San Francisco has more questions than answers at the most important position in sports.
Shanahan recently said he sees no scenario where Garoppolo returns to the 49ers in 2023, while Purdy won’t be available for the club’s offseason program. For now, San Francisco is back to square one — relying on Trey Lance, whom they traded up to acquire in the 2021 NFL Draft.
We don’t have much data on Lance, who started for just a single season at North Dakota State before entering the pro ranks. He made two appearances in relief of Garoppolo in 2021, then started the 49ers’ first two games in 2022. Lance’s first start last season was played in a virtual monsoon, then he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2.
Brady and Rodgers aren’t options for San Francisco, and there’s been no indication the 49ers will consider a mid-tier veteran like Carr. As such, Shanahan and Co. will likely roll with Lance and Purdy heading into 2023.
However, it wouldn’t be out of character for San Francisco to sign a high-quality backup such as Jacoby Brissett. The 49ers proved in 2022 that you can never have enough quarterbacks, and Brissett would give them a high-floor option if injuries strike again.
How Will the Rest of the QB Carousel Shake Out?
Brady’s retirement removes some of the sex appeal from the 2023 free agent quarterback class, but there are still more starting passers available than in most offseasons.
Lamar Jackson is technically a free agent, but the Ravens will likely retain the former MVP via the franchise tag. That doesn’t mean Baltimore couldn’t still move Jackson. If they use the non-exclusive franchise tender, the Ravens could allow Jackson to negotiate with rival clubs and let him walk in exchange for two first-round picks. An exclusive tag would still allow Baltimore to trade their starting QB for a significant haul.
Even if Jackson remains with Baltimore, there are other intriguing QBs on the open market. Geno Smith could garner a two-year deal with extensive guarantees after finishing seventh in QBR. Daniel Jones ranked one spot behind Smith in QBR, is only 25 years old, and is coming off the best season of his career.
Carr is already generating interest around the league, and Garoppolo will do the same once he officially reaches free agency. We haven’t even mentioned the 2023 draft class, which includes at least four quarterbacks with first-round grades.
The past three offseasons have featured notable QB transactions as Brady, Matthew Stafford, and Russell Wilson changed teams. The 2023 offseason could be just as hectic, and the potential QB movement has the chance to reshape the power balance in the NFL.
Can the Rams Rebound?
After going all-in to win the Super Bowl in 2021, the Rams suffered one of the worst dropoffs in recent memory last season. Injuries struck at nearly every position. Key players like Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Allen Robinson II, and Aaron Donald went down, while Los Angeles was forced to play third- and fourth-stringers up front as their offensive line collapsed.
The Rams got the best possible news in early January when Sean McVay, reportedly contemplating retirement, revealed he would return for the 2023 campaign. Stafford and Donald will also be back, setting up LA to compete again in the NFC West.
General manager Les Snead is still paying for the Stafford acquisition and will sacrifice his first-round pick (No. 6 overall) to the Lions. Still, the Rams have been adept at drafting and developing mid-round selections, which they’ll need to continue to do given their top-heavy roster.
Los Angeles has plenty of contracts that can be reworked to create additional cap space, and moving money to the future has never presented a problem for the win-now Rams. Building more offensive line depth is an absolute must, and adding another playmaker on defense could also be in the cards.
Which First-Year Head Coach Will Fare the Best in 2023?
Three of the five teams with head coaching vacancies have already filled their posts, while the Colts are likely to finalize an agreement with Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen in the coming days. The Cardinals appear to have narrowed their search to two defensive coordinators: Jonathan Gannon (Eagles) and Lou Anarumo (Bengals).
Indianapolis and Arizona will probably face the steepest uphill climb among the clubs with new head coaches. Steichen and whichever coach takes over the Cardinals are looking at long-term rebuilds, and any success in 2023 will likely be considered gravy.
The Broncos landed a big fish in Payton, but competing in Mahomes’ AFC West is a tall order. Denver has a few intriguing pieces on its roster, but Payton’s work will start with Wilson, who posted the worst season of his career after being traded to the Broncos last offseason.
In Houston, new head coach DeMeco Ryans is taking over a club rife with problems but overloaded with draft capital. The Texans hold two first-round selections (including No. 2 overall) and own six picks inside the top 101.
Houston will almost surely draft a quarterback early before using the rest of their selections to improve a roster largely bereft of talent. Given the state of the AFC South, the Texans could compete with the Jaguars for the division title as soon as next year.
As positive as things look in Houston, the best situation for a new head coach might be in Carolina, where the Panthers hired Frank Reich just months after the Colts fired him. With Brady retired, there’s no clear favorite in the NFC South, and Carolina could fill the void.
The Panthers may need to trade up from the ninth overall pick if they want to target a specific quarterback in the draft, but a veteran like Carr or Garoppolo could also put them in immediate contention.
Who Are the Darkhorse Super Bowl Contenders?
The Chiefs and Eagles were both expected to compete for the Lombardi this past season, but the Bengals came out of nowhere to appear in the Super Bowl in 2021. Cincinnati faced +15000 Super Bowl odds heading into that campaign. If we set the bar at +5000, are there any clubs that stand out as surprising title contenders in 2023?
The Saints (+5000) still have a very talented roster, and if they can upgrade at quarterback, they’ll be in the mix to win the NFC South and make a playoff run.
The Patriots are hardly a dark horse, but they represent value at +6000. It’s impossible to count Bill Belichick out, and New England’s offense could take a massive leap forward with Bill O’Brien taking the play-calling reins from Matt Patricia.
The spiciest contender might be the Bears, who face +8000 Super Bowl odds after finishing 3-14 in 2022. Chicago has nearly double the cap space ($94 million) of any team in the league, and given that they don’t need a QB replacement, they could trade the No. 1 overall selection and acquire a bevy of picks.
Chicago doesn’t need a QB because they appear likely to run it back with Justin Fields, who was as dynamic as any player in the NFL but still needs work as a dropback passer. If general manager Ryan Poles can build out Chicago’s offensive line and supplement defensive-minded head coach Matt Eberflus’ side of the ball, the Bears could pull off a surprising season.
Which Teams Could Go From Worst to First?
Worst-to-first stories in the NFL are more common than you might expect. The Bengals did it in 2021, and the Jaguars vaulted from the basement to the penthouse in 2022. The Seahawks and Giants, who finished last in their respective divisions in 2021, also made the playoffs as Wild Card teams last season.
Heading into next season, six of the eight teams that came in last place in 2022 have legitimate paths toward a division title. Apologies are due to Commanders and Cardinals fans, who will likely have to suffer through another season outside first place.
In the AFC, we’ve already touched on the Texans’ chances of making the postseason, but the Jets, Browns, and Broncos could also contend for the playoffs.
While the AFC East is a strong division, Gang Green’s elite defense gives them a chance, especially if they land a veteran quarterback. Cleveland will need to rely on improvement from Deshaun Watson, who ranked 35th among 42 qualifiers in QB efficiency after returning from suspension in Week 13. And the Broncos will need a similar rebound from Wilson to succeed in Payton’s first season with the club.
Fields and the Bears need a solid offseason to compete in the NFC North, and the Falcons will need the same to move out of their division’s cellar. Atlanta needs a franchise quarterback and fresh faces all over its defense, but the team boasts young offensive weapons and an innovative head coach in Arthur Smith. The NFC South is there for the taking, and Atlanta has the resources to turn over their roster in the coming weeks.