Early Look at 2023-24 NFC Surprise Threats

by Nelly's Sports

The Eagles went from being a 9-8 squad that was blown out in the NFC Wild Card round to being NFC Champions a year later. The team has good talent and depth and the rise was not unexpected. A big factor in the climb was a favorable schedule which Philadelphia made the most of to go 14-3 and landing in a very favorable playoff path. While we await the Super Bowl, now is a good time to take an early look at teams that could make a similar leap next season in the NFC picture. 

Atlanta Falcons (7-10, 4th Place NFC South): 

The Falcons are a significant threat to make a rise next season. While Desmond Ridder is still short on experience playing in only four games last season, the Falcons played better than expected last season with decent young talent reaching a 7-10 record even while projected to be one of the worst teams in the NFC in the preseason. 

While the complete schedule won’t be released for a few months, Atlanta will have an appealing path next season with crossover games with the AFC South. Atlanta will play all four NFC North teams for a manageable path while getting the fourth place schedule among the three NFC South teams that finished 7-10. That means games with the Cardinals, Jets, and Commanders as well. 

Add that the NFC South doesn’t look like formidable division with the Panthers in a major transition and Tampa Bay likely looking for a new quarterback. The Saints are also in one of the worst salary cap situations for next season as climbing to the top of the division after finishing just a game out of the lead last season is not unreasonable. Atlanta has the #8 pick in the draft and currently has the second most cap space in the league if they opt to be aggressive in free agency. 

Arthur Smith will be in this third season with the team and have hired Ryan Nielsen to replace Dean Pees as defensive coordinator, with Nielsen doing impressive work with the Saints the past few seasons. Ridder will remain a question mark, but this should again be an impressive rushing team that has the potential to exceed expectations next season. 

Seattle Seahawks (9-8, 2nd Place NFC West): 

The Seahawks surprised last season reaching 9-8 and making the playoffs as Pete Carroll has still never had a worse season than seven wins despite the dire projections ahead of last season. Geno Smith finished #5 and QB Rating and #7 in QBR as a surprise pro bowl performer that provided the biggest reason for the solid results. Seattle also had an excellent 2022 draft and received strong contributions from rookies last season.

The NFC West has quickly gone from being one of the toughest divisions in the league producing three playoff teams in 2021-22 to looking like one of the worst divisions in the NFL. San Francisco still has a formidable roster but in going all-in last season lost significant draft assets in the Christian McCaffrey trade. The Rams remain in a dire salary cap situation after its expenditures in the 2021-22 Super Bowl run and both the 49ers and Rams will have major off-season quarterback questions. Arizona will be an interesting team that has a chance to bounce back but it will be a team in a coaching transition. 

Seattle will be a threat to compete for the division title in 2023-24 and Seattle has significant salary cap space to work with in the offseason to address a few key needs. Seattle also has two first round picks including the #5 pick from Denver for the Russell Wilson trade as the Seahawks will be able to improve its roster significantly with another strong draft class.

Smith will need to prove he was not a one-season-wonder as teams will have a full off-season to prepare for him after he entered last season not even being the clear starter for Seattle but the NFC West looks like a winnable division. After facing all four AFC West teams last season the NFC West will still have a tough AFC path playing the four AFC North teams but Seattle’s 2nd place draw of Carolina, Detroit, and Tennessee is reasonably favorable as Seattle should be a threat for another playoff season in 2023-24. 

Detroit Lions (9-8, 2nd Place NFC North): 

The Lions will be a popular team in the futures market this summer as Detroit was by many measures the best team in the NFC North last season finishing as the only team in the division with a positive scoring differential. Detroit missed the playoffs but went 8-2 in the season’s final 10 games including beating the Packers in the season finale to eliminate Green Bay from the playoff picture. 

Minnesota has an obvious regression case for 2023-24 after the incredible 11-0 record in one-score games to rise to the top of the division last season. Green Bay seems headed for a quarterback change while the Bears have young talent and draft capital, Chicago looks like a project at least a year away from materializing as a serious NFC threat. That leaves the door open for the Lions to be a significant threat in the NFC North and beyond.

Detroit has some cap space to work with and got by last season with a winning record even with brutal injury luck particularly in its skill position groups. The offensive line for Detroit should be one of the better units in the league and after a tough 2021-22 season with the Lions, Jared Goff performed well last season as the Lions should have a great deal of potential as a top tier offense in 2023-24. 

The NFC North teams do play the AFC West teams for a potentially difficult crossover quartet, though the AFC West did not live up to expectations overall last season. The Lions will also play all four NFC South teams which was a bad division in 2022-23 with all four teams posting losing records. The 2nd place draw includes Dallas, Seattle, and Baltimore for a difficult trio, but Detroit still looks like a candidate to take another step forward in 2023-24. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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