The NFL is set to return with Thursday’s season opener between the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions, and our football staff is kicking things off with playoff, Super Bowl, and awards predictions for this season.
The Kansas City Chiefs winning their eighth straight AFC West title is the only consensus choice among our division-winner picks. However, the Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t too far off, with all but two of our editors going with the clear favorites in the AFC South. While the Cincinnati Bengals are the oddsmakers’ picks to win the AFC North for the third time in a row, we’re buying the Baltimore Ravens hype with seven of 10 votes going to Lamar Jackson and Co. The AFC East will be the conference’s most competitive division, but the Buffalo Bills still received the majority of the votes with six, while the arrival of Aaron Rodgers will propel the New York Jets from worst to first in the eyes of three of our team.
Despite losing Aaron Rodgers, five of our editors see the Green Bay Packers returning to the top of the NFC North. The Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions each received two votes, while one editor believes the Chicago Bears will go from the NFL’s worst team to the division title (notably, another two see a wild-card spot). Only one voter sees the Philadelphia Eagles being ousted from the NFC East throne, but everyone believes the Dallas Cowboys will make it to the playoffs again, one way or another. This time last year, some of our team picked the Seattle Seahawks to earn the No. 1 pick. Now, four editors see them edging out the San Francisco 49ers for the NFC West title, while five more believe they’ll earn a wild-card berth. Lastly, the NFC South appears to be a battle between the New Orleans Saints (five votes) and Atlanta Falcons (four votes).
Team drafting No. 1 overall
Caleb Williams, welcome to the desert. With Kyler Murray out for at least the first four games, and a new coaching staff taking over one of the NFL’s least impressive rosters, eight of 10 editors see the Arizona Cardinals earning the No. 1 pick in the 2024 draft. The Las Vegas Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wouldn’t be major shocks to be picking first in April, either. Both clubs are coming off a disappointing 2022 campaign and have undergone major changes under center.
AFC Championship Game
Patrick Mahomes has yet to miss the AFC championship in his first five NFL seasons. Unsurprisingly, seven of 10 editors expect that streak to continue. But the Baltimore Ravens being tied for first with seven appearances in our predicted matchups is somewhat of a shock. The Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals have been the Chiefs’ main rivals in recent years, but they only garnered two and three votes, respectively. The results don’t match the hype with the Jets, who only made one predicted AFC championship matchup.
NFC Championship Game
The NFC will be a three-horse race, according to our team. Outside of one pick for the Seattle Seahawks, the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, and San Francisco 49ers dominate our NFC Championship Game predictions. The Eagles, who made eight of our matchups, have a convincing argument for the NFL’s most talented roster. Believing in the Dallas Cowboys hasn’t been a smart decision in decades, as they haven’t made a conference title game since the 1995 season. But with the NFC lacking as many top-tier clubs as the AFC, six of our team sees that unenviable streak finally come to an end. The San Francisco 49ers are right there with the Cowboys, making five of 10 predicted matchups.
Super Bowl LVIII
You’re going to enjoy this, Eagles fans. Not only is Philadelphia our most-predicted team to win Super Bowl LVII, but three different predictions have the club lifting the Lombardi Trophy after getting revenge over the Chiefs. The majority also sees the Eagles at least making the final game of the year. Speaking of Kansas City, only one editor believes the reigning champions will be able to retain their title, while three others envision a second Super Bowl defeat for the Mahomes-Andy Reid duo. Although it may seem disrespectful for a team as good as the Chiefs, only eight teams have ever won back-to-back titles. Close behind the Eagles are the Ravens, who made four predicted Super Bowl matchups and won three. The Bengals and the 49ers are the only other teams to get a Super Bowl-winning vote, while more pain is coming for the Cowboys, who were picked as the loser of their two Super Bowl appearances.
1st head coach fired
Sorry, Todd, you might as well start packing up your office now. After an underwhelming first season in charge of the Bucs in 2022 for Bowles, our team sees it as almost inevitable that he’ll be the first head coach shown the door in 2023. The Buccaneers might not be the league’s worst team, but most of the other bottom clubs have first-year head coaches, so Bowles is an obvious choice.
Best and worst free-agent signings
An underwhelming free-agent class means these picks lack the big-name talents of recent years. Three votes for Garoppolo to be the worst free-agent addition stands out, though. It makes sense: the veteran quarterback has a risk-averse style and a very long injury history. After a strong season with the Eagles, it’s easy to understand why Hargrave is our most-liked free-agent addition. The 49ers know how to get the best out of defensive linemen, and Hargrave should get a ton of opportunities to wreak havoc with the likes of Nick Bosa drawing focus.
Coach of the Year
Unless a club dominates to an absurd degree, this award usually goes to the coach of the team that improves most from the previous year. That trend is reflected in our voting, with LaFleur (three votes) likely to get a lot of love (no pun intended) if the Packers make the playoffs without Rodgers. Smith is the only other coach to receive multiple votes, with those editors seeing him leading the Falcons to their first NFC South title since 2016.
Rookies of the Year
Opportunity is just as important as talent for those aiming to win rookie awards, and Robinson has the easiest path to instant stardom. Smith loves to ride his running game, so the super-talented Robinson will get a ton of work from Day 1. Plus, running backs have the simplest transition from college to the pros, making Robinson the runaway favorite. Defensively, Carter should get a lot of national spotlight thanks to playing on a Super Bowl favorite, though it might be a tall order for him to get the sack numbers that are usually required from the defensive linemen who win this award.
Players of the Year
Parsons is already a star but we’re predicting him to reach new heights in 2023. The pass-rusher, who finished second in DPOY voting in just his second season, was a near-unanimous selection. Meanwhile, we’re betting McCaffrey will continue his red-hot form since joining the 49ers. Wilson and Pollard are intriguing picks. They’ve yet to produce at an All-Pro level, but both have a clear path to do so in 2023 thanks to Rodgers’ arrival in New York and Ezekiel Elliott’s departure from Dallas, respectively.
As always, quarterbacks dominate the MVP predictions. However, they aren’t locking out the board, with Jefferson earning one vote. It’d likely require Jefferson to become the first wideout to break 2,000 receiving yards, but if there’s one receiver capable of doing so, it’s the Vikings’ star man. The quarterback votes were spread among the signal-callers most believe to be the elite players at the position. With a new offensive coordinator and improved weapons, Jackson is our favorite to earn his second career MVP award with three nominations. Meanwhile, Allen is the only other player to receive more than one vote in what should be a hotly contested race.
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