Bold predictions for every NFL team in 2023 — NFC South

2RHT67T Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young looks to throw during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the New York Giants, Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

• Bijan Robinson lives up to expectations and more: The rookie sensation leads the league in rushing yards, dominating behind an offensive line that thrives in the ground game.

• Justin Houston doesn't lose a step: While now 34 years old, Houston tallies 10 sacks and 40 pressures in his first year with Carolina.

• The Buccaneers flounder: A revolving door at quarterback leads to a top-five pick for a team that won the Super Bowl just three seasons ago.

Estimated Reading Time: 7 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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AFC West | AFC East | AFC North | AFC South
NFC West | NFC East

Atlanta Falcons

1. Bijan Robinson leads the league in rushing as a rookie

The Atlanta Falcons lean on the run more than any other team, and it’s behind an offensive line that can dominate on the ground. Four different running backs a season ago averaged at least 4.8 yards per carry, but the Falcons still drafted Bijan Robinson because of his special potential. Robinson set a PFF record with 104 broken tackles last season and was hailed as the best running back prospect to enter the draft since Adrian Peterson (2007). He has also looked like a major factor in the passing game from glimpses of training camp and preseason. He could have a special season.

2. The Falcons are the only team in the NFL to run more than pass (again)

With Desmond Ridder installed as the starter and the aforementioned Bijan Robinson in the backfield, the Falcons have no incentive to back off their status as the NFL's run-heaviest offense. In fact, leaning into that as an identity may play in a league that has been trending ever more pass-happy for years. The Falcons were the only team in the league to call runs more often than passes last season, and it’s very possible that will be true again in 2023.

3. Arnold Ebiketie leads the team in total pressures

Not all good players hit the ground running in the NFL; some still develop at the more traditional pace with significant jumps in Years 2 and 3. Arnold Ebiketie played more than 500 snaps for the Falcons in his rookie season, but the defense was bad and he was underwhelming as a pass rusher. He has been having an excellent preseason and has all the tools to improve in a big way this year, not to mention more help around him. Last season, Grady Jarrett led the team with 45 total pressures, but Ebiketie has 50-pressure potential.

Carolina Panthers

1. Bryce Young earns an 80.0-plus PFF grade in Year 1

So much focus at draft time was on Bryce Young’s size and the potential concerns that brought for his NFL career. Not nearly enough attention was paid to just how good he was in college and how transferable his skill set is to NFL success. Young throws with better anticipation than any quarterback prospect I can think of coming into the league, and that translates to quick prosperity at the next level. Mac Jones had similar strengths, but Young is better in those areas than Jones was.

2. Justin Houston has 10 sacks and 40 total pressures

We may have called time on Justin Houston’s career a little early. Still just 34 years old, he has been reduced to a situational role for years now but continues to thrive in that situation for whoever comes calling each year. Last season, in Baltimore, he notched 11 sacks and 39 total pressures from just 285 rushes. His average in Indianapolis was 10 sacks and 46 pressures, and he had a similar baseline over his last years in Kansas City. The Panthers won’t want Houston playing 800-plus snaps anymore, but he can still produce across 400 or 500.

3. Frankie Luvu makes a Pro Bowl

Pro Bowls often operate at a lag from actual performance — by as much as a couple of years. Panthers linebacker Frankie Luvu has been playing at an outstanding level for a while now, and it’s about time perception caught up to that. Last season was his first in a true full-time role, and he posted a 90.1 PFF run-defense grade and a 74.8 overall mark. Another year at that kind of level will garner a lot more respect, particularly if the Panthers can be better as a team.

New Orleans Saints

1. The Saints make the NFC championship game

The New Orleans Saints acquired Derek Carr this offseason because they knew it would immediately make them division favorites and a contender in a weaker conference. Derek Carr has looked good with this offense, and there is still a lot of talent on the roster. Things are wide open in the NFC after a couple of elite contenders, and it may only take one upset win in January for the Saints to make the championship game. If they get really lucky, it might not even take that if elite teams take each other out.

2. Rashid Shaheed is the receiver in line for a big bump in New Orleans

Expectations seem to be that second-year Chris Olave will be primed for a big Year 2, but I’m not sure he has that much room for growth, given how much the ball was thrown his way as a rookie. With no Michael Thomas for most of last season, Olave led the team with 114 targets. While Thomas is now back in the fold, Rashid Shaheed saw his workload dramatically scaled up late in the 2022 season once the team realized they had something unexpected in the speedster. Shaheed is the receiver I expect to see a much bigger role for in 2023, while Olave’s production remains relatively stable.

3. Nobody on the team tops 40 pressures for the second season in a row

New Orleans once had a dominant defensive line, but that has been badly eroded over the past several years. Cameron Jordan will go down as one of the best edge rushers of his generation, but he ended 2022 with just a 53.2 PFF pass-rushing grade and looked well into a decline. Jordan led the team with 37 total pressures, and it’s difficult to see how he — or anybody else on this defensive line — will produce a better number this season. The Saints may struggle to apply pressure again.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

1. Tampa Bay uses at least four quarterbacks this season

Baker Mayfield has now played his way out of too many situations to have confidence that this is the team he can turn it around for. His end in Cleveland was unfortunate. His time in Carolina was disastrous. And despite an impressive debut for the Rams after that, he really didn’t do much there to warrant any optimism going forward. He has won the starting job in Tampa this offseason, but largely by default, and it’s entirely possible that the Bucs simply cycle through quarterbacks this season after being let down by each of them in turn. This could be a rough year.

2. At 33 years old, Lavonte David is still the best-graded Bucs defender

David (84.1) was the team's highest-graded defender in 2022. He has earned one of their top three defensive grades in every season since 2016 and led the team three times in that period. He is still an elite linebacker despite the position getting harder to succeed at and his age. His biggest strength is coverage, and that’s not getting any less vital to success in the NFL, so expect another good year from David despite his age.

3. The Bucs finish with a top-five draft pick

The Bucs faced a classic dilemma this offseason once it became clear that Tom Brady was done for real. They had built a roster around him that was good enough to contend — as long as they had an elite quarterback. Once Brady was gone, the roster was still good enough that they could talk themselves into being good with solid quarterback play, Unfortunately, if the play at that position is rough, the issues with the rest of the roster will quickly be highlighted and things could unravel quickly.


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