Guess what? You made it. YOU FREAKING MADE IT! Today, there is a meaningful NFL game that you're going to watch and that action is only going to continue all the way into February and Super Bowl LVIII. What a time to be alive, am I right? But, before we watch the Chiefs and Lions get the 2023 regular season rolling, it's that time of the year when we make our five bold predictions on how certain aspects of the season will unfold.
We had some hits Eagles earning the No. 1 seed), but there were also some duds (Russell Wilson winning MVP) in our bold predictions. As we turn the page to 2023, we have a new team unexpectedly sitting atop the NFC when the regular season is said and done and an ascending quarterback bursting onto the MVP scene.(
Ready? cracks knuckles. Let's get to it!
1. Saints earn No. 1 seed in the NFC
Yup, we're going back to the well with another bold prediction that has an unexpected club jumping to the top of the standings in the NFC. This year, it'll be the New Orleans Saints that finish with the best record in the conference. At the moment, they are 10/1 to finish with the conference's best record which is tied with the Lions, and are looking up at the Cowboys, 49ers and Eagles.
Of course, there are a multitude of factors that play into this prediction. The most obvious is the upgrade the Saints made at quarterback this offseason, bringing aboard Derek Carr. I think this change of scenery will revitalize the former Raider and he has plenty of weapons at his disposal, including second-year wideout Chris Olave. Pair that expected improvement on offense with a defense that will rival to be a top 10 unit in the league and New Orleans has itself a well-balanced club.
The other piece to this equation is the schedule. Based on their opponents' projected win total, the Saints have the second-easiest schedule in the entire NFL this season. They also have a positive net rest edge, meaning that there are more games where they'll have the rest advantage than they don't. While I don't believe the Saints will be in Las Vegas competing for a Lombardi, I do think that their solid roster and soft schedule will allow them to pile up wins, while the rest of the conference cannibalizes itself.
2. Packers win the NFC North
I think we might be looking at the 2022 Seahawks in the 2023 Packers. Trading away Aaron Rodgers this offseason was a momentous transaction in the franchise's history, but the cupboard isn't bare. Jordan Love has flashed this preseason that he may be a suitable replacement who can keep the franchise afloat. Green Bay has a sturdy offensive line, arguably the best 1-2 punch at running back in the league, and intriguing weapons in the passing game, including second-year wideout Christian Watson. While the defense has underachieved in recent years, there is talent within that unit that could provide plenty of upside if things click.
The division isn't as locked in as one may expect either. The Lions have been the offseason darlings, the Bears improved around Justin Fields and the Vikings added another first-round receiver while improving on defense, but each one of those teams still has plenty of question marks heading into the year. While the division may think that Green Bay's dominance came to an end with Rodgers' departure, they may have another thing coming to them in 2023.
3. Dalton Kincaid wins OROY
Want to know what's bold? Predicting something that has NEVER happened before in NFL history. For as long as the Offensive Rookie of the Year award has been handed out, a tight end has never held this honor. However, Bills first-round right end Dalton Kincaid should be looked at as one of the key sleepers for this award, currently sitting at 22/1 to win at Caesars Sportsbook. Why? Because I don't believe Kincaid will be used as a traditional tight end within Buffalo's offense (that'll be handled by Dawson Knox). Instead, the Utah product will be a big slot receiver for the Bills' pass-heavy offense, which is an extremely advantageous spot to be in and an opportunity for the rookie to pile up stats.
This preseason, Kincaid was in route on 71% of Josh Allen's dropbacks. Meanwhile, the Bills let Isaiah McKenzie and his 65 targets from 2022 go this offseason. There's a very realistic world where Kincaid adopts most if not all of those targets and possibly even eats into Knox's 65 targets from last year as well. And if you're saying that Kincaid is going to be looking at 80-plus targets from one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, he'll be set up for success on a team that will be in the thick of the playoff hunt.
4. A.J. Brown leads the NFL in receiving yards
Don't sleep on A.J. Brown this season. The Eagles wideout is coming off a monster season in his first year with Philadelphia, notching career highs in receptions, receiving yards and tying his career best with 11 touchdown receptions. The 26-year-old finished fourth in the NFL in receiving yards in 2022 and there's a case to be made that his stellar production last year was diluted a bit.
The Eagles were constantly building up massive leads in the first half, which led to a run-first game script in the second half and naturally decreased Brown's production. In the first half of games last season, Brown logged 908 receiving yards on 84 targets. In the second half, his targets (61) were cut by a quarter and his receiving totals (588) nearly in half. Again, a lot of that is due to Philly dominating on both sides of the ball last season.
As we look forward to 2023, there is a belief that the Eagles defense will take a bit of a step back, thanks to new players ushering in and out and due to a tougher schedule than the one they had a year ago. If these games are tighter, that would trend for more passes being thrown by Jalen Hurts and more opportunity for Brown, who averaged 17 yards per reception last year which was third best in the NFL.
5. Trevor Lawrence wins MVP
Trevor Lawrence is set up beautifully as we enter this season. The former No. 1 overall pick rebounded nicely in 2022 after a turbulent rookie season and he now enters his second season with Doug Pederson as his head coach. That familiarity within Pederson's system should set up Lawrence to take another leap in his development. On top of that, Jacksonville gave him another top-tier weapon after trading for Calvin Ridley, who is poised to be his No. 1 option in the passing game this season. When right, Ridley was one of the more talented receivers in the league, so adding him to a group of Christian Kirk, Evan Engram and Zay Jones leaves Lawrence with plenty of options through the air.
Last year, Lawrence was top 10 in the league in completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns and passer rating, and his situation only improved between now and the end of the season. I think he can rival for a top-three finish in those categories in 2023, while also having Jacksonville in the thick of the No. 1 seed chance in the AFC behind a soft AFC South division.
At the moment, Lawrence is looking up to Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts and Justin Herbert in the . I think he's well situated to bust onto the scene this year and crash the MVP party.