- The Chicago Bears can improve was a better supporting cast around Justin Fields: If Chicago acquires some weapons for Fields, the Bears could improve drastically in 2023.
- The Carolina Panthers may be a QB away from making noise: If Carolina can upgrade the QB position, it has a roster that is capable of contending in the NFC.
- The Indianapolis Colts need to pick the right QB: After struggling last year due to issues at quarterback, the Colts have a lot riding on their ability to pick the right QB in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Real team-building hasn’t even begun this offseason. Free agency is around the corner and the draft is still on the horizon, but pathways for teams to improve are already emerging.
Here are the five teams most likely to take a big leap after this offseason.
Justin Fields surprised many last season. He still has a long way to go as a passer, but with little to no help around him, he emerged as one of the game's most dynamic players. The Bears stumbled into the No. 1 overall pick of the draft, so their first order of business was to decide whether any of the available quarterback prospects is good enough to make them move on from Fields. Assuming they give Fields this season to prove his worth, they can use that top pick to amass talent around him to help support his task. Chicago stripped its roster down to the bare metal last year to get its house in order and now, the Bears enter the offseason with, by far, the most salary cap space in the league ($88.4 million of effective space, per Over The Cap) and the most valuable pick in the draft. Chicago could take a big leap in just one offseason.
It’s hard to imagine a quarterback situation going much worse than Carolina’s has over the last couple of years. The Panthers took a chance on rebuilding Sam Darnold’s career and then took another swing with Baker Mayfield the following year. Both attempts ended in disaster, but the pieces are there for this team to have success if it can finally find an answer at that position. The Panthers' offensive line rebuild propelled their unit from 31st in the league in PFF’s rankings in Week 3 to a unit that ranked in the top half of the league by the end of the season. They have receivers who are capable of making noise and a defense with plenty of talent. In a weak division, the Panthers could take a big jump in a hurry.
New York Jets
The Jets were a contender without a quarterback last season. Zach Wilson was disastrous and actively harmed Garrett Wilson‘s production. The alternative options were Joe Flacco and Mike White, who didn’t last long before an injury put him out of contention. Despite that, the Jets still narrowly missed out on postseason football due to one of the best defenses in the game and some talented playmakers. With a little more health along the offensive line, the offense could quickly raise its game to join the defense and make this team a legitimate contender in 2023. Aaron Rodgers is the obvious dream scenario for them, but even a Plan B of Derek Carr would make them immediate AFC contenders.
Things unspooled in a hurry for the Colts last season, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be put back together almost as quickly. The Colts expected to be in contention for the AFC South when they traded for Matt Ryan last offseason, but instead, he ended up firing their head coach and finishing with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft. They now have a chance at drafting their next quarterback rather than taking endless gambles on worn-out veterans. The Colts need to nail the quarterback evaluation in this draft, with Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis and Anthony Richardson each ranking inside the top 11 on the PFF big board. The odds are that one or more of those players won’t be a team's long-term answer in the NFL, so getting that pick right could be the difference between the Colts being back there again next year and jumping back into contention in the AFC.
Los Angeles Rams
It seems hard to believe that the Rams won a Super Bowl a little over a year ago, as things began in a bad way when their offensive line was taken apart by the Buffalo Bills defense on opening night before getting worst throughout the season. The Rams sustained injuries almost everywhere, and they were quickly an also-ran. Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald and Sean McVay are returning for 2023, which is a huge part of a very successful core. The Rams have some work to do, but this is a franchise that has done it before and knows how to build success. It would be easy to look at this as the inevitable consequence of a team that mortgaged their future for a Super Bowl win, but the Rams can rebuild and have success again in quick order with some positive moves this offseason.