- Indianapolis Colts set up to exceed win total: Reintegrating leaders and impact players on both sides of the ball back into the lineup is a quick way to get back on the right track. Don’t be surprised when this is the most improved team of 2023.
- Bet the under on the Carolina Panthers‘ win total: Even with Bryce Young under center, the Panthers won't be improved enough to best their win total in 2023.
- The under on the Houston Texans‘ win total is enticing: The improvements at quarterback and pass-rusher won't be enough to pull the Texans out of the NFL's doldrums in 2023.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
After months of projecting and posturing from NFL teams and media leading up to the draft, we finally know where each of these rosters stands heading into the 2023 season. A number of quarterbacks came off the board early, as franchises tried to find the right guy to lead them to a Lombardi.
It’s tough to win in the NFL with questions at the quarterback position – after all, it’s the most important position on the field. It takes some time for guys to get acclimated to the professional game, which can lead to varied expectations.
With the release of the 2023 schedule and win totals, it’s time to dive into the projections for teams that are going to be riding with a young, inexperienced passer this season.
(Odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook)
Win Total: 8.5 (-110 | -110)
After finishing 7-10 in a three-way tie for second place in the division – and just one game out of first – in 2022, Atlanta has a great opportunity to build on a solid foundation in 2023. As an added benefit, due to tie-breakers, the Falcons also fall into a last-place schedule — a major asset in separating from the rest of the division.
Atlanta fits the bill of a tenacious group that stayed in games but lacked top-end talent. This offseason, general manager Terry Fontenot and Atlanta’s front office made some quality additions to amplify their strengths and rectify their weaknesses. The Jessie Bates III and Calais Campbell additions in free agency to makeover one of the league’s most generous defenses (60.5 DEF grade; 28th in the NFL) in addition to drafting the top running back prospect Bijan Robinson to supplement the third-highest graded offense (83.7 OFF grade) last season should go a long way to filling the talent gap.
The question most prevalent to this team right now is whether Desmond Ridder can steer the ship heading into his sophomore season. Ridder was called upon late last season to take over for Marcus Mariota, and he saw mixed results, finishing the year with an unimpressive 60.1 passing grade and a 2-2 record. On a positive note, he made improvements each week, playing his best game in Week 18 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (75.7 OFF grade). The Falcons want to establish the run and won’t require a lot from Ridder, so as long as he continues to take care of the ball like he did last season (1.4% TWP%), this can be one of the most improved teams in the NFL.
Key Matchup: Week 12 vs. New Orleans Saints
A last-place schedule, in addition to playing the AFC and NFC South, should help prop up the Falcons’ record, but key matchups within the division will be crucial. The most important of which has to start with the first of two matchups against the Saints in the back half of the year. The Falcons host the Saints in Week 12, with both teams coming off bye, in a pivotal matchup that will have a sizable impact on who wins the South.
Pick: Over 8.5 wins (-110)
Win Total: 7.5 (-122 | +100)
After starting Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and PJ Walker last season, the Panthers made a big splash by trading up to the first-overall pick in this year’s draft to select Bryce Young as their franchise signal-caller. After earning two-straight seasons of 91-plus grades, Young has incredible potential as a passer in the league, but he will have some obstacles to overcome in order to reach that ceiling. Young’s size has alarmed many observers, but it’s a bit early to write it off as a fatal flaw.
The talent surrounding Young is more likely to be an issue early on, as only one of his receivers earned an offensive grade above 70.0 this past season, which could make reaching Carolina's win total difficult. Carolina brought in free agents and new head coach Frank Reich to lead the rebuild of this team in a division that is up in the air. Reich’s expertise should help to upgrade the league’s sixth-lowest graded offensive unit (67.7 OFF grade), but he could experience a difficult transition period, given their schedule.
Key Matchups: Early road games against playoff teams
Unlike Atlanta, the Panthers have to slug through an actual second-place schedule, which features tough matchups with the Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions. To make matters worse, they will be on the road in four of their first six games, including matchups with the division-rival Falcons, as well as the Seahawks, Lions and Dolphins — two of which were playoff teams last season. If Carolina reaches this wins threshold, it would mean going through some of the top teams in the NFC, and they Panthers just aren’t cut out for that yet.
Pick: Under 7.5 wins (+100)
Win Total: 6.5 (+100 | -122)
The Texans are living proof that you can have your cake and eat it too. Leading up to the draft, there was speculation that the Texans might forgo selecting a quarterback in order to secure a quality pass-rusher. But why pick one when you can have both, which is exactly what the Texans did when they selected CJ Stroud with the second-overall pick followed by trading up to the very next pick to take Will Anderson Jr. Coming away with two of the class’ top prospects
Stroud brings a dynamic element to this Texans offense that wasn’t present with Davis Mills under center. Stroud has impressive arm talent with processing speed to match. Touch and anticipation throws litter his tape, which allowed him to attack all over the field. The Ohio State product earned an astounding 94.2 deep passing grade and 92.9 clean pocket passing grade in 2022, showing just how high his ceiling can be at the next level.
It’s worth noting that Stroud was surrounded by an embarrassment of riches at OSU with receivers and blocking galore. That won’t be the case with the Texans, as they continue to build a new foundation for this roster after grading out as the worst offense in the NFL last season.
Key Matchup: Keeping pace in the division early
Oddly enough, the only wins the Texans managed to secure last season were road divisional games. Houston finished with a 3-2-1 divisional record, which is about the only positive takeaway from the 2022 campaign. They will have to recapture that success against the South for any shot at hitting this win total in 2023. September features crucial games for Houston, hosting the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2 followed by traveling to face the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 3. Winning one or both of those games will be vital. Although this team plays a last-place schedule, they still face the likes of the AFC North, the New York Jets and the Denver Broncos out of the AFC, meaning wins will be hard to come by elsewhere.
Pick: Under 6.5 wins (-122)
Win Total: 6.5 (-118 | -104)
The NFL draft conversation was dominated by quarterback talk due in large part to the astounding athletic profile of Anthony Richardson, which caused him shoot up draft boards, ultimately landing in Indy. Some expect Gardner Minshew to start the season under center, but don’t be surprised when that isn’t the case. Although Richardson has some glaring flaws in his game, his ceiling is exceptional, possessing the highest athleticism score ever recorded at the combine. Accuracy is a concern for Richardson (70.7 pass grade in 2022), but that dynamic ability is nearly impossible to replicate.
Last season, Indy closed out the season with seven straight losses behind the aging Matt Ryan and inexperienced Sam Ehlinger. Luckily for Richardson, he inherits a better situation than this team had last season due to a number of key starters returning from injury. Jonathan Taylor (87.1 OFF grade in 2021) and Shaquille Leonard (79.0 DEF grade in 2021) are both expected to return from ailments that kept them out for extended periods in 2022. Reintegrating leaders and impact players on both sides of the ball back into the lineup is a quick way to get back on the right track. Don’t be surprised when this is the most improved team of 2023.
Key Matchup: Week 1 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
An early home matchup with the pace car for the division will be a great litmus test to set expectations for the Colts, as the Jags currently find themselves as a 3.5-point road favorite in their Week 1 matchup. Although the AFC South is the Jags division to lose, the Colts should be a far more competitive team this season. These teams split their games last year and again play each other twice in the first six weeks of the season. Establishing some confidence with a quality underdog win coming out of the gate will set the tone moving forward.
Pick: Over 6.5 wins (-118)