Taking Home the Crown: Forecasting the 2023-24 NFL Division Winners
- from Ryan Nelke
- Fair Lawn High School
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Even with the NFL season still months away, there has been a lot that has transpired over the past few months that has given fans some insight as to what the upcoming season may bring. Jalen Ramsey to the Fins. Derek Carr to New Orleans. Darren Waller to New York. DJ Moore to Chicago. Orlando Brown Jr. to KC. Stephen Gilmore to America’s team. And, most notably, Aaron Rodgers to the Jets.
That’s just some of the few moves that have taken place this offseason, in addition to the NFL draft. Some of these moves have brought jubilation to NFL fanbases, but as a result, have crushed the hearts of other fans. These moves allow sports writers, like me, to give an early forecast of what to expect as NFL fans anxiously await for the arrival of the 2023-24 season. So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at what the NFL divisions may look like…
NFC East Division Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
It is interesting to note that the NFC East has not had a division winner repeat since 2005, but both Jalen Hurts’s rise to prominence as a star QB in the league and the Eagles’ star-studded roster makes it hard to believe that any other team will snatch their division crown from them.
“The Philadelphia Eagles have lost a few veteran free agents, but key contributors like Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown will be back and only heading into their second seasons together,” said Andrew Buller-Russ, a writer for Sportsnaut. “We like the Eagles to take the NFC East again.”
It might not be as easy as it was for the Eagles last year, as they had one of the easiest schedules in the NFL, but with arguably the best roster on paper, including the top quarterback in all of the NFC, the Eagles are the pick.
NFC North Division Winner: Detroit Lions
The 2023-24 chase for the North crown seems to be a two-team race with Rodgers out of Green Bay and the Bears in the midst of a rebuild. In turn, coming off an exhilarating, exciting season where the Detroit Lions came up just short, the Lions have been the popular pick to win the division following a few key offseason acquisitions.
“Detroit has added cornerbacks Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley, and safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in free agency. That should immediately help upgrade a defense that ranked last in yards (392.4) and 30th in points allowed (25.1) in 2022,” said Rob Reischel, a reporter from Forbes. “Now, the defense should be much improved.”
Defense is what kept this Lions team this past season from getting back to the playoffs, but general manager Brad Holmes pressed all the right buttons this offseason. Therefore, this writer feels the need to ride the wave and go with the Lions.
NFC South Division Winner: New Orleans Saints
The NFC South turned out to be the worst division in the 2022 campaign, and it seems like it will repeat in the coming year. The Bucs lost Brady leaving them without a QB, and despite the additions that the Panthers and Falcons made, they are still both mediocre teams. This leaves the Saints, who added former longtime Raiders QB Derek Carr to their roster.
“The Saints always appeared to be a quarterback away from winning the division, having five quarterbacks start over the past two seasons,” said Jeff Kerr, a writer for CBS Sports. “Carr is the signal-caller they believe who can provide that answer.”
As of now, the Saints road to the playoffs will most likely have to come from winning the division, as the Wild Card is surely bound to be fought for by teams such as the Giants, Cowboys, Vikings, and Seahawks. If the Saints can take care of business within the division and roughly finish with a 10-7, they will punch their ticket to the playoffs.
NFC West Division Winner: San Francisco 49ers
The only question mark when it comes to this 49ers team is the quarterback position. While Brock Purdy did an excellent job in relief of both Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo last year, getting this team to the NFC Championship, he recently underwent surgery on his elbow to repair his torn UCL. This is not to mention that there is uncertainty surrounding whether Purdy, a 2022 7th round pick, is the man to lead this team going forward.
“...I don’t think the Niners care if Lance or Purdy is better. They only care if one of them looks like a QB who can help lift them to a title,” said BJ Rudell, a writer for Pro Football Network. “Purdy proved he’s capable of coming close, and perhaps he can even develop into a strong NFL starter.”
