NFL News & Analysis

Reason for optimism for all 32 NFL teams: Sean Payton brings winning ways to Broncos, Kenny Pickett set to take next step

2M7B3R9 Pittsburgh, PA, USA. 8th Jan, 2023. Kenny Pickett #8 during the Steelers vs Browns game in Pittsburgh, PA. Jason Pohuski/CSM/Alamy Live News

• A new, and winning, head coach of the Denver Broncos: Sean Payton has finished below .500 in only four out of 15 seasons, with all four being a 7-9 record.

• Dolphins shore up a weakness from 2022: Miami struggled in coverage last season but added Jalen Ramsey to an already talented roster.

• Kenny Pickett set to take a Year 2 leap: From Week 12 onward last year, the only quarterback in the NFL with a higher passing grade than Pickett was Joe Burrow

Estimated Reading Time: 15 mins

Every NFL team will enter the 2023 season with at least a sliver of hope. After all, all 32 squads start off the year with the same record.

These are our reasons for optimism for all 32 teams in the NFL.


ARZ | ATL | BLT | BUF | CAR | CIN | CHI | CLE | DEN | DAL | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC | LVR | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

Arizona Cardinals: Promising Rookie Class

The real reason for optimism here is the fact that the Cardinals fully turned the page from general manager Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury; it wasn’t working, and signs indicated things weren't going to improve.

It’s going to be nearly a full rebuild in Arizona, and that will take time. How the Cardinals navigate the draft over the next few years could speed up or slow down that timeline. After drafting Paris Johnson Jr, BJ Ojulari, Garrett Williams and Michael Wilson (plus acquiring an extra first-round pick next year) with their first four picks of the 2023 NFL Draft, their rebuild got off to a great start. Expect promising things from that group in 2023.

Atlanta Falcons: Lots of New Faces On Defense

The Falcons went into this offseason and attacked their defensive weaknesses. They brought in established talent in the form of Jessie Bates III, David Onyemata, Calais Campbell, Jeff Okudah and more. Atlanta ranked in the bottom 10 in both passing and rushing yards allowed last season, and the team's 52.1 pass-rush grade ranked second worst in the league. Those numbers should improve this coming season as the Falcons compete for an NFC South title.

Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Is Back — And He Has Friends

The Ravens bringing back their former MVP quarterback via a major contract extension is a clear reason for optimism. But beyond just that, they were able to add fresh passing weapons for Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Monken. We know Rashod Bateman and Mark Andrews can be difference-makers, but adding whatever Odell Beckham Jr. can be and drafting Zay Flowers gives that receiver room a higher floor and ceiling week in and week out.

Buffalo Bills: New Offensive Wrinkles

The Bills have been so close to a Super Bowl berth. They are one of the few teams in the league over the past two seasons that has been worthy of making it to the final game based on roster talent. Many of those pieces still remain heading into 2023. An interesting new development for Buffalo could be the addition and potential use of 2023 first-round pick Dalton Kincaid.

As one of the best receiving tight ends in the draft, Kincaid is sure to see action early. But the Bills already have a well-established tight end in Dawson Knox. As such, they could utilize multiple tight ends in ways they haven’t previously. Over the past two seasons, their 213 total snaps in 12 and 22 personnel (two tight ends) are the fewest in the league.

Carolina Panthers: Bryce Young

There are many reasons to be optimistic about where the Panthers are headed. Frank Reich is their new head coach, and with him is one hell of a coaching staff. The defense is young, talented and ready to make their playoff push.

But the biggest reason for optimism is the quarterback they drafted at No. 1 overall, Bryce Young.

Chicago Bears: Passing Weapons For Fields

Justin Fields was not good enough as a passer last year. You’ve all read that plenty of times. He needs to be better individually, but a reason for optimism that he can take the next step is the passing weapons at his disposal for 2023. At this point last year, his top passing options were Darnell Mooney, Equanimeous St. Brown, Byron Pringle and Cole Kmet. Today, drop Pringle and replace him with D.J. Moore, Chase Claypool and Robert Tonyan as the Bears' TE2.

