Will the NFC Be Weak Again in 2023?

Last year, despite a better record, the NFC was perceived to be weak. Will 2023 redeem the conference, or will it be more of the same?

Only one NFC team appears in the top five of Pro Football Network’s Power Rankings, and only three appear in the top 10.

The perceived dominance of the AFC makes things a little bit boring, especially for fans of NFC teams who can sometimes feel like their best shot is to make the playoffs, then hope something fluky happens. Can the NFC come back and restore its reputation as an equal competitor with the AFC?

The NFC Quarterback Situation Is Bleak

Over the past few years, the NFC has been disappointing. Despite the fact that the NFC technically had a winning record against the AFC last year, the perceived strength of the top of the conference made it difficult to believe that they could compete meaningfully when it came to high-level NFL games and the Super Bowl.

The quarterback movement hasn’t helped, either. Though the AFC lost a starter in Derek Carr after he left the Raiders for the Saints, they also lost Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo to AFC teams. On top of that, Tom Brady’s retirement reduced the odds of an NFC team fielding an elite quarterback.

Of the top four quarterbacks in the draft, three went to AFC teams, preventing the NFC from stocking up at the position. At the same time, there seem to be bigger questions surrounding the quarterbacks of top NFC teams than of the top AFC teams.

The Philadelphia Eagles can be pretty confident about Jalen Hurts, and though, on paper, there are probably concerns about passing regression after a huge leap in his pass-game capability — especially after losing his offensive coordinator — those concerns don’t seem realistic at the moment.

MORE: FREE Mock Draft Simulator With Trades

More concerning would be Dak Prescott, whose ceiling is as a top-five quarterback but whose injury history gives good reason to wonder about his ability to play out a full season. He did finish out 2021 but missed significant time in 2022 and 2020. His production last year was concerning as well; the Cowboys quarterback finished 16th in adjusted net yards per passing attempt, which matches his rank in most passing production metrics.

After the Eagles and Cowboys, the best chance the NFC has at producing a contender might be the San Francisco 49ers, but relying on Brock Purdy to be a surefire elite signal-caller is difficult. Not only is it difficult to be sure he can overcome the injury he sustained in the NFC Championship, but his overall profile might not be sustainable — his regular-season play and postseason play were radically different, and both contained red flags.

After that, the NFC would have to rely on continued production from Geno Smith or Jared Goff, both fairly dicey propositions. And few NFL fans are excited about the prospect of Derek Carr in New Orleans or Daniel Jones in New York.

By contrast, the trust that fans have in Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Joe Burrow is well-founded, and the return of Lamar Jackson and the addition of Aaron Rodgers brings more quarterback talent to the conference. Tua Tagovailoa may or may not build upon his excellent 2022 campaign (when healthy), as could Trevor Lawrence, but those would be nice additions to the AFC quarterback roster — not necessities for the conference to compete.

Quarterback Development Might Save the NFC

For the NFC to truly compete, they may need development from their young quarterbacks. In addition to hoping to see signs of sustainability from Purdy, NFC teams could see continued development from players like Justin Fields and Kyler Murray, which could help.

On top of that, this will be the debut for a number of quarterbacks — rookie Bryce Young in Carolina, along with second-year players like Sam Howell and Desmond Ridder, could demonstrate that they deserved the acclaim they received before the NFL Draft. Jordan Love’s debut as a regular starter might reveal a QB ready for the big stage.

MORE: Best Offensive Lines in the NFL 2023

Of course, there’s always the possibility that a player like Kirk Cousins takes another step forward after having the same offensive coordinator in consecutive years for the first time since 2016. Adding a player like Jordan Addison in an offense like Kevin O’Connell’s seems like it could be enough to bring that offense over the top.

All of these individual events are fairly unlikely. But among that group, it’s entirely reasonable that one or two of those things would happen. But when a lot of low-probability events stack up, the chances of one of those events occurring can get pretty high.

If we consider all seven of the above quarterback scenarios as having 1-in-10 odds of occurring, then the odds that at least one of those events playing out are 52 percent. There’s a decent chance that the odds are a bit higher than that, too.

Supporting Casts Won’t Be Enough

The supporting casts in the NFC are somewhat weak as well. The 49ers’ defense is excellent, and there’s a great argument to be had for the Cowboys, Eagles, and Commanders, but two of those teams are already projected to be the standard-bearers of the NFC. Looking for other elite teams in the conference can be difficult.

In Football Outsiders’ DVOA, the fourth-best NFC defense was New Orleans, and if they can get something out of Carr, they may have a chance to be the NFC South representative in the playoffs, but it’s difficult to think of them as candidates to be truly elite.

MORE: Biggest NFL Roster Holes for Contenders After 2023 NFL Draft

The receiver picture looks a bit better. The Commanders, Seahawks, and Vikings look to have a good receiving group, and the Buccaneers have the receivers to help out Kyle Trask (Or Baker Mayfield). Should the Lions get what they need out of Jameson Williams, then there are all kinds of possibilities for a supporting cast to bring a team forward.

But the receiving corps is probably the only area where there’s optimism for finding elite NFC teams outside of the top three. The offensive lines of many of these groups are worrisome, and they also happen to have concerns defensively.

Unless we see some major development from young quarterbacks, it looks like 2023 won’t have a competitive NFC group outside of the pair in the NFC East.

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

Related Articles