Welcome to the 104th season of the National Football League. The 58th year in the Super Bowl era. The first year since Tom Brady retired and potentially the last of Bill Belichick’s legendary coaching tenure.
The league looks a lot different now than it did a year ago, and that’s nothing new. Every season we have players move teams and expectations vary, but there’s something about 2023 that makes the stakes feel higher than ever. It isn’t hyperbole to say that what happens this year could define the next decade for almost half of the NFL.
Three rookie quarterbacks begin their NFL journeys as starters and will define the futures of the Colts, Panthers, and Texans. The 49ers and Packers are hoping they have the right guy to take over their starting jobs in Brock Purdy and Jordan Love. The Broncos and Browns grit their teeth and hope their big-name QBs can put it together once more, saving them from salary cap hell in the future. The Cardinals and Buccaneers are taking a mulligan on football’s most important position, hoping that the draft can change their fortunes, while the Raiders and Dolphins are praying they did enough to compete in two of football’s toughest divisions.
Then there’s the New York Jets.
There’s nothing left to say about this team which hasn’t already been analyzed ad nauseam. The addition of Aaron Rodgers will either propel the Jets to challenge for a championship or explode in spectacular fashion. On paper, adding Rodgers to New York’s defense with their suite of young offensive players is a recipe for success, but lest we forget that the Jets tried this in 2008 with Brett Favre — before ending the season 9-7 and failing to make the playoffs.
If this whole discussion feels almost exclusively QB-centric, that’s intentional. The ability to win in 2023 rests entirely on whether or not you have a franchise quarterback. We are past the time where mediocrity like Brad Johnson, Trent Dilfer or Joe Flacco can get a ring at the position.
This has come at the expense of running backs, which is a problem that has yet to be addressed. A running back labor movement that sparked a Zoom call and possible action began with a bang, then ended with a whimper, as Saquon Barkley wrecked any possibility of a united front by taking a $900,000 pay bump, which led to Josh Jacobs ending his holdout in Las Vegas and Jonathan Taylor staying put in Indianapolis. Great news if you’re a fan of those teams, horrible for the future of running backs who are getting chewed up and tossed out. Running the ball is a critical skill and become seen as something anyone can do in this modern NFL.
We could be witnessing the end of an era as well. European expansion is inevitable, and while we won’t see a new teams for a few years, we’re drawing closer to the moment where the NFL announces teams will be established in England and Germany, forever altering travel and divisional balance inside the league. It will change how we think about football, as well as how the rest of the world perceives our game. Is this progress? Financially, sure — but it’s also the NFL selling its soul to increase its war chest.
The Chiefs aim to cement a dynasty. The Eagles want to prove they’re the dominant force in the NFC. The Bills want to hold it all together and finally break though. The Cardinals … well, the Cardinals are contractually obligated to field a football team this season.
Welcome to our preview of the 2023 NFL season, a year that defines the future. — James Dator
Our complicated, messy love affair with the NFL, by James Dator
There is nothing in the world like this maddening, infuriating, beautiful, and sublime game. Every sport has its incredible athletes and unforgettable moments, but there’s something that hits differently when it comes to the NFL’s ability to conjure nostalgia with a few simple words: The Catch, The Drive, The Minneapolis Miracle, The Immaculate Reception. We don’t just remember great players, but moments frozen in time that define a city and an era with one iconic moment. All executed by players honed to become single-purpose weapons unlike anything else in sports. Other team sports all have positions, but only football demands a complete transformation of the human body to become an archetype.
5 NFL scheme trends to watch in 2023, by Mark Schofield
The NFL’s schematic wars are never-ending. Football is a game of adjustments, responses, and adjustments to those responses. An offense starts doing something that works, the other 31 teams follow suit, defenses figure out an answer, and then the offenses work on their adjustments to that defensive solution. What schemes should fans be on the lookout for in the year ahead? Here is what to watch for in the never-ending scheme wars.
Read about the NFL’s five biggest scheme trends in 2023 here.
Is Russ cooked?, by J.P. Acosta
Russell Wilson was a shell of himself in year one in Denver, unconfident in his ability, and the Broncos suffered as a result. Then-head coach Nathaniel Hackett was barely any help, and was promptly fired before the season ended. Now, Sean Payton enters the fray, an experienced head coach who has to find a way to make this work with Wilson. The biggest thing that he and the Broncos have to do is find a way to get Wilson to at least a baseline level of QB play. Before he gets to that point, though, we have to answer a few questions about Wilson in 2023.
