Bold predictions for every NFL team in 2023 — AFC North

2M7AY59 JAN 8th, 2023: Kenny Pickett #8 during the Steelers vs Browns game in Pittsburgh, PA. Jason Pohuski/CSM/Sipa USA(Credit Image: © Jason Pohuski/Cal Sport Media/Sipa USA)

• Lamar Jackson will set a career-high PFF passing grade: New offensive coordinator Todd Monken is set to employ an offense more similar to the scheme Jackson thrived in at Louisville.

• Irv Smith becomes a key contributor for the Bengals: Joe Burrow has been friendly to tight ends during his time in the NFL, and if Smith can stay healthy this year, he could be a weapon in this offense.

• Kenny Pickett improves three-fold: Pickett is poised to triple his touchdown total from 2022 after tossing only seven scores in a still-promising rookie year.

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

We’ve had time to digest the moves of the offseason, so now it’s time to lose all perspective and offer some bold predictions for the 2023 NFL season.

This will move beyond simple win-loss predictions and focus on specific things for each team, some relevant to PFF grades and some more big-picture in nature.

Remember, these are bold predictions. They won't be the most accurate predictions in the world, but the takes will be rooted in data or tape evidence and are things that have a realistic chance of taking place, not just craziness summoned from ChatGPT.

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Baltimore Ravens

1. Lamar Jackson will set a career-high PFF passing grade

The focus on Baltimore this offseason is obviously how Lamar Jackson fares in a new offense. For the first time in his NFL career, he will be outside of the bespoke system Greg Roman built to take advantage of Jackson’s rushing skill set. New coordinator Todd Monken has already said that means more 11 personnel, just like Jackson employed in college at Louisville.

Jackson’s college offense used three or more receivers on the field 65% of the time. Baltimore was at 12% last year, the lowest rate in the NFL by an order of magnitude. Jackson has shown repeatedly he is an excellent passer at this level, and now he’s going to be in an offense that showcases it.

2. Baltimore will sign a “starting” nickel cornerback before the season

The Ravens have a solid-looking roster, but cornerback is a potential area of concern. The only player with any kind of proven track record playing in the slot is Marlon Humphrey, who has transitioned away from that position over the past couple of years. Humphrey played more snaps inside in both 2019 and 2020 before that reversed over the past two seasons. Last season, he recorded 771 snaps outside and fewer than 200 in the slot.

There’s a solid chance the Ravens will look to sign a slot defender they have confidence in before the season starts, or potentially add a veteran cornerback who will allow Humphrey to transition back inside in sub packages.

3. David Ojabo leads the team in sacks

David Ojabo making it back onto the field at all last season after tearing his Achilles tendon at his pro day was a minor miracle. It was also more symbolic than any real opportunity for him to make an impact. This season, however, the Ravens will look to deploy a first-round talent who slipped because of that injury.

With a lack of consistent veterans along that defensive front, the door is open for anybody to be the team’s leading pass rusher. Last season, veteran Justin Houston led the defense with 11 sacks, and in second place was off-ball linebacker Patrick Queen with seven. If Ojabo can show why he was a highly regarded talent, he will complete a phenomenal comeback.

Cincinnati Bengals

1. Charlie Jones finds a way to significantly contribute as a rookie

Though most of these predictions are rooted in some kind of hard data, this one is truly just a gut feeling. In fact, things need to go wrong for this to have any chance of coming true. With Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd in place, there is no real path to the field for rookie Charlie Jones. And yet, Trenton Irwin played more than 350 snaps last season, including random games where he became a real target for Joe Burrow.

Jones just consistently made plays last season at Purdue, seeing 154 targets and gaining 2.7 yards per route run. The Bengals shouldn’t need him to make any kind of contribution, but I suspect he finds a way to make one anyway.

2. Irv Smith Jr. has a Pro Bowl season

For years, the feeling every offseason has been “if only Irv Smith Jr. could stay healthy.” In a four-year NFL career, he has played just more than 1,500 snaps in total, between one and two full seasons worth. Dropping a critical pass in the playoff game last season soured many fans on him, but he had just five drops on 126 total targets as a Minnesota Viking and still has high-end athleticism and speed. Joe Burrow has been friendly to tight ends during his time in the NFL, and if Smith can stay healthy this year, he could be a weapon in this offense.

