It's the NFL offseason, which means there's to have hope. But with offseason optimism can also come exaggerated hype. We're not one to rain on summer parades, but sometimes reality checks are important going into a new year. Identify a potential problem early, after all, and maybe it becomes that much simpler to correct.
With that in mind, we're exploring the biggest red flags for some of this year's top contenders, including prominent playoff teams and others widely expected to make the leap into the 2023 postseason:
Bengals: A shuffled secondary
Everything revolves around Joe Burrow; as long as he's functioning alongside their elite crop of wideouts, they should be in the hunt for an AFC title once again. But they're counting on new, young faces throughout the defensive backfield, where Eli Apple, Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell all left via free agency. Daxton Hill and rookie DJ Turner bring speed, but they lack experience.
Bills: Stefon Diggs' status
The star receiver was on the field for most of minicamp, but only after eliciting concern from coach Sean McDermott, reportedly over lingering discontent about his role in the offense. Sometimes summer drama of this nature goes away; sometimes it festers. And the one thing Buffalo can't afford to lose is Josh Allen's top -- and, frankly, only reliable -- weapon out wide.
Chargers: New OC, same HC
As they prepare to make Justin Herbert one of the game's highest-paid quarterbacks, the Chargers are hoping their staff is finally ready to properly elevate him from regular-season starling to playoff difference-maker. While Kellen Moore should open up the pass game, he's Herbert's third coordinator in four years. Head man Brandon Staley, meanwhile, is thanks to his talented lineups folding at some of the worst times.
Chiefs: More WR transition
We aren't foolish enough to doubt Patrick Mahomes, regardless of his receiving corps; 2022 proved, after all, that he doesn't need a Tyreek Hill to own the rest of the NFL. But once again, they figure to be pretty dependent on tight end Travis Kelce, who's still in peak form but will be 34 in October. If he were to go down, they're counting on guys like Kadarius Toney and rookie Rashee Rice to seamlessly replace JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman.
Cowboys: McCarthy taking the reins
After a mutual split with OC Kellen Moore, head coach Mike McCarthy is taking over as Dallas' primary play-caller. Though he probably deserves more credit for guiding back-to-back 12-win seasons, his older-school, oft-conservative tendencies could surface to a greater degree now that he's directly in charge of Dak Prescott and Co.
Dolphins: Tua's health
It's the obvious one, but it really can't be overstated. Miami fans are right to be enticed by what their young QB showed under Mike McDaniel early in 2022. He's got plenty of speed at his disposal, plus a better-coached defense on his side. But Tua Tagovailoa has now battled injuries in consecutive seasons dating to college, and as a timing-based pocket passer, he's already got limitations in the face of pressure. Even one more head injury could restart retirement consideration.
Eagles: Aging core players
On paper, Philly might remain the most talented team in the NFL, fresh off an NFC title. And Jalen Hurts can make up for a lot. But they're dependent on plenty of older starters, from Jason Kelce (35) and Lane Johnson (33) to Brandon Graham (35) and Darius Slay (32). If several of them slip in performance or durability, both sides of the ball could feel it to a large degree.
49ers: Small QB sample sizes
No matter who wins their Day 1 job, or who holds it eight weeks in, the 49ers do not have the benefit of boasting proven sustainable production under center. Brock Purdy has all of seven legit starts under his belt. Trey Lance has four. And Sam Darnold, who's easily the most experienced with 55 career starts, has never been an above-average full-timer for long.
Giants: Downfield passing
Daniel Jones finally showcased franchise-level poise in 2022 under Brian Daboll. And the Giants finally got him some help this offseason, adding Darren Waller, Parris Campbell and Jalin Hyatt -- among others -- at pass catcher. But all of their key acquisitions have to prove they can stay healthy, and Jones still has yet to prove he can air it out consistently when it matters most.
Jaguars: Protection up front
Everyone likes Jacksonville as an AFC sleeper after Doug Pederson's first year in town. Everyone likes Calvin Ridley to boost Trevor Lawrence's MVP stock. But what about the young QB's protection? Left tackle Cam Robinson is facing a multi-game suspension, guard Ben Bartch is still recovering from injury, and right tackle Walker Little has made six career starts.
Jets: Bookend help for Rodgers
Like the Jags, the Jets have been offseason darlings for their newly enhanced weaponry; Aaron Rodgers' arrival should mean an immediate vault into the playoff picture. But going on 40, are we sure the former MVP is well off behind a line touting Duane Brown, 37, coming off injury, and Mekhi Becton, who's played one game the last two years, as its best, most talented tackles?
Lions: Jared Goff's ceiling
They went just 9-8 and didn't play a postseason game in 2022, but everyone loves them to emerge in the NFC North after a spending spree to upgrade the defense. Goff, meanwhile, has been solid and should enjoy an even speedier setup, with Jahmyr Gibbs joining the fold. But we've seen his big-spotlight limitations before, even on an all-star Rams lineup.
Ravens: Durability up front, out wide
All eyes are on Lamar Jackson, who's under big-money pressure to stay on the field and finally deliver a deep playoff run. But what about his supporting cast? Left tackle Ronnie Stanley has struggled to stay upright himself, while out wide, notable names like Odell Beckham Jr., Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor and Devin Duvernay have all battled their own injury issues.
Seahawks: Geno's potential drop-off
Geno Smith was a magical story for the 2022 Seahawks, unexpectedly besting predecessor Russell Wilson in his most explosive NFL showing to date. Late in the year, however, his turnovers were an issue as Seattle relied a bit too heavily on his arm. With a new contract and no added QB competition, he's under pressure to replicate his breakout.
Vikings: The veteran exodus
Dalvin Cook. Adam Thielen. Za'Darius Smith. Eric Kendricks. Patrick Peterson. All gone, in the name of added salary cap space. Brian Flores' addition as the defensive coordinator and Justin Jefferson's continued presence out wide ensure they could remain aggressive and explosive. But they've retooled as if they won six games in 2022, not 13, with Kirk Cousins also on a contract year.