The upcoming year, 2023, might just usher in a remarkable transformation among the teams that have consistently dominated the field in recent years. While it’s hard to imagine the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills losing their momentum this season, it’s intriguing to consider the idea that neither of them might clinch their division. The winds of change, propelled by shrewd draft choices, bold off-season maneuvers, and shifts in coaching strategies, could provide a glimmer of hope for teams that have endured their fair share of struggles. Here are four teams that seem to have a genuine chance of seizing their division crowns this year.
- 2022: 7-10
- 2023 Projected Win Total: 8.5
- NFC South Division Winner Odds: +210
After a 2022 season that saw them finish with a record of 7-10, tied with the Saints and Panthers, the Falcons are poised to make a run at the NFC South division title in 2023. Despite their previous struggles, a slew of offseason moves and a roster brimming with potential have positioned them as serious contenders in their division.
A significant portion of their offseason efforts was directed toward improving their defense, a unit that had faced challenges in recent years. They acquired key defensive assets, including defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen from the Saints, linebacker Kaden Ellis, and defensive tackle David Onyemata. The additions didn’t stop there. Safety Jessie Bates III, outside linebacker Bud Dupree, defensive end Calais Campbell, and cornerback Jeff Okudah were also brought in to bolster the Falcons’ defense. With these enhancements, Atlanta’s defense is primed to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, potentially transforming it into a formidable unit.
But the Falcons didn’t solely focus on defense; they also invested in strengthening their offense. The emergence of second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder is central to their strategy. Ridder, a former third-round pick, showed glimpses of potential in his four starts last season. Atlanta is placing its faith in him to lead the offense to new heights. Ridder’s success will be buoyed by the trio of skill-position players the Falcons have assembled. First-round running back Bijan Robinson, wide receiver Drake London, and tight end Kyle Pitts were all top-ten picks in their respective drafts. These dynamic talents are set to provide Ridder with a robust arsenal, and their collective impact could be game-changing for the Falcons’ offensive prospects.
A pivotal aspect of Atlanta’s offensive game plan is its impressive offensive line. Ranked among the top 10 in the league, this line provides a sturdy foundation for head coach Arthur Smith’s run-heavy approach. The Falcons’ commitment to the ground game is further supported by the addition of Bijan Robinson, a dynamic runner who joins a backfield that already features Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson. With the benefit of a strong offensive line, the trio of Robinson, Allgeier, and Patterson are well-positioned to flourish and contribute to the team’s offensive success.
The NFC South, which was characterized by inconsistency in 2022, presents an opening for a new division leader. The reigning division champions, the Buccaneers, must now navigate the season without the legendary Tom Brady. The Saints, led by Derek Carr, and the intriguing Panthers with Bryce Young also vie for supremacy. However, the Falcons have crafted a roster that exudes strength and depth, boasting three top-ten picks at skill positions. Their 6-3 home record from the previous season suggests that their Mercedes-Benz Stadium could indeed become a fortress for potential playoff success.
New York Jets
- 2022: 7-10
- 2023 Projected Win Total: 9.5
- AFC East Division Winner Odds: +250
Bolstered by a transformative offseason and a revamped roster, the Jets are gearing up for a promising campaign. The arrival of Aaron Rodgers marks a pivotal moment, injecting a level of competence that has eluded the team for years. This change is particularly poignant after the struggles with previous first-round picks Sam Darnold and Zach Wilson. Rodgers’ presence is set to redefine the team’s offensive approach and elevate its overall performance. His arrival has the potential to snap a 12-year playoff drought and rekindle hopes of divisional supremacy.
The infusion of talent extends beyond the quarterback position. The addition of Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman to an already impressive receiving corps, featuring Garrett Wilson and Corey Davis, elevates the Jets’ passing game to new heights. With tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Ty Conklin rounding out the receiving options, the Jets’ passing offense is primed for a resurgence.
Robert Saleh’s prowess as a defensive mastermind is well-known, last season’s performance showcased his impact, propelling the Jets’ defense to fourth place in both total defense and scoring defense. The defense, which ranked an impressive fifth in defensive DVOA last season, remains a force to be reckoned with. Standout performers like Defensive Rookie of the Year, cornerback Sauce Gardner, and star defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, ensure the Jets have the defensive prowess to complement Rodgers’ offensive firepower.
The path to victory for the Jets is not without challenges, particularly within the fiercely competitive AFC East division. The Buffalo Bills have secured the division title for three consecutive seasons, while the Miami Dolphins made a wildcard appearance. The New England Patriots are poised to rebound under a new offensive coordinator. To capture their first AFC East title since 2002, the Jets will need to navigate a challenging divisional landscape.
- 2022: 7-10
- 2023 Projected Win Total: 8.5
- AFC North Division Winner Odds: +400
Fresh off a 2022 season that culminated in a 7-10 record, the Browns are primed to emerge as frontrunners in their division. One of the most significant overhauls was directed at shoring up their run defense—a previous weak spot. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods passed the torch to Jim Schwartz, who brings a wealth of experience and strategic acumen. The Browns fortified their defensive line with acquisitions such as Dalvin Tomlinson, Za’Darius Smith, and Ogbo Okoronkwo.
A revitalized defensive line, featuring the imposing Tomlinson and the impactful Siaki Ika, effectively shores up the middle. The trade for Za’Darius Smith, coupled with the addition of Okoronkwo, provides much-needed edge support opposite the formidable Myles Garrett. Further enhancements to the secondary, such as safety Juan Thornhill, fortify the defense, which shows promise under the stewardship Schwartz.
Offensively, the Browns addressed their wideout group by trading for Elijah Moore and drafting Cedric Tillman, a move that adds depth and versatility. The balance between offense and defense sets the stage for the Browns to emerge as a well-rounded force in the AFC North.
Last season, the Bengals reigned supreme in the division, capturing the crown with a 12-4 record. However, the tightly contested AFC North saw all teams secure at least seven wins, emphasizing the parity within the division. For the Browns to navigate the challenging terrain presented by the Bengals, Ravens, and Steelers, the pivotal role of Deshaun Watson cannot be overstated. If Watson regains his form and echoes his prowess with the Texans, the Browns could stage a formidable comeback.
Los Angeles Chargers
- 2022: 10-7
- 2023 Project Win Total: 9.5
- AFC West Division Winner Odds: +300
The expectations for the Chargers are sky-high as they prepare for the new season. Under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, the Chargers are poised to harness the full potential of quarterback Justin Herbert’s skills.
The memories of the 2022 season linger as a reminder of the Chargers’ untapped potential. A series of injuries on both sides of the ball marred their journey, culminating in a gut-wrenching 27-point lead collapse against the Jaguars in the wild-card game—a painful finale to a season that promised more.
With health on their side and Herbert leading the charge, the Chargers stand poised to embark on a successful season. The addition of Quentin Johnston to the receiving corps and Austin Ekeler’s continued impact highlight the potential for an explosive offensive game. With Moore at the helm, Herbert’s arm could find new depths, while the run game takes on a fresh dimension, making the Chargers a multi-faceted offensive powerhouse.
The Chargers’ off-season maneuvers include the addition of linebacker Eric Kendricks—a move poised to strengthen their defensive backbone. The draft has also fortified their ranks, with talents like Tuli Tuipulotu and Daiyan Henley stepping in to bolster the defense. The defense’s transformation, coupled with Joey Bosa’s return to full health and Khalil Mack’s potential resurgence, sets the stage for a revitalized defensive performance.