The 2023 NFL season is a week away, giving everyone one last time to preview and circle things they want to watch for the upcoming season. Here are eight things to keep your eye and track for the newest season, from Lamar Jackson to the first head coach fired.
1. Baltimore Ravens' new-look offense
Baltimore will be undergoing an offensive shift under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken to go with the additions of wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers. The Ravens will always have heavy formations built in as long as Lamar Jackson is the quarterback, but they're actually gearing up to play a more modern style of football, particularly in the passing game.
Jackson has the talent to be a high-volume passer in the NFL, but he hasn’t had the infrastructure for it just yet. With the projected increase in passing frequency and increased talent level in the new offense, Jackson could be in store for his most impressive year as a pro.
2. The Falcons’ supporting cast to the supporting cast
Atlanta appears to have a talented supporting cast this season with Kyle Pitts, Drake London and Bijan Robinson leading the way for second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder to potentially lead one of the better offenses in the NFL. Those three are going to be the figureheads for head coach Arthur Smith’s offense in 2023, but they are one of the youngest skill position trios in the league. They’ll need help to buoy their production from time to time as they still grow into the best version of themselves as NFL players.
Atlanta is slated to have one of the better offensive lines in the league, especially if second-round rookie Matt Bergeron can hit the ground running and Kaleb McGary’s performance in 2022 wasn’t a fluke. Chris Lindstrom is arguably the best guard in football and Jake Matthews is still steady at left tackle. What will really test the Falcons is their depth at other skill positions.
Wide receiver beyond London is a concern, but the Falcons are hoping that Mack Hollins can fill the role of the secondary receiver in what will likely be another run-heavy offense. Hollins, Jonnu Smith, Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson and others will be counted on to fill in the gaps for the Falcons’ “Big 3.” If they can do that, this team has a shot to win a weak NFC South.
3. How long will it take the Jets' offense to get up to speed?
The Jets have a lot of shiny new pieces that should jumpstart an offense that struggled last year due to shoddy quarterback play. This new-look group includes Aaron Rodgers, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and Dalvin Cook. Those players should create a good offense, especially factoring Garrett Wilson, but how fast they hit the ground running could determine their season.
The AFC East is tough and the quest to win it is going to start Week 1 when they open their season against the Bills. The importance of the No. 1 playoff seed has become accentuated with the recently revamped postseason format, which makes the start of the season more urgent.
4. Aaron Donald’s toughest career test
Aaron Donald has been a destroyer of worlds for his entire career. Now he faces his toughest test by leading the charge on a defense that doesn’t have many players people have heard of. Look at the Rams’ defensive depth chart. This team doesn’t have many players who would start on other teams, but they have the best defensive tackle ever who is still playing at a high level. There isn’t much around Donald, but watching him have to put out an endless number of fires happening around him should make for some good football theater.
5. The before and after effects of Chris Jones (assuming his holdout stays)
So, Jones still has not shown up to Chiefs practice as he holds out in an attempt to attain the contract that pays him roughly $30 million a year. He has eaten over $2 million in un-waivable fines, showing how committed he is to this cause that will grant him and his family generational wealth.
The Chiefs are on the other side of this, gauging how much not having a player as dominant as Jones will hurt their defense. They can potentially walk into their season opener against the Lions, a team that wants to run the ball this year, without one of the best defensive tackles in the league — and it’s between only him and Aaron Donald at this point.
If the Chiefs are going to maximize their season and win another Super Bowl, they’re going to need the services of Jones to be a wrecking ball in the middle of their defense. How long each side is willing to hang on without each other is one of the more fascinating storylines of this season.
6. Tracking the Bears’ spending spree and additional acquisitions
The Bears went for it this year. They had the No. 1 overall draft pick, opted to trade it to build around Justin Fields and then started to seriously put pieces around him. Offensive tackle Darnell Wright and wide receiver D.J. Moore will be big-time additions for Fields. Linebackers T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds will oversee a defense that had a couple promising pieces on it already.
The expectations for this team and their fans should be to make a major push for the NFC North, which is wide open right now. The Lions will be a tough out for the teams in this division, but if Fields takes another step as a passer, the Bears should be able to make a serious run for the division crown. It’s not a perfect setup, but it’s one that will allow the Bears to learn a lot about their young franchise quarterback over the season.
7. Who will be the first head coach fired?
It’s never fun to be a hater or a pocket watcher, but there’s always a coach or two who loses their job during the season before a team throws an interim option out there to lead the way for a few games. This year is no different and there are a few guys who feel like they’re already on the hot seat before a game is played.
Ron Rivera has the hottest of hot seats going into the season, needing Eric Bieniemy and Sam Howell to save his head coaching career. Josh McDaniels is in danger as long as the Raiders continue to spend with no results, and Todd Bowles is a dark horse candidate if the Bucs decide they want to fully reset from the Tom Brady era. Not that anyone is rooting for these guys to get fired, but they appear to need hot starts based on where their team is right now.
8. What becomes of the Giants and Vikings in 2023?
The Giants and the Vikings exist in different levels of the same plane: teams that have high quality talent at the top end of their roster, but also scraped by with a close game after close game in 2022. Making it to the playoffs in any season is something to be proud of, but whether or not both of these teams have made enough progress to avoid playing in a majority of close games is one thing to figure out this season.
The Giants and Vikings both made progress on their roster this offseason, but in different ways. The Giants bolstered their defense with the signing of linebacker Bobby Okereke and drafting cornerback Deonte Banks in the first round. The Vikings spent their first-round draft pick on wide receiver Jordan Addison following the losses of Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen. Both of these teams have the talent to stay steady and make it to the playoffs again, but they also needed to make strides in terms of roster talent to see that to fruition.