One reason each NFC team will or won’t make the playoffs in 2023

Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan reacts to a penalty against the 49ers in the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

• Bears still on the outside looking in: Chicago upgraded its defense this offseason and could get into the playoffs if quarterback Justin Fields takes a significant step forward.

• Saints emerge as winners of weak NFC South: New Orleans has the easiest schedule in the NFL next season and the most proven quarterback in the division.

• Commanders are close but get a “no”: The uncertainty at quarterback pushes the Commanders out of the playoff picture as things stand, but their roster is undoubtedly talented.

Estimated Reading Time: 10 mins

As we begin to look ahead to the 2023 NFL regular season, we wanted to project the playoff outlook for each team by conference. We'll start with the NFC and then dive into the AFC teams later this week.

Here’s one reason why each NFC team will or won’t make the playoffs this season.


MIN | NO | NYG | PHI | SF | SEA | TB | WSH

Arizona Cardinals

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: Lacking in the trenches

The truth of the matter is the Cardinals don’t have a reliable starting quarterback, with Kyler Murray still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in December, and are in the early stages of a rebuild. They have a new head coach and a new general manager who are trying to get their guys in the building — something that takes more than one offseason. Murray will likely miss significant time as he rehabs, and the Cardinals' lack of trench talent — though the offensive line has more to lean on than the defensive line — makes this a non-playoff-caliber team.

Atlanta Falcons

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: One more year away

This was a tricky decision, as the Falcons should be in contention for the NFC  South title, along with the New Orleans Saints. The Saints have the easiest schedule in the league next year, according to win-loss records from last year, while the Falcons are right behind them. Atlanta also deserves praise for being aggressive in bringing in new faces on defense this offseason, including David Onyemata (64.0 PFF grade in 2022), Calais Campbell (76.9) and Jessie Bates III (71.9).

But with quarterback Desmond Ridder entering his first season as the team's full-time starter, and with all the new pieces on defense likely needing time to jell, the team may be a year away from earnestly making a run at the playoffs. It could certainly happen this year, but if it does, their time in the postseason will likely be short-lived.

Carolina Panthers

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: Not enough firepower

Though the Panthers losing star receiver D.J. Moore in their trade-up to No. 1 overall was a tough pill to swallow, it was necessary to get the quarterback they can have the most confidence in moving forward in Bryce Young. But, that does mean they need another year and another offseason with this new coaching staff to get the rest of the offense where it needs to be to light up the scoreboard. The defense, while young, is close to playoff ready, if not there already with a fully healthy group. But the receiver group has a lot to prove and might be one of the last few groups holding the team back.

Chicago Bears

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: Defense still improving

I’m a fan of what the Bears have done with their defense, adding T.J. Edwards (81.6 PFF grade in 2022), Tremaine Edmunds (81.9) and DeMarcus Walker (72.8), among others, this offseason. The same is true of the players they added in the draft on that side of the ball, such as Tyrique Stevenson and Gervon Dexter Sr.

But Chicago ranked in the bottom five in points allowed and yards allowed in 2022. It's hard to see the defense changing drastically enough to make the Bears a playoff team in 2023. If Justin Fields takes another step forward at the same time, though, this roster will be ready for a playoff run.

Dallas Cowboys

  • Playoffs: Yes
  • Reason: Dak Prescott

Dak Prescott is a good quarterback.

OK, great. Glad we got that out of the way.

Many are focusing on Dallas' changes to the run game this offseason, with Ezekiel Elliott out and Tony Pollard getting the feature back workload. But it’s the Cowboys' passing weapons of CeeDee Lamb (86.2 PFF grade in 2022), Michael Gallup (62.6) and now Brandin Cooks (72.3) that get me excited about the team's 2023 ceiling.

Prescott was not as sharp last season as he had been in the past, making 18 big-time throws and 18 turnover-worthy plays, but his thumb injury in Week 1 was a big reason why. He has struggled with injuries throughout his career, but if he’s fully healthy, his passing ability gives the Cowboys the necessary firepower to make a playoff run.

Detroit Lions

  • Playoffs: Yes
  • Reason: Major secondary upgrades

At the end of the 2022 season, the Lions ranked eighth in overall offensive grade (81.2), fifth in points per game (26.6) and fourth in yards per game (380.0). The offense was ready for a playoff run; it was the defense, which gave up the third-most points per game (25.1), that held the team back.

The Lions' 245.0 passing yards allowed per game last year was the third most in the league, and their 57.5 coverage grade was tied for last. But they added Cam Sutton (71.6 PFF grade in 2022), Emmanuel Moseley (70.9), Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (65.0) and Brian Branch (89.5 grade at Alabama) to the secondary this offseason, which should be enough to get over that playoff hump.

Green Bay Packers

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: Offense is too young

Even if you like the Packers' offensive pieces right now, they are pretty green (no team color pun intended). Jordan Love will be the full-time starting quarterback for the first time in his career. Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs are still just second-year guys. Then there are rookies — Jayden Reed, Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft — who will be asked to play contributing or even starting roles. It's tough to project a group that young making it to the postseason.

Los Angeles Rams

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: Huge talent drop-off after superstars

Even if you put Jalen Ramsey back on this team (which, you can’t) the Rams' roster talent drops off hard after the likes of Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp and Matthew Stafford (whose health itself is a question mark). Their Super Bowl was certainly worth it and they made the most of all their draft picks from this past April, but unless their superstars carry the rest of their roster like that one friend who does all the work in a Call of Duty fire squad, they won’t be close. 

