Summertime in the NFL, a period when those Gatorade bottles generally feel more than half-full as optimism tends to run high within teams and among their fans as training camps open everywhere.
After years of predicting win totals throughout the league at this juncture, I’ve belatedly realized it’s perfectly encapsulated by Journey’s anthemic “Don’t Stop Believin’,” perhaps more so in 2023 than before most seasons.
Don’t stop believin’.
Hold on to that feelin’.
Yes, “that feelin'” can be pervasive in July, when the free agent and rookie additions to each club feel like game changers, coaches and players are still spouting upbeat platitudes about what their team could ultimately become … but before injuries and a few losses have taken the bloom off the rose.
Some’ll win, some will lose.
Some are born to sing the blues.
Ah, the inescapable laws of math. While so many fans (and even media members) view teams in their largely optimized summer states – and maybe err on the side of a 10-, 11- or 12-win (or more) season – the reality is, for everyone of those campaigns, there exists a corresponding five-, six- or seven-win (or worse) stinker
So, to the (fill in the blank) fans, just because I’m forecasting your team at 6-11, you shouldn’t perceive this as a slap in the face – just an honest assessment and the unavoidable truth that not everyone can be 11-6.
(A note on methodology: Using the most current information amid a few iterations of this exercise, I simply select winners and losers for all 272 regular-season games to arrive at my projections. The outcomes allow me to apply tiebreakers, when needed, to determine and seed the 14-team playoff field.)
And one last nod to Journey …
Just a city boy …
Born and raised in South Detroit.
He took the midnight train going anywhere.
As for you, pal, maybe don’t book that ticket out of Motown just yet? More on that later as I reveal my 2023 outlook for all 32 teams (numbers in parentheses denote playoff seeding):
(1) Philadelphia Eagles (12-5): Their schedule, in what projects as a weakened NFC, suggests that a talent-laden team which started 13-1 last season on its way to Super Bowl 57 – and one led by QB Jalen Hurts, the 2022 MVP runner-up who appears to be the conference’s top quarterback – could bolt to another hot start. Reality signals there will be a few speed bumps for a club breaking in two new coordinators, a half-dozen new starters and which owns – overall, based on the 2022 winning percentages of its opponents (.566) – the league’s toughest docket. Still, the reigning conference champs, given present circumstances, seem to have a favorable path back to a No. 1 playoff seed.
(6) Dallas Cowboys (9-8): Their schedule is nearly as brutal as Philly’s, including road games at San Francisco, Buffalo (in December) and Miami. There are also other red flags. LB Micah Parsons says he’s bulking up from his listed weight of 245 pounds, the presumption being he could spend even more time deployed as a pass rusher – and it takes me back to 2013, when Von Miller bulked up to 270 pounds and had his worst season as a pro. But perhaps most concerning is the assertion from head coach Mike McCarthy, Dallas’ new offensive play caller, that “I want to run the damn ball.” But with sledgehammer RB Ezekiel Elliott no longer on the roster, can McCarthy – never particularly committed to the run when he ran Green Bay’s offense – realistically follow through with scatback Tony Pollard and a cast of unproven backups? “America’s Team” is talented enough for a third straight playoff trip under McCarthy … but hardly looks primed to reach its first NFC title game (or Super Bowl) since the 1995 season.
Washington Commanders (7-10): There’s already a palpable sense of relief from the city and even players like WR Terry McLaurin following the departure of disgraced and disgraceful former owner Dan Snyder. That alone should lift what had become a perpetual cloud over a locker room and staff constantly forced to answer questions about the controversies sparked by Snyder. Between the lines, Washington has gone 22-27-1 in three regular seasons under HC Ron Rivera. With unproven second-year QB Sam Howell projected to start, hard to envision much more than another seven or eight victories … though this team might resemble the 2022 Jets (7-10), an otherwise imposing roster perhaps just a proven quarterback away from immediate contention.
New York Giants (6-11): Despite a feel-good 2022 – when this decidedly average team did enough to qualify for a wild-card berth and win a playoff game before getting thoroughly embarrassed by the Eagles in the divisional round – it was hard to get too enthused about Big Blue with such a daunting schedule ahead, including 2022 playoff teams in five of the first six weeks. Then the good feels were further diluted by the failure to reach a contractual commitment to franchised RB Saquon Barkley, who very much appears to be the offense’s linchpin after accounting for nearly 30% of its yardage last season. Seems another team may have to carry the Big Apple’s hopes in 2023.
(3) Detroit Lions (11-6): Only a tiebreaker (a Week 4 loss to Seattle) kept them out of the playoffs last season, when the Lions won eight of their final 10 games. To take the next step forward, Detroit will need to avoid another slow start under third-year HC Dan Campbell – a task obviously made more challenging with an opening-night date at Kansas City. But the guess here is that a revamped secondary – part of a defense that ranked last overall in 2022 – an imposing offensive line, first-round RB Jahmyr Gibbs and a boost from second-year WR Jameson Williams (after his six-game gambling suspension ends) will give this club its first division title since 1993.