On the doorstep of the 2023 season, there are some real discrepancies between what the media thinks will happen and what really will happen. Because of this, I have some predictions that differ from the mainstream and may excite or dismay some fans:
1. The Seahawks will win 12 games and the NFC West
Geno Smith proved everyone wrong last season, putting up the highest completion percentage in the league at 69.8% and leading the Seahawks to a playoff berth. After adding WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba and RB Zach Charbonnet in the first two rounds of this year's draft, Seattles offense is in a very good place.
On the other side of the ball, Seattle is elite. Already strong in 2022, they spent highly on their secondary, using the 5th overall pick on CB Devon Witherspoon. In free agency, the focus was on the defensive line.
They added Dre'Mont Jones, an underrated DE from Denver on day 1 of free agency as well as Jarren Reed from Green Bay and Derrick Hall in round 2 of the draft.
Pete Carrol has proven that he can win with just about any makeup of players yet this one is one of the best in his career. While the 49ers are the obvious pick in the NFC West, the Seahawks are not getting nearly enough attention.
2. The Falcons will win double digit games and make the playoffs
Since Arthur Smith took over as head coach in 2021, things have been far from impressive for Atlanta. Despite offensive success with Tennessee, it has taken Smith time to adjust and build up a competitive team.
After spending their 2022 and 2023 first round picks on WR Drake London, TE Kyle Pitts and RB Bijan Robinson, they have really built around 2nd year QB, Desmond Ridder.
In what will be a poor division, Atlanta has the potential to surprise a lot of people. Offensively, there may be some growing pains in this ongoing youth movement. However, Ridder has shown glimpses and there is no doubt about a lack of talent surrounding him.
Defensively, Atlanta is sorely underrated. While they lost legendary DC, Dean Pees, in the offseason, they are well rounded. Beginning with the defensive front of DEs Calais Campbell and Grady Jarret and an underrated secondary with S Jessie Bates and CB AJ Terrell, they will be strong this year.
With a rookie QB and unproven team in Carolina, an unproven QB and Super Bowl hungover roster in Tampa Bay, and an alright team in New Orleans, the NFC South is wide open. With the easiest strength of schedule in 2023, Atlanta could be a dark horse in the NFC.
3. Kenny Pickett will lead the Steelers on a Playoff Run
The AFC North is among the most competitive divisions in football heading into 2023. However, besides Joe Burrow and Cincinnati, recent seasons have been unconvincing for every other team.
While the strength of the AFC North could lead to any final standing outcome and I would not be surprised, the Steelers have a lot of things to like.
Kenny Pickett has looked extremely confident in the preseason, connecting with George Pickens and Diontae Johnson on many accurate downfield throws.
While this stat is mentioned frequently, it should be: Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season in his 16 seasons as Head Coach. He went 9-8 last year with a rookie QB and various inconsistencies.
While the Bengals remain the dominant force in the AFC North, Pittsburgh's consistency has been remarkable. Now, with the most competent QB in years, a top-10 defense, and the 7th easiest strength of schedule, Pittsburgh is poised for success.
4, Sam Howell will out-pass Dak Prescott
At first, this may sound ridiculous. Sam Howell has started 1 regular season game and Dak Prescott threw for 2,900 yards last season.
Prescott has targets like CeeDee Lamb and Brandin Cooks and an elite defense. However, he has a severe ball security issue and has not been the same since his ankle injury. This take is more of a bet on Howell than it is against Prescott, though.
I think Howell has the talent necessary to take a big leap in 2023, as he showed in this year's preseason. A 5th round pick in 2022, Howell sat behind Taylor Heinicke and Carson Wentz last season.
Howell has an underrated group of receivers and has earned a lot of praise from coaches.
New offensive coordinator Eric Beinemy, who won 2 super bowls as the OC in Kansas City, said that Howell is just where he wants him to be right now.
With downfield targets like 2nd year WR Jahan Dotson and 3-time 1,000 yard receiver Terry McLaurin, Howell's arm could be on full display.
With a perennially underrated defensive front and high-potential offense, the Commanders could outperform a lot of expectations in 2023.
5. Sean McVay will be fired midseason
Once the talk of the league, the Sean McVay era in Los Angeles has been trending negatively for a while now. Since their 2022 Super Bowl win where 3x DPOY Aaron Donald and McVay himself hinted at retirement, the Rams are 5-12.
I see their all-in, win-now mentality as a complete success given their Super Bowl win. Now, though, they are facing the consequences.
After a lost 2022 for Matthew Stafford, there is little to indicate this year will be any better.
Cooper Kupp had a setback with his hamstring injury this week, Stafford said that he was struggling to learn the names of young teammates, and the defense is not as stable as it has been in recent seasons. While I put very little stake into preseason games, they were outscored 109-34.
There is no doubt that McVay is an incredible football mind but still, the Rams may opt for a change as many factors come back to bite them at once.
Bonus: The Lions will be the #1 Seed in the NFC
The Lions narrowly missed out on the playoffs in 2022 with a 9-8 record.
They made most every game exciting and are led by a very good head coach in Dan Campbell. After sending longtime QB Matthew Stafford to the Rams for Jared Goff, it looked like things were moving in the wrong direction.
In 2022, though, Goff resurged and showed his accuracy and arm throughout the season. With his top target, Amon-Ra St.Brown fully healthy and 12th overall pick Jahmyr Gibbs in the backfield, things are looking very good for the Detroit offense.
Defensively, there is a lot of room for growth. They spent much of 2022 simply trying to outscore opponents rather than stop them. Over the offseason, they strengthened the secondary, adding former Steelers' CB, Cameron Sutton and Brian Branch out of Alabama.
This prediction is also partially a bet on the weakness of the NFC. The NFC North is alright but no team is particularly scary. Likewise, only the Eagles, 49ers, and Seahawks stand out to me as potential competitors for the top seed in the NFC.
While some of these predictions may seem outlandish, highly unexpected things happen in the NFL each year. While trendy picks like the Broncos last year or the Jets this year do occasionally work out, it is often the hardly-mentioned teams that end up surprising the most.