That looks a lot better for a team with the lowest receiving grade in the league last season (62.1).

Cincinnati BengalsJoe Burrow

The Bengals and their coaching staff have proven to be among the best in the NFL. And at the top of the team's reasons for optimism is quarterback Joe Burrow. His 90.6 passing grade in 2022 was the best in the NFL, and while singling him out isn’t meant to be a slight to one of the strongest rosters in the league — one that added Orlando Brown Jr. to its offensive line this offseason — Burrow is the engine of this team.

Cleveland Browns: It Has To Be Better (Right?)

For the past three years, I’ve been saying that, on paper, the Browns' rosters were among the NFL's best, minus the quarterback. But that last part has been a doozy. In 2020 and 2021, starting quarterback Baker Mayfield was the team's downfall. Last season, Cleveland brought in Deshaun Watson, but he posted career lows in passing grade (54.2), adjusted completion percentage (71.8%), big-time throw percentage (1.7%) and turnover-worthy play percentage (4.1%). In theory, Watson shouldn’t be that bad again, and the rest of the roster is still primed for a playoff berth.

Dallas Cowboys: Explosive (Healthy) Offense

The Cowboys dealt with key injuries last season that left their offense shorthanded. Going into 2023, Dak Prescott should be fully healthy, as should the team's ideal offensive line with Tyron Smith back in action. If Tony Pollard is healthy, that’s one of the most efficient backs in the league now assuming RB1 duties. And if Michael Gallup is good to go, that creates a strong receiver trio of Gallup, CeeDee Lamb and now Brandin Cooks. This offense, on paper, can keep up with anyone.

Denver Broncos: Sean Payton

The Broncos should not have been a five-win team in 2022. Football isn’t played on paper (shoutout Trevor Lawrence), but they should not have been that bad.

Enter Sean Payton, who has precisely zero five-win seasons in his coaching career. How many of those campaigns were even below .500? Four out of 15, with all four being a 7-9 record.

Payton knows how to win.

Detroit Lions: Much Improved Secondary

The Lions’ offense under offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was one of the best in the league last year. They ranked fifth in points per game (26.6) and eighth in overall offensive grade. But their defense, specifically their pass defense, was a different story. They gave up 245.8 passing yards per game, which was the third-worst mark in the league. Their 57.5 coverage grade was tied for last.

This offseason, Detroit attacked that weakness by bringing in Cam Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley and C.J. Gardner-Johnson in free agency, plus they drafted Brian Branch. If that coverage is even just middle of the pack, the Lions will be hosting a playoff game.

Green Bay Packers: Matt LaFleur

Last year was the first season in which LaFleur had finished with a sub-.500 record as the Packers' head coach. The previous three seasons were all 13-win campaigns. Aaron Rodgers is gone, but LaFleur remains. While it will be a very young offense in Green Bay, LaFleur at the helm is your reason to be optimistic.

Houston Texans: DeMeco Ryans

The Texans haven’t finished a season with more than four wins since they canned Bill O’Brien in 2020. David Culley won just four games in 2021 as a one-year head coach, and Lovie Smith won three games last season, again in his first and only season at the helm. There has been zero stability at the top for three years in Houston, but now they hope that is a thing of the past. Ryans was one of the most sought-after head coaching candidates after helping the 49ers' defense finish as the league’s best in points allowed per game (16.3) and yards allowed per game (300.6) last season.