Assuming Purdy is healthy and keeping in mind his immediate success at the position last year, it’s safe to take the Niners to win this weak division, with Arizona and most likely Los Angeles out of the picture this year. While Purdy was good in relief last season, it was their elite defense that carried them to their division crown last year and this writer expects a repeat of history.
AFC East Division Winner: New York Jets
After a long wait, for NFL fans and especially Jet fans, Aaron Rodgers was finally brought in by the Jets in hopes of bringing them back to prominence. The quarterback position was the last piece of the puzzle, with this team full of offensive weapons such as Breece Hall, Garrett Wilson, and Allen Lazard in addition to a top five defense.
“This Aaron Rodgers acquisition is the greatest, biggest, all-in move in the history of the NFL,” said Tiki Barber, a talk show commentator for WFAN.
With teams like the Bills and Dolphins also in the AFC East, it makes this a very tough division, but coming off an 8-9 season in which the Rodgers and the Pack where eliminated in their last game of the year, Rodgers will be looking to avenge this down season with a new opportunity in East Rutherford. This may not be your slam dunk pick, but this Jets roster may be the most well-rounded team in this division going into this upcoming season.
AFC North Division Winner: Cincinnati Bengals
With Lamar Jackson back in Baltimore, DeShaun Watson ready for a full season in Cleveland, and Kenny Pickett with a year under his belt, this is not as much of a surefire pack as it was last year. However, the Bengals are still the much better team and arguably have the second best quarterback in the league behind Patrick Mahomes.
“The Bengals suffered some personnel losses this offseason, with both Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell departing in free agency,” said Will Brinson, a writer for CBS Sports. “Dax Hill looks like a developing young replacement…add in the massive, massive addition of free agent left tackle Orlando Brown and the Bengals may very well have come out on top in the attrition game…”
Despite the imports and exports of this Cincinnati team, at the end of the day, it still boasts the three headed monster of Burrow, Chase, and Higgins to go along with a solid defense. In comparison, none of the other three teams in this division are quite at the caliber of the Bengals yet, and therefore, they will capture their 3rd consecutive division crown.
AFC South Division Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
This was the easiest division to pick of the eight, as aside from the Jags, the rest of this division is in shambles. The Texans now have Stroud and Anderson Jr., but are still a year or two away from being competent. The Colts drafted Richardson, but an immediate rise to playoff competency is unlikely. The Titans fell apart last year, and the futures of Tannehill and Derrick Henry are unsure. This leaves Trevor Lawrence and the Jags as the last team standing.
“So unless something unusual happens -- injuries to multiple key players, for example -- the Jaguars have a chance to be in control of this division for a while, and Lawrence knows it,” said Michael Dirocco, a staff writer for ESPN.
Lawrence knows that the Jags are set up for long-term success within the division, with these three teams either in the midst of a rebuild or about to enter one. The only question is how far can Lawrence get them in the playoffs, with the likes of Mahomes, Burrow, Allen, and Rodgers as top-tier competition…
AFC West Division Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
With the seven straight years as division champs, the Chiefs have made anyone who picks against them look foolish. And yeah…that’s probably why this writer is picking them again. Coming off another Super Bowl victory against the Eagles, Mahomes is increasingly close to establishing his Chiefs as a dynasty for years to come.
“It may be a bit too early for ‘dynasty’ talk, but a year from now it could be a discussion point if the Chiefs are able to make it back-to-back titles and three Lombardi Trophies in five years,” said Russell S. Baxter, a writer for Fansided. “Of course, that’s quite the IF.”
Going into last year, there was much debate that Mahomes and the Chiefs would finally fall from grace due to the loss of Tyreek Hill. That did not happen. So, once again, barring any major injuries, the Chiefs will repeat for the eighth consecutive year. Talk about dominance.
Now, with the NFL Draft in the rear-view mirror, football fans now must endure the long wait until the dog days of summer until the NFL really starts picking up again. A lot of new faces will be in new places, and it will be interesting, as always, to see how it all pans out.