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idleguy.com 2023 Pro Football Preview
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New Orleans Saints

2022 Record: (7-10)
2022 Off. Rank: (19)
2022 Def. Rank (5)

Solid defense was the Saints' trademark last season, but they finished with a 7-10 mark due to inconsistencies on offense from QBs Jameis Winston, who lasted just three weeks, and then, Andy Dalton, who will not be on the roster in 2023.

Derek Carr takes over the starting role. Despite some flaws, Carr is probably the best staring QB in the division. Coupled with the Saints defensive prowess and a capable receiving corps which includes budding star Chris Olave, veteran Michal Thomas, and sure-handed Rashid Shaheed, the Saints look like the choice to take the division and maybe even turn a winning record. None of the squads in this division made it to .500 last season.

The defense benefits from experience and togetherness. Cam Jordan, Demario davis, Carl Granderson, Tyrann Mathieu and Marshon Lattimore have tons of valuable experience that will pay dividends throughout the regular season. Should Carr fit into the Saints' scheme and deliver like he did in his best years with the Raiders, the Saints could be one of a few good surprises in the NFC.

Because of last season's record, the schedule will also be a littler lighter. New Orleans starts of the season with the Titans, Panthers, Packers, Buccaneers, and Patriots, all winnable games. They don't play any elite teams all season - no Bills, Chiefs, 49ers, or Bengals. In fact, other than two games with Tampa Bay, the only 2022 playoff teams they meet this year are the Jaguars and Giants.

The Saints should get back to the playoffs by winning the division.

Expected 2023 Record: (10-7)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2022 Record: (8-9)
2022 Off. Rank: (15)
2022 Def. Rank (9)

The quarterback carousel spun around and Baker Mayfield landed in Tampa Bay, the successor to retired (for now) Tom Brady, arriving with a spotty record from Cleveland and Carolina and some highlights late last season with the Rams.

Mayfield is only in his sixth NFL season, so he still has all the tools and could resurrect his career with a solid season in Tampa. Mayfield is in a QB duel for the starting position with Kyle Trask, a local favorite having played college football for the Florida Gators, but the betting is on Mayfield.

Whoever gets the starting nod will have elite wide receiver, Mike Evans downfield, a secondary buster who's at his physical peak. Across the field is speedy Chris Godwin, but the slot position is up for grabs. The Bucs drafted Trey Palmer (Nebraska) with that role in mind, but there are other options.

Tampa's 3-4 defensive scheme allows linebackers to freelance and either rush of drop into coverage. Devin White, Shaw Barrett, and Lavonte David are stalwart linebackers, but the secondary, after Antoine Winfield Jr., is vulnerable.

Having won their division last season, the schedule is a little tougher for the Bucs than the other teams in this division. They should compete with the Saints until the final weeks. They get the Saints at home in week 17, sandwiched between hosting the Jaguars in week 16 and closing out the season at Carolina.

The division title race figures to be close.

Expected 2023 Record: (9-8)

Carolina Panthers

2022 Record: (7-10)
2022 Off. Rank: (29)
2022 Def. Rank (22)

The #1 pick in the draft, Alabama QB Bryce Young, was supposed to get the starting job and he will, though how effective he'll be as a rookie remains to be seen.

Considering how rough the league is on rookie QBs, even though Young arrives with strong credentials, he's got a lot of maturation ahead, and, looking at Carolina's record the past few years - 5-11 in 2019; 5-11 in 2020; 5-12 in 2021; 7-10 in 2022 - an 8-9 finish might be considered a positive.

Looks like a rough year for the rookie QB and the rest of the team. There's just not much to build upon. With the team having made a commitment to a #1 draft choice QB, there's probably a two year window before anybody gets axed. Frank Reich is the latest head coach, new to the team this season, following such notables as Steve Walks, Matt Rhule, and Perry Fewell.

Reich is somewhat of a known quantity in the coaching ranks. He helped the Eagles win Super Bowl LII following the 2017 season, then took the Colts to the playoffs in 2018 and 2020, but had bad luck (sorry, pun) when QB Andrew Luck retired unexpectedly prior to the 2019 season. Indy's front office fired Reich after a 3-5-1 start to the 2022 season.

Everything's up in the air in Carolina and that's usually not a recipe for success.

Expected 2023 Record: (7-10)

Atlanta Falcons

2022 Record: (7-10)
2022 Off. Rank: (24)
2022 Def. Rank (27)

Desmond Ridder is the new starting quarterback for the Falcons after Marcus Mariota failed to deliver, leading the team to a 5-8 mark in 2022. Ridder played the final four games, resulting in two wins and two losses. The wins came at home, 20-19, over Arizona, and 30-17 over Tampa Bay, after the Buccaneers had already clinched the division.

Near the bottom of the rankings on both offense and defense, Atlanta has a lot of work to do to get back to respectability. The problem is that they don't have the bodies, experience or coaching staff to get them there. Head coach Arthur Smith had Matt Ryan in 2021, but managed to produce only a 7-10 record, and repeated that mark in 2022. If the Falcons get off to a slow start, Smith might find himself on the hot seat.

The season begins with games against Carolina, Green Bay, Detroit, and Jacksonville. A record of 1-3 will not cut it. Atlanta needs to at least split those games to keep fans from shouting about changing the coaching staff.