Indianapolis Colts: New Year, New Health

It felt like the Colts endured a 2022 season that kept kicking them when they were down. Shaquille Leonard, Jonathan Taylor, Kwity Paye, Tyquan Lewis, Julian Blackmon and more missed time in a season where seemingly nothing could go right for Indianapolis. It’s a new coaching staff, a new quarterback and, hopefully, a new bill of health for a lot of the Colts' best players in 2023.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Offensive Explosion

The Jaguars were a fun Cinderella story toward the end of the 2022 season, and now it's time to make some serious noise from start to finish in 2023. Trevor Lawrence finished the year strong with an 88.5 passing grade from Week 9 on. With the offensive-minded head coach Doug Pederson leading the way, Travis Etienne is a versatile threat out of the backfield and the receiving corps now has Calvin Ridley as a legit WR1.

The Jaguars ranked seventh in expected points added per play in 2022 (.035), and they could be even better in 2023.

Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes

That’s it. That will always be it.

Las Vegas Raiders: Offensive Weapons

Derek Carr is out at quarterback, which some people might see as a good thing — but be careful what you wish for. This team still has strong passing weapons in Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow, plus Josh Jacobs has become one of the best running backs in the league over the past two seasons. Whether it’s Jimmy Garoppolo, Tom Brady or the ghost of Rich Gannon at quarterback, the Raiders will have some weapons to distribute the ball to.

Los Angeles Chargers: Improved Pass Rushing

Joey Bosa missing significant time last season exposed the Chargers’ lack of pass-rush depth. In that span, from Week 4 to Week 16, the Chargers earned a 62.1 pass-rush grade — fourth worst in the league. Bosa should be good to go this season, which will help Khalil Mack on the other side, as well as rookie edge rusher Tuli Tuipulotu. Los Angeles also retained Morgan Fox, who is coming off a career-best season as a pass rusher.

Los Angeles Rams: Sean McVay

Oh, boy. This Rams season might be a doozy. The good news is they have Sean McVay, who is still a very good head coach in this league. They also have two of the best players in the game in Aaron Donald on defense and Cooper Kupp on offense.

The rest, well … I was told I had to be optimistic in this article, so I’ll stop there.

Miami Dolphins: Top-10 Roster Got Even Better

The Dolphins' roster just gets better and better. It was already one of the best rosters in the league, and then they traded for cornerback Jalen Ramsey. They were solid in many areas on both sides of the ball but ranked 26th in both coverage grade (63.3) and expected points allowed per pass (0.051) last season. Ramsey’s presence should help improve the team's output in those facets.

As long as Tua Tagovailoa continues to improve (and stays healthy), this will be one of the toughest teams to match up against each week.

Minnesota Vikings: Strong Passing Attack

The Vikings boasted a fierce passing attack under first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell last season. Their 361.5 passing yards per game were seventh most in the NFL, and they recorded the third-best receiving grade (83.1). Much of that was due to Justin Jefferson, and the team drafted Jordan Addison, who should be a strong WR2. They’ll also have a full year with T.J. Hockenson at tight end.

Even if it's not a repeat 13-win season, this should be a strong group.

New England Patriots: Young and Talented Secondary

Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger played well at their respective positions on the back end in 2022, with Dugger earning an 80.4 overall grade and Phillips posting a 71.4 overall grade. Jack Jones recorded an 82.1 grade in coverage, and Jonathan Jones graded out at 72.5 in coverage. That group now has Christian Gonzalez in the mix, the Patriots' first-round pick of the 2023 NFL Draft. They’re in a tough division and a tough conference, but they have the talent to match up against some of the league’s best passing attacks.

New Orleans Saints: Easy Schedule, Bad Division

In theory, Derek Carr should be an upgrade from both Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton from the 2022 season. Dalton was better than Winston, but it was still too hot and cold. It feels like we’ve been talking about Carr needing a change of scenery for a while now. He gets that in New Orleans with a good offensive line, a stable of talented running backs and productive receivers in Michael Thomas, Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed.

The Saints also have the easiest schedule in the league, according to wins and losses from 2022. Combine that with their division being wide open, and there are a handful of reasons to be optimistic.