Minnesota Vikings

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: Concerns at cornerback

The Vikings’ over/under total of 8.5 wins means the market has them right on the cusp of being a playoff team in the NFC. The North seems like the Lions’ division to lose at this point, but Minnesota should be next in line. However, there’s a decent amount of uncertainty on the roster.

On offense, rookie Jordan Addison will likely be their WR2, plus there are rumors Dalvin Cook might not be on the team much longer. On the defensive side of things, their front still should be fine, but the cornerback room is worrying. Andrew Booth Jr. oozes potential, but he is far from a proven talent. Byron Murphy Jr. was a nice addition, but will that be enough with Akayleb Evans as the other projected starter? This team is on track to be in a lot of high-scoring shootouts.

New Orleans Saints

  • Playoffs: Yes
  • Reason: Easiest schedule

As things stand, I'll the Saints to win the NFC South and, thus, make the playoffs. The addition of Derek Carr should be a welcomed sight, as the team's quarterback play last season between Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston was not what it needed to be. New Orleans' offense should be able to put up points, and though the team will be dealing with a lot of changes along the defensive line, the linebacker unit is stout and their playmakers in the secondary remain intact.

Take all of that and wrap it with the bow that is the easiest schedule in the NFL next year (according to win-loss records from 2022), and that’s why I’ll bet on the Saints making the postseason in 2023.

New York Giants

  • Playoffs: Yes
  • Reason: Very stout defense

We don't even need to get into the Daniel Jones debate (he’s good) to justify this projection of the Giants making the playoffs. They were a playoff team in 2022, and I even think that was a year early for them. Brian Daboll at head coach and Don Martindale at defensive coordinator is an excellent foundation, and first-round cornerback Deonte Banks will make their secondary even better and more aggressive. I’m also expecting Kayvon Thibodeaux to take a major step forward as a pass rusher in his second season. The rest of the group has the talent to make this one of the best defenses in the conference.

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Playoffs: Yes
  • Reason: Retained top cornerbacks

The Eagles' roster is very good. You don’t need me to tell you that. They have dominant play in the trenches, fantastic skill position players and an MVP talent at quarterback. But if we are pinpointing a specific reason why the Eagles will once again contend deep in the playoffs, it’s because they were able to keep both James Bradberry and Darius Slay. You cannot win in the NFL without good cornerback play, especially in big games. Philadelphia could not afford to take a step back in that department and expect to get back to the Super Bowl.

San Francisco 49ers

  • Playoffs: Yes
  • Reason: Kyle Shanahan

The Niners still have one of the best rosters in the NFL. Heck, they almost made it to the Super Bowl with Mr. Irrelevant at quarterback during his rookie season (with all due respect). Shanahan has been one of the best coaches in the NFL for the past half-decade, and that likely won't change any time soon. Brock Purdy end-of-season injury may make him an uncertainty for the upcoming campaign, but that just means the 49ers will have to play the quarterback they traded up to No. 3 to select two offseasons ago. That’s a pretty good “uncertain” situation to be in. It’s still San Francisco’s division to lose.

Seattle Seahawks

  • Playoffs: Yes
  • Reason: Young roster playing beyond its years

Geno Smith dominated the headlines as the force behind the Seahawks' great 2022 season, and rightfully so, but it was the team's young players that might have impressed me more. Charles Cross (63.1 PFF grade in 2022) and Abraham Lucas (68.4) became starting-caliber offensive tackles to slingshot the Seahawks’ offensive line rebuild. Kenneth Walker III (76.9) looked like a takeover running back when healthy. Plus, rookies Tariq Woolen (69.1) and Coby Bryant (55.8) held their own as contributors in that secondary. Now the Seahawks have more young names to lean on this year, including Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Devon Witherspoon and Zach Charbonnet.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: Uncertainty at quarterback

The Bucs have unproven rotations along both the offensive and defensive lines. They’ll be starting new players at right tackle, left tackle and at one of their guard spots — perhaps both. Their defensive line will be a rotation of young players surrounding Vita Vea and Shaq Barrett, once healthy. But it’s the question marks at quarterback that truly cloud their win total projection and playoff hopes.

With Tom Brady retired, it will be either Kyle Trask or Baker Mayfield as the starting quarterback. It seems like it will be Mayfield, but with this being his fourth squad in two years, it would take a full team effort around him to make a playoff run in 2023. It's not impossible, but the Buccaneers' margin for error is slim.

Washington Commanders

  • Playoffs: No
  • Reason: Roster is close but unproven

This was tougher than I anticipated. A fully healthy Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson form a nice one-two punch in the receiving game, and Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson make for a nice backfield committee. The offensive line got some new life with Andrew Wylie now in the fold, and the rest of that group should be solid. The defense has the potential to be a feared front thanks to Jonathan Allen (80.1 PFF grade in 2022), Daron Payne (62.2), Montez Sweat (86.4) and Chase Young (78.4).

Plus, I like the playmakers the Commanders added in the secondary. It really just comes down to how well Sam Howell plays as the presumed starting quarterback. He could light it up, as he did in his first two years at North Carolina, but it’s hard to see him hitting the ground running and sustaining high-level play for a full regular season.


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