With loads of issues, the Falcons don't look like contenders for anything other than trades and free agency. See you next season.

Expected 2023 Record: (5-12)


San Francisco 49ers

2022 Record: (13-4)
2022 Off. Rank: (5)
2022 Def. Rank (1)

Brock Purdy surprised just about everybody and maybe even himself, leading the 49ers to a late-season surge of six straight wins that captured the division and got them to the conference championship, where they were overwhelmed by the Eagles, 31-7.

At 7-4, the 'Niners were already in good shape when Jimmy Garoppolo broke his foot and was replaced by Purdy in a home game against Miami. The 49ers prevailed, 33-17, thanks to solid defense and two TD passes by Purdy. Adding Christian McCaffrey that December 4 Sunday didn't hurt. In his first game as a 49er, McCaffrey had 66 yards rushing, 80 receiving, and scored a go-ahead touchdown with four second left in the first half.

The team never looked back, won their next five games, trounced Seattle in the wild card round, 41-23, and took out Dallas in the divisional, 19-12. Philly just proved too tough.

As their rankings indicate, this team is loaded. Besides McCaffrey as the #1 back, the 49ers have Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk at the wideout positions, tight end George Kittle, all-world fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, and plenty of depth.

The defense will be top five again this season as soon as the team re-signs defensive end, Nick Bosa, the NFL defensive player of the year in 2022.

San Fran should cruise to the division crown and again go deep into the playoffs.

Expected 2023 Record: (14-3)

Seattle Seahawks

2022 Record: (9-8)
2022 Off. Rank: (13)
2022 Def. Rank (26)

Seattle named Geno Smith the starting QB at the beginning of the 2022 season and his resurgence was enough to carry the rebuilding Seahawks to a wild card spot with a 9-8 record. The season wasn't without suspense and some nail-biting moments, especially the 19-16 overtime win in week 18 that clinched the tie-breaker over Detroit.

Seattle surprised many with a 6-3 start, but fell back to earth mid-season, losing five of their last six, including back-to-back losses to the 49ers and Chiefs in weeks 15 and 16. Seattle pounded the Jets, 23-6, before prevailing over the Rams and making the post-season.

The Seahawks suffered the misfortune of meeting the 49ers in the opening round and were dispatched, 41-23, but the ground is set for another run at the playoffs, with Smith back, the Seahawks made a ton of off-season moves and drafted well. Among notable draftees are running backs Zach Charbonet (UCLA), Kenny McIntosh (Georgia), and Wayne Taulapapa (Washington).

Rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State) will likely start at one of the wideout spots, along with veterans Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.

The offensive line is solid and added depth via the draft.

Mario Edwards Jr. and Bobby Wagner (returning from LA) head up a defense that suffered a rash of injuries last season, but continues to retool, adding a bunch of free agents, including Wagner, Dre-Mont Jones (DE, Broncos), Julian Love (safety, Giants), Jarran Reed (DT, Packers), and Devin Bush (LB, Steelers).

Seattle should make the playoffs, but catching the 49ers for the division title seems iffy.

Expected 2023 Record: (11-6)

Arizona Cardinals

2022 Record: (4-13)
2022 Off. Rank: (22)
2022 Def. Rank (21)

Arizona ranked in the lower half of almost every statistical category last season, and they may have trouble at the start of the 2023 season, as starting QB Kyler Murray recovers from ACL surgery and may miss a few of the early games. Even when he does return, Murray may be less than fully effective, though there's plenty of hope that he'll be back to his usual scrambling self.

Pressure will be applied to RB James Conner to produce. He rushed for 782 yards in 2022, and will have to improve on that for the Cardinals to be successful. Tight end Zach Ertz should be ready to go by week #1, adding to the drama in the desert. Colt McCoy will likely be the stating QB the first two to four weeks.

Arizona's defense needs further retooling after a sub-par season in 2022. They can't fix the pass rush or secondary in time to contend this year, though they are likely to show some moxie in the second half of the season. They could surprise late and make the playoffs, though winning the division might be a stretch.

Expected 2023 Record: (8-9)

Los Angeles Rams

2022 Record: (5-12)
2022 Off. Rank: (32)
2022 Def. Rank (19)

Coming off a season plagued with injuries, the Rams have chosen to go with 35-year-old Matthew Stafford for another go in the weak NFC West. It's a safe bet that Stafford, who only saw action in nine games last season, will not be the starter by season's end. That job will likely go to another Georgia graduate, rookie Stetson Bennett, who guided the Bulldogs to the national championship in 2022-23.

Stafford's record in those nine starts was an underperforming 3-6, a big part of the reason the Rams, in the year following their (fixed) Super Bowl win, were down with Arizona in the dregs of the NFC.

LA's offense ranked dad last in 2022, which helped augment the collapse of their once-stoic defense as that unit was on the field far too often.

Beyond Stafford, the Rams haven't changed much. Cam Akers is still the #1 RB, Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson the main wideouts, while Demarcus Robinson will probably get more targets as a slot receiver. Tight end Tyler Higbee is solid at TE.

The defense will still revolve around Aaron Donald, though the supporting cast isn't exceptional, though they will probably keep the Rams close in most contests.

Maybe the Rams will improve slightly with a weaker schedule, but they don't look like playoff material.

Expected 2023 Record: (6-11)

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