New York Giants: Expanded Passing Attack

For as good as Daniel Jones was in 2022, he wasn’t one to push the ball down the field. He ranked 31st among qualifying quarterbacks in yards per attempt (6.8) and 47th in average depth of target (6.4). There is reason to believe the Giants ramp that up this year, given their passing weapons. They drafted Jalin Hyatt, one of the best deep-threat receivers in college football in 2022, and traded for Darren Waller, who has ranked in the top 10 in yards per route and average depth of target among tight ends since 2019.

New York Jets: Aaron Rodgers

With competent quarterback play last season, the Jets would’ve been a playoff team. They finished with a 48.9 team passing grade and -0.135 expected points added per pass play, one of the worst passing offenses in the league. Adding Rodgers, who is just one year removed from back-to-back MVPs, is a major reason to be optimistic.

Philadelphia Eagles: Everything

The Eagles were one of the most dominant and most balanced teams in the NFL last season. They lost T.J. Edwards and C.J. Gardner-Johnson this offseason, but they had Nakobe Dean waiting in the wings while adding a strong rookie class to contribute in 2023, as well. They have an MVP-caliber quarterback, a dominant passing attack, a great offensive line, a fierce pass rush and a strong secondary. It’s all there for another Super Bowl run.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ascending Kenny Pickett

From Week 12 onward last year, the only quarterback in the NFL with a higher passing grade than Kenny Pickett was Joe Burrow. Pickett recorded an incredible 7.2% big-time throw percentage and just a 1.2% turnover-worthy play percentage. All of that points to a big leap for Pickett in his second season. With hopefully a fully healthy T.J. Watt returning for a full season, Pittsburgh will be a tough out once again.

San Francisco 49ers: Elite Roster

It’s hard to pick just one reason to be optimistic about the 49ers. Yes, their quarterback situation is still up in the air. But look at the elite players on their roster: Fred Warner, Nick Bosa, Trent Williams, Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle and Deebo Samuel. And that’s not even mentioning ascending young guys such as Brandon Aiyuk, Dre Greenlaw and Talanoa Hufanga. Top it off with one of the best coaches in the league in Kyle Shanahan, and expectations should be high again.

Seattle Seahawks: Strong Youth Movement

Geno Smith‘s resurgence as the starting quarterback most of the headlines for Seattle last season, for good reason, but the team's main point of optimism comes from the young players. Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas locked up the two offensive tackles spots last season. Kenneth Walker III was incredibly impressive once he became the starter. Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant were difference-makers in the secondary. Now that group includes Devon Witherspoon and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, first-round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Good Core Remains

Tom Brady is gone, and regardless of who you thought the main culprit was for the Bucs' offensive woes last season, that change will be felt. But established players still make up Tampa Bay’s core group. Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen anchor the offensive line. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin should remind everyone why they’re a top wide receiver duo in the league. On the other side, Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean in the secondary will try to do the same. Antoine Winfield Jr. and Lavonte David are two of the NFL's best at their positions. Plus, it’s a deep front seven with plenty of pass-rush potential (even if it’s just potential).

This isn’t a terrible roster like some would lead you to believe. The Buccaneers are poised to make a run at the division title.

Tennessee Titans: Hopefully, Will Levis Plays

I called for a Titans regression last offseason, and while that happened, they fell even harder than I anticipated. Derrick Henry will still be one of the best backs in the league, but it’s time to turn the page at quarterback. A successful season for the Titans would be an improvement in consistency, establishing a core of their offensive line and allowing Levis to get from starter reps during the second half of the season (and for him to not look terrible in doing so).

Washington Commanders: Potential Top-Five Defense

Last season, the Commanders ranked seventh in points per game allowed (20.2), seventh in expected points per play allowed (-0.075) and third in yards per game allowed (304.6). They finished 13th in overall defensive grade (76.9), but there is reason to believe they could end up higher in 2023. A motivated and healthy Chase Young creates a fierce front for Washington with talented new and returning secondary players behind them.


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