The 2023 NFL Draft is in the books, and, for the most part, the player acquisition period of the NFL offseason is complete. Trades will occur between now and the start of the season, but teams’ roster makeup won’t change significantly before Week 1. With that in mind, let’s project what the 2023 NFL playoff picture will look like.
Who will win each division, who will sneak in as Wild Card teams, and who will be holding the Lombardi Trophy in February 2024?
Predicting the 2023 NFL Playoffs | AFC
No. 1 Seed | Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs earned the top seed in the AFC seed and won the Super Bowl in 2022 even after trading Tyreek Hill, so it doesn’t feel right to move Kansas City out of the No. 1 spot until they’ve been toppled.
The Chiefs won’t be bringing back the exact same roster that won it all last season. Jawaan Taylor will take over for Orlando Brown Jr. on Mahomes’ blindside after spending his entire NFL career at right tackle. However, K.C. hasn’t solidified its RT situation after Andrew Wylie signed with the Commanders.
Meanwhile, Kadarius Toney, Skyy Moore, and second-round rookie Rashee Rice could be asked to take on significant snaps after JuJu Smith-Schuster signed with the Patriots. But with Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Andy Reid still in Kansas City, the Chiefs should be expected to rank top five in offensive scoring and efficiency, even if they don’t finish No. 1 again.
Kansas City’s defense is ready to take a step forward. Trent McDuffie, Jaylen Watson, Joshua Williams, and George Karlaftis all played well during their rookie campaigns and should be expected to progress further. Free agent Charles Omenihu and first-round pick Felix Anudike-Uzomah will bolster the Chiefs’ pass rush.
No. 2 Seed | Cincinnati Bengals
After appearing in the Super Bowl following the 2021 campaign, the Bengals felt just short last season after losing to the Chiefs in the AFC title game. Can Cincinnati make another deep run in 2023?
The Bengals’ offense should look similar next season, pending a decision on running back Joe Mixon, who could stick on the roster after Cincinnati failed to land an early-round RB in the draft. Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd aren’t going anywhere, and the Bengals’ offensive line projects to be better after adding Brown from the Chiefs.
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Questions might have arisen on the defensive side of the ball after Cincinnati lost Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell to free agency. But the Bengals have done a good job of filling their needs and then some. 2022 first-rounder Dax Hill will take over at one safety spot, while Nick Scott and rookie third-rounder Jordan Battle will battle for the other.
DJ Turner will offer high-upside cornerback play if Chidobe Awuize is slow to recover from his ACL tear, while first-round pick Myles Murphy will bring more juice to a pass-rushing unit that needed more depth. The Bengals have as talented a roster as any team in the AFC.
No. 3 Seed | Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars didn’t have the cap space to make any serious additions this offseason, but that probably doesn’t matter in the AFC South. With every other team in the division going through some version of a rebuilding process, Jacksonville is the easy favorite.
One year after a disastrous Urban Meyer-led rookie season in which he led the NFL with 17 interceptions, Trevor Lawrence looked like the quarterback we all thought was a generational talent at Clemson. Lawrence finished ninth in expected points added per dropback and still has room for growth.
Calvin Ridley, whom the Jaguars acquired at last year’s trade deadline and has since been reinstated after serving a gambling-related suspension, should add a new dimension to a Jacksonville offense. Christian Kirk and Evan Engram, both of whom posted career years in 2022, will both be back. Travis Etienne Jr. could post another 1,000-yard campaign if the Jaguars’ offensive line is competent.
No. 4 Seed | Buffalo Bills
The Bills have been viewed as Super Bowl contenders in each of the last three seasons, but they haven’t been able to get past the Championship Round. In both 2021 and 2022, Buffalo’s season ended on Divisional weekend. Is this the year they take the leap?
The AFC isn’t getting any easier, nor is the AFC East. But Josh Allen is still the best quarterback in the division, and the Bills filled many of their offensive needs by adding another pass catcher in tight end Dalton Kincaid and interior offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence and Connor McGovern.
But there could be questions on defense. Coordinator Leslie Frazier is taking at least a year off, leaving head coach Sean McDermott to handle double duties. Can safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer stay healthy for the entire season? Who replaces Tremaine Edmunds? And how will 34-year-old Von Miller recover after tearing his ACL?
No. 5 Seed | New York Jets
Aaron Rodgers should make the Jets instant contenders — assuming he’s something closer to the 2020-21 MVP version of himself instead of the quarterback who put up middling numbers a season ago.