3. Joe Burrow remains a top-five most-sacked quarterback

This was one of last season’s bold predictions, and it hit. Despite significant additions to the offensive line, Joe Burrow continues to take more sacks than he should — he simply skews in that direction stylistically. Burrow would rather squeeze every last ounce out of a play than give up on it and live to fight another down.

For his career, 24.3% of pressured plays result in sacks — a largely quarterback-driven data point — a figure that comes in more than twice as high as the lowest quarterbacks in the league. Orlando Brown Jr. represents another significant addition to the line, but it won’t stop Burrow from being Burrow. He will remain one of the most-sacked quarterbacks in the league.

Cleveland Browns

1. Myles Garrett wins Defensive Player of the Year

Myles Garrett had a Defensive Player of the Year kind of season in 2022, but the situation around him was bad enough that he never really captured any kind of momentum for the award. This offseason, the Browns attacked the defensive line hard in every area, adding multiple players who should help take attention away from Garrett and allow him to maximize his production.

The only player in the league with a better pass-rush win rate than Garrett last season was Bryce Huff on a fraction of the snaps for the Jets. Garrett has been playing at this level for some time, but this time he has the help to make it obvious.

2. Dawand Jones is the starting right tackle by the end of the season

Jack Conklin has now missed time in each of the past two seasons, and the Browns were able to snag Dawand Jones in the fourth round this year after he slipped in the draft due to concerns over how he handled the pre-draft process. Jones is a first-round talent, and he played 74 snaps in the Hall of Fame Game, allowing no pressure and looking impressive overall. He provides excellent contingency at a spot that has needed it over the past two seasons, but if he gets a chance to start at any point in 2023, don’t be surprised if he never gives the job back.

3. Nick Chubb sets a new career high for receiving

Kareem Hunt has departed the Browns, leaving the backfield much less crowded in terms of a third-down option or pass-catching back. Hunt had 41 targets last season compared to 33 from Chubb, and Chubb has never seen more than 45 targets in a season. Demetric Felton has a pass-catching skill set, but he played just 74 total snaps last season and 205 across two years in the NFL. This will be a new role for Chubb to lose, potentially allowing him to post new receiving career highs across the board.

Pittsburgh Steelers

1. Kenny Pickett throws for three times as many touchdown passes as his rookie year

Kenny Pickett was quietly very impressive as a rookie, which didn’t get reflected in his box-score stats. Pickett threw only seven touchdowns in 13 games, but he had 18 big-time throws, which ranked 16th in the league despite fewer games than other passers.

Pickett showed excellent poise, and the team improved his supporting cast in the offseason with additions along the offensive line and to the receiving corps, plus injured players coming back. Fourteen quarterbacks threw for more than 20 touchdowns last season, so Pickett tripling his rookie total is very attainable.

2. Pittsburgh is back in the playoffs

Mike Tomlin worked wonders last season to earn another winning record and extend his phenomenal streak of never notching a losing campaign. This year, the Steelers force their way back into the playoffs. T.J. Watt is a transformative player on defense for them and missed seven games, while Pickett was just getting his feet wet at the NFL level at quarterback.

The Steelers have a lot of talent across both sides of the ball and with any kind of significant improvement from Pickett should be challenging for the division lead and a wild-card spot at the end of the season.

3. The Steelers' O-line ranks in the top 10 by the end of the season

At the start of the 2022 NFL season, the Steelers' offensive line placed 30th in PFF’s rankings. That group improved as the year wore on, ending up consistently in the middle of the pack and finishing at 12th in the final rankings.

This year, with the additions of veteran guard Isaac Seumalo and rookie Broderick Jones at tackle, they climb into the top 10. They allowed 138 total pressures as a unit last year, ranking seventh in pass-blocking efficiency — their stronger area — but both Seumalo and Jones should help to upgrade the run game, as well, propelling the group up the rankings.


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