Trying to predict the Super Bowl LVIII champion right now is almost as hard as hitting a hole-in-one or bowling a 300 game. OK, it might not be that hard, but accurately predicting this year's champ is a pretty daunting task, given everything that could and ultimately will happen over the next 94 days.
It's slightly easier to forecast what to expect during the second half of the 2023 season. Honestly, there's a few tried and true storylines that seemingly pop up at the end of each campaign, typically regarding America's Team. Those storylines will surely resurface late in the season, while current storylines will reach a conclusion.
No, I don't have a crystal ball (or Biff's almanac, but that wouldn't do me much good in 2023 anyways), but I have a pretty good idea as to what you can expect to see unfold during the second half of the NFL's regular season. Here's a look at the five things you can expect to see play out over the next nine weeks, starting with one of the NFL's biggest storylines during the season's first half.
Honestly, the most "exciting" part of Monday night's game between the Jets and Chargers was Aaron Rodgers' pregame warmup. The four-time MVP, who is way ahead of schedule following September's Achilles surgery, said on Tuesday that he's from making his highly anticipated return. Rodgers also said that the team obviously has to be "in the mix" if he is going to get back on the field.
Rodgers isn't going to come back to a dreadful team that is way out of playoff contention. That puts even more weight on the Jets' upcoming games.
Looking at the Jets' schedule, along with Rodgers' loose timetable for a possible return, the former Packer could possibly be targeting the Jets' Week 16 Christmas Eve home game against the Commanders as his first game back. That would give him six more weeks to recover. He could then make his return at home against a mediocre team before New York finishes the regular season with road games against Cleveland and New England.
Sitting at 4-4, the Jets will have to win at least two of their next five games for this to become a possibility. That would put New York at 6-7 entering Week 16. Not ideal, but would probably put them "in the mix" of playoff hopeful teams.
Getting two wins over that span won't be easy. The Jets have upcoming road games against the Raiders and Bills before coming home to face the Dolphins. New York will then play host to the Falcons and Texans before facing the Dolphins in Miami in Week 15.
If they can get two wins over this stretch, there's certainly a chance that Rodgers would make his return when the Commanders come to town on Christmas Eve.
Burrow, Jackson distance themselves in MVP race
There's something interesting happening in the AFC North division. The only division where every team has five wins, the North features two teams and two quarterbacks who are looking to make statements during the second half of the season and into the postseason.
Let's start with the Ravens, who are 7-2 and 1.5 games ahead of the rest of the pack in the North. Per usual, a big reason for Baltimore's success has been Lamar Jackson, who has thrived this year inside new offensive coordinator Todd Monken's offense.
An MVP winner four years ago, Jackson is once again playing at that level. He's leading the NFL in completion percentage, has three times as many touchdown passes (9) as interceptions (3) and has run for five touchdowns while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He's benefitted by a powerful running game, a deep receiving corps and the league's top-ranked defense.
In Cincinnati, the Bengals' season is playing out the way it did last year, when Joe Burrow and Co. overcame an 0-2 start to make it back to within one game of the Super Bowl. During that run, Burrow emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate. He didn't win the award, but he did receive his first Pro Bowl nod while leading Cincinnati to a second straight AFC North division crown.
Burrow is following that same trajectory. He's been especially good over the past two games, throwing five touchdowns (with no picks) while completing 77.6% of his throws.
Both players can strengthen their MVP chances in Week 11, when the Bengals face the Ravens in Baltimore on "Thursday Night Football." That game will also go a long way in determining who wins the NFL's most competitive division.
Parsons, Garrett battle for DPOY
Like the MVP race, I think the league's top defensive player award will ultimately be a two-man race between Cowboys super linebacker Micah Parsons and Browns game wrecker Myles Garrett. Neither player has won the award before, but I don't think that will be the case for much longer.
I personally think Garrett will take home the award. He's currently tied for second in the NFL with 9.5 sacks and tied for first with four forced fumbles. He's been the driving force behind a Browns team that is 5-3 despite Nick Chubb's season-ending injury and Deshaun Watson's underwhelming play.
Garrett currently has the edge, but I could see Parsons making a late charge, especially given how he's played as of late. He's had at least one sack in each of the Cowboys' last three games and had 1.5 sacks and nine tackles last week in Philadelphia.
Belichick speculation continues
As great as he's been, Bill Belichick possibly not getting the chance to finish on his own terms in New England isn't a total shock. Robert Kraft, a Patriots fan long before he bought the team, wasn't pleased when Tom Brady left town in 2020, and he has offered subtle warnings the past few offseasons that the Patriots needed to get back to their winning ways.
Well, that hasn't happened. The Patriots are 2-7 and will likely be playing meaningless games in December. It'll mark the third time in the past four years that New England has not participated in the postseason.
Belichick may have signed a long-term extension this past offseason, but that may not stop Kraft from moving on anyways. There's been reports linking the Commanders as a possible trade partner regarding the Patriots and Belichick, whose career in New England actually began after he was traded from the Jets. It would be an ironic ending to one of the most legendary runs in NFL history.
Don't expect the rumors surrounding Belichick to end anytime soon. If anything, expect the reports, rumors and rumblings to only increase in the coming weeks.
More 'Tush Push'
The Philadelphia Eagles' often imitated and sometimes duplicated quarterback sneak will be an even bigger part of the 2023 season during the second half. Teams are running variations of the play, so there's no reason to think that clubs will stop using the play now.
Many teams have already adapted the play, and you can expect that almost every team will try it at some point during the season. You can also bank on teams running "fake" tush pushes like the one the Eagles executed near the end of their Week 8 win over the Commanders.
This isn't going out on a limb, but I would imagine that more than a few big plays will include the "Tush Push" during the second half of the season. The play could very well determine division championships, playoff teams and even who wins the coveted No. 1 seed in each conference.