There are enough questions about New York’s offensive line, especially after they failed to land an offensive tackle in the first round of the draft, to be concerned. But the combination of Rodgers, Breece Hall, reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson, old Rodgers pal Allen Lazard, and Mecole Hardman should be able to put points on the board.
But can Gang Green’s defense play as well as it did in 2022? Defensive performance is inherently more unpredictable than offensive production, and the Jets’ defenders are unlikely to all put up career years again. New York should still have an above-average defensive unit, but if they slip at all, Rodgers and Co. will need to pick up the slack.
No. 6 Seed | Baltimore Ravens
The AFC North might be more challenging next season as Kenny Pickett moves into his second NFL campaign and Deshaun Watson becomes more comfortable in the Browns’ offense. But after the Ravens ensured Lamar Jackson would be back by making him the highest-paid player in league history, Baltimore looks like the favorite to land a Wild Card berth.
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Odell Beckham Jr., first-round pick Zay Flowers, Rashod Bateman, and tight end Mark Andrews will give Jackson the best set of weapons he’s worked with during his NFL career. If new offensive coordinator Todd Monken can install a more modern offense that takes advantage of Lamar’s best attributes as a passer, Baltimore could have one of the best offenses in the AFC.
No. 7 Seed | Miami Dolphins
There are plenty of contenders for the final playoff position in the AFC. The Chargers made the playoffs last season and could take a jump under new offensive play-caller Kellen Moore. The Patriots always seem to be in the race under Bill Belichick. Maybe Sean Payton fixes Russell Wilson and makes the Broncos a legitimate threat.
But we’re giving this last spot to the Dolphins, who limped into the playoffs last year despite having to rely on third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson. If Tua Tagovailoa can stay healthy — and that’s a big if — Miami’s offense projects to be as explosive as any unit in the league.
We’ve seen what the combination of Mike McDaniel, Tyreek Hill, and Jaylen Waddle can do, but we haven’t yet witnessed how Vic Fangio will harness Jalen Ramsey, Bradley Chubb, Jaelan Phillips, and Jevon Holland on defense. From a pure talent perspective, the Dolphins’ defense is loaded — how they mesh under Fangio could determine whether Miami slides into the postseason or not.
Predicting the 2023 NFL Playoffs | NFC
No. 1 Seed | Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles had the best roster in football last season. After losing Javon Hargrave, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Miles Sanders, Isaac Seumalo, Kyzir White, and TJ Edwards … Philadelphia probably still has the best roster in the league.
Howie Roseman has filled nearly every gap, either by adding high-profile rookies like Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith, having readymade replacements such as guard Cam Jurgens, or by making astute trades like Saturday’s deal for running back D’Andre Swift.
Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown, and DeVonta Smith represent an unstoppable trio. Additionally, the Eagles figure to remain among the best rushing teams in the NFL thanks to their elite offensive line. How Philadelphia’s offense progresses given the loss of coordinator Shane Steichen is a worthwhile question, but new play-caller Brian Johnson has been engrossed in the Eagles’ system.
There’s a fairly significant gap between Philadelphia and the rest of the NFC. If the Eagles were in the AFC, they’d have to fight tooth and nail to earn the No. 1 seed. But in this conference, the first-round bye and home-field advantage should be theirs for the taking.
No. 2 Seed | Detroit Lions
The Lions were one game away from earning a playoff berth last season, and they’ve made enough offseason moves to distance themselves from the rest of the NFC North.
I don’t have any concerns about Detroit’s offense. Coordinator Ben Johnson was a revelation in 2022. After turning down multiple head-coaching interviews, he should be able to get another outstanding season out of Jared Goff. Goff won’t have to worry about a first-round rookie breathing down his next after the Lions waited until Round 3 to select Hendon Hooker.
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But the defensive side of the ball is arguably even more intriguing, if only because there’s a lot of room for improvement. After finishing 28th in DVOA, the Lions revamped their secondary by adding Gardner-Johnson, Cam Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley, and draft-day steal Brian Branch. If Aidan Hutchinson and the rest of Detroit’s front seven can also take a step forward, the Lions could be a 12-win club.
No. 3 Seed | Seattle Seahawks
After entering the playoffs as a Wild Card team a season ago, we think the Seahawks can overtake the 49ers for the NFC West crown in 2022.
Seattle is pinning its hopes on Geno Smith matching or exceeding his performance from last season, but he will have help. Jaxon Smith-Njigba gives the Seahawks three legitimate wideouts, while Zach Charbonnet will form a solid running back duo with Kenneth Walker III. Seattle’s offensive line, which could feature second-year leaps from offensive tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas, should give Smith enough time in the pocket and create rushing lanes for the club’s young backs.