The eerie similarities between Favre and Rodgers’ path through the NFL has been one of the most bizarre aspects of this offseason. In both cases we had a desperate Jets team willing to do anything to win a Super Bowl, with the belief that all they were missing was a top-tier quarterback to put them over the top. Let’s take a trip back to 2008 to see what made that Jets team tick, how it compares to now, and whether history will keep repeating itself again in the most crushing way.
Read about the intersecting careers of Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre here.
The NFL’s 25 most important people in 2023 (coming Wednesday)
Football is a team sport, we all know this, it’s not like it’s a mystery — but every year a handful of people help define the sport for the upcoming season. We’ve identified the 25 people who will make 2023 tick, and when the dust settles their performance will decide the season.
Check back Wednesday morning to read about the 25 most important people in the NFL this season.
Lamar Jackson could have another leap in him, by Mark Schofield (coming Wednesday)
The Ravens have new thinking on offense, particularly in the passing game. They have new weapons for Jackson, including Odell Beckham Jr. and first-round pick Zay Flowers. They have everything in place for Jackson to live up to his new deal, and become the pocket passer that so many have questioned — still — that he could become. With everything in place, there is reason to believe we truly will see the best of Jackson this season.
Check back Wednesday morning to read how Lamar Jackson could level up again this season.
The NFC South is football’s most chaotic division in 2023, by James Dator (coming Wednesday)
There are different stages of rebuilding, to be sure. The Falcons and Panthers are in the middle of a full teardown and rebuild, the Saints are trying to turn a page with Derek Carr in the hopes they can challenge once more while still recovering from Drew Brees’ retirement — and the Buccaneers, well, they’re desperate to keep their championship roster in a position to win, but have elected to hand that over to Baker Mayfield.
Check back Wednesday morning to read about football’s chaos division.
1 thing we love and hate about every NFL team in 2023 (coming Wednesday)
There’s no shortage of deep dives into every team in 2023 to evaluate their chances of winning the Lombardi Trophy, or at least getting a little bit better. However, there is a shortage of extremely short dives into each team that you can read on the toilet. We’re here to help, and came up with one thing we love about every team this season, and one thing we hate. Don’t get mad, it’s not that serious.
Check back Wednesday morning to read one thing we love and hate about every NFL team this season.
Big is back in for the NFL, by J.P. Acosta and Mark Schofield (coming Thursday)
Football is constantly evolving before our very eyes. For recent years in the NFL, the name of the game has been speed. Now the NFL may be at another schematic inflection point. Roster construction moves from a few different teams point towards such a change, as do some coaching hirings. Watching both NFL preseason action, as well as early college football games, also highlights how the trend may be turning. Lighter personnel packages and spread formations are still present, but so too are bigger personnel packages, and tighter formations. Here’s how “big boy grilling on the roof” football came back in style.
Check back Thursday morning to read about the return of big boy football.
3 NFL teams who can jump into the playoffs, by Bill Williamson (coming Thursday)
Last year’s losers can easily become this year’s darlings. It happens every year. In the 2022 season, seven of the 14 teams that made the postseason did not qualify in the previous season. Fans should expect about the same rate of post-season turnover in the 2023 NFL season. In the spirt of that, we are going to look at three teams who were think will go from being a 2022 also-ran to a 2023-playoff participant.
Check back Thursday morning to read about three teams ready to jump into the playoffs.
Can Brock Purdy make the 49ers’ Super Bowl dreams a reality?, by Kyle Posey (coming Thursday)
Brock put up numbers that rivaled the best quarterbacks in the league late last season. Purdy’s DVOA was the sixth best for any rookie quarterback … ever. From Week 13 on, Purdy was fourth in the NFL in adjusted EPA per play and eighth in success rate. Oh, and no quarterback threw more touchdowns during that span. The success of the rookie quarterback, whether statistical or on the field, gave the 49ers enough confidence to name Purdy the starter for the 2023 season. But how much of what we saw in 2022 was due to a limited sample size? The QB’s performance will make-or-break the 49ers’ Super Bowl dreams this season.
Check back Thursday morning to read about what Brock Purdy can do for an encore.
The disappearance of NFL wide receivers over the age of 30, by Kenny Arthur (coming Thursday)
Go back to 2001 and you will find that there were 10 receivers in the league who were at least 30 years old and had at least 1,000 yards. Two decades ago, being a young receiver was practically a roadblock, as teams trusted veterans way more than rookies: 13 of the top 17 players in receiving yards in 2001 were at least 28 and only three were 25 or younger. In 2022, 14 of the top-25 receivers in receiving yards were 25 or younger, while only six of them were between 28 and 30. None were older than 30. How long before older wide outs get devalued like running backs?
Check back Thursday morning to read about the plight of the old receiver.
This content was originally published here.