The Seahawks’ secondary — comprised of Tariq Woolen, rookie Devon Witherspoon, and safeties Jamal Adams, Quandre Diggs, and Julian Love — has the potential to be among the best units in the NFL. Depending on how much free agent addition Dre’Mont Jones improves the front seven, Seattle’s defense should show massive improvement after ranking 25th in scoring last year.
No. 4 Seed | Carolina Panthers
While the Buccaneers still have a lot of veteran talent and the Falcons could be feisty based on how Desmond Ridder progresses, the NFC South looks like a two-team race between the Panthers and Saints.
New Orleans may honestly have the better overall roster. It’s an experience-laden group that could push for a playoff spot, especially if Derek Carr thrives in the Saints’ offense. The club’s defense should remain effective under Dennis Allen, and rookies Bryan Bresee and Isaiah Foskey could give them a push up front.
But I’m betting on Bryce Young taking the Panthers over the top. Remember, Carolina won seven games last year while running through Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and P.J. Walker at quarterback. Young represents a massive improvement, and he’s NFL-ready enough to take over an offense that no longer has DJ Moore but did add Adam Thielen, DJ Chark, Hayden Hurst, Miles Sanders, and second-round rookie Jonathan Mingo.
No. 5 Seed | San Francisco 49ers
With Brock Purdy potentially sidelined until mid-September as he recovers from the UCL injury he suffered in the NFC title game, the 49ers may have to turn to Trey Lance or Sam Darnold to begin the season.
We’ve all learned never to doubt Kyle Shanahan’s offensive wizardry, but the idea of San Francisco relying on Lance or Darnold does give pause. The 49ers have so many offensive weapons that it might not even matter who’s under center. However, some of those weapons — including Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, and Deebo Samuel — have had trouble staying healthy in recent seasons.
No. 6 Seed | Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are rarely big spenders in free agency, but the two veteran trades they made this offseason could be instructive on their season outlook.
Receiver Brandin Cooks, picked up from the Texans, will finally give Dak Prescott the No. 2 receiver he’s been searching for behind CeeDee Lamb. It’s fair to wonder if Dallas will take a step backward now that Mike McCarthy is calling plays instead of Kellen Moore. Nonetheless, the offensive talent on this roster makes it difficult to imagine the Cowboys not finishing in the top half of the NFL in efficiency.
On defense, Dallas will bring back nearly every contributor plus cornerback Stephon Gilmore, whom they acquired from the Colts. The Cowboys have ranked top two in defensive DVOA in each of the past two seasons, and while defensive production is unstable, I have faith in Dan Quinn to run it back.
No. 7 Seed | Chicago Bears
Let’s have some fun with the NFC’s No. 7 seed. Several teams could fit into this slot, including the Vikings and Giants, both of whom made the postseason in 2022. But we’re betting on a breakout campaign from Justin Fields in projecting the Bears to go from posting the NFL’s worst record to making the playoffs.
Fields is obviously among the most dynamic athletes in the league, but he now has more talent around him to help in the passing game. DJ Moore, part of the package Chicago received to trade the No. 1 pick, remains an extremely underrated receiver and pushes Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool down the depth chart. And Fields should have more time in the pocket after the Bears signed guard Nate Davis and drafted tackle Darnell Wright 10th overall.
Chicago’s defense might still be a year and a premier edge rusher away. But as long as they don’t finish dead last in defensive efficiency (as they did in 2022), the Bears’ defense should be competent enough to hold on — as long as Fields and Co. put up enough points.
Super Bowl | Philadelphia Eagles vs. Cincinnati Bengals
If this is how the 2023 playoff picture shakes out, we’re projecting a Bengals vs. Bills title game in the AFC and an Eagles vs. Lions matchup in the NFC, followed by an Eagles vs. Bengals Super Bowl.
Philadelphia would get their second straight shot at a Lombardi Trophy, while Cincinnati would be back in the Super Bowl for the second time in three years. Though it would be hard to top the quarterback exhibition that was on display in last year’s Super Bowl, Hurts and Burrow could provide an explosion of scoring.
We’ll give the slight edge to the Eagles, whose wave of pass rushers might be able to give Burrow and the Bengals’ offense line trouble. Roseman, Nick Sirianni, and Co. have spent the last four years designing and assembling an incredible group of talent, and they’ll be rewarded with the Lombardi Trophy.
You heard it here first: the Philadelphia Eagles are your 2023 Super Bowl champs.
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